Dr. Adam Harwood, 2013 John 3:16 Presentation, Part 2/4

May 21, 2013

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
A free e-book containing the 2013 John 3:16 Conference presentations is scheduled to be released at SBC Today on May 30, 2013.
For audio CDs of the 2013 John 3:16 Conference, click the banner below/right.

Biblical Theology: For what does God hold people accountable and under condemnation, their own sin or the sin of Adam?

            Let’s affirm what the Bible affirms and resist any theological system–even our own–which demands we affirm more than the Bible clearly reveals. Throughout the Bible, people give an account to God. He judges their sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions–with no mention of Adam’s guilt

In Genesis 3, God judges the serpent, Adam and Eve for their own sins. Because of Adam’s sin, the ground is cursed and our bodies return to dust (vv. 17-19). But there is no mention that future generations would be judged guilty or personally held accountable for Adam’s sin.

In Genesis 4, God judges Cain for killing Abel–no mention of Adam’s guilt.

In Genesis 6, God judges humanity minus one family. Why? “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (v. 5)–no mention of Adam’s guilt.

In Genesis 11, God judges tower-builders.

In Genesis 19, God judges Sodom and Gomorrah because of sexual sin.

In Genesis 19, God judges Lot’s wife for looking back.

In Exodus 12, God judges the firstborn to deliver His people.

In Exodus 32, God judges the Israelites for their idolatry at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

In Leviticus 10, God judges Nadab and Abihu for offering “strange fire” (v. 1 KJV).

In Numbers 14, God judges the older generation of Israelites for believing the ten spies rather than God–but no mention of Adam’s guilt.

In Joshua 7, God judges Achan and his family because he stole from God and thought God couldn’t see through dirt.

In 1 Samuel 3, God judges Eli’s sons for dishonoring the Temple.

In 1 Samuel 13, God judges Saul–ending his kingdom–because he didn’t keep God’s command (v. 13).

In 2 Samuel 12, God judges David’s adultery and murder. His baby son dies and his family declines–but there is no mention of Adam’s guilt.

The Psalmist says the Lord “will render to a man according to his work” (62:12).

In Proverbs 24:12, we hear: Will the Lord “not repay man according to his work?”

In Ezekiel 18:20, neither righteousness nor wickedness is shared from father to son. God judges the one who sins.

Hosea is the only prophet to mention Adam. In 6:7, he writes of Israel and Judah: “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant.”

All of the prophets, major and minor, address the sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions of individuals or nations. Typically, God’s people have broken covenant with the Lord by their idolatry, injustice, or empty religion. None of the prophets mention Adam’s guilt.

In Matthew 12, Jesus says: “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (vv. 36b-37).[1]

In Mark 7, Jesus explains: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (vv. 20-23). Jesus failed to mention Adam’s guilt. Instead, each person is defiled by his own sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

In Romans 1, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (v. 18). When Paul indicts humanity for sin, he could have declared universal guilt because of Adam’s sin. But he doesn’t. Instead, Paul lists ungodly and unrighteous actions, such as: suppressing the truth (v. 18), failing to honor God (v. 21), claiming to be wise (v. 22), and worshipping created things rather than the creator (vv. 23 and 25). The result? God gave them up to their passions (v. 26).

In Romans 2, people will be judged for their deeds (v. 6).

Peter says we call on a “Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17).

James notes the progression of personal responsibility. One “is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Then desire conceives and “gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15).

And in John’s vision of judgment at the great white throne, “the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Rev 20:12b).

The inherited sinful nature view better accounts for the Bible’s teachings on the nature of God’s judgment. I cited as evidence dozens of biblical passages from Genesis to Revelation. Did I isolate and eisegete these texts? Employ the grammatical-historical method. Employ a plain reading of Scripture. Be like the Bereans and search the Bible. This is what you’ll find: God’s judgment and wrath falls on people for their own sin, not the sin of Adam.

Please don’t reply to these biblical texts by quoting from a systematic theology. Will my Calvinistic brothers appeal to the writings of Calvin, Bavinck, Berkhof, Hodge, Frame, Grudem, and Horton? Or will they embrace the Reformers’ cry of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and look instead to the words of these men I cited: Moses, David, Solomon, the prophets, Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jesus?[2]


Systematic Theology: For what, according to the doctrine of General Revelation, will God hold people accountable?

