What About Original Sin?
Next to the trinity, probably no doctrine is more widely accepted by all faiths, both Catholic and Protestant, than that of original sin. The doctrine, according to an English theologian, occupies an important position in the system of Christian theology “because it diagnoses the disease and defines the injury that leaves man in need of redemption by Christ.” For this reason the doctrine is considered fundamental “to the whole scheme of Christian theology.”
But it is our conviction that the doctrine is not Biblical.
No one can deny that we live in a world of sin and iniquity. Thieves, robbers, murderers, profiteers and racketeers have multiplied in recent decades. They ply their trade without apparent guilt and often succeed in outwitting the unwary-and even the law-enforcement officers.
Why do men do evil? Was the evil inherited from their greatest grandparents, Adam and Eve? Does the street-corner mugger snatch a woman’s purse because he was born a sinner and cannot help it? Does the head bookkeeper embezzle thousands of his company’s funds for the same reason? Common sense tells us that men do evil because of their own evil desire, not because of the evil desire of their forefathers.
The so-called “fundamental” doctrine of original sin has its roots in the “fall of man,” a theological term for the sin and resulting condemnation of Adam and Eve. The facts concerning their disobedience are familiar to all: Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat the fruit of a certain tree in the garden. Eve, being tempted by the serpent, ate of the fruit, then gave some to Adam, who likewise ate it. Thus they broke the law and became subject to penalty for God had said, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
God said “Thou shalt surely die.” But theology says that because of their sin, they and all succeeding generations of the human race must die. They even go so far as to assume that had Adam and Eve not sinned, neither they nor the billions born since would have died. The whole human race is assumed to be descended from Adam and “through Adam sin came into the world like a tyrannical power. Accompanying it was a fearful despot, death, who made his way to every single man…. All were involved and therefore all were sinners before God.”
These words from a German catechism sum up the generally accepted teaching of major denominations. We, however, are convinced that the doctrine of original sin is not taught in the Scriptures. In our study of the doctrine, its origin and its history, we will see that the early Christian Church knew nothing of such a doctrine and that the belief did not come into existence until several centuries after Christ.
ORIGINAL SIN according to Theology
It has been well said that “the Bible properly translated speaks as well to our times as it spoke to the times in which it was written; that it is not the Bible that modern man finds incomprehensible, but he can find quite incomprehensible the myth that he makes of the Bible.”
The doctrine of original sin is a case in point and proves to be an “incomprehensible myth” when carefully considered. As we have learned in previous studies, much error has been promulgated by men reading their own ideas into the Bible. Neither the words “original sin” nor “the fall” are to be found in the Scriptures but are the products of the minds of men. For this reason our study of the doctrine as understood by churchianity must be based upon secular works.
Original Sin Defined
The phrase “original sin” did not originate in the Scriptures. The adjective “original” was used by the Catholic Church fathers to describe the sin of Adam, meaning the first sin. In the Encyclopedic Dictionary, original sin is defined as “The corruption and depravity held to be inherent in all mankind as a consequence of Adam’s first sinful disobedience.” Such a meaning springs from theology and not from the Bible.
Q: “Why is this sin called original?
A: This sin is called original because it comes down to us through our origin, our descent from Adam.
Q: “What are the chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through Original Sin?
A: “The chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through Original Sin are death, suffering, ignorance, and a strong inclination to sin.”
We are offered further explanation:
“(a) The fact of Original Sin explains why man is so often tempted to evil and why he so easily turns from
God. (b) Because of the ignorance resulting from Original Sin, the mind of man has difficulty in knowing many necessary truths, easily falls into error, and is more inclined to consider temporal than eternal things. (c) The penalties of Original Sin-death, suffering, ignorance and a strong inclination to sin-remain after Baptism, even though Original Sin is taken away.”
These words are taken from the Baltimore Catechism, a book with which nearly all Catholics are familiar since it is used for teaching youngsters in the 10-17 age group. Following the questions and answers, the book offers a more general explanation of the teaching of original sin:
God bestowed on Adam and Eve wonderful privileges. They dwelt in a beautiful garden; they were free from inordinate inclinations to sin; they were preserved from suffering, they were destined never to die, but after a space of time on earth, to be taken body and soul into heaven. Above all, they were endowed with the precious gift of sanctifying grace, that made them the beloved children of God.
“”It was God’s plan that these privileges should be transmitted from Adam to all his descendants. However, he made this dependent on the faithfulness of Adam in obeying his command not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. Adam disobeyed; and hence lost these precious gifts for himself and for all his descendants. Eve also sinned and lost the privileges for herself….The entire human race is descended from Adam and Eve; hence. we all enter the world deprived of the gifts we should have had if Adam had not sinned. The deprivation of sanctifying grace, called Original Sin, brings with it the necessity of submitting to suffering and to death” (Baltimore Catechism).
While this is taken from a Catholic catechism, the current teaching on “original sin” is similar in the manuals of other leading churches. We must remember that all orthodox churches are but “daughters” of the “Mother Church” of Rome and so inherited many of the doctrines of their “Mother.” The period of Reformation during which the “daughters” broke away from the “Mother” brought about a reformation of church practices, but there was little reformation of doctrines.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF ORIGINAL SIN
When we consider any important doctrine of the church we would naturally expect to trace its origin to the Scriptures. But this is not possible with the widely held doctrine of original sin. The doctrine is not to be found in the law of Moses, the prophets or the Psalms. The Jewish writers make no mention of their progenitor Adam, either good or bad. Nothing of the nature of the doctrine of original sin was being taught in the synagogues.
Certain passages in Apocryphal books tend to support the doctrine. But the Apocrypha is no part of Scripture, hence we will not consider these. Most of these non-canonical books were written at a date much later than the true Scriptures.
Many theologians readily admit that the belief has been handed down by tradition; nevertheless, it bears considerable weight in creeds and catechisms. Some attribute the teaching to Paul, but we are certain Paul was not trying to convey any such thoughts in his writings. We are likewise convinced that the early Christians knew nothing of the doctrine. The Apostolic Church was founded on the words of Jesus and nothing He said upholds the doctrine of original sin.
