Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?

The concept of Original Sin has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy, yet is being challenged and redefined by many in the Church today. Some are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current understanding. Most particularly, the doctrine of imputation is being questioned. This is quit understandable. In fact, I would venture to guess that the concepts housed in this doctrine can seem to produce a vital assault on our conscious, rendering any concept of divine justice impotent.

Let us back up a bit . . .

Perhaps John Calvin defines Original Sin most concisely as “The deprivation of a nature formerly good and pure.” More specifically, from a Reformed Evangelical perspective, it refers to the fall of humanity from its original state of innocence and purity to a state of corruption and guilt (distinguished later). It is the cause of man’s translation from a state of unbroken communion before God to one of spiritual death and condemnation.

The term “Original Sin” is not found in Scripture; Saint Augustine coined it in the 4th century. The primary passage used to defend the doctrine of Original Sin is Romans 5:12-21. Most specifically, Romans 5:12 gives us the most explicit reference to this concept: “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.” The “one man” is Adam. The “all men” is all of Adam’s posterity—the entire human race.

J.I. Packer clears up a possible misconception and further defines Original Sin:

The assertion of original sin means not that sin belongs to human nature as God made it (God made mankind upright, Ecclesiastes 7:29), nor that sin is involved in the processes of reproduction and birth (the uncleanness connected with menstruation, semen, and childbirth in Leviticus 12 and 15 was typical and ceremonial only, not moral and real), but that . . . sinfulness marks everyone from birth . . . it derives to us in a real . . . mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God.

This concept is not only hard to understand, but, as I alluded to earlier, it is also quite disturbing. From the perspective of traditional Evangelicalism as it finds its roots in Augustine, the west has believed that humanity is condemned for Adam’s sin. To state that we are condemned for the sin of another is not only offensive and unfair, but in the mind of most it is also ludicrous. It is because of this that Pascal (who accepted the doctrine) wrote the following:

Without doubt, nothing is more shocking to our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has implicated in its guilt men so far from the original sin that they seem incapable of sharing it. This flow of guilt does not seem merely impossible to us, but indeed most unjust. What could be more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than the eternal damnation of a child, incapable of will, for an act in which he seems to have so little part that it was actually committed 6,000 years before he existed? Certainly nothing jolts us more rudely than this doctrine . . .

It certainly does seem unfair for us to be blamed for the sin of another. My daughter used to commit various misdemeanors such as messing up the living room. She would find solace in her younger sister, who was not yet able to speak and defend herself. She would blame her for the mess that she had made, which, of course, was not right. Unfortunately, she got away with it many times before we caught on. Because of this, her sister was punished for crimes she did not commit. Is it the same with Adam and humanity? Are we being punished for a sin that we had nothing to do with?

Death, Paul says, is passed down to us from Adam. But there is more to it than that. As Bob Pyne puts it, “We have no problem affirming that all people die, but what did Paul mean when he linked death to sin?” Furthermore, physical death is not the only consequence of Adam’s sin that we inherit. Romans 5:18 states that the transgression of Adam resulted in our condemnation. So then, we are not only destined to die physically because of Adam’s sin, but we are also condemned to eternal death.

Was the sin of Adam transferred to us? If so, how? Are we condemned for the sin of another? Are Pascal’s concerns valid?

Let’s get some basic terminology down so that we can surf this wave with more balance.

Proposed three types of sin:

Personal Sin: Sins committed by the individual. All people have personal sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:10)

Inherited Sin: The physical and spiritual corruption which produces a bent and inclination toward sin and a natural enmity toward God (Eph. 2:3; John 8:44; Jer. 13:23; Ps. 51:5). This sin is mediated (inherited) directly from our parents.

Imputed Sin: God’s immediate declaration of guilt to every individual for the sin of Adam.  This sin is “imputed” (or credited) to all people as if they had committed the sin.

