How God Sees Us: A Critique of “Original Sin”

I used to struggle greatly with core issue in my walk with God: how did God think about me?  When I came to mind, what were his impressions and thoughts of me?  When the Bible says that he “loves” me, is it the love of someone obligated by a contract, or was it one that held endless emotion, filled with delight and joy in his unique creation?  I couldn’t see it being the latter because I knew myself too well – I was a person like any other – one whose life was filled with mistakes and failures.  How could God delight in me?

So one day I asked him this, and he answered me in a way I couldn’t disagree with; a way that speaks to your heart like only he knows how to do.  It was through this interaction, and many thousands later, that I came to see how God sees me, and by extension, his people, and by extension, all people.  We are all his unique creations, each one of us designed without a duplicate.  When we die, this world will never see one like us again.  To the people who belong to him, he delights in them in a way that transcends my understanding of joy. To the people who do not know him, or who want nothing to do with him, he longs to know them like a lost child – desperate to hold and comfort and love them, a unique and beautiful creation, but has decided to let them make their choice.

This picture of how God sees me and other people, however, did not match up with popular Christian theology.  There’s a lot of talk about the “depravity” of humanity, and how utterly evil and completely corrupt we are.  It doesn’t help that this mindset has a few verses (and I mean few) that appear to support this, such as Jeremiah 17:9 in the King James Version: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”  If our own hearts are by design the worst thing in the universe, there isn’t any way God could want anything to do with us, much less think about us in any positive way, least of all with joy.

This picture of humanity was developed and codified by Christians about  1500 years ago, and came to be known as “original sin.”  Because of Adam’s original sin, we have all been born completely evil in every thought and deed.  More extreme but predictable versions emerged later that said we are completely unable to choose God at all, but God, like a great puppet master, turns on a “God” switch to make some of us evil creatures into good ones.

The motivation behind this picture was straight forward.  Clearly everyone makes mistakes and sins, and there had to be a really good reason why God chose to become human and be tortured to death to reunite us with himself.  So it was decided that to make sure what God did (something that drastic) was justified, all humanity had to be seen not only in a state of being incapable of a perfect sinless life,  but incapable of anything good at all.  If anyone was capable of anything really good, God’s death wasn’t really necessary.

In my bible reading and study, especially in the Old Testament, I have found this picture of humanity to be untrue of how God really thinks of people in regards to sinful and right living, and it certainly is not a picture of how God thinks about me in the real relationship I have with him right now.  So what I wanted to do is to take a serious look at the biblical texts that write extensively about this issue.  I believe it is time to seriously question this doctrine and see if there is a better explanation for why every person struggles with sin and brokenness, and why it was completely necessary for Jesus to die for us so that we might be reunited with God.  What follows is a serious study of key Old and New Testament passages including original language research.  Enjoy!

Introduction

The reality of mankind’s estrangement from God and its unavoidable tendency to sin has never been debated in orthodox Christianity.  However, theories and explanations for how this awful state came into being were numerous and varied; each one failing to produce satisfactory answers to even its most convinced adherents.[1]  Nearly every effort brought as many theological problems as it solved.  From its start, the classic explanation (as developed by Augustine of Hippo) for how mankind became universally sinful brought intense controversy from within the Church, even though the purpose for its formulation was to combat controversy from without (Gnosticism).  This explanation, later codified with modifications by the Church in the patristic period, became known as the doctrine of original sin.

The purpose of this paper is threefold: 1) to describe in detail a modern defense of this doctrine. 2) To critically examine it in light of what scripture (mostly from the Old Testament) reveals about sin and humanity, and 3) ultimately, to humbly propose a modified explanation for man’s disastrous condition since the fall of Adam and Eve.  It is important to be clear that the purpose of this critique is not to challenge in any way the reality that man is hopelessly and excessively inclined to sin by nature, but to demonstrate that the doctrine of original sin is inadequate and arguably unbiblical in its attempt to explain this, and the Church is in need of an alternative theory.

A Modern Defense of Original Sin

In mid-18th century England, the ideas of the European Enlightenment began more than ever to influence the Anglican Church.[2]  It was though the writings of Daniel Whitby and John Taylor that the Christian population began to move away from orthodox Christianity towards a liberal / rational approach to major doctrines.  The biggest blow was dealt by Dr. John Taylor in his influential book The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin which eventually came out in three editions.  In it he denounced two major concepts in the classic doctrine of original sin: 1) the guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed to all his posterity who are then condemned for it either because a) in some mystical way they either participated in it,[3] or b) they legally inherited it,[4] and 2) that as punishment, God gave all men (including unborn children) a sin nature which forces them to only be able to sin all the time but yet still be held accountable for their behavior.  Taylor’s critique was aimed mainly at the latter theory of legally inherited guilt, which was prevalent at the time.

This drew immediate condemnation by notable authors such as Isaac Watts and David Jennings, but later by more notable figures such as John Wesley from the Armenian side and Jonathan Edwards from the Calvinist one.  As history would show, Calvinism, especially in the United States, took a heavy blow because it could not sufficiently defend itself against Taylor’s attacks and began a slow descent into liberalism.[5] Arminianism, however, under the guidance and critique of John Wesley against Taylor held substantial weight in two notable ways:  The strictly Arminian concept of prevenient grace countered the argument that God was responsible for man’s sinful nature because the Atonement of Christ’s death allowed all men to possess the free choice to choose God (as opposed to all other areas of choice which were under the total dominion of sin.)  The efficacy of the Atonement also provided a counter to Taylor’s second main critique regarding the unfair imputation of guilt to Adam’s descendants for something he alone did.  Although Wesley believed that all men legally inherited the guilt and punishment of Adam’s first sin, he believed that the Atonement removed that guilt and its punishment so that all men, including infants, would only be condemned for their actual sins.[6]

Prevenient grace aside, Wesley still strove to defend the Calvinist Federalist[7] version of the doctrine of original sin to underscore why God was justified in condemning all humanity and did so in his treatise The Doctrine of Original Sin Explained and Vindicated.[8]  The following are his main propositions in describing it:

I.      Man was originally made righteous and holy

II.      That righteousness was lost by the first sin

III.      Thereby, man incurred death of every kind (spiritual and physical) for—

IV.      Adam was the sin of a public person, one whom God had appointed to represent all his descendants.

V.      Hence, all these from birth are “children of wrath,” void of all righteousness, and propense to sin of all sorts.

VI.      This is an indispensable, irrefutable doctrine foundational to Christianity.[9]

It is important to note that in his efforts to rationally justify the doctrine of original sin from biblical texts understood in light of an Augustinian interpretation of Romans 5:12-21, Wesley, like Jonathan Edwards, was unable to rationally explain or resolve serious issues with the doctrine.  Most notable of these is the very serious problem that if Christ was fully human, he must, by the theory of original sin, inherit a depraved sinful nature.  To put it simply, the doctrine of the Trinity and the humanity of Jesus stand in direct contradiction to the doctrine of original sin and needs creative extra-biblical philosophy to justify it.[10] The second is the glaring problem that the Federal or Realistic theories of the imputation of Adam’s guilt on his descendants is not alluded to or acknowledged in any way in the Old Testament narrative, wisdom, prophetic, or poetic literature.  What is affirmed very clearly is the fact of the universality of sin, but not its explanation.  It is the purpose of the next section to further clarify this position.

It is one thing to asset to a doctrine as a “mystery” and must be believed by faith because it is clearly affirmed in the Bible.  Such is true, for example, of the universality of sin – that mankind has a natural inclination to sin, both in his outward actions and in his inner thoughts and desires. It is not clearly explained in the Bible how this came to be.  The Church’s classic explanation does not need to be assented to as an unknowable mystery that defies explanation because it is in fact a human explanation that found its roots in the patristic period.[11]  Therefore it stands to reason that if another proposal can be found that more completely explains the mystery of the universality of sin and helps to alleviate conflicts with other biblical doctrines (such as the full humanity of Christ),  we should at least consider it.[12]

Original Sin in the Old Testament

The clearest reference to the concept of imparted sin is found in the New Testament in Romans 5:12-21.  However, to examine this passage first would be to exegetically “jump the gun.”  Paul’s theology stems from a picture of God and his activity as revealed in the Old Testament.  One should assume that he would not contradict the authority scripture of his day, so his statements should be read as subordinate and in conformity with what is found there.  It is for this reason we now turn to the Old Testament to find clues about God’s system of the interaction of sin and humanity to better understand the basis of Paul’s picture of Christ’s redeeming work in Romans 5.

