Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Death In Adam, Life In Christ

The response to my last essay, "Are People Born Evil?" was quite overwhelming. There was some contentions over semantics, some contention over my thesis itself and some contentions over my interpretations of various passages. In this essay I hope to provide an in-depth analysis of the passages used to support the position that people are born sinners and are sinners even if they have not yet sinned. Personally, I find this to be an untenable and unbiblical position. In this essay I hope to put forth interpretations that do include the many nuances and subtleties of doctrine on human nature, while avoiding the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions or resorting to using "mysterious and mystical" doctrines to explain away the clear truths of Scripture.

Before I begin, I would like to address one misconception. In my last essay I wrote:
"Some would argue that all humans bear the guilt and penalty for Adam's sin. After all, speaking of Adam's sin, Romans 5:18 says, '...through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation...' However, this is not how God works. God's judgment is based on the actions of each individual person, and no person bears the guilt for another's sin."
A couple of people misread this and thought that I was contradicting the Bible by saying that God does not work the way He says He does. I quite agree that this would be heresy. However, when I said, "this is not how God works" I was not suggesting that the Bible was in error, but instead I was referring to those who argue that "all humans bear the guilt and penalty for Adam's sin" as being in error. I am a firm believer in the divine inspiration of Scripture, and it's complete truthfulness. If any human doctrine contradicts Scripiture, it is certain that the doctrine is in error, and not Scripture. That is my stance concerning those who claim that in Adam, all sinned. Though Scripture is infallible, I believe that there are many who misinterpret it out of ignorance, fear or denial.

Let us now consider various objections to the idea that people are not sinners until they have sinned.

Objection #1 - Sin cannot be reduced to actions. Sin is a state of being.
The support for this objection comes from Ephesians. "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others." (Eph. 2:1-3) There is a legitimate point in this objection. A sinful nature is something that is clearly more than just a sinful action, or even a series of sinful actions. If, when we say that someone is a sinner, we simply mean that such a person committed one or more sins at some point in their life, then such a statement does not mean much at all. Maybe Bob is a sinner just because he stole a couple cookies from a jar when he was young and has lived a perfectly moral life ever since. Obviously, sinner is a very weak word in such a context. However, if by sinner, we mean that a person IS sinful and regularly engages in sinful actions because of a twisted and defiled nature, then we are making quite a strong statement. Likewise, we may call someone an adulterer if they have committed a single act of adultery. But there is quite a difference between a righteous man who made one wrong decision and someone who is a committed adulterer, who has honed his skills of seduction and makes a practice of committing adultery as frequently as possible. In the first case, adulterer merely refers to an action, in the second case adulterer describes a person's state of being; this man practices adultery. Likewise, there is quite a difference between someone who killed his neighbor in a fit of rage, and a contract killer who has honed his art of killing, is skilled at taking human lives, enjoys the scheming and execution of a hit, and is quite knowledgeable about various methods of murder. In the first case we are refer to murder simply as an action, in the second case we are referring to a killer as someone whose very livelihood and life revolves around killing. He is not just someone who has killed; he is, by nature, a killer!

This is the distinction that this objection seeks to raise. There is a difference between simply committing a sin, and being a sinner. The Bible clearly teaches that all people not only have committed sins, but practice sin. We are skilled at it. Though the manifestation of sin varies from person to person, all people are skilled at their own particular brand of sin. Some engage in the ordinary sorts of vices Christians condemn: fornication, thievery, alcoholism, drug abuse, witchcraft, violence, rebellion, greediness and other such sins. While in other people sin manifests itself as self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, legalism and pride. People not only commit sins, but are sinners by nature. With this, I quite agree.

However, though sin cannot be reduced to mere actions, it cannot possibly be less than actions. When we say someone is an adulterer, we do not mean merely that he or she might have a propensity for adultery. Instead, we must mean that such a person has actually committed adultery. In the stronger case, we mean that a person habitually commits adultery and is quite skilled at it. But, we certainly do not mean that no actions are involved. Likewise, when we say that a person is a sinner we cannot mean that a person merely has a propensity for sin. Unless we mean that a person has actually committed a sin, we mean nothing at all. Anything else makes a perfect mockery of language and common sense. And this is exactly the point that I made in my previous essay. To be a sinner, you must have committed at least one sin, or else it means nothing to be a sinner. Now, you may be a sinner and have committed 10 million sins, but you certainly cannot be called a sinner if you have committed zero. Also me to illustrate the raw absurdity of using the word sinner, murderer, liar, painter or runner to simply mean that one might have the propensity to do such an action.

