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The Doctrine of Original Sin

➤❘        The Doctrine of Original Sin    

Part 5

As the preceding discussion has made clear, my take on original sin has one important difference with the mainstream Christian view. But it is also traditional in other respects.

I believe that humanity's need for grace stems from Adam's fall. What happened at the Fall did indeed affect every human being, rendering every human in need of a Savior, who is Christ. In other words, I affirm that Adam's sin put all humankind in the position where they could only share eternity with the true God by virtue of a redemptive act on the part of the true God. This act was, of course, the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent bodily resurrection. In the last installment of this topic, I explained how that relates to those who are unable to believe (aborted fetuses, stillborn babies, the mentally incapacitated, infants, toddlers, etc.). It is my contention that all of these individuals have eternal life because (a) they never incurred guilt before God and are therefore innocent, and (b) are raised because of Christ’s resurrection. In view of (a) the key difference in my view is that Ada’s sin did not result in the transmission of guilt to all humans—but only what Romans 5:12 actually says was transmitted (death).

This position naturally generates questions. Most revolve around the suspicion that my view undermines the doctrine of depravity. My view doesn’t undermine a biblicalportrayal of depravity, only the way certain denominations talk about the doctrine of depravity.

The Doctrine of Original Sin and Depravity: No One is Innocent because “None are Righteous”

My view doesn’t argue that “innocent” carries with it any merit. Never having sinned before death (and even life experience in the case of the aborted and stillborn) doesn’t mean the innocent have the righteousness of God. If allowed to live, sin would be inevitable. That isn’t the case with a righteous God. I am saying babies are born with no moral guilt before God. The only argument from Scripture that babies are born with moral guilt before God is the traditional view of Romans 5:12. That view is exegetically and theologically deficient for the reasons I’ve noted.

When Paul (drawing on Ecclesiastes) says that there are none righteous, he is of course correct. But his point is not "all are under moral guilt." I would approach Romans 3 in its context. First, Paul is note targeting a fetus or zygote. He is targeting all adult Jews and Gentiles to make his point that all of them are under sin. And I would agree. No one "cannot not sin." How can I be sure this is the way to take Paul here? Let me quote Paul, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:11-12). Note that in verse 12 Paul defines and clarifies verse 11. He is targeting all those who "have turned aside" (a term that denotes rebellion and disobedience), and who "have become worthless" (they had to do something - i.e., commit a sin) to get into that condition. Paul is targeting those who commit acts of sin or evil”: v. 13 - "they use their tongues to deceive"; v. 14 - "their mouth is full of curses and bitterness"; v. 15 - "their feet are swift to shed blood"), etc. Notice what Paul doesn't say: "they have descended from Adam and his guilt is transferred to them." So my view (that humans are born sinners, but not guilty before God—they only incur guilt when they sin, and that’s inevitable) is consistent with Paul’s words. If anyone can show me how the fertilized egg of the human conceptus fits these descriptions (doing evil and committing sins), then I'll change my view.

Other statements of Paul are relevant to this question: Paul says in Rom 5:19 that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Some would say this opposes my view of Romans 5:12. It doesn’t. Because of Adam’s sin all humans are sinners; they will all become guilty before God when they sin, and they cannot avoid sinning.That means their guilt is their own, not Adam’s. Adam's sin placed humanity outside the conditions that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden. God's superintending influence and presence in Eden was the primary agent or force that kept Adam and Eve sinless. Once humans were removed from that, they had no hope of not sinning Notice in Genesis 3 that Eve is not in the presence of God when she is deceived, and Adam is also not with God when he sins.

Some also suggest that my view is incompatible with Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”). They assume that the verse means everyone “is” a sinner before they sin. Take a look at the verse. It simply doesn’t say that. It says “everyone sins” (I agree). Because everyone sins, they fall short. Again, I agree. But those who make this argument must assume that the conceptus in the womb, that has no brain or will still commits sins. That’s absurd. It also assumes that stillborn babies committed sins, or that the severely retarded willfully rebel against the laws of God. I say those are also absurd propositions. For biblical theology, sinning requires volition – sin is, essentially, idolatry (the pursuit of autonomy in rejection of God’s will and laws, or rejecting what God says in favor of some other god). You can’t sin when you’re in a coma. That’s analogous to some of the situations I’m talking about with respect to innocence.

Still others will charge that my view of Romans 5:12 is incompatible with the statement in Romans 5:18 that “one trespass led to condemnation for all men.” Doesn’t that line say that because of Adam’s sin everyone became guilty? No, it doesn’t. The question to as is howdid Adam’s trespass lead to condemnation for all humans? The answer is simple: All humans would now die, and all humans would be sinners. Since every human (if they live and aren’t incapacitated from choosing to sin) will inevitably and invariably sin, they will inevitably and invariably be condemned. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).

