Revised 12/24/2012 to include an exegesis of Romans 5:12-21
Traditionally, the Baptist idea of an age of accountability has been denigrated as solely based on emotion and held in contradiction to the supposedly insurmountable scriptural evidence for inherited condemnation. While I will not add anything, in the pages below, as to exactly how God redeems these little ones, my goal is to show the error of the audacious claim that Scripture is silent and devoid of any support for their salvation, and defeat the false claim that Scripture teaches their condemnation. It is surprising how much Scripture does have to say.
The term, “age of accountability,” is the popular name for what is more precisely labeled, knowledgeable accountability. The less-precise label leads to straw-man arguments regarding particular ages. The issue is not one of age, but one of knowledge. However, the crux of the argument centers on this: are we condemned from the very first moment of existence (when we are but a single cell, with no brain), or do we become condemned at some later point in our development? That is the real issue. So then, pointing to toddlers’ behavior does not address that issue, since one might hold that around the age of 2 we become condemned (or 18 months, or whatever). We ought to address the real issue: are we condemned already when we are conceived, or not?
Did Adam’s Representation Condemn us?
Many say that we are already condemned at conception, due to the imputed sin of Adam. This is often framed by reference to a covenant between God and Adam. However, the covenant with Adam was not a set of verbal terms of condemnation for his descendants. Rather, the covenant was the reality of nature in both man and the universe. It was the reality that sin is wrong and worthy of death regardless of any contractual terms. It was the reality that the ruining of Adam’s spiritual and physical nature would be the ruining of the spiritual and physical nature of all of those who would be propagated from him. It was the reality that a fall into sin by the only creature to have both a spiritual and physical nature would convey the destroying power of spiritual sin into the physical universe, and would cause physical corruption of the very laws of nature, bringing the principle of death into the physical world as well as into his own soul. As such, the covenant idea is only a template to aid us in understanding the reality.
The truth is found in the balance between the unity of the race in the sinful act of Adam and individual accountability. We all suffer for the sin of Adam precisely according to the way that we participated. Since we did not participate as individuals, then we do not suffer the same penalty as if we had sinned that sin as an individual. God (who is the God of Truth) treats us according to that truth. He does not treat us according to a lie by punishing us as if we committed the sin as individuals. It was not I who sinned in Eden but MANKIND. How, then, could God possibly pass a penalty onto the whole race that would not be on the personal account of any individual (except Adam, who perpetrated it)? God did exactly that through the means of natural, temporal consequences.
These consequences fall on the race in such a way that individual merit or demerit have no bearing. No individual is condemned by the original sin, but neither is any member of the race freed from the consequences in this life. Since we participated only in the sense of our nature choosing to sin in Adam as part of the whole human race in one man, then God poured out the penalty of that crime in such a way as to affect the whole human race through nature, and only in this world. All men are conceived in a state of spiritual death, with a nature that bears the effects of the sinner from whom they have been propagated. All men are born into a world that bears the scars of the sin of the race in Adam. Therefore, God is just on both sides of this issue: 1) no man can claim that God condemns him before the bar of eternal judgment for Adam’s sin, since God only holds men individually accountable for their own sins; and 2) no man can claim that God is unjustly responsible for their being conceived in a state of spiritual death or for their being mortal or born into conditions of a fallen world instead of the paradise of Eden, since the nature of all men participated in Adam’s sin. Although Christ has propitiated God in behalf of believers, and atoned for our sin, we still must suffer the physical consequences of mankind’s sin in Adam, since they neither affect our standing before God nor are affected by our standing before God. Although Christ died in our place, we still must die.
The Physical Results of a Spiritual Sin
Adam and Eve had a conditional physical immortality. They were immortal only because there was no principle of death operating in the world. Since human beings were the only nexus of the physical and spiritual creation, only the sin of a human being could bring the principle of death into the physical world, changing the very laws of nature so that everything in the universe grows old and decays. As long as they did not sin, Adam and Eve were not subject to physical death, and so they were conditionally immortal.
