Timeless stories: What was his sin?

Today I won’t actually post something I wrote, but a story I snipped out of an ancient book.

This story is from a book called the “Shepherd of Hermas. It is a very old Christian book from the first or second century that people highly regarded. Some early Christians even included it in the scriptures, and bound it with the New Testament between the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles.

The work comprises five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. The main theme of the book is calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed the Church.

Please read the story below and comment on it. I’m sure you’ll get something out of it!

The master, who reared me, had sold me to one Rhoda in Rome. After many years, I met her again, and began to love her as a sister.

After a certain time I saw her bathing in the river Tiber; and I gave her my hand, and led her out of the river. So, seeing her beauty, I reasoned in my heart, saying, “Happy were I, if I had such a wife both in beauty and in character.” I merely reflected on this and nothing more.

After a certain time, as I was journeying to Cumae, and glorifying God’s creatures for their greatness and splendor and power, as I walked I fell asleep. And a Spirit took me, and bore me away through a pathless tract, through which no man could pass: for the place was precipitous, and broken into clefts by reason of the waters. When then I had crossed the river, I came into the level country, and knelt down, and began to pray to the Lord and to confess my sins.

Now, while I prayed, the heaven was opened, and I saw the lady, whom I had desired, greeting me from heaven, saying, “Good morning, Hermas.” And, looking at her, I said to her, “Lady, what are you doing here?” Then she answered me, “I was taken up, that I might convict you of your sins before the Lord.” I said to her, “Will you convict me now?” “No, not so,” said she, “but hear the words, that I shall say to you. God, Who dwells in the heavens, and created out of nothing the things which are, and increased and multiplied them for His holy Church’s sake, is angry with you, for that you sinned against me.” I answered her and said, “Sin against you? In what way? Did I ever speak an unseemly word about you? Did I not always regard you as a goddess? Did I not always respect you as a sister? How could you falsely charge me, lady, with such villainy and uncleanness? “Laughing she said to me, “The desire after evil entered into your heart. No? You do not think that it is an evil deed for a righteous man, if the evil desire should enter into his heart? It is indeed a sin and a great one too,” she said; “for the righteous man entertains righteous purposes. While then his purposes are righteous, his reputation stands steadfast in the heavens, and he finds the Lord easily propitiated in all that he does. But they that entertain evil purposes in their hearts bring upon themselves captivity of death, especially they that claim for themselves this present work and boast in its riches, and cleave not to the good things that are to come. Their souls shall regret it, seeing that they have no hope, but have abandoned themselves and their life. But you pray unto God and  He shall heal your own sins, and those of your whole house, and of all the saints.”

Did he really sin? What was his sin? I would really love to hear your comments!


6 thoughts on “Timeless stories: What was his sin?

  1. Dear Mike,

    This takes me back to 1976 when US presidential candidate Jimmy Carter did an interview for Playboy magazine. In the article he equated lustful thinking about a woman with the act of adultery itself based on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5

    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

    Hermes looking at a beautiful woman and desiring to have her as one would have a woman within marriage is probably the first century way of saying he was lusting after her. If so, he was sinning. The good thing is that he did not act upon the “reflection” Apparently the voice from heaven believed he was sinful stating the “the desire for evil entered your heart. No?”

    Stopping evil at the slightest reflection of it is a good thing. Such counsel is still recommended today: http://www.cbn.com/finance/rbrlust.aspx

    I will be very interested to read what others think.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Dawn. The beauty of this book is not just discussing the sin, but it shows how us humans act about it. It’s obvious that he thought of her in a lustful way, but the intriguing part is that he convinced himself that he saw her nothing more than a sister.
      We became experts in philosophizing sin to turn in it an act of simplicity and purity.
      I’m preparing a post just on that, it should be ready soon.
      Thanks, Dawn.

  2. I agree with Dawn in terms of the idea of adultery. If He saw her bathing and if she were naked, why did he not walk away from the situation to maintain her honor and retain his integrity rather than approach her in her nakedness to give her his hand?

    Lust is a very subtle thing my friend and in my opinion, he acted on it by approaching her while he “saw her bathing”. He is trying to justify his behaviour by seemingly convincing himself that he was merely seeing her as beautiful in “body and character” as a wife candidate, but he did his sister wrong by his actions. You never hear of her reaction to his actions in this story so it’s really more about looking at the intents of the heart rather than justifying bad behaviour.

    Also, question what he says when he states that “After a certain time I saw her bathing in the river Tiber..” read in between the lines…why was it after a “certain time”…does that mean he had been following her??? How long was he aware of his sister’s activities….How did he happen to chance a view of her bathing without being aware of her whereabouts? I don’t know Mike…seems kind of fishy to me. It’s not what he said that counts…it’s what he didn’t say that counts which leads me to believe that he indeed did sin by lusting after her, which is as Dawn rightly mentions is adultry. What do you think?

    1. Very interesting, Sherline. I loved how you picked up that he’s been following her for a while. His intentions weren’t pure however much he convinced himself that they were. Thanks

  3. I was thinking along with Dawn and Nightshade, especially in that he saw her bathing and then offered her his hand up out of the river. I think that was where the sin entered in. God bless you Mike, and thank you for bringing us such great posts to think about!

    1. Thank you, Deb, for reading and commenting on the post 🙂
      As I answered Dawn and Sherline, the guy was so deceived by his own thoughts that he didn’t know what he did, or perhaps knew but acted stupid (hahaha)

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