Here is a chart (!) that illustrates these three:

Notice, imputed sin or guilt is directly from Adam (the big guy). Inherited sin begins with Adam but is transmitted by our corrupted nature we inherit directly from our parents. Personal sin is connected only to the individual.

Here is another way to put it. When we are born, we are born with a tremendous deficit in our bank account (imputed sin). This deficit is shared by all humanity. It is called “Adam Account.” Since we are humans, we have no other representation. Whatever was Adam’s (man’s) is our as we are human. Not only this, but we have a terrible spending habit from birth (inherited sin). We have an inclination to spend money. It is in our blood! So, whatever debt we shared with all of mankind in imputed sin, can only be made worse through inherited sin. Finally, personal sin is the actualization of our spending habit in the real world. It is where opportunity births and our negative balance is extended.

Catholics and Protestants believe in all three types of sin, while Eastern Orthodox strongly reject any idea of imputed guilt.

Short History of Original Sin

Pelagius vs. St. Augustine

The first time any substantial discussion arose concerning this issue was at the time of Augustine (354-430). Augustine held that man is unable to do any good because man is inherently depraved. Augustine believed that all men are born with a predisposition to sin. This is what led him to his strong promotion of the necessity of predestination. “Give what thou command,” said Augustine, “and command what thou wilt.”

At this time, believing Augustine’s position to be unfair and extreme, a British monk named Pelagius (c. 354- after 418) denied that sin was passed on from Adam to the human race. According to Pelagius, we inherit Adam’s sin neither by imputation of guilt nor by nature. The only effect that Adam had on the human race is the example he set. Pelagius believed that all men are born neutral, in a like manner to Adam, with no predisposition to evil. Pelagius was eventually condemned by two African councils in 416 and by the council of Ephesus in 431 which affirmed both inherited and imputed sin. All major orthodox tratitions of Christianity reject Pelagianism, including Eastern Orthodoxy. In spite of his condemnation, the Pelagian doctrine of sin, I believe, is still prominent in the Church today. It seems to be the “default” position of sin in our culture.


The federal view of humanity’s relationship to Adam proposes that Adam was selected by God to be humanity’s federal representative. This view was articulated most precisely by Cocceius (1603-1669) and has become the standard belief of Reformed theology. As Achan’s family was held responsible for his sin (Joshua 7:16-26), so it is with Adam’s family. By this view, the “all sinned” of Romans 5:12 would not be taken literally. As one writer puts it, “No one but Adam actually committed that first sin, but since Adam represented all people, God viewed all as involved and thus condemned. The reason that Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity according to the federalist is because God imputes the guilt of Adam, whom He chose to represent mankind, to mankind.”

Romans 5:12-21

Some have said, if Romans 5:12-21 were never penned, the doctrine of imputation would not be an issue. While I don’t agree, I do think that Romans 5 represents the clearest and most theologically precise argument for the necessity of imputation. Here is the passage for reference.

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The way in which one interprets this passage will determine which of the options presented thus far, if any, is adopted. The context of the passage has Paul explaining the believer’s position in Christ by comparing it to our former position in Adam. The subject of the section is not the transgression, but the free gift (v. 15). Paul uses the analogy of Adam’s sin and compares it to the free gift of Christ’s righteousness.

The meaning of the phrase, “because all sinned” in verse 12 (NAS) is the initial and primary subject of debate. What is the meaning of “all sinned”? Most commentators would argue that it is very difficult to interpret the “all sinned” as an act of personal choice (contra Pelagius). Why? Because of the force of the verb tense; it is likely a historic aorist (past tense referring back to the sin of Adam). If the Pelagian interpretation were correct, the present tense would have been a much better choice for Paul in this context. Then it would naturally read, “Because all sin.” Then we could answer the question “Why are all people condemned?” with “Because all people sin.” But this is not the case here in Romans. The force of the verb has caused every translation that I know, except the NJB (a Catholic translation), to translate this passage “all sinned” with the implied referent to the being Adam’s sin. Therefore, we are connected with the past sin of Adam.