Where, then, shall we search for its origin? Since it is not to be found in Scripture, we must go to the writings of the early church (apostate) “fathers” for our information.
Augustine and Original Sin
It is generally agreed that St. Augustine, who was born in the middle of the fourth century, was the author of the doctrine of original sin. By many he is considered to be not one of the church fathers but the church father, having become “the father of Western theological thinking.” He became well-known through the many volumes he wrote on church doctrines, including baptism, the trinity and original sin.
According to Augustine, “Within humanity Adam becomes the sinner par excellence, first because of his situation in paradise,” which is described as “strongly privileged through God’s presence.” This rendered Adam’s sin all the more serious: “The fall of the first man, in whom the freedom of his own will was so high and hindered by no defect, was such a great sin that through his fall human nature in its totality has fallen” (Piet Schoonenberg, S. J., Man and Sin, pp. 151-153).
Why did “the condemnation pass from one to many?” Because they “have inherited that one wrongdoing through their birth”; “they are chained with the chains of death in that one [Adam] in whom all have sinned, even if they have not added any personal sins” (Piet Schoonenberg, S. J., Man and Sin, pp. 151-153).
Augustine’s conception of original sin is summarized thus: “Exiled after his sin, the first man has drawn with him into death and condemnation his posterity, which through his sin he had poisoned in himself as in its root. Thus original sin is incurred by all the descendants who were to be born from him and his partner (the instrument of his sin and condemned with him)….By original sin they are drawn over all kinds of errors and pains to the last punishment without end, together with the fallen angels, their seducers, their masters, and their companions in misfortune. Thus, sin has come into the world, and through sin death; and so sin has passed on to all men on account of him through whom all have sinned.”
Augustine’s doctrine is based on four false assumptions: first, that Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth; second, that Adam and Eve were created perfect; third, that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God; and fourth, that physical death is a punishment for sin and that if Adam had not sinned there would have been no suffering or death.
Assumption One: That Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth.
To say that all humanity literally descended from Adam and Eve is to say that they were the first two and only two humans on earth at that time. This is a preposterous assumption. Anthropologists have proved beyond doubt that man was on the earth thousands of years before Adam and Eve. Pre-historic men were mortal, even as man has always been, and the remains of these men that have been unearthed in various places indicate that man inhabited our planet long before Adam and Eve.
We cannot believe that God intended us to understand the first three chapters of Genesis as a literal account of the literal creation. Adam and Eve are figurative representations of the first human beings God called into His service on this earth. Neither were they the only persons on the earth at that time, else where did their son Cain find his wife? And for whom did Cain build a city? (Gen. 4:17).
Furthermore, the guilt of sin cannot be inherited. Such an assumption is contrary to general Bible teaching. God does not condemn anyone for the sin of his progenitors. Every individual is responsible for his own sin. The Bible teaching is plain: Every man shall die for his own sin. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:20); “Every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jer. 31:30); “A person shall be put to death for his own sin” (2 Kings 14:6).
Assumption Two: That Adam and Eve were, created perfect.
There is absolutely nothing in the Scripture account that would indicate that man was created perfect. Some theologians admit that it is demanding too much of the Biblical text to read into it that man was created with an inherent goodness, knowing nothing but to please his Maker.
Present-day Catholic catechisms elaborate upon the graces with which Adam and Eve were endowed: “God made men in his love to see him and to live eternally with him; therefore God gave them a share in his own inmost life….God also gave to our first parents some other wonderful gifts. They were allowed to live in Paradise (which means pleasant place) where they were especially close to God. He illumined their understanding with a special light and strengthened their will with special power. Their longings and their strivings were all towards what was good. The first human beings were free from the inclination to do evil…work was not tiresome for them; they were free from suffering, sickness, and all evil, and they were to be preserved from death. All these gifts we call the special gifts of Paradise.”
This passage is quoted from a Catholic catechism written for adults. No Bible references are given as proof for its content (since none exist). Therefore, we must classify it as fiction. If Adam and Eve had their understanding illumined “with a special light” and their will strengthened “with special power,” why did they so quickly succumb to the tempter?
The main fault lies in a literal interpretation of the Creation Allegory. As before stated, Adam and Eve were but representative of the first men and women to be called into God’s service, the beginning of His work on our earth.
Assumption Three: That Adam and Eve were created in God’s Image.
Can mortal humans possibly be created in the image of God? Thoughtful consideration tells us it is not possible, yet practically all Christendom accepts as literal the words of Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.…”
A comparison between God and man shows us the absurdity of the idea. God is immortal; man is mortal. God is omniscient, knowing all things; human intellect at its best falls far short of possessing all knowledge. God “fainteth not, neither is weary”; man is easily wearied.
Were we to consider the physical stature and appearance of a man, which is in the image of God-the short, or the tall? the light-skinned, or the dark-skinned? the blue-eyed, or the brown-eyed? Either all mankind are not made physically in the image of God, or His image is very flexible.
No, the man made in God’s image is a representative “man” composed of a class of people who are now being made over into His image. When the creation process is complete, they will form a part of His eternal creation, the Kingdom of God, the new heavens and new earth (the earth made over new).
Assumption Four: That physical death is a punishment for sin.
Did natural death result from Adam’s sin? No. Prehistoric remains of men indicate that men lived and died on the earth long before Adam and Eve. Throughout the Scriptures we find no indication that natural death is either a consequence of or a punishment for sin, except for times when God was dealing directly with men and punishing with divine retribution. And these times are clearly specified, as when Korah, Dathan and Abiram and all their company paid with their lives for their rebellion; when Achan and all that were his likewise perished for their covetousness; when the sons of Aaron had their lives snuffed out for “offering strange fire,” an unacceptable offering, to God. This was penal death and was in each case the “wages of sin.” This same penal death will be meted out to the disobedient at the Judgment, but “penal death” is not natural death.
Natural death is the result of mortality, not sin. The good man as well as the sinner dies when his breath is taken away. There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that Adam and Eve would not have died had they not sinned. They did not die as a result of their sin, nor did they pass literal death on to their descendants. Man dies because he was created mortal.
