Tag Archives: original sin

An Objection to Original Sin – Ezekiel 18

 

Continuing our look at some of the common objections to the Doctrine of Original sin.  You can get caught up here:

In Adam and Original Sin

What About Eve

Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

Objection #4 – What about Ezekiel 18?

This passage is often used as a proof text not only for those who wish to deny original sin, but also for those who wish to deny the seminal headship of Adam, discussed in An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

In short, Ezekiel 18 is not talking about the seminal transmission of sin, nor does it have Adam (centrally) in mind.  It’s focus is on an individual’s deeds (see Objection #6, forthcoming) and the judicial punishment associated with those.  The fault of the Israelite’s was to drift into fatalism by shifting the blame of their exile from their own sins, to the sins of their fathers and essentially throwing their hands up in hopelessness.

Let’s look at the passage in context and allow that to determine whether or not this undermines the doctrine of original sin.

The crux of interpreting Ezekiel 18 hinges on the proverb cited in verse 2, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  Admittedly, I have had a tough time with this proverb in the past, particularly because it is cited elsewhere, Jeremiah 31:29, where it is applied differently.  Clearly though, the intended meaning is that the action of the fathers has had consequences on the children.  As stated before, Israel seemed to place the blame of their pending exile at the feet of their fathers who had sinned and walked contrary to God.  In doing so, they had failed to recognize the sinfulness of their own sin, were guilty of blame-shifting, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and resigned themselves to a fatalistic view of the pending exile.

In our passage, God then commands that use of the proverb cease and makes a declaration of sovereignty that all souls are his, both father and son, and that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:3).  In other words, we are responsible for our own actions.  This does not have original sin in its cross hairs, rather we may add, the consequences of original sin’s corrupting influence, but let’s press home this point.

As the prophet unfolds an ethical case study (Ezekiel 18:5-18) against the erroneous belief of Israel, we find 3 scenarios: 1) The Grandfather 2) The Father 3) The Son, which are righteous, unrighteous, and righteous respectively.  The argument follows that the father is not credited with the righteousness of the grandfather, nor is the son credited with the sins of the father but each are responsible for their own actions.  Essentially this is a case study of the the law found in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

After raising their own argument against them in vs. 19-20, we read, But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” Ezekiel 18:21-22

This point is critical towards understanding that the fatalism of the Israelite’s was a fallacious belief because the passage clearly states that repentance, i.e. turning away from sin, is a decision that rests on the individual.  In other words, their situation is not hopeless but they can be restored if they recognize and repent of their sins.  The individual is responsible for his/her actions and the decision to repent of those actions rests with them as well (humanly speaking).  The reality is, this is a gospel, hope-filled passage declaring the justice of God in holding people responsible for their own sins, yet also the mercy of God in granting forgiveness and restoration to the penitent heart.

That said, understanding this individualism, in isolation from the rest of Scripture, has caused many to use this passage as a proof text against original sin and Adam’s seminal headship, as noted earlier.  However, this application simply cannot be allowed to stand.

First, this view subconsciously implies that individual responsibility for sins would have been unthinkable in Israel prior to Ezekiel’s prophecy and he was charting new territory.  Additionally, the alternative view, “corporate solidarity” would have had to have been the view that this prophecy was correcting.  Neither of which is expressly true.

As previously mentioned, Deuteronomy 24:16 is in the background of Ezekiel’s prophecy and would have been a familiar passage to the prophet’s audience.  Again, the view that was being confronted was the fatalistic view of being punished for another’s actual sin, a view that is explicitly denied when attention is given to the possibility of individual repentance.

Now this is where the objection against original sin finds its headwaters.  As you can probably hear, the argument often made is that Ezekiel 18 is speaking against Adam’s posterity receiving the punishment that was due for his sin.  However, as previously mentioned, the “corporate solidarity” view must equally be considered.  Ezekiel 18 must be harmonized with other areas of Scripture that affirm this solidarity, i.e. that the one can represent the whole.

A classic case study for this is Achan.  Though it was his individual sin, the entire nation was punished for it.  Joshua 7:11 – Israel has sinned, Joshua 7:20 – Achan has sinned.  A second example is the wives and children of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), where the ground split under those who would presume the priesthood and swallowed up whole families.  A further example is that of David, after his sin in the murderours affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and his sin in conducting the census of Israel (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  In the first, we find the death of his newborn son and the promised division of the Israelite Kingdom, both as a result of his sin.  In the latter, we find that God declared judgment upon Israel for David’s unwise, ungodly decision to count his people, resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelites.  Each of these are individual sins, in a sense, the one represented the many and yet corporately they subsequently suffered the consequences.

On the positive side, we have the example of Abraham, and subsequently, Isaac and Jacob, through whom God promised to bless the nation of Israel.  Repeatedly we find God “remembering” the promises made to the Patriarchs as the foundation and basis for how He deals with Israel in an ultimate sense.  Certainly not least in our example of corporate solidarity is our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who represented the many in His death and resurrection on the cross and His subsequent imputation of righteousness to those who believe.

When held in isolation and taken from its context, it’s easy to see how Ezekiel 18 may be used as an argument against original sin and also against the idea of Adam’s seminal headship.  However, context is king, as they say.  The concept of individual responsibility as well as corporate solidarity must be held together.  As Walter Kaiser states in his book on Old Testament ethics, “Both individual responsibility or worth and group solidarity must be understood and carefully defined in approaching Old Testament ethics.” Additionally, the whole of Scripture is in harmony and is therefore does not contradict itself.