If this is correct, what Paul is saying is that when Adam sinned, we all sinned. As Leon Morris has it, “The aorist [tense] points to one act, the act of Adam; we would expect the present or the imperfect [tense] if the Apostle were thinking of the continuing sins of all people.”

It should be noted that the historic aorist is used in Romans 2:23 in a similar but not identical way and is translated “all have sinned.” Notice there that the context only leaves room for the past tense referent to be the sin of the individual. This is brought up so that you can understand how the context of Romans 5:12 plays a determining role.

Verse 12 attempts to begin the comparison of Adam with Christ but Paul then feels inclined to break off on one of his all-too-common parenthetical statements in verses 13-14 to defend his statement “because all sinned.” This is important because Paul’s understanding of what “all sinned” means is wrapped up in his defense which follows. Verse 13 begins with the conjunction “for” (gar). This links it with the previous statement, “because all sinned.” It is as if someone got the impression that Paul was stating that all people sin and, therefore, all people die as a consequence of their own sin. At this point (v. 13), Paul says that before the Law, there was sin. But people did not die on account of these personal sins, because they were not imputed as sin (”but sin is not imputed when there is no law” v. 13). Then the objection may be “How do you explain that all people still died before the law?” Paul is saying that the reason people died before they commit an act of sin is because they are suffering the consequences of a sin already committed. They died not for personal sin, but for imputed sin. This sin was the sin of Adam. All people die because of the one sin of Adam. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that all people die? Physical death is the first and most visible evidence of our identification with the condemnation of Adam.

With death being introduced through the avenue of Adam’s sin, we need to understand what death means. This death is most certainly to be seen as both spiritual and physical considering Pauline theology (Eph. 2:2ff). Therefore, the condemnation to which all suffer as a result in our participation in Adam’s sin is both spiritual and physical with the spiritual being evidenced by the physical (v. 13).

Lest you think I am saying too much with regards to the subject, let us press on and see how the context will provide further evidence that Paul is speaking about imputed sin or guilt. Paul returns to his comparison to expound further. This comparison is between two things:

1. The effects of Adam’s sin
2. The effects of Christ’s righteousness

Whatever one does with Christ’s righteousness, one must do with Adam’s sin. Do not miss this. There can be nothing more important for this current subject and the exegesis of this passage. If the parallel breaks down, so does Paul’ argument. Let us take a look at this comparison.

Through Adams Sin | Through Christ’s Righteousness
Judgment (16) Free gift (16)
Condemnation (16) Justification (16)
Death Reigned (17) Life Reigned (17)
One Transgression=Condemnation of all (18) One Act of Righteousness=Justification of all (18)
Adam’s disobedience=many were made sinners (19) Christ’s obedience=many were made righteous (19)

The comparison is unmistakable. Again, whatever we do to inherit the free gift is the same thing we did to inherit judgment (v. 16). This is the force of the “just as” (hosper) in v. 12. Whatever we do to receive justification is the same thing we did to receive condemnation (v. 16). The effects of the “one act of righteousness” are brought about by the same means as the “condemnation of all men” (v. 18). The way in which believers are made righteous is analogous to the way all mankind was made sinners (v. 19). In order to answer the question as to how it is that “all sinned” and all were condemned in Adam, we must answer the question as to how Christ’s righteousness is applied to us to the end that we are justified by that righteousness.

If we were to adopt the view as held by Pelagius, that Adam’s sin has no effect upon us whatsoever and that only his example has given us trouble, this means that Christ’s righteousness has no effect upon us either. He simply came to set the example. But this is not what the text teaches. It states that the many were made sinners and that the many were made righteous. The effect of these two men’s acts goes far beyond that of an example.

