Original sin is defined as “that sin and it’s guilt that we all possess in God’s eyes as a direct result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden”. Original sin basically is the sin passed on from Adam’s fall to us, seeping in the very nature of who we are, and as some often say, our ‘sin nature’. Thus when we are born, we are born sinners, set on a path to sin – a path of destruction.
Now there are different perspectives and extents to which original sin is applied, from the Armenian perspective to that of the Calvinist. In fact, it is quite common for Baptist churches to teach it, as I myself was taught by the leaders at my church (strong and mighty men of God). But there is problems with this doctrine, this belief, this idea. And despite the many problems it brings, it’s not the impact of it’s belief (that is the questions it brings or the doctrines it supports), but rather that it veers away from the simplicity and truth of scripture.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a fundamental to split a church over or even biblically separate from others, but it has huge consequence and impact in the personal life of a Christian, how they see themselves in relationship to God, and more so, who God is.
Re-statement of Problem:
So just to be clear, original sin is that sin passed on from Adam, as a result of the fall, and it’s impact is felt in these thoughts:
We are born in sin (at conception, in the womb we are in sin).
We thus have a sin nature (thus our tendency by design would be to sin)
Inadvertently then, if we are born in sin, and have a sin nature, how did we get it? From Adam? Really? Adam’s sin had to be super-naturally passed on by God for it to become a part of each of us.
It also beg’s other questions like:
When babies die where do they go?
When Jesus was born, was He not born in sin? He’s father may not have been Adam, but He still was descended from a ‘human’. It only takes care of the half the problem – his mother was Mary.
If we are born in sin, have a sin nature are we truly to blame to our failures and choices? Are we not products of our design?
The list of questions can go on, but the fundamental principle we care about is, Does the bible teach that we have inherited sin from Adam’s fall? Remembering prior to Adam’s fall he was made perfect, so we cannot argue that it was part of his design and thus ours. So again the key question; Does the bible teach that we inherited sin from Adam’s sin in the garden?
So let’s go to scripture, and find the answer we looking for in Romans 5.
Context of Romans 5:
Romans 5 is about two primary things, the blessings of justification in Christ, and the basis for that justification (the explanation). We come to this portion of scripture 5:12-21 because it is perhaps the strongest argument for original sin. In fact if you reference John MacArthur and Warren W Wiersbe commentaries you will find that both address ‘original sin’ and MacArthur goes as far as to call this portion of scripture the “Imputation of SIN”.
This portion when read with the perspective of original sin seems to tie in quite nicely and hence the doctrine is believed today, and held by great men of faith. Not that they should be looked down upon, but only that our eyes would be opened to see the truth, and have our lives changed for the Glory of God.
For further context, this portion of scripture is a contrast of Christ and his justification with Adam and his fall. You will continuously read ‘as by one man’. That is a key term to which we need to ask which man – Christ or Adam.
Expository (detailing the counter position):
12, Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
Part(a): The Misinterpretation
This is one of the great supporting verses for original sin, but sadly misinterpreted and ever so literally. It is often quoted to clearly indicate “as by one man sin entered in the world” to mean sin fell upon men. But notice it doesn’t say that, it just says – in a world where there was no sin, there now was sin. Perhaps the “world” is all men, ah, but read on.
The Word of God then goes on to state what ‘passed upon all men’ (not the world) – “and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men”. Note the simplicity of the verse, and quite the obvious. Sin entered into the world, and that sin resulted in death, which was the judgement upon all men. So if the question in your mind is, if we don’t hold to a position of original sin, then what did pass onto men instead, it’s as we just read – “death”.
An Account of What Took Place In the Garden:
Let us remember in Genesis we saw God promise them, that if they eat of the tree of good and evil, that they would surely die. So prior to that they were living with eternal life. How do we know? After their sin they were removed from the garden and prevented from eating the tree of life, which as we know and see even in Revelation was used for healing the nations. The bible doesn’t given enough evidence as to whether the “tree of life” actually provided eternal life to Adam and Eve, but one thing is clear – that their lives after the fall, were now numbered.
Spiritual death vs. Physical Death argument:
So many men and women steer immediately at this point to the figurative instead of the literal, by making this “death” not be a physical dying of the body, but spiritual death. If that were the case, how God would have given them command (not to eat from a tree – a physical don’t do) and then made the punishment metaphysical, that is ‘spiritual death’. If you run the 300+ references on death, the majority of it’s usage revolves around physically dying, mortality.
As we know the easiest way to misinterpret the bible is to take something figurative instead of literally. So yes, there was judgement, and that judgement unto all men was DEATH. For further affirmation one only need read Genesis 5, with the remarkable repetition and emphasis from God, it’s the chapter of death, as it goes on to accord the descendants of Adam, but repeatedly mentioned “he died” (8 times to be precise).