Corporate Solidarity

The concept of corporate solidarity involves the idea that all individuals of a social group are somehow responsible for the actions of their representatives.[13]  In the case of a family, the representative is the father; in the case of a nation; its king or leaders; in the case of the entire human race, Adam himself.  What is important to understand is that in the Old Testament there is a difference between how God treats people groups according to their representative’s actions and how God holds individuals responsible for their personal actions in regards to punishment or reward.  In the case of God “punishing” or “visiting the sins upon” a people group because of the actions of their representatives, God’s activity involves allowing the consequences of that activity to be applied to individuals of that group.  It is important to note that the consequences of corporate guilt, when visited upon individuals experientially, are not to be mistaken for reward or punishment for personal actions.  When the wicked experience blessing in the land because a king is godly, it does not mean they are credited as righteous any more than the curses experienced by the righteous because of a wicked king mean they are assigned guilt and are deemed wicked.  Both parties (either wicked or righteous) are simply experiencing the reality of corporate solidarity depending on the actions of their representatives.

It is also important to note that God, in his sovereignty, can control the consequences of corporate solidarity on the individuals of a group. Exod. 20:5 (and Deut. 5:9, 7:9) seems to imply that “punishment” caused by a father’s sins will be experienced specifically by “those who hate me” in his descendants.  While it is true that the fall of Jerusalem was a result of God “punishing” the nation of Israel for generations of past and present sin, Jeremiah was treated very well by the Babylonians under the orders of Nebuchadnezzar himself (Jer 39:11-14).

As opposite from corporate punishment for representative action stands individual guilt for individual action. In this case, God’s activity involves assigning guilt and demanding punishment for that individual alone.  In both cases, both the suffering of the consequences of social sin, or the punishment of individual sin, God determines the details and the timing.

The rules for how God deals with corporate entities and individuals are for the most part clearly articulated in the Old Testament, both in the laws and in narratives describing their application.  This area of study is very large, so for the purposes of this paper, we will be concentrating on passages and narratives that may give us clues to the concept of guilt in both the context of corporate solidarity and in the scope of the individual.

Laws & Narratives Involving Individual Sin & Punishment

Regarding how God views the relationship between a man’s sin and his descendants is discussed in Deut 24:16: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”  A good example of how Israelites followed this correctly is in in 2 Kings 14:6 regarding Amaziah’s treatment of his father’s assassins’ children – “Yet he did not put the sons of the assassins to death, in accordance with what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses where the LORD commanded: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.’”  God also acts in accordance with his law on at least two accounts: Korah’s children were not killed for their father’s rebellion (Num 26:11) as mentioned in Num 16.  Achan is stoned to death but his family is left to witness in Joshua 7:25.[14]

Laws & Narratives Involving Corporate Sin & Punishment

Regarding God’s treatment of the individuals depending on the actions of their corporate representatives, we find four very similar laws using nearly identical Hebrew wording that talk about God punishing (paqad) (or visiting?) the sins (awon)[15] of the father on 3 or 4 generations of children, but blessing those who love him and keep his commands to a thousand generations. (Exod 20:5-6, 34:5-7, Num 14:18, Deut 5:9-10, and also found repeated in Jer 32:18 with different wording.)  The Hebrew word used here for “punishing” (paqad) is one of the hardest words to translate,[16] and unfortunately it is a theologically important one found numerous times in the Bible (302 times).  Out of these times a majority of instances mean to count, number, muster, or assign people.  The second most common usage (and the one of interest to this study) is translated “to punish” but can also mean “to bless,” and in one case is used in the same verse with both meanings! (Zec 10:3).  The best attempt to make sense of this verb in terms of God and humanity would be the activity of bringing a moral entity to accounting or reckoning—to actively deal with someone or a group in some way based on one’s moral actions.[17]  Surprisingly, in a survey of all 45 instances of the NIV’s translation of paqad to mean “punish,” the context is always involving corporate punishment of a people group for the activity of its representatives or of the majority (who for some reason are rarely mentioned as being involved in punishment itself), and is never used in the context of God “punishing” an individual for their own sins alone.

If this is how paqad is used in every instance, then an important point should be made regarding corporate solidarity from and Old Testament perspective: it cannot mean punishment or blessing based on the individual’s actions; there is no imputed righteousness or guilt involved.[18]  According to the 4 verses of father-generation punishment, children are punished for their father’s sins to the third or fourth generation.[19] How could God “punish” the children of a man who committed a capital sin?  If his guilt was transferred to them and the punishment is death, there would be no resulting generations to be punished.  Furthermore, without contradicting Deut. 24:16, how can a man’s descendants be punished by death for a crime their father committed?  To say that “punishment” in a corporate sense entails imputed guilt would cause these laws to contradict each other.  The most reasonable solution is to understand that God’s “punishment” towards the individuals of a people group are not based on imparted merit or guilt, but instead involve allowing the consequences of those actions to be felt and experienced by them instead.[20]

If there were still any confusion over the imputation of guilt in corporate solidarity, God in Ezekiel 18 puts the matter completely to rest.[21]  The exiles were angry and despairing of their state because of their common understanding of transgenerational sin and divine retribution as captured in the quoted proverb that introduces this section: “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”(Ezek 18:2).  God does not agree and sets out to demonstrate with three cases on how he determines a person’s guilt or righteousness.  Below is a portion of the passage regarding two of these test cases—the righteous son of a sinful man and the wicked man who became righteous:

“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.  21 But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.  22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.  23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

It is quite clear that a person is responsible before God for their own actions—either wicked or righteous, and God in response will credit them with righteous or condemn them as wicked, and ultimately allow them to die or to live.  When comparing Exod 20:5-6 and Deut 24:16, it becomes apparent that this is not an individual-centric evolution of God’s approach to sin from an earlier transgenerational version as some scholars theorize,[22] but rather has been God’s way of dealing with sin from the beginning.

Sin Nature According to the Old Testament

Ezekiel 18 provides insights not only into God’s perspective that inherited guilt doesn’t exist, but also his perspective of human nature.  What makes a man wicked or another righteous?  What are the consequences, apart from the Israelite law, for sin?

Righteousness & Wickedness as Behavioral & Thought Patterns

According to Ezekiel 18, a person is judged and deemed righteous or wicked by God not by individual moral actions by themselves, but by a sustained pattern.[23]  Wickedness involves a pattern of unrepentant sin both in thought and in action.  Righteousness[24] is a pattern of sustained behavior and thought in accordance with God’s laws and his ways, but is a term with complex meaning and assumptions,[25] and presumes a relationship with him.[26]

Individual moral actions that stand in opposition to the overall moral pattern of a person’s life do not change a person’s status in God’s eyes.  A momentary good moral action committed by a wicked person does not make them righteous, nor does an individual evil action make a righteous person wicked; it’s the pattern of their life that takes shape after this action that makes the difference.  A righteous person will return to God and renew their relationship after their sin and repent,[27] and the wicked person will continue in their wickedness after their good action is done.

As is clear in this passage as well as in the entire book of Jeremiah (and most other prophetic literature), the moral patterns of people can change.  A wicked man may become righteous, and the righteous man may become wicked.  To say a person is wicked and cannot change or a righteous person’s credits protect them from wickedness annuls the main theme of Jeremiah (and most of the prophets), which is the pleading of God for the wicked to return (bwv) to him.  According to Ezekiel, Man’s moral nature is one that God considers fluid and changeable, operating under the influences of a person’s free will in reaction to God’s revelation in their lives.[28]  A person’s internal moral and spiritual state is defined by God as conforming to a general moral pattern of either wickedness or righteousness, which can change at any moment a decision in the oppose direction occurs.  No one is sinless,[29] but anyone is capable of repenting and returning to God.

Righteousness & Total Depravity

With a better understanding of the concept of righteousness, we can’t help but note other passages existing in the Old Testament that seem to contradict this by suggesting that no one can be righteous.  Often times this interpretation is sought innocently—in order to reconcile a perceived interpretation of a Pauline New Testament text with and Old Testament complement.  Many have been proposed as proofs for the reality of the total depraved nature of humanity, but for the sake of brevity, we can only review some of the more prominent OT passages.[30]

A primary text traditionally seen as supporting natural depravity is found in Jeremiah 17:9-10: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” or, according to the KJV rendering, “desperately wicked.” “Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”[31] The word translated “deceitful” (‘aqob) is only found in one other place in the Hebrew Bible, and that is in Isaiah 40:9 describing a road that is hard to traverse, and is situated in a parallel poetic structure with a synonymous word meaning “rough” ground.  Even more useful to a clearer understanding is the LXX’s translation of “deep” instead of “deceitful” and does not contain the wording for “beyond cure” or “wicked” (KJV).   A translation of “deceitful” and “wicked” does not seem to fit with the sense of the parallel clause of “who can understand it?” and “the LORD searches the heart and examines the mind to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  This assumes a man’s deeds could be rewarded, which is not possible for a heart that is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked.”  In light of these text-critical and contextual observations, it would be safe to propose an alternative translation of “The mind is impossible to fathom above all else. Who can understand it?”  This is more in line with other wisdom literature, such as Prov. 20:5, 21:2, and 24:12 and uses the Greek word from the LXX.