Example 1:
Father, to teenage daughter: You better stay away from Charlie. He's a lying murderer.
Daughter: How do you know, did he kill someone?
Father: No. But sometime he might kill someone, so you need to keep away from him.

Example 2:
Friend, to a buddy: Hey George is a pretty good painter, you should hang out with him some time, since you're artistic, too
Buddy: Really? What sort of stuff does he paint?
Friend: Well, he doesn't actually paint. But he might have the propensity to paint.

Example 3:
Mother, concerning her new baby: Little Joey is such a sinner!
Friend: Why? What did he do?
Mother: Oh, nothing yet. But I just know that he is a big-time sinner!

See? This usage of language is quite absurd! To say that one has the possibility of doing something or the propensity for a certain kind of action says nothing at all about what will actually be done. In the passage itself we see a lot of action verbs: walked, lived, conducted and fulfilling. We were dead in the trespasses and sins that we walked in. We were children of wrath because we conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh. The state of being descriptions are inseparable from the descriptions of actions. Because you walked in sins, you were dead. The two are intertwined and inseparable. Therefore, we can clearly make a Scriptural case for people being dead in sins. And, we can make a case for people conducting their lives in wrong ways. But, there is no clear Scriptural case for suggest that we sin because we are dead. Since there is no case to be made against the common sense usage of the word sinner or sinned, it would be unreasonable to jump to an unsupported conclusion.

Objection #2: Scripture says that people are born sinners
There are couple of passages that people cite to suggest that people are born sinners. Yet, I cannot fathom how such a conclusion is reached, when actually reading such passages. Romans 3:10 says, "As it is written: there is none righteous, no not one." Yet this passage never expressed why there are none righteous, or whether people start out righteous or not. Psalm 51:5 says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." To me this is not saying that David himself was born sinful but simply that his mother was a sinner and that, since David was born to his mother, he was born into a sinful family, by a sinful mother. I don't really see that it can be conclusively interpreted otherwise. Genesis 6:5 says, "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." I quite agree that wickedness is pervasive and that all people act sinfully. But this verse doesn't say whether men were born that way or whether they choose to act that way. It simply describes the present condition of those evil-doers. Genesis 8:21 says, "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Sure, from youthhood onwards, people are sinful, but this passage still does not speak about anything before youthhood. No matter what Scriptures you look at, you can make a clear case for arguing that all people are inherently sinful, but you simply cannot provide a verse that says babies are born as sinners.

Objection #3: Adam's sin is imputed to all people, therefore all have sinned, even before birth
This is one of the most cohesive and rational arguments against my position that people are not born sinners. There is certainly a plausible case to be made for all humans having a mystical union with Adam. Just to give the full context of the passage, I am going to quote the whole of Romans 5:12-21 and then break it down and look at what the passage is really saying.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here are simple observations that we can state with 100% certainty:
- Sin entered the world through one man, Adam
- Death entered the world through sin
- All men sinned
- Death spread to all men because all sinned
- Judgment which came from one sin resulted in condemnation
- This judgment came to all men
- By one man's disobedience many became sinners

There are a few other observations that can be made, but these are some of the major ones we can make concerning the condemnation that comes through Adam. In between these clear statements there are several different ways to connect the dots. John Piper and others suggest that there is a mystical union with Adam which results in Adam's sin being imputed to all people. In his own words:
I believe the answer is that Paul means we all sinned in Adam, that his sin is imputed to us, and that universal human death and condemnation is God's judgment and penalty on all of us because we were in some deep and mysterious way we were united to Adam in his sinning.
This is certainly one possible explanation. It is certainly plausible and cohesive. However, simply because something is plausible and cohesive does not make it true. Allow me to illustrate. Sometimes when kids are young they are told that babies are brought by storks. This is a plausible explanation. I never saw my parents conceive me. In fact, I have never seen anyone's parents conceive them. I also have never seen storks carrying babies. However, it is certainly plausible (to the uninformed mind) that maybe storks are very stealthy and bring babies whenever we're sleeping. Or maybe parents arrange to meet the storks in a predefined location to receive the baby. To a young mind, storks bringing babies is plausible. It would account for why babies who weren't there a week ago are now in your house. But, it completely lacks supporting evidence. Plausibility alone is not enough to support a position.

