Doctrine of Adam’s Original Sin

September 19, 2014

The Doctrine of Adam’s Original Sin
1) The term “Adam’s original sin” refers to Adam’s first sin. It is not his whole life, it is the first sin he committed which was the sin of disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was the issue. Throughout the Scriptures there is so much teaching about the impact of Adam’s sin, and it always treats Adam’s sin as a literal historical event. If that did not occur historically then it takes the foundation completely out from under what is taught in the New Testament regarding sin and salvation.

2) Adam was the designated head of the human race, and that is called federal or representative headship. That means that is was Adam’s sin and not the woman’s sin that is determinative. 1 Timothy 2:13, 14, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.” So in some sense her sin is not as significant as his, first because he is the head, and second because she is deceived. Her sin did not impact the creation, it did not impact their progeny. It was not her sin that was determinative, it was Adam’s sin.

3) Federalism is the view that Adam is the representative of the entire human race. Therefore Adam’s decision would affect all of the human race. Adam’s decision was set up to be a representative decision so that whatever he decided, however he went, that would determine the course for the human race. If he passed the test and rejected the temptation and did not eat of the fruit if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil then all of his descendents would be born with positive, confirmed righteousness. If he failed the test, then all of his descendents would be born in corruption, in a world of suffering and spiritual death as well as physical death. Therefore when Adam sinned as humanity’s representative head the entire race fell. There are many examples in the Scripture of representative headship at work, where God designates a certain person as the head of the family or as the head of a people group, and their decision has ramifications that go down throughout all of history. For example, in Genesis chapter nine there is a curse announced by Noah on his grandson Canaan. Actually, it is his son Ham who violates Noah’s privacy, but when Noah pronounces a blessing and a curse on his sons that curse fell on Canaan. Canaan wasn’t even the one directly involved in the sin and it is actually his descendents on whom the curse falls. We can also say that the blessing on Japheth was one that didn’t actually go to Japheth himself, but went to all of the descendants of Japheth. Another example is with Esau and Jacob. When Esau sold his birthright to Jacob all of his descendants from the consequences of that as they were excluded from the blessing of the promise to Abraham and to Isaac. And again, the promise to Abraham is a promise of blessing to a representative head. The promise to Abraham was to all of his descendants. The principle in the federal headship of Adam is that God in His omniscience knew that any human being put in that same situation with Adam under any set of circumstances would end up committing the same sin eventually.

4) The other view, which has to do with the transmission of guilt, is called seminalism, which comes from the Latin word which means seed. The idea in seminalism, which was a view originally set forth by Augustine and also held by Calvin and Luther, is the view that all humanity participated physically in Adam’s sin, that the sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s sin was passed on physically through procreation. That is the idea of seminalism. It is not only the sin nature but also the guilt of Adam’s original sin were passed on physically through procreation. The biblical support for seminalism comes out of a passage in Hebrews—Hebrews 7:9, 10, “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.” Levi was one of the sons of Jacob who later became known as Israel. Levi was the great grandson of Abraham, so there was quite a distance of time between them. Levi was not physically present when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, but what the writer of Hebrews says is that he was there seminally “in the loins of his father.” Therefore you can say that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. So the argument is that this shows that there is a physical or genetic tie or connection that is passed down physically through procreation from one generation to the other. When the argument is looked at you have Romans 5:12 to support federalism and you have Hebrews 7:9, 10 to support seminalism. The fact is, there are elements of both that are true and so we have to refine our thinking a little bit. Remember that in federalism both the sin nature and Adam’s original sin are imputed on the basis of the representative principle. In seminalism the sin nature plus Adam’s original sin are passed on genetically. But the way both are true is that the sin nature is passed on genetically and Adam’s original sin on the basis of Adam’s federal headship, is then imputed to that sin nature. So there are elements on both that are true and this is how you put them together. Adam’s original sin is the result of the federal headship of Adam; seminalism is the result of the physical connection the sin nature is passed on genetically from father to the next generation.

