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Title: The roots of sin : The New Testament view of responsibility for the origin of moral evil.
Author: Philips, W.
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 1968
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Summary of the Thesis Beliefs oonoerning the origin of evil oan be traoed through primitive stages in the Old Testament, in whioh the "woes" of life were attributed direotly to the hand of God, through later stages in whioh developing moral sensitivity made Old Testament man uneasy about finding the origin of what was morally wrong in God, and finally through the struggles of the Apoorypha and Pseudepigrapha with the question of the origin of moral evil. In the latter, the pressures of Hellenism added to the oomplexity of the problem, sinoe , whether oonsciously or not, these later Jewish thinkers were oaught up in streams of influenoe which shaped the form of their thought , and to some extent its oontent as well. The rise of angelology and demonology in the inter-Testament period can be seen both as evidence for the influence of foreign religious thought, and as an attempt to come to grips with the question o~ where moral evil had its point of origin. We find efforts to cope with the problem of evil not only in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, but also in the thought of Philo , of Qumran, of the Gnostics, and of Rabbinic Judaism, all of which take up positions on the matter , thus pointing out direotions in whioh ' the New Testament declined to move, whioh may be regarded as signifioant. Within the New Testament no unified approach to the problem of evil oan be disoovered , though there is a large fund of oommon assumptions , and in general the thought does not stray from this area of oonsent. The basic position can be described as being in agreement with the Old Testament view in placing the blame for sin on man himself; this is contrary to the direction in which Bome of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are moving, for the latter sometimes seek an outlet for the problem by placing the burden of blame on demonic powers . Although the New Testament knows of demonic forces , and particularly of the l eader of the demons, Satan, the teaching about these demonic powers never obscures the more fundamental responsibility that man bears for his own sinfulness . In the end , the position i s not really far from the Old Testament, where the demons play a very small role indeed; the larger place they have in the New Testament does not seem to include a large share of responsibility for the origin of moral evil. The New Testament brings to clearer expression the Old Testament hesitation to attribute evil to God, and in the main denies outright that moral evil is in any r espect God's responsibility. The Synoptic Gospels and Aots display a good deal of agreement on who is responsible for sinful behavior: man is seen as bringing evil into being bJ' his choice of the wrong rather than the right in a series of ethical and moral decisions. But Matthew and Luke have obviously given much more thought to the problem of ethical and moral behavior than has Mark ; the latter is not so much interested in sin as the former two. Demonic forces bear a larger role in the Synoptic Gospels than anywhere else in the New Testament . Yet, their role is not so large as to make it possible to attribute evil directly to them . The company of demons does not seem to have anything to do with causing moral evil, being limited to the infliction of physical woes; Satan alone influences moral behavior, and he seems to be dependent for his success in temptation upon two factors: the permission of God, and the consent of man. Man brings evil into being by choosing what is contrary to the will of God; this choice of the wrong way may please Satan, but he cannot bring it about apart from human consent. Although Paul is in basic agreement with the Synoptic Gospels on the subject of human responsibility for the origin of moral evil , he approaches the problem of sin from a completely different angle . For him, sin is a force , a power; it is something rising from within and corrupting everything it touches - the Law, the institutions of secular life, and the moral behavior of man. Paul does not explain what initiated this drive toward wrong-doing, though it seems probable that the transgression of Adam enters into the picture. Paul ' s real interest is in the present fact of sin, and more particularly in Christ's victory over the powers of sin and over death, the "wages" of sin. There is frequent mention of "principalities and powers," and it is argued in this thesis that these may plausibly be explained as being the spiritual forces behind God's providential design for governing the world, forces which are not evil in their essential nature, but which have been corrupted by human sin. Paul shows practically no interest in demons which can be compared with those of the Synoptics ; he speaks more often of Satan, but Satan is not really central to his pattern of thought. In essence, moral evil for Paul rises in the clash of will between God and man, and sin is man's choice to seek powers and prerogatives which are properly the Bole possession of God. Jesus shows the way of renunciation of power and self-will as being the only means of victory over sin , and in turn the way to genuine power, by God's gift , and not by seizure. John stylizes the whole problem of sin, abstracting from individual choices of right and wrong, and causing everything to hinge on one great Choice: whether to be a follower of God, or to be a follower of the devil . Ethical choice is still in view, but it is in the background. Predestination is a constantly recurring theme . The stress on God ' s absolute power in determining the affairs of men seems to move John to the brink of attributing the origin of moral evil to God - yet John draws back from this position, and an examination of his more basic assumptions shows that whatever John says about God ' s sovereignty, he intends to convey the impression, that God is seeking the good, the salvation, the redemption of the world, and that man ' s refusal of his proffered salvation is what brings about moral evil and intensifies ,the moral evil which already exists. The devil bears a larger role than elsewhere in the New Testament; yet, John does not seem to believe that the devil oan initiate moral evil among men, but rather that he simply encourages man in sinful behavior. The rest of the New Testament cannot be briefly summarized; eaoh author seems to have some peouliar slant on the origin of sinful behavior. Particular mention might be made of the Book of Revelation, which has a good deal to say about demonic power 's , B.lj.d gives Satan a very important role . But Revelation is not discussing sin and its source , but rather the destruction of sinful powers at the end of the Age . This makes it difficult to come to any co~clusions as to what thought the author may have entertained on the beginnings of moral evil.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Moral evil and New Testament Philosophy Religion