This portion of scripture says it clearly – and so “death” passed upon all men. From that day, the human race would toil, and face age-ing and ultimately the end of their mortality.
Part (b) Would God really pass down sin to us all?
The next part of the verse “for that all have sinned:”, lends itself to original sin, because “all have sinned”, meaning because Adam sinned, God now has imputed that all men have “sinned”. How can we have sinned, we were not even born yet? Does it sound like our just and glorious God to pass down “sin” to all his creation? To ascribe to sin to us as a race, as individuals seems a far stretch. Sure condemning the human race with ‘physical death’ is one thing, that’s just since we all face it, but condemning human nature to a sin nature, and then judging them for it, sounds truly unfair, and smells like Calvinism.
So how do we explain this part of the verse “for that all have sinned”?
Adam and Eve sinned, and God by way of judgement applied “death to them”. But not only to them, but to every human that was to follow them. Nowhere in this portion of scripture or even in the verse does it say, sin was passed as judgement to all men, but rather “death” in the literal.
Why did God apply “death to us all” – Foreknowledge and perfect environment
Why did God apply “death” to us all, why not to just Adam and Eve? Because God in his foreknowledge is able to foretell that even in a perfect environment – where man has but one command, he is unable to adhere to it when tempted. And so God passed judgement unto us all, that death would fall on us all.
God put us in the same lot as Adam and Eve, that of “sinner”
And so too here, God passed the judgement of death unto all of man to come, and for that, he put us in the same lot as Adam and Eve, and treated us the same, and that of “sinner”. For God knew we would all sin – and for that reason “all have sinned”.
Analogy: Time in South Africa where was no roads or rules of the road (RESIDENTIAL)
Perhaps, it’s still boggling the mind, but consider a time in South Africa where there was no roads or rules of the road, and imagine that construction just started across a single province, the Western Cape. Now assume as more and more roads were being built particularly in residential areas accidents started occurring, and serious ones too, were others were killed innocently due to the negligence of others speeding. More and more cases were brought to court, for culpable homicide – until the government the decided to lay down a legislature, a rule, a judgement that states, that 60 km/h is the maximum speed limit in a residential area, and if not adhered to, a person will be fined, or prosecuted to the full extent of the law when causing harm to others as a result.
The injustice to those who do drive safely
Now the citizens that do drive safely shout and complain that while they were being courteous and driving safely, they are now under a “blanket ruling” to which they have to abide too. But for the road to be safe, a ruling has to applied to all, and all treated the same within that law. And that is what happened here; God saw that Adam sinned, in a perfect environment, and to prevent us from living eternal lives (sinning and sinning), God past a universal judgement onto us all, and for that reason, we are treated as sinners, lumped in with Adam, and all face mortal life.
The punctuation is key, a “colon” – context ADAM to MOSES
Further more, let us not miss the obvious. There is a colon at the end of this second part of the verse, which means what is to follow is the definition, explanation of what was just said. This “for all have sinned”, has a context and that is from Adam to Moses. Let’s read on.
13, (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
Context: Adam to Moses, but sin was not ‘imputed’
“For until the law sin was in the world;” – this is basically saying that from the beginning up to the law (Exodus 20 – Moses) – sin was in the world, and bringing the second verse, but was not imputed, ascribed to men. That’s weird, how can sin not be ‘ascribed to men’.
Definition of “Imputed” (example. Going to buy something from shop, imputed tax)
Firstly let’s understand ‘imputed’. Imputed means to ‘ascribe’ as you would have heard me say. But for anything to be ascribed, accounted to you, your first have to do something that accredits it to you. For example; when you go to the shop and you pay for something, tax is imputed; ascribed automatically. But if you don’t go the shop and buy something, no tax is imputed.
Did they not sin? (example. Highways not built)
So what are we saying here then, that men did not sin up until the law? Of course they did, part (a) of the verse says so “sin was in the world”. The later part simply means that because there was no clear law, men and women were unable to define what sin was/is. Using the previous example of a time in our country when there is no known visible road law. Highways are now being built, but there no signposts on the road to dictate speed limit of 90, and automatic jail sentence. The law has not been communicated. There you are driving down the road of this country, sticking to what you believe to be a valid speed limit of 120, and then suddenly you are pulled off the road by a cop, arrest and taken to prison. Unless the law is visible to men, there is no absolute truth, and thus you cannot label “sin” nor label something sin. You need the law, and you need someone to transgress it. Don’t get me wrong, God judged the people prior to the law, but individually and by different measure.
