Original Sin Or Original Grace?

It is written:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13  (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14  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. 15  But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16  And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17  For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.). 18  Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20  Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21  so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)

Our Calvinist friends claim that this passage teaches the idea of original sin, i.e., the belief that the guilt of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is passed down to all humanity.

This is not true, for several reasons.

First, the text shows us that the death in consideration is spiritual death. Notice the contrast between the “death” and the “life” of the text (Romans 5:16-17). The “life” being discussed in context is not physical life, but spiritual. In the same way, the “death”of the passage is “spiritual death.”

Second, the passage is clear that each person enters into this spiritual death when they choose to personally sin against God.

Romans 5:14-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.

Third, Paul made it clear that when he was born into the world, he was alive spiritually:

Romans 7:9-I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.

Fourth, this passage was not understood to teach original sin in the church until the time that the Gnostic sects infiltrated Christianity through Augustine (some two or three hundred years after the time of Christ). Indeed, the evidence from the earliest Christians shows that they understood the Scriptures to teach that infants are sinless.

“There is little evidence among the Greek fathers for a notion of inherited guilt or physically transmitted sinfulness. With the apologists, culpability was principally a matter of the individual’s exercise of free will, of personal sins for which Adam’s disobedience was only a prototype (Tatian, Or . 11; Justin, 2 Apol . 7; Dial . 88). Greek writers consistently espoused the sinlessness of infants ( Barn . 6; Aristides, Apol . 15; Clement of Alexandria, Str . 4.25.160; Gregory of Nyssa, Infant . passim; John Chrysostom, Hom . 28 in Mt . 3), thereby precluding original guilt as a basis for infant baptism (Gregory of Nazianzus, Or . 40.17, 28; Theodoret, Haer . 5.18). Irenaeus indicated explicitly that humanity shared in Adam’s actual disobedience, but the upshot was more a mystical solidarity with Adam than a genetic fault that might impair individual freedom ( Haer . 3.18.7). Origen too stressed that individual souls were punished precisely according to their respective sins ( Princ . 2.9.6). This characteristic emphasis on personal responsibility (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech . 4.18–21; John Chrysostom, Hom . 10 in Rom .), coupled with the belief that moral evil had no “natural” status in creation but resulted only from human volition (Athanasius, Gent . 6–7; Gregory of Nyssa, Or. catech . 7), continued to militate against a doctrine of genetically transmitted sin in the Christian east….A crucial scriptural text in debates over original sin was Romans 5:12: “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because ( eph hō ) all men sinned….” The Greek fathers generally deduced from Paul’s statement that humanity inherited not Adam’s actual sin, but his punishment of “death,” be it mortality (John Chrysostom, Hom . 10 in Rom .; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Rom . 5.13–14), bodily corruption (Athanasius, Inc . 4–5; Cyril of Alexandria, Rom . [PG 74.789B]), or subjugation to lustful passions (Methodius, Res . 2.1–4; Gregory of Nyssa, Anim. et res . [PG 46.l48Cff]; Maximus, Thal . prol.). This “death” did not vitiate human nature and volition, but did leave persons frail, and was conducive to the further proliferation of sin (cf. Cyril of Alexandria, Rom . [PG 74.788D–789B]; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Rom . 5.21; Theodoret, Rom . 5.21). Human beings grew up with sin such that it became second nature for them (Gregory of Nyssa, Beat . 6). ….In the west, the Old Latin text of Romans 5.12 rendered the Greek phrase eph hō with in quo, suggesting that “death spread to all men in whom [i.e., Adam] all men sinned.”…Augustine took this to mean that humanity hereditarily bore Adam’s guilt ( Nupt. et concup . 2.5.15). His arch-opponent Pelagius, teaching at Rome in the early fifth century, had flatly denied this interpretation of Romans 5:12 ( Rom . 5.12–19). For Pelagius, guilt was incurred only through individual sins, committed “by the example of Adam’s disobedience” ( exemplo inobedientiae Adae ). Evil or guilt could never be said to dwell naturally in human beings, compelling them to sin; sin was principally a matter of personal actions (in Augustine, Nat. et grat . 19.21; Pecc. orig . 13.14)….Challenged by more aggressive Pelagians like Celestius and Julian of Eclanum, Augustine formulated his mature doctrine of original sin in what was really a debate over the efficacy of divine grace in human salvation….Accused of Manichaeism for attaching original sin to human nature itself ( Nupt. et concup . 2.29.49), Augustine conceded that a certain creaturely dignity remained in that nature but that it had been persuaded into evil by the devil and was diseased ( Nupt. et concup . 2.34.57; cf. Nat. et grat . 3.3)….Augustine’s theory of original sin won the favor of African bishops in councils at Carthage in 416 and 418 and was pivotal for the later development of the doctrine of sin in the Christian west.” (Paul M. Blowers, Original Sin,’ in Everett Ferguson (Editor), Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity, 32764-32813 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added M.T.); New York, New York; Routledge Taylor & Francis Group)

These facts demonstrate clearly the falsity of the Calvinist doctrine of original sin.

