By Keith Thompson
Before demonstrating biblically that original sin is part of the Christian faith God ordained, we need to define what it means. Original sin is the teaching that because Adam, the federal head who represented humanity, sinned in the garden, subsequent mankind is therefore born inheriting his guilt as well as a sinful or corrupted nature. That is to say, all men are now born guilty of Adam’s sin since Adam represented mankind as man’s leader and we also inherit a fallen nature at birth. It is because mankind has this fallen nature that needs to be replaced that the world is as evil as it is. Mankind is fallen and naturally corrupt. Robert L. Reymond summarizes the position:
“. . .God imputed to the race, as an implicate of the race’s representational solidarity with Adam, both Adam’s guilt and Adam’s corruption (that is, his disposition to sin). After all . . . Paul does not say that God imputed only Adam’s liability to punishment but rather that he imputed Adam’s sin itself to the race, which necessarily entails both guilt and corruption” (Robert L. Reymond, Paul: Missionary, Theologian, [Christian Focus Publications, 2000], p. 328).
Also relevant to note is the reason men die is because of Adam’s sin in the garden (Romans 5:12-13, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:22). If that sin had not been committed men would not die. So mankind also inherited death from Adam. Original sin is affirmed by all Christians (e.g. Calvinists, Arminians or fundamental Baptists, Lutherans, etc). However, it is denied by a heretical sect which claims to be Christian known as Pelagians. There are a few Pelagian heretics on the internet, namely youtube, deceiving people. Muslims or Islamists who claim to believe our God but who deny the Bible, the crucifixion of Christ, and the Trinity also deny the doctrine of original sin.
Biblical Evidence for Original Sin
The fall of man in Genesis chapter 3 speaks to Adam eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After this sin and fall were are told in Genesis 5:3 that man is now in the image and likeness of Adam. It says, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Genesis 5:3). Since man is now in the image of Adam, he becomes a sharer in Adam’s guilt and sinfulness. Commenting on Adam’s posterity being in his image, John Gill remarked, “not in the likeness, and after the image of God, in which Adam was created; for having sinned, he lost that image, at least it was greatly defaced, and he came short of that glory of God, and could not convey it to his posterity; who are, and ever have been conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity; are polluted and unclean, foolish and disobedient; averse to all that is good, and prone to all that is evil” (John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Genesis 5:3). That man inherits a sinful nature because of the fall of Adam we see one chapter later in Genesis 6:5 that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). After the fall man is presented as so wicked that not only are all his thoughts evil, but even the time before his thoughts are. These are not neutral people. These are radically depraved people in rebellion to God. It is because Adam’s sin results in mankind receiving a sinful nature that in this text we observe the universality of utter sinfulness in the earth. If Adam, as federal head and leader of man, by his sin did not cause mankind to have an inherited corrupted nature, why would all of humanity here be described in this catastrophically sinful way? Surely if men are born neutral as Pelagians claim and did not have a fallen nature there would at least be a couple hundred people who were not totally depraved on the earth. That the opposite is true according to this text is evidence against Pelagian falsehood. Two chapters later in Genesis 8:21 God says “the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Here God is not speaking about some men, but “man.” Every man’s heart is evil since his youth. How could this be if men are born neutral with no sinful nature inclining them to be wicked? Surely many would choose to have a good heart if all men were born neutral. The Hebrew word for “youth” here actually refers to infancy to adulthood according to the best lexical material (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Zondervan, 2006], p. 106; The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 655) and not thirteen to eighteen as our modern culture defines “youth.” Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon notes that Genesis 46:34 is an example of the word carrying the meaning of “childhood” as opposed to later “adolescence.” In the context of all of mankind having a wicked heart in Genesis 8:21, it only makes sense to say that has been man’s state from extreme childhood, not just later adolescence. This is because if all of mankind has a wicked heart except for children, then not all mankind has a wicked heart as the text says and the verse becomes contradictory. Thus, Genesis 8:21 has to be referring to man’s heart being evil from extreme childhood or extreme youth and not just later adolescence. All of this universal sinfulness of mankind immediately following the fall of Adam in Genesis 3 we have covered should persuade the one who submits to God’s word of the doctrine or original sin. Now, Pelagians object to the idea that mankind inherits the guilt and sinful nature of Adam. They say God would never do such a thing based on reasoning from within. However, this is due to their ignorance of the Bible. Scripture is very clear that God punishes people corporately because of their leader’s or representative’s errors. For example, Robert Morey notes, “Pharaoh's stubbornness led to God's judgment on the entire nation (Exo. 7-11). Those who followed Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On suffered their fate (Num. 16). Each evil king of Israel or Judah brought judgment on the entire nation. For example, Israel had no rain because of the evil deeds of King Ahab (I Kings 17f)” (Robert Morey, Original Sin, The Atonement and Justification, www.faithdefenders.com). Therefore, the Pelagian objection is unbiblical.
