Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why Am I Still Paying for Adam's Sin?

The concept of Original Sin has always disturbed me.  I have long struggled with the notion that I am somehow responsible for Adam's bad choices whether it be from inherited sin or fallen nature or whatever.  I've always been biased toward the notion that people lay hold of the grace of God freely offered to all.

That great practical theologian known as my mother always said, "Son, I don't care what everybody else did.  I want to know what you did."  That is, I'm not accountable for others' behavior:  I'm accountable for my behavior.

So when we were studying Donald Bloesch's "Systematic Theology" at JCM (such a GLORIOUS, WONDERFUL course ... ranking up there with "Life of Jesus" and "Romans" in its truly liberating power), I struggled mightily with this notion.  I was hoping that over time I had somehow outgrown this discomfort but it still rubs me the same wrong way!


  1. Let me share with you the words of Brother Barth on this matter:

    "The Bible gives to this history and to all men in this sense the general title of Adam. ... The name of Adam the transgressor sums up this history as the history of mankind which God has given up, given up to its pride on account of its pride ... and ... this is the explanation of its staggering monotony, this is the reason why there never can be any progress--it continually corresponds to his history. ... It constantly reenacts the little scene in the Garden of Eden. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner."

    "Who is Adam? ... He was in a trivial form what we all are, a man of sin. But he was so as the beginner, and therefore as primus interpares (first among equals). This does not mean that he has bequeathed to us as his heirs so that we have to be as he was. He has not poisoned us or passed on a disease. What we do after him is not done according to an example which irresistibly overthrows us, or an imitation of his act which is ordained for all his successors. No one has to be Adam. We are so freely and on our own responsibility ....We and he are reached by the same Word and judgment of God in the same direct way."

    The power of Karl Barth's imagery--the staggering monotony of human moral failure, the constant reenactment of the scene in Eden, that Adam has not "poisoned us" or "passed on a disease"--offers a refreshing, even startling, alternative to traditional presentations of original sin.

    Personally, I think I committed my original sin in Panama City, Florida sometimes in the 1960's. Although on second thought, I doubt there was very much original about it.

    We are all "in Adam" because we all act like Adam. But more importantly--as pointed out in Paul's letter to the Romans, (5:12-21) and in Barth's commentary on this passage--through God's free gift we are no longer "in Adam," but now we are "in Christ." And the powers of sin and death no longer reign. Instead, grace reigns through the righteous saving action of God in Christ.

    If you want to read more, you can download the full text of Karl Barth's "Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5" here.

  2. Gosh but I do love Karl Barth and gosh but I do love Joseph Howell.

  3. Just a couple of addenda to what Joe already said vis-à-vis Karl Barth and with reference to Romans 5:12...

    In any reading of the Old Testament, the figure of Adam looms large, not so much because of the space devoted to him as to the fact that he is the first described human being. His very name, Adam(= the human, the earth creature, humanity, people), serves both as the proper noun for an individual as well as a collective designation for the whole race. The name Adam can serve to describe not only the male but also collectively to describe both male and female (Ge. 5:2). Jewish theology in the time of Paul acknowledged that Adam was responsible for the first sin and that through this sin death became universal. Paul’s theology about Adam in Romans 5 fits very well the general thought of his Jewish compatriots.

    For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it. (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24)

    For what did it profit Adam that he lived nine hundred and thirty years and transgressed that which he was commanded? Therefore, the multitude of time that he lived did not profit him, but it brought death and cut off the years of those who were born from him. (2 Baruch 17:2-3)

    …Adam sinned and death was decreed against those who were to be born… (2 Baruch 23:4)

    …Adam sinned first and has brought death upon all who were not in his own time… (2 Baruch 54:15)

    And you laid upon him one commandment of yours; but he transgressed it, and immediately you appointed death for him and for his descendants. (4 Ezra 3:7)

    The first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus, the disease became permanent… (4 Ezra 3:21)

    For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? O Adam, what have you done? for though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendents. (4 Ezra 7:117-118)

