Below is a portion of a March 21-22, 2013 John 3:16 Conference presentation.
Read the Baptist Press article about the conference here: http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=39992
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Who is Guilty of Adam’s Sin?
Adam Harwood, Ph.D.
I was in preschool when Dr. Vines and other SBC pastors led the Conservative Resurgence. By God’s grace and through their efforts, my generation–and subsequent generations–have grown up in Southern Baptist churches with this firm commitment: The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. On behalf of those generations who are beneficiaries of God’s grace to His churches through your efforts, I thank God for you.
And I’m grateful for the invitation to address this doctrinal question: Who is guilty of Adam’s sin? In this presentation, I plan to do five things:
1. Identify Two Christian Views on the Guilt of Adam’s Sin
2. Examine Key Portions of Romans 5:12-21
3. Present Biblical, Theological, Historical Support for One of the Two Views
4. Answer a Theological Objection
5. Consider the Implications for the SBC
Two Christian Views on the Guilt of Adam’s Sin
Christians agree that all people have a sinful nature. But Christians hold two different views regarding the guilt of Adam’s sin.
The first view is called inherited sinful nature. This view distinguishes between a sinful nature (which every person bears from the first moment of life) and guilt (which occurs as soon as people become morally accountable and commit their first sin). To the question “Who is guilty of Adam’s sin?” this view answers: Only Adam is guilty of Adam’s sin. The reason? According to the Bible, God judges people for their own sin.
Does that wrongly allow the possibility of sinless people? No. As Article 3 of the BFM states: All people “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and under condemnation.”
According to the BFM, we don’t inherit Adam’s guilt. Rather, every person is born into a fallen environment. And we have an inescapable inclination toward sin. From the first moment of life, we are soaked in sin. As David cried, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 NIV). According to Rom 5:12-21, sin entered the world through Adam’s sin, followed by death and condemnation. But only Adam is guilty of Adam’s sin. God judges individuals who have attained the knowledge of good and evil (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:15-16) for their own sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
Other names for this view include inherited inclination and original death. Again, we’re not guilty of Adam’s sin. Rather, we begin life with “a nature and an environment inclined toward sin” (BFM). In the inherited sinful nature view, we become transgressors who are guilty and under condemnation for our own sin upon attaining moral capability and knowingly committing a sin.
The second view is called inherited guilt. Who is guilty of Adam’s sin? This view answers: Adam and his descendants. (Jesus, of course, is exempted.) Every person is guilty of Adam’s sin. The reason? God judges people for their own sin and for the guilt of Adam’s sin. Notice that both views say God judges people for their own sin. The second view includes the guilt of Adam’s sin.
Augustine taught this in the 5th Century. It’s sometimes called natural headship. In his later writings, Augustine said all people are guilty of Adam’s sin because they were present with him in the Garden physically, or seminally. In the 16th Century, John Calvin called Adam our representative head who acted on our behalf in the Garden. This is called federal headship. Covenant Theologians call this view imputed guilt. They point to a covenant of works between Adam and God, which Adam transgressed for humanity when he sinned. Wayne Grudem explains: “As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us guilty as well as Adam.” In addition to a sinful nature, all people inherit from Adam the guilt of his sin. And, as I’ll demonstrate in the final section of this presentation, inherited guilt is the published position of one of our Seminaries.
The inherited sinful nature view says all people inherit from Adam sin and mortality; the inherited guilt view affirms those but includes Adam’s guilt. Both are Christian positions. Nevertheless, I’ll argue that the inherited sinful nature view finds stronger support biblically, theologically, and–for Southern Baptists–historically.
Some will nuance or qualify their position. Even so, I can’t imagine another category. When the question is: Who is guilty of Adam’s sin? The answers are either: only Adam or Everyone.
So, there are two possible Christian views and both appeal to the Bible. Next, we’ll consider what is perhaps the most important biblical text regarding Adam’s sin.
Before reading the text, a proper hermeneutical method requires us to consider its context. What were Paul’s earlier points in this watershed letter?