In the Psalms, a couple of verses can be found that seem to suggest sinfulness from birth or before.  The most obvious one is Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (NIV)  But we cannot use a strict literal interpretation here since we are dealing with a poetic literary genre.  The most likely interpretation is that David is saying poetically through hyperbole[32] that his sin was not a recent thing, but is something he’s dealt with since his youth.  A similar and more obvious usage of hyperbole following the theme of “sinful from birth” is found in Psalm 58:3: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.”[33]  It would be hard to take this literally.  Even if we were to read these passages as literal proof of sinful behavior in the womb, we would need to consider these concepts when compared with positive birth or pre-birth psalms that suggest righteousness, such as Psalm 22:10: “From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” and Psalm 71:6: “From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.”  All these passages taken together suggest a more accurate poetic description of something that has taken place for a long time in a person’s life and goes back to their early years.

Another notable Psalm that has been a famous proof text for the doctrine of total depravity (Psalm 14) is famous because if its use by Paul in Romans 3:10-18.[34]  As mentioned earlier, one cannot begin an interpretation of Romans without first considering the original context of Psalm 14 with the appropriate hermeneutical approach.  The context limits the scope of who “all” is to the people who “devour God’s people as though eating bread” (v.4), and rightly must mean the audience introduced in the first verse,[35] the fools (lb’n”).  This is a description of a person who is sinister and intentional in his ignorance, and when combined in a group with similar people, has the capacity to oppress the righteous.[36]  Later in this chapter we see that God frustrates and worries this group because he is present with the target of their schemes—the “company of the righteous.”  If it is true that the “sons of men” and the “all” who have turned aside are referring to the entire human race, we cannot have a “company of righteous” as their target, because it is clear that this group has a target of people they are oppressing other than themselves.  For this line of thinking to even make sense, we need to see two separate groups, the author being one of the suffering righteous.  Furthermore, to avoid taking this psalm as a holistic normative picture of humanity, we need to understand it in relation to Psalm 8:2-5:

“2From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 5 You made him a little lower than God and crowned him with glory and honor.

Taken together, we can see a more realistic picture of mankind.  It is not one who has a completely depraved nature from birth, but rather one that exists on an individual level in a freely chosen moral state of either wickedness or righteousness, but was intended all along to be righteous—honorable and glorious; being made “a little lower than God.”  There is no hint in this passage of an original righteousness that was lost, only a present reality in the form of righteous people.

 “Life” and “Death” as Consequences for Righteous or Wicked Moral Patterns

What is the ultimate consequence for the guilt of personal wickedness or the credit of righteousness?  According to Ezekiel (and also Prov 19:11), it is death for the former and life for the latter.  Upon close inspection however, it is not clear what these terms mean.  The Hebrew or the Greek words used do not offer up any nuance other than plain meaning of physical life or death in their OT usage.  The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that death is the fate of all men, both for the fool and the wise (Ecc 2:14-16).  What we cannot do here in Ezekiel 18 is apply a proverb literature hermeneutic that would lead to an interpretation of this being a general rule of thumb that has exceptions.[37] If the righteous inherit physical life and the wicked physical death, we have in integrity problem: the Old Testament is filled with examples of righteous men suffering and dying, and is a major theme of discouragement and frustration in the Psalms.  Likewise, it is apparent that wicked men at times live long prosperous lives (Like Manasseh in 2nd Kings 21:1).  If we cannot see this verse as proverbial, then we must seek a different understanding of what “life” and “death” mean.

In light of this, it seems that life and death, when seen as the consequences of a person’s moral pattern, are best understood in a spiritual sense.[38]  Life means fellowship with God; an existence of spiritual vitality experienced in a way that a person was meant to be.[39] Death means the opposite—an experience of life apart from God filled with darkness, confusion, wrong choices, and suffering.  Some passages in the Bible assume death as occurring or as a state of being while a person is actually alive (e.g. Prov. 5:23, 23:13-14, 8:36).[40]

Cultic Practices & Sin

Regarding temple or cultic practices involving sin, we do not see any ritual to remove some “taint” in mankind’s nature in the Old Testament law. We do have a series of temple sacrificial regulations for unintentional sins that are committed, as well as the offerings given on behalf of the entire nation’s unintentional sins on the Day of Atonement.[41]  Intentional sins were a matter between a person and God, forgiven by God when a person repents and returns to him.[42]  However, none of these temple sacrifices or rituals change the status of a person before God – participating in a religious festival, a temple ritual, or any other cultic practice does not change the righteous or wicked status of a person.   In the Old Testament, religious ritual had no efficacy to remove sin or make a person righteous in God’s eyes.  Instead, this has always been a matter of the heart between God and a person.[43]

Old Testament Conclusions on Original Sin

Proverbs 20:9 says: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?”  Also, we find in Proverbs 21:2: “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart.”  Out of these two verses, we have a picture of the human condition:  Regardless of a person’s righteous or wicked state, no one can claim to be pure and without sin, and even worse, no one can know for sure if they are currently doing something wrong that they don’t realize.  All men suffer from a strong inclination to sin, and are by nature ignorant, even of some of their own sinful thoughts or behaviors.  How does God respond to this state of men?  He imparts spiritual death on those who consistently do not respond to him or obey him, and spiritual life and his presence on those who do.  God does not change the spiritual status of wicked or righteous based on a single moral action, but on a pattern of moral behavior.  God expects that men have the ability to choose to turn away from their sins and return to him, and they can do so simply by responding to his revelation in obedience and to seek him in a relationship in a consistent manner.

What we do not see is God’s intent for man’s eternal destiny in terms of his spiritual status.[44]  The Old Testament saint who was righteous relied on God to sustain him with his blessing of life, and put his hope in him for whatever came afterward.  The concept of the total depravity of a person’s will is completely absent.  The concept that all a person’s moral actions and thoughts may contain elements of sin seems to be true, but it does not count against them in terms of a judgment of spiritual life or death, nor does any single act count for or against them in terms of a right or wrong standing (righteous or wicked) before God.  It is the pattern of moral actions and thoughts and a sustained relationship that counts. The concept of inherited guilt and subsequent punishment is absent in God’s system of judgment and is clearly denounced.  However, it is clear that in nuanced way, God does allow the effects and consequences of a person’s sin to adversely affect the people around them, including people both in the present and in the future.  When a family or nation suffers the consequences of the sin of their representatives, the individual of that group is never considered wicked in God’s eyes as a result.  In no way is it possible through participation in the cultic sacrificial system, religious rite or ritual, holy days, or festivals to change one’s status with God or change the status of their sin through a mysterious efficaciousness inherent in the act itself. The vehicle of God’s grace for righteous people who sin is always though an act of free will stemming from the heart to return and repent.

Original Sin & the New Testament (Romans 5:12-21)

With a firmer understanding of man’s nature and an understanding of God’s perspective of corporate solidarity and individual sin from the Old Testament, we can now turn to Paul’s treatment of the old and new Adam in Romans 5:12-21.  Shown below is a helpful chart of the activities associated with the old and new Adam:

Old Adam

New Adam (Christ)

v.12-14: Summary and introduction to the analogy: Though Adam, sin entered the world, and death entered the world from sin’s presence, and men who sin receive this death.  Important note: sin and death were not a result of breaking the Sinai covenant laws.
v.15: Many died because of the sin of one man. Many will receive the gift that came by God’s grace though Christ.
v.16: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation. The gift followed many sins and brought justification.
v.17: Through the sinful choices of Adam, death “reigns” Though the work of Christ, the abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness, life “reigns” in those who receive it.
v.18: The result of Adam’s one sin was condemnation for men. The result of one righteous action of Christ was justification and life for all men.
v.19: Through the disobedience of Adam, many were made sinners. Through the obedience of Christ, many will be made righteous.
v.20: The law was added so that sin might increase With the increase of sin comes the increase of grace.
v.21: Sin reigns in death. Grace reigns through righteousness, and righteousness brings eternal life though Jesus Christ.

 

Paul in this section is trying to help his readers understand that Christ’s work on the cross has been accomplished by comparing the current condition of mankind with what has been made possible through Christ.  This is done using an analogy of the “old” Adam representing in a very loose way Adam of the Garden of Eden, and Christ representing himself.  We should take a view of Adam as being a corporate representative of the human race, not as the sole person responsible for the fall of mankind (Eve is equally responsible for that). As with all analogies or other similar literary techniques (metaphors, parables, etc.) it is an important principle in hermeneutics that we not stretch it too far, but must focus on the main point of similarity and not be caught up in the details.

v.12-14 Summary and Analogy Introduction.[45]  Adam is singled out as one of the representatives of the human race that best suits Paul’s analogy as a contrast to Christ, (as opposed to Eve).  This is not unusual—the representatives of a nation, the king (and sometime a nation’s god), is singled out when God is referring to judging or punishing a nation, especially in Jeremiah (Jer 25:12, 36:30-31, 46:25, 49:8, 50:18, 51:44).  It should be understood that the king was not solely responsible for the actions of a nation, but as its representative, he is mentioned.

