I’ve decided to respond to replies first before plowing ahead with the next installment of Romans 5:12. What follows are comments drawn from replies (COMM) and my response (MSH) or clarification. I’m only sticking to the germane material. That is, a lot of the comment I’m referencing misunderstands the idea of contingent immortality (it skips the contingency part), and it’s a peripheral issue anyway. I’ll bring it up again in the subsequent post on “where do babies go,” so I can pick up those parts of the reply then. I want to camp on the real subject at hand here – the idea of Adam’s guilt being transmitted to humanity.

Let me reiterate as I begin that my position includes most of the traditional ideas, though with one important difference. I believe that humanity’s need for grace stems from Adam’s fall. What happened at the Fall did indeed effect every human being, rendering every human in need of a Savior, who is Christ. In other words, I affirm that Adam’s sin put all humankind in the position where they could only share eternity with the true God by virtue of a redemptive act on the part of the true God. This act was, of course, the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent bodily resurrection. You may wonder at this point how that relates to what I’ve said about those who are unable to believe (babies, aborted, a fetus, the fertilized egg, the severely retarded, the infant, etc.) and who, in my view, have not incurred guilt before God. That will be the subject of a subsequent post. Where I differ-and what I’m asking readers to think about-is JUST HOW was all humanity affected so that all need a Savior? I got us into the discussion by noting some serious problems with the traditional view-namely, how does Jesus, as a full son of Adam, get away with not inheriting Adam’s guilt? I don’t believe that Adam’s fall affected all humanity by transmitting Adam’s guilt to all humans. I believe Adam’s fall affected all humanity by depriving all humans forever more of the conditions under which they could abide with God in a state of non-sinfulness. Adam and Eve were the only humans to ever live in that condition. After the Fall humans were destined to die, and not only that, they were “on their own” when it came to living in righteousness, a pre-condition for living with God. Adam and Eve met that condition before the fall; they did not need redemption until they sinned. They would live on indefinitely at God’s pleasure. His presence maintained this state, and they were in his presence. I think I would be on safe ground in saying that evangelical theologians across the board, rightly wanting God to get credit for Adam and Eve’s sinless state before the Fall, chalk it up (at least in part) to God’s superintending influence and presence in Eden. God was the chief reason they remained in pre-fall sinlessness. Once humans were removed from that, forget it. After the fall, human beings were left to their own efforts and in a hostile environment-the earth outside Eden. They would inevitably and invariably fail and be unable to save themselves.

Now, on to the comments:

COMM: First, you are saying that babies are born innocent…this is explicitly against Scripture. There is NONE righteous…not even the infant.

MSH: Correct, I am saying babies are born with no moral guilt before God. If they are born, and if they live, they will inevitably and invariably sin and incur moral guilt before God. It is incorrect that this is unscriptural. The ONLY argument from Scripture that babies are born with moral guilt before God is the traditional view of Romans 5:12. When Paul (drawing on Ecclesiastes) says that there are none righteous, he is of course correct. But his point is not “all are under moral guilt.” I would approach Romans 3 in its context. First, Paul is NOT targeting a fetus or zygote; he is targeting all adult Jews and Gentiles to make his point that all of them are under sin. And I would agree. No one “cannot not sin.” How can I be sure this is the way to take Paul here? Let me quote Paul by adding some verses that the responder omitted after citing Romans 3:11: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Note that in verse 12 Paul defines and clarifies verse 11. He is targeting all those who “have turned aside” (a term that denotes rebellion and disobedience), and who “have become worthless” (they had to DO something – i.e., COMMIT A SIN to get into that condition). Regarding the “no one does good,” it is a bit peripheral, but relevant. Augustine had the odd notion that an unbeliever could never ever please God since he/she was an unbeliever. Nothing an unbeliever could do would please God. I think this is silly, since the OT has examples where pagans do God’s will (e.g., Cyrus) – so, was God not happy with his will being done? Makes no sense. At any rate, I bring this up to get to Paul’s point in the phrasing. He isn’t saying “no one ever does anything good.” That isn’t true, and all we need to discuss there is the concept of common grace and examples like that of Cyrus above who fulfilled God’s will as He wanted it done. Rather, Paul’s point is that no one ALWAYS does good – i.e., no one is perfect (and thus deserving of salvation). No one has the righteousness needed to go to heaven. No one gets eternal life by merit, period.

