Adam, Noah, Justification, and the East

Henry Neufeld over at Threads from Henry’s Web (note two links there) has highlighted parts of some conversations on Justifications. Recently while flying, I read this book, Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition, which is a very succinct summary of the differences (and things to learn from) Eastern Orthodoxy from a Western (Evangelical) point of view. Justification among other things, is one point on which East and West differ widely. My apologies, in advance, if my understanding of (Western or Eastern) justification is erroneous … I’m an amateur.  (the essay continues below the fold)

Adam sinned, this event is known East and West as the fall. Both also agree that Jesus Pascha/Easter event is the cure. What they don’t agree on is the details and the emphasis. The West, their tradition deriving from juridicial Rome, sees Adam’s sin in a judicial manner. Somehow Adam’s sin is passed on to the rest of us, although how and why this is righteous is not clear to me, a neophyte Christian. If my father murdered a man, his crime does not impute to me. Crimes of the previous generations do not entail (justly) punishment on the following generations. The Eastern view is that the action of the predecessor can have consequences for the following generations. If my father relocates his family to another land, the consequence is that the family is now located in a new place. Adam’s sin resulted in his separation from God. The consequence is that we too live in that same loci to which Adam was cast that is we in a place estranged from God and experience death.

An argument, for the Western view, that might be made is Noah and the curse he passes on to the sons, for the crime of the father. While there is some justice in this particular case, in that the crime in question involved disrespect of the father (Noah) and cursing the sons will likely cause the sons to disrespect the one being punished. However, this also might be viewed in terms of place. The result of the crime (the punishment) entails separation of son and father and the curse in that way is very much like that visited on Adam, as separation from the Father.

Jesus crucifixion, death, and ressurection brings about the healing of the fall of Adam. However, the different view of fall results in differing emphasis on the Paschal act. The West following Anselm keys on penal substitution and therefore concentrates much thought (and theology) on the crucifixion. The East on the other hand keys on the Ressurection. For it is in defeating death by death the way back to that former place where death and communion with God (Theosis) are accomplished. The suffering and crucifixion shows the example of Jesus obedience to the Fathe and his love for humanity not a subsitutionary act of atonement.

One of the messages Mr Payton repeats in his book numerous times is that East and West have very different viewpoints. That is not to say one is right and one is wrong. In Quantum physics we learn matter is both particle and wave at the same time. Different viewpoints can both be right, just have different emphasis. We can learn from each in that path which we seek.

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  1. Thanks for posting this, Mark. I don’t have the courage yet to try to express the eastern view, especially considering that my thinking is more western even while I see penal substitution as just one view among many.

    Reading even a little more of the eastern church fathers has been very helpful to me.

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  4. e-Mom says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I am trying to get a handle on the two traditions (Greek and Latin) and will print off this piece to read more thoroughly later. Blessings, e-Mom