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Posts Tagged ‘Debating Original Sin

Interesting Take on Ephesians 2:3

The following is a different view of Ephesians 2:3 than the Calvinist and Arminian views.  For example, John MacArthur writes about Ephesians 2:1 that we are all born dead not because of our sinful acts that have been committed but because of our sinful natures that we are born with.  He cross references Matthew 12:35 and 15:18-19 (pointing to our hearts as sinful).

Yet the following writer wrote:

1.  The word “nature” (Ephesians 2:3) can at times describe a man’s God-given constitution (Romans 1:26, 31; 2:14, 27; 2 Timothy 3:3).  It must  be kept in mind that our constitution is just dirt and is created by God; and therefore, our constitution cannot be sinful in of itself.

2.  The phrase “by nature” (Ephesians 2:3) does not always mean “by birth” but can at times mean “by custom or habit.”  Otherwise, Paul would have taught that the Gentiles were born sinners but the Jews were not.  Paul said, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners” (Galatians 2:16; some translate birth as nature is his point).  The word nature can describe a man’s self chosen character, custom, habit, or manner of life (Jeremiah 13:23; Acts 26:4; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:2-3; 2 Timothy 3:10; 2 Peter 1:4).  This is voluntary and has to do with the heart.  Therefore, moral character or sinfulness can belong to this type of voluntary and chosen nature.

3.  The context of this particular passage is talking about a former manner of life.  Paul is addressing a previous lifestyle.  He said “in which you once walked” (v.2) and “once lived” (v.3).  The natural man is the same as the carnally minded (Romans 8:6-7).  It is someone who lives for the gratification of their flesh.  To say that a person is by nature a child of wrath is the same as saying that they are under the wrath of God because they are living for the gratification of their flesh. Through free choice, men create a habit of self-indulgence.

4.  To say that they are “sons of disobedience” (v. 2; 5:6) and to say they are “by nature children of wrath” is essentially the same thing.  Disobedience is a choice of the will.  Those who choose to disobey God are misusing and abusing their natures.  Those who choose to disobey God are rightfully under His wrath.

5.  That which brings the “wrath” (v. 3) of God is voluntary moral character, not involuntary constitutions.  God is not angry with men for possessing the nature which He Himself created with them.  God is angry with sinners because of how they have chosen to use their nature that He has given them by transgressing His just laws (1 John 3:4).  God is angry with the wicked (Psalm 7:11) because the wicked do wicked deeds (Psalm 7:14).  God is angry with sinners because of their sinful choices and sinful habits.

6.  A sinful nature is moral not physical.  Jesus had a nature like ours (Hebrews 2:14; 5:7-10) yet Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).  A sinful nature is a person’s self-chosen character and not his God-given constitution.  A man’s heart or will can be sinful, a man’s constitution or body can only be an occasion of temptation.  Through continual choices of self-gratification, man has developed a habit of sin.  Jesus was born with flesh just like we have and He was tempted in His flesh but He never sinned by giving in to temptation.  If we choose to sin, we are choosing to use our God-given nature to rebel against God.  This is what meant by sinful nature  and not that merely being a human means that we are guilty of sin just by our constitutional makeup.

The “Many” and the “All” of Romans 5

Dr. Jack Cottrell holds that the doctrine of original sin as taught since Augustine is not biblical.  He holds that people are born in a state of grace and are not guilty of Adam’s sin and thus are not born sinful.  He holds that all sinners will be judged by God but they will be judged for their own sins and not for the sin of Adam.  Even John Wesley acknowledged that none will be found guilty of Adam’s transgression but their own.

Romans 5 is a debated passage over the doctrine of original sin.  I would say that most orthodox scholars hold that Romans 5 teaches the doctrine of original sin or inherited sinfulness.  While Arminians are not as quick to say that all people inherit Adam’s sin, Arminianism does hold that all people inherit Adam’s sinfulness.  Thus Arminianism has held that people are born dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) because of Adam’s sin but people are not born guilty of Adam’s sin but merely the results of Adam’s sin.  Calvinists hold that people are born both depraved and inherit Adam’s sin and thus babies are guilty of sin at the moment of conception (they also explain the necessity of the virgin birth as such).

Dr. Cottrell’s analysis of Romans 5 is fascinating.  It is very extensive and would take many posts on this blog for me to work through it.  However, I just want to focus in on one issue here and that is the issue of Paul’s use of “many” and “all” in Romans 5.  For example, in Romans 5:12 we read:

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.

