The Wages Of Sin (Tr.)

N.B. As Eutychus VI is on vacation, he has offered this column to the noted demythologizing theologian Heinrich v. Schlunk. Originally entitled “Die Sündenbelohnung im Hinblick auf das mythologische Selbstverständnis,” this article first appeared in Entmythologisierte Rundschau, 1973, and was widely hailed as an example of relevant contemporary exegesis.

The attractive if elusive Pauline concept of the wages of sin has its locus classicus in the lapidary, aphoristic assertion of Rom. 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Although each of the concepts, wagesExtensive mention of wages is found in the Nag-ei-Hammadi tablets excavated by the late Sol Hurok in the course of a talent search., sinSin Is also frequently mentioned in extrabiblical literature; cf. e.g. the Code of Hammurabi, passim., and deathThat death was a familiar concept to ancient Near Eastern man may be inferred from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, as well as from numerous funerary inscriptions. is freqently encountered in earlier literature, it is to the former rabbinical scholar and world traveler Paul that we owe the revolutionary concept of wages of sin.

The somewhat jarring amalgamation of the three concepts, wages, sin, and death, into the Gestalt the-wages-of-sin-is-death may prove misleading and even alarming, until we recognize that the third element, death, is clearly mythological in nature. In antiquity, death was associated with a voyage, particularly over water: the crossing of the river, such as Lethe, Styx, or Jordan. Boats are found in Egyptian tombs.A survival of this ancient Egyptian journey-motif is found in the slang expression “take [someone] for a ride.” Paul has evidently taken over this primitive mythical element, perhaps unconsciously, and added it to form his characteristic tripartite Satz. This is probably to make it more acceptable to ancient man, who, as we know, had a three-storey view of the universe and was very particular about such things. It is by discarding the mythological element “death” that we at once see with clarity that Paul is trying to draw our attention to the radical concept of wages of sin. This clearly goes against the puritanical economic stringency associated with the Jewish and Christian minorities in the pluralistic Roman Empire and suggests that the apparently conflicting sentence 2 Thess. 3:10, also attributed to Paul, “If any will not work …,” may be a later interpolation.

It is important to recognize that much sinning is not directly remunerative, and may even involve work (hence no advantage over not sinning). Here too Paul, although perhaps obliquely, offers a clue with his reference to those who “not only do such things, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32). The obvious suggestion is that sins, if not followed by too drastic and incapacitating a punishment, may be publicized in such a way as to make them remunerative: hence, the “wages of sin.” It was a publishing loss of the first degree, for example, that controversial figures such as Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler committed suicide before writing their memoirs. (Rash actions of this sort may have been precipitated by the thought of the death penalty, now abolished in progressive countries.) It is evident from the American publishing world, for example, that relatively insignificant figures have been able to turn far less spectacular sins into highly attractive “wages” by suitable post-sin publication. (Repentance is possible but not mandatory.)

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The relevant message, then, is that one must attend to the wages of sin, i.e., sin in such a way that there will be (a) no incapacitating penalty and (b) the opportunity for subsequent remuneration of a substantial nature. The troublesome reference to death as a long-range consequence may safely be ignored if our exegesis is sound.The opinions and conclusions here expressed are those of Prof. v. Schlunk and do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Christianity Today.

Reflecting Sensitivity

I am compelled to voice my appreciation for Andre Bustanoby’s article on “The Pastor and the Other Woman” (Aug. 30). He should be congratulated for his insights and efforts in this area. I would also like to thank CHRISTIANITY TODAY for publishing this kind of article. It reflects sensitivity to a set of problems a large number of us face. I would also like to encourage you to include this kind of article on a regular basis.

Wheaton Evangelical Free Church

Wheaton, Ill.