Running the verses on “imputed” (only applies when there is transgression)
An important point before we depart to the next verse, “imputed” only applies when there is transgression. If you run the references for “impute” or “imputed” you will see, that there was a direction action taken by some party that resulted in something being imputed, ascribed and accounted to them.
14, Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
Again we see scripture being more than clear, “death reigned from Adam to Moses”, not sin. Not inherited sin. No God passing judgement onto humanity in the form of “sin”. Note this verse follows on even further how we were lumped in as sinners with Adam ( by way of judgement), because some had not sinned in the same manner as Adam, but death fell on them too.
15, But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
* (free gift is not an offence, like Him who was to come)
The beautiful contrast of Adam and Jesus
Again we see scripture being more than clear, by the offence of one many be dead. The bible interchangeably at times uses “many” to mean “all”. The beauty of the contrast here friends is simple, while Adam brought condemnation to humanity, Jesus brought salvation.
The balanced scale of action prior to imputation
It’s interesting to note, that as we know that were there is no law, sin cannot be transgressed. So to with salvation in Jesus Christ, as much as salvation is free and Christ has died as the atonement for the world, that atonement is only available through faith in Him. So in following with this biblical contrast of the “free gift” of salvation which requires an action (not a work), and action on the part of the person. How then can we even consider for the moment that God would give us a “sin nature” without the individual transgressing the law???
16, And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
The First Sin, and then the washing away (beautiful verse)
This verse is simply beautiful, we clearly see here that God is saying, that the sinning of Adam labelled us all sinners, and brought the judgement of death. That is one transgression, one specific sin of not heeding God’s word in the garden and eating from the Tree of Good and Evil. That sin condemned us. But how amazing is the Saviour, Jesus Christ, the stark contrast to Adam, whose justification through the cross, not only resolved the ‘original sin’ but also justified every sin, every offence that followed to them that “believe”. There’s power in the blood!
17, For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
Again, without blowing the horn, scripture again says, “death reigned by one” – not sin, not inheritance of sin, not the original sin, death.
18, Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness6 of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
A look at the word ‘judgement’ and ‘condemnation’
In verse 18, we get even more clarification, that the single offence brought “judgement” upon all men to “condemnation”. The judgement being “death”, and the condemnation is a mortal life. How can one even apply that to “imputed or inherited sin”. Imputing sin throughout all humanity is not a “JUDGEMENT”, and does not meet the definition in vs.18. Even if it were true, then it would be a cruel and unjust god who would have to do it.
Is it not unfair that we all received ‘death’? God did it for us.
So why was death passed, is that not unfair? No, “for all have sinned”. That is God in His foreknowledge knows we all would sin, and passed a judgement to protect us, to protect us from each other.
19, For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
Righteousness was not imputed, how can sin be?
Again we see the balance of the scales, disobedience of one man led to death, obedience by another man leads to righteousness. But on both accounts, for one to be disobedient, you have to disobey something. For one to be righteous, one has to believe Jesus Christ by faith. Righteousness is not imputed here! So how can we then consider that sin is too when Adam fell?
20, Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
Cannot label it sin, until we have a law to apply it too, and for there to be a transgression of that law
This feeds back to the earlier point that until the law was revealed, there was no visible way to understand the offence of Adam, SIN and it’s implications to all.
21, That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Note again the clear emphasis of scripture, sin through Adam hath brought death, but grace through Christ hath brought eternal life. This is the last verse, and it says it clearly.
Conclusion: Application for Us
I believe scripture is very clear the inherited sin is a misnomer, and hopefully this message has helped you either draw closer to that truth. There is quite a lot of chew on here, and some takes time to process and understand. Hopefully it has helped you.
But what does this mean for you the Christian?
1. Knowing that we don’t have ‘inherited sin’, that we don’t have a “sin nature”, allows us:
2. To understand that our choices to sin, are off our own free volition, not because that’s they way we are designed.
3. Yes our flesh desires ease, comfort and a host of lusts, it’s the mechanics of physical bodies (not our spiritual souls). But in Christ, the power of the flesh (not our nature, our souls, our inner men) is overcome through spiritual circumcision and the indwelling Holy Spirit. (Read Romans 6)
4. It also refutes Calvinism. With Calvinism all 5 points are inter-linked, knock down one point and all the dominoes fall of TULIP. Original sin uplifts election! Believing that “death was passed as sin” uplifts free will and the Holiness of God.
5. It helps us navigate life better, knowing that we are not the product of our design, but the product of our free will.
PS. Too state the obvious – I don’t believe the bible teaches ‘sinless perfection’, that is someone can walk this earth without falling into sin. If you would like further detail, please leave a comment.