Part VII: The Compelling Logic of
the Plan of Salvation: The Difference Between SIN and SINS
Sin and Sins
OF this disease or sickness which brought with it the penalty
of physical mortality as well as an inheritable predisposition
to sinful behaviour, is recorded in Genesis 2:8-17 and Genesis
3:1-24. First, we are told that Adam, after being formed of the
dust of the ground was placed in a garden paradise in which two
trees were singled out for special attention. No prohibition
was attached to one tree, the Tree of Life, until after the Fall.
The fruit of the other tree was forbidden, it being expressly
stated that in the day Adam and Eve ate of it they would die.
The penalty is set forth in the Hebrew in a way different from
English. In the Authorized Version it is rendered, "Thou
shalt surely die"; in the original it is more literally,
"Dying, thou shalt die." This arrangement of the wording
may be intended to emphasize the penalty of disobedience, but
it is also possible that it would be best rendered into English
as "Thou shalt begin to die." Whatever may be the precise
meaning, the end result is clear. Eating the fruit introduced
into man's body some toxic substance which disturbed its operation
and ultimately brought him to the grave.
1 of 10
The Tree of Life, if we are to
be guided by a statement in Revelation 22:2, had something about
it which could have supplied an antidote to the poison ingested
with the forbidden fruit. From Genesis 3:22-24 it is clear that
God could not allow fallen man to make use of this antidote under
any circumstances. The reason for this is that by the very act
of yielding to temptation and disobeying God's express command,
Adam had destroyed once for all the purity and perfection of
his spirit. He had, in fact, become a fallen creature both physically
and spiritually, a creature quite unlike all God's other
creatures. Had he been allowed to recover his physical immortality
by eating of the Tree of Life, he would have condemned himself
either to living on forever (Genesis 3:22) with a corrupted spiritual
nature, or ending it by deliberately taking his own life. In
this light, physical death was God's merciful
provision. Thus, sin
entered by man, and by sin death entered into human experience.
. . . And so death passed upon all men, for it is clear
that all men die. (see Romans 5:12).
Whatever the nature of this poison
was, it must in some way have reached Adam's seed, for he passed
it on to his children, who were born mortals, as all men have
been since. This circumstance is important from a genetic point
of view for it necessarily involves the inheritance of an acquired
characteristic, the characteristic being mortality. Nothing was
said to Adam about dying until he was commanded not to eat the
forbidden fruit, and there is no reason to suppose that he would
have died if he had not done so. Adam therefore acquired a characteristic,
physical mortality, and passed that condition of mortality on
to his descendants.
This physical corruption, which
throughout the subsequent centuries of human history has gradually
reduced the life span of man to a few score years at the best,
has had an equally disastrous effect upon the human spirit. Though
chemical in nature when first introduced into Adam's body, the
poison had some disturbing effect which was thereafter inherited
by all Adam's descendants. Consequently, as the individual matures,
it is his nature to be inescapably predisposed to rebellion against
God. It is no longer possible for man to render perfect obedience
to the law of God. The innocence of childhood which ought to
mature into virtue becomes, alas, guilt instead. On this account
the law failed because of the weakness of the flesh (Romans 8:3).
What began as a fatal poisoning
of the human body has become a fatal poisoning of the human spirit.
This tragic spiritual sickness which brings to nought all human
aspirations after holiness, has been termed "Original Sin."
It is a curious fact that Christian
scholars have paid very little attention to its basic physical
or chemical origin. Luther was perceptive enough to discern the
significance of the circumstances of the events in Eden and of
the special emphasis in the record placed upon the seed of the
woman rather than the seed of the man. He said, (2) "Through the fall
of Adam sin entered into the world, and all men in Adam have
consequently sinned. For the paternal sperm (i.e., seed) conveys
the corruption from generation to generation." And again,
according to Tertullian, (3) "The soul has its sinful condition as a result
of its relation with Adam. Our race is infected . . . with sin
which has become so to speak a natural element in mankind."
