SIN AND THE NATURE OF MAN
Daniel W. Petty
"O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth!" Thus begins and ends Psalm 8, David's song of God's majesty and man's dignity. David's question, "What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" on one hand appears as an expression of astonishment that Jehovah, the Creator of such splendor, would not simply ignore man, but would be mindful of him and attend to him. Yet the question already points to its answer, for what other being in God's entire creation has the insight even to ask such a question? In order for us to have a correct understanding of the Biblical doctrine of sin, we must take into account the nature of man. And we must inquire into the relationship between the nature of man and sin. How is man capable of sin, and how does sin affect man?
Man was formed of dust from the ground, and in that sense man was placed within the natural order (Gen. 2:7). God breathed life into man and he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). The term soul is from the Hebrew nephesh, which usually is used of animal life (Gen. 1:21, 24, etc.), but sometimes refers to that part of man that transcends material existence (e.g., Ps. 16:10; 103:1). According to Genesis 1:26, God created man in His image and likeness. The word image is a translation of tselem which means "an image, likeness, of resemblance" (Brown 853-854), and is often used to denote the idea of representation as with idols. The term likeness is from demuth, which is defined as "likeness, similitude" (Brown 198). While both terms are often used with reference to external similarities, it was man's spirit, not his body, that was made in the image of God. God is spiritual in nature and has no body (Jn. 4:24; Lk. 24:39; Clark 216).
Roman Catholic scholarship, drawing from a tradition beginning as early as Irenaeus (AD 180), made a distinction between the image and likeness of God, defining the image of God in man as his personality and rationality. Then God gave man His likeness, a "superadded gift" which endowed him with ethical qualities and original righteousness. When Adam sinned man retained God's image of rationality, while the likeness of God and original righteousness were lost (Clark 220-221). Reformation scholars, including Luther and Calvin, began to recognize, correctly, that the traditional distinction was artificial. Scholars now generally regard the terms as used in Genesis 1:26 as synonymous (Feinberg 237). The image of God seems to include certain attributes including the will, freedom of choice, self-consciousness, self-determination, rationality, moral discernment, and the ability to know and love God, all of which differentiate man from the rest of creation (Feinberg 246).
Bearing the image of God, man live up to the claim of that privilege, including the moral obligation of obedience to God. To Adam God said, "From any tree you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Gen. 2:16-17). An essential part of man's uniqueness was his ability to choose. As a morally responsible being man had the opportunity to render obedience to God, but he also possessed the freedom to disobey.
Overcome by temptation, man and woman chose to act according to their own will rather than God's (vss. 1-7). Their rebellious act well fits the biblical definition of sin: "sin is lawlessness" (1 Jn. 3:4; "trangression of the law", KJV). In transgressing the law, man had transgressed God's standard of holiness. As a responsible, moral being made in the image of God, man knew what the standard was, but he fell short of it (Rom. 3:23). Motivated by lust and pride (1 Jn. 2:15), man had engaged in rebellion against God.
In shame the man and the woman attempted to hide themselves from the presence of God. Having lost their innocence, now they became aware of their nakedness. As a father deals with his children, God called on Adam and Eve to answer for their conduct, not because He was not aware, but because they must give account. Though they attempted to evade their responsibility in the matter, God held them accountable (vss. 8-13).
Many of the consequences of sin were natural results of human guilt (3:7-13). Adam and Eve were ashamed and sought to cover themselves. They were afraid and tried to hide from the presence of the Lord. Sin made moral cowards of the man and woman as each sought to lay the blame on someone besides themselves (Hailey 26-27).
Some of the consequences of sin, however, were imposed by the decree of God Himself. God pronounced curses upon the serpent, the woman, the ground, and the man (Gen. 3:14-19). The serpent was cursed above all cattle and beasts. There would be enmity between the serpent (Satan, Rev. 12:9) and the woman, and between the serpent's seed and the woman's seed. Hostilities would continue to exist between Adam's posterity and the spiritual offspring of Satan (cf. Jn. 8:44). The temptation and sin of the first man and woman would be only the first of the continuing efforts of "our adversary, the devil" (1 Pet. 5:8) to seek and devour his prey. The woman would endure increased pain in childbearing; her desire would be to her husband and he would rule over her (vs. 16; cf. 1 Tim. 2:13-15). On man's account the ground was cursed so that it brought forth thorns and thistles. No longer would the earth yield its produce for man spontaneously; now man would be required to labor "by the sweat of his face" in order to provide for his sustenance (vss. 17-19). The curse upon the man further alludes to the fact that he would return to the dust from whence he was taken (vs. 19), evidently a reference to physical death.