The outcome of Adam’s sin was the existence of death in the world.[46]  From our previous examination of life and death as effects of righteousness and sin respectively, it seems most likely that Paul is talking about the introduction of spiritual death into the world – a separation from God on a personal and societal level.  Paul is saying that anyone who sins receives this spiritual death.  However, this must be understood carefully—while it is true everyone sins, not everyone will die because of their sins (Ezek 18:21-22) “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.  None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.”  What Paul is doing is introducing the problem before hinting at the solution, a solution, it can be argued, that has always been in place since the first sin of Adam and Eve.  But Paul does not hint at this here.  What we don’t see here, as others have before inserted into this text, is an inherited “sinful nature” imparted to all men from their parents.[47]

According to Paul, another interesting aspect of this “death” is that it is not necessarily caused by a transgressing any of the Israelite laws.  This confirms the scope of this discourse to not only a Jewish audience since Mt. Sinai, but the entire human race.  This death is caused by sin, but not by the law.  From our previous examination of “righteousness” apart from the Israelite covenantal law, in its very base sense, this is referring to ignoring God and refusing to walk with him, such as in the examples of Cain and his descendants.[48]  The opposite is seen in the examples of the sons of Seth, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham.  Paul will later go on to show that it was their “faith” that made them righteous (Romans 4, Gal 3, Heb 6, 11).  Faith here has nothing to do with believing in God—that is a presupposition in the lives of all mentioned above—it has to do with an active relationship and obedience to whatever revelation God gives a person, and most likely, a willingness to repent if one has done something against what God has said not to do.

Paul’s picture involves progressive revelation.  First we have a general picture.  We are told of a “gift” that comes from Jesus, the “new man.”  What gift are we talking about?  As his analogy unfolds, so does his increased description of what the gift is, similar to God’s progressive revelation in history.

v.15 Many died because of Adam’s sin / Many will receive the “gift” because of Christ  This is most likely talking about the consequences of Adam’s sin as felt by his descendants.  This is the reality of sin—it affects the people in a person’s sphere of influence (see God’s explanation of what will happen as a result of David’s sin in 2nd Sam 11:10-12).  Paul is Christological-centric in his analogy.  He starts to build up what Jesus is really doing by introducing the concept of a “gift” that stands in contrast to “death” which Adam introduces.  Although many suffered death though sin, many more will receive this mysterious “gift.”

v.16 On sin was followed by judgment, and judgment, condemnation / Many sins followed by the “gift,” and the gift brings justification.  Here Paul focuses on the consequences of sin using legal terminology.  The Greek word used for justification here is only used two times in the New Testament (in these verses alone), but is the noun form of the verb is used more frequently to mean to legally “declare righteous,” exactly what God is doing in Ezek 18:22.  Just as one sin introduced death into the world, so it also introduces judgment and condemnation.  But God has always had a solution.  In the Old Testament, it was embracing the relationship with God through repentance and returning to him.  Here we see in the “new man” that the gift brings justification.  Somehow this “gift” is the means by which God can forgive a sinful man in Ezek 18:22 and evidently is crucial to enabling him to walk with righteous people since the beginning.

v.17 Death “reigns” because of the sin Adam / Now life “reigns” because of the gift of righteousness.  Here we are seeing a reappearance of the already well-established Old Testament concept of “death” for sin and “life” for righteousness.  This is nothing new, except we are now beginning to see how it is that God was able to declare righteous people “righteous” since Adam somehow though the work of Jesus Christ.  In is in this part of the analogy that we first see Paul revealing a little more about the “gift,” which is “life.”  As mentioned before, the Old Testament definition of “life” as a result of righteousness is most likely referring to spiritual life.

v.18 The result of Adam’s one sin was condemnation for all men / The result of Jesus’ one act of righteousness was righteousness for all men.  What is highlighted here is the cause and effect of sin and righteousness in these two men.  The effect of Adam’s sin was the introduction of condemnation for all men in way that does not contradict v.12-14.[49] The effect of the “new man’s” one act of righteousness was the introduction of justification and “life” for all men.  In both clauses, the “for all men” is extremely important.  It means that either condemnation or righteousness is available for all men with the assumption being that a choice between the two is made.

v.19 Through Adam’s disobedience, many were made sinners / Through Jesus’ obedience many will be made righteous.  Here the specific quality of disobedience inherent in sin is highlighted, as is obedience to God a quality of righteousness.  The being “made” sinners or righteous is not saying that it is something forced; it is referring to the act of God legally assigning a status to a person after they have already made choices or decisions that result in an overall pattern (to be “made” righteous or wicked).  The “making” is a result of a person’s moral patterns, not the effect of a sinful nature.  To take this view and apply it to the second clause would be to say that Jesus “makes” or forces people to be righteous, which is clearly not the case.  People are righteous because they choose to be and it becomes a pattern.

v.20 The law brought an increase in sin / This increase in sin brought an increase in grace.  We now switch from a subject of Adam to the law.  God introduced the law (in the Sinai covenant) in order that people might see more clearly his moral nature and goodness, but the effect was that people were without excuse—now that God’s desire for how mankind should behave is known in greater detail, a person is guilty of sinning were they were not before.  With an increase in knowledge of the law comes the inevitable increase in breaking it (this is a clear reference to the universal sin condition of humanity as mentioned in 1 Kings 8:46 and Proverbs 20:9), but with God’s introduction of the law, comes his grace to forgive those who commit their lives to keeping it but fail to do so perfectly.  Basically, fuller revelation of God brings with it greater responsibility, with greater responsibility brings an evitable greater propensity to make mistakes.  Thankfully, God does not unfairly judge the righteous who know him and his was better more severely (with the same amount of grace and no more than their ignorant righteous counterparts), but provides more than adequate grace for them too.  It is the wicked who have an increased knowledge of God’s ways that are to be judged more severely.

v.21 Just as sin “reigned” in death / Grace may “reign” through righteousness by bringing eternal life.  The culmination of analogy of Adam/law and Christ/grace is completed with a surprise ending of the fullest picture of what the “gift” of Christ is: eternal life.  This is a powerful enhancement of the Old Testament concept of a complete and whole life (or a spiritual + physical life). The righteous person in the Old Testament may not have known it, but the reward for righteousness was made possible by the work of Jesus Christ, and consisted not only of a vibrant life connected to God in this life before physical death occurs, but one that never ceases even after they physically die!

Just as sinful choices are the reason for spiritual death, eternal life is brought about though the righteous status of men given to them by God though his grace for their freely chosen overall pattern of right moral behavior and thought life.  Men do not have righteousness on their own, nor can they generate it and give it to God, it is a status freely given to men.

New Testament Conclusions on Original Sin based on Romans 5:12-21

In our overview of Paul’s analogy of Adam and Christ, the law and grace, there doesn’t appear to be any contradiction of the Old Testament’s notion of the impartation of a status of righteousness or wickedness based on a person’s moral pattern in life.  There also appears to be no contradiction in the consequences of life or death for these moral patterns, only a new understanding that the “life” inherited by the Old Testament righteous person is actually eternal and does not just end with physical death.  It does appear that Paul is treating Adam as a representative head of the human race (deliberately not choosing Eve for the sake of a closer analogy with Christ), and with that, embraces the biblical concept of corporate “punishment” for a representative’s sin in terms of consequences, not inherited guilt or punishment for that guilt.

If a person tries to understand these verses without knowledge of God’s working in the Old Testament, two major misunderstandings inevitably arise: a misunderstanding of the concept of condemnation and a misunderstanding on what “death” really is.  Condemnation is God’s act of declaring someone “wicked.”  Judgment is a legal decision, condemnation the specific form of judgment.  In both a court of law and in the ways of God, a person is judged on account of their pre-existing actions, not on their nature.  When we read in verse 18 that the result of one sin was condemnation for all men, we must first of all not see “of” all men.  Secondly, we must understand that condemnation is known to follow as a result of a judgment of a person’s freely chosen actions that have occurred before the judgment was given.  This unmentioned step is assumed here, but a person unfamiliar with the legal system and how God worked in the Old Testament will miss this.

Secondly, it would be a mistake to think of death mentioned in this discourse as meaning only physical death.  This is not the case as was examined earlier in the Old Testament passages where a constant witness was that spiritual death was a result of a pattern of unrepentant sin, or a state of wickedness and deliberate alienation from God.  To put it more clearly, physical death has nothing to do with to the issues of sin, righteousness, wickedness, and their consequences.

