Do you like cake? Do you enjoy eating it? So do I, and I think I shall have a slice.1
Recently, I had responded to a fellow blogger (Haden Clark) in light of his denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Wherever you may fall on this particular issue, this is an important biblical doctrine. We are told in Scripture that God made man upright, but in response to how God made us we have sought out many sinful schemes (Eccl 7.29). If I accurately understand Clark (and I believe I do, but he is free to correct me if I am wrong), he would merely respond to this verse that yes God made man without sin (upright), but using his freedom to will whatsoever he desires man chose to rebel. What Adam did in the garden we all do. Not by necessity. Not because Adam’s trespass is somehow consequentially afforded to us perverting who we are as human beings. Such things as these (that our sin is tied to a twisted fallen nature) Clark seemingly denies.
- He writes: “Human nature entails imperfection (we are not God) and freewill (we are free to make our own choices). This equation (imperfection + freewill + temptation) is all I see to be the necessary for the conclusion that we will all inevitably sin of our own choosing. It is by this freewill decision to rebel against our Creator that lands us all justifiably under God’s wrath. But no, not for a second do I believe that we are born guilty, or guilty by our nature, and I have shown why I don’t believe this in the article already cited” (opening par).
I don’t want to be redundant, so I will attempt to refrain from stating what I have already said in response to the article which Clark refers. However, I do want to add that the syllogism that he offers while valid in form (modus ponens; affirming the antecedent) has a faulty premise in line 2. Namely that he seemingly equates Jesus the Son of God on equal footing with the race of Adam, denying that the “virgin birth brought on by the Holy Spirit” does anything to differentiate us (humanly speaking) from our Lord.
Clark in his new article entitled, “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty” (https://helpmebelieveblog.com/why-romans-512-21-does-not-say-we-are-born-guilty/) hones in on three key verses (Rom 5.12, 18-19) in order to deny a doctrine that he does not want to “be stuck with” because of “the ugly conclusions” this doctrine naturally brings (par 11). I think that it is fair to say that the one possible conclusion that Clark desires to deny and thus goes to great lengths attempting to avoid is what the doctrine of Original Sin draws out…we are not FREE.
If the doctrine is true, and if this is what Paul is saying here in Romans 5, then our natures are corrupted by sin. Which opens up the logical conclusion that we are not truly free in an autonomous sense. That is to say, free to will good or evil without any internal mechanism that pushes in a direction that we do not want to go. Clark has already denied this conclusion “wholesale” (par 1) before looking at these verses in Romans.
To be fair Clark does seem to suggest that “we are prone to sin,” but he is speaking externally since there is no necessary internal pressure being applied to the individual in question who does sin. If the choice of good or bad is presented before us, we can deem what we desire—good or bad. In effect, according to Clark’s worldview we are neutral towards righteousness or unrighteousness, since our “human nature” is essentially free. Not even Erasmus would dare step into those murky waters.
Philosophically and experientially I can see why Clark would draw such conclusions. I can honestly sympathize, as there was a time in my past when I believed such things, but let’s be honest here the Bible does not paint humanity in such flowery overtones. (But…I get ahead of myself.)
What I want to do is look at Romans 5:12 and then vv. 18-19 as Clark has done in an “honest exegetical way” (par 4). What we want to avoid when studying biblical texts is doing “snapshot exegesis.” That is taking a few verses and treating them as if they stand alone, without bearing in mind the overall context/flow-of-thought. Just for clarity, I am not accusing Clark of necessarily doing this, but I want to be clear it is something I want to avoid.
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”2
What is this verse saying? Clark says, “The verse is clear that the curse of Adam was death. Death entered the world through Adam” (par 4). A little later he says the same thing, “Whereas, in verse 12 “death” entered through Adam and spread to all…” (par 5).
Please reread Rom 5:12 and notice that Paul says that it is “sin” that entered through Adam. To be sure “death” does find its entrance in the garden, but “death” is the consequence of sin; sin on the other hand is the antecedent (the cause). Whatever v. 12 says, it most assuredly says Adam ushered in sin, and as Paul points out just a couple verses later “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19).
Now I agree with Clark when he writes, “…I think Adam’s sin clearly had an effect on not only us, but all of creation” (final par). I would imagine that Clark draws this conclusion from what God decreed in Gen 3:14-19 and Rom 8:19-23, and if so I congratulate him but there are others places in Scripture that likewise reveal the fallen condition creation in a whole has been left in since Adam’s rebellion. I fail to see the logical consistency in this, how he can accept the one and deny the other, but I will leave him to muddle over such issues.