Paul is attempting to explain our relationship to Christ’s righteousness by comparing it to the imputation of Adam’s sin to us. This relationship, in my opinion, is best seen in the federal headship view of imputation. As Doug Moo puts it, “Throughout this whole passage what Adam did and what Christ did are steadily held over against each other. Now salvation in Christ does not mean that we merit salvation by living good lives; rather, what Christ has done is significant. Just so, death in Adam does not mean that we are being punished for our own evil deeds; it is what Adam has done that is significant.”

Adam, as our chosen federal head, has represented us and passed on sin and all of its consequences. Christ, as the second Adam, represents those who believe and passes on righteousness along with all its benefits. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us without any participation of our own, just as Adam’s sin is imputed to us without our consent.

Here is what this looks like:

This has gone quit long enough. Next I will attempt to show how the imputation of Adam’s sin, far from being unfair, sets up up for the greatest act of righteousness the world has ever known.

30 Responses to “Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?”

  1. This whole rather tortured argument it seems to me, relies on the claim that the aorist (past tense) would be unexpected if Paul was talking about personal sin, because he would more appropriately use a present tense.

    But this seems very wrong to me. People alive today didn’t die (past tense) because they sin (present tense), because they’re not dead! People now dead didn’t die (past tense) because they sin (present tense) because they’re dead!

    If you’re going to talk about why people died, the tense that is appropriate is the past tense! People who are dead don’t sin in the present.

    So by this tortured argument, we are supposed to believe that “all sinned” doesn’t mean all sinned! Rather it means nobody died because they sinned, they died because Adam sinned! Yes they probably all sinned too, but its not why they died! Yet that very tortured argument, Paul never explains. Surely such an unexpected doctrine, that we die not because we sinned, but because Adam sinned, would be set out plainly by Paul, but no he doesn’t. Paul expects us to read the highly unexpected doctrine into a verse that doesn’t actually say that! What was Paul thinking?

    You say that “Whatever one does with Christ’s righteousness, one must do with Adam’s sin.”. Then perhaps its no coincidence then that Eastern Orthodox don’t accept Protestant style legal imputation. In EO, God gives us REAL righteousness, not fake imaginary righteousness. Adam didn’t give us fake imaginary sin. He gave us a real sinful nature, which we do in fact exercise, leading to death. When we are saved he gives us real righteousness, which we do in fact exercise leading to life.

    It’s hard for Protestants to break out of the thinking because their system does in may ways fit with the other Protestant bits. It just doesn’t fit with 1st century thinking. At the very least, we must state that the bible never explicitly teaches imputed Original sin/guilt. The Protestant system relies on its truth.

  2. If all of humanity has been imputed with original sin, then was Jesus born with original guilt??? This can’t be! The Bible tells us that Jesus was sinless!! How could have Jesus died for us when He was guilty with sin?? The doctrine of Originl and imputed sin is wrong because of this very reason.

    We are born with a sinful nature and are naturally inclined to sin because we are descendants of Adam. But we are NOT held accountable or deemed guilty for Adam’s sin. Everybody is responsible for their own sins.

  3. Sounds to me like you could have just answered with a simple, Yes :)

    My understanding is that Original Sin is a Western concept and that the Eastern Church has never accepted it. Also, I hope you plan to address in detail the obvious implication of this theology, which is that anyone who dies prior to faith in Christ (e.g. every miscarried or aborted baby) goes straight to hell even if they die prior to having the mental ability to conceive of a Christ. At least the Catholic Church “solves” this to some extent via infant baptism.

  4. Jin raises a very useful question. My question however relates to the imputing of righteousness: Is Jesus’ righteousness automatically imputed to us in the same way that Adam’s sin was? As i see it we have to claim, believe and consciously and deliberately accept Jesus to be given his righteousness. In the case of Adam’s sin we simply had it imposed on us without our consent. It seems that imputation of sin and imputation of righteousness are somewhat different. But further, doesn’t the bible talk about two types of righteousness: one imputed in a judicial/forensic sense and the other one which we must display and demonstrate and even learn by learning and behaviors (moral behavior)?