In the next post from this series, we’ll wrap up our look at some of the more common objections raised against the Doctrine of Original Sin before proceeding with two implications which arise from the foundation of this critical, yet oft-misunderstood biblical doctrine.

 

 

 

 

Objections to Original Sin – Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

 

In the last few posts, we’ve continued working through a series on 1 Corinthians 15, which I find to be one of the more challenging chapters in Scripture, and have arrived at the passages on the Doctrine of Original Sin.  We’ve since turned our attention towards common objections of this foundational teaching from Scripture, beginning first with the Objection of Eve. Here we’ll explore two more objections that are frequently brought up, What about innocent babies and That’s Not Fair.

Objection #2 – Doesn’t this concept of original sin condemn all mankind, even “innocent” babies?

Answer – The doctrine of original sin does condemn all mankind, even babies.  Scripture knows no such thing as the doctrine of accountability, which loosely states that children reach an “age of accountability” around 12-13 years of age (which similarly is the age for the Jewish Bar mitzvah).  Additionally, Scripture knows nothing of a state of innocence  based on age.

If this teaching were true, and if original sin was not inherited even by babies, then there wouldn’t be any death among those under a certain age.  In other words, the Scriptural teaching “in Adam all die” would be wrong, and it’s not.  Death touches us all, even those in the womb, and it is the direct product of original sin upon the world in which we live.  The wages of sin is death and we must all pay, regardless of age.

As a side note, the effects of original sin, namely guilt and pollution, applied to “innocent babies” does not necessarily mean that should infants or young children die that they are automatically condemned to hell.  We must allow room in our thinking for the truth that the Judge of all the earth will do what’s right.  Admittedly, this is a difficult subject deserving of its own post, but in the meantime, I would lean towards agreeing with Charles Spurgeon’s understanding of infants who die, which you can read for yourself here: Infant Salvation

Objection 3 – Isn’t it unfair that God would punish us as a result of another person’s sin?

Answer – This is perhaps the strongest emotional argument against the doctrine of original sin, particularly in light of objection 2.  However, calling God’s own character, namely His holy justice, into question is a wrong starting point.  We must be like Job and place our hands over our mouths and confess that not a day has gone by that we have not sinned on our own.

If the argument of fairness is allowed to stand, then it must also be allowed that it is unfair for Christ to have the sin of those who would believe imputed to Himself and likewise suffer the punishment that they deserved.  Additionally, it would be “unfair” that Christ’s righteousness should be imputed to all those “in Him” who did nothing to earn that.  This objection of equity cannot consistently stand, despite its emotion appeal.

The “That’s not fair” card was played repeatedly in the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel 18 which we will look at next time. Instead of stomping our feet and screaming that’s not fair, ought we not to be petitioning the Lord for Mercy.  Assuredly we do not want fairness.  Thankfully, both justice and mercy kiss at the cross of Jesus Christ.

An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

 

In a recent post, we looked at the doctrine of original sin as defined by the Word of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Ekklesia at Corinth.  This doctrine, which asserts that “in Adam” all humanity has inherited the guilt and pollution from his original sin, are thereby born with a corrupt nature, and under the wrath and condemnation of Almighty God, has been criticized, even denied, throughout church history.

The denial of original sin is sometimes referred to as Pelaginism, after Pelagius (360-418 A.D.), though it does not find it’s origin here.  Rather it can be seen in the early Gnostic heresies that the Apostles so frequently encountered and refuted.

Recently, the denial of original sin has resurfaced (though it’s never really gone away) through the publication of Adam and the Genome, where the authors Dennis Venema (genetics) and Scot McKnight (theology) systematically work to debunk the historicity of Adam and as a consequence the doctrine of original sin.

With this in mind, let’s begin our look at some of the more common objections to this foundational teaching with the appeal towards the priority of Eve.

Objection 1 – Eve sinned first, why then is it those “in Adam” who share in his guilt and pollution?

Answer – Yes, it is true that Eve sinned by eating of the forbidden tree first.  Though perhaps a cogent argument could be made that Adam sinned first by not protecting the garden from serpent and defending Eve from his wiles.  However, there is a needed point of clarification.  Adam serves over mankind in a dual capacity, first as the natural progenitor of the human race and second as all humanity’s federal representative.  Natural (seminal) headship and federal headship.

In his seed, all those who descend from him are tainted with the corruption that he incurred.  The concept of seminal offspring developed so strongly in the Old Testament traces mankind back to Adam, not Eve.  (See the genealogies of Genesis, 1 Chronicles, and Luke).  In other words, sin has a genealogical connection and this is tied directly to the father.  An important point for later.  When the source point of a stream is polluted, all of the waters downstream are impacted as well.  So it is with the influence of sin on the human race.  But there is more.

As to his representation – in politics, particularly in the United States, we understand the role of a representative, one who is chosen to speak or act on behalf of others.  Generally speaking this is the concept of Adam’s federal representation.  Adam was the representative of the human race, thereby when he sinned and fell, all those whom he represented fell also.  While we did not participate in the sin that he committed, we do share in the guilt and punishment.

Admittedly, and this is important, the Bible does not clearly outline the steps for the transmission of sin, so there is room for some debate between natural and federal headship, though here I am asserting the necessity of both.  But we do know from the passages in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, that in some sense sin is traced to Adam and that all mankind are thereby corrupted from sin’s pollution and guilty, deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

When we look at Union with Christ in a subsequent post, I hope to show why BOTH  of Adam’s headships are necessary and how there is a similar dual relationship in Christ as well.