Friday, May 29, 2015

Romans 5:12 - Part III

"Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…"


Having exhausted the options with the instantaneous explanations, let’s now put them aside and examine the explanatory power of the logical view. In this one, “death spread to all men because all sinned” isn’t an inventory of what happened at the garden but the logical progression of sin entering the world. Paul is saying something like, “Through Adam sin infected the world, and now death comes to all men because all have sinned in their past.” It does not mean that we will sin, although that’s true, but that we have sinned and so are now sinners. Sinners since conception.
Unlike the previous distinction which had four distinct mechanisms, there seems to be only three which flesh out the concept this time around.

The Divine View: God, in forming a man, instills into him sin, weaving it into his fabric and make up. Just as God bequeaths us a soul and attaches it somehow to our bodies, so too does He makes sin a unique part of our nature. In short, Adam opened the door to God making us sinful by a direct, positive action of His will.
I’m not even going to pretend this is valid enough to deserve a refutation. It’s so far removed from what Paul was driving at that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, to say nothing of the blasphemous notion of God making men sinful by a positive action which suggests that sin is something God gives out of His abundance.

Conception-as-Sin: in this view the joining of the sperm and egg is itself a sinful act, one which brings the moral guilt with it.
But seeing as how this is a simple interaction of nature by two impersonal, non-moral things, it’s hard to take this view seriously either. Sin is much more than a simple act of nature like the blowing of the wind or pollinating of a pine cone, and likewise there is nothing inherently praiseworthy or guilt-worthy about the correct number of chromosomes coming together.
While it’s one thing to be unaware of a sin, it’s another altogether to say the carbon cycle or the crystal lattice of diamond is sin. And once we’ve agreed that the natural world is inherently evil we’ve recovered the Gnosticism that so much of the New Testament preaches against, and we’re lost.

The Hereditary view: the corruption of our will and nature in Adam is passed on to us simply because he is our father, and we are his offspring. Adam fell into ruin, and then begot descendants after his image, and as a consequence we inherit a corrupted flesh from him. So I don’t share in Adams sin, nor am I counted as being sinful, but instead I begin life with a fallen will, a ruined flesh, having been handed through no fault of my own a broken disposition that is permeated, from my will to my affections, with sinfulness. This want of conformity to Gods perfect standard and Gods creation is itself a sin. We are imperfect, not as created or designed, and therefore we are sinners.
This, incidentally, perfectly explains the presence of v14. Some of us die not having committed a volitional sin like Adam did, but death still came to them; ergo they must have sinned in a non-volitional way. They are guilty of being fallen, not of embracing fallenness as did Adam.
There are two objections I can think of to this model. The first and most serious is that, similar to the point above, that isn’t what sinfulness means, sin necessarily has a volitional element to it.
But that’s problematic when we consider that we can sin unintentionally, and indeed, likely sin much of the time against God and are merely unaware of it. (Why else would hell seem so out of proportion unless we were actually racking up a number of transgressions against God while thinking we were doing nothing wrong?) Once it’s granted that we can sin while not being consciously aware of it, it’s not a big stretch to affirm this model, which has the upside of being completely consistent with how the Bible defines sin elsewhere.
The second objection is that it’s hard to draw a close parallel from Adam to Christ with this view since we are born sinful thanks to Adam, but are imputed righteous thanks to Christ. The furthest comparison we can get is a loose one: the actions of both men changed our state. But that seems to be the whole point, and it’s we who’ve taken the comparison too far. All Paul seems to be saying is that just as the fall of Adam spread outward to us and we died, so did the justification bought by Christ and given to us spread outward and we lived. That makes sense given the ways in which Adam and Christ are the same is very thin while the ways in which they are dissimilar abound.

