Time to get back to Romans 5:12. My first complaint about the misuse of this passage concerned how creationists (of the literal, 24 hr. day variety) use this verse to argue against the possibility of ANY death before the Fall. This in turn is used to argue against the fossil record / any view of creation that argues for a very ancient earth.
In this installment, we start into the heart of some serious theological issues. Let’s get started with Millard Erickson:
All of us, apparently without exception, are sinners. By this we mean not merely that all of us sin, but that we all have a depraved or corrupted nature which so inclines us toward sin that it is virtually inevitable. How can this be? What is the basis of this amazing fact? Must not some common factor be at work in all of us? It is as if some antecedent or a priori factor in life leads to universal sinning and universal depravity. But what is this common factor that is often referred to as original sin? Whence is it derived, and how is it transmitted or communicated?
We find the answer in Romans 5: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-” (v. 12). This thought is repeated in several different ways in the succeeding verses: “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man” (v. 15); “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation” (v. 16); “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man” (v. 17); “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (v. 18); “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (v. 19). Paul sees some sort of causal connection between what Adam did and the sinfulness of all people throughout all time. But just what is the nature of this influence exerted by Adam upon all humans, and by what means does it operate? (Erickson, Christian Theology, 648).
The approach that sees Adam’s connection with us in terms of a federal headship is generally related to the creationist view of the origin of the soul. This is the view that humans receive their physical nature by inheritance from their parents, but that the soul is specially created by God for each individual and united with the body at birth (or some other suitable moment). Thus, we were not present psychologically or spiritually in any of our ancestors, including Adam. Adam, however, was our representative. God ordained that Adam should act not only on his own behalf, but also on our behalf, so that the consequences of his actions have been passed on to his descendants as well. Adam was on probation for all of us as it were; and because Adam sinned, all of us are treated as guilty and corrupted . . . The other major approach sees Adam’s connection with us in terms of a natural (or realistic) headship. This approach is related to the traducianist view of the origin of the soul, according to which we receive our souls by transmission from our parents, just as we do our physical natures. So we were present in germinal or seminal form in our ancestors; in a very real sense, we were there in Adam. His action was not merely that of one isolated individual, but of the entire human race. Although we were not there individually, we were nonetheless there. The human race sinned as a whole. Thus, there is nothing unfair or improper about our receiving a corrupted nature and guilt from Adam, for we are receiving the just results of our sin. This is the view of Augustine. (Erickson, Christian Theology, 651-652).
My question, to start the ball rolling, is simple: If ALL humans since Adam inherited Adam’s guilt (however that happens), then why does Jesus get off the hook? He is 100% human in biblical theology. His genealogy goes straight back to Adam (see Luke 3:23-38; esp. v. 38). Now, I know what the standard answers are. “Oh, Jesus was God, so he didn’t have original sin.” This avoids the question; it doesn’t answer it: he’s was also 100% human. To deny that is deny the incarnation It wouldn’t be a real or actual incarnation then). How about “He was virgin born, and we all know that sin is transmitted through the male-after all, Jesus is compared to Adam in Romans 5, not Eve.” Also evasive and poorly thought-through. I would hope it’s clear that all women are also sinners and have original sin. Mary was a woman, and she was the mother of Jesus. There is also no verse in the Bible that says sin is transmitted through only males. Another problem – so, if we cloned a woman and implanted that clone in another woman, would it be sinless since there was no male father? Of course not – to be human is to be under the curse of Adam. But this is a modern illustration of the same logic as theologians use to get Jesus off the hook (i.e., to stiff arm Romans 5:12 when it comes to Jesus). The problem is straightforward: we either assume the full humanity of Jesus or we don’t. The full humanity of Jesus–laid out so clearly and repeatedly in the New Testament–isn’t what’s causing the original sin problem with him; it’s the way we understand original sin and misuse Romans 5:12.
I could add that, isn’t it curious how NOWHERE ELSE in the Old Testament do we see any writer looking back to Genesis 3 as an explanation for the transmission of sin to all humankind? Kind of curious, to say the least. And there’s yet another problem. How is it that we get hard nosed about ALL humans being infected by the sin of the first Adam, but we want to qualify the effect of the sacrifice of the second Adam? You know why – we want to avoid universalism (see this article for a recent treatment of this – not my view, but there is some overlap; and he lays out the universalism problem nicely). But then what do we do with Romans 5:18
18 Therefore, as one trespass? led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness? leads to justification and life for ?all men.
And to compound the problem, does Paul contradict himself in the very next verse:
19 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. (Many? I thought ALL were made sinners by the one man, Adam – huh?)
You may not have reflected on it before, but these problems stem from the traditional view of Romans 5:12 articulated by Erickson (and countless others). My view is that it’s a transmitted tradition, mostly due to the influence of Catholicism (taken up by Protestantism) and people have not thought about it for centuries, being content with “answers” to the problems that really aren’t answers.
I have a solution to this issue (not original to me, but I’ve nuanced it a bit), but it involves a completely different take (one that is distinctly ancient Near Eastern in approach – there I go again, contextualizing the Old Testament!).
But before I get into that, I’d like to see what you’re thinking about this post first. (And there are still more problems to cover).