A study of Augustine’s writings on the subject of original sin reveals that the doctrine was a product of his own theological reasonings and not of the Scriptures. It would be impossible to deny that certain physical characteristics and mental potential are inherited from our ancestors. But to claim that all men are born sinners because they inherited the quality from the first of the race is an exercise in speculation. It finds no basis whatever in the Bible.
Original Sin After Augustine
Since the time of Augustine, volumes of literature have been written on the subject of original sin, but today, more than fifteen centuries later, the doctrine remains largely as he elucidated it. Most present-day Church Manuals contain the doctrine much the same as it was introduced by Augustine in the year 400 A. D.
Pelaguis vs. Augustine
In the year 412 A. D., a man named Pelagius took issue with Augustine’s concept of original sin, saying that “God has given man the power of free choice so that he may naturally choose good and evil.”
Pelagius reasoned that since men were able to do good under the Jewish law, all were not born bad. He explained the sin of Adam’s descendants as “nothing more than the following of an example.” For Pelagius, “the redeeming influence of Christ upon man is only that of true doctrine and good example, even as Adam has harmed us only through a bad example. The sin of Adam’s descendants is nothing more than the following of a bad example” (Piet Schoonenberg, Man and Sin, pp. 146-162).Pelagius also asserted, among other things, that “Adam has been created mortal and would die whether he sinned or not; that Adam’s sin has only harmed him, not the human race.”
Pelagius’ ideas did not meet with favor among the Church fathers. The church council, meeting in the years 411 and 416 A. D., published the following:
“Whoever says that Adam, the first man, was made mortal, so that, whether he sinned or whether he did not sin, he would die…not because of the merit of sin but by reason of the necessity of nature, let him be anathema.” Anathema, as defined in the dictionary, is “a formal ecclesiastical ban or curse excommunicating a person.” In other words, Pelagius was banned from the church for his views because they were contrary to those of the church.
More than a hundred years later, another church council re-established the doctrine of original sin and again condemned the teachings of Pelagius, even mentioning him by name: “If anyone says that by the offence of Adam’s transgression not the whole man-that is, body and soul-was changed for the worse, but believes that the body only is exposed to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius.” And another church canon reads in part: “If any one asserts that Adam’s transgression injured him alone and not his descendants,…he will do an injustice to God.”
In the Middle Ages
After the death of Pelagius, there appears to have been little opposition to the doctrine. There had been and continued to be a debate over whether or not infants were guilty of original sin and whether or not baptism removed the guilt of this sin. The same church council that condemned the so-called Pelagian heresy decreed that infants were indeed born sinful and must be baptized “unto the remission of sins, so that what they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration.” This supposedly clarified the doctrine and resolved the debate.
A later church council further explained the doctrine, distinguishing original sin from actual sin. It was agreed and published in a decree that “the punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell.”
The Council of Trent
Between 1545 and 1563, a general council of the Roman Catholic Church was held in Trent, Italy. The Reformation had started and many splinter groups were separating from the mother church. The council was called to condemn the teachings of the rebels and to reaffirm the doctrines of the Church. During an early session, a list of “thirteen heresies about original sin” was read. It contained the doctrines of Pelagius as well as those of other dissidents, including Martin Luther. At the close of the assembly a decree was issued defining the doctrine but containing nothing new. It amounted to a restatement of previous declarations: “Adam, through his sin, lost for his posterity the holiness and justice in which God had established him, and through the offense he led all his descendants into a state of death and sin.” The pronouncement further stated that “original sin can be cured only through the merits of Christ applied to us by baptism.” And in a final canon, as a sort of afterthought, t he council declared “that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary.”
In the Reformation period
The span of years from the 16th through the 18th century is commonly known as the Reformation. During this time many broke away from the Catholic Church (which was the only Church in Europe at the time) and various denominations were formed. Among the best known of these reformers were Martin Luther and John Calvin. Both attracted large followings which resulted in the establishment of the major Protestant churches.
These reformers succeeded in correcting corrupt practices of the Catholic Church, but any reformation of doctrine was barely noticeable. Both claimed; to use the Bible only as a basis of teachings, but original sin as taught by them does not differ materially from the Catholic doctrine. The Calvinist doctrine, as summed up by Unger’s Bible Dictionary is “that the sin of Adam was immediately imputed to the whole human family, so that not only is the entire race depraved, but also actually guilty on account of the first transgression. To sustain this opinion it is argued that Adam was not only the natural, but also the representative or federal head of the human race. His fall involved the whole race in guilt.”
The doctrine of original sin as presented by the Church reformers was not any nearer the truth than the original doctrine as expounded by Augustine. Any who tried to insert some truth on the subject were excommunicated and their books were burned.
The doctrine of original sin is nothing more than speculative theology. It finds no basis in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Original Sin Today
When we compare the teaching of original sin as it is found in the manuals of the leading churches today we find it not materially different from the dogma as introduced by Augustine. Children of a tender age are still being taught that the world is evil because their first parents sinned in Eden.A widely used Catholic catechism written for teaching Catholic grade school children reads as follows:”Who committed the first sin on earth?”
“Our first parents, Adam and Eve, committed the first sin on earth.” “Is this sin passed on to us from Adam?”
“Yes, this sin is passed on to us from Adam. I was born with the stain of Adam’s sin. This sin in us is called Original Sin. I was not a child of God. I had no right to heaven. But when I was baptized … baptism washed away the stain of sin.”
“What did Baptism do for you?”
Baptism washed away Original Sin from my soul and made it rich in the grace of God.”Within the last decade the Catholic Church held a council at the Vatican to discuss the problems of the church in our modern world. At the close of the council a book was compiled of all the documents covered, “offering further clarification of the Church’s thinking.” In this book we find our subject “original sin” mentioned in the preface, with this comment: “The reality which is called the `contemporary world’ is too complex for a simple and single answer. The Council is positive in its judgments. It does not pre-judge. It is not superstitious or superficial. The Council knows that in the world, that is to say, in our human reality, there are many faults and many evils. It reveals their fatal and radical cause-original sin.”