God pronounced all these curses upon Adam and Eve and their posterity. Homer Hailey summarized the matter well:
Following in the wake of sin there fell a curse upon the world and upon man's toil; then followed separation from God and finally death upon all the human family. All the woes, sorrows, tears, disappointments, miseries and separations by death are the consequences of sin. (28)
Embedded within the curse upon the serpent, however, was a ray of hope for mankind. "He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel" (vs. 15). The seed of woman ultimately refers to Christ (cf. Gal. 4:4; Rev. 12:1-5). "The figure is of a man who brings his heel down on the head of a serpent. The man bruises his own heel, but he crushes the head or power of the serpent" (Jenkins 21). Though He suffered death on the cross, His injury was not mortal, for in His resurrection Jesus destroyed the power of Satan and gained victory over death (Heb. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:8). The ultimate effect of the curse upon the serpent will be the defeat of Satan and his forces (Rom. 16:20).
Penalty for Sin
When God commanded Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree, He warned that "in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Death was to be the penalty for violation of God's law. In his efforts to deceive the woman, the serpent falsely attributed the threat of death to God's knowledge that their eyes would be opened, and that they would "be like God, knowing good and evil" (vs. 5). But when their eyes were opened (vss. 7, 22), they saw good and evil only from the standpoint of sinners. They saw their guilt, and it made them ashamed. Because of their guilt, they must suffer the penalty of death.
Adam and Eve did not die physically, however, in the day they sinned (cf. Gen. 4:1; 5:5). God's promise of immediate death was fulfilled in that they died spiritually. Spiritual death occurs when man is separated from God, who is the source of spiritual life. Sin has the effect of separating us from God, so that it can be said that we are "dead in our transgressions" (Isa. 59:1-2; Eph. 2:1-5). "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Adam and Eve died a spiritual death the day they sinned. Their separation from God became vivid when He expelled them from the garden of Eden and access to the tree of life (vss. 23-24).
The Scriptures charge that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Paul took great pains to show that sin is universal, "that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin... There is none righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:9-18). Because sin is universal, death also is universal (Rom. 5:12). Sin entered the world through Adam's transgression, resulting in spiritual death. Like Adam, others sinned, and as a result of their sin, they too are "dead in sin."
The universality of sin is often explained by widely held theories involving original sin and inherited depravity. Although there are divergent views, the basic doctrine asserts that as a result of the sin of Adam, all of his posterity inherit his sin, including guilt and a depraved nature. Human beings are born in sin with an inbred tendency to evil. The will of man has been so corrupted by sin that it is incapable of good until helped by divine grace.
This doctrine is an important element in most Catholic and Protestant thought. Since it is directly related to our topic of sin and the nature of man, we will benefit from a closer look. For the sake of clarity and understanding of the issues, our examination will take the form of a brief historical survey.
The debate between Augustine and Pelagius brought into open conflict issues that had occasionally been discussed earlier. Tertullian and Ambrose, for example, suggested that the whole race was somehow tainted due to its connection with Adam, while others such as Justin Martyr and Origen tended to stress man's free will and personal responsibility. By AD 396, Augustine the bishop of Hippo was writing that mankind was a "mass of sin", unable to make any move to save itself apart from God's grace. Around the same time, Pelagius, an austere British monk, was emphasizing man's unconditional free will and responsibility. The inevitable clash came early in the fifth century.
Pelagius. Pelagius was a moralist who was concerned for right conduct and appalled by what he considered to be pessimistic views of human nature. He found especially offensive Augustine's petition, "Grant what you command, and command what you will" (Confessions 10.29). This seemed to suggest that man was wholly unable on his own account to obey God's laws.
A fundamental theme in Pelagius' thought was the freedom of the will, which distinguishes man from the rest of creation. Pelagius denied that man has inherited any bias to sin and affirmed that man has the natural ability to "both sin and not to sin, so that we confess ourselves to have always free will" (qtd. in McDonald 58). Man is completely responsible for his sins. As Peter Brown concludes, "For the Pelagians, man had no excuse for his own sins, nor for the evils around him" (349).