None deny that “all” here means all.  In Romans 5:15 Paul uses the phrase “many died through one man’s trespass” and none doubt that “many” here means all.  The problem is the end of Romans 5:15.  Let me quote the entire verse:

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.

Now if the many at the beginning means all (v. 12) then why does the many at the end of verse 15 mean anything less than all?

The Calvinist answer is that if we make the “many” here become all (as in all) then we must hold to universalism or at best we must deny limited atonement (which cannot be done).  The all in Calvinism is “all” but the “many” in their view is only the elect.  Thus Adam’s sin brings condemnation to “all” but Jesus’ work brings salvation only to the elect or the “many.”

The Arminian answer is that Christ’s sacrifice was provided for all sinners (John 3:16) but only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved.  The only way to escape judgment for your sins is to place your faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Thus the “all” of Adam’s transgression comes to all and the work of Christ has been given for all.  The “many” and the “all” are used interchangeably by Paul the Apostle here in Romans 5.

Dr. Cottrell believes that the only universalism that one can derive from Romans 5:12-21 is that Christ’s saving work on the cross cancels out the work of Adam.  Thus he holds that people are not born in a state of depravity or born sinful but rather that Paul’s point is that Romans 5 is teaching that Jesus cancels out the fall of Adam.  While death is still here with us from Adam, this too, writes Cottrell, will soon be vanquished by the power of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:13-14).

He goes on to write that we now can view sin in four stages.

  1. Original Sin.  The only thing we receive from Adam’s sin now is death.  We are born in a flesh that will die.  The sin of Adam has been canceled out by the work of Christ.
  2. Original Grace.  All infants and young children are here as well as those who mentally never develop (handicapped).  While here people are in a state of salvation through the universal work of Christ until they reach an age of accountability that only God knows.
  3. Personal Sin.  This is the state people are in after reaching the age of accountability and lose the original grace into which they were born.  Those in this stage are lost because they sinned against a holy God and violated His just laws in the same way that Adam and Eve did.  Those who die here are condemned for their own sins.
  4. Personal Grace.  This is a term only for believers.  Those in Christ Jesus through faith are in a state of personal grace and are redeemed from both sin and death (John 5:24-25; 11:25-26).  Both sin and death have no power over the believer (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  However, this applies only to those who believe and is not based merely on past belief.  This is present active relationship with Christ (1 Peter 1:5).

Let me add here in closing that Dr. Cottrell would not label his view as Pelagian.  He would actually label it “pre-Augustinian.”  He holds that his view was held by most of the early Church Fathers before Augustine and his debates with Pelagius.  It was only after Pelagius that the Roman Catholic Church adopted the original sin view and the Western Church began to teach that people are born universally condemned for Adam’s sin.  The problem with the original sin view is that many believe that they can’t turn from their sins (since they are born sinful and this is the best they can hope to do) and thus they continue in their sins despite the preaching of the gospel to them.  Many Christians likewise hold that even if saved by the work of Christ from sin, they still must live a life of sin.  I heard a radio preacher just yesterday describing himself as a “miserable sinner” and he went on to say that this was the best he could do and hope for in this life.

I rejoice that the atonement of Christ is a great work from God!  While I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from those who hold to Cottrell’s view about why children sin, I do agree that the work of Christ is for all.  Christ shed His blood so that all can be saved.  I also agree that each person will be judged for their sins and not the sin of Adam.

Wesley preached:

Satan has stamped his own image on our heart in self-will also. “I will,” said he, before he was cast out of heaven, “I will sit upon the sides of the north;” I will do my own will and pleasure, independently on that of my Creator. The same does every man born into the world say, and that in a thousand instances; nay, and avow it too, without ever blushing upon the account, without either fear or shame. Ask the man, “Why did you do this?” He answers, “Because I had a mind to it.” What is this but, “Because it was my will;” that is, in effect, because the devil and I agreed; because Satan and I govern our actions by one and the same principle. The will of God, mean time, is not in his thoughts, is not considered in the least degree.

We sin because we want to sin!  We sin because we are children of the devil (John 8:44).  Jesus called people “evil” (Luke 11:13) and He said that out of the heart comes evil (Matthew 15:19).  However, Jesus did say that some people are good and others evil (Matthew 12:35).

In reality, we need Christ.  That is the bottom line.  All sinners need Christ.  All saints need Christ.  We need to exalt the Lord Jesus to every nation and to every sinner.  Jesus is our only hope!

