I decided I’d post a few quick thoughts on these items before the post on what happens to babies and other innocents. I promise, this is the last post on this part of the topic, unless I get an answer to its final sentence.
I’m still getting replies that amount to no more than a defense of the traditional Romans 5:12 view without answering my question: show me how you exempt Jesus from the guilt of Adam. Without that, the traditional view is worthless and, theologically aberrant when it comes to Christology. But, there was a good item for discussion: this thing we call the sin nature. I think it gets filed in the “things Christians all say they believe in but leave unexamined” file. I’ll be getting into this topic in depth at some point in the future, so I’ll just set the table for now.
The traditional view of the sin nature goes hand-in-glove with the traditional view of Romans 5:12. “Sin nature” = “the Adamic guilt we are all born with, and so we are born in a guilty condition before God, without ever having sinned.” Let’s look at this.
If you’re following, you know my first response is, “That’s nice–did Jesus have a sin nature?” You can’t say “no” and retain the traditional view of Romans 5:12. Again, Jesus is 100% man, and he is explicitly called a son of Adam. Avoiding these facts isn’t a response.
Where is the “sin nature” in Scripture? Here’s where things get interesting. People usually refer to a verse like Ephesians 2:1-3, where Paul writes:
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins2 in 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-3 among 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. (ESV)
It’s the “by nature children of wrath” part that the traditional view points to in defense of their view of Romans 5:12 and an original sin nature-the idea that we are condemned at the very moment of our existence by Adam’s guilt, transferred to us by God. Is that really what these verses SAY? It’s certainly the way they’ve been interpreted. Well, it’s not very complicated if you just look at the TEXT, rather than get the citation from a theology book.
Verse 1 says explicitly, “YOU were dead in the trespasses and sins…” In other words, your spiritual deadness is the result of YOUR sins and trespasses (I’m just repeating the text, look it up). And, of course, these are trespasses and sins the Ephesians actually COMMITTED in real time. The verse does NOT say, “you were dead in the trespass and sin of Adam.” In fact, the idea of INHERITED GUILT is nowhere in the passage. We have to put it there or read the text through that preconceived filter to get that. It just isn’t there.
Verse two continues the idea. “YOU were dead in your trespasses and sins IN WHICH YOU ONCE WALKED…” These are real sins that have been committed by YOU, not a sin committed by someone else (like Adam). Sins committed in real time are not a “condition” you were born with before you committed those sins. The text very plainly says we were dead in our own trespasses and sins. Adam isn’t in the text. Adam’s guilt isn’t in the text. The only condition in the text is the condition we’re in (“dead”). Now, the “spiritual death” view comes up. As I have detailed in the past, “spiritually dead” to someone who hold the traditional Romans 5:12 view means “condemned by Adam’s guilt before we are born,” or perhaps some notion of Adam’s “separateness” from God after being driven from Eden. As a sidebar: Isn’t it curious how Adam is driven from the garden (Gen 3:24) AFTER God makes atonement for them (Gen 3:21)? His separation was a punishment, it was not a spiritual condition, else we have someone who was atoned for still “spiritually dead” (separated from God). Just a thought there about how Genesis 3 is used (poorly, in my mind). Now, aside from the traditionalist idea, we can say that human beings are alienated from God. But they are alienated not because of Adam’s sin, but because of their own. They are under sentence of death if they do not believe in Christ-that is, they will suffer what Scripture calls “the second death”-an eternity under punishment outside of God’s presence (or annihilation). None of that has anything to do with Adamic guilt according to Ephesians 2 (or Romans 5:12). We can get there without the traditional view of Romans 5:12. (We just did).
