Three more paradigm shifts of
beliefs & practices within the Bible:
Transferability of sin, afterlife, status of women
The concept of progressive revelation in the Bible suggests that God gradually revealed truths as the Hebrews and Christians needed
the information, at a rate that the people were capable of absorbing. This produced a number of paradigm shifts in people's beliefs and
actions, in which old structures were replaced with new ones. Some are described briefly below.
Are people to be punished for the sins of their parents and other ancestors:
Yes they are to be punished: In the Pentateuch, the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
Testament), there are numerous passages that describe how one generation was
punished for the sins of their parents or ancestors: Probably the three best known examples
||Genesis 1: The first
few chapters in the Book of Genesis describe what Christians have called the
"fall of mankind" and the transmission of
"original sin" from Adam and Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eden to
their children, grand-children and even down about 800 generations to the
present day. Judaism, which was responsible for the preservation of Genesis
for many centuries prior to the advent of Christianity share the same text
but reject the concept of original sin.
||Genesis 6: This
describes the flood of Noah. God was said to have been displeased with almost the entire human
race and decided to commit the most serious genocide in history. Not only
the adults responsible for God's anger were to be killed. So also were the
youths, children, infants and newborns.
||Exodus 20: One of the
three versions of the Ten Commandments appears
in Exodus 20:5, God is reported as saying that he will punish
children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and perhaps even
great-great-grandchildren of anyone who worships idols:
"Thou shalt not bow down
thyself to them (idols), nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a
jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto
the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." 1
There are numerous other examples of this transmission of sin, both
Hebrew Scriptures and in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
There is a lack of consensus about when the Pentateuch was written. Most
conservative Christians believe that the first five books of the Hebrew
Scriptures were written by Moses circa 1450
BCE. Most liberal
Christians believe that they were written by three Hebrew authors (or groups of
authors) between 922 and 622 BCE. Either way, they were recorded before the
ministry of Ezekiel who turned belief in the transferability of sin on its ear
-- at least temporarily -- in the 6th century CE.
No they are not to be punished: Ezekiel was a prophet from the Southern Kingdom of Judah
whose ministry lasted from about 593 to 570 BCE -- just before the time of the Babylonian captivity. He wrote that
God told him that transferring sin from one generation to another is not longer valid. Instead, every
person would be judged separately, according to his good and bad works:
||Exekiel 18:1 to 9: states: "What mean ye, that ye use this
proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour
grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, ... ye shall
not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls
are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine:
the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which
is lawful and right, .... hath executed true judgment between man and man,
Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is
just, he shall surely live."
||Ezekiel 18:10 to 13: states: A man who "... is a robber, a
shedder of blood, ... Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by
violence, he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall
surely die; his blood shall be upon him."
||Ezekiel 18:14 to 17: states: A man who sees "... all his
father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father,
he shall surely live."
||Ezekiel 18:19 & 20: states: "Yet say ye, Why? Doth not the
son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is
lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he
shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not
bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity
of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and
the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Emphasis ours).
Life after death:
Religious liberals and conservatives reached very different conclusions about
how belief in the afterlife evolved during biblical times. For purposes of
illustration, we will describe below only the liberal analysis. Their
conclusions are based on a study of the Bible as a historical document, in the
light of findings from archaeological studies. The conservative view is based on
interpreting the Bible as inerrant text,
inspired by God. It is covered
elsewhere in this website.
||The afterlife as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old
Testament): Hebrew beliefs about life after death gradually evolved as they
incorporated Pagan concepts from two other religions: Zoroastrianism and the Greek Pagan
||Prior to 623 BCE: The ancient
Israelites had the same view of life after death as other Semitic
peoples. Both good and bad individuals went under the earth into Sheol
when they died,
where they led a type of shadowy, energy-less existence, separated from
God. People, while they were alive, worshipped both their ancestors in
the underworld and many Sky Gods in heaven.
||From 623 to 586 BCE: This covers the period from the
introduction of monotheism to the Babylonian captivity. Belief in the
gods of the underworld and ancestor worship ended. Polytheistic belief
is abandoned. Jehovah alone is worshiped. The Pentateuch -- the first
five books of the Bible -- was assembled from
earlier writings during
this interval. As in the previous interval, the dead are
believed to lead a shadowy, totally isolated existence under the earth
in Sheol, cut off from their relatives and from God.
||From 586 to 332 BCE: from the Babylonian captivity to the
Greek invasion: Zoroastrian religious ideas
are blended with the earlier Jewish beliefs about Sheol. The faithful
dead are viewed as being resurrected, to live a second life in a
cleansed Jerusalem for 500 years. Then, they die and are no more.
||During and after the Greek occupation: All the dead will be
resurrected. They will be judged by God and sent either to an eternal
reward or never-ending punishment.
||More details about these four belief
||The afterlife as described in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a.