A New Theory for the Universal Existence of Sin

Though the previous discussion, every proposition that John Wesley felt was essential to the doctrine of original sin have been demonstrated to be at the very least, doubtfully biblical, at worst, the result of a complete misunderstanding or neglect of the Old Testament foundations presupposed in Romans 5:12-21:

I.      Man was originally made righteous and holy

II.      That righteousness was lost by the first sin

III.      Thereby, man incurred death of every kind (spiritual and physical) for—

IV.      Adam was the sin of a public person, one whom God had appointed to represent all his descendants.

V.      Hence, all these from birth are “children of wrath,” void of all righteousness, and propense to sin of all sorts.

To be fair, however, a direct examination of the first two propositions was not done, and is something that will be done presently.

The Truths That Need Explanation

In order to introduce a new theory, we need to describe what truths we are trying to explain that are noted but not explained in the Bible.  There are two major portions that need to be taken into account and cannot be compromised:  1) All humans sin, both knowingly and unknowingly and 2) that God though Jesus died in order to make people righteous who continually sought to follow and obey him but still sinned (from all times past and future).

A New Proposal

The old explanation for why everyone sins was based on the idea that God somehow invested each new person with (or allowed the impartation of) an evil nature that condemned them to eternal death without any action on their part.  Since this concept has hopefully been shown to be unbiblical and without any Old Testament foundation, a new explanation is needed that would assume that Adam and Eve had the same human nature that we do today without modification.

What is hopefully clear from our previous study is that Adam and Eve were not created righteous or holy by nature; righteousness (or holiness) has nothing to do with a person’s nature but everything to do with a pattern of right behavior that God thereby credits as righteous.[50]  When they fell, this did not mean that by one action their state of righteousness was changed to wickedness any more than David was considered wicked after his sin with Bathsheba.  What has always been the case with all people is the pattern, not the individual moral action. If Adam and Eve turned back to God and repented and restored their relationship with him like David did, then they would continue to be righteous, regardless of the consequences of their actions.

Beside the question of righteousness or wickedness, why is it that Adam and Eve and the rest of humanity struggle so badly with sin? The answer to this puzzle has its source in the God-given free will of men.  The reason free will may not have been considered in greater detail may stem from a superficial understanding of what it must mean to be truly morally free.  In order for people to be free to embrace God’s blessing of “life,” the alternative had to be worthwhile and appealing, both before it was experienced (sinful desire) and after it was embraced (rebellion).  For a person to be truly free and not a robot, by necessity they need the capacity to desire something other than what God desires and the ability to be satisfied in some way with living apart from and in opposition to God.

What may look like God setting up the original couple for disaster by allowing a dissenting serpent and a forbidden tree easily accessible in the middle of the Garden of Eden could instead be seen as absolutely necessary.  In order for people to truly love and respond to God, they must be truly free.  But not only do people desire wrong choices and find them to some degree satisfying when experienced, they are not always aware that they are making wrong choices in the first place, or that they have wrong motives behind them. God did not make man perfectly knowledgeable in what is right and wrong, or with a perfect awareness of their motives.  If this is the necessary nature of man in order to be truly free, it has a terribly high potential for disaster, but it cannot be said that they are totally depraved and without the ability to ever do a right action or demonstrate a pattern of right choices that pleases God.

Figure 1: The Unnatural (unbalanced) Man who is dead.

Nevertheless, it seems that the cards are stacked against humanity (see Fig.1), and it is the proposal of this paper that such a condition is in fact, by design.  It tells us that the design of a human being is for freedom, but its limitation demands a balance, a missing element in their internal construction.  No one by their own strength can be perfectly moral because they are inevitably drawn to morally wrong choices and are at times too limited to understand that they are even sinning at all.  It seems that a human being was all along designed to be in a relationship with God, the missing influencing element. God’s presence in a person’s life tips the internal scales from a hopeless entanglement with wrong choices to one that enables an escape from ignorance through the guidance of Holy Spirit and the strength to resist sin.   But this balancing element must too be chosen, for all human relationships exist because they freely choose to maintain, dissolve, or temporarily ignore them.  This understanding of the human heart can be understood in light of our ultimate destiny – to live a life in an unhindered, perfect relationship with God.[51]

 

Figure 2: The intended design of man – deemed by God as “good” – and fully “alive”

God provides the balance to true freedom; his presence enables a free person to have the knowledge and strength to follow him that flows from real by-directional communication and continued relationship (see Fig. 2).  The sin that comes from being truly free is forgiven by God to those who choose to follow him and respond positively to whatever revelation they have from him.  God’s provision allows time for him to slowly teach and guide the people who love him to becoming more like himself.

So what is the purpose of Christ’s necessary death within this proposed system that has no magic bullet of a completely corrupt sin nature that needs forgiveness?  According to this new proposal, it is completely impossible to not sin, even with the presence of God in a person’s life.  Since no one is without sin and we are made free to choose to sin, we are all ultimately responsible for our wrong moral choices.  Although God is our judge, he is also our creator who wanted free men rather than morally perfect automatons, and thus planned all along to enable righteous men and women to be set free from the penalty of their sins though the punishment (paqad) of his own son.  Christ, like us, was a descendent of Adam who suffered the consequences of the sinful choices not of just humanity’s representatives, but of the race in its entirety.  What seemed an unfair design (the reality of corporate solidarity) was ultimately the system though which God redeemed us.  We who are righteous, when we suffer the consequences of living in a morally corrupt society, should remember we are in good company.

Radical Freedom and the Humanity of Christ

If the proposal of radical freedom is the cause of universal sin and its remedy rests in its intended design to be in a relationship with God, then we have the foundation (however tentative) for how Jesus could be sinless and be fully human.

  1. Man was made free, and thus given a nature prone to sin.
  2. God designed mankind to live a full “life” though a relationship with him.
  3. A relationship with God grows closer over time.
  4. The closer a person draws to God, the more like God they become, and the more they can resist sin.

Therefore, if a person has spent an eternity with God and has a perfect relationship, they could operate without sin.  No man has spent an eternity with God, or has a perfect relationship, except for Christ himself.  Because of Jesus’ perfect relationship with God (from eternity past), God was able to perfectly communicate, guide, and teach him so that he could freely choose to not sin.

Corporate Solidarity and a Radically Free Nature

If we are to understand the nature of a human being as designed from the ground up for true freedom, we can extend this model to see a macrocosmic structure of a social consciousness. In the previous diagrams, we can see how the conscious (external to a person in that it is not a person’s true self) is an influence on a person’s moral actions.  However, what a person thinks is right or wrong should not be necessarily thought of as coming from God, but could also come from cultural morality, which is a mixture of good and evil, stemming from the sum-total of the influential in a society upon an individual.  In a society where we have a series of representatives in our lives all possessing a self-destructive nature, either balanced with or without God depending on the representative’s individual choice in the matter, we can see how we will be influenced (see Fig 3).

 

 

Figure 3: Corporate solidarity, influence “shells,” and lines of influence.  Shown here is an example of a godly society where an individual is influenced by the personal relationships of social group’s influential men and women around them.

Corporate solidarity is by design an integral part of the way humans beings were designed internally expressed macrocosmically in society.  In a society where the majority of a person’s societal representational influences (family, church, state, etc.) are primarily governed by people with a relationship with God, a person will benefit.  In the case where a person lives in a society where the representatives of influence exercise their free will without God, the opposite will occur- a person will be cursed with an excessive influence of evil and self-destruction.  Corporate solidarity was meant to work both ways.  You cannot have it only one way – the blessing of a godly society can only be possible if the curses are possible too.  It is not a cruelty, but the gracious working of a loving God in a system of radical human freedom.

 

Works Cited

 

Anderson, Gary. “Necessarium Adae Peccatum: An Essay on Original Sin,” Pro Ecclesia 8 (1999): 319-337.

Andre, G. “paqad” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, February 19, 2003.

Barker, Kenneth L. ed., Zondervan TNIV Study Bible.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Bennett, Robert. “Wisdom Motifs in Psalm 14=15– nābāl and ēsāh,” Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research, No.220 (1975).

Block, Daniel. The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24.  New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

Boda, Mark. A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament.  Lake Winona, IL: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

Burke, Patrick. “Man Without Christ: An Approach to Hereditary Sin,” Theological Studies 29 (1968): 4-18.

Crisp, Oliver. “Federalism vs. Realism: Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong, and William Shedd on the Imputation of Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 8 (2006): 55-71.

Downey, Patrick. Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity, and the Human Heart.   Downers Grove, ILL: Inter Varsity Press Academic, 2009.

Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas K. Stuart. How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

Kidner, Derek.  Proverbs: An Introduction & Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D.J. Wiesman; Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1964.

Kister, Menahem. “Romans 5:12-21 against the Background of Torah-Theology and Hebrew Usage,” Harvard Theological Review, 100 (2007): 391-424.

McFarland, Ian. “Fallen or Unfallen?  Christ’s Human Nature and the Ontology of Human Sinfulness,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10 (2008): 399-415.

