Who is Guilty of Adam’s Sin? A Centrist Response to Adam Harwood, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

by Ken Hamrick

By dismissing as insignificant the Augustinian principle of a spiritual participation of all men in Adam’s sin, Dr. Harwood (with agreement of both Calvinists and Traditionalists) discards that which offers the most hope for bringing Southern Baptists closer together (and closer to the Biblical truth) on this issue. Currently, the standard Calvinist position is that all are born under the condemnation of the imputed sin of Adam, and the only alternative they see is a denial of the union of the race in Adam. As well, the Traditionalists’ position is to deny imputed guilt by denying the union in Adam as a basis for that imputed guilt. If both sides could agree with the older Augustinian principle that the moral nature of all men was in Adam and participated in his sin, then their disagreement would be raised to the closer question of whether or not God personally condemns individuals for a sin that was only corporate (the race as a whole in Adam) and not personally or individually committed by men. Both sides would agree that all men have an ownership in Adam’s sin, and that all the consequences that fall on us for that sin are deserved and just; and further, both sides would agree that God does indeed cause just consequences to fall on the race, because all men had a real participation in Adam’s sin. Both sides could agree that if a covenant was involved between God and Adam, it was emblematic of the greater moral framework (established by God’s nature) of what is right and wrong, just and unjust. In these propositions, all Southern Baptists at every point on the spectrum could be united in agreement.

Dr. Harwood says of the Calvinistic system, “…the non-elect are judged for thoughts, attitudes, and actions which they committed, but they had no choice to act otherwise.” Yet, in his own system, the non-elect are judged for sins that inevitably result from “an inescapable inclination toward sin,” but they had no choice to be otherwise. Both sides could benefit from understanding that the pivotal choice of all men was made while all were still in Adam, for which God’s temporal judgments came upon the race.

In Rom. 5:12, sin is said to have come into the world. Dr. Harwood calls it “an intruder in God’s good creation.” He acknowledges that “Adam became the portal for this intruder called sin,” but he does not tell us the medium by which sin both entered and spreads. How did sin enter into the world? Was sin merely an event that entered the world—the first of a long series of events of sin? Or, did sin enter the nature of man, through Adam, and by that nature get passed to all descendants in the world? And if sin entered the nature of man, then how can one avoid the conclusion that the nature in us that sins (the moral, spiritual nature) chose to sin while in Adam and was thereafter propagated to us?

Dr. Harwood proposes to dismiss the substantial arguments of the whole class of Augustinian theologians by the force of a single paragraph:

It’s widely agreed that Augustine misread Rom 5:12. He either relied on Old Latin and Vulgate translations or was influenced by other western theologians. In either case, Augustine’s misreading of Rom 5:12 shaped the Christian tradition. Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer explains that the doctrine of original sin (the view that all people inherit both the sin and guilt of Adam) is not an explicit teaching of Paul. Rather, the doctrine was developed from Augustine’s later writings and solidified through the 16th Council of Carthage, the 2nd Council of Orange, and the Tridentine Council. But, Fitzmyer explains, Paul did not teach the doctrine of original sin.

Which is more inexplicable—that Dr. Harwood would find more credibility in a single Roman Catholic than in a host of Protestant Augustinians; or that he would actually recommend that we abandon the Augustinian principle (on which many noteworthy theologians have produced systematic and exegetical works) with very little substantive engagement of the opposing arguments? Does Dr. Harwood actually think that all of the Augustinian theologians have simply fallen victim to not knowing about the mistranslated phrase in the Vulgate? The fact is that the arguments of Augustine, and of those who followed him on this point, are based on far more than merely this one verse—and furthermore, as we shall see below, this real presence and participation in Adam is sufficiently implied in this verse even without the “in whom” language. For as many centuries as the Augustinian model has served the Church, it ought not to be cast away with a superficial argument. If Dr. Harwood wants Southern Baptists to move beyond Augustinian theology, then let him substantively address the arguments of eminent Augustinian theologians in a way worthy of those whom he claims have been in error.