Adam's sin, though the first, did not affect the whole human race but only Adam himself. Adam introduced physical and spiritual death, and initiated a habit of disobedience. But the habit of sinning is propogated, not by physical descent, but by custom, example, and imitation. Brown explained, "If human nature was essentially free and well-created and not dogged by some mysterious inner weakness, the reason for the general misery of man must be somehow external to their true selves; it must lie, in part, in the constricting force of social habits of a pagan past" (349). Man finds himself existing in a web of evil customs left behind by the long practice of sin in human history; he may easily become entangled in it, but while most men do, they do not do so out of necessity.
Pelagius believed in the benefits of divine grace, but not in the sense of any interior action of God upon the soul. By grace he meant free will, the possibility of not sinning, the revelation of God's word, and the remission of sins in baptism and penance (Kelly 359-360). Ironically, the Pelagians taught the necessity of infant baptism--not for sin, but "in order that they may be with Christ in the kingdom of God" (Pelikan 317). Jaroslav Pelikan suggests that it was the circulation of the proposition "that infants are baptized not for the purpose of receiving remission of sin" which made Augustine suspicious that some were teaching error on the subject of original sin (317).
Augustine. Augustine agreed that originally man was created completely upright and free. His will was good in the sense of being inclined to carrying out God's commands (City of God 14.11), yet he possessed the possibility of sinning as well as of not sinning. Adam sinned through the wrongful exercise of his freedom. Unlike Pelagius, Augustine had no doubt of the reality of original sin and hereditary depravity. The sin of Adam brought guilt and corruption to the race. In Augustine's words, "All nature was vitiated by sin: our nature, there transformed for the worse, not only became a sinner, but also begets sinners" (On Marriage and Concupiscence 2.34, 37). Augustine believed he found proof for original sin in several areas. Certain scriptures seemed to support it, especially Psalm 51, Ephesians 2:3, Romans 5:12, and John 3:3-5. Furthermore, the tradition of the church was in favor of it, and the practice of baptizing infants was evidence that they, too, must be infected with sin. Man's general wretchedness and enslavement to his desires seemed to make it a closed case (Kelly 363).
It is important to understand the completeness of the effects of original sin on the race as Augustine saw it. The essence of original sin consists in our own personal participation in, and co-responsibility for, Adam's sin. Since we were one with him when he made the perverse choice, it follows that we willed in and with him. Even though Augustine drew a distinction between the guilt of original sin and the evil it inflicts on our nature, he said we suffer both consequences. Augustine did not say the image of God has been totally obliterated. The spark of reason we were created with we still have (City of God 22.24). Still, the depravity of our nature is complete enough. We are enslaved to ignorance, concupiscence, and death. Concupiscence for Augustine means the persistent inclination to gratify the flesh in general, and sexual desire in particular. "This disorder in our physical nature, which he describes as both sinful and the fruit of sin," Kelly explains, "is itself the product of our primeval wilful rebellion" (365). So complete is our enslavement to sin, Augustine asserts, that we have lost the freedom of being able to avoid sin and do good. While our will is still intact, we are free only to do wrong. Augustine said man can "not avail for good and pious living, unless the will itself of man should be made free by God's grace, and assisted to every good movement of action, of speech, of thought" (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 2.9, 20).
Augustine conceived of Adam's sin as having racial consequences. Sin is universal, not by imitation as Pelagius taught, but by procreation. In his comments on Romans 5:12 Augustine concluded that "in the first man all are understood to have sinned, because all were in him when he sinned; whereby sin is brought about with birth, and is not removed save by the second birth" (qtd. in McDonald 61). Furthermore, sin is passed from parents to children, just as a defective seed cannot produce good plants. Indeed, the taint of original sin is propogated from parent to child by the carnality inherent in the sexual act. Once Adam introduced a defective seed, "whatever comes into being by natural birth is bound by original sin" (On Marriage and Concupiscence 1.27). This view of original sin set forth by Augustine has come to be known as the realistic theory.
In Augustine's view enabling divine grace is needed to heal and prepare the will to desire and choose the good. Since the divine will is omnipotent and grace is irresistible, the doctrine of predestination naturally follows. Grace takes the initiative and apart from it all men are corrupt; thus it is for God to determine who shall receive grace and who shall not (Kelly 368).