    Paul certainly understood Adam as the common ancestor of the whole race, both Jew and non-Jew. Further, he agreed that it was through this one man’s transgression that death came to all humans. By death Paul means not only physical death (though he certainly means this as well), but also spiritual estrangement from God. His coupling of the words death and condemnation demonstrates that he is thinking in larger scope than merely physics. Paul connects Adam’s sin with the death for all humans, and he also connects the sins of all individuals who descended from Adam with their consequent deaths. Like the unknown writer of 2 Baruch, Paul can equally say that through his sin Adam brought death upon all (see the above passages from Jewish literature), and at the same time, that each person has become his own Adam, and by sinning brought death upon himself.

    Adam is, therefore, not the cause, except only for himself, but each of us has become our own Adam. (2 Baruch 54:19)

  4. This paradoxical way of expressing things has garnered a tremendous amount of theological controversy, of course. One extreme is represented by the 5th century British monk Pelagius (d. after 418), who argued that Adam’s sin had no lasting consequences for the human race. Protestant liberal theology has tended to follow the lead of Pelagius with its optimistic view of humankind. The polar opposite was Augustine (354-430), who taught that all humans sinned seminally in Adam, and therefore, all humans were guilty of Adam’s sin, depraved and without redeeming merit. Here, sin is genetically transferred at conception. Orthodoxy through the centuries has tended to follow the lead of Augustine, though in modern times there has been a de-emphasis in the attempt to trace this defect to genetics per se. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the belief, expressed by the neo-orthodox theologian Emil Brunner, that while sin is not a hereditary disease, it nevertheless is “a ruling, insuperable power from which the individual person, apart from Jesus Christ, seeks in vain to disentangle himself and which becomes sin in his own acting and willing.” Brunner also can say, “Summing up, we can say this much: Since Adam this power of sin and death is in the world, and everyone is implicated in it by being a sinner himself.” Evangelicals have generally followed the Reformers Luther and Calvin in affirming that, since Adam’s fall, the human will is in bondage and without the capability of enabling men and women to free themselves from their servitude to sin.

    By the way, as an aside to Joe, I thought your original sin was in Jackson when you went to that movie and promptly got into trouble with Bishop Craft!

  5. Are you familiar with answersingenesis.org? In my opinion it's a wonderful website and organization of biblical and educational scholars. In response to Robin's question of original sin please just check out the aforementioned website and enter a search. I believe you'll not be disappointed in the information you find there.
    I realize my post today is almost a year after the last post and I understand my post may not be seen. I just very recently happened to find this blog...a long story for another time.
    I attended JCM '80-82. I, too, have experienced my own journey out beginning around 1986. I suppose you might be relieved to know I was not a theology student and not particularly influenced to journey out as a result of any JCM issues per se. I was aware that personality and theological differences had arisen between our President and Dean of Students although the exact nature of those differences was unknown. I perceived that other staff had left for typical personal and/or professional opportunities. Indeed we were all young and naive perhaps on different levels, in different ways and probably for different reasons, no doubt.
    As for me, now...I have M.A. In Counseling from the University of Alabama-nationally certified rehabilitation counselor and am the wife of a life-long Southern Baptist Minister (D.Min.) who is himself the son of a life-long SBC Minister. We've had our share of 'interesting discussions' (ha) but through them all my husband remains confident, secure and amazingly supportive and loving.
    I place this post today not intending to engage in any historical, philosophical or theological exegesis of scripture with you guys as that's certainly way out of my league, however, I simply couldn't resist mentioning the AIG website and organization. I personally have learned so much and have grown in spiritual service from the great information there. For all the wealth of information and knowledge about the 'good news' somehow we Christians, in all denominations and of all ages, seem a bit lacking in perhaps the most basic tenant of the gospel...the 'bad news'. I truly enjoy reading all of your posts and insights on this blog and learn so much. While I am unable to find words to adequately express the depth of meaning and joy I find from your teachings, I'm confident that intuitively you indeed know. Blessings!