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–
Just as sin came into the world through one man, death came into the world through the sin of one man. Notice that sin and death are said to have come into the world, and not only to have come into mankind. Sin cannot morally taint a material body or a material world, but the temporal curses upon the race because of sin were a physical corruption of the material world—and one of those curses was mortality (the principle of death).
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
“…cursed is the ground because of you;…thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…” Undeniably, this describes a dramatic change to the surface and environment of the entire earth. The perfect, fertile soil was now corrupted. ”…in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; …and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” Here is introduced into the former paradise of earth the new reality: pain, sorrow, sweat and toil. No longer could man continually live by gathering perfect fruit from trees. Now, surviving would require sweat and toil—much effort and work—to try to grow enough food to survive. Along with these, pain and death are introduced. “…till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Here is more evidence of a fundamental change to all of creation. The principle of death here described brought with it all that is involved in mortality: pain, sickness, injury, fatigue, and aging. Man was the crowning achievement of God’s creation, and God said that what He had created was “very good.” But now, because of the fall, man would grow old like a garment and pass away into the dust. However, this principle of death was not restricted to only man; it pervades the entire creation to include every creature and even the earth and heavens…
Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed.
This creation was not always subject to such laws of deterioration, but had at its beginning a glorious perfection. Sin and death corrupted the world, but that perfection will be restored on that Day when all believers will be glorified…
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redempti0n of our bodies.
The whole creation was subjected to futility and put in bondage to corruption—and this condition will remain until the sons of God are revealed in glory, their bodies finally redeemed. Just as the physical bodies of believers will be resurrected to reclaim every last thing that sin corrupted and took away, making victory over sin and death complete, the entire creation, heavens and earth, will undergo a fiery purging and resurrection into a new heavens and new earth…
2 Pet. 3:7-13
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Since even the heavenly bodies—planets, stars, galaxies, etc.—will be involved in the fiery destruction of the old creation and rebirth into the new, it is clear that sin’s curses of death, futility and corruption affected the whole universe. But at the Day of the Lord, all these things will be redeemed from the effects of sin and death. Until that Day, the consequences of Adam’s sin will continue to fall on the race in the form of these natural conditions.
The Case from Scripture in Support of Knowledgeable Accountability
Being made in the image of God, every man has a spirit and is a spiritual being. However, a man is more than a spirit: we are also physical beings. Although the law of God is a spiritual knowledge that we are conceived with, we are not able to make decisions as physical men in a physical world based on that spiritual knowledge until (and unless) our physical brain has developed to the point that it is able to process and comprehend that information and input from the spirit. Also, the spirit within is not able to access sensory input from the body in order to know that a spiritual decision is required until (and unless) the brain and sensory organs are developed enough to process sensory information.
The spirit and the body have parallel faculties. A disembodied spirit may move on its own, without physical feet. (Look at the unclean spirits who left the demon-possessed man and went into the swine. They had to see the swine, as well as be able to move to where the swine were.) The spirit of a child is limited in its understanding by the body. A spirit without a body may go through a wall, but a spirit within one of these corruptible bodies must use a door. Also, though a disembodied spirit can see the door, the spirit of a (living) physically blind man cannot see. The physical body limits the spirit while the spirit is within it. In the same way, the spirit of a newly conceived child must wait until the body and mind have developed to a certain point before they can reach an accountable understanding. It is absurd to suggest that a zygote understands the law written on its heart and has any conflicting thoughts regarding it. Thoughts require synapses and brain cells, which the zygote does not yet have. And thoughts of understanding regarding the law of God written on the heart might require years of development and experience (Deut.1:39). The newborn can no more understand the law written on his heart than he could if you tattooed it in tiny letters on his arm.