            God reveals His existence and His law through creation and conscience (Rom 1:19-20; 2:15). And God will hold people accountable for this knowledge. Systematic theologians refer to this as General Revelation. Romans 1:20 declares that people are “without excuse.” Some people may claim God doesn’t exist, but they know He exists. They try to suppress that truth and fail to worship Him (vv. 18 and 21), but the Creator reveals His existence through creation. Also, the law-giver reveals His law through the human conscience. Paul argues in Romans 2 that Jews and Gentiles are sinners. Then, he anticipates an objection: Can the Gentiles be considered innocent of law-breaking since they were not given the law of Moses? No, because their conscience demonstrates that God’s law is written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15). Knowing an action violates God’s law doesn’t prevent one from committing the action. But knowing this and doing it anyway brings God’s wrath. That is the bad news which makes the gospel such good news.

The result? Every person who recognizes the existence of a creator and law-giver is accountable to that creator and law-giver, which excludes infants and the mentally incompetent. To make my case for this interpretation of Romans 1-2, I appeal to the most popular Calvinist of our day, John Piper. When asked: “What happens to infants who die?” Piper doesn’t answer with Adam’s guilt; he answers with Romans 1 and 2. Again, Piper is asked: “What happens to infants who die?”


I think they’re all saved. In other words, I don’t buy the principle that says that children born into “covenant families” are secure, and children born into “non-covenant families” aren’t. I don’t go there.

My reason for thinking they’re all saved is because of the principle in Romans 1 where Paul argues that all people know God, and they are “without excuse” because they do not honor him or glorify him as God.

His argument is that they are without excuse because they know things, as though accountability in the presence of God at the Last Judgment will be based, at least partly, on whether they had access to necessary knowledge.

And God says they’ve all got access to knowledge, because they can look at the things he has made and see his power and deity. But they suppress that knowledge instead of submitting to it, therefore they’re all condemned.

So I ask the question: OK, is the principle being raised there that, if you don’t have access to the knowledge that causes you to be held accountable, therefore you will not be accountable? And I think that’s the case.

I think babies and imbeciles—that is, those with profound mental disabilities—don’t have access to the knowledge that they will be called to account for. Therefore, somehow in some way, God, through Christ, covers these people.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I think all children who die in infancy are elect and will be, through Jesus Christ, saved in ways that I may not know how, as God honors this principle of accountability.[3]


I’m not suggesting John Piper affirms the inherited sinful nature view. He teaches TULIP; and the “T” includes inherited guilt. My point is this: When asked about the eternal destiny of infants, Piper appeals to Romans 1-2 and explains that infants and the mentally incompetent are not accountable to God. Precisely! If that’s the case, then in what way are they ever guilty of Adam’s sin?

Piper appeals to the atoning work of Christ to cover those who die in this unaccountable state. So do I. The difference is this: I don’t insist they are guilty of Adam’s sin. Such an affirmation creates a problem. Why?

The Bible is clear: Guilty people must repent of their sin and believe in Jesus in order to be saved. Because I don’t add the guilt of Adam’s sin, I don’t insist that infants and the mentally incompetent are guilty. They are sin-stained, not guilty. This condition can be covered by a passive application of the atonement. But when one insists that they are guilty, then the Bible requires them to repent and believe. Piper acknowledges this in a footnote of his recent book titled Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? How does Piper think the work of Christ is received by these unaccountable people? He speculates that infants who die will mature after death and confess Christ.[4]

Why does Piper offer extra-biblical speculations regarding post-mortem confessions of Christ? Perhaps this results from his commitment to inherited guilt. When Piper allows Romans 1 and 2 to guide his thinking, he regarded infants to be not yet accountable to God. But when he inserts the extra-biblical notion called inherited guilt, his view of infant salvation morphs into post-mortem confessions of Christ. Inherited guilt is problematic because it requires one to say more than the Bible plainly reveals about the time of accountability and guilt.

When arguing that Jews and Gentiles are guilty before God (Romans 1-2), Paul doesn’t point to Adam’s sin. Instead, he points to their willful rejection of their Creator and their willful transgression of the God’s law. Paul makes no mention of Adam’s guilt.

Click HERE to read part 3

 Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College
Cleveland, Georgia



                  [1]Emphasis added.

                  [2]If my Calvinistic brothers insist that they also affirm that God holds the non-elect accountable for their sins, then I would remind them of their self-contradictory view. In their system, the non-elect are judged for thoughts, attitudes, and actions which they committed, but they had no choice to act otherwise.

                  [3]Transcript is from John Piper, “What Happens to Infants Who Die?” http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-happens-to-infants-who-die–2 (accessed January 14, 2013).

                  [4]John Piper, Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 77 n. 6. Surprisingly, Piper cites in support of his claim Ronald Nash, When a Baby Dies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), who argues in chapter 3 against precisely the view to which Piper is open, salvation via post-mortem faith.