T. PIERCE BROWN
If one were to ask a person who is very familiar with the Bible what is the original sin, he would probably answer, “The sin which Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden.” But if one has a dictionary definition, he will find, “The sin by which the human race, rebellious against God because of Adam’s disobedience, was deprived of grace, and made subject to ignorance, evil, death and all other miseries.” The false doctrine of “original sin” has probably given rise to more additional false doctrines than any other one that we could name. In its simplest terms it means that as a result of the fall of Adam every person is born corrupt or depraved, and this perverted state is the cause of all his evil acts.
Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397) is the first one of which I am aware that taught that through the sin of Adam all men come into the world tainted by sin. When he baptized Augustine in 385 it was easy for Augustine to use that doctrine to excuse and explain his own moral decrepitude, for before he was eighteen he took a concubine and lived a life of debauchery. Although Augustine gave the framework of the doctrine that Roman Catholics came to accept, Calvin made it more popular and acceptable to Protestants in his INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
We do not have space to deal in a detailed fashion with what has come to be known as the TULIP theory, which is a sort of summary of Calvin’s theology. The T stands for total hereditary depravity. The logical consequence of that must be Universal condemnation. Since it is evident that some would be saved, he followed Augustine’s assumption that God elected all men and angels to salvation or condemnation and the numbers is so certain that it can neither be increased nor diminished. It therefore follows that if one is saved by the atoning blood of Christ, it must be a Limited atonement, for it could not save those who were predestined to be lost. Then the natural consequence of that false doctrine is that of “Irresistible grace.” It would logically have to follow that if a sovereign God ruled that a particular wicked, depraved man would be saved that man would not be able to resist God’s gracious effort to save him. All of this would be of no avail if God did not then make it impossible for that man to be lost, so the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the saints” had to be invented.
The doctrine is false at every point, but this article was prompted by a statement made in THE BANNER OF TRUTH, dated June 1993, edited by Fred Blakely. He said, “Man was not merely damaged by the fall ofEden; he was completely ruined. Adam’s nature was defiled, and so separated from God– made spiritually dead–and this state has been transmitted by the natural birth to all his posterity.” I asked him such questions as, “Is this the same as hereditary total depravity? If not, what is the difference? If man is born completely ruined and spiritually dead, does God need to operate on him in a special way to get him into a position where he will receive the gospel? What causes a child to sin that is any different than what caused Adam to sin? His response to me was, “I find no reason for elaboration on or explanation of the representation it (the editorial) makes.”
Every popular false doctrine has enough truth about it to make it appealing, but usually leads to many other false doctrines. For example, it is true that man has no power to move himself from a sinful state to a state of salvation by his own power. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps” (Jer.10:23). Thus, salvation is by grace. Calvinistic theologians pervert those truths and assume that since “No man can come unto Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John6:44), the Father must draw by some “irresistible grace” because man is by nature incapable of coming to God. Verse 45 clarifies the matter for it says, “Every one that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” It is true that man has no power to save himself by himself, but since “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans1:16), Peter could properly say “Save yourselves from this untoward (crooked) generation” (Acts2:40), for he had just preached the gospel to them, which they had power to accept or reject.
The theory is false, based upon wrong assumptions from start to finish. First, it is assumed that Adam’s sin so corrupted his nature that henceforth he could not choose to do right. Then it is assumed that the nature of his corrupted spirit was transmitted to his descendents. There is not one passage in the Bible that teaches either of those. Adam had the same freedom of choice after his sin to obey or disobey that he did before. God made him with a natural ability to choose to obey or disobey. He chose to disobey. If one takes the position that a person who sins today does it because of his “fallen nature,” he should be able to answer the question, “If it is my fallen nature that causes me to sin, what was it that caused Adam to sin?” The truth is that the Bible everywhere presents man as one who has freedom to choose, and will be blessed or cursed as a result of those choices.