The book of Job’s testimony to original sin is quite strong as well. In Job 14:4 it is asked, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one” (Job 14:4). Similarly in Job 15:14 we read, “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14). Lastly, in Job 25:4 it is asked, “How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure?” (Job 25:4). The conclusion is because man is unclean it is not possible for the offspring of man to be born pure. This is exactly what original sin says. Because Adam was unclean his posterity was unclean. Likewise, everyone else is unclean and so their children are as well. The conclusion is it is not possible for a person to be born clean. The word for “clean” in Job 14:4 is ṭâhôr and it means “ethically pure” (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 373). Therefore, since that text affirms no one born is ethically pure, this refutes the Pelagians who say men are born ethically pure or neutral but become defiled or sinfully impure later in life. What is more, when Job 25:4 affirms that when men are born they are not pure, the Hebrew for “pure” here is zâkâh and in this text it means “pure in the sight of God” (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 269). Thus, again, men are not born pure in the sight of God as Pelagians claim.
In Mark 10:18 Jesus proves all men are born with a sinful nature: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10:18). Here Jesus is teaching people should not go around calling people “good” if they do not know the person is God. That is, this man didn’t know Jesus was God and so should not have called a man who could have simply been ordinary “good.” When Jesus affirms no one is good except God the word for “good” is agathos and here it means, as Thayer’s Lexicon notes, “of good constitution or nature” (Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 3). Thus, on the one hand Jesus teaches only God has a good nature. But on the other-hand Pelagians teach all men are born with a good nature and many men are genuinely good and sinless. Who should we believe, Jesus or the Pelagians?
1 Corinthians 15:22 proves the teaching of Adamic guilt since there we are told man is punished with death because of Adam’s sin: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). It is because mankind is guilty of Adam’s sin that all men die (William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, [P&R Publishing, 2003], p. 558).