  5. Thanks for posting this article. I addressed the issue last year at a conference. The presentation is titled “Who is guilty of Adam’s sin?” and can be accessed here:
    Adam Harwood,
    New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

  6. We inherited it. But is ours, make no mistake about it.

    ‘Sin’…is our condition.

    Looking at individual sin’s’…as so many do, is really to miss the gravity and the hopelessness of the condition.

    We’re it not for Jesus.

  7. Jin, your questions logically lead to the reasonableness of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, not to any defect in the doctrine of Original Sin.

  8. Damien,

    The doctrine of Immaculate Conception was conceived in order to uphold the doctrine of Original Sin. They knew that the doctrine of Original Sin couldn’t explain Jesus being sinless so they had to make a whole new doctrine to support it. Such is the foolishness of stubborn men and tradition!

  9. So, if human nature = sinful nature, then Jesus wasn’t fully human?

  10. Damien,
    There’s a difference between having a sinful nature and being guilty. Jesus was indeed fully human AND had sinful nature because He was a descendant of Adam. But He was not born guilty of Adam’s sin. Or else Jesus would not have been the guiltless, sinless perfect “Lamb of God” taking our place.

    Because of our current sinful nature that we all inherited from Adam, we age and deteriorate and ultimately die a physical death. This is different from having born with Adam’s guilt imputed on us.

  11. Could it be that the imputation of Adam’s sin is carried out in the inherited sin and personal sinning? The imputed sin seems to set us firmly beneath condemnation, judgement and the reign of death. By one mans sin many were made sinners. We’re made sinners because we inherit the sinful habits of those before us and around us and we are personally responsible this for our own sin and so we actively carry out the imputation of Adam’s sin. I’m just speculating, I admittedly don’t know much about this stuff.

  12. James Poteet II April 21, 2014 at 8:46 am

    That was amazing. Brilliant! Ok, but don’t you have a problem with Ezekiel 18:20 then?
    The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
    What do you do with this verse then?

  13. Saying that Catholics and Protestants both believe in original sin is about like saying they both believe in the Bible. There are 2 very different paradigms involved. To put it in a nutshell, Protestants see original sin as something bad added to human nature, like ink into water. Catholics see original sin as something good taken away from human nature, like letting the air out of a balloon.

    Also, Catholics see original sin as a real condition, not something we are just “called” that is separate from our own selves. “Imputation of Adam’s guilt” doesn’t sound right to my Catholic ears. Original sin is more than just a declaration or a label. It is REALLY our state, the state of deprivation of original holiness and justice.


    One clarification: In the section about the three types of sin, the second is called “inherited sin”. I assume this inclination to evil is what Catholics call concupiscence. However, concupiscince is not a sin. It is a consequence of original sin, but does not itself incur guilt. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1264 quotes the Council of Trent,
    concupiscince “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.”

  14. Adam’s sin nature is imputed to all.
    Therefore, we can do nothing but sin.
    Christ’s righteousness is only imputed to a chosen few.
    It is not legitimately offered to all men because of the state they are born into; no ability to choose God. So they will
    spend eternity in hell because they were born into a
    condition that they had no control over.
    I struggle with the justice of this point of view.

  15. John B

    It is a very sad point of view. I can’t believe that some of the so-called Christians believe in that ridiculous doctrine!! Calvanism or the Reformed view of Limited Atonement and Preservation of the Saints is absolutely an abomination of God’s character and love for us. Not only is this view discriminating but severely limits and distorts God’s love and grace for us. In fact, it is not grace to purposely save some and not save some. THIS IS NOT GRACE, MERCY, OR LOVE!! Total misrepresentation of God’s character.