Catholicism. After Pelagianism was condemned by the Council of Carthage in 418, a controversy ensued between Augustine and some (called Semi-Pelagians since the seventeenth century) who accepted his doctrine of original sin, but rejected his views on predestination and the bondage of the will. The Council of Orange in 529 finally upheld a moderate Augustinian theology. Original sin and the need for divine grace (without Augustine's teaching on predestination) became the distinctive Augustinian doctrines that formed the core of Roman Catholic doctrine. Saving grace was viewed as a "superadded gift" of God to restore original righteousness, mediated through the church and its sacraments (Pelikan 329).
As a result of the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent (1537-63) gave definition to Roman Catholic doctrine that remained authoritative until modern times. It affirmed original sin and its consequences, stating that man "was changed in body and soul for the worse." The sin of Adam has been "by propagation, not by imitation, transfused into all, which is in each one as something that is his own." The canons of Trent also declared that the will of man, though "weakened as it was in its powers and downward bent," is still left free to cooperate with the grace of God (Leith 406-420).
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was set forth in a decree by Pope Pius IX in 1854 after centuries of debate (Leith 442-446). According to that dogma, Mary was kept pure from all taint of sin, including original sin, by virtue of her election to be the mother of the Savior. It is not difficult to see how this doctrine developed as a way of avoiding the conclusion that Jesus was born with the stain of original sin.
Calvinism. Most of the Protestant reformers followed Augustine's thought closely. Martin Luther, for example, became embroiled in a controversy with Erasmus of Rotterdam when the latter challenged Luther in his work, On the Free Will. Luther's answer in his On the Bondage of the Will shows that he agreed with Augustine that the freedom of the human will was lost through original sin, and is now corrupted and bound to sin. The Augsburg Confession of 1530, still followed by Lutherans, declares that "all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin" (Leith 68).
John Calvin set forth the definitive reformed doctrine of man and sin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin agreed with Augustine that "Adam, by sinning, not only took upon himself misfortune and ruin but also plunged our nature into like destruction" (2.1.6). He defined original sin as "hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath" (2.1.8). He denied the Pelagian view that Adam's sin was propogated by imitation: "All of us, who have descended from impure seed, are born infected with the contagion of sin" (2.1.5).
As a consequence of Adam's sin, we stand guilty, "justly condemned and convicted before God" (2.1.8). For Calvin, as for Augustine, we are completely guilty of Adam's sin because his sin was our sin. In addition to guilt and just condemnation, original sin also brought the corruption and depravity of our nature. Like Augustine, Calvin described depravity, which he also called "concupiscence", as a perversity of the whole man (2.2.8). This is what is meant by "total depravity." Every part of the image of God has been affected. Original righteousness has been stripped from man, and even his reason and will have been corrupted (2.2.12; McCambell 262). Calvin said the will of man remains, but being in bondage, "it cannot move toward good, much less apply itself thereto" and it is "with the most eager inclination disposed and hastening to sin" (2.3.5).
The influence of Calvinism may be seen in the Westminster Confession, which is generally associated with Presbyterian and Reformed churches. It declares that Adam and Eve, "being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions" (Leith 201). Similar statements are found in the creeds and confessions of virtually all Protestant churches.
Some Calvinist theologians have modified the Augustinian variety of original sin, referred to earlier as the Realistic Theory. Proponents of the federal or covenant theory (Berkhof, Hodge, Buswell, et al.) assert that Adam was appointed by God as the representative of the race. God entered into covenant with the whole race through Adam, the federal head. If Adam was obedient, He would bestow life; the penalty for disobedience would be death of all his posterity. Because Adam sinned, God imputes sin and guilt to his posterity. Each soul is immediately created with a corrupt and depraved nature (Buswell 307f).
Arminianism. One of the earliest and most serious challenges to traditional Protestant interpretations of original sin and total depravity came from the teachings of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). Arminius and several other theologians in the Netherlands rejected certain basic theses of dogmatic Calvinism. A year after his death, five main points of the Arminian party were set forth in a "Remonstrance." They denied the total bondage of the will, that inherited depravity includes imputed guilt, and that predestination is based on an eternal decree.
Arminian theologians agree with Calvinism that because of Adam's sin all suffer inherited depravity (Wiley 175). But Arminius did not believe the possession of evil tendencies is itself sin; actual sin is that which is committed by the individual will. The Arminian theory of original sin has been labeled voluntarily appropriated depravity. Because of Adam, man is by nature without original righteousness and the ability to attain it. The occasion for sin presents itself when each man consciously and voluntarily appropriates and confirms his inborn tendency to evil. Arminius explained the situation as the mind in conflict with the flesh, each endeavoring to "persuade the will" to do good or to seek sensual gratification (2: 332). Each individual who so yields to the enticements of evil yields on the basis of his will, but as a result he becomes devoid of original righteousness and unable to attain eternal life.