McKenzie, J. L. “The Appellative Use of El and Elohim,” Catholic Bible Quarterly 10 (1984): 170-181.

Milgrim, Jacob. Numbers, JPS Torah Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1990.

Murray, John.  “The Imputation of Adam’s Sin” Westminster Theological Journal, 18 (1976): 146-62.

___________.“The Impartation of Adam’s Sin, Second Article,” Westminster Theological Journal, 19 (1956): 24-44.

Ndaro, Lucas. The Nature of Human Death: The Case for Prefall Morality (M.Div thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2006), 145.

Pietersma, Albert and Benjamin G. Wright. New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Pink, Arthur W.  Gleanings from Scriptures: Man’s Total Depravity. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969.

Prichard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Propp, William. Exodus 19-40, Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York: Doubleday, 2006, 173.

Romanides, J. S.  “Original Sin According to St. Paul,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 4 (1955-56): 5-28.

Rondet, Henri. Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background. Trans. Cajetan Finegan. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1972.

Rosa, P. Christ and Original Sin. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1967.

Ross, A. A Commentary on the Psalms: Vol 1:1-44. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.

Sarna, Nahum. Exodus. JPS Torah Commentary, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991.

Schottroff, W. “paqad” Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Trans. by: Mark E. Biddle. Edited by Ernst Jenni and C. Westermann. 3 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Shanks, Hershel.  The Rise of Ancient Israel: Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution October 26, 1991. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992.

Smith, Sheldon. Changing Conceptions of Original Sin. New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1955.

Speiser, E. A. “Census and Ritual Expiation in Mari and Israel,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 149 (1958).

Thompson, J. A. The Book of Jeremiah. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

Waltke, Bruce and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Weaver, David.  “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 27 (1983): 187-206.

____________. “The Exegesis of Romans 5:12 Among the Greek Fathers and its Implications for the Doctrine of Original Sin: the 5th-12th Centuries; Part II,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29 (1985) 133-159.

Wesley, John. The Doctrine of Original Sin: According to Scripture, Reason, and Experience. Reprint in Modern English.  Salem, Ohio: Schmul Pub. Co., 1999.

Wiley, Tatha. Original Sin: Origins, Developments, and Contemporary Meanings. New York: Paulist Press, 2002.

Williams, T. “paqad”. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. Edited by W. VanGemeren. 5 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.

Wolff, H. W. Theologische Bucherei, 1973.

Footnotes


[1] Notable defenders of original sin are confused and uncomfortable with its explanations.  John Wesley, in a chapter dedicated to defending original sin regarding how it is sensible that mankind can be brought under God’s displeasure by Adam’s sin, claims “It is quite beyond my understanding. It is a depth I cannot fathom.” John Wesley, The Doctrine of Original Sin: According to Scripture, Reason, and Experience (Reprint in Modern English.  Salem, Ohio: Schmul Pub. Co., 1999), 97.

[2] Enlightenment influences had been slowly gaining ground in Anglican and non-conformist societies in England throughout much of the previous century as well, but Taylor’s work more than ever caused it to gain significant ground, both in England and in New England in the United States due to common trade existing between them.  Sheldon Smith, Changing Conceptions of Original Sin (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1955), 11.

[3] This has been termed the “Realist” theory of original sin.

[4] This has been termed the “Federalist” theory of original sin.  A. W. Pink attempts to explain this theory in terms of Adam in a covenant with God and his descendants being contractually guilty of his sin. Gleanings from Scripture: Man’s Total Depravity (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 40-50.

[5] Smith, Changing Conceptions, 37-49.  The gradual slip into liberalism and Universalism is captured in two chapters on the influence of Taylor’s views on original sin in New England Calvinist circles.

[6] This overview is presented very well in a forward to a reprint of Wesley’s writings dedicated to the topic of original sin.  Richard Taylor, forward to The Doctrine of Original Sin: According to Scripture, Reason, and Experience by John Wesley (Reprint in Modern English.  Salem, Ohio: Schmul Pub. Co., 1999), 4-5.

[7] The “Federalist” version of original sin says that God and Adam somehow entered into a legally binding agreement that Adam would act as the “federal” head of the human race, and that any moral failure on his part would be passed on to his descendants who would be held accountable for his wrongdoing and receive its just punishment. A good overview and critique of this position can be found in Oliver Crisp, “Federalism vs. Realism: Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong, and William Shedd on the Imputation of Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 8 (2006): 58-59.

[8] Wesley, Original Sin, 226-42.

[9] Ibid, 226.

[10] Attempts have been made in the medieval period of the church to explain this conflict.  Anslem insisted that Christ’s human nature was not mortal, thus not prone to the effects of human “mortal” nature, the nature that was transmitted from father to son by original sin.  Aquinas offered a different explanation: because Jesus had no earthly father, the paternal transmission of sin never occurred.  This concept was later adapted to some degree by Luther and the Reformation movement.  By the time of Wesley, both these views were downplayed to the status of an unexplainable transference. Basically, Western Christianity was unable to provide an explanation of how the doctrine of the sinlessness and complete humanity of Christ was at all compatible with the concept of original sin. Ian McFarland, “Fallen or Unfallen?  Christ’s Human Nature and the Ontology of Human Sinfulness,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10 (2008): 401-404.

[11] This confusion of “mystery” between clearly revealed truths of scripture and poorly understood explanations is discussed in the introduction to J. S. Romanides’ article on original sin: “Original Sin  According to St. Paul,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 4 (1955-56): 5.

[12] This moral position to critically examine biblically questionable doctrine rather than believe it without understanding is reflected in the introduction to Burke’s essay on a criticism of the hereditary nature of sin.  Patrick Burke, “Man Without Christ: An Approach to Hereditary Sin,” Theological Studies 29 (1968): 5-6.

[13] Examples of transgenerational accountability have been found elsewhere in the ANE, most notable is the account of the Hittite king Mursilis II recognizing that “My father’s sin has fallen on me.” ANET, p. 395.  There is also a possible hint of this concept in 1Ki 17:18 where the widow accuses Elijah of allowing divine justice to kill her son for her own sins.

[14] This is not the translation of the MT, but represents the passage in the LXX, which has no mention of the death of anyone other than Achan himself.  This is true in both the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) by Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) and the classic English Translation of the Septuagint (LXE) by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, 1844.

[15] The term used for sin in these verses regarding the punishment of sons for the father’s “sins” (!wO[) refers to deliberate, egregious sin; outright rebellion.  Victor Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 333.

[16] This is mentioned specifically by E. A. Speiser in “Census and Ritual Expiation in Mari and Israel,” BASOR 149 (1958), 21.

[17] This summary represents the best attempt by the theological dictionaries for non-counting usages. See T. Williams, “paqad” NIDOTTE, 3:659;  G. Andre, “paqad” TDOT, 11:54-55;  W. Schottroff, “paqad” TLOT, 2:1025-29.

[18] This interpretation of punishment without guilt is viewed by Hamilton, Exodus, 333.

[19] This probably is meant to mean 3 and/or 4 generations, i.e. 7 generations, a symbolic number meaning a sufficient or complete number of generations and probably does not mean the maximum generations that live together as an extended family when a man commits a sin as other scholars have theorized.

[20] Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 (NICOT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 563, see notes.  This understanding is by no means a new one.  Cyril of Alexanderia proposed this view.  See David Weaver, “The Exegesis of Romans 5:12 Among the Greek Fathers and its Implications for the Doctrine of Original Sin: the 5th-12th Centuries; Part II,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29 (1985): 147-9.

[21] Block, The Book of Ezekiel, 563.

[22] This evolution of the concept of guilt from heredity to individual is proposed by Propp, mostly due to his source-critical approach to biblical interpretation.  William Propp. Exodus 19-40, (ABD, New York: Doubleday, 2006), 173. Propp sites Halpern’s article for this insight in: Hershel Shanks, The Rise of Ancient Israel: Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution October 26, 1991 (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992).  Also in support of this view, see Jacob Milgrim, Numbers (JPS Torah Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1990), 393.  Also Nahum Sarna, Exodus (JPS Torah Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1991), 110.

[23] Descriptions of the wicked and the righteous are very common in OT wisdom and poetic literature and are often compared and contrasted with each other. It is important to note that the Bible does not assume that the righteous are sinless (1 Kings 8:46).  In terms of describing a person or group of people who are righteous, we find over 50 occurrences in Psalms alone.

[24] The “righteous” (qyDIc;) is a descriptor for people whose lives follow a pattern of righteousness and is found over 40 times in the Psalms alone. This is sometimes used as a synonym for “the upright” (rv’y”).

