Arminian Today

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Jack Cottrell on Alleged Biblical Basis for Original Sin (Part 1)

Getting back to the series of posts on original sin, today we will examine what Dr. Jack Cottrell has to say about biblical passages used to teach original sin.  Agree with him or not, I am thankful that Dr. Cottrell wrestles with the Scriptures and doesn’t just hold to a doctrine merely because others before him have held to it or because both Arminians and Calvinists believe in the doctrine of original sin.  I will allow Dr. Cottrell to examine the biblical passages for original sin as he has them in his book, The Faith Once for All.  

Psalm 51:5

Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  Here are Dr. Cottrell’s comments about the passage.

Several comments are in order.  First, there are other ways to under the grammar of the verse.  Strictly speaking, David does not apply the sin and iniquity to himself, contrary to the NIV.  David does not say, “I was sinful.”  The prepositional phrases, “in iniquity” and “in sin” are used to modify the act of being conceived and the act of being born.  It is possible that the sin belongs to the mother.  It has been pointed out that “in sin did my mother conceive me” is grammatically parallel to “in drunkenness my husband beat me.”  Another possibility is that the phrases “in iniquity” and “in sin” are meant to describe the pervasiveness of sin in the world into which David was born.

It must be granted, though, that the major theme of the Psalm is David’s repentance for his own sins, specifically sins connected with his lust for Bathsheba.  But if the focus is on David’s personal sins (vv. 1-4) and not on some kind of inherited sin, why does he refer to iniquity connected with his birth (v.5)?  Basically he does so in order to express and confess his awareness of the depth of sin in his heart and the seriousness of his own sin with Bathsheba.  He is humbling himself before God in figurative language, in the same way that biblical writers sometimes refer to man as a worm (Psalm 22:6; Job 17:14; 25:6; Isaiah 41:14).  This is hyperbole, or exaggeration for emphasis.  The same device is used in Psalm 58:3.  This is not an affirmation of original sin since it is not applied to all human beings; it is an exaggeration intended to insult the wicked and emphasize the depth of their perversity.  So with Psalm 51:5, which is meant to apply to the repentant David alone.

Even if we should grant Psalm 51:5 is meant to teach some form of universal original sin, it could not be used to support the Augustinian and Catholic versions of this doctrine.  The most that could be drawn from it is partial depravity, as in semi-Pelagianism; it neither affirms nor implies total depravity and inherited guilt.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/28/2012 at 12:40 PM

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