Dr. Harwood addresses all of his remaining arguments to the “Covenant Theology” view of inherited guilt. He continues with John Murray:

The Covenant Theology view is affirmed by theologians such as John Murray, Wayne Grudem, and Michael Horton. In 1959, Murray published The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, a biblical-historical examination of Rom 5:12–21. Murray argues that death came to all people because all sinned in Adam. In this way, God counts all people guilty because of Adam’s sin. But there are three critical weaknesses in this Covenant interpretation. First, the Bible never states “all sinned in Adam.” Covenant Theologians insist on a view not required by the text. Second, against Murray: physical death is not always a sign of one’s guilt; physical death can occur prior to personal transgression of the law; consider David’s infant son, who died as a result of David’s sin. Third, the Covenant interpretation depends on two theological constructs not explicitly stated in the Bible: the covenant of redemption (which depends upon the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election and a pact among the persons of the Trinity) and the covenant of works (between God and Adam). A summary of this third point is simple: these covenants are not in the Bible.

There are two problems with this. First, Murray is not a “covenant theologian,” though he is a Calvinist. Murray states, in “The Adamic Administration,” Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2, (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), pp. 49, 50:

This [Adamic] administration has often been denoted ‘The Covenant of Works’. There are two observations. (1) The term is not felicitous, for the reason that the elements of grace entering into the administration are not properly provided for by the term ‘works’. (2) It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy. Besides, Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow…

…The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous construction of the Mosaic covenant, as well as fails to assess the uniqueness of the Adamic administration.

Nowhere in Murray’s book, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, does he refer to a covenant between Adam and God.

Second, although Murray provides a detailed, exegetical argument, Dr. Harwood cites only this much of it: “Murray argues that death came to all people because all sinned in Adam. In this way, God counts all people guilty because of Adam’s sin.” The question begs to be answered, why would Dr. Harwood not seriously engage such a substantive and worthy argument as provided by this book? Read The Imputation of Adam’s Sin and you cannot but be struck by the fact that men such as Murray did not shrink back from substantively engaging any theological, philosophical, or exegetical argument that opposed them. To read the book and superficially dismiss it is inappropriate at best. Dr. Harwood continues:

But there are three critical weaknesses in this Covenant interpretation. First, the Bible never states, “all sinned in Adam.” Covenant Theologians insist on a view not required by the text. Second, against Murray: physical death is not always a sign of one’s guilt; physical death can occur prior to personal transgression of the law; consider David’s infant son, who died as a result of David’s sin. Third, the Covenant interpretation depends on two theological constructs not explicitly stated in the Bible: the covenant of redemption (which depends upon the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election and a pact among the persons of the Trinity) and the covenant of works (between God and Adam). A summary of this third point is simple: these covenants are not in the Bible.

As for the first “weakness” listed, a lack of explicit text does not in itself disprove an inference, so this objection is very weak. As to the second, it misses Murray’s point, as we will see below. As to the third, it does not apply to Murray’s argument. Let’s look at some of Murray’s argument, Imputation, pp. 9-12 (note that Murray calls the view he is addressing “the Pelagian view,” not because Dr. Harwood’s view is Pelagian but because they both understand Rom. 5:12 to be referring to the sins of individuals by the clause, “because all sinned”):

This [Pelagian] view is that the clause in question refers to the actual sins of men. In this event the thought of Paul would be that as Adam sinned and therefore died so in like manner all men die because they sin. Adam is the prototype—he sinned and brought sin and death into the world. Others in like manner sin and they also are afflicted with death. The coordination of sin and death, exemplified in Adam, applies in every case where there is sin…

…There are, however, conclusive objections on factual, exegetical, and theological grounds.

(i) The Pelagian view is not actually or historically true. Not all die because they actually and voluntarily sin. Infants die. But they have not actually transgressed after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.