The responder omitted other verses that make the same point: Paul is targeting those who COMMIT SINS OR ACTS OF EVIL: (v. 13 – “they use their tongues to deceive”; v. 14 – “their mouth is full of curses and bitterness”; v. 15 – “their feet are swift to shed blood”), etc. Notice what he doesn’t say: “they have descended from Adam and his guilt is transferred to them.”

If anyone can show me how the fertilized egg of the human conceptus fits these descriptions (DOING evil and COMMITTING sins), then I’ll change my view.

COMM: “You simply cannot escape the Pelagian results of this unless you have not pondered this very hard by reading some of those divines that have gone before you and thought on this harder than you.”

MSH: So now the issue is that I’m not quoting a divinity author or theologian? And how would anyone know how much I’ve though about this? Those sorts of objections are obviously not important. The more important is the Pelagian charge. Let me quote a “divine” for those who may not be familiar with Pelagianism:

The “deepest cleft” separating people calling themselves Christians, Warfield claimed, is that which distinguishes the “naturalistic” conception of salvation held by some from the “supernaturalistic” conception held by others.?? The naturalistic vision, which he designates “autosoterism” (“self-salvation”) and which the church has designated “Pelagianism,” after Pelagius, a late-fourth/early-fifth-century British monk, who proposed it, contends that men can save themselves, that is to say, that their native powers are such that men are capable of doing everything that God requires of them for salvation.1

I think the last post was clear on this, as is the above prefatory commentary to this post. But let me repeat it again threefold: no one saves themselves; no one merits salvation in ANY way; no one gets to heaven apart from the work of Christ. This is the antithesis of Pelagianism! Here the commenter has jumped the gun, presuming what I’ll say in the next post. The reply is incorrect. Stay tuned on that part.

COMM: “Of course, it is infants who do not sin willfully like Adam-there sin and guilt before God is inherited. Paul says that death still reigns over them because they are still sinners and need Christ.”

MSH: I *think* the commenter here presumes that “those who don’t sin like Adam” = babies (and everyone else in my caveat category). Let me quote Paul again in Romans 5:14 (boldfacing mine): “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not ?like the transgression of Adam, ?who was a type of ?the one who was to come.” Note that while Paul says these “others” who didn’t sin like Adam did nevertheless SIN. The word here (“sinning”) is an accusative aorist participle of hamartano, the normal verb for “to sin.” So Paul’s point is NOT that “Adam sinned a certain way” and others “inherited Adam’s guilt.” The text defies this interpretation. Paul says “Adam sinned a certain way” and “others SINNED some other way.” Again, show me how the aborted fetus commits a sin, and I’ll change my view. I’m just sticking with the text for what it says, and not inserting anything it doesn’t say.

COMM: “Paul says by ONE MAN’S DISOBEDIENCE many were made SINNERS (vs. 19). How can Adam’s sin make other people sinners?”

MSH: Simple. See the above prefatory remarks. Adam’s sin placed humanity outside the conditions that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden. As I noted above, God’s superintending influence and presence in Eden was the primary agent or force that kept Adam and Eve sinless. Once humans were removed from that, they had no hope of not sinning (and notice in Genesis 3 that Eve is not in the presence of God when she is deceived, and Adam is also not with God when he sins; the writer is making a point). So how did Adam’s sin cause others to sin? That’s how.

COMM: “I am pondering, what is the difference between innocence and righteousness. You claim that babies are born innocent, but you deny that they are righteous? What is an unrighteous innocence? Was Adam righteously innocent or unrighteously innocent?”

MSH: This is a good question. I’ll likely hit on it in the next post, but a few thoughts here. I believe the responder is using “innocent” as an equation to my “not morally guilty,” so I’ll go with innocent under that assumption. By “innocent” I do mean that the baby, fetus, etc. has not committed any sin, and so is not morally guilty before God. They have committed no violation worthy of the wrath of God. So, does this = “righteous”? Not exactly. Since in my next post I will explain the baby issue in light of this weird category Scripture has called “the second death” (which those without Christ suffer), it isn’t an exact equation. I will be arguing that innocents go to heaven because they are raised with Christ (as is everyone) at the last day. The innocents are redeemed by the resurrection, and so it is wholly of Christ. Innocents really don’t go to heaven because they are righteous; they go there because Jesus rose from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection from the dead. Those who sinned (not in the innocent category), had to be “made righteous” through faith in Christ. That is why they go to heaven when they are raised (salvation = transfer of Christ’s righteous for their sin + resurrection; TWO elements here, as opposed to the ONE for the innocent; only Christ has the righteousness for salvation, but innocents don’t need the transaction – they just rise with Christ, and so he is the lone source of their salvation AND the salvation of those that sin; it is ALL of Christ). Those who sinned and were not made righteous suffer a SECOND death (see. Rev.20:14; 21:8).

