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

Also posted at SBC Open Forum and at SBC Voices.

by Ken Hamrick

Adam Harwood spoke at the 2013 John 3:16 Conference, and the paper he presented there is available on the conference e-book at SBC Today. Like Dr. Harwood, I deny that anyone is born condemned for Adam’s sin; but unlike Dr. Harwood, I find in Scripture such a real union of mankind in Adam as to justify the inheriting of all the temporal penalties for Adam’s sin, including the spiritual death and depravity that all are born into. Dr. Harwood identifies as a Traditionalist, and is mainly arguing against Calvinists. But as a Baptist centrist, I propose that there are certain propositions that can pull the two ends of the spectrum together—and this is especially so when it comes to this question of original sin.

There are some problems with how Dr. Harwood presents the “inherited guilt” view. He states:

Augustine taught this in the 5th Century. It’s sometimes called natural headship. In his later writings, Augustine said all people are guilty of Adam’s sin because they were present with him in the Garden physically, or seminally.

Augustinian realism is not about physical presence, but an immaterial, morally participative presence. This participative presence is grounded on a human propagation that is of the entire being and not merely of the body, making Adam’s progeny more than mere physical descendants. Dr. Harwood continues:

In the 16th Century, John Calvin called Adam our representative head who acted on our behalf in the Garden. This is called federal headship. Covenant Theologians call this view imputed guilt. They point to a covenant of works between Adam and God, which Adam transgressed for humanity when he sinned. Wayne Grudem explains: “As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us guilty as well as Adam.” In addition to a sinful nature, all people inherit from Adam the guilt of his sin.

Federal headship did not arise until Cocceius, a century after Calvin; however, Augustine’s principle of realism was not abandoned until much later. Some explanation of the history will be helpful. George P. Fisher describes the three main theories (of the “inherited guilt” view):

There are three theories respecting original sin which we shall have occasion specially to consider in this Article. The first is the Augustinian; the second may be called the Augustino-federal or the semi-federal; and the third the federal theory.

The fundamental idea of the Augustinian theory is that of a participation on the part of the descendants of Adam in his first sin; in consequence of which they are born both guilty and morally depraved. The fundamental idea of the federal theory is that of a vicarious representation on the part of Adam, in virtue of a covenant between God and him, whereby the legal responsibility for his first sinful act is entailed upon all his descendants; participation being excluded, but the propriety of his appointment to this vicarious office being founded on our relation to him as the common father of men. The Augustino-federal or semi-federal theory is a combination of the two, the covenant relation of Adam being prominent, but participation being also, with more or less emphasis, asserted…

…The federal doctrine is the offspring of the seventeenth century. In fact it may also be said of it, in the form in which it is now held, that it is the offspring of the eighteenth century; since, in the preceding age, the great majority of the theologians who adopted the theory of a covenant coupled with it the Augustinian principle. That is to say, they maintained the Augustino-federal or semi-federal doctrine as above defined.

Fisher states, regarding the influence of realism:

It is a fact that realism, either in the extreme Platonic form or in the more moderate Aristotelian type, prevailed from Augustine down through the middle ages, being embraced by the orthodox schoolmen, and ruling both the great schools during the productive, golden era of scholastic theology. That the realistic mode of thought extensively influenced Protestant theology at the Reformation and afterwards, admits of no question. But since it is far from being true that all Augustinians have been avowed, much less, self-consistent, realists, it is better when we speak of them as a class, to say that they are swayed by a realistic mode of thought than that they are the advocates of explicit realism. It should be added that realism, as far as it affected Augustine, was rather a prop than a source of his doctrine. The fact of innate sin was so deeply lodged in his convictions that he was ready to welcome any plausible support or defence of it that lay within his reach….

Fisher continues:

…We may say here that a great mistake is made by those who imagine that creationists—that is, those who believe that each soul is separately created—cannot be realists. Whether they can be consistent and logical realists may, to be sure, be doubted. At the present day traducianism—the theory that souls result from procreation—is accepted by theologians who believe, with Augustine, that we sinned in Adam. But this is very far from being the uniform fact in the past. Even Anselm, like the schoolmen generally, was a creationist. He, with a host of theologians before and after him, held firmly to our real, responsible participation in Adam’s fall, and to the corruption of our nature in that act, and yet refused to count himself among the traducians. We must take history as it is and not seek to read into it our reasonings and inferences. If we do not find philosophers self-consistent, we must let them remain self-inconsistent, instead of altering their systems to suit our ideas of logical harmony.