[25] This definition geared towards post-Sinai Israelite or Christian audience.  To Abraham, righteousness was credited to him because of his obedience to God’s requests and his continued relationship (Gen 15:6). To Enoch, it was because he walked with God (Gen 5:24), like his later descendent Noah (Gen 6:9).  Righteousness in the OT is better defined as a pattern of positive response to whatever amount of divine revelation a person is given, and seems to assume a relationship with God himself.  This seems to be idea behind the Genesis concept of “walking” with God (i.e. Noah and Enoch), which implies a relationship accompanied by right behavior and thought life.  It is important to note that “righteousness” does not imply moral perfection (1 Kings 8:46, Proverbs 20:9),  does not imply perfect or even advanced understanding or knowledge (Psalms 119, 141:5; Prov 3:11, 9:8, 9:9, 17:10, 19:25; 25:12, 27:5; Ecc 7:5), nor does not imply a life without problems (Psalm 34, Prov 11:8, 21, 31; 20:22).

[26] Psalms 36:10 alludes to the fact that the upright know ([d;y”) God.  Knowing God in this passage most likely refers to experiential or relational “knowing.”  God speaking though Jeremiah complains about the priests not wondering where God has gone, and those who practice law (possibly also Levites) not “knowing” him. (Jer 2:8).  The priests, who of all people should know God the closest, do not know him in any personal way that would enable them to realize he is gone from their midst.  Those who deal with the law likewise ought to know at least God’s ways to enable them to make right legal judgments, but they do not.  If they knew about God’s ways, they did not apply them to their legal work, and thus in the sense of yāda‘ meaning an active knowing;  they do not “know” God.

It is clear, with the verses mentioned and many others that one of the great problems the majority of people faced in Israel was they had no “active knowledge” of God (Isa 45:4, Jer 2:8, 4:22, 9:3, 9:6, Hosea 4:1, 5:4, 6:6).   In reading these verses, a concerned listener or reader might wonder how they might come to “know” God in this sense.  If they are to know God by imitating his ways in their lives, how are they to know his ways so that they can obey them?  The priests and Levites clearly knew the law, but did not know God personally, as did both Jeremiah and Isaiah as evidenced by their writings and upbringing as priests.  If it is clear that one could know the law, but still not know God, how could one “know” God this way?

It seems our answer comes from the prophets themselves: Isaiah says of the righteous person, “

God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” (Isa 28:26).  “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isa 48:17).  “Many peoples will come and say ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths (Isa 2:3, Mic 4:2).

Even more clues come from the Psalms.  Psalm 119 is filled with ways that a person can learn God’s ways: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps 119:18).  “Help me to understand the teaching of your precepts (Ps 119:27).  “I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. (Ps 119:102).  It seems clear: an active knowing (the ability to know God and follow his ways) comes from, and is sustained by, a personal relationship with God.   It is God who teaches guides, gives council when asked, and helps someone who knows him to better understand his laws and his ways.  These are all activities that require a two-way interaction with God.  Reading the law and “knowing it” was evidently not enough.  Active knowing requires a personal relationship with God.  Like the people who knew Job and came to console him (Job 42:11), so God desired to “know” his people–on a personal, intimate level.  McKenzie takes this point of view of knowing God – “the knowledge of God” means not just information but knowledge and practice of Hebrew morality J. L. MCKenzie, “The Appellative Use of El and Elohim,” CBQ 10 (1984): 170-181.  Wolff also alludes to this meaning that includes a combination of knowledge and practice ThB 22 (1973): 182-205.  Thompson also stresses that knowing God in this passage includes a volitional and relationship aspect, The Book of Jeremiah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 168-169.

[27] Boda sees the main point of Exek 18 as being the ability, no matter what the circumstance, of achieving a right relationship with God – to repent; to return to him.  Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Lake Winona, IL: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 279.

[28] To say that a person cannot make a free choice to do right without God’s influence is a hypothetical situation only possible in a different theoretical universe.  God is always at work in everyone’s life.  The Old Testament doesn’t always portray God as being the initiator in every human relationship, but it sometimes does.  The Old Testament is not clear on this detail and cannot be pushed to provide a clear answer.

[29] As mentioned earlier, a good proof for this is in Solomon’s temple dedication speech, specifically in the wording of 1 Kings 8:46.  Proverbs 20:9 also echoes this truth with a rhetorical question: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?”

[30] In Wesley’s critique of Dr. Taylor’s examination of the doctrine of original sin from Old Testament passages, we find the following cited: Gen 8:21, “Men are inclined to sin from youth…,” Job 5:6-7: “Every person is born to trouble…,” Job 14:4: “Who can bring purity out of the impure? Anyone born of woman be pure?” Psalm 51:1: “I was sinful from birth…,” Psalm 58:3-4: “The wicked are born speaking lies…,” Prov 22:15: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child…,” Prov 29:15: “A child left to himself brings his mother shame…” Most of these can be explained as indicative of the problem of universal sin in every person that starts at an early age (not birth), and the Psalms passages show the use of poetic hyperbole to say the same thing.

[31] This verse is a good example of the need for careful translation and exegesis before theology can begin.  Some theologians and writers use it as a foundation for their understanding of human nature (i.e. the introduction of his book, Patrick Downey, Desprately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity, and the Human Heart (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Academic, 2009), 11.  Others, such as John Eldredge, cannot see how this can be possible while remaining true to other scripture about the human heart and its potential for greatness, and seek to downplay it or appeal to a different meaning without knowing what that could be.  See his most seminal work: Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).  Careless exegesis may perpetuate thousands of years of wrong and hurtful doctrine.

[32] This is discussed in A. Ross’s introduction to his commentary on Psalms in a section on interpreting Hebrew poetry.  A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Vol 1:1-44 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), 108.

[33] Wesley relies on these sinful at birth Psalm passages as proof of a depraved human nature at conception.  Wesley, The Doctrine of Original Sin, 234-5.  This is an example of proof-text exegesis with little consideration of a specific literary genre’s hermeneutical scope.

[34] This Romans passage features snippets of other Psalms that feature descriptions of a group of people clearly denoted by the psalmist as wicked or evil in contrast to the righteous.  It would not be surprising and would even make sense that this section would also be referring to a similar evil group instead of the entirety of humanity.

[35] See study and textual note in Kenneth L. Barker, ed., Zondervan TNIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 836.

[36] The word translated as fool is nābāl, and seems to be best translated as “ignorant.” Whether it is a chosen ignorance, motivated by laziness or selfishness, or one that is caused externally by one’s environment or a young age appears slightly unclear in this text. In all the other usages of the word in the Psalms and in other books of the Old Testament, it appears to be describing adult people who are assumed to know better, namely the people of Israel who in general have less of an excuse to be ignorant of God’s laws and commands for right conduct than the surrounding nations. The only exception where the word nābāl is not used to describe a post-Sinai Israelite or group of Israelites in found in Job 2:10 where he (Job) tells his wife she is speaking like a nābāl woman. Except for this occurrence, which could be translated either intentional or unintentional ignorance, it appears very likely that nābāl in Psalm 14:1 is taking about people who for whatever reason, choose to remain ignorant of the reality of God’s desire for men to live in right ways and his role as acting judge in Israel’s theocratic government to punish men who are wicked. The next question is if nābāl is a sinister ignorance or a stubborn one? Bennet notes that

nābāl actions on behalf of individuals or groups of Israelites can cause serious guilt and consequences to the community. 6 Furthermore, he sees an etymological link with an earlier meaning of the word that has connotations with intentional sacrilegious activity.

Besides nābāl, the term translated as ‘fool’ or ‘simple’ in English can actually be 1 of 4 (or more) different Hebrew words that have slightly different meanings when found in the Old Testament.  A survey of similar words further elucidates the meaning of nābāl as used in this context as a more serious or sinister chosen or intentional ignorance. (1) kesîl is the fool who is unwise and unfortunately stubborn and unteachable, but does not appear to be evil or sinister. (e.g. Prov. 26:1,3-11) (2) ewîl is the fool who seems slightly less sinister than the kesîl variety, and is a more simple kind of fool because they cannot control their temper or their mouth, and do not pursue wisdom. (e.g. Job 5:2) (3) petî refers to the simple minded and easily seduced, but seems to be open to instruction, unlike the kesîl or ewîl types. (e.g. Prov. 9:4) (4) sākāl is used to describe ignorance as evidenced in action, not in speech like the ewîl type; the adjective ‘bumbling’ might best describe this kind of fool. (e.g. Genesis 31:28).  For a thorough study of the “fool” in the OT, see Robert Bennett, “Wisdom Motifs in Psalm 14=15– nābāl and ēsāh,” BASOR, 220 (1975).

[37] A good guide to selecting appropriate hermeneutical approaches for different literary genres can be found in: Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How the Read the Bible For All It’s Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).  Also good is Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 910-13.