The idea that a poison is
2. Luther: in A History of Christian Thought,
J. L. Neve, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1946, vol.1, p 230.
3. Tertullian: in Neve. ref.2. p.139.
responsible was voiced
by Franz Volkmar Reinhard (1753-1812) (4) in his System of
Christian Morals, who explained the Fall as a kind of poisoning
and hereditary sin as the inheritance of a poisoned constitution.
Like many others who shared his views, he held that the disposition
to sinfulness arose in this way but that it is only on account
of "actual sins" in which free self-determination is
involved that man allows his sinful disposition to realize itself.
The Thirty-nine Articles of the
Church of England (Article ix) states:
Original sin standeth not in
the imitation of Adam but it is the fault and corruption of the
nature of every man who naturally is engendered of the offspring
of Adam, whereby man is . . . of his own nature inclined to evil
so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit . . .
And this infection of nature doth remain in them that are regenerated.
I think it is
important in showing how compelling the logic of Scripture is
in its record of the fall of Adam and the consequences to himself
and his descendants, that solely on this basis the Council of
Carthage in A.D. 412 condemned as heresy the three following
(1) Adam was created mortal and would have died whether he
had sinned or not.
(2) The sin of Adam hurt only himself, and not all mankind.
(3) Newborn infants die in the same state as Adam was in before
We must assume
the Council to have held, therefore, that Adam was not subject
to death until he sinned; that the poison affected not only his
own body but was passed on by inheritance to all his descendants
and that no child of natural generation can ever avoid this physical
defect and thus recover Adam's original state of deathlessness.
Calvin expressed the view that
sin is a "contagion": (5)
We are not corrupted by acquired wickedness
but do bring an innate corruptness from the very womb. . . All
of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed come into the
world tainted with the contagion of sin.
Again, he wrote:
Original sin, then, may be defined
as a hereditary corruption . . . which makes us obnoxious in
the sight of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture
are termed "the works of the flesh."
4. Reinhard, F. V.: in Religious Encyclopedia,
Philip Schaff, Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1883, vol.3,
5. Calvin, Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 5.
6. Ibid, Section 8.
is repeatedly designated by Paul by the term sin (Gal.
5:19), while the works which proceed from it . . . he terms the
fruits of sin . . . also termed sins.
We may quote
others to the same effect also. Augustine said, (7) "Original sin is not
the nature itself, but a defect that happened to it and
a damage in the nature." Ulrich Zwingli said, (8) "Original sin is inherited,
a sickness (morbus est et conditio: it is both
the disease itself and the condition), but not a guilt.
. . . It is the root of all individual sins and it makes
self-redemption impossible." E. Harold Browne said, (9) "The body was infected
by the Fall, whether from the poison of the forbidden fruit or
whatever cause. The infection of the body was indeed fomes
peccati, i.e., a fuel which might be kindled into sin."
Albertus Pieters said, (10) "There is in us universal and inherent corruption
which expresses itself in thought, word, and deed, poisoning
all the issues of life, like an incurable and loathsome disease."
W. L. Knox and A. R. Vidler said, (11) "The doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin seeks
to interpret what Christians regard as a fact of human nature,
that we do not start fair, with a neutral disposition which can,
by our own efforts and the help of grace, be converted into one
of positive holiness, but with a definite bias towards evil
contracted quite apart from any sins of our own."
Man, therefore, unlike any other
living thing, is born a diseased creature. From various Scriptures
(and from the literature of biological research) we learn that
this diseased condition begins very early in embryonic development,
if not in fact at the time of conception. That which is in the
womb is by nature, therefore, an unholy thing in the sight of
God, in pointed contrast with the record of Scripture when referring
to the Incarnation, where the Lord Jesus in Luke 1:35, yet unborn,
is carefully referred to as "that holy thing."