The early Reformed Church was under the sway of “a realistic mode of thinking” (as Fisher calls it) when it came to Adamic unity and depravity. Total depravity itself comes from the idea that souls are propagated in such a way as to have shared responsible existence with and in their progenitors. To be spiritually propagated out of Adam is also to have acted in Adam—and this is exactly the original idea of being “in Adam.” The idea of soul propagation was first taught by Tertullian, and then came down through Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan to Augustine. Although Augustine was hesitant to commit himself to any philosophical explanation of traducianism, he gave many excellent arguments for it and none against it. His doctrine of original sin and his debate with Pelagius was as fully grounded on traducianism as Pelagius’ arguments were grounded on the denial of traducianism.

However, between Augustine and Luther came Rosceline’s nominalism, which philosophically undercut any possibility that the union with Adam had any real substance to it. Nominalism is the denial of any union of species within substantial reality, relegating all such unions to mere perceptionof union in the mind. In theology, this is the denial of any union of immaterial nature of mankind in Adam, and the relegation to a mere union in God’s chosen perception. In the broad picture, it is the diminishment of substantial reality—a paradigm from which God’s judgments and justice have no standard other than His own sovereign will. Realists say that God does something because it is right, while nominalists say that what God does is right merely because He does it. Thus, the realists look for a substantial union of the immaterial nature of men in order to ground within reality the justice of passing the penal consequences of Adam’s sin onto His posterity. Nominalism, on the other hand, results in an empty representationism, “constituted” by decree or covenant alone, since God’s justice needs no grounds within substantial reality—all that His justice needs is His own will. Realism says that you cannot be guilty unless you commit a crime, while nominalism says you are guilty if God says you are guilty, and no commission of crime is needed.

The effect of nominalism on theology was so gradual that the name itself was left behind and all but forgotten. Yet, the changes it wrought in theology over the centuries were deep and broad. The first change was to reinforce the idea of creationism as opposed to traducianism. Racial union was not something substantial within Adam himself, according to nominalism, but was, rather, something only within the all-observing Mind of God. The moral union with Adam was entirely a matter of how God chose to view us in the situation. Therefore, there was no objectively existing entity of human nature that sinned in Adam and was immaterially propagated to mankind. Rather, all that exists are individuals, and the soul is created out of nothing in every case. Nominalism’s influence in the Church ensured that special creation of the soul would be the prevalent view (as it is to this day).

Although Calvin disliked traducianism, and was not an explicit realist, he and most who followed him were not ready to abandon that “realistic mode of thinking” that was the essence of Augustine’s doctrine. So they inconsistently held onto the idea that all men shared a responsible existence in Adam, by virtue of the [moral] “nature” of all men existing in and propagated from Adam. This they held even while maintaining that the soul is specially created out of nothing in every case. As Fisher explains it, “the great majority of the theologians [prior to the eighteenth century] who adopted the theory of a covenant coupled with it the Augustinian principle. That is to say, they maintained the Augustino-federal or semi-federal doctrine…”

Eventually, in Turretin for example, there is an attempted reconciliation in the idea that special creation of the soul is according to the natural laws which God set up at creation, such that God creates the child’s soul with the nature of the parents as part of what is considered natural propagation. By glossing over the supernatural nature of a creation out of nothing, and emphasizing terms that tend to imply propagation from the substance of the parents (such as communication of depravity, etc.), they effectively taught that depravity is propagated just as humanity is propagated. While this might explain (albeit poorly) inherited depravity, it does nothing to explain the kind of union in Adam that involves a sharing of the responsibility for his sin (the shared existence of the moral nature or soul). Therefore, the realistic mode of thinking (the Augustinian principle) was eventually dropped in favor of the nominalistic federal representation. What began with the idea of men being held justly responsible for a sin that we all owned by our shared action in Adam became the idea that men are sovereignly held responsible for a sin that is as alien to us as is the righteousness of Christ. While the early Reformed Church taught that Adam’s sin was imputed to us because it is ours, the later (current) federal view teaches that Adam’s sin is ours because it is imputed to us.

Dr. Harwood’s assessment of the “possible Christian views” is over simplified and neglects significant points:

The inherited sinful nature view says all people inherit from Adam sin and mortality; the inherited guilt view affirms those but includes Adam’s guilt. Both are Christian positions. Nevertheless, I’ll argue that the inherited sinful nature view finds stronger support biblically, theologically, and—for Southern Baptists—historically.