  16. John,
    You said: “… we are supposed to believe that ‘all sinned’ doesn’t mean all sinned!”
    But I think it really does mean all sinned. It’s just like if I were to say “We won the war” even though I didn’t fight in the war personally. I would only mean that my country won the war and I am a citizen of that country. The individuals who actually fought in the war did so as representatives of their country. Another example is when a sports fan says “We won the league” even though he only watched the match and cheered his team on.

    You said: “It just doesn’t fit with 1st century thinking.” But I would respectfully disagree. I think it is modern westerners who struggle with the concept of corporate solidarity because we have been inculturated to think of ourselves as unconnected individuals. But the biblical world is full of it. In 2 Cor.5:14 Paul wrote: “… one died for all, and therefore all died.” See also Joshua 7:24; 2 Sam.21; Matthew 23:32-35; Heb.7:9; 2 Tim.1:16; et al.

    You said: “It seems that imputation of sin and imputation of righteousness are somewhat different.”
    I would answer that they are not different in principle. The only difference is that we are all automatically imputed with Adam’s sin because we are all his descendents and therefore we are all allied to him by birth. But no-one is automatically allied to Jesus Christ – we only become allied to him by faith, so that his perfect obedience and penal death become my own personal biography only from the moment I believe in him and thereby become ingrafted into him.

  17. 2 aspects of this imputed guilt I don’t understand.
    1) relationship to limited atonement
    2) relationship to total depravity

    1) limited atonement- is it smaller than original sin?
    Limited atonement puts one in the awkward position of saying that salvation was not big enough to cover the battle zone of original sin. Redemption is not for everyone. And this, why? To demonstrate the glory of God, right? So…. God is glorified by the existence of original sin? In people made in his image?

    I would like to know how v 18 relates to limited atonement, especially in this analogy. It seems the paradigm of limited atonement doesn’t hold up here, if you say,
    “Whatever one does with Christ’s righteousness, one must do with Adam’s sin. Do not miss this”

    2) total depravity- if imputed guilt makes us totally depraved, then what are we in the first place?

    If Adam’s sin is only imputed, does that mean it is only outside of us (like imputed righteousness)? And if original sin is only imputed, what does that mean for total depravity? For ex, a baby, just born, has no personal sin, but does have original sin. If the baby’s guilt is only imputed, with innocence underneath, how does her righteousness become imputed, with a dung heap underneath? That paradigm starts to make less and less sense. It makes more sense to say that original sin is a real condition, and that righteousness is a real condition. After all, God is more than an indecisive, divine label-maker. (;
    …Cant you just imagine him, printing labels and more labels for all those clay pots?? So that he could receive glory for his label making?? This line, trash, no from here to here keepers, from here to here trash….
    (And all the while the actual clay pots are in the same condition the whole time?). Not a perfect illustration, to be sure, but I hope you see my difficulty with this.

  18. Jin, it IS God’s grace to save any at all, even if just some. It is God’s justice and wisdom and righteousness and supreme value that justifies sending people to hell. The doctrine of predestination, as the bible explicitly discusses it, is extremely obscure and refuses to satisfy our intellect (in the words of Daniel Hyde). But our lack of insight does not deny it’s existence outright.

    The Bible does link predestination and election to foreknowledge of the Father and his will, to the sanctification of the Spirit (that is confirming to the image of Christ for his glory), effectual calling, justification, and glorification and the rest of the discussion is merely to the praise of Christ and God the Father.

    If we’re honest, the doctrine is offensive but it isn’t really up for discussion. We should be humble to the scripture.

  19. Steven,

    Is it possible that we mis-interpret the Bible then? If it is so offensive and against God’s known character then it logically raises the question of whether we understand the Bible correctly or not.

    The Bible’s doctrine of predestination is meant for ALL. God intended for ALL of humanity to be saved through His son, Jesus Christ, from the beginning. Although God meant it for all, He NEVER EVER forces it on us. Although it’s available to everybody, NOT everybody responds to it. That is not God’s fault that most of us do not respond to His calling.