5) Understanding how the elements of both are true. In seminalism we see that the sin nature is passed on genetically through procreation. On the male side every sperm cell in the human body contains 46 chromosomes which give the blueprint of who you are. Those chromosomes pass on the genetic physical aspect to the sin nature. Wee know this because the sin nature is referred to in Scripture with such terms as “flesh,” “body of sin,” an other terms indicating a physical dimension to the sin nature. When these chromosomes that contain this genetic corruption of the sin nature are passed on they go down through the male. The cell splits into two cells that have 23 chromosomes each, and then those two cells mature into two mature sperm cells. This is an operation called meiosis. Then on the female side there is an egg that is produced, and it starts off with 46 chromosomes but in the process of meiosis it throws off 23 chromosomes in what is called polar bodies, a process of cell purification, so that when it is ready for fertilization the egg has only 23 chromosomes and has been purified. So on the female side is a purified egg but on the male side nothing is lost and so there is still a sin nature. When the sperm cell fertilizes the egg then the sin nature is passed on from one generation to the next. This shows one of the reasons for the virgin birth. When the male side is removed at the virgin conception and the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, then what happens in the virgin conception is the Holy Spirit causes the egg to have parthenogenesis without benefit of the sin nature so that the product is one hundred per cent true humanity, minus a sin nature and minus Adam’s original sin. Because there is no sin nature there is no home for the assignment/imputation of Adam’s original sin. Therefore Jesus in His humanity is born without a sin nature and without the imputation of Adam’s original sin. He is born sinless or impeccable. That explains the seminalism side of the issue. It just deals with the physical transmission of the sin nature. On the federalism side where we see Adam as our designated head, his guilt is imputed to us, so that at the instant of birth we are born with a sin nature, and that sin nature is going to be the home to which God is going to impute Adam’s original sin—the legal (not emotional) guilt of Adam’s original sin.



Doctrine of Adam’s original sin. Heb. 090b


1. Adam’s original sin occurred when he violated God’s mandate in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:17 he was told …


NKJ Genesis 2:17 “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”


That Hebrew there isn’t “dying you will die”. That doesn’t make sense if you think about it in English. It doesn’t make sense in Hebrew. You have a qal imperfect in conjunction with a qal infinitive absolute. It is a Hebrew idiom meaning that something is certain. It is boldface, italics, underlined in upper case. It is a statement of absolute certainty that something is going to immediately happen.


2. This sin of disobedience resulted in Adam’s immediate spiritual death – not something that happens 930 years later, but something that happened immediately. If you eat some spoiled shrimp, you will get immediately sick. Right? You aren’t going to wait 20 years and then get sick from that shrimp. That wouldn’t make sense. But people often make the mistake of saying that the penalty for sin in physical death. Physical death is a consequence of spiritual death. It is a consequence of the act of spiritual rebellion. So the sin resulted in Adam’s immediate spiritual death and the formation of a sin nature. When you go through seminary (and Ike is going to find this out if he hasn’t discovered it already) and you get in theology classes, everybody gets all wrapped around the axel over – what does nature mean? Is this something you can put under a microscope and observe? What does nature mean? You go through all kinds of discussions. It basically means a capacity for disobedience and autonomy from God and it is something that is inherited genetically. There is certainly a corporeal dimension to it, to the sin nature, the capacity for disobedience and rebellion against God.
3. The sin nature is a corruption of the image of God. Now let me just stop there. That is the first clause in this point. The third point is that the sin nature is a corruption of the image of God. If we go back to Genesis 1:26-27 (and we have spent a lot of time in those verses so I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time there.), God says, “Let us create man in our image and in our likeness.” Too often in evangelicalism and in Christianity “image” and “likeness” have been restricted to simply the soul, simply the immaterial part of man. As I pointed out time and time again, we can’t do that. You can’t limit it to only the immaterial part of man. He is talking about “Let us make the human race in our image and after our likeness.” It is a term that involves not only the incorporeal part of man, immaterial part of man but also the corporeal part of man. It is the totality of man that represents this imageness. The body is just as much important as the immaterial soul. So there is a physical dimension to being in the image of God. Not that God looks like man, but that man is to be the representative. In that case he represents God as His image. So if the sin nature corrupts the image of God, if the image of God is only immaterial, then the corruption is only immaterial. But if the image is both material and immaterial, then the image is corrupted and there is a physical and an immaterial dimension to that corruption. That is the point that I am making. It is not that it means that all of a sudden man looked worse, but that physical aspect certainly began to impact things so that man lost health. He physically died. He was subject to illness. Eventually he becomes subject to all kinds of physical diseases because of the physical corruption of the image of God. So the third point is that the sin nature is the corruption of the image of God which distorts the individual’s orientation to God. That is in the spiritual realm – in that non-material realm because in spiritual death the human spirit is lost. The human spirit is that immaterial aspect of man’s makeup that enables his soul to be properly oriented to God to understand the things of God, to communicate with God, and to have relationship with God. When that dimension – whatever you want to call it (We call it a human spirit.) is gone – then the human soul in its self consciousness, in its mentality, in its volition, in its consciousness tries to orient itself to what? A material universe because it has no anchor, no knowledge, no connection to the true spiritual dimension which is God. Jesus says is John 4,