Some will nuance or qualify their position. Even so, I can’t imagine another category. When the question is: Who is guilty of Adam’s sin? The answers are either: only Adam or Everyone. So, there are two possible Christian views and both appeal to the Bible.

While pressing to answer the question, “Who is guilty of Adam’s sin?”, Dr. Harwood neglects to address the questions that are equally important in determining what the different Christian views actually are: “Why and how is anyone guilty of Adam’s sin?” In his rush to defend the idea that only Adam is guilty of Adam’s sin, Dr. Harwood’s neglect of these questions leaves his own view (as presented here) without explanation for the apparent injustice of God’s passing of the temporal penalties of Adam’s sin (mortality, sin nature, etc.) onto billions of descendants who—according to him—have no guilt whatsoever for that sin. His appeal to Biblical texts that affirm that God “will judge every man according to his deeds” seems to contradict that first judgment that falls on every man, that of the mortality and sin nature that Adam incurred.

In addressing why and how anyone is guilty of Adam’s sin, there is a major difference between the realistic (Augustinian) view that says that all men spiritually participated in Adam’s sin through the presence of the nature of all men in Adam, and the Federal view that says that men are accounted guilty even without any culpability due to God’s designation of Adam as their representative. By asserting that there are only two possible views, and characterizing the “inherited guilt view” as merely adding Adam’s guilt to that which is also held by the inherited sinful nature view (Adam’s sin and mortality), Dr. Harwood dismisses as insignificant the additional idea of the older Augustinian view that includes mankind’s spiritual participation in Adam’s sin. By avoiding the inclusion of this realistic principle, he frames the debate in a way that is ideal for defeating his opposition. It is not difficult to shoot holes in the inconsistencies and contradictions of the purely federal/covenant system. But it is difficult to establish that the souls of men are created out of nothing, and the moral, spiritual nature of all men was not present in and propagated out of Adam. It is one thing to show that individuals are not born under condemnation for Adam’s sin, but quite another to show that they are not corporately culpable for a participation in it (resulting in a just passing down of the temporal consequences).

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.

Dr. Harwood rightly advises,

We don’t want to build a theological system on a single text. Also, we want to avoid eisegesis (reading our theological pre-commitments into the text). So, we’ll broaden the investigation by examining the inherited sinful nature view through the lenses of biblical theology, systematic theology, and historical theology.

I would caution that neither do we want to build a theological system on a single, narrow question, such as whether or not God holds each man guilty for Adam’s sin. Unfortunately, this seems to be what he is doing. Broadening the investigation sounds good; but he provides little depth as he follows through. Dr. Harwood challenges us, “Let’s affirm what the Bible affirms and resist any theological system—even our own—which demands we affirm more than the Bible clearly reveals.” Is it not just as important to discover all that the Bible reveals? To affirm what the Bible affirms about any doctrine requires that we note everything that the Bible has to say regarding the issue in question. The Witness of Scripture ought not to be treated like a witness in court, and forced to answer only “Yes,” or, “No,” to a question framed in such a narrow way that the full truth of the matter is obscured.

The full Biblical truth of the relation of mankind to the sin of Adam remains obscured if one only asks about individual accountability and guilt. The Witness of Scripture should be allowed to tell the whole truth, and this requires that we also ask what relation has mankind to Adam himself.—What is the nature of our solidarity with him and his sin? Unfortunately, Dr. Harwood does not address that question in this paper, and so his investigation is left wanting.

Dr. Harwood provides twenty-one passages of Scripture in support of his contention that God holds men accountable only for their sins as individuals. He frequently repeats the phrase, “no mention of Adam’s guilt.” But one has to wonder whose guilt God had in mind in some of these examples he listed. Whose guilt justified God in destroying all the children of Sodom and Gomorrah, in Gen. 19? Whose guilt justified God in killing the firstborn of Egypt, in Ex. 12? Whose guilt justified God in killing Achan’s children, in Josh. 7? Whose guilt justified God in killing David’s baby son, in 2 Sam. 12? Why is it that God told Abraham that if He finds only ten righteous people in Sodom, He will spare the city—and then He killed all those children? I repeat Dr. Harwood’s challenge to embrace the Reformers’ cry of Sola Scriptura… and look to the words of these men I cite:

Heb. 7:9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. 10For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.

If it had been only Levi’s body that was said to be in Abraham, then Levi could not have done anything. Scripture
consistently presents the parental relation of the father in this manner.

