…not all sin is rebellion.
The first time this thought occurred to me was in the earliest days of parenthood. My wife and I had been reading different books in order to prepare ourselves as best we could for what was coming. I’m not sure what well-intending, misguided soul lead us to read the Ezzo book but it didn’t take either of us long to realize that we had a different idea of God’s way of raising children. Like a lot of evangelicals, Ezzo sees children as not just little sinners but little rebels. For him and those in his camp, to be sinful is the same as being rebellious. Consequently, God’s way of parenting is less about nurturing life and more about putting down a rebellion in the home. Even if that is an overstatement, it’s not an overstatement to say that the parent-child relationship portrayed in this book was combative. As we read it, we felt like children were seen as the (rebellious) enemy who need to be taken firmly in hand and have the rebellion squeezed out of them. While neither of us were inclined to deny that humans are born with a sin nature, we also were not willing to look upon our gift from God as the enemy. We refused to believe that every time our child misbehaved (i.e. sinned); he was acting rebelliously toward our God-given parental authority.
This past week-end, in a conversation with another Christian, I noticed that this person held the opinion that all sin is rebellion. The comment that revealed this had something to do with The Fall, the event in which Adam and Eve sinned/rebelled against God. I pointed out that I don’t think that all sin is rebellion and derailed the discussion just a bit. Come on, think about it…
I’ll assume that you know the story in full and pose the rhetorical question; did Eve rebel against God when she ate the forbidden fruit? As boring and/or sophomoric as it may be to do it, I’m going to take a moment to define the terms. The biblical word translated as “sin” can mean “to miss, to miss the way, to go wrong, to incur guilt” and the nearly-clichéd meaning “to miss the mark”. The biblical word translated as “rebel” can mean “to be contentious, refractory, disobedient”. The difference between these two concepts is that the first (sinning) can be either intentional or accidental, while the second (rebelling) can only be intentional. So, was it Eve’s intention to reject God’s authority and repudiate His love? Perhaps we can’t really know the answer to that but I’ll base my opinion on Paul’s characterization of Eve’s state of mind.
On two separate occasions (2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:14), Paul made the comment that Eve was “deceived” by Satan. On both occasions, the root of the words translated as “deceive” are the same and carry the idea that Eve was “cheated” or “beguiled”. She was lied to by the serpent, and for her part, she believed the lie. Believing the lie was wrong. Eating the fruit was disobedient but was it contentious? Was she contending with God or was she simply failing to think through the implications of her decision to trust the serpent and ignore her own experience of God? I’m inclined to think that Eve, without the knowledge of good and evil, had no idea that the serpent could have a sinister intent and so she was not on her guard. The devil was cunning and he “beguiled” her, leading her astray. Eve missed the goal of obedience but I don’t think that she contended with God. The word “deceived” just doesn’t carry the concept of intention(ality?) and making it carry that concept is forced. I suppose it could be argued that there is sufficient overlap between the concepts of sinning, disobeying and rebelling to allow for the position that all sin is rebellion but I think that doing so requires ignoring significant nuances. After all, words are chosen because they signify particular meanings and not other meanings. It’s not “just semantics”.