After greeting the saints in Rome, Paul announces his thesis. Rom 1:16-17, the righteousness of God comes by faith in Jesus Christ. In 1:18-3:20, Paul argues that God justly judges all sinners. Creation and conscience declare the existence of the creator and law-giver. But Jew and Gentile have defied God by worshipping created things. Both Jew and Gentile have God’s law, whether it’s inscribed on stone or inscribed on their hearts. Because both Jew and Gentile have known of God’s existence and God’s law yet defied Him by their actions, they are all under sin (3:9). Works of the law won’t bring justification. Instead, the law brings the knowledge of sin (3:20).
Romans 3:21 begins a presentation of the Good News. The Old Testament law and prophets testify: Righteousness comes apart from the law through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God is God of both Jews and Gentiles (3:29). In chapter 4, God justifies people, both Jew and Gentile, like He justified Abraham: by faith. Those who believe in Jesus, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification, will be counted as righteous before God (4:24-25).
In 5:1-2, we’ve been justified by faith and have peace with God through Christ. And we access this grace through Christ by faith. Those given the Holy Spirit can hope in their suffering because of God’s work in them (vv. 3-5). Christ died for the weak and ungodly, people who were “still sinners” (vv. 6-8). In verse 1, we were justified by faith; in verse 9, we’re justified by His blood. In verses 9-11, we’ll be saved from wrath and reconciled to God through Jesus.
Or, as N. T. Wright outlines it:
The problem of sin and death (1:18-3:20)
The solution of justification and life (3:21-5:11)
Now, the Text (I’m reading from the ESV)
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What Resulted from Adam’s sin?
Exegeting every word of Rom 5:12-21 would exceed our available time. And there is agreement on most of the text. So I’ll focus on the interpretive differences.
According to the text, Adam’s disobedience in the Garden ushered into the world: hamartia, thanatos, and katakrima, or sin, death, and condemnation.
Verse 12: “Therefore, just as sin (hamartia) came into the world through one man, and death (thanantos) through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—.”
Sin Entered the World
Notice in verse 12 that something came into the world. Something not present in the beginning later came into the world. What does the text say? Sin. Sin came into God’s world. It was an intruder in God’s good creation. Did a sinful nature or sinful actions enter the world? The text says sin entered the world through Adam’s one “trespass” (v. 18) or “disobedience” (v. 19). One commentator calls sin “the personified malevolent force…hostile to God and alienating human beings from him.” How did sin come into the world? Verse 12 says “through one man.” When he fell (Genesis 3), Adam became the portal for this intruder called sin.
Death Spread to All Men
Returning to verse 12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—.” Death entered the world through sin. It wasn’t a creation of God but a result of Adam’s sin. Death “reigned” through Adam (v. 17). But the Good News is that before establishing His world, God planned for the entrance of sin, death, and condemnation. God provided the atoning sacrifice for our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. On the next point, Christians differ.
Because All Sinned
Notice that the text says neither “in whom all sinned” (Augustine’s view of inherited guilt) nor “because all sinned in Adam” (Calvin’s and Covenant Theology’s view of inherited guilt). The text simply says: “death spread to all men because all sinned.” The phrase eph h? pantes hemart?n is rendered “because all sinned” in these Bible translations: ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NET, and others. Did Paul mean that we are guilty of Adam’s sin? The United Bible Societies’ A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans comments on Rom 5:12:
Paul indicates that Adam sinned, and as a result of his sin death came into the human race. However, it is important to realize that Paul does not make men guilty of Adam’s sin or indicate that all men die because of the sin of Adam. Paul says rather that death spread to the whole human race, because all men sinned.
It’s widely agreed that Augustine misread Rom 5:12. He either relied on Old Latin and Vulgate translations or was influenced by other western theologians. In either case, Augustine’s misreading of Rom 5:12 shaped the Christian tradition. Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer explains that the doctrine of original sin (the view that all people inherit both the sin and guilt of Adam) is not an explicit teaching of Paul. Rather, the doctrine was developed from Augustine’s later writings and solidified through the 16th Council of Carthage, the 2nd Council of Orange, and the Tridentine Council. But, Fitzmyer explains, Paul did not teach the doctrine of original sin.