Ways which they are alike:
  • Adam is a type of Him who was to come. (v14)
  • One action on the part of both men changed the state of many people (v19)
Ways which they are dissimilar:
  • Jesus gives us a gift (v16)
  • Adam offended God (v17)
  • Adams action brought condemnation (v16)
  • Adam’s action brought judgment (v16)
  • Christ’s actions brought potential justification to all men (v18)
  • Christ’s actions brought certain justification to many men (19)
  • Death reigned through Adam (v17)
  • Grace and righteousness reign in tremendous measure through Christ (v17)



Of these three views then I find the argument for this last one compelling, and the model to be intuitively right. It answers the questions posed by the text, does the best job of explaining the surrounding text, and avoids unnecessary speculation. 
And it's head and shoulders above the previous four explanations. The conclusion of the matter is then that by the disobedience of Adam sin has been spreading and growing throughout the whole human race, being a corruption of our nature—an inherited depravity which even infects small infants
in their mother’s womb, and is the root which produces in humanity every sort of sin.
It is so vile and enormous in God’s sight that it is enough to condemn even unborn children to death, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by regeneration, but remains a sin that constantly boils forth as poisoned water from a contaminated spring. It is the original source of sin in us, not Adam, even though it was given to us by our descent from Adam.
That, it seems to me, is what Romans 5:12 is teaching.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

C.S. Lewis on "Gay Christian"

No, let me say straightaway that I have no direct quote from the man on the matter. Don't get your hopes up. It's just that today I remembered a quote Lewis said on another issue and it was the exact answer to the 'gay' dilemma. You know, the question, "can a person be gay and Christian?"
To that, that debate on whether the PCUSA and Christians in general, can love Jesus, be gay, and still go to heaven, or are schismatics who say they love the God of the Bible but are actually loving the god of their own creation, I hold up this quote. It's Lewis with his usual clarity:

...Mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say, 'Let me but have this and I'll take the consequences,' little dreaming how the damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.

That is ever so right. "Let me but have this and I'll take the consequences." Let me have this imagined joy of homosexuality that God forbids while I have Christ and all will be well. Let me hold Him with my left and my sin with my right and I will have everything. I can do it.
But the time will come
soon enough when they will either find their full identity in either gay or in Christian. Either their most cherished sin will be driven out entirely like every other sin or Christ will be driven out that they may cling to it without restraint. The gay path splits off to the left while the God path goes to the right and to hold both is to be pulled apart, for there is no middle ground.
That aside, He warns us plainly He's a jealous God, and we should take that seriously. He won't share His pleasure, and so eventually the gay Christian will have to opt for either
holiness or emptiness.
So church discipline aside, sorting it all out is easier than ever: we just preach the Bible, the truth, pray for the man, and let God worry about the rest.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Romans 5:12 - Part II

"Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…"


If we read all three phrases as happening concurrently, then Paul is saying something like, “when Adam ate the fruit, at that very instant, we fell too.” How is that possible? I can think of four options, broadly grouped under two questions, with names I completely made up. They look something like this:

Were you personally guilty of the sin of Adam?

Were you somehow present with Adam?
High Agency View
Covenantal Oneness
Lesser Agency View
Covenantal Imputation

The High Agency view
: Just as someone can be guilty for orchestrating a murder though he wasn’t there, we are guilty in Adam for instructing him to do what he did. This isn’t an exact parallel of course, the actual mechanism is something more of a mystery, but the example shows how someone can be guilty of a crime though not present. We in some sense directed Adam to do it, and therefore we are personally responsible for the result. Origen and Muller seemed to hold a view substantially similar to this.
The problem is that this explanation requires the believer to throw up his hands right off the bat, admit total ignorance of how it could all have happened, and abandoned further inquiry and discussion. As a hypothesis it’s a bad one because it doesn’t open up the text to us but instead locks the whole thing away in a tornado shelter, and posts a sign that says, “Keep out! Mystery!” It’s a totally useless answer. And since it’s not only wildly speculative but counter to reason, I’ll just go ahead and dismiss it, along with the rest of the agnostic answers to the mechanism of our guilt.