    This is true grace and love. Grace gives us all the same opportunity, but love makes the individual respond to it. God wants love a relationship out of our own free choice. He wants us to love him back. It is a shame that most of us don’t.

    The doctrine of predestination means that God appointed Jesus as the savior for all from the foundation of the world. It was NOT meant to be understood as for some and not for some.

  20. Phil McCheddar April 25, 2014 at 5:35 am


    I think your interesting illustration of arbitrarily putting labels on pots indicates you may not have fully grasped the meaning of imputation. You seem to suggest God pretends a thing is something other than what it really is, as if God were living in a make-believe fantasy world like Walter Mitty.

    I think a more accurate, though still imperfect, illustration of imputation is marriage. A biblical marriage is not merely two people committing to live together but two people amalgamating into one, which is why a wife traditionally takes on her husband’s surname. She also acquires all his possessions and he acquires hers. She can legitimately call him “her other half”. If a millionaire man marries a destitute woman, she would immediately become a millionairess. They share the same status. Anyone who insults him is being equally insulting to her.

    When a person first puts his faith in Christ, he becomes a new creature (2 Cor.5:17) and from then onwards he is joined as one spirit with Christ (1 Cor.6:17). He becomes united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension (Rom.6:3-9, Gal.2:20, Eph.2:4-6, Col.2:11-13). It’s not that God merely pretends we were crucified and raised with Christ but that in a mystical (yet very real) sense we actually were crucified and raised with Christ. As the bride of Christ, we are now co-heirs with him and have acquired his infinite wealth of righteousness. We share a single bank account and a single credit card with him! When we are persecuted, he is persecuted (Acts 9:5). We are part of him and no longer have a separate existence.

  21. Saying that we inherited our sin nature from Adam (who brought sin into the world) is different than saying we are guilty of eating the fruit in the garden.

    “By one man we are made sinners.” Yes. We are all sinners, because Adam brought sin and death into the world.

    We bear the consequence of Adam’s sin.

    I just don’t see how it follows that we are guilty of anybody’s sin but our own.

    I’m am Reformed, but this is a doctrine that I just don’t see in Scripture.

    We’re “made sinners.” We are. I am a sinner. I sin because I’m a sinner.

    But I inherited Adam’s sin nature, not the guilt for his specific sin.

    If that were the case, the unborn would all go to hell.

  22. Well, Phil, you are right! (:

    I agree that I don’t understand imputation (whether of guilt or righteousness).
    But I also agree with all that you wrote in your second paragraph (if you strike the bank/credit card terminology).

    I believe the correct view is that God doesn’t just give us a new name (yes, that would be gracious), but God changes who we *are* (that’s grace and POWER!). In Gods mercy, we are given a participation in the divine nature, through having the Holy Spirit dwell within us. As adopted sons, the Father makes us in his image. He is no failure. He really recreates us. And not just by moving tally marks from one column to another, but we -our own selves- are really healed.
    See the difference in paradigms?

    –and the same thing goes for original sin….it’s not that we have this guilty verdict falling down on us from somewhere else, it’s that our human nature is defective, and our separation from God comes from a deprivation within us rather than a verdict outside of us.
    Where do Reformed say that total deprivation comes from if original sin is a verdict from outside of us?

  23. Irene,

    Yes, I agree that when we “marry” Christ we not only become endowed with his status and position but that we also begin to be changed on the inside into his likeness.

    I don’t see original sin as a “guilty verdict falling down on us from somewhere else”. When Adam sinned, he did not sin as an isolated individual but as an archetype or representative of all humanity, so that in one sense all his descendents sinned with him at the moment he ate the forbidden fruit, even though they had not yet been born. So I am guilty of Adam’s sin because he is my ancestor and I am implicated in what he did. An illustration of the concept of corporate guilt is seen in Ezra’s prayer of confession after some Israelites married Gentile women. Throughout the prayer he speaks of *our* guilt even though he himself had not married a Gentile woman. Also see Abigail’s confession to David after Abigail’s husband Nabal slighted David.