One of the things that I teach my students in studying their Bible’s is to pay attention to the grammar of the text. You do not have to know Greek (although it is admittedly better if you do) in order to notice transitional words or phrases, emphasis placed here or there.
Verse 12 starts with “Therefore”3 and so the reader is immediately keyed off to the fact that this looks back to what was written earlier. The “therefore” is there “because of” something else. Well, what is it?
What conclusion is Paul driving at from what he has said before?
Verses 1-3 speak of our rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” (v.2), “since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a) and we have by this act of justification gained “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1b). Which, in turns enables us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3a) that come in this life as a disciple of Jesus. Furthermore, Paul explains that as Christians our “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5).
When did this transaction take place? What is the root cause of our rejoicing and hope, and what was our condition beforehand? Paul tells us that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6; italics added). In fact, Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8; italics added). And, not just sinners but when “we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5.10a; italics added).
So, let’s get this straight. Paul says we were weak and ungodly, sinners and enemies of God before being justified in Christ receiving the Holy Spirit. For this reason, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). That is to say, we were estranged from God—far from Him—before being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
And you say, “So what, what’s the point?” That starting in verse 12 Paul begins to do a compare and contrast between the work of Christ (a work of God), and the work of Adam (a work of man). In identifying this work, he says the one is not like the other (vv. 15, 16, 17). The consequences are markedly different, although the similarities are found in two representative heads: Adam or Jesus. Up until the 5th chapter of Romans Paul has been making a careful category distinction between two different people groups (and no I’m not speaking about Jew and Gentile) those who are in Christ and those who are in Adam.
Starting in chapter 1 Paul thanks God and praises the Romans for their faith, desiring to share blessing with them if only he could get to them. He rests secured in and offers praise for the gospel of Jesus Christ which he identifies as the power of God (Rom 1.16). And then, for the remainder of chapter 1 all the way through the majority of chapter 3 he offers scathing remarks against those who are in Adam. It makes no difference if they are Jew or Gentile, if they have the Law-Word of God or not, the conclusion is the same: “None [are] righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3.10-12). Like I said earlier no flowery overtones.
The only difference, the only hope is found in “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3.22). Man, in his natural state possess nothing to boast about or in. The fourth chapter keeps up this necessary distinction between to people groups—the justified and unjustified—where Abraham is separated as markedly different than fallen man for he took God at His word, when all he was receiving were promises that had not yet been answered (cf. Rom 4.18-22).
Paul explains that “the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone, but for our also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4.24-25). Not everyone is a true child of Abraham, but only those who have the faith of Abraham (Rom 4.16).
What Paul has been arguing for is a category of two different types of people. This is the key to understanding the discussion to Romans 5:12-21, for Paul is comparing and contrasting two different categories of people under to different representative heads: Adam or Christ. As you will see in a moment this is important to finding your way through the weeds that Clark is unfortunately lost in.
Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For 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.”
In looking at these verses (Rom 5.18-19) Clark readily admits that “on the surface these verses seem to buttress” the claim that we are “by nature guilty” (par 8). Now he denies this conclusion, and we shall see why here in a moment, but I do want the reader to understand the phrase “the many” does mean all. So “all men” were rightly condemned by Adam’s sin, just as “all men” are rightly justified by Jesus obedience; “all men” were made sinners because of Adam, just as “all men” are made righteous because of Jesus.
I think what Clark states regarding these verses is actually very helpful. He writes, “The important thing to note (and this really is the main point!) is that the relationship between part a and part b of both verses are univocal, symmetric…what’s true of part a must be true of part b in both verses” (par 12; italics in original). He is right. However, his conclusion is wrong because he fails to follow Paul’s line of thought throughout the Roman document separating the two distinct categories of people.
Adam represents all of mankind. We are all in Adam, we are all descended from him. I think on this Bible-believing Christians can agree.
Paul says that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5.14). That is to say Adam resembled (Gr. tupos) the one who came after him. We know that this individual is the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3.15) promised in the beginning, and the “seed of Abraham” (Gen 12.7; 13.15-16; 15.5, etc.; cf. Gal 3.16). In light of the “type to come” who Paul calls in another place “the last Adam” (1Cor 15.45), his “free gift is not like the trespass” (Rom 5.15a; emphasis added) “and the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom 5.16; emphasis added).
