Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Original Sin

Romans 5:12 is an interesting verse.

Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.
Many Reformation churches believed that when Adam sinned God attributed the guilt to all of his descendants. This means that everyone is guilty of his sin. The Westminster Confession has a federal theology, in which Adam is the covenant head of all humanity. When he sinned, everyone sinned. This is original sin.

This understanding of sin was first developed by Augustine. He was reinforced in his view by the Latin translation of the New Testament (Vulgate), which incorrectly translated Romans 5:12, as saying of Adam, “in whom all sinned”. This seemed to confirm that all people had participated in Adam’s original sin.

A more correct translation is “in that all sinned”. Everyone sinned because Adam sinned, but that is not the same as saying that everyone is guilty of Adam’s sin.

The idea that we are all guilty of Adam’s sin does not seem fair, as it implies that God punishes humans for a sin that they did not commit. It is also contrary to the scriptures that suggest that children should not be punished for their father sin.

Of course, the Bible is also clear that when parents mess up, their children's lives are usually messed up too. This points to the answer to some important questions.

  • Why did all sin?
  • Why do all die?
The answer is that Adam’s sin gave the spiritual powers of evil authority over the earth. They attacked everyone on earth and tempted them into sin. They outnumbered humans at first, so by concentrating their power, they ensured that they succeeded. They may even have corrupted human spiritual DNA, giving us a propensity to sin. So, everyone on earth sins, not by sharing in Adams sin, but following his example and allowing the spiritual powers of evil to influence their lives to do wrong. Paul explained, “through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners (Rom 5:19).

Everyone dies because eternal life comes from God. Sin separates from God, cutting us from the source of eternal life. Therefore, it is true that because Adam sinned, every human sins, as the spiritual powers of evil ensure that they do.

God had said that if you sin, you will die. Because God is merciful, he only excluded Adam from the garden and his presence, rather than causing him to die. The spiritual powers of evil demanded the full implementation of God’s statement that the penalty for sin is death. It gave them authority to inflict death on every human.

Death was a particular evil spirit who controlled many of the spiritual powers of evil from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. The giving of the law strengthened Satan as the accuser, because it gives him a more solid basis for accusing people of sin. It enabled him to demand the punishment specified in the law for all sins. Paul could say that “Sin is not counted because there is no law” (Rom 5:13).

Prior to the giving of the law, humans did not have a clear definition of righteousness. They knew murder was wrong because God had told Cain it was. They probably knew that stealing was wrong. But Satan could not always accuse them of sin, because it was not clear that the people knew they were sinning or understood the penalty. The law resolved that problem by specifying God’s requirements and the consequences for not meeting them. This is why Paul said sin reigned from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:14). Satan used the law to gain control after it had been given.

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