Second, it is assumed that since man was made in the image of God, when he sinned he broke that image and all his descendents are born after the image of an earthly father, who is totally depraved. It is assumed that when Genesis 5:3 says that Adam became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image it means that Seth and all his posterity were no longer born in the image of God. Contrary to that, 1 Corinthians 11:7 says, “For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God.” James 3:9 expresses the same idea when it says, “Men–are made after the similitude of God.” There is not one verse in the Bible that teaches that mankind ceased to be born in God’s image just because Adam sinned. God is “the Father of our spirits” (Hebrews 12:9) and man does not inherit his spiritual qualities from his physical father.
No person, from Augustine down, has been able to answer a few simple questions like these: “If it is possible for a sinful person to transmit a depraved nature to his offspring, why is it not possible for a redeemed and pure person to transmit his holy nature to his offspring? We have become `partakers of the Divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4). Why is that not transmitted? What is there in man’s present nature that causes him to sin that was not in Adam’s nature that caused him to sin?” One may answer, “We have a greater TENDENCY or natural inclination to sin than he did.” We then ask, “Where do you get that information?” Apparently the first time he was tempted with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life (1 John2:16), he had a TENDENCY to succumb. I do not remember hearing of or meeting anyone with any greater tendency than that — to sin at the first small temptation! Whatever tendency he had, it was before the fall, and his tendency before the fall appears to be as great as ours after the fall.
Note some Bible truths that show the falsity of that doctrine of “original sin.” Ezekiel18:20says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” Children are not born hereditarily totally depraved. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Except ye become converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Can any sensible person imagine Him saying, “Except ye become converted and become unable to do a good thing or think a good thought, totally depraved, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven?” In Mark10:14, He says, “Of such are kingdom of heaven.” Does the kingdom of heaven consist of corrupt and totally depraved sinners?
Genesis 3:5-7 says, “God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wide, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Instead of their sin causing moral blindness which was then transmitted to their children, as all who theorize about their “fallen nature” teach, they now could recognize good and evil in a different way than they did before. They knew before the fall what was good and evil in the sense that they had an intellectual awareness that it was right to do what God said, and wrong to disobey Him. If they did not know it was wrong, then they would not have been accountable. When they sinned, they now knew it by experience.
The question is raised, “Is it possible for a man to live without sin, since Paul says that all have sinned (Romans3:23) and 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” If we rephrase the question we can probably better understand the answer. “Is my nature such that I have to sin all the time?” The simple solution to the problem is that the statements of Paul and John that indicate the universality of sin are general truths that do not apply to certain specific situations. To help you understand that more easily, suppose you were standing by Paul after he was told, “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins” and you asked Paul as he arose from the water, “Do you now say you have no sin?” Can any person assume that 1 John 1:8 would prove Paul a liar if he said, “My sins are washed away and I now have no sin?” If a person can live without sin for one minute, then he does not have a sinful nature that makes him sin all the time. That does not deny the general truth that all have sinned.
The very idea that a person is created so that he has to sin, and then God condemns him for doing it would place God in a very bad light. It not only makes God a respecter of persons, but it would be placing Him in a position of making us with such a nature that we HAVE to sin, then condemning us because we do it. What sort of God would it be who would say, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden” (Mt.11:28) and “Whosoever will let him come” (Rev. 22:17) and then make man where he could not do it, nor even want to? No wonder the theologians who concocted that idea had to come up with another false doctrine like “irresistible grace” to help solve the problem! The other false doctrine only made the problem worse, for then God would have to arbitrarily elect some to salvation and others to damnation by His sovereign grace and you simply have no right to question Him! We have no right to question His decrees, but we do have both the right and responsibility to question and reject any false doctrine that teaches that God is unjust.
No civilized society could function properly founded on the premise that man is born naturally evil and unable to make any moral choices. We admit that a pregnant mother who is a drug addict may pass on to her child a physical body that may crave dope. But to pass on a physical characteristic is far removed from having an evil mind and wanting to disobey God by lying, murdering, stealing and passing on those tendencies.
The easiest and proper way out of all those problems is to recognize the Bible answer: All men were born with the same nature Adam had when he was created — with the ability to choose right or wrong. When he knowingly chooses wrong, he sins, but does not transmit that nature to his children any more than Adam did.