It is obvious how the real issue is parried by pointing to behavior in children. Yes, children are selfish and self-centered. They are born with a self-centered nature and an undeveloped mind, and so they cannot be anything but selfish. Just as a man born blind cannot be anything other than blind. But as for the man who is born seeing and holds his hands over his eyes refusing to see—now that is another thing entirely. It is putting the will of self over the will of God that constitutes sin; but until one can comprehend the relationship between good and evil, between one’s own will and God’s will, then one does not have a will to sin. All that one has is ignorant, undeveloped self-will.
Let those who claim that Scripture is silent on this issue show how their view can be reconciled with the following passages:
20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
The usual objection, that this only applies to fathers and not to Adam (the head of the race), fails in that it must hold true for Adam and Seth as well as for any other father and son. Thus, the chain of inherited adamic condemnation fails at the first link.
11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—
Far from being conceived in a state of condemnation, this tells us those in the womb have nothing good or bad on their record.
39 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.
This is a quote of God Himself, who spoke of the knowledge of good and evil only one other time, to refer to the tree of Adam’s first sin. Therefore, when God says that little children do not have that knowledge, it strongly implies that they have not committed their first sin. Why is it that God named the forbidden tree in the garden, “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?” After all, He could have simply called it, “The Tree of Sin.” God used the name of the tree to link the first sin of Adam and Eve with the knowledge of good and evil. It was God who linked the knowledge of good and evil to the first sin of man, and it was God who described children and “little ones” as not having the knowledge of good or evil. Upon describing them as such, He declares that these little ones He will bring into the promised land, even though their rebellious parents will die in the wilderness.
8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Paul was without the law before he had an accountable understanding of the law. He was alive in the sense that the death sentence of condemnation that comes from knowledgeably breaking the law was not yet hanging over him. The Mosaic Law promised life to those who perfectly obeyed it. There were elements of grace within the Law that pointed to Christ, in the form of provisions for cleansing the guilty by substitutionary sacrifice. But even with these gracious provisions, no man ever followed the Law successfully. The Law was the hope of the Jews—their hope for life and acceptance from God. But to all who put their hope in the letter of the Law, only death and condemnation result. The sense in which Paul uses the words kill and death in these passages reflect the dashed hopes for life through the Law (which are realized either in this life or in the next).
Though Paul speaks of sin working in him before his knowledge of the law, he does not speak of it as condemning sin, but rather, he is speaking of his sinful nature and tendencies. The text affirms that sin cannot work death except by the commandment when understood. It is only when the commandment came that Paul died, though the reason for his sin—his sinful nature—was working in him all along. The law here is not limited to the written Mosaic Law, but does include the law written on the hearts of all men; however, since Paul was raised and trained as a Jew, we cannot forget that his parents would have exposed him to the written law even from infancy. Paul’s first understanding of the law written on his heart would have had the written Mosaic Law as its ready expression.
15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
13for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
19Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
What law can a zygote understand, seeing how it does not yet have a single brain cell? Clearly, the zygote does not yet have any law; and where there is no law, “sin is not imputed” and “there also is no violation.” The law speaks to men, giving them “the knowledge of sin,” “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God.” These passages plainly show that it is the knowledge of sin that makes a man accountable to God.
…and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this, “does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
He will render to each one according to his works…
Counting Rev. 20:12-13, which will be addressed below, those are six explicit statements of Scripture. God will “render to,” “repay,” and “judge” a man: “according to his work,” “according to his work,” “according to what he has done,” “according to his works,” “according to what they had done,” and “according to what they had done.” Nowhere in the context of any of these six statements can any shred of textual evidence be found to support the idea that God will judge any man for the deed of Adam in addition to his own deeds, or that He will judge a man according to his relationship to Adam.
What justice is there in sending an embryo to hell, so that his first conscious thought (indeed, his only thought throughout eternity) will be, “What did I do to deserve this?” as he awakes in hell—having never known life on earth or sin or righteousness or the law or anything else?
31″They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.
35″They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
37They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, 38And shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with the blood.