Romans 5 is explicit on original sin. Romans 5:18-19 teaches mankind is not only born condemned or guilty because of Adam’s sin, but man is also born with a sinful nature: “18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). In regards to v. 18 some have falsely claimed Adam’s sin leads to us sinning and by us sinning we condemn ourselves. Others, like myself, however, take the position that although that is in some sense also true, here it is saying we are condemned or guilty because of Adam’s sin as well (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, ed. Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996], p. 342). The problem with the first view is nowhere does Romans 5 say our personal sin is what condemns us (though, again, that is a separate truth). We know the second view is the true since the meaning of v. 18’s mention of Jesus’ one act of righteousness leading to justification for all men in Christ is Jesus’ sacrifice leads to men being justified without them doing anything to earn it. Likewise, therefore, Adam’s sin led to all men being condemned or guilty of his sin without mankind doing anything to earn that. That is the meaning of v. 18. Moreover, Thomas Schreiner notes, “Verses 15-19 do not ascribe death and condemnation to the individual sins of human beings (though Paul would not deny such a thesis; cf. the exegesis and exposition of 1:18-3:20). Instead, death and condemnation are traced again and again to Adam’s sin. All people die because of “the transgression of the one man” (v. 15). Condemnation was pronounced because of the one sin of Adam (v. 16). Death reigned through the transgression of one man (v. 17). Condemnation was upon all people because of the transgression of the one man (v. 18). All ‘became’ sinners because of the disobedience of the one man (v. 19)” (Thomas Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 1998], p. 288). In regards to v. 19’s mention of Adam’s disobedience making “the many” sinners, we must interpret “the many” here as referring to all mankind and not some of mankind because of the parallelism in v. 15 which says the “many” died through one man’s trespass which obviously refers to all mankind. Plus v. 17 speaks of death reigning to all mankind since Adam and v. 18 mentions “all men” being condemned because of Adam’s trespass. Thus, the context and flow of the text shows “the many” in v. 19 who are made sinners refers to all humanity in Adam which is everyone. Now, when v. 19 says “by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners,” the word for “made” is katestathēsan and it means to appoint or consider someone as something as a judgement because of their state (Thomas Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 1998], p. 288; Garlington, 1994:104; Moo, 1991: 358). This is evident from the vast majority of the New Testament texts that use the word (Matthew 24:45, 47; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:14; Acts 6:3; 7:10, 27, 35; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 5:1; 7:28; 8:3). Thus, what we have is men are appointed or considered sinners due to their sinful status they receive from Adam. Therefore, since this text teaches all men are appointed sinners due to Adam’s sin, this sinful status of man must therefore be natural and universal and not acquired later, i.e., man has a sinful status or a sinful nature because of Adam’s sin which leads to him being appointed or considered as such. This is the doctrine of original sin clearly seen in the text. Leon Morris correctly concludes, “The verb were made. . . . does not mean that sinless people were compelled to become sinners, but rather that Adam’s sin constituted them as sinners. They were born as members of a race already separated from God” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [W. B. Eerdmans, 1988], p. 240). Finally, it is important to address a Pelagian objection at this point. They claim if Christians say vv. 18-19 mean all men without exception are condemned and constituted sinners because of Adam’s sin, then that must mean all men without exception are justified and made righteous as well because of Christ’s obedience and thus universalism must be true, that is, the belief that everyone will be saved. However, this argument fails to realize Paul can use the flexible words “all” and “many” in different ways in the context of parallel structure text contrasting Adam’s and Christ’s works as representatives. The reason Paul can speak of all men being condemned and made sinners because of Adam’s sin as well as all men being justified and made righteous because of Christ without universalism being true is because of three reasons: 1) Verse 17 shows righteousness from Christ is not universal but belongs to those “who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17).” Scholars note the substantive participle “those who receive” in v. 17 means not all are in Christ but only those who accept or receive Him. 2) By stressing the universality of Christ’s work saying “all men” will be justified and made righteous Paul is actually showing Christ’s work affects both Jews and Gentiles, not all people without exception (Thomas Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 1998], p. 292). And 3) the word “all” in “all men” in v. 18 does not always mean “all without exception” (see Romans 8:32; 11:32; 16:19). Hence, according to the context it refers to all who are in Christ and who receive the abundance of grace being justified and made righteous. Therefore, based all the considerations raised so far, what we have in vv. 18-19 is all men in Adam (which refers to everyone) being condemned and made sinners because of his one sin, and all men or the many (which, due to the elasticity of those words, refers to all Jews and Gentiles in Christ who receive the abundance of grace) being justified and made righteous because of Christ’s work. As Robert H. Mounce rightly concludes, “Context indicates that Paul was comparing the fate of those who are in Adam (the position of all by virtue of their birth into the human race) and the blessing of those who are in Christ (the position of all who have responded in faith)” (Robert H. Mounce, Romans, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary, B&H Publishing Group, 1995], pp. 144-145).
Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In the Old Testament the heart was the inner being of man which included brought forth action, will and reason (Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, [Zondervan, 1986], p. 486). All of these things in every man are deceitful or deceptive according to this text. The word for “sick” in the Hebrew means “beyond cure” or “incurable” (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 60). Man’s heart is so bad Jeremiah felt it was beyond repair. How could all men be described as having this evil of a heart if men are born neutral and many decide not to be wicked as Pelagians claim?
In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul affirms man is born sinful: “1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Here we see every Christian before their salvation was extremely wicked following the course of the world just as the rest of unsaved humanity currently does (v. 3b). Being this wicked makes mankind “children of wrath” (v. 3b). We are told before salvation Christians were “by nature” children of wrath just like unsaved mankind now is. The word for “by nature” is physei and as Frank Thielman notes, “. . .the dative singular of the word, the form Paul uses here, often meant ‘by birth’” (Frank Thielman, Ephesians, eds. Robert Yarborough, Robert H. Stein, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 2010], p. 127). Thus men are by birth children of wrath or as wicked as Paul described. Thielman then offers biblical and extrabiblical examples showing this is the meaning of the Greek word: “See e. g. Gal. 2:15 (. . .Jews by birth); Sophocles, Oed. col. 1295 (. . .younger by birth); Aj. 1301 (. . . a queen by birth); and Herodotus, Hist. 7.134.2 (. . .noble by birth)” (Frank Thielman, Ephesians, eds. Robert Yarborough, Robert H. Stein, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 2010], p. 127 n. 29). Thielman then concludes based on the evidence: “Paul uses the term here, therefore, to emphasize that although unbelieving human beings are culpable for their sinful cravings, desires, and thoughts (vv. 1-3a), they have chosen this path inevitably, in agreement with the state into which they were born (cf. Rom. 5:12; 2 Esd. [4 Esra] 7:62-69, 116-18)” (Frank Thielman, Ephesians, eds. Robert Yarborough, Robert H. Stein, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 2010], p. 127). It must also be pointed out how all men could be described in this sinful way by Paul if all men are born neutral leading to many allegedly choosing to live good as Pelagians claim. Paul’s theology is utterly contrary to Pelagianism.
The universality of sinfulness and unregenerate man’s inability to do good as taught in Scripture is a clear witness against the notion that man is born neutral leading to many choosing to allegedly live morally. In referring to all mankind (Romans 3:9), Paul says “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Paul is speaking about all men apart from Christ and justifying grace as God see’s them. None of them are naturally righteous. If Pelagianism is true and men are born neutral how could this be? There should at least have been a couple thousand in history who were naturally righteous. The fact that not even one person is righteous naturally proves there is something seriously wrong with the human nature. As Jonathan Edwards pondered, “. . .why should man be so continually spoken of as evil, carnal, perverse, deceitful, and desperately wicked, if all men are by nature as perfectly innocent, and free from any propensity to evil?” (Edwards, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin, 188). Paul also refutes the illogic of Pelagianism when he affirms “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This text proves Pelagians are wrong in the logic of their system which says it is possible for men to be righteous because they do not have a fallen nature. The same can be argued based on 1 Kings 8:46 where Solomon said, “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). Lastly, Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). See also Psalms 130:3; Luke 11:13; 1 John 1:8, 10. The evidence unregenerate men do not have the natural ability to do true good or what is pleasing to God is strong. 1 Corinthians 12:3 affirms men can not say “Jesus is Lord” naturally except by the Holy Spirit. On this connection John 15:4-5 says, “4As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 . . .apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Romans 8:7-8 likewise says the mind set on the flesh (which is everyone according to Ephesians 2:1-3 and Romans 3:9-18) cannot please God or submit to His Law. John 6:44 says men can’t come to Christ unless the Father draws them. Because men can not do natural good this refutes sinless perfectionism as a possibility as well as the idea that men are born neutral with natural ability.