COMM: “Do you believe that these innocent babies are born with a sin nature?”

MSH: no

COMM: “If yes, then how can you have a sin nature without being a sinner?”

MSH: question is irrelevant because of my no answer.

COMM: “If not, then do you have to sin to be a sinner? Or do you merely have to BE sin?”

MSH: yes, you have to sin to be a sinner, and everyone will who is allowed to live.

COMM: “This is my point. If we take Romans 3:23 as a definition of a sinner-someone who falls short of the glory of God-then you do not have to sin to be a sinner-you merely have to miss the mark of God’s glory.”

MSH: This is convoluted logic that presumes what it is seeking to prove. Just what IS the glory of God in this verse? I’d say (and bring a boatload of theologians with me) that it refers to the moral perfection of God; that is, positive and negative. God is without sin and he is completely righteous. Humans need to meet BOTH conditions to “measure up” and be with God in heaven. Innocents do not have sin; they also will not “be like Christ” in righteousness until they are resurrected. They fall short. Sinners of course fall short in that they are not innocent. And thought they have had Christ’s righteousness transferred to them in salvation, we both/all know that this is an “already/not yet” thing. Sinners will only be truly righteous (“like HIM”) upon glorification (just like the innocent). Either way all humans fall short of the perfection of God and are only in God’s eternal family by his grace. And Christ is the lone mechanism for all this.

[Don’t you just love this?! Everywhere you look it’s Jesus.]

COMM: “Now a bone to pick. Regarding Augustine’s seminal headship view, Dr. Heiser, you contend that Persons cannot literally exist pre-birth within their ancestors as it defies logic, philosophy and natural science. All well and good, but what to make of Hebrews 7:8-10?”

MSH: Good question. And a frequent response.

COMM: “Here the author seems to be revealing under inspiration that Levi indeed existed in the loins of his ancestor Abraham and thus gave a tithe to Melchizedek (while in Abraham) thus proving that Melchizekek’s priesthood is of a higher order than the Levitical one. Is this just figurative? (And if it is, I don’t see how this could then be used as a strong argument by the author to render that priesthood obsolete and thus exalt Christ’s.) Could Augustine’s view be upheld in light of this scripture? (I’ve also seen this same scripture be used to defend the Federal Headship view that Abraham stood as the father of the Hebrew line so Levi was represented. What do you make of these verses?

MSH: This hearkens back to our inspiration discussion – the stuff about how biblical writers can make inerrant theological points even thought using flawed, pre-scientific thinking. This is a classic example. We need to start with showing the pre(un)-scientific nature of the writers for this one. And it’s easy. Just THINK about these ideas and verses below – we read right over them all the time and never think about what we’re reading.

We know, as moderns, that children are actually made as the result of the union of a male’s sperm + the female egg. That is, the child is NOT “whole” (it’s not the child) inside the male. No whole biological human being IS EVER OR HAS EVER BEEN IN THE MALE FATHER. My children were never “in” me. When my wife and I had sex, my sperm fertilized an egg inside her and our children were conceived. At that point, a person was inside my wife (and, again, a whole person can NEVER be inside a man). This is biology 101. All that is in the male is sperm. This is absolute, invariable scientific fact. We prove it every time there is an in vitro fertilization procedure. It’s absolute truth. And yet the biblical writers had no clue of it (and how could they). The biblical writers had the common ancient view that a man deposited a child into a woman’s womb, where it would grow to adulthood. Just like planting a seed (this is part of the biblical garden imagery for sex, by the way; it’s also the reason for the need for offerings when blood or semen was lost – it has to do with restoring “loss of life”). This is why in both Greek and Hebrew the word for “seed” in each language describes offspring and plant seeds. They had no idea of the biology behind it all. The reason more modern cultures and languages use “seed” the same way is twofold: (1) we inherit it from the Bible, and (2) biological science didn’t discover how kids were really made until the modern period.

Here are some examples. The OT uses zera` (with ayin – my fonts aren’t going to work) for plant seeds (Gen 1:12; Gen 47:19), offspring (Gen 3:15; Gen 7:3; Gen 9:9), and semen (Gen 38:9; Lev. 15:16-18).