However, let me share with you these wonderful insights from Jack Cottrell:

“Romans 5: 12-19 is of critical importance in reference to the doctrine of original sin for two reasons. First, at least since the time of Augustine it has served as the fundamental proof text for original sin. Second, this text is in fact the clearest and best refutation of this doctrine, actually teaching its opposite: all human beings are born not in original sin but in original grace. Thus it is imperative that we here explain the teaching of this passage in detail. We will do this by answering four questions (from Cottrell, Romans, I: 330-339). The first question is this: What is the purpose of this passage in relation to the epistle as a whole? It is best understood as continuing the theme of assurance that began with 5: 1. In 5: 1-11 Paul assures us that we can put all our hope and confidence in one saving act (the cross) of one man (Jesus Christ). In those eleven verses the apostle makes ten references to the saving efficacy of Christ and his cross. In light of this someone might begin to wonder, “Isn’t this expecting an awful lot from just one man?” This is indeed what the gospel asks us to believe—that essentially one act of just one man has the power to save the whole world from all its sins. It calls upon us to “put all our eggs in one basket,” so to speak. But how can this be possible? In order to show that this is not as far-fetched as we might at first think, Paul calls attention to another man whose one act has already been demonstrated to have a universal effect upon the human race, namely, Adam. Then he uses this by way of comparison and contrast to show that the “one righteous act” of the one man, Jesus, will surely be just as efficacious and universal as the “one sinful act” of the one man, Adam—and even “much more” (5: 15,17). His argument moves from the lesser to the greater. If we can accept the fact that the one sin of a mere man has brought sin and death upon the whole world, then we can surely believe that the atoning death of the Son of God has brought salvation upon the whole world. The purpose of the passage, then, is to increase our confidence in the all-sufficiency of the death of Christ. The second question is this: Does this paragraph teach the doctrine of original sin? Do Paul’s references to the consequences of Adam’s sin mean that every child is conceived and born sinful, and born condemned to death and eternal punishment? Is this the main doctrine Paul wants to establish in this passage? Without doubt Paul is here affirming that Adam’s sin did bring serious consequences upon all his offspring. Our understanding of the exact nature of these consequences depends upon how we interpret the terms “death,” “judgment,” “condemnation,” and “made sinners” as used in the text. Many have tried to limit them all to physical death only, thus denying that 5: 12-19 teaches any sort of original sin. Others believe that these terms, both in themselves and as compared with the blessings received from Christ, must refer to something much more serious than physical death by itself. Thus they conclude that this text does indeed teach original sin. The biggest problem with this whole approach is that it implicitly assumes that Paul’s main subject here is Adam’s sin and its consequences, which is not the case. Paul did not write this passage just to teach a doctrine of original sin. Yes, he does declare that Adam’s sin brought all these terrible things upon the human race, but that is not his main point. His main subject is Jesus and his cross, and the universal, all-sufficient consequences of that saving event. His purpose is not to emphasize what happened to the race as the result of Adam’s sin, but to emphasize what has happened to it as the result of Christ’s saving work. The fact is that it really does not matter which view of “original sin” one holds. Did Adam’s sin bring only physical death upon us? Or did it also bring spiritual depravity—partial or total? Did it also make us guilty sinners, condemned to eternal punishment in hell? In the final analysis it does not matter what content anyone feels compelled to pour into the concept of “original sin,” because Paul’s main point is this: whatever the whole human race got (or would have gotten) from Adam has been completely canceled out for the whole human race by the gracious atoning work of Jesus Christ. Make the Adamic legacy as dire as you want: physical death, total depravity, genuine guilt, and condemnation to hell. The whole point of the passage is that Christ’s “one act of righteousness” (5: 18) has completely intercepted, nullified, negated, canceled, and counteracted whatever was destined to be ours because of Adam. All the potential spiritual consequences of Adam’s sin are intercepted even before they can be applied. The only consequence that actually takes effect is physical death, and it is countered with the promise of resurrection to eternal life…“What does this mean? It means that there is no doctrine of original sin taught in 5: 12-19. No child is actually conceived and born under the curse of Adam’s sin. If anything, this passage teaches a doctrine of original grace: every child is born under the grace of God, born saved, “born free” from all spiritual effects of Adam’s sin, and born with the guarantee of ultimate freedom from all physical effects of that sin by means of the resurrection unto glory. God began to apply this “original grace” (sometimes called “prevenient grace”) to the first generation of Adam’s own children, in the same way that the results of the cross were applied retrospectively to believing adults in the pre-Christian era (3: 25).” (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All: Bible Doctrine For Today, 250-253 (Kindle Edition); College Press Printing Company).

Original sin is not taught in the Bible.

Indeed, Romans 5:12-21 “is in fact the clearest and best refutation of this doctrine.”

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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