NKJ John 4:24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”


God is a spirit. So in spiritual death man has no capacity to orient toward God. So his thinking is automatically oriented and attracted to a material, physical universe. There is an affinity there. As a result he can’t understand the things of the spirit of God and many other factors. So point number 3 is that the sin nature is a corruption of the image of God which distorts the individual’s orientation to God and supplies a capacity and orientation to rebellion toward God. In Roman Catholic theology they use the term privation which means you lose something. Something is no longer there. They view sin as simply the loss of righteousness or holiness. That is an anemic view of what happens in the fall because it is the loss of original righteousness. It is not the acquisition of a nature that is corrupt and corrupting. So there is not a tangible gaining of that which is evil. That is what the Scripture teaches. We become corrupt. You don’t just lose something. We also acquire this orientation to God that is hostile.

4. At the core of this sinful capacity we have two aspects. I think whatever we do when we talk about the sin nature there are two poles around which all of the activities of the sin nature orient themselves. The first is the autonomy of man. I will use a little alliteration here so that we can remember this – autonomy and antagonism. In autonomy man is arrogant toward God. He is filled with himself. Autonomy means self-law. Autos – nomos is self-law. Man is going to be a law unto himself. He is going to look to himself for absolutes. He is going to determine what is right and wrong. That is what Eve started to do when the serpent said, “Did God really say this? Is that really true?” He has put her in a position where she has to judge the veracity of God. As soon as she began to judge whether or not God’s command was fair or not, then she was already flying down that slippery slope into failure. So the first aspect of the sin nature is autonomy or independence, rebelliousness. Man is going to rule things on his own apart from God. The second is antagonism towards God. He wants to put himself first. He is also hostile to God. He is hostile to divine revelation. He is hostile to divine truth. Man’s basic orientation is to be hostile to the divine institutions and establishment truth.
5. The sin nature renders the individual separated from God and depraved or corrupted in all aspects of his nature. That is what the reformers meant when they used the phrase “total depravity”. They didn’t mean that you were as bad as you could be. They meant that every aspect of your being was affected and corrupted by sin. Your consciousness, your mentality, your volition, your thought – everything is corrupted and affected by sin. There is no element of man’s makeup that is free-floating like it was before Adam’s sin. So the sin nature renders the individual separated from God and depraved and corrupted in all aspects of his nature. Therefore man is unable to do anything that pleases God or gains God’s approval. Now man can do relative-good things. Jesus said to His disciples, “You being evil” – clear recognition of their depravity. Modern man doesn’t like to think that we are evil – that those cute little babies that are born are evil. They are just as evil. All it is, is a sin nature wrapped up in flesh. You know what the Bible says about the flesh. That little baby is just as evil as he can be – just as evil as anybody else. That little baby is as evil as Adolph Hitler. He just hasn’t acted on it yet. But, that is his capacity. Man can’t do anything to please God. Jesus said to His disciples “You being evil know how to give good gifts to your children.” See he is capable of relative good. He is capable of all sorts of altruism. He is capable of all kinds of helpfulness. He is capable of all manner of kindnesses. Man can do many wonderful, wonderful things as a fallen creature apart from the enablement of God. But it is all tainted by a root that is corrupted by sin. So man can’t do anything to merit God’s approval. He is incapable of knowing God or responding in any way that includes something meritorious. That leads us to the 6th point.