(ii) In verses 13, 14 Paul states the opposite of the Pelagian view. For here we are told that death reigned over those who did not sin after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. What or whom Paul has in view is difficult to determine, but it is obvious that he is thinking of death as exercising its sway over persons who did not sin as Adam did. It is futile to try to evade the direct bearing of this fact upon the Pelagian interpretation. Paul is saying the opposite, namely, that death reigns universally and therefore reigns over those who are in a different category from that of Adam.

(iii) The most conclusive refutation of the Pelagian interpretation is derived from the repeated and emphatic affirmations of Paul in the immediate context, affirmations to the effect that the universal sway of condemnation and death is to be referred to the one sin of the one man Adam. On at least five occasions in verses 15-19 this principle is asserted—”by the trespass of the one the many died” (vs. 15); “the judgment was from one unto condemnation” (vs. 18); “through the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners” (vs. 19). We might think that Paul has needlessly repeated himself, but it is a repetition which establishes beyond dispute that Paul regards condemnation and death as having passed on to all men by the one trespass of the one man Adam. It is quite impossible to construe this emphasis upon the one sin of the one man as equivalent to the actual personal sin of countless individuals. It is indisputable, therefore, that Paul regards the universality of condemnation and death as grounded upon and proceeding from the one trespass of the one man Adam…

I do not agree with all that Murray says here; but his argument certainly warrants a more detailed engagement than Dr. Harwood has provided. Dr. Harwood addresses the Adam-Christ parallel:

In Romans 5, Paul parallels Adam and Christ. What is Paul’s point? Covenant Theologians say there are two heads of humanity. Adam imputes guilt to all people; Christ imputes righteousness to the elect. But Romans 5 does not say Adam’s guilt and condemnation are imputed to all people. Rather, we see in verse 12 that sin enters the world, death enters through sin, and death spreads because all sinned. In this way: “…one trespass led to condemnation for all men…” (v. 18) and “…the many were   made sinners…” (v. 19). In other words, verses 18 and 19 should be read in light of verse 12.

Paul’s point in Rom 1:18-3:20 is that all people are individually accountable to God and condemned when they deny the existence of God and transgress His law. People become condemned because of their actions.

The possibility that the phrase in v. 12, “so death spread to all men because all sinned,” is referring to the sins of individuals is pretty well shot down by v. 15, “For if many died through one man’s trespass…” If the many died through one man’s trespass, then death preceded their own individual existence, much less their individual sins. And even this is implicit in v. 12, since “death spread” is past tense and not “death spreads to all men because all sin.”

A Realistic Alternative

Paul’s point is that death came through one man just as life comes through one Man, Christ; and that death came through the one man’s sin, in whom all sinned, just as life comes through the one man’s righteous act (culminating a righteous life), and all who are in Him are made righteous by Him. Death spread to all because when Adam sinned, all sinned. The free gift is for those who believe, whereby they are united to Christ in a way that correlates to our previous union in Adam. When Christ died, we died, and we are justified because of it.

The principle of death was brought into the world by sin, as the natural result. “…So death spread to all men because all sinned–” Notice that it does not say, “because all sin,” but, “because all sinned.” The thought here is not that death spreads because all men sin as individuals, but that all men sinned in Adam, while in the loins of Adam. Many men do not yet exist, but already they are part of the group of which it is said, “all sinned.” That it is the one sin of Adam that is in view, and not the sins of individuals, is confirmed in the following verses: “through one man’s trespass,” (v. 15); “the result of that one man’s sin,” (v. 16); “one trespass” (v. 16); “because of one man’s trespass,” (v. 17); “one trespass” (v. 18); “the one man’s disobedience” (v. 19). Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), p. 637:

…The verb ἁμαρτάν [hamartanō] is a simple aorist. This tense most commonly refers to a single past action. Had Paul intended to refer to a continued process of sin, the present and imperfect tenses were available to him. But he chose the aorist, and it should be taken at face value. Indeed, if we regard the sin of all men and the sin of Adam as the same, the problems we have pointed to become considerably less complex. There is then no conflict between verse 12 and verses 15 and 17. Further, the potential problem presented by verse 14, where we read that “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam,” is resolved, for it is not imitation or repetition of Adam’s sin, but participation in it, that counts.
The last clause in verse 12 tells us that we were involved in some way in Adam’s sin; it was in some sense also our sin. But what is meant by this? On the one hand, it may be understood in terms of federal headship—Adam acted on behalf of all persons. There was a sort of contract between God and Adam as our representative, so that what Adam did binds us. Our involvement in Adam’s sin might be better understood in terms of natural headship, however. We argued in chapter 22 for a special creation of man in the entirety of his nature. We further argued in chapter 24 for a very close connection (a “conditional unity”) between the material and immaterial aspects of human nature. In chapter 25 we examined several biblical intimations that even the fetus is regarded by God as a person. These and other considerations support the position that the entirety of our human nature, both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, has been received from our parents and more distant ancestors by way of descent from the first pair of humans. On that basis, we were actually present within Adam, so that we all sinned in his act…

Notice also that death is said to “spread,” rather than being a punishment given as a judgment upon each individual man. To speak of death as spreading is to speak of it in the terms of natural conditions, like a congenital disease. 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. Death reigned even over those who did not violate an express, written or verbal command of God, as Adam did. Sin was still imputed because of the law written on the hearts of all, but death reigned only because of the sin of Adam, who was a type of Christ. As the obedience of Christ alone is responsible for the life that is brought to His seed, the disobedience of Adam alone is responsible for bringing death to Adam’s seed. Sin is not imputed when there is no law of any kind, but death still reigns because of Adam. Adam “was a type of the one who was to come,” because both Adam and Christ are the heads of their spiritual seed. We are not only the physical descendants of Adam, but the spiritual descendants of Adam, as well. When Christ redeems us, He causes us to become the spiritual seed of Christ (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 9:6; John 1:12-13; John 3:3). We were united with Adam when he sinned, and death passed through to all of us. When we are united to Christ, we are thereby united to His death, and life passes through Him to us (Rom. 6:1-14).

Rom. 5:15 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. ESV
There is not a perfect parallel between Adam and Christ. Here, Paul points out some differences. The defining act of the one head brought death to his seed, while the defining act of the other head brings the free gift of life to His seed. But the greater difference lies in the means of propagation. Death resulting from Adam’s sin comes to us by natural means, while the free gift comes by means of the grace of God. The free gift is said to abound because it is more than abundantly effective in overcoming death with life and sin with righteousness.
Rom. 5:16 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. ESV

Paul points out more differences. “…The judgment following one trespass brought condemnation…” What judgment? “In the day that you shall eat of it, you shall surely die.” Adam did eat of it, and all spiritually died within him. How does that spiritual death bring condemnation to all? It does so by causing us to be born in a state of alienation from God, centered in ourselves, and bent toward sin. Because of this, we all inevitably and invariably choose to sin as soon as we reach an accountable understanding. Thus, we are then under condemnation for our sin. We are not condemned directly for Adam’s sin, as the federalists assert, but rather, his sin leads to, or results in, our condemnation (and this is confirmed in v. 18, “…one trespass led to condemnation for all men…”). Whereas the sin of Adam results in condemnation, the free gift of Christ brings justification. Just as our condemnation is not caused directly by Adam’s disobedience, but is conditioned on our personal sinning, so also our justification is not the immediate result of Christ’s obedience, but is conditioned on our personal faith in Him (which is itself a gift of God). Though justification is a free gift, condemnation is always earned—of works, and never like grace or a gift.

For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation [to the many], but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification [through the one]. Here is another difference. The seed of Adam are propagated in a different way from the seed of Christ. It is the nature of human propagation to produce a being that is separate from the parent. While the child’s spirit comes from his father, the spirit of the child, once conceived, is separate from the father. This is opposite in the case of the believer and Christ, since the believer becomes “one spirit” with Christ. In regeneration, propagation can be viewed in two modes. God is propagating new children, who are the spiritual seed of Christ; and God is propagating His Holy Spirit in each believer. Neither mode is exactly the same as human spiritual propagation. In propagating new children of God, He both spiritually adopts them and makes them His children in actuality by indwelling them with the Holy Spirit, joining them to Christ, and putting His Spirit within them in an identifying union. In propagating His Holy Spirit to believers, it is not a descendant Spirit, but the special manifestation of the omnipresent Spirit; nevertheless, He indwells the believer in whole, not in part.