In a chapter entitled “Original Sin” we find the doctrine outlined as it was introduced by Augustine more than fifteen centuries ago. “In explicit terms the constitution itself in Chapter 1 (The Dignity of the Human Person), referring tacitly to Genesis 3 and the doctrine of the Council of Trent, indicates the first man’s sin as the principal source of the moral disorder existing in mankind…” (The Catechism of Modern Man, pp. 10, 651).
The Council of Trent, referred to previously, was held in the 16th century to try to counter the Reformation. The decrees issued by this council reaffirmed Augustine’s doctrine today. Most other major denominations, having been founded by men who were first taught the Catholic faith, hold to a similar doctrine on original sin.
Again we assert that original sin is the distinctive contribution of theology and has absolutely no basis in Scripture. Augustine’s influence has been predominant throughout its history. It is a doctrine of tradition and will not stand the test of “Prove all things.” Nothing but “scripture…given by inspiration of God,…is profitable for doctrine…” We are forbidden to add to the inspired Word by accepting traditions of men.
SIN ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
“To commit sin is to break God’s law: sin, in fact, is lawlessness.” This is a concise Bible definition of sin as stated by the beloved apostle John. Our Common Version states plainly in 1 John 3:4: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” We need no better definition of sin.
There is no such thing as an “original” or first sin. We know from scientific discoveries that Adam was not the first man upon the earth, though according to the Biblical record he was the first man called in the service of God, hence he was the first to sin under law. The early chapters of Genesis are not an account of the literal creation of the earth. Truly God created the earth, even the whole universe; but how and when are among the secret things not yet revealed.
A dictionary definition of sin reads, “The willful breaking of religious or moral law.” Sin is not something with which man is born; it is willful or deliberate. A study of the Bible reveals that sin is something for which God holds a man guilty if he sins after knowing His law, something of which men are called upon to repent, something for which men need forgiveness. These characteristics lead to the unmistakable conclusion that sin is not something necessary, not something inherited and unavoidable, but something that can be overcome.
The doctrine of original sin according to theology having been thoroughly investigated and found wanting, we will now turn to the Scriptures to ascertain the origin of sin and its entrance into the world.
The Origin of Sin
Sin cannot be inherited. The sin of Adam had absolutely nothing to do with the sin of later generations. Neither the patriarchs, prophets or Jesus mentioned the sin of Adam or such a thing as original sin.For the true origin of sin we go to the words of Jesus: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23). Sin comes from within, out of the heart or mind of man. These evils conceived in the mind “defile the man.” Jesus did not say that man was defiled by the sins of Adam but only by his own sin. Sin cannot be inherited.
Sin Is “Optional”
Sin can be avoided by making the right choice. God created man with mental powers above those of the lower animals. He endowed man with an intellect capable of understanding laws and commands, but He left man free to choose for himself. This fact is plainly taught in the Scriptures. Man is a free moral agent with the mental capacity to choose between good and evil (Josh. 24:15). God offers every inducement for man to choose the good; but unfortunately, man often chooses the evil:
It was the same from the beginning. Cain, who committed the first recorded murder, did so because he was angry, not because his parents had sinned. He was given the opportunity to choose, but he made the wrong choice. The Lord said unto Cain, “Why art you angry?…If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door….But you can conquer it” (Gen. 4:7, KJV and The Living Bible). Cain did not conquer the evil thought; he killed his brother.
Sin in the Old Testament
God has from the beginning given His people a choice: they could obey or disobey. It was His desire that they should obey as He said through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will judge each of you, O Israel, and punish or reward each according to your own actions. Oh, turn from your sins while there is yet time” (18:30, The Living Bible).
Adam and Eve, the first called into God’s service, were given a command: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The choice was to obey or disobey the divine injunction: they could eat of it or not eat of it: the reward would be accordingly death or life. For keeping God’s law they could inherit eternal life; for breaking His law they would be condemned to eternal death at the Judgment. Death that is the result of breaking God’s law is penal death, not natural death. Natural death was in the world long before Adam and Eve and comes to both sinner and saint alike.
A Choice: Blessing or Curse
Moses, speaking God’s words, said, “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God,…and the curse, if you do not obey” (Deut. 11:26-28). If they obeyed they could receive the blessing of eternal life; if they disobeyed, they would receive the curse, eternal death. The curse would not come upon them because Adam sinned, but because they sinned. We learn from Deuteronomy 8:2 that it required a forty-year trial in the wilderness to “prove” them, to educate them in God’s law and learn whether or not they would keep it.
“Choose you this day”
These were the words of Joshua, successor to Moses. Joshua’s words show unmistakably that the choice belonged to the individual. “But if you are unwilling to obey the Lord, then decide today whom you will obey. Will it be the gods of your ancestors . . . or the gods of the Amorites . . .?” (Josh. 24:15, The Living Bible). They could choose to serve the true God or gods of their wicked neighbors. Again, we find no mention of Adamic condemnation. Their fate depended upon their choice.Obey and live: disobey and die
This was the choice as stated by Elihu, one of Job’s counselors who spoke “on God’s behalf” (Job 36:2, 11-12). “If they obey and serve him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures. But if they do not obey, They shall perish by the sword, And they shall die without knowledge,” or as rendered in the New English Bible, “they die, their lesson unlearnt.” These alternatives are comparable to those of Moses in Deuteronomy; they would be blessed if they obeyed, but if they chose not to obey, they would perish forever. Here again, death is penal death, not natural death. Their obedience or disobedience, not the sin of Adam, would decide their destiny.
The Big “IF”
Many times and in many ways God states His promises, but almost without exception an alternative is given or implied. These statements are often prefaced with that big little word “if.” Said Isaiah, “If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword” (1:19-20). Said Jeremiah, “If ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment…Then I will cause you to dwell in this place….forever and ever” (7:5-7). They were given a choice; their end would be according to their own choice. No prior condemnation is suggested.
King David, counseling his son Solomon, pointed to God’s promised reward, but it was “If.…” He said, “If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever” (1 Chron. 28:9). Solomon died “an old and foolish king,” and at the Judgment he will be cast off, but it was his own choice to do evil. Choosing to do wrong was voluntary; Adamic condemnation is not suggested.