Gen. 35:11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

Gen. 46:26 All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were threescore and six;

2 Kings 5:27 The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

In this passage, Gehazi is cursed with leprosy—and all his descendants forever. Such a curse parallels the depravity that fell upon Adam and all his descendants. The fact that every descendant of Gehazi, no matter how many generations removed, bears the full curse of his leprosy, implies that every descendant was “in the loins of” Gehazi in a responsible, participative, real way.

In Deut. 5:9, God makes a startling statement about such generational consequences: “…I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…” Much the same is found in Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Jer. 32:18

The reason that God was justified in killing the children of Sodom and Gomorrah (and of David, Achan, etc.) was that all men sinned while still in the loins of Adam. While I agree that the Bible does indeed affirm that God holds individuals personally accountable before His Judgment Seat for only their own sins as individuals, it also is clear from Scripture that God held the nature of mankind accountable while it was still within Adam, and brought down several temporal judgments upon that human nature—judgments that are not personal to any individual (except Adam and Eve) but are impersonal, natural consequences upon all members of the race. One of those natural consequences is the fact that we are mortal and are not promised any length of days—God has a right to decide when and how each of us dies, and none who sinned in Adam has any grounds for complaint.

In Part 2, the Realistic alternative was set out in order to demonstrate how well the realist position can illuminate the Adam-Christ parallel found in Rom. 5:12-19. However, adopting the Augustinian principle of a real participation in Adam’s sin does not require one to adopt the full realist view. If you would prefer to leave the explanation of how we could have been in Adam in such a real way as to participate in his sin to mystery, and simply affirm the bare Biblical fact that all were in Adam in that real, participative way, you have much in common with most of the Church from the Reformation to the nineteenth century. There is an important difference between affirming that the nature of all men participated in Adam’s sin and explaining the metaphysics of how such a real union occurred. While the affirmation was nearly universal in the early churches of the Reformation, only a minority of explicit realists attempted to explain it. The Church was satisfied without an explanation, but nonetheless stood firmly on the revealed truth of Scripture. Robert W. Landis (who was neither a traducianist nor an explicit realist), The Doctrine of Original Sin,  (Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, 1884), pp. 11-13, states:

The doctrine… which had been plainly announced by Augustine, and always entertained by the Calvinistic church, affirms (1), The natural and federal headship of Adam; (2), That the threatening in Genesis 2:17, included not only the loss of original righteousness, but spiritual and eternal death; and (3), That in this threatening both Adam and his posterity were included; and consequently, that all the evils which his posterity suffer result from the first transgression, since in that transgression (as Paul affirms) they “all sinned,” and were thus constituted… veritable sinners. In other words, they, by participating in that offense, became culpable; and hence from that first sin, wherein “all sinned,”  originated the hereditary corruption in which we all are born. This was and is our position, and the doctrine thus defined has always been the faith of our Church…

…The Protestant Church, as we have stated, held and taught that the posterity of Adam participated in the first offense, and that therefore it was justly imputed to them, as well as to our first parents themselves, who were guilty of its formal perpetration…

…[The Church] has always disclaimed every attempt at philosophical solution, and is, therefore… quite as unwilling to sanction the solution which philosophical realism proposes as to sanction the solution proffered by nominalism. She has always accepted the inspired statement (that “all sinned” ) as a fact; and in that fact, though of itself wholly inexplicable, her inner consciousness has ever recognized an explanatory principle, which furnishes an intelligible and all-sufficient basis for the solution of all the great problems which have been started respecting the calamities of the race, and their reconcilableness with the holiness, justice and goodness of God.

Not only would affirming the Augustinian principle bring Calvinists and Traditionalists closer together on this issue, it would also strengthen both positions right where they are. Those who hold to an imputed condemnation would not have to compromise that position, but would instead find much stronger ground for justifying such a doctrine. And those who deny inherited condemnation but affirm an inherited sin nature (as well as acknowledging that many temporal consequences result from Adam’s sin) would not have to compromise that position, but would instead find a much stronger reason for inheriting the consequences of what someone else perpetrated.

I want to echo Dr. Harwood’s sentiments by saying that “these are family differences.. Family members sometimes disagree but they love and support one another—even in troubling times.” I admire Dr. Harwood and agree with much of what he teaches. I sincerely hope that he receives this critique as it was intended: as a means by which iron may sharpen iron, and not as in any way against him personally.

Ken Hamrick, 2013

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