Ephesians 2:1-3

Biblical Text
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath." (Ephesians 2:1-3, TNIV)

Commentary from the Early Church Fathers(1)
Whether Sin Is Rightly Spoken Of As Natural. Augustine: We speak of “nature” in two ways. When we are speaking strictly of nature itself, we mean the nature in which humanity was originally created— after God’s own image and without fault. The other way we speak of nature refers to that fallen sin nature, in which we are self-deceived and subject to the flesh as the penalty for our condemnation. The apostle adopts this way of speaking when he says “for we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.” On Nature and Grace 81.

My Comments
“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” By what nature? “Do what’s natural” What exactly is natural?

If this seems like an unlikely topic for me to pick up on but I’ve spent a good chunk of my time this year reflecting on that question precisely. The first (and in my opinion, best) volume of Alister McGrath’s scientific theology is entitled Nature. McGrath demonstrates that throughout history the concept of nature has really been nothing more than a social construct, one that has often been misused. McGrath demonstrates that throughout history what is deemed “natural” is usually that which benefits those in power.

So, when Paul writes that we were by “nature” children of wrath, what does he mean by “nature”? The word that we’re dealing with here is phusei which can be defined in this context as denoting a condition or circumstance as determined by birth. Where Augustine is helpful is in drawing the distinction between “nature”, or as McGrath would term it “creation” and “nature” as a state of being. Paul is not arguing that we were originally intended and created to be children of wrath. Rather, because of the fall into sin of humanity we are born into a state which we inherit by means of being a human – a state of not being as we were intended to be. By virtue of our birth we were found in this state.

Pastorally this concept has been one of the most challenging for me to work with. People, when confronted with this doctrine of what is termed “original sin” are usually repulsed. After all, why should I be held accountable for someone else’s sin? And isn’t that just simply being human? Two points are worth considering here. There is a good distance from “original sin” to “original guilt”. Original guilt would hold that we are held accountable for the original sin of Adam. I don’t agree with that position. And yes, to a certain extent the doctrine of “original sin” is part of human nature now. But the problem is that this wasn’t intended to be. We, in the words of Cornelius Plantinga live in a world that is “not the way it’s supposed to be”.

About two weeks ago I wrote an obscure post entitled “The Cosmic Nature of the Fall” in the wake of Elora’s death. While Paul is addressing the concept in a very different way here (compared to how he addresses in Romans 8) the central idea is the same. Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be or will be at the end. That I think is something that the church needs to be reminded of constantly. I’ve heard and I’ve said, “That’s just the way things are.” My first reaction when I hear that now is “Well that may be, but is that how things are supposed to be?”

Notes(2)
Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Bishop of Hippo and a voluminous writer on philosophical, exegetical, theological and ecclesiological topics. He formulated the Western doctrines of predestination and original sin in his writings against the Pelagians.

  1. All comments taken from: M. J. Edwards, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 8. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 130.
  2. Biographical information is from: ACCS Introduction and Bibliographic Information, Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005).
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