Monday, September 03, 2007

Answer to Original Sin

I posed my hypothetical question to a group of brothers last Thursday night and through the discussion that ensued was able to refine my understanding of the doctrine of Original Sin. The question was:

"If scientists one day are able to artificially produce a man with no parents, will he be free from original sin?"

I asked the following questions to point out the meat of the dilemma:

"Was Christ free from sin because he had no biological human father or because He is God?
...or both?
What was the purpose of the virgin birth?"

I've heard it taught more than once that Christ was free from sin because He didn't have a human father and that sin is passed down generation to generation through our fathers. The key passage on OS, Romans 5:12-19, doesn't mention the transmission of OS as being hereditary in any particular sense. Here are the key texts that I have found that deal with the OS (all quotes are from the NASB):

Romans 5:12-19
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--
13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.
17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Ephesians 2:3
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Job 25:4

"How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?"

Psalm 58:3
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.

Psalm 51:5
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.

Lets look at a couple of terms often used: imputation and heredity.


According to Houghton Mifflin, to impute is either "to relate to a particular cause or source" or "to assign as a characteristic". This is irregardless as to any particular means. Theological discussions typically connotate that the imputation of OS is direct with no means indicated over and against some other form of imputation which is indirect through some sort of genealogical heredity. As such, I will use "transmission" to refer to general imputation and "imputation" to refer to theological imputation.


While we have versus such as Job 25:4, Psalm 58:3 and Psalm 51:5, each appearing to imply the genealogical imputation of OS, the precise method of heredity is unstated. Differing ideas exist. OS has been part of Roman Catholic theology from early in their history. Jewish rabbis typically do not believe that these indicate OS believing that Deuteronomy 30 indicates that men are capable on their own of being able to follow the law implying that Paul's teaching in Romans does not align with that of Moses. states that OS is imputed through a "genetic defect". In Article II of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession, traditional Lutheran theology is establishes the means of hereditary imputation as being that of status or position. None of these are explicit in the scriptures.

Job 25:4 implies that the hereditary imputation is through one's mother. However, the question is merely asked of Job by Bildad the Shuhite and may not have been asked with a correct theological premise.

Psalm 58:3 is part of a prayer for the punishment of the wicked. It implies OS by mentioning that wickedness is in the heart of people even before they are born and that from birth, when people can begin to speak, they are capable of lying. No mention of means here.

From the OT passages, Psalm 51:1 comes the closest to directly implying any means of hereditary transmission. The parent mentioned is the mother. However, heredity is yet only merely implied. It isn't clear as to whether the act of conception itself is the means or some other explanation for the relationship between "sin" and "conception". What is clear in this Psalm is that David is expressing contrition by assenting to his state of total depravity for the sake of trusting God for purification, deliverance and salvation. he is not offering specific theological information as to precisely how it was he was given his total depravity.

That said, is it true that we have an original sin gene, or a genetic defect that can be corrected through gene therapy so that future generations don't have original sin imputed to them? Or is it the case that the hereditary nature of OS is necessary but not sufficient where it is required that OS also be imputed. If so, are they both necessary and could there be some other element not revealed in scripture that is also necessary. Of course that would be an argument from silence. Could it be that the answer is simpler than all this?

What do we make of Christ. Whatever answer we find must also allow us to see that Christ did not have the curse of OS. He was spotless. We know that Enoch didn't sin, but he still carried the guilt of OS. Christ could not have OS or He would not be worthy to bear OS as a spotless lamb. Otherwise, Enoch could have done the same as Christ.

Let's first get free of the idea that Christ was free of OS because of the virgin birth. Nowhere does the Bible explicitly or implicitly say that the purpose of the virgin birth was to enable Christ to be free from the guilt of OS. That's reasoning based on an already established belief that OS is physically hereditary. As it is, both Isaiah and Matthew give the explicit reason for the virgin birth. It is a sign both in the fact that Christ would be born of a virgin, miraculously conceived, and that it was to fulfill a specific prophecy.

If it is true that OS is hereditary, then unless I'm missing a passage somewhere it's not explicit in holy writ. But I'll speculate that it's possible that it's true that OS could be hereditary. If so, then on what basis could it be hereditary if we also don't want to believe that a man could be constructed free of OS with genetic material that is artificially generated and not from any reproductive act. Then in the construction of such a man, although his genetic structure was artificially generated, he would still have human beings as his progenitors. In the act of physical reproduction, genetic material is spliced together by a mother and a father aided by biochemical physics. In vitro fertilization is still genetic material from human parents spliced together by a physician aided by biochemical physics. If technology becomes sophisticated enough to construct the genetic structure of a human being from "scratch" and develop it into a living human being, then some scientist will have had to decide on the physical characteristics to be compiled together in the code (in two differing, because of the double nature of our genetic structure) and he will be aided by the same biochemical physics required to sustain the process whereby the genetic code can amount to anything. In essence, human babies are made by humans with the help of the physical world God has given us. If a man were artificially constructed from the genes up, he would be no less constructed by humans although he would be conceived an orphan.

This raises some interesting bunny trail questions such as, were the nephilim free from OS? But I digress...

What about heredity of position I mentioned from the defense of the Augsburg Confession? The fact of the matter is that the Bible is not clear about the transmission of OS by heredity or imputation. IF it is transmitted at all by heredity, then it is mere speculation as to how precisely it is so transmitted.

