J.C. Thibodaux, “Response to Desiring God on Original Sin”

, posted by JC_Thibodaux

The following is an analysis and response to the article, What is the biblical evidence for the imputation of Adam’s Sin?, by Desiring God Ministries, retrieved from,


I’ve recently been debating the issue of original sin. I do hold very firmly that it is by Adam’s sin that sin entered into the world and has tainted the nature of his descendants, but am much against the idea that all men are guilty of Adam’s sin. I recently debated the subject on Reformed Mafia, and now take on an article written by the staff of John Piper’s ‘Desiring God’ ministries. We go over their primary pieces of evidence with rebuttal. Piper opens his case for the Calvinist view of original sin with:

The problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins-those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. Paul is very concerned about them. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment. (John Piper, “Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 1”)

The Calvinist beliefs amount to:

* Adam sinned in the garden of Eden by eating the forbidden fruit

* By Adam’s singular transgression, he incurred spiritual death and passed his sinful nature on to his descendants

* Adam’s children bear not only the taint of his sin, but for some reason are mysteriously also guilty of committing it as well

* Because human beings are both tainted and guilty of Adam’s sin, we are all automatically dead and condemned from conception, even if we have never actually committed any sins

My beliefs in a nutshell are:

* Adam sinned in the garden of Eden by eating the forbidden fruit

* By Adam’s singular transgression, he incurred spiritual death and passed his sinful nature on to his descendants

* While Adam’s children bear the taint of his sin, only Adam bore his own guilt

* Because human beings are now by nature tainted by Adam’s sin, as we grow we inevitably fall into sin as well and incur our own guilt, death, and condemnation; so because he has passed on his sinful nature, Adam’s sin causes his children to become sinners as well

We’ll examine the scriptural evidence that Piper and company raise (with a little more that scripture says on the subject) and compare our views to it. They state,

First, Paul states in 5:12 that all sinned in Adam: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Paul seems to be equating the “because all sinned” with “through one man sin entered into the world.”

Why Paul “seems to be equating” the concepts to them is anybody’s guess. The points made in the passages are:

one man’s sin -> sin entered the world

sin -> death

all sinned -> therefore death spread to all men

It does not follow from those points that,

one man’s sin = all sinned by being guilty of the one man’s sin

The one man’s sin causes his offspring to sin, but sin entering the world by Adam can hardly be directly equated with all people sinning. They are confusing the root cause of the event (Adam’s sin) with the event itself (all sinning). Moving on,

Second, in verses 13-14 Paul adds a clarification which confirms that he does indeed have the imputation of Adam’s sin in view in the phrase “because all sinned” rather than our individual sins. He states: “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” In other words, Paul concedes that personal sin was prevalent in the world before Moses (“until the Law sin was in the world…”). But he adds that these personal sins were not the ultimate reason people died in that time period: “But sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses.”

As Piper summarizes: People died even though their own individual sins against the Mosaic law were not the reason for dying; they weren’t counted. Instead, the reason all died is because all sinned in Adam. Adam’s sin was imputed to them. (John Piper, “Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 2”)

A rather glaring error, since Paul confirms later that it was in fact by sin through the law that he was killed, not for his being accountable for the sin of Adam:

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:7-13)

Relating to that concept, part of Piper’s case is that spiritual death from Adam till the time the law was given must have been because we are guilty of Adam’s sin, since sin isn’t imputed apart from the law, and therefore no one could have been condemned for their own sin without the law. Such an interpretation forces one to ignore the context set by Paul in chapter 2, since he had already explained why Gentiles are condemned for their own sins apart from the Mosaic law:

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) (Romans 2:12-15)

So in other words, sin is not imputed where there is no law, but even those who do not have God’s law readily available do have a conscience that convicts of sin as well. Applying this piece of the context to Romans 5:12-14, even those who had not sinned in the same way Adam did still die spiritually because of the sins they commit (“in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”). Or put plainly, according to Romans 2:12-15, even without the Mosaic law, because of the requirements of the law of God written on our hearts, the sins of the Gentiles ARE counted against them, and hence they still incur death by their personal sins. The DG team continues,

Third, Paul’s statement at the end of verse 14 further clarifies that he does not have personal sins in view as the reason for human death: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”

Piper notes:

In other words, yes Paul concedes that there are other kinds of laws before the Mosaic Law, and yes people broke those laws, and yes, one could argue that these sins are the root cause of death and condemnation in the world. But, Paul says, there is a problem with that view, because death reigned “even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”

Piper is apparently reading some imaginary argument against the spiritual death by personal sins view into Paul’s words, turning his ‘nevertheless’ into an objection. It is no such thing, but simply indicates that despite the fact that people don’t sin in the same way that resulted in Adam incurring death, death still reigned even before Moses’ time (the reason for which being evident from ch 2). Piper goes on,

There are those who died without seeing a law and choosing to sin against it. Who are they? I think the group of people begging for an explanation is infants. Infants died. They could not understand personal revelation. They could not read the law on their hearts and choose to obey or disobey it. Yet they died.