6. The sin nature – this capacity, this corrupted aspect – can produce both sin in terms of active disobedience to God – active disobedience to revealed mandates. That would be a definition of personal sin- direct disobedience of God and His character. Sin can also produce that which is relative good. It can produce morality. Not long ago I was talking with a minister in a denomination. I made the point that unbelievers can be incredibly moral, but that doesn’t mean that they are good in God’s eyes. He didn’t know quite what to do with that. What is typical today is morality is often used as a synonym for spirituality. But Jesus recognizes that unbelievers can be moral. The Pharisees were very moral. We come at the text looking at it through the grid of the Holy Spirit’s interpretation and we see the Pharisees as the antagonists to Jesus, and therefore they are always bad. But, until Jesus came on the scene the Jewish culture thought that the Pharisees were the epitome of moral rectitude and correctness and righteousness. They were always going to the temple. They were always praying. They were always visible. They were always studying. They knew their Scriptures. How could anybody be more righteous than they? That is why Jesus came along in the Sermon on the Mount and said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you can’t see the kingdom of God.” They are good. He recognized right there that they produced a level, a superior level, of righteousness. But, that wasn’t going to be good enough. So the sin nature produces both active disobedience to God, but it also produces that which is moral and that which is relative good, but it has nothing in it that gains God’s approval. So point 6 is that Adam thus corrupted the imago dei that is the Latin phrase for the image of God. The original sin thus corrupted the Latin phrase for the image of God, but it doesn’t eradicate. Some people come along and they say, “Well, the image of God was eradicated by sin.” It wasn’t. Man is still in the image of God. Go to Genesis 9 when God is defining the reason for capital punishment. It is because of the fact that someone has killed someone else in God’s image. Even though it has been corrupted, that is the basis for capital punishment. It is not because it is a deterrent. It is not because you want to set an example. It is not for any of those reasons. It is because somebody has reached the point where their soul is so corrupt that they have so little respect for a divine image bearer. Then to take the life of a divine image bearer is an act of blasphemy against God. To kill one who bears His image is an act against the one whose image he bears. The reason you are to take the life of anyone who commits certain crimes is because they are viewed as an act against God because it is an act against one who bears His image. So the image isn’t eradicated; it is corrupted.
7. The question then is – does Adam’s sin affect only Adam or does Adam’s sin affect his descendents as well? Now that is an important question. Some of you may be aware that today when we usually talk about issues related to sovereignty and free will related to election related to the extent of the atonement and some of these other things the things we usually talk about in terms of a debate that came out of the Reformation known as the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Calvinists are those who are in the tradition of John Calvin coming out of Geneva, Switzerland. The Arminians being the followers generally of James Arminius who was a Dutch theologian who taught in Holland. The fact is that where their followers were by 1615-1616 is not where either Calvin or Arminius were to begin with. Those are the terms that we use. This debate didn’t just pop up in the early 17th century or late16th century. It was the same basic debate that had begun back in the 3rd century, 4th century between Augustine who was the bishop of Hippo and a British monk by the name of Pelagius. Pelagius taught that every person was born as Adam was created – no corruption, no sin nature, perfectly free volition, each person made their own decision as to whether they were fallen. So according to Pelagius people could live their entire life without ever sinning and they would automatically go to heaven. That was known as Pelagianism. So that created the initial debate. This has been an ongoing debate for numerous years. Point #7 is does Adam’s sin affect only Adam or his descendents?
8. If it affects his descendents, how does it affect his descendents? How is it passed from one generation to another? That leads to the two terms that we briefly introduced – seminalism and federalism.
9. Let’s get our definition. In Seminalism the entire human race, body and soul, was genetically present in Adam. The entire human race, body and soul, material and immaterial are present in Adam. This view is usually connected to a Traducianist view of the transmission of the soul. This is seminalism. Everything is passed on through procreation, through secondary causes, both the soul and the body. The second view is called Federalism. This is the view that Adam stood as the head and representative of the human race. Adam’s decisions were on behalf of all humanity. This view is most consistently linked to the creationist view of the origin and transmission of the soul. So those are the two positions.
10. We are going to look at the biblical support for the seminalist position and that is our passage. That is the one passage they always go to in Hebrews 7:9-10.