The Importance of the Virgin Birth (Part One)

Why was Jesus born of a virgin?  Why is it important that the Church continue to preach that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary?  And what role does the virgin birth play in regard to our redemption?

Some propose that the virgin birth is necessary because of the doctrine of original sin.  For instance, Dr. Wayne Grudem proposes that the virgin birth of Christ was necessary because all humans have inherited legal guilt and a corrupt moral nature from their first father, Adam.  But since Jesus did not have a human father then He partially interrupted the line from Adam.  Jesus did not descend from Adam in exactly the same way in which every other human being had descended from Adam.  Dr. Grudem sees Luke 1:35 as a proof text for this.  Luke 1:35 reads,

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Notice that Luke records that Jesus would be called “holy.”  He could be called holy because He was born without the corrupt nature inherited by all humans from Adam.  The virgin birth thus ensured that Jesus was born fully human but without inherited sin of any kind.  Jesus could be both fully human and fully God through the virgin birth and He could be called holy unlike us.

In contrast to this, others propose that the virgin birth has nothing to do with original sin.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, rejects the teaching from above.  While Cottrell affirms the virgin birth as necessary and part of God’s plan, he rejects the idea that the virgin birth helps Jesus not inherit a sinful nature.  Instead, Cottrell states that there is simply no biblical basis for such a view either of original sin inherited by humans or about Jesus needing the virgin birth to avoid original sin.

Another theologian who rejects the virgin birth as necessary to avoid original sin states it this way,

Some have supposed that the virgin birth was necessary in order for Jesus to avoid the inheritance of a sinful nature.  However, the Scriptures nowhere state that Jesus was born of a virgin to avoid the inheritance of some type of sinful substance.  Rather, the Bible says that He was born of a virgin because His Father was God.  Though Jesus was born of a virgin and His Father was God, Jesus did not have a different type of flesh from the rest of us.  He had the same type of flesh that we have.  Jesus was not made physically perfect until the third day when He was raised with a glorified body (Luke 13:32; Hebrews 5:9).  If Jesus was born with a glorified flesh, or if He did not take upon Himself a physically depraved flesh like we have, which was subjected to death, He could not have tasted death for every man; and therefore, could not have made atonement for all.  It was necessary for Christ to be made with the same type of physically depraved body that we have, so that He could be capable of physical death (Hebrews 2:9, 14, 16-17).

Another theologian who rejects the virgin birth as necessary to escape from the pollution of Adam’s seed states it thus:

The Bible is clear that the virgin birth is to be a sign (Isaiah 7:14).  That is the point of the virgin birth, a sign.  It points to the fact that the Baby born to the virgin would be God (Immanuel).  We find nothing in the Bible that teaches that the virgin birth is necessary to avoid original sin.  Instead, the virgin birth points to the absolute deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible and Supernatural Births

The Bible lists other supernatural births but none compare to the supernatural birth of Jesus.  For example, the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18:9-14), Samson (Judges 13) Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-20), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).  Yet all of these births occurred naturally with a human father and mother.  In the case of Jesus, He was born of a virgin without a human father.  He was 100% human through Mary but was 100% God through the Holy Spirit.  Paul the Apostle never mentions the virgin birth, but when he writes of the Lord Jesus coming into the world (Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:7), he uses the Greek word ginomai (“become, come into being”) and avoids the word gennao or the common term for “be born” which would focus on two human parents.

The birth of Jesus was a supernatural event unlike any other.  This birth was a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 (see Matthew 1:18-25).  The birth of Jesus pointed to His deity, that He was God and always had been God (John 1:1, 14).  Jesus did not come into being in Bethlehem but He had always been and always will be.  The Word became flesh in Bethlehem but He was always God from everlasting (Micah 5:2 NKJV).  Hebrews 1:10-12 is clear that Jesus has always been and He always will be (Hebrews 13:8).

On Original Sin, Sinful Nature, and Romans Chapter Five – Jesse Morrell

A post from Jesse Morrell from a moral governmental viewpoint regarding original sin, sinful nature, and he examines Romans 5. It is worth reading. This comes from a book that he has written on the subject.

Biblical Truth Resources

On Original Sin, Sinful Nature, and Romans Chapter Five

“What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die….Yet say ye, Why? Doeth not the son bear the iniquity of the fathers? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. 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: the…

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/04/2013 at 11:10 AM

Brief Thoughts on Original Sin

There is no doubt that Arminius affirmed original sin.  He wrote,

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.