It is not without significance
that one of the world's best geneticists of our own day, Theodosius
Dobzhansky, has noted the significance of the events which occurred
in Eden in terms of man's hereditary constitution. In a review
of one of his books, Sir Gavin de Beer wrote: (12)
One wonders if Pauline theologians
realize that the doctrine of original sin involves the inheritance
of an acquired character, for only genes can be inherited and,
by the nature of the case, neither Adam nor
7. Augustine: in Neve, ref.2, p.335.
8. Zwingli: in Neve, ref.2, p.244.
9. Browne, E. Harold, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles,
Parker, London, 1860, p.235.
10. Pieters, Albertus, Divine Lord and Saviour, Revell,
New York, 1949, p.64.
11. Knox, W. L. and A. R. Vidler, The Development of Modern
Catholicism, 1933: quoted by David Lack, Evolutionary
Theory and Christian Belief, Methuen, London, 1957, p.106.
12. de Beer, Gavin; in Scientific American, Sept., 1962,
Eve when they first appeared on the scene
possessed the character they are alleged to have transmitted
to their descendants.
It may be questioned
how it is possible that a physical poison could lead to a hereditary
defect with such a pronounced and fatal effect upon man's spirit
throughout history. But there are poisons which are known to
depress man's moral sense. Alcohol, for example, is one such
poison. Though it is a toxic agent, nevertheless under certain
conditions it may have medicinal value (1 Timothy 5:23). Certainly
in itself it is only a chemical substance. Yet it has been established
beyond a shadow of doubt that it acts upon the higher centres
in man to debase his powers of self-judgment and to encourage
in him greater liberty in the expression of his lower nature.
It is therefore clear that a poisoned body may well be related
to the fact that all men grow up to be sinful in nature.
Just to make sure that my meaning
is understood, since we are really setting the stage for all
that follows, I should like to reiterate what is said above in
slightly different terms. Not only is physical death now the
appointed experience of all men in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22),
but all men are active sinners. Romans 3:23 has it, "For
all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." But
in writing to the Roman Christians, Paul makes it very clear
that though all men inherit Adam's disease, Adam's sin,
they do not imitate his particular sins. They have inherited
his final mortal state but their transgressions are not a "similitude"
of his (Romans 5:14). Nor is Adam's particular form of transgression
imputed to his descendants, though his acquired disease is inherited
by them to become a root which bears fruit in their lives. As
a result they stand equally under the sentence of spiritual death
by their own disobedience to the law of God, as they do under
the sentence of physical death. The penalty of spiritual death
is shared because each man has sinned personally not merely because
Adam sinned. Each individual comes under sentence of spiritual
death for his own sins.
The Thirty-nine Articles of the
Church of England take the position that man is to be judged
not for having a sinful disposition but for having been content
to allow it to express itself throughout his responsible life.
So the individual is not now held accountable for his mortal
state, since he inherited it without consent. For this reason
God has undertaken to deal with it by providing a sin-offering
in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. This sin-offering
is applied to all men universally without exception. God's provision
for sins, however, demands an act of personal faith and
is not universal, since all men do not have that truth.
Throughout the rest of this
discussion, unless otherwise noted, sin is identified
as an inheritable disease resident in the flesh, i.e., in the
body, and transmitted to all men through natural generation.
So all men now experience the same physical corruption and death.
According to Romans 5:12:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the
world, and death by sin . . . and so death passed upon all men.
Throughout this discussion sins
are the overt manifestations which bring all human behaviour
under the judgment of God and demonstrate the universality of
the fallen nature of man. According to Romans 5:19:
For as by one man's disobedience many were made
sinners. . .
| Sin therefore:
destroyed the viability of Adam's body;
(2) was inherited by all his descendants born by
| and (3) ���������������������>
(3) because of its presence in the body,
is the basic cause of the fallen nature of all men.