The Lesser Agency View: In this model Adam functions something more like our official spokesman, or representative. As a result of his failure God punishes me with sin because my representative did exactly what I wanted him to do in the garden. He made my choice for me. When I come into the world I’m already carrying the guilt of wanting Adam to sin.
(The argument goes like this: a perfect God appointed Adam as a representative for everyone, including you. It follows then that Adam represented you perfectly, fell as you directed, and thus you agree you’re justly guilty of sin. If you disagree God picked the perfect man for the job then you’ve just questioned the judgment of God and rebelled against Him, which is the same sin Adam committed. Thus, whichever way you answer you’ve proved you’re deserving of the condemnation of Adam.)
As convincing as this model may be, it unfortunately requires a huge number of assumptions to function properly. Where in Scripture is it declared that Adam was my representative? Assuming he was, which decisions was he appointed to make for me—all of them or just the one regarding the command not to eat? Why did that representation mechanism turn off once he sinned? I suppose you could answer that Adam was created under a covenant with God and once that covenant was broken then the further propagation of sin or righteousness collapsed, but then that begs the question, what covenant? Why is there no mention of a covenant until Noah? Why is this Edenic covenant not cut with a sacrifice like every other covenant in the Bible? Is it because or does the act of God saying “do not eat” constitute a covenant? Wouldn’t that make all His instructions covenants? How long would Adam need to go on under this covenant as my official representative? Forever until he sinned? Until he had children? Until his probationary period is up? What probationary period? Why? To salvage God’s justice? The list goes on.
So while this model should be praised for not having any show stoppers, it nonetheless requires a number of buttresses to keep from falling down.  

Covenantal Oneness: In this view Adam acts as the head for the body of humanity. We were there in him, united with him, sharing the events, even though we were unaware and not personally responsible for the sin. Still, when Adam sinned we sinned, thanks to our covenantal oneness with him. Our being in him.
On the face of it this has a lot going for it. It’s similar to how we are one with Christ, united in Him by faith. After all, did He not say that He is the vine and we are the branches? Is man not the head of woman, the head of man Christ, and the head of Christ God? From what I can tell, Edwards held to something like this view, which is a big plus since he was a smart guy.
But this model has the same problematic assumptions about covenant that the last one had, plus one that asserts covenant members share righteousness with their head rather than having it imputed to them. That aside, it’s really when the work of Christ is considered that this model unravels in a spectacular fashion, for it’s evident Christ must wipe away every sin a believer has for them to get to heaven, but since the sin of Adam is Adams sin and is only being shared with everyone, then it must be dealt with it at Adam, since it’s his sin. Therefore once Jesus pays for Adams sin and takes it off the books for him, He takes it off for everyone. In paying for any of His elect, He pays for it for every man, and the original sin goes away. The only way out of this trap is to assert that we get a copy of Adam sin, not the sin itself, which is to abandon this view entirely.

Covenantal imputation: At the time of Adams sin God counted all his descendants as guilty of breaking the covenant with God, even though they weren’t there and actually hadn’t. Unlike the covenantal oneness view however, this is more of a bare judicial reckoning. The principle reason for holding it comes from the contrast Paul is making between Adam and Christ—since Christ imputes His righteousness to us, so too Adam must have imputed his sinfulness to us. Adherents to this view reason it cannot be that Adam makes us actually sinful, because by parallel that would mean the Roman Catholic notion of infused righteousness is true.  
The problem with it is that we are not actually guilty of sin, God is merely considering us as sinful covenant breakers (for whatever reason). That is, God is counting innocent people as guilty for something they didn’t do, and putting them to death for it. Defenders will claim that this is okay because of parallel to Adam, “Do you think it’s unfair to be condemned under Adam? Then you must object to being saved under Christ?” to which the rebuttal comes, “how about those who aren’t saved by Christ?” Condemnation from an alien guilt trades on a dark legal fiction, and no matter how we try to evade it, it must be the case that we are actually guilty of sin, not merely counted as guilty, or God is not just.