The inability of man does not mean that he has lost free will, but neither is his will free entirely (Bangs 215). Arminius argued that the will is "flexible in all directions", even without grace. But, he adds, free will in man is "addicted to evil" and it is "only turned to good by grace" (3: 510). At birth God gives a special influence of the Spirit to counteract the effect of inherited depravity, making obedience possible. The will is still capable of cooperating with God's enabling grace, and cooperate it must if there is to be a conversion. "Is a man a mere log," he asks, "that, by pure necessity of nature, he must yield to grace?" Thus Arminius rejected the Calvinistic notion of particular, irresistible grace (3: 523).
As noted, the Wesleyan movement, which resulted in the establishment of the Methodists, Nazarenes, and Pentecostals, generally followed Arminian doctrine. Wesley modified the Arminian doctrine, asserting that guilt for the sin of Adam is imputed to man and that the tendency to sin is itself sinful. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Wesleyanism is its emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification, also known as Christian perfection or as the second work of grace. The common version of the doctrine is that sanctification begins in regeneration but is completed as an instantaneous, subsequent work of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the second work of grace is to cleanse the heart of the justified believer of vestiges of depravity and the inbred tendency to sin (Wiley 297-319).
It would be impossible in one lecture to consider every passage used in support of original sin and inherited depravity. For example, one book presents 48 Bible references in defense of total depravity (Steele and Thomas 26-30). A closer examination of these alleged proofs reveals a tendency to assume more than the evidence warrants. Unless the doctrine of original sin and depravity is presupposed when such passages are studied, they are subject to interpretations which fall short of proof. For the sake of conciseness and illustration, we will briefly review of some of the passages as categorized by William F. Bruner (12-22).
Born in Sin. In Psalm 51:5 David says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me." Calvin used this verse to support the idea that "we were born in sin, and that it exists within us as a disease fixed in our nature" (2: 290, qtd. in Bruner 13). But the theory does not fit the thought of the rest of the psalm. David takes full blame for his wrongs (vss. 1-4), and never suggests that he was powerless to resist sin. Nor is he necessarily saying that his mother was sinful when she conceived him. David is clearly referring to his own sin. "The best explanation is that the poet is using an ancient Near Eastern idiom meaning that he, like all human beings, was prone or inclined to sin from his youth up, because he was constantly surrounded by sin and temptation" (Willis 2: 60). In Psalm 58:3, David says, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth." This is a poetic way of saying that a certain class of wicked men starts sinning very early in life. The verse has no reference to the whole human race. Similarly, Isaiah 48:8b states, "Because I knew that you would deal very treacherously; And you have been called a rebel from birth." The prophet is simply charging the house of Jacob with transgressing God's laws all their lives. These verses do not support inherited sin and depravity.
Jesus welcomed infants to himself and taught His disciples that one must "receive the kingdom of God like a child" in order to enter in (Lk. 18:15-17; Mt. 18:1-6). If we are born in sin, why would He use children as examples of what we should become? The infant question has been a thorny issue for original sin proponents. Some attempt to solve the problem by baptizing infants; some propose a place called limbo; others insist that only elect children will be saved; some suggest that children will have a chance to repent of original sin after death (Bruner 283-285, 290). None of these can be sustained by Scripture.
Ceremonial Expiation for Birth-Sin. Bruner cites Leviticus 12:1-8 where the Mosaic Law declared a woman unclean for a period of time after giving birth. He asserts that "While not stating that children are born in sin, the Levitical laws of ceremonial purification certainly imply it" (15). Later he says, "What was the purpose of these ceremonies? They served as a means of keeping continually before the minds of God's chosen people the sad, sobering truth that every soul of Adam's fallen race is born in original sin and total depravity and is therefore in sore need of God's cleansing, pardoning grace" (15-16). But on what basis other than presupposition can we possibly say the passage implies anything about original sin? This is a clear example of assuming that which one is attempting to prove.