That the breakdown in human behaviour
is traceable to the root disease, is borne out in many passages
of Scripture, as in Romans 7:1-20:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth
no good thing. . . . For the good that I would I do not: but
the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not. it is no more I that
do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
150 years ago, Nathaniel Taylor, (13) the eminent Congregationalist teacher at Yale, pointed
out that it is inevitable that this human disease will bear fruit
from the moment that man is capable of moral action. He said,
"The entire moral depravity of man is by nature." Sin
is a real and universal thing "to be truly and properly
ascribed to nature and not to circumstances."
Men commit sin "as soon as they become moral agents,
as soon as they can" (emphases his). The propensity
or disposition to sin is not in itself sinful, he argued, but
it is the cause of actions which are.
Some years later, J. C. Jones rightly
pointed out that the only thing of importance to the rest of
humanity in Adam's behaviour was this one single offense; of
the rest of his life we know virtually nothing and may suppose
that the silence of Scripture is intentional. Jones said: (14)
St. Paul traces the stream of human
evil to its fountainhead in the "one offense" of the
"one man." The "one offense," of course,
was the partaking of the forbidden fruit. The subsequent offenses
of Adam are not referred to at all, either by Moses in his narrative
or by Paul in his commentary thereon. Evidently, then, the other
offenses were private concerning no one but the individual Adam
-- they do not concern us at all, nor had they any influence
in determining the course of history.
But the "one offense"
concerns us as much as it concerned him; it brought sin upon
us and death, and all our woe. It is the one hinge on which the
destiny of the race hung. Without contradiction that "one
offense" of that "one man" bears a closer relation
to posterity than any of Adam's other sins.
The point is
well taken because it underscores the pivotal nature of Adam's
action and shows that it is not in any way by example that Adam
passed on to all generations the spirit of self-will and disobedience.
Human failure stems from an event in which something was disrupted
in the human organism. It is not the effect of Adam's example
communicated to his own generation and through them to the next
generation so that society and the individual have become what
they are by example. Even T. H. Huxley was honest enough to see
the cogency of this truth: (15)
. . . it is the secret of the superiority
of the best theological teachers over the majority of their opponents
that they substantially recognize these realities. . . .
The doctrines of . . . original
sin, of the innate depravity of man . . . appear to me to be
vastly nearer the truth than the liberal, popular
13. Taylor, Nathaniel: in The American
Adam, R. B. W. Lewis, University of Chicago Press, 1959.
14. Jones, J. C, Primeval Revelation, Hodder and Stoughton,
London 1897, p.261.
15. Huxley, T. H.: quoted by David Lack, Evolutionary Theory
and Christian Belief, Methuen, London, 1957, p107.
illusions that babies are all born good,
and that the example of a corrupt society is responsible for
their failure to remain so; that it is given to everybody to
reach the ethic ideal if he will only try . . . and other optimistic
in his book The Ghost in the Machine, Arthur Koestler
(16) admits to
a suspicion that there really is something biologically wrong
with man that in part helps to account for his moral depravity.
He put it this way:
When one contemplates the streak
of insanity running through human history, it appears highly
probable that Homo sapiens is a biological freak, the result
of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process.
The ancient doctrine of original
sin . . . could be a reflection of man's awareness of his own
inadequacy, of the intuitive hunch that somewhere along the line
of his ascent something has gone wrong. . . There is nothing
particularly improbable in the assumption that man's native equipment
. . . may contain some serious fault in the circuitry of his
most precious and delicate instrument -- the central nervous
can hardly accept his evolutionary thinking in the light of Genesis
3, but his comment does suggest that the evidence favours a genuine
organic disturbance which has affected the whole man -- body,
mind, and spirit. We know this from Scripture, of course, but
it is interesting to see recognition of it from an entirely secular
Another writer of a former generation,
James Gall, (17)
was perceptive enough to see that man's fallen nature is very
much like a disease, for reasons he sets forth as follows:
It is its suicidal character
that proves it to be a disease. It is because sin injures the
interests, mars the enjoyments, and shortens the days of the
individual who indulges in it, that demonstrates it is not "natural."