As a professional counselor, but more importantly as a Christian counselor, I was grieved that you printed the article. Not once was mention made of Jesus Christ! Not of his person; not of his redemptive love; not of his willingness and his power to meet needs and to transform lives. That article could have been printed in any secular magazine. I am reminded of a professor at a seminary; in speaking of seminary students he said in essence, “They are human beings and as such are subject to all the problems and temptations of other human beings. But they are redeemed men! And their redeemedness should show!” How much more should that be true of mature men who have made a vow before the Lord their God to “Feed his sheep” and to walk worthily and uprightly before him. If a pastor is tempted by another woman, his problem is much deeper than anything touched on in that article.

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San Francisco, Calif.

This article is a surprising addition to your publication. It indicates that CHRISTIANITY TODAY has succumbed to “Evangelicalitus.” Evangelicalitus is evangelical Christianity without the regenerating power of the Evangel.… The psychological mumbo-jumbo of Bustanoby simply clouds the real problem. The pastors he speaks of are not men of God, they are not regenerate, they serve Satan and not the living Christ. They should not be tested psychologically. They should be called to repentance by their brothers and sisters in Christ. And if they refuse, turn them over to Satan, for they are not of God.

United Presbyterian Church

Big Lake, Minn.

Andre Bustanoby reveals a strong humanistic influence.… But that is what happens when you spend your time reading the likes of Timothy Leary.… With that kind of influence it is no wonder the author suggests “psychological testing” to eliminate “the narcissistic” types from the ministry. He makes no mention of the real cause of ministerial adultery—sin.… Until we stop seeking humanistic solutions to man’s problems and start following biblical principles, they will get worse. Frankly, I feel this article was an insult to every sincere minister who was called to the ministry by the Holy Spirit, and who says with the Apostle Paul, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”

Scott Memorial Baptist Church

San Diego, Calif.

Opposing The Opposite

I read with consternation the grossly unfair report of Jesus ’74 in the August 30 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY (“Farm Fellowship”). I am particularly chagrined because my name is given, with that of Craig Yoe, as co-author of this travesty. I want it known that I completely disavow the negative slant of the article and that I deplore the inclusion of irrelevant material about performers who either didn’t show or who did but whose motives were then impugned—this at the expense of really pertinent data about Jesus ’74: its excellent organization; its attendance by 20,000 worshipers from all over the United States (nearly twice the size of Jesus ’73); its top-drawer speakers and entertainers; the overflowing spirit of love and praise which prevailed; the good behavior of the crowd (no drugs, alcohol, free sex, or litter). These are among the deleted highlights of my enthusiastic report, in which I wrote, “Coming away from Jesus ’74 one received the distinct impression that the Holy Spirit is alive and well on Planet Earth.” The distorted version of the event in CHRISTIANITY TODAY conveys the very opposite impression.

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Westminster College

New Wilmington, Pa.

A Refresher Course?

Your editorial “Another President Topples” (Aug. 30) is astonishingly and disturbingly naïve. It reflects a distorted and biased sense of history, and in particular, a definite lack of historical facts concerning Cyprus past and present. Archbishop Makarios was duly and legally elected president. Is he to be denied that right because he also was called by the Orthodox of that island to be their ecclesiastical leader as well? Since when have clergymen been disenfranchised of their political rights?

There is little to commend your Christianity when you assert that the Turks have “old scores” to settle. How far back must we go to settle “old scores”? Since 1453 A.D. the Greeks have suffered under the tyranny of the Turks. Did you forget so soon the events of 1921 or the 1956 events in Constantinople that left over ninety Orthodox churches destroyed and desecrated, and the systematic persecution of over 100,000 Greeks who were forced out of their homes in Constantinople since 1921? And you talk of settling “old scores.” You would do best by going back and taking a refresher or perhaps a remedial course in history before you editorialize on Cyprus again.

Greek Orthodox Church

Salt Lake City, Utah


In the September 13 News story entitled “The Episcopal Church: When Is a Priest Not a Priest?” we incorrectly attributed to Robert Hall of Virginia a statement made by Charles Hall of New Hampshire.

In the September 13 editorial “Hearkening to Harkness” we incorrectly stated that Barrington College had no women on its Board of Trustees. Dr. Mary T. Thorp is a member.

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