    In addition to inheriting Adam’s guilty status, we also inherit a sinful nature which inclines us to commit our own particular sins. God is angry with us on both counts.

    By the way, I think you meant depravation, not deprivation! ;)

  24. Phil,

    Actually I really did mean deprIvation! Just to be clear–yes, I believe in original sin inherited from Adam, and yes I believe in an inborn inclination to evil. The difference is that I believe that original sin is not just a participation in the guilty verdict due to common responsibility for the sin. What I do believe is that because of that first sin, humanity became deprived of the holiness and grace in which it was created. It lost something, and therefore it’s condition really and actually changed. Adam and Eve couldn’t pass on an inheritance that they no longer possessed. So we all are born missing something – that grace, that life of God in us we had at creation.

    So that’s why I say original sin is “in” us, not imputed to us from outside us.
    (And I’m not some crazy lady deciding my own doctrines. (: This is the teaching of the Catholic Church.)

  25. From the post – “Inherited Sin: The physical and spiritual corruption which produces a bent and inclination toward sin and a natural enmity toward God (Eph. 2:3; John 8:44; Jer. 13:23; Ps. 51:5). This sin is mediated (inherited) directly from our parents.”

    I don’t see the bible teaching that we inherit sin from our parents. The opposite seems to be true according to Deut 24:16; Jer 31:30; Ezek 18:17,20 (really all of chapter 18 should be read).

    The verses used in the post (for the most part) don’t seem to support inherited sin when you read the surrounding verses as well. They point to ones own trespasses or iniquity or a non physical father.

    Personal sin is obvious and imputed sin is something I’m learning about

  26. Phil McCheddar April 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I agree with the main paragraph in your comments #23. I don’t normally use the phrase original sin in discussion because it means different things to different people. But I believe the concept that we inherit both guilt and a sinful nature from our parents, ie. sin is both “in” us and also “imputed” to us.
    (You live up to your name: Irenic Irene!)

    I would be very interested to see CMP’s response to Ezekiel 18 because it does seem at first sight to undermine his argument. But I’m not sure Deut.24:16 is relevant to this discussion because in context it looks to me like an instruction for Israel’s civil justice system to administer punishments to criminals rather than a statement about how God punishes sinners, don’t you think?

  27. Phil,
    You could be right about Duet. 24:16. But Israel got its justice system from God in how they are to deal with things. I think it is indicative of how God deals with us. We are held responsible for our sins and not the sin of our fathers or sons.

  28. Romans 4: 3 : “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness”. It was Abraham’s own faith that was was imputed as his righteousness NOT Christ’s Righteousness being imputed to him.

  29. Cathy Cooper May 7, 2014 at 8:45 am

    “Original sin” is an invention–invented by Augustine and has no foundation in the Bible. That being said, I found this article amusing. You see, you fail the mention the “catch.” (Isn’t there a “catch” to everything these days??….;)

    Adam supposedly sinned affecting ALL humanity–whether they like it or not–we had no say and no control. A very unfair conclusion to make–but let’s assume this is true. Now, if Jesus came to save ALL humanity –he would have done so without a “catch”–but he didn’t. You see, Jesus (if he was real) did NOT–according to Christianity–come to save all (even though Adam’s sin (if it was real) affected us all. He will only save the believers. That’s the catch. So no matter how you look at it–Augustine and his “creation” (original sin) is grossly unfair.

    Pelagius made much more sense. Think of it–what would the world be like if humanity did not believe they were guilty from the moment of birth? What would it be like if we believed we were perfect–and everything we did was OUR choice ( and not because we can’t help ourselves because we are “born sinners”)? What would it be like if we took responsibility for our actions–instead of blaming it on our “sinful nature”? Something to think about.

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