Piper plainly conflates spiritual death with physical, the fact that infants die does not imply that they are guilty of Adam’s sin, nor that they were dead spiritually. As counter-example, believers are alive spiritually, yet still incur physical death. Spiritual death, as Romans 7:7-13 confirms, is by the law of God. Piper goes on,

Why? Paul answers: the sin of Adam and the imputation of that sin to the human race. In other words, death reigned over all humans, even over those who did not sin against a known and understood law. Therefore, the conclusion is, to use the words of verse 18: “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men.” (Ibid)

At this point Piper simply resorts to outright eisegesis: Paul says nothing about Adam’s sin being imputed to the rest of the human race. He fallaciously equates sinning in the likeness of Adam with “sin against a known and understood law.” One tenable interpretation is that Paul is speaking of those who did not sin against an explicitly delivered commandment (such as God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit or the Mosaic law), but this does not excuse one from being convicted of sins by his or her conscience as Romans 2:12-15 makes clear. Lastly, no one is arguing against the idea that Adam’s sin resulted in condemnation to all men; his sin is what gives us a sinful nature, which causes us to sin, which brings about spiritual death. So Adam’s sin does result in our condemnation, just not by means of the unsupported ‘imputed guilt’ hypothesis. He concludes with,

So the purpose of verses 13 and 14 are to clarify verse 12 in this way:

“At the end of verse 12 the words, “death spread to all men, because all sinned” mean that “death spread to all because all sinned in Adam.” Death is not first and most deeply because of our own individual sinning, but because of what happened in Adam. (Ibid)”

Sorry, but verses 13 and 14,

13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

say absolutely nothing about anyone having sinned in Adam; nor, as we’ve seen above, is that even a sound inference. His sin coupled with knowledge of the law is, as Paul explicitly states in Romans 7:7-13, the cause of his spiritual death.

Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. (vs 9)

Next they try to make their case based on the emphasis on Adam’s one sin,

Fourth, at least five times in the following verses Paul says that death comes upon all humans because of the one sin of Adam:

Verse 15: by the transgression of the one the many died

Verse 16: the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

Verse 17: by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one

Verse 18: through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

We are all condemned not ultimately because of our individual sins, but because of one sin (verse 18). We die not ultimately because of personal sins, but because of Adam’s one transgression (verse 17). It is not ultimately from our personal sins that we die, but rather “by the transgression of the one the many died.” Paul states over and over again that it is because of one sin that death and condemnation belong to us all. In other words, we are connected to Adam such that his one sin is regarded as our sin and we are worthy of condemnation for it.

Such reasoning is again, extremely faulty. Adam’s one sin did indeed cause a cascade of events that has led generations of men to merit spiritual death. But it is just that: a sequence of events, not a singular one. To equate Adam’s sin alone with the entirety of mankind’s spiritual death is like equating the whole of an avalanche with the one snowflake that triggered it, leading us to conclude that the mass destruction that ensues was due solely to the inherent destructive power of a single snowflake. That’s SOME snowflake!! Something relatively small with no directly broad bearing can set events into motion which have far-reaching consequences. Such a concept is illustrated by the poem, For want of a nail.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;

For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;

For want of the horse, the rider was lost;

For want of the rider, the battle was lost;

For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost;

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail

It would be silly to argue that the poem is expressing that this kingdom’s status is strictly based on whether a specific horse is properly shoed, it is expressing that a seemingly minor action can eventually have far-reaching consequences. Likewise, Adam’s sin, while not mass-implicating his line directly, nevertheless infected us with a sinful nature, by which we all commit sin and are rightly condemned. So yes, due to one sin the human race as a whole has fallen into death and condemnation, as Romans 5 states. Nothing about such a concept implies inherited guilt. The Piperites makes their final, desperate stab:

Fifth, verse 19 provides us with a direct statement of imputation:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul here says that we are made sinners by the sin of Adam. Due to his disobedience, we are regarded as sinners. We cannot take “made sinners” here to be referring to original sin in which we become inherently sinful because it is paralleled with “made righteous.” The phrase “made righteous” in this context is referring to the great truth of justification. Justification does not concern a change in our characters, the infusion of something inherent in us. Rather, it involves a change in our standing before God. In justification, God declares us righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ–not because He makes us internally righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, when Paul says “made righteous” here, he means “imputed with righteousness” not “infused with righteousness.” Since “made sinners” is paralleled with “made righteous,” it must also be referring to imputation. Thus, Paul is saying that we are all made sinners in the sense that we are imputed with Adam’s sin.

They make the claim that since “made righteous” means only a change in legal standing before God (hence implying imputation), that being “made sinners” must mean the same: solely imputation. Few problems with their claims here:

1. The claim that being made righteous refers solely to imputation and has nothing to do with our character being changed is merely assumed. Hebrews 9:14 states,

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Christ’s death (final obedience to God), in which He offered Himself as a sacrifice without blemish (the result of His lifetime of obedience to God) not only justifies those who believe, but purges the conscience so that we can live for God as well, and hence His obedience not only makes our standing before God righteous, but our lives as well.

2. Even if the passage were referring solely to the aspect of imputation, their interpretation again requires errantly equating the end result of Adam’s sin with Adam’s sin solely. Imputation of sin is just as much a result of Adam’s sin if only personal sins are imputed:

Since Adam sinned, his sinful nature is passed to his children;

Since his children are born with sin natures, they commit sin;

Since they commit sin, the law of God (one way or another) condemns them as sinners;

Since they are condemned as sinners, they are made sinners before God;

Therefore, even if we are not guilty of Adam’s sin directly, his transgression has still made us into sinners, for his sinful nature causes us to commit sins, which through the law of God are imputed to us.

So all who have sinned being made sinners (including being accounted as sinners by God) through one man’s sin in no way implies inherited guilt, but rather, it is “because all sinned,” i.e. committed sin. To assume then that Adam’s sin making us into sinners must mean that his sin is directly imputed to us is a glaring oversimplification — it requires assuming that the root cause must be the sole and direct cause — the same faulty logic which fuels the ‘snowflake of mass destruction’ fallacy. James states plainly how each sinner dies because of sin:

14 …but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

In conclusion, far from making any direct statements about mankind being accounted as sinners due solely to the transgression of Adam, scripture indicates the exact opposite at points, that each man merits death from his own sins. While Adam’s sin does cause all men to fall into sin, and therefore be made sinners before God, nothing in the language of Romans 5 or any other passage of scripture even suggests that we are guilty of the sin which only he committed.