These wicked idolators were burning their children to death in the name of “Molech.” God said that they had “shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters,” and that this “abomination” never even entered His mind, much less did He command such a thing! It is strange indeed that many think that this same God would take the souls of these sacrificed children, who have just been burned in the fire, and throw them into an even greater fire (hell).
God does not directly tell us in Scripture about the salvation of the unborn or infants, etc., but He does emphatically tell us about the condemnation of those who are not saved:
11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This God, who judges “each one of them, according to what they had done,” is the same God who described the unborn twins as having done nothing good or evil (Rom. 9:11). Notice that in Rev. 20:11-15, it does not say that they were judged according to what they all had done together in Adam, but rather, “they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.” This is perfect justice defined: each man judged according to his works.
Notice that in v. 15, a possible contradiction arises, which might leave loose ends: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” But there are no loose ends, since God works all things together. There are not two different reasons by which a man may be condemned here. Rather, there are two different aspects of that same condemnation that are shown. All those whose names were written in the book of life were found redeemed, regenerated and spiritually united to Christ. All those whose names were not written in the book of life ALSO were guilty of having done things as individuals that were sinful. Where does that leave “little ones… who today have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39), “nor having done any good or evil” (Rom. 9:11)? It leaves them safely in Christ.
Exegesis of Romans 5:12-21
Rom. 5:12-21 ESV
12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
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.
Rom. 5 ESV
13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet 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.
for sin indeed was in the world before the [Mosaic] law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law [of any kind]. The second clause here does not establish that there was no law prior to Moses. Rather, it affirms that there must have been a law of some kind. This is confirmed by Paul’s description of Gentiles…
Rom. 2 ESV
14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
Gentiles who did not have the Mosaic law, but who had the work of the law written on their hearts, were the same in Paul’s day as they had been prior to Moses. God destroyed the world with water in Noah’s day due to the world’s rebellion against God’s law that was written on their hearts. It is true that God had not given any explicit command, either spoken or written, from the time of the fall until Moses. It is for this reason that it is said that “death reigned… even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam.” Though the sins of the people between Adam and Moses differed from that of violating an explicit, verbal or written command, they were accountable for those sins nonetheless; just as men today who have never heard the gospel or known the Mosaic law are still accountable for their sins against that law that is written on the hearts of all men.
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 ESV
15But 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.
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 ESV
16And 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.
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 ESV
17If, 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.
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 ESV
18Therefore, 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.
…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.
Rom. 5 ESV
20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass… This echoes 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'”
…But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more… No matter how great the debt of sin, the power of grace through the gospel is greater still. Not only are all our sins paid for and blotted out, but we are also given all the righteousness of Christ.
As sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Sin reigns in death because its power and control consist in the spiritual death that all men are born into, having occurred in Adam. All men are bent toward sin because they are spiritually separated and alienated from God. United to God, men are God-centered. Separated from God, men are centered in themselves. This separation from God, the only Source of spiritual life, is spiritual death. All of the miseries and evils of the world, including physical death, resulted from sin’s “rise to power” in Eden. Physical death resulted from Adam’s sin, and so is a manifestation of the power and reign of sin. And, of course, the greatest and worst manifestion of sin’s ruling power is the eternal death that so many will punished with.
However, grace is stronger than sin! Grace reigns through the righteousness of justification by faith in Christ, which brings eternal life, both spiritual and physical. Every result of sin is overcome by grace in those who are made righteous by His obedience.
Answering Prooftexts Offered in Support of Inherited Condemnation
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
Because we sinned in Adam, we are conceived in a spiritually fallen state. In the zygote, that is not a state of active, rebellious wickedness; but rather, it is a state which will inevitably and eventually result in active, rebellious wickedness, as soon as the child’s development allows it to gain an accountable understanding of good and evil. Being born fallen, we are not conceived as righteous. Having sinned in Adam, we are not conceived as “innocent.” However, since it was not our personal sin, but Adam’s, we are not held guilty (or, liable to penal sanction) by the God “who will judge every man according to his deeds.” Therefore, we are conceived in the unique position of both having no righteousness, and no sinful deeds for which to be held accountable.