At this point it’s worth noting that all four of the explanations for the chronological understanding of Romans 5 require God to have put in place a special arrangement, agreement, or mechanism with us through Adam that isn’t recorded or explained in the Scriptures. Personally, although I have a soft spot for the lesser agency view, I find that to weigh very heavily on the text of Romans. That may ultimately be necessary if they prove to be the best fit, but so the downside must be admitted up front.

Having exhausted the options with the instantaneous explanations, let’s now put them aside and examine the explanatory power of the logical view. 

Romans 5:12 - Part I


How do we make sense of Romans when it says “death spread to all men because all sinned?” That’s the question of this series. 


For the sake of transparency, here are the rules and preconceptions by which I will be using to evaluate the verse:

  1.  Answers are restricted to Christian ones. So that rules out all Zoastrian, Pantheistic, Pelagian or even Arminian answers, which I find ultimately amount to unbelief. If it says all sinned then it means every man, woman, and unborn child sinned, and that’s that. I’m not interested in discussing if this is true, but how it’s true.
  2. The main things of Scripture are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. There are only eight words here and nothing else like it in the New Testament, which makes this verse is neither main, nor plan. Therefore I must retain a sensitivity to the fragility of the foundation as I seek to explain the mechanism by which we’ve become sinful and avoid putting any unnecessary assumptions on the text, because otherwise this shallow raft is going to sink. Reckless loading of unclear verses with needless assumptions is how we got the gap theory out of Genesis 1:2, after all.
  3.  I’ve no interest in historic answers that come from theology or worse, philosophy (Traducianism vs Creationism debate, I’m looking at you here.) As I work through this I’m going to be using the Scriptures and reason, not coming to an understanding based on opinions that came from preexisting systems of thought.
  4. I'm after the principle (singular) mechanism here by which we’re guilty of sin, because while a verse may have many applications it only has one meaning. Someone else examining this topic might be inclined to sweep up everything they likes as true and in the end agree with Adam being our federal head and passing to us an inherent corruption, and doing this by imputation, but I’m rejecting this approach as invalid. I want only the simplest, clearest, and most straightforward answer, and I want to dispense with the dead weight of tradition or speculation to get there. The protestant reformation was dealing in exactly this way with a similar problem—the Roman Catholics had mashed in sanctification to justification and it was only because people came along to find out the principle mechanism for their righteousness that we gotten as far as we have.

There. Now that I’ve clearly stated the methodology I’m working from, I think we’re ready for the verse.


 The broader context (Romans 5:12-21):
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 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.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The argument without the wandering detours:

Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned… therefore as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

 The verse under discussion by itself:

Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”


There are three phrases here:

1.       Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world

2.       When sin entered, death entered with it

3.       Death spread to all men, because all sinned

The first thing that strikes me about item 3 (1 and 2 are easy to understand and accept) is the notion that death spread to all men. Only the NIV is different with came to all men, (which I suspect is purposely ambiguous) but even still that still seems to suggest an enlarging, an engulfing. Sin grew like bacteria, coming across the fences and infecting everybody. It walked from there to here. That would not be the word I would select if I was trying to convey that at the instant Adam sinned, we sinned together with him, or in him. This word seems to imply instead that as people came into the world sin came with them, which fits better with an inherited notion of sin. That’s a small point that by itself that doesn’t prove much, but it’s worth a passing comment.

Considering the verse as a whole, I think the question which makes the most sense of it is: is this third phrase following from the first two logically or chronologically? Is this an argument or a description? Does this verse mean we sinned with Adam, or does it mean at some point in our past we’ve all sinned and therefore deserve death, and this after Adam? Did Adams sin affect us when he ate, or did the sin of it follow us down throughout history and affected us when we were conceived? Historically this debate has been framed in terms of the propagation of sin, was it immediate with Adam, or was it mediated by time, but that seems to reference Adam more than it does this verse, and for that reason I like framing it in terms of logical vs chronological better.

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