I have an alternate interpretation of Romans 5 to present. Quite clearly, Adam was the first man to sin. Sin entered the world through Adam. And yet, perhaps when Adam and Eve sinned, only Adam and Eve sinned. Maybe there is no odd mystical connection between Adam and your second cousin's best friend. Since death is the penalty for sin, death entered the world along with sin, much like jumping off a cliff necessarily entails a little bit of free-fall. The two are intertwined and inseparable. Perhaps all men do sin separately. Just because Adam ate an apple doesn't mean that every future human also ate an apple. Just because Adam walked around naked in a garden doesn't mean everyone has. Just because Adam sinned, there is no natural reason to assume that everyone did. Since sin still carries with it that death penalty, perhaps everyone who sins does deserve death individually.

Concerning the judgment that came through Adam, I don't doubt that the sins of one person effect other people. After all, Exodus 20:5 says, "For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." Scripture does suggest that the consequences of sins will effect people beyond the sinner. Children whose parents rebel against God by getting divorced still are harmed by their parents' actions, though they bear no responsibility for such actions. When a good friend dies because of a random gang shooting, his family and friends are effected by the evil actions of the gangster, even though they bear no responsibility for his actions. Likewise, it would make sense that Adam's sin would result in his children being forced to endure consequences of his sin (death and a tendency to sin) even though they bear no responsibility for his actions. Therefore, it would make sense that with each generation of sinners that is born and rebels against God, the death penalty and sin nature is continually passed on to every new generation.

By one man's disobedience all became sinners. Perhaps this was not something that happened instantaneously, but was a natural consequence of having sin in the world. For example, through Thomas Edison lightbulbs entered the world. Before Thomas Edison invented lightbulbs there were no lightbulb users in the world. After lightbulbs entered the world, many people became lightbulb users. This certainly doesn't mean that all people had a mystical union with Thomas Edison such that his lightbulb using was imputed to them. Instead, since lightbulbs became plentiful, many people chose to buy them and install them in their homes. Thomas Edison is the indirect causes of many people becoming lightbulb users. He is not the direct cause. Likewise, if sin never entered the world, there would be no sinners. But since sin entered the world, people are now capable of choosing to sin. We may even go so far as to say that because of Adam people have a propensity to choose to sin.

This interpretation makes sense of all the facts stated in the passage without resorting to any mystical answers or mysterious workings. It is a plausible and simple explanation of the facts. When we compare my interpretation with John Piper's interpretation of the passage, both provide plausible explanations of the facts. Occam's Razor states that, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better." Unless my interpretation is neglecting to account for clear Scriptural truths, it is more reasonable to accept it than to believe in some mystical union with Adam's sin which causes 12 billion and 1 people to sin at exactly the same instant. If we're going to opt for unnecessary fantasy theories then we might as well believe in storks, the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

A correct interpretation of Scripture is simply that Adam brought sin into the world, and that since Adam, all people choose to sin, causing them to become sinners, themselves. All people do receive a measure of judgment resulting from Adam's sin, even though they bear no personal guilt for his actions.

Having looked at Scripture itself and examined the various objections to my previous essay, I have yet to see an compelling argument proving that people are born sinners. First of all, though being a sinner is not simply a description of actions but is a state of being, one certainly cannot suggest that being a sinner can be reduced to exclude actions. This would result in semantic nonsense. Secondly, there is no Scripture that specifically states that people are born evil or born sinners. Third, the doctrine of imputed sin in Adam seems to go much further than Scripture and necessarily includes some assumptions that both contradict common sense and lack substantive Scriptural support of their own. While I happen to quite enjoy fiction, mythology and complicated accounts of things, when it comes to the Bible I refuse to accept anything that seems to bear more resemblance to fantasy than biblical truth.


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