God’s destruction of the people of Sodom was a temporal judgment against that city. It was not an eternal punishment. God numbers all our days, and has the right to end them when and how He sees fit. Ending the life of those children was not the same as sending them to hell. God has at times judged groups (nations, cities, etc.) with temporal consequences that also fell on the children and those who were not guilty of the offense that caused the judgment; however, the Bible, throughout, affirms that when it comes to eternal judgment, every man will stand alone and be judged for his own deeds.
And the Priest shall make atonement for the Soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the lord, to make atonement for him. and it shall be forgiven him.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse for those who have the capacity to understand it. Go back one verse, to Num. 15:27… “If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering.” So then, how many infants do you think would line up outside the temple every day, with female goats in tow? If God considered infants to be guilty of unintentional sins, then He would have made provisions in the law for their parents to bring them to the temple for this sacrifice, but He did not.
2 Kings 2:23-24
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Are we to believe that these were toddlers in this passage? John Gill, in his Exposition of the Entire Bible, speaks of this passage:
There came forth little children out of the city; the word for “children” is used of persons of thirty or forty years of age; and though these are said to be “little”, they were so well grown as to be able to go forth out of the city of themselves, without any to guide them, or to take care of them; and were of an age capable not only of taking notice of Elijah’s baldness, but knew him to be a prophet, and were able to distinguish between good and evil; and, from a malignant spirit in them, mocked at him as such, and at the assumption of Elijah; which they had knowledge of, and to whom, taught by their idolatrous parents, they had an aversion: some Jewish writers say, they were called “Naarim“, which we render “children”, because shaken from the commandments, or had shaken off the yoke of the commands; and “little”, because they were of little faith:
So these were not toddlers at all.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
What is traced to conception by David in this psalm is the root and cause of eventual sinful actions. Notice that it does not say, “In condemnation did my mother conceive me…” A child is not conceived with sin, but in sin. They are conceived spiritually dead, or separated from God, and thus they are by nature bent toward sin and self-centeredness. But the question here is, does God condemn them merely for this nature, or does God only condemn them when they have personally committed sin? Whose sin were they conceived in? Whose iniquity were they shaped in?—None other than the sin of Adam. All are born spiritually dead, self-centered, and bent toward sin, as the natural result of the fact that we all sinned while in the loins of Adam. This is the condition of our birth that the Psalmist speaks of. Though we have been conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity, God does not hold us accountable for this “sin nature.” The Psalmist is not speaking of condemnation but only of the source of our sinfulness. We sin because that sinful tendency was “woven” into us from our conception onward, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
It does not say that the wicked are wicked from the womb. It only says that they are estranged from the womb, and they go astray from birth. That word, “from,” in, “from birth,” indicates an ongoing, continuing action, just as in the case of stating that they grow old from birth. Just as they do not grow old immediately AT their birth, they do not speak lies immediately AT their birth. (Going astray from birth is like an arrow that is shot from a bow, but with an incorrect aim. The straying arrow began its journey from the same bow as the one that is correctly aimed, but as time goes on, the deviation becomes apparent, and the arrow eventually misses its mark).
David’s description is of those who are wicked now, as adults, whom he hates. He does not consider himself to be a part of those whom he calls the wicked, much less does he consider all men to be a part of these wicked. As such, his description is not a progressive one, where he speaks of the birth of the wicked and then describes the future of their life. Rather, his description is a regressive one, looking back upon the lives of real, wicked adult men whom he has in mind, and describes how these men who are wicked have been estranged from the womb and have gone astray from the moment of birth. This description explains why it is that these men are now wicked liars, but it does not portray infants and unborn as wicked or speaking lies. The fact that an infant cannot speak should have been a clue. Look at the next verse:
6 O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Is David telling God to break the teeth in the mouths of every infant that is ever born (even David’s children)?—or of any infant, for that matter? Obviously not (infants don’t even have teeth)! Now, why is David telling God to break their teeth? Two reasons are given in verses 4 and 5: “Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;” You see, verses 4-6 all speak of the wicked adults that David has had in mind from the beginning of this psalm. He describes their birth in v. 3, and then goes back to describing them as adults in v.4.