But, to the point. Even if you don’t want to believe that the biblical writers didn’t know about the correct biology, the statement of Hebrews 7:8-10 is scientifically untrue, and even impossible according to our God-given biology. WHOLE human beings (persons) are NEVER in a single parent until AFTER CONCEPTION OCCURS. That is how God made us. Taking Hebrews 7:8-10 the way Augustine would want it (and he didn’t know the biology either, so we’ll give him a pass) is absolutely disallowed by the truth of creation.

So what does Hebrews 7:8-10 mean? I think the Word Biblical Commentary has a nice summation (I’ve omitted the Greek letters because WordPress garbles them and substituted crude transliteration – boldfacing mine):

The basis of Melchizedek’s superiority to the Levitical priests in this second contrast is the “eternity” of Melchizedek predicated in v 3b, which has in view the perpetuation of his priestly office. The importance of this aspect of the argument will become clear in vv 15-16, where it is applied to the messianic priest. So far as the record of Scripture is concerned, Melchizedek has no end of life and his unique priesthood has no successor. But what is true of Melchizedek in a limited and literary sense is true absolutely of the one who serves his people as high priest in the presence of God (F. F. Bruce, 141-42).

9-10 The climax of the argument is reached in v 9 and qualified in v 10. It specifies the implication of the first contrast between Melchizedek and the Levitical priests (vv 5-6a) by deducing the deeper significance of the fact that Abraham allotted a tithe to Melchizedek (Cockerill, Melchizedek Christology, 23-24, 78). The literary phrase hos epos eipen, “one might almost say,” was frequently used when a writer broke off the train of his thought and, not wishing to treat his theme more fully, would summarize as succinctly as possible what he had to say. Here it indicates the writer clearly recognized his statement that Levi had paid a tithe to Melchizedek was not literally true, because at the moment in primal history when Abraham met Melchizedek Levi was as yet unborn. Nevertheless, the statement that Levi had himself paid the tithe was true in an important sense, indicated by the expression di’ Abraam, “through Abraham,” which immediately follows. The corporate solidarity that bound Israel to the patriarch implied that Levi was fully represented in Abraham’s action. Therefore, Levi’s status relative to Melchizedek was affected by Abraham’s relationship to that personage. Consequently, the superiority of Melchizedek over the Levitical priesthood is not merely theoretical but has a basis in history (cf. Riggenbach, 190-91; Williamson, Philo, 107-9; Cockerill, Melchizedek Christology, 78-80).

The assertion in v 9 is justified and explained in v 10, as shown by the explanatory conjunction gar, “because.” Although Levi was as yet unborn when Melchizedek met Abraham, the tithe Abraham gave to Melchizedek was a gesture that anticipated the subordination of Levi and the Levitical priesthood to the priesthood like Melchizedek’s that would be inaugurated at God’s appointed time.2

That last sentence is the theological point (which is not in error), though the writer uses unscientific language to make it.

One last comment:

COMM: “I think you are so anti-tradition because you do not spend any time conversant with those men who have thought on these doctrines much harder than you. You need to read some of the older divines to temper your zeal for the new and innovative.”

MSH: I’m not anti-tradition. I’m indifferent to it. There’s a difference. Tradition should serve the text, not the other way around. My loyalties are to the text only, and to the Lord of the text, not to tradition. Tradition with respect to the church fathers has major problems (like Augustine not knowing Greek or Hebrew – pardon me, but THAT is a problem). The Westminster divines, as capable as they were, did nearly all their work without the decipherment of tens of thousands of lines of ancient Near Eastern texts that contextualize the entire Bible. Sorry, THAT is a problem. But they are still useful – but limited.

I also have no penchant for the innovative. If you haven’t discovered my secret yet, here it is loud and clear: I just affirm the text. I say what it says, contextualized by its ancient culture and by other Scripture texts that comment on the same subjects, and that’s it. I put nothing in it that isn’t there. It’s the Naked Bible. It is what it is; it says what it says; and it doesn’t say what isn’t in it. No secret, and not profound.

(After this you’ll be wondering what the “sin nature” is in my view — yeah, we’ll get to that. And guess what – I’m just going to let Paul says what he says and let the chips fall.)

  1. Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Lectures delivered at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. and Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.;Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 468. Reymond is quoting B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, 16-18.
  2. William L. Lane, vol. 47A, Word Biblical Commentary: Hebrews 1-8 (Word Biblical CommentaryDallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 170.