It has not a single element of goodness in it nor connected with
it, so that a moderate indulgence in it might be salutary. It
is essentially and entirely harmful.
What he really
means, as he is at pains to show in his book, is that no animal
does by nature things which injure its interests, mars its enjoyment
of life, or shortens its days to no purpose. The behaviour of
predators, for example, which sometimes looks extremely savage
thus reminding us of human savagery, really has none of the characteristics
of human savagery. For the animal is without hate, revenge, or
desire to hurt merely for the pleasure of hurting. In fact, it
probably "hurts" neither its prey, nor itself. When
man acts according to his nature, however, he almost always acts
self-destructively. This is what James meant by the suicidal
character which proves that sin is a disease. Natural human behaviour
is diseased behaviour.
16. Koestler, Arthur, The Ghost in the
Machine, Hutchinson, London, 1967, p.267.
17. Gall, James, Primeval Man Unveiled, Hamilton, Adams,
London, 1871, p.91.
then, is the heart of the problem. We are plagued with a disease
which is resident in our bodies, is inherited from our
parents, and ultimately brings us to the grave. And this same
disease effectively turns the innocence of childhood, not into
virtue as it might otherwise have been in the absence of sin,
but into guilt, making every man a sinner in the sight of God.
Yet it is not sin which separates us from God, but sins
Scripture gives us some clues as to how early in
human life the symptoms of the disease become identifiable. In
2 Samuel 12:23 David ceases to mourn for his newborn son, assuredly
believing that both he and the infant would be reunited in heaven.
It is important to note that this baby died on the 7th day, and
was therefore uncircumcised (Genesis 17 :12). So David's assurance
was not based on any completed ritual. It must have been predicated
on the baby's innocence in the sight of God, though he knew the
baby had been born in sin (doubly so, in the circumstances).
In Isaiah 7:16 we are told that as a child we learn
evil. This, then, is where true discernment begins: not necessarily
experience, but recognition -- as must have been the case with
the Child Jesus. In Genesis 8:21 we are told that the thoughts
of a man's heart "are only evil from his youth up. . . ."
and not from his birth.
There seems to be some progression here. The baby
is completely innocent though born in sin. The child begins
to learn the meaning of the difference between evil and good,
without necessarily being involved in making any personal choice.
The youth is capable of thinking evil, not merely thinking about
it, and by this further step in moral development becomes
accountable to God and falls under condemnation.
In the Old Testament,
sin is covered (Psalm 32:
In the New Testament,
sin is taken away
sin is put away (Hebrews
sin is cleansed (I
Forgiveness is neither
appropriate to nor applied to this root disease in Scripture.
By contrast, in the New Testament,
sins are forgiven.
If we say that we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess
our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.
. . (I John 1:8, 9).
In the sight of God, sin
in the body, in the flesh, is evidence of the Fall and though
it cannot come under moral condemnation, it must nevertheless
be condemned as undesirable in man (Romans 8:3) and something
must be done about it.
Who shall change our vile
body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body. .
. . (Philippians 3:21).
This is what God will do about it in the case
of His children when they die. While they live, the Holy Spirit
quickens or revitalizes the mortal body.
But if the spirit of him
that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised
up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies.
. . (Romans 8:11)
verse makes an important distinction and should preserve us against
a dangerous misconception. The Early Church and its councils
were very anxious to underscore the fact that when we accept
the Lord's sacrifice and for His sake (I John 2:12) are forgiven
all our sins, this does not mean that we are at once freed.
from the burden of the disease (sin) itself. The disease
remains with us, but it is now subject to the restraining influences
of the Holy Spirit.
The struggle between the aspirations of the new man
in Christ Jesus toward holiness and the old predisposition due
to the presence of sin must still be carried on. Paul
vividly describes this conflict in himself and observes that
only when death removes this body are we finally free of its
influence. (Romans 7: 1 8-24).