NKJ Hebrews 7:9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak,


Levi, not personally, but indirectly through his descendents….


We saw that the Greek there was really “in the manner of speaking.”


NKJ Hebrews 7:10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.


We have done the exegesis of this verse. This concept that he was in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him is a figure of speech. That is what the Greek says. But historically this was taken to mean that Levi personally, actually, truly, genuinely paid tithes to Melchizedek because he is seminally present – body and soul – in Abraham, three generation back. That is the only verse, the primary verse that they go to.

11. Point number 11 gives the biblical support for the federal position. This is found in Romans 5:15-19 and I Corinthians 15:22.


NKJ Romans 5:15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.


That is the free gift of salvation or justification.


NKJ Romans 5:16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.


Now how did that judgment on Adam that came from one offense resulting in condemnation of the whole human race? You see Paul is making this comparison between the way condemnation goes to the entire human race and the free gift of justification goes to the entire human race. That is why I come back and say that both. There is truth in both sides of this because Jesus Christ is our representative on the cross. What qualifies Him in one sense to be there is because He is a true human and is genetically linked to the entire human race. So there is truth on both sides. You have to understand what elements apply to each side.


NKJ Romans 5:17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)


That is Adam’s original sin.


It is talking about the offense and the judgment.


Now let me pause there a minute. In fact I had the question-discussion with a pastor about this last week. The question comes up – is physical death in the animal kingdom a result of man’s sin? Why is that important? Because some people will come along and say, “Well, there was death before Adam. It is in the fossils.” If you try to put any kind of life between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 then you can have (which is what the old Earth gap view did and other views – progressive evolution view, threshold evolution view some of these other assimilationist views) will try to get an old earth position. You will have millions or billions of years before Adam and then finally Adam pops up on the scene. You just have spiritual death. That is all that this is talking about – is spiritual death. So you can have animals die. Now there is a difference between animals and plants because the Hebrew word for animals’ life is nephesh hajah and that is not the same to apply to the life of plants. So Adam could eat corn and he is not killing it. I have read some people who tried to argue that. “See those plant died when they ate it. There was death.” Different words! You have to pay attention to the Hebrew text. Death is a principle.


NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.


We will look at that in a minute.


NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.


Death came by Adam. Death there is talking about physical death. It is an anarthrous noun indicating death as an entity – not just the physical death of man. This is death as an entity comes into creation as a result Adam’s sin. Then of course we see the other elements of the curse that apply to the animals as well.


NKJ Romans 5:17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)


See he is not talking about animals per se here because why? It is not the subject. His subject is talking about Christ’s death bringing salvation. So he is talking about man. But the death that he is probably talking about here is not physical; it is spiritual because he is talking about the penalty, the condemnation. Now you have to be careful in some of the creationists’ literature. I have read a lot from guys in ICR, guys in Answers in Genesis and they don’t get this straight on the difference between physical death and spiritual death. They want to make physical death the penalty for sin. So you have to be careful there and don’t get caught by that trap.


NKJ Romans 5:18 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.


That is Adam’s disobedience to God.


So our question is how did this happen?


NKJ Romans 5:19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.


That is the verse for the federal position talking about Adam as our representative just as Christ is our representative.

12. As with many theological positions, these are often presented as either –or when it may best be understood as a both-and. There are elements of both that are true. Some aspects of man are physically and seminally present in Adam. There is a physical connection that links us to Adam, but is also a physical connection that connects links us to Christ. If you breakdown that physical connection then you lose the physical connection to Christ and it messes up salvation. But, there is also a spiritual dimension, an immaterial dimension that relates to imputation of sin and imputation of righteousness.

13. So in other ways man is represented by both Adam and Christ. So both are true.

14. This allows for Adam’s sin to be legally and actually our sin. It means that a physical dimension related to sin is passed on genetically to every member of the human race except for Christ because of the virgin birth.

15. It also allows for Christ’s death to be for the entire human race because He is related genetically to the entire human race. It also allows for Him to represent us on the cross. So both sides are true. There is physical connection and a federal representation.