Sin in the New Testament
Jesus and the apostles taught nothing different concerning sin than we have learned from the Old Testament. There is nothing in any of their writings that, when properly understood, supports the doctrine of original sin.
Jesus and Original Sin?
The Broad Way vs. the Narrow Way
Jesus addressed this point in parable, teaching man’s responsibility in choosing the way he will go. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it, Because narrow is the gate, and difficult is the way, which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). The emphasis is on the narrow or strait gate that leads to life, but each traveler must choose the road he takes: the road of sin to destruction, or the road of obedience to life. Adam’s wrong choice and consequent sin was never mentioned by Jesus.
Throughout His teachings, Jesus often indicated a choice. He rebuked Martha for being too concerned with the temporal and commended Mary for having “chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He indicated that a man must sometimes choose between God and his own family. The statement “No man can serve two masters,” shows that a choice must be made; He exhorted the rich young ruler to make the right choice and follow Him. Throughout His ministry He counseled His hearers to make the right choice that they might inherit life in the Kingdom of God. He made no mention of Adamic condemnation nor did He go about preaching that His death would mean their salvation. His teachings emphasize man’s responsibility, not an “original” sinful state from which men cannot escape.
Paul and Original Sin?
According to theology, Paul is the author of the doctrine of original sin, but nothing could be further from the truth. We cannot take one text from Paul’s writings and use it as the basis of a doctrine that is contrary to his other statements and to the whole tenor of Scripture as well.
Does Romans 5 Teach Original Sin?
Those who believe in Adamic condemnation, that the human race is subject to sin and death because Adam sinned, go to Romans 5 to support their belief.
Upon surface reading of the chapter, verses 12-21 may seem to support the popular belief. But we cannot believe this was the Apostle’s intended thought. Paul’s thinking was deep and his writing often complex, his grasp of the language often being above that of his peers. That is why the apostle Peter found it necessary to write of him as he did in his Second Epistle: “Our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this [salvation] as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16, RSV).
Before studying the passage in Romans 5, which Augustine and a host of theologians since have used to claim that physical death is the result of the sin of Adam, let us consider some of Paul’s plainer statements on this subject. Did the Apostle say anything else that would indicate that physical death is the result of Adam’s sin and its effect upon the whole human race?
Paul clearly taught that sin is optional, that men sin because they choose to. Some of Paul’s well-known maxims are: “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap….But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor, and some for dishonor.…Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?…For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.…Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God; on those who fell, severity; but toward you goodness, if you continue in His goodness, Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Gal. 6:7; 2 Tim. 2:20; Rom. 6:16; 8:6; 11:22). There is not a hint of original sin in these and many other verses we could quote from Paul. Men are not condemned because Adam sinned but because they themselves sin.
Before we consider the “one man” by whom sin entered the world let us ascertain who is under God’s law.
All Are Not Under God’s Law
How can we know? “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Rom. 2:12-13). Mankind are divided into three classes:
1. Those who have sinned outside the law.
We read that this class “shall also perish without law.” They are the great masses of mankind including the heathen of foreign lands who never knew God’s law and never made a covenant to serve God. Never having known, they live and die without being held responsible to God. They are the class that “shall sleep a perpetual sleep, And not wake” (Jer. 51:57). They will not be resurrected and judged. This life which God gives to all His earthly children is their only reward.
2. Those who have sinned under the law.
This class having known the law “shall be judged by the law.” They will be among those resurrected and brought to Judgment to be judged “according to their works,” and their works being evil, will be subject to death, penal death. They “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9).
3. Those who have obeyed the law.
This class both hear the law and obey it. They are “just before God.” They are the class that were seen by the Revelator in chapter 14. “These were redeemed from among men…. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (vs. 4-5).
God does not hold sin against anyone who has not made himself responsible to the law. Only those who agree to serve God will be called to Judgment. If found faithful, they will receive the reward of eternal life. If found unfaithful, they will be subject to penal death. One who has sinned has transgressed the law and he is responsible for his own sin only, not the sin of his forefathers.
In another Epistle, Paul shows again that death is not an inescapable punishment resulting from the evil and blame we inherit but the result of our own wrongdoing. “He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption.” Death is the end result of sowing to one’s own flesh. And it can be avoided: “He who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Gal. 6:7-8).
What was Paul’s general teaching on sin?
Sin is a personal matter and must be overcome by the individual. “do not Let sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in its lusts…For sin shall not have dominion over you.” “But God be thanked, you who once were slaves of sin, have yielded whole-hearted obedience to the pattern of teaching to which you were made subject….as you once yielded your bodies to…lawlessness,…so now you must yield them to the service of righteousness, making for a holy life” (Rom. 6:12, 14, KJV; 6:17-19, NEB).
Sin comes from within; it is not inherited from Adam. “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good….But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).
Even in the book of Romans are many statements which totally disallow any belief in “original sin.” For example:
In Romans l, Paul is condemning a large number of people because of sin. Let us read a few verses to see exactly why they are being condemned. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness; … because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:18-21). This surely sounds as though the transgressors themselves are blameworthy-there is nothing said about Adam’s sin. “Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God”-they knew the consequences of such voluntary sin; “that those who practice such things are deserving of death”-this does not sound as though they were condemned prior to their own transgressing; “Who knowing the righteous judgment of God, and that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). Paul even says that the wrongdoing was voluntary-they did evil when they knew the consequences of sin and knew how they could have escaped this condemnation.
Romans 2 continues the same thought: “Therefore you art inexcusable, O man….you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (v. 1). Again the evildoer is being condemned for his own evildoing. Romans 6:23 is clear: “The wages of sin is death.” James defines the entire process of sin’s development. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). To understand Paul’s teaching concerning sin let us first read the verses in question: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come)” (Rom. 5:12-14).
The “One Man” by Whom Sin Entered
Paul said in Romans 5:12, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin,” but he did not say the “one man” was Adam alone. Theology, however, has assumed that it was the literal man Adam, hence “original” or the first sin in the world. Adam might be said to be the originator of sin by virtue of the fact that he was the first to sin under law, being the first man to covenant and thus the first to be accountable for his sin.
A careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans, of which the verses in question form less than one-hundredth part, will immediately prove that the Apostle is not attempting to forge the doctrine of original sin. In the first three chapters of the letter he discusses the sinfulness of humanity without mention of Adam or his sin.
Adam as a representative man.
The “one man” of Romans 5:12 is not necessarily the first individual at the beginning of the history of mankind. Besides being an individual, Adam is also a representative man and defines those who come into God’s service and fail to keep His law. As one writer has said, “The man, Adam, is as well a mirror to the reader. Adam is myself for I am disobedient, hateful, unloving, rebellious. Adam is here and now; he is me and you and him and her….To David who had stolen another’s wife, the prophet Nathan said: `You are the man.’ Genesis speaks to its every reader in like manner: `You are Adam, the man of dust.”‘
This “one man” by whose disobedience sin entered the world is a composite man, a corporate personality, a group of men who have sinned. The Bible often speaks of a group as one. Jesus represented the unfaithful man by a guest who did not have on the wedding garment, the robe of righteousness. He was to be bound, cast out, and not permitted to partake of the feast.
In Hosea 6:6-7 we read of a man by whom sin entered the world, and it was not the literal Adam: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But like men they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with me.” The marginal reference in the King James Bible has for the words “like men” the alternate translation of “like Adam.” The classes of men here represented have transgressed the covenant, they have sinned “or Adam.” They were under covenant to God, but proved unfaithful; they failed to keep their vow.
Many who have come under the law have “like Adam…transgressed the covenant.” These compose the one unfaithful man, the “one man” through whose unfaithfulness penal death comes into the world, or becomes reality.
The “man” by whom death came is the same as the man who sinned under the covenant of the law, those who prove unfaithful “like Adam”
(“like men,” margin), in Hosea 6:7 quoted above. The “all” in Adam who die are the same class, death being penal death, not natural death.
The “all in Christ” that shall be made alive form the counterpart of the “all” in Adam. They are the faithful, who having lived the Christ life, shall be given immortal life by Christ at Judgment. There is no hint of original sin in these verses.
What is “death by sin”?
Transgression of the law of God results in death. But what type of death? It cannot be natural death, for natural death is the result of mortality and befalls man and beast alike. Adam’s transgression did not alter his mortal state; he was from the beginning an ordinary physical human being, a mortal man with no special gifts or powers. (See study entitled, “Of Origin, Evolution and Order.”) The death that comes by sin is penal death, condemnation at Judgment, eternal death. Natural death did not come into the world as a result of sin.
What is “death passed upon all men”?
Augustine contended that death passed upon all men because Adam sinned, but the Scripture states that “death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12, RSV). It is a matter of individual responsibility. Everyone judged worthy of penal death will be judged so because he himself has transgressed the law of God. The text does not say that Adam sinned and all men are consequently condemned, but rather that all who share in Adam’s sin by virtue of their own sin are condemned.
We might paraphrase Paul’s thought in Rom. 5:12. Wherefore Adam, being the first under law was the first to transgress that law, he thus became subject to penal death: and this same penalty of death rests upon all who like Adam have sinned.
Sin outside the law.
The thought of Romans 5:13 is comparable to that of Romans 2:12. “For until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:13). Sin was in the world before God made known His law and called men into His service, but God held no one accountable because they had not committed themselves to be responsible to His law. Adam was the first to sin under law. being the first man called to work in the service of God. The sin “in the world” bore no relation to Adam’s sin-it was sin belonging to the individuals who committed it.
“Death reigned from Adam to Moses.”
This death (Rom. 5:14) is natural death, not death that is the result of sin; it is death that results from mortality. And it was a death “even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam.” These sinners between the times of Adam and Moses could not sin in the sense that Adam sinned because they had not been called by God, had not placed themselves under law. They were not covenant-makers, hence could not be covenant-breakers.
The man Adam may be said to be the originator of sin in that he was the first to sin under law, the first to be held accountable to God for his sin. But the “one man” in Romans 5 is a representative Adam including all who covenant to obey God’s law and fail to keep their vow. This “one man” by whose disobedience sin entered the world is a composite man, a corporate person, a group of individuals who sin knowing the law. They are sinners because they themselves sin like Adam sinned, not because Adam sinned. This is what Paul says in Romans 5:12: “And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” If death passed directly upon all men of Adam’s posterity because Adam sinned, why did Paul add this last phrase: “for that all have sinned”?
Paul is speaking of those who sin knowing the law, “As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12). All who know God’s law and fail to keep it compose the one unfaithful man by whose unfaithfulness death-penal death, not natural death-comes into the world. It is a death from which there is no hope of release.
This same “one man,” the one unfaithful man, representatively called “Adam,” is also mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 15:21-22. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” It is the same man, the one unfaithful man, represented by Adam, that has sinned and so brought death-penal death-into the world.
This passage (1 Cor. 15:21-22) is also used to support the theory of death through original sin inherited from Adam. But if we were to accept literally that all men everywhere die because Adam sinned, would we not also be compelled to believe that all men everywhere are redeemed from death by Christ? And if the death spoken of be physical, then physical death should no longer trouble the human race, since Christ has come to redeem us!
No, this is not what Paul is teaching. The idea of original sin finds no support in Scripture. “His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, And he is caught in the cords of his sin” (Prov. 5:22)-his sins, not Adam’s. And, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:20). It was never God’s policy to condemn the children for the sins of their father, and we can be sure Paul did not contradict it. The penalty for a transgression falls upon the transgressor, not upon his posterity.
Paul’s point in Romans 5:12 is man’s accountability for sin. All who sin under law are held accountable and must die for their sin if they do not repent; all of this “one man” must die because all have sinned. In the next verse Paul states it even more clearly: “For until the law [prior to the giving of the law] sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Sin was in the world prior to the time of Adam’s covenant with God and God’s giving of His law to men; men acted contrary to God’s wishes and design for them; but sin was not held against them, nor were they liable for punishment, because they were not “under law.” This is God’s merciful provision.