But since man is truly a body-spirit entity, we do
not seek to be robbed altogether of a body, but rather that we
should be given a new body in the resurrection
(2 Corinthians 5:4).
Forgiveness is by no means automatic, it is conditioned
upon our faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, "Who
bore our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter
2:24). It is important to notice that this divine forgiveness
is always limited to those who have believed. It is always our
sins, not the sins of the whole world.
In order to see how God has dealt with
the disease itself we have to note a few of the specific statements
which are to be found both in the Old and the New Testament regarding
(1) The disease is inherited.
| We are conceived in iniquity;
and in sin did my mother conceive me (Psalm 51:5).
|| It is
to be noted that the Pharisees misquoted this passage in John
9:34 by saying to the man who had been born blind, "Thou
wast altogether born in sins." To say this is to
neglect the fundamental difference between the two words, sin
and sins. We cannot be born in sins, but we can
die in sins (John 8:21).
| (2) Sin permeates
But I see another law in my members, warring
against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to
the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:23).
I suggest that the phrase "the law of sin which
is in my members" is a direct reference to this inevitable
consequence of the effect of the disease that is in the flesh
(in every member of the body) upon the spirit of man of which
the body is the temple.
Moreover, I believe that in most instances in the
New Testament the term flesh means what it says and is
not to be spiritualized as a reference to man's lower nature,
though the disease of the flesh always tends to degrade his spirit.
The Lord said, "The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh
is weak" (Mark 14:38). Here the weakness is clearly physical,
since they simply could not keep awake.
For what the law could not do, in that it
was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness
of sinful flesh, and as a sin-offering judged sin in the flesh
| and (3) ���������������������>
|| (3) All
manner of evil impulses spring out of sin. But sin . . . wrought
in me all kinds of evil desires (Romans 7:8).
is therefore sin in the flesh which makes the law ineffective.
We are thus tempted
For from within proceed evil thoughts, adulteries,
fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit,
lasciviousness, pride and foolishness -- all these evils come
from within and defile the man (see Mark 7:21-23).
Jesus Christ was also tempted,
but apart from sin (Hebrews 4: 15).
of our English versions have rendered this as "without sin,"
as though the truth intended by the words is simply that Jesus
never failed in any temptation. This is a truth, but I
do not believe it is the truth of this passage. The Greek is
very specific: choris means "apart from" and
not merely "without." The true significance of this
statement is that whereas we are tempted from within because
of sin in our members, "in him is no sin" (I
John 3:5), and therefore temptation could not arise from within.
When Satan comes to us there is within us that which gives him
a leverage, but this was not true of the Lord Jesus Christ. When
the prince of this world came to Him, he had nothing in Him whereby
to secure an entrance into his spiritual life (John 14:30). Had
the intent of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews been merely
to express sinlessness, he would not have used the Greek preposition
choris, but the common word in Greek for sinlessness,
namely anamartetos, as it is found in John 8:7, where
the Authorized Version has used the same English phrase "without
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next
How did He, born of woman-kind,
come to be free of sin since, as Job says, "Who can
bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job 14:4). Or to
put the problem slightly differently, in another perceptive question
asked by Job, "How then can man be justified with God?"
OR "How can he be clean that is born of woman?" (Job
25:4). The Lord Jesus Christ, being born of a virgin (Luke 1:27
) escaped the poison of sin and thus, as a Second Adam, was made
"after the power of an endless life" (Hebrews 7:16).
Augustine said of the First Adam that "it was not impossible
for him to die but possible for him not to die." This was
precisely true of the Second Adam, for being made after the power
of an endless life, so that He need not have died, it was nevertheless
possible for Him to die -- indeed, it was essential, for our
sakes. In Adam, as created, there was no poison of sin
to bring about his death. Of Jesus Christ as born of a virgin,
it is said that in Him was no sin, though He who knew
no sin was made to be a sin-offering for us (2