Now we get to verse 3. Note that verses 1 and 2 lead up to verse 3 (I know that sounds a bit insulting). Note also that verses 1 and 2 therefore DEFINE what is meant in verse 3. Note thirdly that the words Adam, garden, Eve, are not in verse 3. Here is verse 3: “among 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.” What does it mean to be “by nature children of wrath”? What prompts Paul to label us this way? Is it Adam’s guilt? No-he’s already told us-it’s OUR trespasses and sins, behavior that was not godly, but which fell in line with the rest of the lost world, and with the spiritual enemies of God. These trespasses and sins were the result of evil desires in “our body and mind.” OUR body and mind, not Adam’s. In verse 3, then the “nature” Paul speaks about involves our sinning-our inability to not sin, as I have said many times before on this topic. Further, ANY creature who is not God himself will have the inner propensity to sin-to act in defiance of the will of the Creator. Even angels are witness to this. We are born not with Adam’s guilt, but as inevitable and invariable sinners. We WILL sin after we are born into this world. We cannot do other, if allowed to live. That is our curse, condition, and “nature” that condemns us. It isn’t Adam’s fault, and it isn’t God’s fault for transferring the guilt of another to us. It’s OUR fault.
An interesting side note. The Greek word for “nature” in Ephesians 2:3 is phusis. If you search for the phrase “sin nature” in your English Bible, you may find it (not in the ESV). Typically, though, it is a theologically driven translation of Greek that says “old man” (as opposed to the “new man” Paul talks about). The word phusis does not occur in any verse with the word “sin” in the NT (hamartano or its noun counterparts). Likewise the Greek word most often translated “guilt” does not appear with the hamartano or its noun counterparts.1 The *real* biblical teaching about a sin “nature” involves at least two things: our “non God” nature described above (which has nothing to do with Adamic guilt transferred to us-we’ll sin without Adam just fine, thank you) and the “flesh” we live in (for Christians, that part of the human that is yet unredeemed). We’ll get to that topic at some point.
Lastly, if the traditionalist on Romans 5:12 is likewise trapped to get Jesus off the hook of a sin nature in Ephesians 2:1-3, what about my view? I’ve explained in earlier posts how Jesus DOES inherit the affect of what Adam did, in terms of mortality. Jesus also inherited a human nature that, left to itself, would sin. But Jesus’ human nature wasn’t left to itself. Ours is, because that is all we are: humans. Jesus was also 100% God.
Let’s think of this analogically before we go any further. As Christians, we are essentially inferior versions of the incarnate Christ. We have the Spirit within us, but our bodies are mortal – the “flesh” as Paul calls it, actively seeking the its natural desires in less-than-holy ways. We are conflicted since we have no divine immaterial nature in us-just the deposit (Paul’s term) of the Spirit) and, as Peter says, our fleshly desires are at war with that internal Spirit. Jesus was not conflicted. He had, as Paul tells us, “the fullness of the Godhead” inside his human body, which = full deity. He was the incarnated GOD. Nothing is superior in power or force to GOD, and so his deity overwhelmed any “less than holy” force exerted by his true human flesh. He was perfectly responsive to his deity. We are anything but perfectly responsive to the Spirit while in our flesh. But when the “internal us” (the “new creation” of 2 Cor 5:17) is finally married to our redeemed, transformed, glorified BODY, we will be whole. Still not full deity in flesh, but “like him” as sons of God, as John wrote in I John. Jesus gets off the hook in my view because he is God. I don’t need to exempt him from Romans 5:12.
But cannot the traditionalist argue the same? Cannot the traditionalist argue that Jesus was exempt from Adam’s guilt just because he’s God? No, he or she cannot. Here’s why.
My view has the power of deity overcoming any impulse to sin that comes from our humanness (“all those who are human will sin, and when they do, they become guilty before God”). What needs to be defeated is the impulse of the flesh. That isn’t the problem with the traditional view. The traditional view transfers the guilt of Adam to every human, thereby placing them in a CATEGORY (“those guilty before God because they are human”). They do nothing to be put into that category except exist. Even if incarnated-deity-Jesus never sinned (and he didn’t), in the traditional view, he’d still be in that CATEGORY because he’s human. In my view, one’s own sins produce guilt before God. In the traditional view, existing as a human means you’re guilty before God. Jesus existed. He was human. He is therefore guilty (and cannot be anything but guilty) before God.
Still waiting for any other view to get Jesus off the hook.
- Please note this was a brief search for the sake of illustration. I haven’t done a search for every conceivable word for sin or guilt in their semantic categories. I think the results will be the same if I did. At any rate, the terms I searched for are the words that show up in the verses offered in defense of the traditional understanding of Romans 5:12. ↩