Sons of Disobedience, Children of Wrath, etc. Paul said the Ephesians formerly were dead in sin, but now have been made alive with Christ (Eph. 2:1-3). He described their former condition as "by nature children of wrath" (vs. 3). Calvinists make a great deal of terms such as "sons of disobedience", "children of wrath", "dead", and "nature" to construct their doctrine of hereditary total depravity (Bruner 16-17). They argue that the sinner by his innate nature is born dead in Adam's sin and thus is under divine wrath from birth. They assume that "nature" refers to the natural state at birth. It is true the word phusis (nature) sometimes means the constitution or physical origin of something, but it also sometimes refers to one's acquired nature or way of feeling and acting which has come about by habitual, regular practice (Thayer 660). The context clearly shows the latter to be the meaning here. They lived according to the world, its values, and desires, so that such feeling and acting became their nature. Their nature resulted from their persistent behavior, not from original sin.
Children of the Devil. Several passages refer to "children of the devil" (1 Jn. 3:8-10), "sons of the evil one" (Mt. 13:37-39), or "your father the devil" (Jn. 8:44). Bruner states that all mankind is either a child of God or a child of the devil, and uses these passages to argue that "no member of the human race is by nature a child of God but must become one by a second birth" (17). Here Bruner appeals to Augustine, who says in a homily of John 8:44, "whoso imitates the devil, that person, as if begotten of him, becomes a child of the devil" (18). But then they jump to the assumption that since Adam is the one who imitated the devil, we all--the entire race--are born sinners (18). John's answer should suffice: "the one who practices sin is of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). One must assume what is not taught in these passages in order to find original sin.
Total Depravity. Bruner cites several passages that refer to evil in the hearts of men to justify total depravity (20). "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5; cf. Prov. 22:15; Jer. 17:9; Mk. 7:21). One problem with appealing to these passages to prove total depravity is that they prove what no one denies. Men are depraved in the sense of being "very crooked". But, as Charles Finney observes, the depravity of man is not to be taken "in the sense of original or constitutional crookedness, but in the sense of having become crooked. The term does not imply original malconformation, but lapsed, fallen, departed from right or straight" (164; cf. Curry 29-30). Sin leaves the heart deceitful and sick, and such a corrupt heart becomes the source of more sin. None of these passages affirms anything about man's inborn, corrupt nature.
The Question of Inherited Sin. Romans 5:12 is, in the words of Bruner, "the locus classicus of the whole doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin to the race" (22). Calvinists argue that all sinned in Adam. The interpretation of the verse is closely tied to the meaning of "because all sinned." Augustine read the phrase, "in whom all sinned". As Kelly points out, however, this reading was based on a faulty translation in the Old Latin (354, 363). Augustine's conclusion was that in Adam the entire race sinned. Scholars generally regard the correct translation to be "for the reason that, because" (Dunn 273). Furthermore, as Ladd admits, "Grammatically, this can mean that men died because they have personally sinned, or it can mean that in Adam, all men sinned" (403-404). There is nothing in Romans 5:12 or its context to suggest anything more than that death passed to all men inasmuch as they imitated Adam's sinfulness. Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), "death spread to all men." Christ, by contrast, came to bring spiritual life, through His one obedient act of righteousness (vs. 18-19; cf. Heb. 5:8-9). If verse 12 teaches that all men inherit Adam's sin unconditionally, then verses 18 and 19 would teach that all men are saved through Christ unconditionally. In fact, both are conditional: through disobedience to God we die; through obedience to Him we are made alive in Christ.
The unanimous message of the Bible is that man is responsible for his own sins. "The soul who sins will die" (Ezek. 18:4). We do not bear the guilt or penalty for the sins of others (Ezek. 18:20). Sin by definition is not something that can be transferred from person to person through birth or any other process. Sin is not a state or condition except when perpetuated by sinful actions (1 Jn. 3:4; 5:17; Jas. 4:17).
The assumption underlying every Biblical command, every appeal to righteous living, and every promise of judgment is that man is free in his will and able to respond to God. The prophet Ezekiel appealed to the sinner to "turn from his ways and live" (Ezek. 18:23). Moses set before Israel the alternatives of life and death, and called on them to "choose life in order that you may live" (Deut. 30:15f). The preaching of the gospel to the sinner assumes his capacity to believe, repent, and obey.
The Bible speaks of man as made in the image of God long after Adam's sin in Eden. Murder and cursing are forbidden because man is made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9). Sin defaces that image, but we are to put on the "new self" created in His image and likeness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). As children of God we should be holy in all our conduct as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God's nature (1:3; cf. Col. 1:15; 2:9; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4). The message of the gospel is that we can look to Him for forgiveness of our sins and our example for living. As we thus behold His glory, we are being "transformed into the same image."
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