Later Arminians such as John Wesley or Richard Watson affirmed with Arminius the doctrine of original sin.  The doctrine of original sin is defined as:

the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.

I have no problem with such definitions.  The Catholic writer GK Chesterton wrote, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  Chesterton, and others, point to the fact that children have to be trained to do what is right and not what is wrong.  I heard one original sin defender state once, “Just look at infants.  They are not good.  They are selfish and always want their way.  They cry when you don’t serve them and give them what they want.”  While I think he is reaching here a bit, he is correct to note that all humans are born with the inclination toward sin and toward pleasing ourselves.

Arminians, however, disagree over whether humans are born guilty of sin.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, holds that humans are born in a state of “original grace” until they are tempted by their own flesh and sin.  He rejects that any person will be found guilty on the day of judgment simply because Adam sinned but each person will be found guilty for their own sins.  The Church of the Nazarene states about original sin:

“We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.”

My brief thought here is whether one should be viewed as a heretic if they reject original guilt or inherited guilt?  I agree with Arminius and Wesley that we are born in original sin.  No one is capable of salvation apart from the gracious work of Christ.  None can save themselves.  Our desire is for the flesh.  Our desire is to please the flesh.  Our desire is not to honor God.  Salvation is the work of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and good works cannot save.  Why?  Because good works are measured by sinful humans who often have an eye on flesh and not God.  Our “goodness” is not that good.  God’s standard also is not good but perfection.  Any one violation of His just laws requires judgment to come (James 2:10).  We are not good.  We are tainted by sin and by our flesh.  We need a Savior (Romans 7:24-25)!

I agree that because of sin, we cannot earn God’s perfect righteousness (Romans 10:4).  We must look to Christ alone to be saved and to have His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Christ alone turns away the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9).

What is interesting is that even those who reject inherited guilt believe that because of sin, we still cannot earn God’s salvation.  We still must look to Christ.  While they reject the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, they hold that because of Adam’s sin, we inherit a corrupted nature that loves sin and not God.  They agree with those who would hold to inherited guilt that none of us can save ourselves because of sin.  We must look to Christ alone to be forgiven (John 3:14-18).  Christ alone is the One who washes away our sins (1 John 1:9).

The older that I get, the more I see how corrupt I am apart from God’s grace.  I don’t love God in my flesh.  I love myself.  Yet I rejoice in both the mercy of God (that He withholds His just wrath against my sins) and His grace (which enables me to be forgiven of my sins).  By no means do I want to abide in sin.  I hate sin.  I want to fear God, to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17).  I want to honor Christ as Lord through faithful obedience to Him (1 Peter 3:15).  However, I know that apart from His grace, I would be living in sin and rebellion against Him.  I read Romans 3:10-18 and I see myself.  I see my desires.  But oh the joy that comes from loving Jesus and allowing Him to guide my steps.  I am not perfect by any means but I seek to be like Christ more and more (Philippians 3:12-14).  My goal is not to see how much sin I can get away with but to look to Christ to help me, forgive me, restore me, and strengthen me to overcome sin.  He is certainly more than able to deliver me by His power (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Athanasius on the Fall of Mankind

I have been reading a bit from the early Church Fathers.  What is interesting to read is, apart from Augustine, the early Church Fathers were not Calvinists.  I knew this previously having heard a Calvinist theologian state once that Augustine was the first Calvinist and Calvin merely borrowed from Augustine.  Reading the Church Fathers helps one to see their theology and I find it fascinating that they nearly all held to libertarian free will, conditional salvation, and required disciples of Christ to be obedient to Christ until the end (necessary perseverance).

However, this morning I was reading from Athanasius on the fall of mankind.  There is no doubt that Athanasius would not agree with Pelagius and say that man is born innocent and perfect.  Athanasius taught that mankind is wretched because of the direct link to Adam and Eve’s lapse into sin.  While he taught that man fell in Adam and Eve, he did not hold to the Calvinist view of total depravity but instead taught that while man has lost immortality of his body, he retains that of the soul, and his will remains free.  He taught that man inherits a sinful nature from Adam but he never hints that we participate in Adam’s actual guilt.

Ironically, Athanasius even hints at the possibility of being sinless.  He even claims that Jeremiah and John the Baptist actually did this and were sinless.  This is not to say that they were born sinless as Jesus was and remained His entire life but rather they overcame sin by the act of their own free will.

All this comes from Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly (pages 346-348).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/03/2013 at 7:00 AM

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