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Reference: Heredity


HEREDITY, which may be defined as 'the hereditary transmission of qualities, or even acquirements,' so far as it is a scientific theory, is not anticipated in Holy Scripture. That men are 'made of one' (Ac 17:26 RV) is a fact of experience, which, in common with all literature, the Bible assumes. The unsophisticated are content to argue from like to like, that is, by analogy. But the modern doctrine of heredity, rooted as it is in the science of biology, involves the recognition of a principle or law according to which characters are transmitted from parents to offspring. Of this there is no trace in the Bible. Theology is therefore not directly interested in the differences between Weismann and the older exponents of Evolution.

1. In the OT, which is the basis of the doctrine of the NT, there is no dogmatic purpose, and therefore no attempt to account for the fact that 'all flesh' has 'corrupted his way upon the earth' (Ge 6:12), and that 'there is none that doeth good' (Ps 14:1). A perfectly consistent point of view is not to be expected. Not a philosophical people, the Hebrews start from the obvious fact of the unity of the race in the possession of common flesh and blood (Job 14:1; 15:14), the son being begotten after the image of the father (Ge 5:3; cf. Heb 2:14). This is more especially emphasized in the unity of the race of Abraham, that 'Israel after the flesh' (1Co 10:18), whose were the fathers and the promises (Ro 9:4-5). But the Bible never commits itself to a theory of the generation or procreation of the spirit, which is apparently given by God to each individual (Ge 2:7; 7:22; Job 33:4) constitutes the personality ('life' '/2-Samuel/1/9'>2Sa 1:9, 'soul' Nu 5:6), and is withdrawn at death (Ec 12:7). This is the source of Ezekiel's emphasis on individual responsibility (Eze 18:4), a criticism of the proverb concerning sour grapes (v. 2), which was made to rest on an admitted principle of the Mosaic covenant, the visitation upon the children of the fathers' sins (Ex 20:5). This principle involves corporate guilt; which, though sometimes reduced to a pardonable weakness inseparable from flesh (Ps 78:39; 103:14; Job 10:9), and therefore suggestive of heredity, yet, as involving Divine wrath and punishment, cannot be regarded as a palliation of transgression (Ex 34:7; Ps 7:11; Ro 1:18). Sin in the OT is disobedience, a breach of personal relations, needing from God forgiveness (Ex 34:6-7; Isa 43:25); and cannot therefore be explained on the principle of hereditary transmission. Moreover, the unity of Israel is as much one of external status as of physical nature, of the inheritance of the firstborn no less than of community in flesh and blood (Ex 4:22; cf. Ge 25:23; 27:35). Similarly Adam is represented as degraded to a lower status by his sin, as cast out of the garden and begetting children in banishment from God's presence.

2. Such are the materials from which NT theology works out its doctrine of original sin, not a transmitted tendency or bias towards evil, but a submission to the power of the devil which may be predicated of the whole race. [See art. Sin.]

J. G. Simpson.

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