Sin Is Personal
From the beginning men have tried to make excuse for their sinfulness. The narrative of Adam and Eve in the garden, written in modern English, runs thus:
“The Lord God asked, `Have you eaten fruit from the tree I warned you about?’ “`Yes,’ Adam admitted, `but it was the woman you gave me who brought me some, and I ate it.'”Then the Lord God asked the woman, `How could you do such a thing?’ “`The serpent tricked me,’ she replied.” (Gen. 3:11-13, The Living Bible)
Admittedly Adam and Eve transgressed the law; they ate the forbidden fruit; they were subject to the penalty, death. Theology, assuming that all mankind are descendants of Adam, teaches that this “first,” or “original” sin condemned the whole human race.
Again we state, this is not the teaching of the Bible. The prophet Ezekiel states without reservations: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Sin is personal; only the sinner himself receives the penalty for sin. We have many examples in the Scriptures of those who acknowledged their sin, admitting their guilt before God and the people. Balaam, Achan, Job, Pharaoh, Saul, David and many others clearly acknowledged their own guilt for their transgressions.
*In the case of Balaam, the prophet sent to bless Israel, God used an animal to rebuke the prophet for failing to perform the will of the Lord. Balaam’s answer to the angel placed the blame squarely on himself. He said, “I have sinned; for I did not know You stood in the way against me” (Num. 22:34).
*Achan, whose deceit was the cause of the defeat of Israel’s army at Ai, admitted his covetousness. When singled out among the thousands of Israel he confessed, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what have I done” (Josh. 7:20).
*Job, after being reminded of God’s justice and judgment and His faithfulness, acknowledged “I have sinned” (Job 7:20).
*Pharaoh, after eight of the ten plagues had befallen his people, begged Moses to entreat the Lord that there be no more. He said, “I have sinned this time, The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked” (Ex. 9:27). But when the plague was ended, he retracted and yet another plague was sent upon the people. Again he called for Moses and Aaron, and he said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you” (Ex. 10:16).
*Saul, victorious in battle, but confronted by Samuel for saving the king of the Amalekites and taking of the spoil, said, “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam. 15:24). Saul also made a like confession concerning David whose life he had sought. “Then said Saul, I have sinned:…behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly” (1 Sam. 26:21).
*David, after being shown the error of his ways in coveting the wife of Uriah the Hittite and planning Uriah’s death, said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). David made a similar admission when he was rebuked for numbering Israel and he said, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done: … for I have done very foolishly” (2 Sam. 24:10).
In each instance the guilty one acknowledged that he had sinned. None of them blamed Adam, even to the erstwhile prophet Balaam and the wicked Pharaoh. The words of the prophet Jeremiah describe their conduct: They “walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart,” which, said the same Prophet, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 7:24; 17:9).
THE FRUITS OF SIN
“The wages of sin is death,” said the great Apostle. It was such words as these that stirred the early Christians to separate themselves from the corrupt society by which they were surrounded. But by the end of the seventh century, the faith of the Apostolic Church had been lost and the teachings of Jesus had been obscured by a maze of man-made creeds and doctrines. A few centuries later, the Catholic Church had degraded to the point of selling indulgences, a system by which one could draw on the merits of another to cover his sinful deeds.
Against such practices reformers Calvin and Luther protested. But unfortunately, when they withdrew from the mother church they carried with them the majority of her man-made creeds and doctrines, not the least of which was the doctrine of original sin.
Today we live in an age when sin is taken lightly, overlooked, and passed off as “just human nature.” The cries of a few against the multitude of sins of the world cause hardly a ripple on the sea of nations, the great majority of humanity. Because God has been silent these many years, His influence has diminished and His precepts are flouted. Because the wages of sin are not paid on a current basis, men are less aware of the fruits of sin. But sin is no less grievous in God’s sight today than it was in olden days.
Under Moses’ law, received from the Almighty Himself, judgment was swift and punishment certain. It was “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex. 21:23-25). Sin was recognized as such and men had to pay for their evil deeds, often with their lives. We will review some cases where sin was punished when it was committed.Sin Punished by Immediate Death
Today men break God’s laws with impunity, but at certain times in history God paid the wages of sin when that sin was committed. A defiant Korah, Dathan and Abiram and “all that appertained unto them” paid with their lives for challenging the authority of Moses and Aaron. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, “died before the Lord” for doing that “which he commanded them not.” Whole generations of people perished in the flood because “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The inhabitants of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah perished when “the Lord rained upon [them] brimstone and fire from … heaven” (Gen. 19:24).
Some twenty centuries later, God was still meting out the wages of sin. “Great fear came upon all the church” after Ananias and Sapphira were cut off for conspiring together to defraud the Lord (Acts 5:1-11). And just a few years later Herod was smitten by the angel of the Lord “because he gave not God the glory” and he died (Acts 12).
Such incidents as these and others that could be mentioned indicate that God held men responsible for their sin and in each case the punishment was death. In no case was any allowance made for an inherent sinful nature.
Punishments Other Than Death
Death was not always the punishment for sin. Sin was punishable by varying degrees of harshness, but it was never overlooked. Nations as well as individuals were punished. The children of Israel prospered under the rule of the Judges as long as they followed the Lord, but when they forsook the Lord He punished them. Israel’s history under the Judges is a cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance and restoration followed again by rebellion, but the lesson remained unlearned. The most common punishment at this time was defeat in battle and oppression by heathen kings. In each case the punishment was for their own sin, not that of their ancestors.
Other individuals were punished by the hand of God. The wicked Jeroboam, king of Israel had his hand withered because he worshiped the golden calves and taught his people to do likewise (1 Kings 12:28; 13:6). Gehazi was smitten with leprosy for his sin of covetousness (2 Kings 5:15-27). King Saul was deprived of his kingdom because of his incomplete obedience (1 Samuel 15). Elymas the sorcerer was struck blind because he withstood the words of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:8-11). Again, in each instance, the individual was held responsible for his sin and was punished accordingly. There is no suggestion of Adamic condemnation.
Other Fruits of Sin
While the ultimate fruit of sin is death, penal death, at the hand of a just God, there are other fruits of sin mentioned in the Scriptures. The Psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18), hence we learn that if there is iniquity in us, our prayers will not be heard.