Does the Bible explicitly say how OS is imputed? Let's look at the Romans passage and note a few things:

Verse 12
  • "just as" - in the same manner that one man sinned and death entered the world, so we all die because we sin.
  • the "world" - Greek "cosmos": Can have local or broad implications. In this context, it appears to refer to the created order of not only men who sin, but the context within which we sin.
  • "sinned" - past tense. Did Paul not mean to use the stative tense, "sin"? After all, we continue to sin today.
  • Or did Paul mean to imply that all of us sinned in Adam?
Verse 13
  • Why did all men sin? "for...sin was in the world".
  • "imputed" - Greek "ellogeitai": it's an accounting term referring to whether sin that entered the world is charged to the accounts of all men.
  • Adam's sin is not charged to the accounts of men when there is no law.
  • However, Paul indicates in chapter 2:14,15 that the law is written on the hearts of men (Gentiles, in context) even when there is no law socially established for them. After all, was not Abel justified and not Cain? On what basis was this judgement unless there was some law that they could in some way know.
  • If the imputation of OS happened prior to the law of Moses because the law was written on the hearts of men, then why would Paul bother to mention this principle?
Verse 14
  • If OS was not imputed prior to the law, death certainly was. This raises the question regarding OS: Precisely what is imputed? There are two kinds of death. One is the breaking of relationship, in this case being separated from God; the other is the cessation of the function of the physical body. Is Paul saying here that God allowed physical death prior to the law while not breaking relationship with men by imparting guilt prior to the law?
  • What then can we say for the faith of Abraham over and against say the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah?
  • The answer is indicated in the phrase, "sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." There was an indication of law in terms of a transgression against God. The very act of transgressing against God brings the knowledge of a law even if the law is not yet explicit. Therefore, it is not that OS was not imputed to those between Adam and Moses. Rather, Paul mentioned the principle to further indicate that death is the result of Adam's sin.
  • Adam was a type of Christ.
Verse 15
  • Adam as a type is not the same as Christ in that the act of Adam was a transgression that brought the curse of death to many and the act of God through Christ was grace that brought a gift to many.
Verse 16
  • Adam as a type is not the same as Christ in that the curse of death arose from one transgression where the gift of grace addressed the transgressions of many.
  • Does the gift of grace, therefore, remove the curse of death brought by the one transgression: Original Sin? Or where OS was through Adam, so is it propagated somehow and the gift of grace is the answer to individual instances of propagated sin?
Verse 17
  • Adam as a type is not the same as Christ in that through Adam death reined and through Christ, those who receive the gift will reign in life.
  • We learned in verse 14 that death through OS reigned even over those who didn't sin. However, only those who receive the gift of grace will reign in life.
Verse 18
  • In Adam one transgression resulted in condemnation to all and in Christ, one act of righteousness resulted in justification to all.
  • "...justification of life to all men". This sounds like universalism. Is justification universal or particular?
  • Does universal justification mean universal salvation?
  • Does this pose a problem for Calvinists (of which I count myself) by countering the ever-controversial Limited Atonement? The word "all" can be used to mean "any". However, the context here clearly indicates that the understanding is universal. In reading Calvin's own melodyary on this passage, he doesn't explain the word "all" but merely asserts Limited Atonement. However, while justification for all may mean that Christ's work of grace is efficacious for all, it doesn't mean that all are imputed with Christ's righteousness. It certainly doesn't speak as to the means of faith from verse 1. One must conclude such from other passages because it's not present here in verse 17.

I'll leave verse 19 because it just continues one more verse of the same. There's one key word I intentionally missed back in verse 12: "Therefore". What is this passage a conclusion of? Is there some important material here? I've already hinted at verse 1 and we can go back earlier to see what Paul is talking about, but we don't have to. Just look back at verses 10 and 11. What does Paul indicate was accomplished through Christ? Greek: "katallage" - "atonement" or "reconciliation". It appears to be another accounting word. Where OS is imputed, death is exchanged for life. It's another way of saying redemption. However, the implication is that this death is the separation from God and when we are reconciled to God it is that we are no longer separated from Him. This reconciliation is not from death but rather through it. We move from being dead in our sins to being dead to our sins for death is separation from God, but since we have sin, we who also have Christ have an identity other than the sin that also lives in our bodies. Where we formerly identified with our sin and live apart from Christ, we now welcome the death of our former selves and embrace the life that has been created for us in Christ. That is the exchange.

When Adam sinned God God moved away to prevent the total destruction of His creation. This separation doomed all of creation to death. All who were born were born apart from God and had not the power to be righteous although a law was known and could be followed. Apart from God the propensity to sin is too great for nearly all of us and we are doomed to remain apart from God. This is how we are imputed with the condemnation of death from Adam's Original Sin. However, God fulfilled His promise of reconciliation by taking flesh in the person of His eternal Son. Where He had the appearance of flesh and will return in flesh, He is also fully God and therefore was not born separated from God. Being limited by His flesh, He did not come to condemn. He hid the full power of His righteous might and refrained from displaying the wrath which is to come. Instead, He himself took on the wrath of death and for a time undertook the unthinkable pain of separation from the Father. However, inasmuch as He is one with the Father, we who are given His Holy Spirit who join with Him in death - for us, our death to sin - we have also new life in Him because we are no longer separated from Him.

That, I believe, is the key to understanding Original Sin.

So how does this answer the artificially created life question? Any life artificially created is likewise brought into existence under the curse of death - the separation from God.

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