Re: [asa] Theological Perspectives Without a Literal Adam

From: Janice Matchett <>
Date: Mon Aug 20 2007 - 08:20:51 EDT

At 11:59 PM 8/19/2007, D. F. Siemens, Jr. wrote:

>On Sun, 19 Aug 2007 22:17:29 -0400
><> writes:
>Here is an article by R.C. Sproul in which he describes this
>Augustinian view. He calls it the Realist view, meaning that all
>humans were "really" there in Adam when our Fall into sin was
>committed. He argues against it in favor of the Federal
>~ Phil
>So, if you swat my behind, all the tushes of all my descendants will
>have a red patch. Matthew 16:27 and Romans 2:6 would indicate
>individual responsibility. ~ Dave S.
@ For the bottom line, scroll down. ~ Janice

Down the hallowed and unlighted halls of skepticism and nonbelief
over the years, there have come few complaints as pointed as those
directed against the doctrine of original sin (hereafter DOS).
Skeptic Dennis McKinsey offers the typical bellows in EBE:
The idea that all people are to be punished because of an act of one,
a relatively innocuous act at that, borders on the bizarre and is a
living refutation of any belief in a biblical God of justice and impartiality.
Bound up in such objections are others as well, involving the
<>sins of the fathers. But
beyond that corrective, what of the complaint itself? Are we punished
unfairly for the sin of our ancestor? Before a direct answer is made
a caveat is required. I personally regard such objections as
McKinsey's as guff. Even if the doctrine is such that Adam's guilt is
imputed to us (which I will conclude, it is not), it is hardly as
though any person would not have enough guilt of their own in the
first place. This is like complaining about being sentenced to an
extra week in prison for a crime you don't feel you are responsible
for, when you have 3,748,983 years to serve for your own crimes. But
since the penalty for any sin is the same (eternal judgment), not
even this would matter. Aside from infants and the mentally disabled,
none would have any real right or reason to complain about being
saddled with the guilt of original sin -- and it is doubtful that
such people would be made to pay for any sinful act after the same
fashion, or that they would not have fallen for the same temptation.

And now, to the text itself which is the central hub of the original
sin wheel:
Romans 5:12-19 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world,
and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have
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 them that had not sinned after the similitude of
Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But
not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the
offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift
by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the
judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many
offences unto justification. For if by one man's offence death
reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and
of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus
Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all
men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free
gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one
man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one
shall many be made righteous.
The highlighted phrases show Paul to be repeating the same idea in
different ways -- in good, ancient pedagogical fashion. Now our key
question to answer is, What is the exact cause-effect relationship
between Adam's sin and our current condition? Are we being "punished"
for his sin? If not "punished" then how does it affect us, exactly?
And is it "fair" that we are affected thusly?

For quite some time answers to these questions have been wrestled
with by believers. On one hand, many have proposed (to the immense
and whining dissatisfaction of skeptics) that Adam as a "federal
head" and original representative of humanity, rightfully was able to
impute his guilt for sin upon us. On the other end, it has been
argued that all Paul's means here is that we biologically inherited
Adam's tendency to sin, and so we have a propensity to "do" our own.
The latter is a rough summary of what has been referred to as a the
Pelagian heresy.

Before attempting an analysis, some background is in order. As always
we must read Paul in light of his position as an ancient writer and a
member of an ancient
<>collectivist society.
We must not let our Western and modern individualism (which is
actually a "mutation" from most of the rest of the historical and
modern world!) interpret the passage directly; we must "strain" it
through the filter of collectivist thought first.