[38] There are three different definitions of life we could possibly see here: physical life (perhaps extended), spiritual life, and life after death.  In the same way, there are three different definitions of death we could see as possible: physical death, spiritual death, and possibly, some kind of permanent death after physical death.  The Old Testament is consistent in its silence on life after physical death.   To sneak New Testament concepts of eternal life into these texts would be anachronistic—a safer approach would be one consistent with the Old Testament general witness. With this in mind, the most suitable definition for what life and death mean in this context would probably be some sense of spiritual life or death.  A better definition of “life” may take into account embracing one’s total existence (spiritual + physical), as opposed to a partial existence (physical only), a state so severely out of tune with one’s design that it considered being dead while still physically alive.

[39] A good overview of the treatment of the concept of “life” in wisdom literature can be found in Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 908-10.

[40] Kidner treats the themes of both life and death in Proverbs well in Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction & Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D.J. Wiesman; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1964), 53-56.  Also see note 31 regarding the various definitions of life and death.

[41] The sin and guilt offerings were only for unintentional sins (hg”g”v.bi) or sins “in error or inadvertence” offered when a person became aware of their sins. (Lev 5:14-19 – involving God somehow, Lev 5:14,17,18, involving a fellow person, Num 15:28-31 – describes unintentional sin again and specifies that this is not for intentional sin 30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” David Dorsey, Class Notes. Prophets, Evangelical Seminary. March 2012.

[42] David’s actions of repentance are a good example of a godly person’s behavior after they have sinned. (See 2nd Samuel 12:13-20 and Psalm 51).  David repents and returns to God in worship.  Nathan replies that God has “taken away his sin” and that he will not “die.”  The brief story of Manasseh’s repentance is also a good example (2 Chr. 33:12-13).  Psalm 51:16-17 is clear about how to handle intentional sins in both David and Manasseh’s practice: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, Oh God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” See also: Psalm 32:5, 40.

[43] Abundantly clear examples of this is seen in the prophets, where people are encouraged to repeat, not through any ritual activity whatsoever, but by the same method as previously described, as an internal and external moral pattern change: Isaiah 1:11-18, 55:6-7; Jeremiah 3:12-14,22; 7:5-7; 15:19, 18:7-8,11; 25:5; 26:3, 12-13, 35:15; Lam 3:40-42, Ezekiel 3:19-20; 14:6; 18; 33:9, 11, 19; Daniel 9:3-6, 19; Hosea 6:6; 7:10; 12:6, 14:1-4; Joel 2:12-14, 15-18; 2:32, Amos 4:6, 5:5-14, 5:21-25; Jonah 3:4-10; Micah 6:6-8; Zeph 2:1-3; Zech 1:3-4; Mal 3:7.  David Dorsey, Class Notes. Prophets, Evangelical Seminary. March 2012.

[44] There are hints of the “resurrection of the righteous” in Daniel, but little is known about this other than its mention.  Even the authenticity of this passage is highly questionable.

[45] Jewish writings containing a similar analogy have been found that may have been an influence on Paul to create a uniquely Christian version.  See Menahem Kister, “Romans 5:12-21 against the Background of Torah-Theology and Hebrew Usage,” Harvard Theological Review, 100 (2007): 391-424.  The author notes a marked differences between the Jewish concepts of righteousness though right deeds, and Paul’s insistence on the grace of Christ alone to impart righteousness, but seems unable or unwilling to see a marriage between these two.

[46] Lucas Ndaro has the most credible theory if the interpretation here is meant as physical death.  Adam introduced physical death into the world by depriving all his descendants of the tree of life.  The Nature of Human Death: The Case for Prefall Morality (M.Div thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2006), 145.

[47] This is the official belief of the Council of Trent which is carefully summarized by John Murray, “The Imputation of Adam’s Sin,” Westminster Theological Journal, 18 (1976): 155.  According to Trent, what was inherited was the habit of sin, not Adam’s actual sin.  This habitual sin, in line with Augustine’s understanding, was imparted by natural generation, not by God inserting it into each new baby at conception.  Concupiscence, natural desire or lust for something ungodly, was also inherited along with habitual sin.  Murray goes on to assert that neither the Greek nor Paul’s theology spelled out elsewhere could possibly contain these concepts in the phrase “in that all sinned.” (Ibid. 157-58).  Calvin prior to the Council of Trent defined original sin as also inherited by natural generation, but is none other than a totally depraved nature, thus simplifying the Catholic confusion of the different categories of inherited sin (concupiscence, habitual, etc.).  What seemed to be the driving factor behind why both Calvin and Augustine felt that the transmission of sin had to be though reproduction is because they feared the alternate view – that is was transferred by imitation. In their minds, this undermined the necessity of Christ’s work on the cross because if someone could be cloistered, it would be possible to not imitate and thus be able to attain righteousness apart from God and the work of Christ. John Murray, “The Impartation of Adam’s Sin, Second Article,” Westminster Theological Journal 19 (1956): 33.  Simply put, the idea that a sin nature was transmitted by sexual reproduction never had any biblical basis at all, but was merely an extra-biblical line of reasoning with the sole intent of exonerating Jesus’s death.  Much of this controversy may stem from a poor translation of Romans 5:12 in the Latin that was not there in the Greek: the phrase “because all sinned” was in the Latin translated as “in or through whom all sinned.”  Tatha Wiley, Original Sin: Origins, Developments, and Contemporary Meanings (New York: Paulist Press, 2002), 51, 61.  This tripped up Ambrosiaster, and later Augustine as opposed to the Greek patristic tradition, where the concept of the procreative transmission (transducianism) of sin was never conceived of.  David Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 27 (1983): 187.

To further compound the problem was an understanding of the issue from a Platonist perspective, namely of the evil nature of material existence and the aforementioned notion of trasducianism.  These two concepts heavily influenced early formative ideas of original sin by Tertullian and Origen that later influenced Augustine’s formal and detailed formulation. Weaver, “Form Paul to Augustine,” 192-197.  The Platonic concept of the sinfulness of material existence led to Origen’s misunderstanding of the Levitical laws and his erroneous equating of ceremonial uncleanness with guilt.  This in turn led to his further misunderstanding that purification rituals had any effect whatsoever to absolve sin.  These ideas led to his approval of baptism as a ritual that had the efficacy to remove sin in infants or adults, a concept completely absent from the Old or New Testaments.  Ibid, 194-95.           A final issue with the evolution of Latin theological direction of original sin was the subtle influence of Augustine’s earlier dabbling in the fatalistic philosophy of Manichaeism.  This most likely was the cause that led to his understanding of the total depravity of the will that prevented a person from freely turning to God for salvation (see Enchiridion XXX).  This was a worry that could be detected in the early writings of the Greek patristic tradition.  See David Weaver, “The Exegesis of Romans 5:12 Among the Greek Fathers and its Implications for the Doctrine of Original Sin: the 5th-12th Centuries; Part II,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29 (1985): 135.  See also Henri Rondet, Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background, trans. Cajetan Finegan, (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1972), 131. See also P. Rosa, Christ and Original Sin, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1967), 86 for additional problems with Manichaeism as a source for Augustine’s identification of sexual gratification with original sin.

 

[48] In his examination of the commentary and writings of the Greek fathers on the topic of original sin and Romans 5:12, Weaver notes that Diodore of Tarsus introduced the concept of “natural law” here to explain what he thought man before God was guilty of.  In his logic, they had to have died as a result of trespassing against some form of law. (Ibid, 137).  This may be true and possibly have been influenced by Romans 2:14-15.  However, this is clarified and critiqued by Romanides who claims that there is no “natural law” that stands separate and outside the revelation of God himself though a personal relationship with each man.  He seems to be suggesting that it is a combination of both the natural world and the revelation of God to each human being that man is held responsible to (“Original Sin According to St. Paul,” 11.)  This may also be inferred from Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet and his orders to go out into the country lanes to convince people to attend (Luke 14:23).

[49] Murray makes an important note that these verses (17-18) appear to be contradictory to the statements in 12-14, but should be interpreted as consistent with them instead, “Imputation of Adam’s Sin,” 160-62.

[50] Augustine believed, as did Wesley later, that Adam was created in a state of righteousness (Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine,” 204.)  This makes sense if an unbiblical concept of “righteousness” is held – one that could be defined as a right standing before God regardless of a person’s actions.  However, this is simply not the nature of righteousness as demonstrated in its use in the Old Testament.

[51] This eschatological focus is best captured in Gary Anderson’s article “Necessarium Adae Peccatum: An Essay on Original Sin,” Pro Ecclesia 8 (1999): 319-21.

    3 Responses to “How God Sees Us: A Critique of “Original Sin””

    1. Gabe W
      1

      I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been struggling why majority of protestant theologians don’t question Augustine’s assumptions.

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      2
      Author Comment

      Thank you Gabe! I don’t understand the reason either. This needs to be thrown out and something else needs to take its place.

      Reply to this comment.
    3. Gabe W
      3

      I can’t find any well known evangelical writer in America who has questioned this basic premise. Everyone swallows it, as if questioning Original Sin gets you branded a heretic. Winkie Pratney (New Zealand) is only writer I know of, besides street preachers.

      Reply to this comment.

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