Though these two modes of spiritual propagation differ somewhat from human propagation, they are, together, sufficient to provide the important parallel. Unlike human propagation, when the Spirit of Christ is propagated to His seed, there is no separation involved—the continuity of being is maintained beyond propagation. Because of the nature of God, He is able to propagate His Spirit to all believers without that Spirit becoming a separate entity. Though the propagation of a child of Adam involves the disuniting of the child and father, the propagation of a child of God is the bringing of the believer into union with God. Unlike Adam, when the Spirit of Christ is propagated, the Person of Christ is also propagated to us. Since Christ is not divided, but the same Christ is in all believers, then it is true that we are in Him, as He is in us. As is the nature of God, He is everywhere at once, and yet, He is whole and entire at any particular point. His presence in the believer is whole and entire, so it is true that He is in us; yet, He is present everywhere and transcends all of creation, so it is true that we are in Him. For this reason, the propagation of Christ’s seed is both parallel to and the opposite of the propagation of Adam’s seed. While Adam’s spirit is dispersed to many descendants, the spirits of believers are collected back into one Head, Christ. In the case of Adam, we have the results of his sin being dispersed to the many; while in the case of Christ, we have the many being justified through union into the One.

Rom. 5:17 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. ESV

Death reigns through the one man, Adam, because of his sin alone. The power that is in Christ to “reign in life” is “much more” effective than the power of death. Those who receive the abundance of the grace and the free gift are spiritually joined to the One who reigns. He is in us, and we are in Him, and therefore, we “reign in life” in Him.

Rom. 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For 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. ESV
…One trespass led to condemnation for all men… by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners. Notice that Paul does not say, “…as one trespass condemned all men,” but rather, “…as one trespass led to condemnation for all men…” Adam’s trespass led to condemnation for all men. Not all men are justified because of Christ’s act of righteousness, but only those who by faith receive the free gift; so also, all men are not immediately condemned apart from any act on their part. Verse 19 explains how one man’s trespass can lead to condemnation: “by the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners…” One man’s sin caused the whole race to be bent toward sin, so that sinning is what we do by nature. Sinners are condemned for their own sin (Ezekiel 18:20; Deut. 24:16; Rom. 2:6; Ps. 62:12; Mat. 16:27; Prov. 24:12; Rev. 20:12-13).
…One act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men… by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. While the union with the person of Adam ended long ago, there is a marvelous, everlasting union available to those who will believe, wherein condemned sinners can be united to the Spirit of Christ and share His personal identity, cleansing all their sins and changing their condemnation into justification. The union of believers with Christ is spiritual, and not merely legal or “federal.” This union happens within substantial reality, and does not exist only within the mind of God. Rom. 6:3, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” and, 1 Cor. 6:17, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” It is not speaking of water baptism, but baptism into the Spirit, which happens at the point of saving faith. To be spiritually baptized into Christ is to be joined to Him so that the new believer and Christ are one spirit, and the result of this is that the new believer is joined to (or, baptized into) His death. As the spirit is the core of a man, it is the core of a man’s identity. When the Holy Spirit indwells the man, He creates a new man by joining the spirit of the man to the Spirit of Christ. They are not joined to the extent that either is lost in the other, but they are joined to the extent that the man’s new identity is in Christ and his old identity is no longer valid in the eyes of justice. In fact, the believer is so identified with Christ that he is considered to have been crucified with Him. Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” To be immersed into the Spirit of Christ is to be plunged into that flood of sufficiency that all His human experiences provide. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death.
To be continued in Part 3

Ken Hamrick, 2013

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