This is the same situation with Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Many assume this says all humans inherited Adam’s guilt. Other than never referring to Gen 3, Psa 51:5 doesn’t say this. What does it mean when David claims to have been “brought forth in iniquity”? He can’t mean that sexual intercourse is evil. It isn’t. It was God’s gift from the very beginning in Eden (“be fruitful and multiply”). I believe what the verse affirms is that every human is born a sinner. The second half of the verse actually says that (if one takes the Hebrew preposition beth[“in”] in the phrase “in sin” as the beth of predication,a grammatical-syntactical category). The meaning then is “as a sinner.” The same preposition occurs in the phrase “in iniquity” (and so, “as one who does iniquity”). Psalm 51:5 actually works nicely with my view of Romans 5:12. There’s no contradiction.

Some appeal to Ephesians 2:1 (“you who were dead in trespasses and sins”) to try and overturn my view of Romans 5:12. But note what Paul says here. The words are plural. Hence they are trespasses and sins that are real – they’ve been committed. By who? The people Paul is writing to. The rest of the verse makes it clear that these are the trespasses and sins “in which YOU once walked” (and Paul proceeds to describe their “disobedience” in more detail).

Paul adds in Eph 2:3 that the Ephesians “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Doesn’t that point to inheriting Adam’s guilt? No. First, we can’t divorce the statement from the preceding verses, which are clearly describing sins they had committed (not Adam). The statement "by nature children of wrath" is the part that the traditional viewpoint leans on in defense of their view of Romans 5:12 and the idea that we are condemned by Adam's guilt, transferred to us by God. But that isn’t what the passage says. Ephesians 2:1-3 (taken together) informs us that the Ephesians (and all people, by extension) are spiritually dead (guilty before God and deserving condemnation) because of the sins they have committed. Why did they sin? Because “by nature” they couldn’t do anything else. Every human will wind up at the same place: under the wrath of God because of what they are: sinners. Sinners sin. No human, born a sinner, will ever succeed in not sinning. We are by nature sinners and, therefore, are all deserving of the wages of sin: death. None of this is contrary to my view of Romans 5:12.

My view doesn’t reject the doctrine of depravity. It defines human depravity as the irreversible condition of all humans: they are born sinners and will inevitably and invariably sin. Humans who aren’t allowed to live before they can sin (willfully violate God’s laws) have, by definition, not sinned. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t and aren’t, by nature, sinners. My definition of depravity simply isn’t that humans are guilty before God because of what someone else (Adam) did. They are guilty because of what they do.

The Doctrine of Original Sin and Depravity: Your View is Pelagianism

This is also nonsense. For those who may not be familiar with Pelagianism, here’s an explanation from a reformed (Calvinist) theologian:

The "deepest cleft" separating people calling themselves Christians, Warfield claimed, is that which distinguishes the "naturalistic" conception of salvation held by some from the "supernaturalistic" conception held by others.?? The naturalistic vision, which he designates "autosoterism" ("self-salvation") and which the church has designated "Pelagianism," after Pelagius, a late-fourth/early-fifth-century British monk, who proposed it, contends that men can save themselves, that is to say, that their native powers are such that men are capable of doing everything that God requires of them for salvation. (Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Lectures delivered at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. and Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.;Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998], 468. Reymond is quoting B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, 16-18.)

Let me repeat what I’ve said in earlier posts (several times): No one saves themselves. No one merits salvation in any way. No one gets to heaven apart from the work of Christ. This is the antithesis of Pelagianism.

The Doctrine of Original Sin and Depravity: Your View is Novel and Not Supported by Church Fathers

First, I wouldn’t care if my view isn’t found in any church fathers. The right context for interpreting the Bible isn’t the church fathers. They lived centuries after the events of the New Testament (millennia in the case of the Old Testament). The right context for interpreting any biblical passage is the context that produced it—and of course the immediate context of the passage, along with the Old Testament context (which itself had a context).

But the accusation isn’t true, as it turns out. Below is an article (not publicly accessible) that shows that Irenaeus wrote several things that are consistent with my take (humans are sinners estranged from God because of their own guilt, not Adam's) and which are in step with the 2nd Temple Jewish view of how evil/sin proliferated throughout the human race due to the sin of the Watchers ("sons of God") in Gen 6:1-4.

D. R. Schultz, "The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepigraphical Literature," Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 32: 3 (Sep., 1978), pp. 161-190

Those interested can find the article and read it. Irenaeus was obviously no heretic.

Though the article by Schultz is not publicly accessible, the PhD dissertation he wrote upon which that journal article is based is:

D. R. Schultz, "The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepigraphical Literature," PhD thesis, McMaster University, 1972 (216 pp)

➤❘    The Doctrine of Original Sin  

What do you think?
We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.

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