Several factors of collectivism have serious relevance to
interpretation of Paul's words. As Malina and Neyrey note [Portraits
of Paul, 156ff]:
    * Within such a society, individuals received their identity in
relation to their social unit. They were "group-embedded" --
individuals share "a virtual identity with the group as a whole and
with its other members."
    * As a consequence, abnormality is not seen as the result of such
things as an abusive childhood; abnormality is the result of being
embedded in an abnormal relationship matrix. All persons are assumed
to have "the same experiences and very similar qualities." No man is
an island, and no man is his own master.
    * The chief group with which one was embedded was family, and
beyond that, one's ancestry. Identity rests "ultimately in the
etiological ancestor of the extended family". Hence Paul makes what
seems much to us of being a Benjamite; hence the stress on Jesus'
Davidic ancestry; hence it is important for Judaeans to refer to
Abraham as their father (John 8:33, 39).
It may now be seen what relevance this orientation may have to the
doctrine of original sin. By Paul's thinking, and by those of his
contemporaries who accepted the Genesis account, we are all
"embedded" in Adam, the etiological ancestor of humanity. We have (at
least) inherited his faults and sins, and even if the "worst case"
scenario (the one the skeptics loathe and complain about) is right,
this is something that it is only we, as individualists, have a
problem with. No one in antiquity would have complained that it was
"not fair" that we were being to any extent punished for Adam's sin,
or referred to it as "bizarre" or "unjust". Indeed it would have been
expected that we would somehow pay for Adam's sin, since whoever was
designated etiological ancestor, that is who we reap from, good or bad.

Therefore any objection against DOS is a matter of being out of tune
with the time. But there does remain the question of how exactly
Adam's sin affects us. Most of the highlighted phrases from Rom.
5:12-19 do not actually establish the bones of the cause-effect
relationship; in fact it is only verse 12 that offers and such connection:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by
sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
This verse is understood to be the keystone for the doctrine of
original sin. The primary issue here is in that final phrase -- "for
that all have sinned" -- and more narrowly, the prepositional word of
the phrase. The "federal head" idea follows from the translation of
Augustine, who read it in terms of in whom all sinned, and is often
paralleled to the passage in Hebrews that says that Levi paid his
tithe through his ancestor Abraham, and justified on the grounds that
one man, Christ, also paid for all of those sins. Other suggested
meanings have been for this reason, because, that, and because of the
one by whom. Now before the McKinseys of the era wag their tongue
about "why isn't it clear," let us make the points that a) any lack
of clarity is more likely our fault for losing it, than for Paul or
God to have not made it clear; b) the Greek phrase itself admits to
many shades of meaning; "lexicographical enquiry comes to the
conclusion that the meaning of the phrase may vary a good deal"
[Dubarle, The Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin, 149n].

So what is the answer? As we have delved more deeply into the
background data, recovering that which we have lost, an answer has
come into view which suggests that a more subtle point is in view,
and that the "federal head" idea needs fine-tuning, and in a way that
happens to render all skeptical complaints irrelevant. Henri Blocher,
in Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle, draws upon the findings of
Malina that Romans 5 is in a rabbinic style and uses legal
terminology [76ff]. From this he concludes that Paul's meaning is
that what Adam did was "make possible the imputation, the judicial
treatment, of human sins." [emphasis added] Note how this fits in
with what Paul goes on to say:
(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 them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's
transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
In other words, Adam's sin, and the resultant punishment of spiritual
and eventually physical death, was a pattern-connection that was
established and set the legal precedent for death to be inflicted as
the penalty for all sins. A loose parallel may be found in the
incidence some years ago of the crime of carjacking. There was no
specific definition of, or remedy for, this crime when it first
became popular. When it became more popular, it was defined out as a
specific crime (where before, prosecutors had to select from and
cobble together charges from existing laws) and given a specific
punishment. The analogy breaks down because there was no previous sin
with the original sin, but the point to be drawn is that Adam's sin
and punishment was an original example as well as a case of original
sin. We pay for, and are punished because of, Adam's sin, only in the
same sense that present-day carjackers experience their specific
punishment because of a precedent set by their criminal forebears,
which engendered a more specific legal reaction.

Of course none of this affects such conclusions as are reached in our
item on total depravity or in any way suggests that things are any
easier for the human race in terms of a judgment basis. It merely
means that one popular skeptical complaint -- itself based on a
popular, but not precisely correct, understanding of this passage --
is of no relevance. We are not paying for, and being punished for,
Adam's sin, in a way that is unfair to us. ~ James Patrick Holding

Originally Sinful? A Look
at the Doctrine of Original Sin

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Received on Mon Aug 20 08:20:57 2007

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