Original Sin and Free Will in the Apocalypse of Baruch

Original Sin and Free Will in the Apocalypse of Baruch

Introduction

According to the Apocalypse of Baruch, humanity is afflicted neither by the guilt of Adam’s sin nor by a bondage of the will. Instead, it presents a humanity that inherits death and corruption, that is personally responsible for individual sins, and that has a will free to deliberate between both good and evil.

The Apocalypse (2 Baruch) was written during the mid-to-late first century A.D., and is believed to be a work of the Pharisees. The ideas in this work are consonant with that of the Pharisees during the first advent of Christ, and would’ve also been shared by the apostle Paul, who was himself a Pharisee before joining the Christian Church. Robert H. Charles notes, “in this Apocalypse, we have almost the last noble utterance of Judaism before it plunged into the dark and oppressive years that followed the destruction of Jerusalem” (Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, p. 470).

Our Lord was often more upset with the actions of the Pharisees than their doctrine, and — contra Charles — I think the apostle Paul has a lot more in common with the beliefs of these Jews (and with 2 Baruch) than later Protestants would concede. For the latter, disagreements over the abuses of the late-medieval Latin church cannot be ignored, especially as it influences their reading of both Paul and the New Testament.

2 Baruch teaches that there are 3 consequences resulting from Adam’s transgression:

  1. Physical Death
  2. Psychical & Physical Degradation
  3. Spiritual Impairment

Let’s take a brief look at each one of these consequences as presented by the Apocalypse.

Physical Death

According to 2Baruch, man was (possibly) created to be immortal. However, as a result of Adam’s transgression, human beings now experience physical death. For example:

For what did it profit Adam that he lived nine hundred and thirty years and transgressed that which he was commanded? Therefore, the multitude of time that he lived did not profit him, but it brought death and cut off the years of those who were born from him. (2 Bar 17:2-3)

And again:

For when Adam sinned and death was decreed against those who were to be born, the multitude of those who would be born was numbered. And for that number a place was prepared where the living ones might live and where the dead might be preserved. (2 Bar 23:4)

This perspective is also shared elsewhere among both second temple literature and the Holy Scriptures.

For example, 1 Enoch 69:11 says “Death, which destroys everything, would have not touched them, had it not been through their knowledge by which they shall perish; death is (now) eating us by means of this power.”

And in 2 Enoch 30:16, “After sin, there is nothing . . . but death.”

In 4 Ezra 3:7, “And you laid upon him one commandment of yours; but he transgressed it, and immediately you appointed death for him and for his descendants.”

And finally, in the Scriptures themselves (Wis. 1:13–14):

God does not cause death
or delight in the destruction of living ones.
For he created all things to exist,
and the generations of the world bring salvation,
and there is no poison of destruction in them,
and the kingdom of Hades is not on the earth

The apostle Paul has this in mind when he writes to the Romans: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12). On this, St. John Chrysostom explains:

And he confirms his proposition from things opposite; that is, from death and sin. How, and in what way? He asks from where death came, and how it prevailed. How then did death come in and prevail? “Through the sin of one.” But what means, “for that all have sinned?” This: He, having once fallen — even they that had not eaten of the tree did from him — all of them, become mortal.

On the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans, Homily 10

It also seems that 2Baruch implies that death would eventually come to all, and that Adam’s transgression has only accelerated this. This is, then, an “untimely death” (2 Bar. 54:15-16):

For, although Adam sinned first and has brought death upon all who were not in his own time, yet each of them who has been born from him has prepared for himself the coming torment. And further, each of them has chosen for himself the coming glory. For truly, the one who believes will receive reward.

It is worth noting that this passage indicates the resulting torment (or “glory”) is determined by each individual; that is, by “free will.” Each person has “prepared for himself” their own reward, irrespective of Adam’s transgression.

Psychical and Physical Degradation

The most clear evidence that Adam’s transgression resulted in psychical and physical degradation (corruption, decline) is found in 2 Bar 56:6:

For when he transgressed, untimely death came into being, mourning was mentioned, affliction was prepared, illness was created, labor accomplished, pride began to come into existence, the realm of death [lit: Sheol] began to ask to be renewed with blood, the conception of children came about, the passion of the parents was produced, the loftiness of men was humiliated, and goodness vanished.

In agreement with both Ss. Irenaeus of Lyons and Augustine of Hippo, one of the chief outcomes of Adam’s fall is the “passion” of sexual desire. Along with this, a number of physical ailments and otherwise psychical forms of degradation were introduced into humanity.

It is interesting to note that the Gospels present a Jesus who has come largely to heal the sick and the suffering, to cure seemingly incurable diseases, and to provide consolation and hope for the despairing and hopeless (Mt. 13:15; Jn. 12:40). Far from being tangential to the “good news” of the Messiah, these are central aspects of the redemption found in Jesus Christ (e.g. Ps. 29:3; Isa. 61:1; Jer. 17:14). In every case, as well, where Christ has healed a disease, his message is to “go and sin no more.” Sin and corruption are intimately connected in the Hebraic mind, and therefore in the Christian and patristic mind as well (e.g. Deut. 30:3; Ps. 40:5).

Spiritual Impairment

The final consequence of Adam’s transgression is that of spiritual impairment. As Charles puts it, man has become “his own worst enemy,” following 2 Bar 56:10: “For he who was a danger to himself was also a danger to the angels.”

This does not mean, however, a total and complete depravity of human nature; nor does it imply that human beings are incapable of choosing that which is good and holy in the Lord’s sight. The “guilt” (for lack of a better term) for each individual is the result of that individual’s sins — not the sin of Adam. This is seen, for example, in 2Bar 54:19: “Adam is, therefore, not the cause, except only for himself; but each of us has become our own Adam.”

2 Baruch tells us that each individual is presented with a real choice between both good and evil; between “life” and “death” (19:1,3):

Therefore he appointed a covenant for them at that time and said, “Behold, I appoint for you life and death,” and he called heaven and earth as a witness against them . . . They, however, sinned and trespassed after his death, although they knew that they had the Law to reprove them and that light in which nothing could err, apart from the spheres, which witnessed, and me.

The choice of evil on the part of an individual is both free and deliberate, even with the “light” of God’s law shining on all (including the Gentiles). And therefore, 2 Bar 51:16:

For once they chose for themselves that time which cannot pass away without afflictions. And they chose for themselves that time of which the end is full of lamentations and evils. And they have denied the world that does not make those who come to it older. And they have rejected the time which causes glory so that they are not coming to the glory of which I spoke to you before.

Conclusion

Charles concludes his introduction to the Apocalypse (Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2, p. 478) writing: “Thus in 2Baruch there is no doctrine of inherited guilt or of total depravity.” In fact, 2Baruch allows for the possibility of a heart completely free of sin, as with the prophet Jeremiah (2Bar 9:1): “And I, Baruch, came with Jeremiah, whose heart was found to be pure from sins.”

There are certainly consequences for humanity in the transgression of Adam, but they are not of a will in total bondage or of a nature that is rendered incapable of choosing good. Rather, the results of Adam’s sin are death, corruption (pain, suffering, passion, etc.), and the ability to rebel against God; to refuse the unity and communion with the all-holy Trinity for which all were created. But for our own sins, we are all culpable.

We have all become our own Adam.

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