The Covenant Theology view is affirmed by theologians such as John Murray, Wayne Grudem, and Michael Horton. In 1959, Murray published The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, a biblical-historical examination of Rom 5:12–21. Murray argues that death came to all people because all sinned in Adam. In this way, God counts all people guilty because of Adam’s sin. But there are three critical weaknesses in this Covenant interpretation. First, the Bible never states “all sinned in Adam.” Covenant Theologians insist on a view not required by the text. Second, against Murray: physical death is not always a sign of one’s guilt; physical death can occur prior to personal transgression of the law; consider David’s infant son, who died as a result of David’s sin. Third, the Covenant interpretation depends on two theological constructs not explicitly stated in the Bible: the covenant of redemption (which depends upon the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election and a pact among the persons of the Trinity) and the covenant of works (between God and Adam). A summary of this third point is simple: these covenants are not in the Bible.
Jack MacGorman taught for half a century at Southwestern Seminary and is now Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament. MacGorman makes this point about the covenant of works: “It has influenced greatly the churches of the Reformed tradition. However, there is not one shred of evidence in the Bible that God ever entered into such a covenant with Adam. The theory was born in Europe, not Eden.”
In Romans 5, Paul parallels Adam and Christ. What is Paul’s point?
Covenant Theologians say there are two heads of humanity. Adam imputes guilt to all people; Christ imputes righteousness to the elect. But Romans 5 does not say Adam’s guilt and condemnation are imputed to all people. Rather, we see in verse 12 that sin enters the world, death enters through sin, and death spreads because all sinned. In this way: “…one trespass led to condemnation for all men…” (v. 18) and “…the many were made sinners…” (v. 19). In other words, verses 18 and 19 should be read in light of verse 12.
Paul’s point in Rom 1:18-3:20 is that all people are individually accountable to God and condemned when they deny the existence of God and transgress His law. People become condemned because of their actions.
The inherited guilt view presses the Adam-Christ parallel too far then rejects the implications of the view. If guilt and condemnation are imputed to all people through Adam, then justification and life are imputed to all people through Christ (v. 19). But all Southern Baptists deny that Paul teaches Universalism (the view that everyone is saved). There are other orthodox interpretations of the passage. Millard Erickson, for example, affirms “conditional imputation.” Just as we must ratify the work of Christ in our life by personally repenting of sin and believing in Christ, so we must personally ratify the work of Adam in our life by knowingly committing a sinful act. In this way, neither Universalism nor imputed guilt are necessary conclusions for Rom 5:12-21.
We don’t want to build a theological system on a single text. Also, we want to avoid eisegesis (reading our theological pre-commitments into the text). So, we’ll broaden the investigation by examining the inherited sinful nature view through the lenses of biblical theology, systematic theology, and historical theology.
For the use of “inclined toward sin,” see Article 3 of the BFM; for “original death” rather than
“original sin,” see James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 in WBC, vol. 38A (Dallas: Word, 1988), 273, and Douglas Moo, Romans in NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 322-323.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 494-95. The subsection describing his view is entitled “Inherited Guilt: We Are Counted Guilty Because of Adam’s Sin.”
N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 523.
Unless otherwise noted, the English Standard Version will be used.
Jospeh Fitzmyer, Romans in The Anchor Bible, vol. 33 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1993), 411.
Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973). Electronic edition via Translator’s Workplace 4.0.
For more on Augustine’s use of a poor translation of eph’ h? in Rom 5:12, see David Weaver, “From Paul to Augustine: Romans 5:12 in Early Christian Exegesis,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 27 (1983): 187–206; and Frank J. Matera, Romans in PCNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 126.
Fitzmyer, Romans, 408-09.
See Peter J. Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 59-62; Michael Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenantal Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 77-110; and John Murray, “Covenant Theology” in Collected Works, vol. 4 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1982), 216-40.
J. W. MacGorman, Romans: Everyman’s Gospel (Nashville: Convention Press, 1976), 79. Thanks to Peter Lumpkins for bringing this reference to my attention.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 656. Erickson’s view is typically dismissed by Calvinistic brothers; understandably so, because Erickson writes that “the biblical evidence favors the position that conversion is prior to regeneration” (945).