Men are estranged from the womb because all men sinned while in the loins of Adam, and thus are born spiritually dead, or separated from God. However, the Bible nowhere establishes that God will hold an infant accountable for the state of estrangement into which he is born. Rather, the Bible is explicitly clear in telling us that God will judge every man according to his deeds (and not the deeds of anyone else, such as Adam).
Even a Child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.
This verse speaks of children (the word means, a boy, lad, servant, youth, retainer—BDB) who are at least old enough to have acts for which to be judged. No one judges an infant’s acts to see whether they are pure and upright, and certainly no one judges a zygote in such a way. Also, the issue is not the “purity” of a child’s works, but the accountability.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
Paul uses the same aorist tense here, in “all have sinned,” as he uses in Rom. 5:12. It refers to the single past action of the race sinning in Adam. This verse does not say that “all have sinned and are condemned,” but only, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All mankind sinned in Adam and falls short of the glory of God because of it. However, corporate sin in Adam does not make one personally and individually responsible before the eternal judgment of God, who “will judge every man according to his deeds.”
1 Cor. 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.
Children are not conceived as already “holy.” They are also not conceived as already guilty of sin. The only way that this can support inherited condemnation is if it is contended that the children of believers are saved, while the children of unbelievers are not saved. The utter injustice of basing a child’s eternal judgment on his parents needs no further opposition. It sinks itself. Besides, if this verse were speaking of salvation, then the unbelieving spouse would also be saved, having been sanctified by the believing spouse.
We . . . were by nature the children of wrath.
To be a child of wrath does not mean that one is physically a child, any more than to be a child of God means that one is physically a child.
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
“Because of these things [sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” One can only be a child of wrath by disobeying the law, and examples of such are here given. That disobedience which causes us to be children of wrath stems from our nature; however, it is not our nature that brought the wrath, but the disobedience!
All children who die before an accountable understanding are saved through Christ at the time of physical death. I fully agree that we are conceived in a state of spiritual death, from which only Christ can resurrect us. We are conceived with a sinful nature (“shaped in iniquity”), which only Christ can remedy through rebirth. Not even a zygote comes to the Father except through Christ. This is not to say that Christ excludes these little ones, but rather, it expresses the means whereby all of them are saved.
But this salvation through Christ is not concurrent with their conception, but concurrent with their death. The child who reaches adulthood has not lost such salvation, since they were never in Christ. It is true that an unsaved adult was unsaved as a child; however, that does not prevent God from saving that child if he dies as a little child. As for wickedness, it is more than having the innate sinful nature. Wickedness results from knowledgeably embracing that sinful nature, and wickedness increases as sin increases. Therefore, it is not true that a wicked adult must have been a wicked little child. It is also true that if you are never going to be saved as an adult (i.e., unelect) then you will not be saved as a child; however, it does not follow from this that if such a person who is unelect were to die as a little child, he would die unsaved, as this assumes that God would permit unelect persons to die prior to reaching a point in their development where they obtain an accountable understanding and willfully choose to sin. He would not. Such an assumption is wrong—there are no divine dilemmas or “loose ends” with God.
Of course, these children are saved by grace alone. Though they have no sinful deeds for which to be condemned, they also have no righteousness for which to be merited. For too many centuries, the witness of the Holy Spirit on this matter has been quenched by overbearing insistence of “scholars” who decreed that Scripture only supported the condemnation of infants who unfortunately died before being baptized. Thankfully, the vast majority of believers and churches believe in the truth of an age of accountability, whether or not they can actually defend it. Hopefully, some will read this and see that the truth can indeed be defended from Scripture.
Ken Hamrick, 2012