Sin Alienates from God
Paul called on Christians to “walk not as other Gentiles walk,”because such a life, a life in sin, alienates from God (Eph. 4:17-18). The New English Bible renders the text, “Give up living like pagans … for they are strangers to the life that is in God.” The way they lived and the things they did, not an inherent sinful nature, alienated them.
Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” These words from Isaiah 59:2 may have formed the basis for the words of Paul quoted above. The Prophet was warning the people that the fault lay with them and not with the Almighty; it was not that He could not hear but that He would not hear because of their sins. Their own sins, not the sins of their forefathers, caused the breakdown in communication with God.
” Sin Cuts Off All Hope
“When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth,” said the Wise Man, “so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death” (Prov. 11:7, 19). Again, it is only the sinner himself that shall suffer. “The hope of unjust men” shall perish; death is the result of their own sins.
Sin Ends in Death
“What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” asked Paul, “for the end of those things is death.” And again Paul asked, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (Rom. 6:21; I Cor. 6:9). The end result of sin, unrighteousness, is death after that fact is made known at the Judgment. But the penalty will be only for the one who committed the unrighteous acts, no one else.
How We May Nullify the Effects of Sin
We have learned that sin separates from God, sin causes God not to hear our prayers, sin keeps us out of the Kingdom of God, sin destroys all hope of a future life and ends in death. But there is a redeeming factor: Sin can be overcome, its effects can be nullified. Practically all Christendom declares that this redeeming factor is Christ’s death on the cross, a vicarious atonement in which humanity may share by the simple expedient of belief. But all creeds and catechisms notwithstanding, we are confident that this is not the teaching of the Scriptures.
Sin, we learned, is a personal matter. The individual performs the sinful act of his own volition; he is not predestined to sin nor has he inherited sin from his forefathers. Likewise, overcoming sin is a personal matter. It does not require the blood of Christ literally speaking, but to overcome sin requires a death to sin, a death which Christ accomplished as an example to us “that we should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). It is obvious that Peter did not refer to Christ’s literal death at the hands of His enemies, else we would all likewise have to be martyred to “follow his steps.”
Peter explains further how sin is nullified: “Remembering that Christ endured bodily suffering, you must arm yourselves with a temper of mind like his. When a man has thus endured bodily suffering he has finished with sin, and for the rest of his days on earth he may live, not for the things that men desire, but for what God wills … you must lead an ordered and sober life, given to prayer. Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, because love cancels innumerable sins” (1 Pet. 4:1, 8, NEB).
If Christ did not do it for us, how then do we nullify sin?
God’s command to Abraham
One of the first examples of how to nullify sin is found in Genesis 17:1, where it is recorded that the Lord appeared to Abraham “and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” Abraham had lived among the idolatrous people of Ur, but he must now change his ways, separate himself from his forebears and walk as God would have him walk. To be perfect, to form a godly character, nullifies sin. There is no suggestion of the necessity of any propitiatory sacrifice.
God’s Word through Micah
Speaking through the prophet Micah, God let it be known centuries ago what He requires of His followers: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (6:8). To obey these directives is to nullify sin. The verses immediately preceding verse 8 condemn human sacrifice as well as the sacrifice of other material possessions, hence we can be sure God did not require the death of His innocent son for the transgressions of all humanity.
God’s Word through Isaiah
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (55:7). These words make it clear that if the sinner will turn from his sin and return to the ways of God, he will be pardoned and accepted. Sin is thus nullified.
” God’s Word through Ezekiel
“If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him” (Ezek. 33:15-16). To turn from sin and do as God requires nullifies sin so completely that none of his former sins shall so much as be mentioned at Judgment. Nothing is required but to stop sinning and do what is right.
God’s Word through His Son
During His short ministry Jesus made no mention of nullifying sin through His approaching death on the cross or through His blood. His teaching was plain and understandable:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: … because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life”; “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”; “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“If ye love me, keep my commandments”; “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me”; “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father”; “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you”; “The flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love”; “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment”; “And what I say unto you I say unto all, WATCH” (Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 9:23; John 8:32; 14:15; 14:6, 21; 15:3; 6:63; 15:10; Mark 12:30; 13:37).
These direct commands and many, many more contained in the Gospels tell us how sin is nullified-by obeying God’s commandments.
God’s Word through the Apostles
Said Paul: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good … cast off the works of darkness, and … put on the armour of light … present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, . . . and be not conformed to this world…. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…. Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you” (Rom. 12:21; 13:12; 12:1-2; Eph. 4:29, 31). Paul’s writings are rife with commands directed to the various churches of his time, but let us remember that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.” Paul was telling themand us-how to nullify sin, how to become clean in God’s sight.
James likewise had much to say which, if followed, would nullify sin. We will add a few of his commands which complement the words of Paul: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, . . . for … faith without works is dead…. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded…. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:22; 2:26; 4:8; 1:4).
Paul and James are often accused of teaching diverse means to salvation, but a careful study of their works indicates they are in complete agreement that the only way to nullify sin and be saved is through both faith and works of righteousness.
Can You Answer These?
1. Why do men and women do evil?
2. Did the early Christian church in the first century know anything about the doctrine of “original sin”?
3. Where are the words “original sin” and “the fall” found in the Scriptures?
4. Define “original sin.”
5. What evidence do we have that natural death did not result from Adam’s sin?
6. Is there anything in Scripture to indicate that Adam and Eve would not have died had they not sinned?
7. Were Adam and Eve the first two humans on earth?
8. What are the three false assumptions on which Augustine’s doctrine of “original sin” is based?
9. Is it just to condemn one man for another’s sin? Give Bible evidence for your answer.
10. What is sin?
11. What is to be the punishment for sin?
12. According to Scripture, where does sin originate?
13. Can we be cleansed from our sin by the righteousness of another?
14. Does Romans 5:12 teach original sin?
15. Who is the “one man” by whom sin entered the world in Romans 5:12?
16. What can we do to escape the punishment of sin?
17. What makes sin a “personal” matter?
18. If sin is not inherited, why are we guilty of sin?
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and the pages of this lesson.)