New Testament): Various authors had different concepts about who would be
saved and go to Heaven. They also disagreed on the fate of the unsaved.|
||St. Paul's writings; 48 to 65 CE: Those
who believe in Jesus' resurrection will go to heaven. Non-believers are
annihilated; they cease to exist after death.
||Anonymous authors of the Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew, and
Luke: circa 70 to 90 CE: Those who do good deeds go to Heaven. Hell
exists as a place of eternal torture without hope of mercy.
||Author of II Thessalonians: 75-90 CE: All the unsaved will be
killed when Jesus returns.
||Author of Revelation: 93 CE?: Evil people are thrown into a
lake of fire and annihilated. Some are eternally punished.
||Author(s) of Gospel of John: 100 CE?: Those who believe in
Jesus' divinity will go to heaven. The unsaved will be annihilated.
||More details about these five belief systems.
The status of women.
During Biblical times, the status of women went through three phases:
||Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: A few extraordinary women achieved
status. However, the vast majority were considered little better than
||Women were viewed as inferior to men. In Genesis, Adam is
portrayed as ruling over Eve. The Hebrew term "marry" literally
meant to "become the master
of the woman." Female slaves could be raped by their male owners. A
female owner -- like Sarah -- could assign her
slave to be raped continually by the husband. Women were not eligible to be
considered for the priesthood. A census included only males over the age
of one month; women were not counted at all. A man's vow was binding; a woman's
vow could be nullified by her father, if she was single, or by her husband, if
she was married. During the Second Temple period, women were not
allowed to testify in court trials. They could not go out in public, or
talk to strangers. When outside of their homes, they were to be doubly
veiled. "They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the worship
and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves."
||Women were viewed as an item of
property: The Tenth Commandment forbids coveting any
piece of property that the neighbor owns. This includes his house, wife, slaves,
and animals. A father could sell his daughter into
slavery. Unlike a male slave who regained his freedom after six years,
she remained a slave forever. A man seducing a virgin woman was seen as
a property offense against the owner of the woman -- her father.
||During Jesus ministry: He overthrew centuries of Jewish law and custom.
He almost always treated women and
men as equals. He violated numerous Old Testament regulations, which
required gender inequality. He ignored ritual impurity laws by curing a
woman who suffered from untreatable menstrual bleeding. He talked freely to
women -- even foreign women. Jesus taught women -- a forbidden act. Of the
ten or so followers of Jesus whose characters are developed in the Gospels,
about half were women. The author of Luke and Acts told many pairs of
parallel stories, in which one referred to a woman, the other to a man. He appeared first to women after his resurrection. "Mary Magdalene and the
other Mary" receive the first apostolic commission of any human - to
tell the good news of the resurrection to the disciples.
||After Jesus' execution: The Epistles give mixed messages
concerning the status of women.
||Some passages continued Jesus' tradition of gender equality. The Holy
Spirit at Pentecost was described as entering both men and women. Paul
refers to various women as a disciple, a deaconess, co-worker or colleague,
as "outstanding among the apostles," and as a co-leader of a house
church. ocrt4In Galatians 3:28, Paul
equates the status of men and women: "There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
||Other passagesocrt4 promote female
inferiority: The husband is to be considered head of his wife. Women were to
wear head covering as a sign of inferiority. They were to remain silent in
churches. Women are to submit to their husbands in everything. A woman must
not teach. A woman must not have authority over a man. A woman is a "weaker
vessel" in comparison to her husband.
||In later centuries, tocrt4he church
enforced this latter inferior role for women. It is only in the 20th century
that significant changes have been adopted by many mainline and liberal denominations.
Most conservative denominations still prohibit women from being ordained.
Related essays on this web site:
B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, "The Oxford Companion to the Bible",
Oxford University Press, New York, NY, (1993), P. 806 to 818.
Copyright © 2003 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-DEC-24
Latest update: 2006-NOV-18
Author: B.A. Robinson