In other words, what Adam’s action brought in, Jesus’ action brought with it something else entirely. Because of Adam’s sin “death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5.17a); but, “through the one man Jesus Christ…the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life” (Rom 18b; reordered for clarity).
Knowing these things to be true, how then should we read vv.18-19?
Through or “in Adam” all men receive condemnation, but through or “in Jesus Christ” all men receive justification (v. 18). In Adam “the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19a), but in Christ “the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.19b). Clark assumes that the only way to understand this is to believe in universal justification for all people, which he says “the Gospels, and New Testament in total” (par 12) deny. I agree, and would only add that the entire teaching of Scripture (Old and New) flatly deny any form of universal justification, but that is not what Paul is arguing for. He is effectively arguing and the remainder of his Roman epistle continues this line of thought there is a category distinction between the two types of people: those in Adam and those in Christ. All those in Adam are rightly condemned (v.18) as sinners, just as all of those in Christ are rightly justified.
Clark writes, “Trying to say that Jesus’ atoning death is not universal, but Adam’s guilt is, is a fallacy” (par 12). Again, depends on whether or not you are properly defining your categories making distinctions where necessary. Words have various semantic ranges, and their meaning is definable by context only.
On the one hand Jesus’ atoning death is not universal in that all people are not saved, but on the other hand Jesus’ atoning death is universal in application to those who believe in Him. All of those individuals (universal in application, not content of the entire human race) who come to Jesus, he promises to never drive away (John 6.37). We are all born in Adam, but we are not all born in Jesus. In order to be born in the first we come by way of the flesh, but in order to be born in the second we come by way of the Spirit (John 3).
This is important. Both works of Adam and Jesus were completed in the natural world, but both men’s actions had spiritual ramifications (results) tied directly to them. We should note that Paul has no problems tying the natural implication of Adam’s sin (i.e. we all die) with the spiritual fruition garnered by it (i.e. we are all sinners). In Adam, we receive condemnation, but in Christ we receive justification—both are spiritual judgments by God.
Clark you write, “I’m committed to letting my theology be informed by the text and not the other way around” (par 13), and yet you are adamant that “we possess a human nature which is imperfect and free to chose as we wish” (final par). You also seem to deny the concept of being “spiritually dead” (you use the phrase “spiritual death”), because you do not see it “described in the Fall narrative whatsoever…nor does any other Old Testament prophet describe the curse of the Fall as a spiritual death” (par 5).
May I suggest to you that the reason you fail to see anything to the contrary of your position is because you are so entrenched in the idea that we must be “free to choose” whatsoever we wish? To be fair the term “freewill” is nowhere plainly laid out in Scripture either, but you most assuredly believe it. Now I figure you are smart enough to realize that this does not actually prove anything, since it is an argument of silence, and such reasoning could be used against any number of orthodox Christian teachings.
My point, however, is that your theological/philosophical commitments do have a direct bearing on what you see or do not see in Scripture. The Bible does not paint us in the optimistic light that you seem to assume.
Paul is quite clear that before we are redeemed by Christ we are enslaved to sin (cf. Rom 6.6). Slaves are by nature not free, are they? David, who was a prophet of God did say that he “was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51.5; cf. Job 14.4; 15.14-16). Obviously, Paul agreed for he says that we are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1) because we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3). Jeremiah, another prophet states categorically that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer 17.9), no doubt this is what the Lord alluded to when he said that from our hearts comes “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Matt 5.19-20a).
Why are all men sinners? Why does the Bible speak with such pejoratives describing the human condition, if what you say is true that we are essentially good? You admit that Adam’s ushering in sin did something, but when the language is before you describing what that something is, you categorically deny it? Could you please turn me to where you learned from Scripture that man is this angelic like creature (able to will the good or the bad) that you presuppose so that I might learn these things for myself?
1 By the way Clark, I loved the sarcasm in your statement regarding having your cake and eating it to. I had a few good-natured laughs in light of it. Of course, it was that biting mockery that led me to want to respond yet again.
2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
3 Various English versions translate the phrase (dia houtos) “So then” (NET), “Because of this” (LEB), “Wherefore” (Webster), “Just as” (ISV) with the idea of comparing what came before. It should be noted that much of what Paul discusses in Romans 5:12-21 also has a direct bearing on what follows after in the subsequent chapters of the letter. In particular a compare and contrast between being a slave to sin or to righteousness (the one by natural means, the other spiritual); as well as, the internal struggle with a dual nature dueling within the heart of the redeemed (cf. Rom 7), etc.