Man’s natural universal blindness and hatred toward God are explained by the fact that mankind is born with a corrupt nature. For example, many texts speak of natural man as being blind to God, truth, understanding and Scripture’s meaning (Isaiah 42:7; Luke 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Revelation 3:17). That natural men hate God is evident from Romans 8:7 which says “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). Also Colossians 1:21 describes the unsaved world as “alienated and hostile in mind [to God]” (Colossians 1:21). Men inheriting a sinful nature explains this.
The need to be born again presupposes our first births were defective. There are various texts which speak of the necessity of being born again, re-born or born of God (John 1:13; 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 5:1). Because Scripture insists that men must be born again, what is seen is that there was something wrong with our first birth as it relates to our spiritual state. The doctrinal of original sin explains this by affirming at our first birth we inherited a corrupt nature and must therefore undergo a new birth receiving a new nature (1 Peter 1:4).
Three Dangers Resulting from a Rejection of Original Sin
The first danger accompanying the denial of the doctrine of original sin is those who do so often rely on their emotions or what they think is true when coming to doctrinal conclusions. For example, many Pelagians say something like “my God would not punish mankind for Adam’s sin,” thus reasoning from within on this issue. However, Scripture warns man to not do that! We are not to reason from within when coming to theological conclusions but instead we are told to stick to what God says in His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Because everyone’s mind is tainted with sin this means our reasoning, unless it is subordinate to God’s divine revelation, is untrustworthy and inclined towards false ideas (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:4, 11; 1 Cor. 1:21; 3:18-21; 1 Jn 3:20). In Scripture we’re warned to not lean on our understanding but instead to submit to God’s truths. Proverbs 3:5 says: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Proverbs 28:26 also says “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). As a matter of fact, Holy Scripture reveals that, concerning doctrinal issues, reasoning from within instead of relying on God’s Word results in unbelievers and believers believing false teachings and ideas. Mark 2:6-8 says “6But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?” (Mark 2:6-8). Also, Luke 3:15 says, “15And as the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether he were the Christ” (Luke 3:15). Therefore, it is unbiblical to deny original sin just because it may not sit right with a person’s Western presuppositions regarding fairness. We need to affirm things if they are in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and not ignore or reject them no matter what. Saying “I don’t think God would make man inherit Adam’s guilt and a corrupted nature” is an example of viewing your imperfect mind as the authority you submit to instead of bowing to God’s truth as contained in His perfect, reliable, infallible Word. It is idolatry to operate in that way.
The second danger is that when you deny the first imputation (i.e., the imputation of Adam’s guilt and sin nature to man) many Pelagians (such as Jesse Morrell and Kerrigen Skelly on youtube) end up denying the two other critical imputations (the imputation of the believers’ sin to Christ on the cross and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers). If imputation is falsely understood to be unjust or unfair then the other two end up being discarded as well and you are all the sudden left denying the very gospel message of salvation itself! If you deny believers’ sins are imputed to Christ on the cross (i.e., substitutionary atonement) then you deny the biblical teaching that Christ died for our sins.
The third and final danger in denying man is born with a sinful nature is if you deny this then you deny the absolute need for God’s grace and Christ’s death on the cross for men. If men are born pure and can live righteously due to not having a sin nature, then Christ’s sacrifice for sins is not truly needed for everyone. Jesus didn’t really have to come to earth. You end up taking glory that belongs to Christ as the necessary savior of men, and giving that glory to man who allegedly lives righteously and saves himself by being good enough. This is very dangerous and a denial of the gospel. Although Pelagians today will, in order to confuse their followers, say all men are given grace and those who get saved are indebted to Jesus’ sacrifice received by faith, the fact is if man is born neutral then not all men need grace or Christ to be saved! Many can be saved by being good enough since they are not born corrupt! This is a demonic. Jesus is the savior of all who enter heaven. None enter based on their natural righteousness. His sacrifice is necessary for men to be saved. To hold to a system that ends up saying otherwise is fatal spiritually.