by A. T. Overstreet
My friend and I stood looking down at his tiny newborn baby, lying contentedly in his crib.
"Of course," said my friend, "our little Tommy is a sinner."
These words were a continuation of the doctrine my friend had taught earlier in his Sunday school class: a doctrine that is accepted as orthodoxy almost universally in our churches, the doctrine that all of humanity sinned in Adam when he ate the forbidden fruit, that Adam's sin, its guilt, and its curse were imputed to all his descendants, and that all of his descendants are now born with an Adamic sin nature which makes sin unavoidable and makes us "by nature the children of wrath."
What makes this incredible doctrine believable is the fact that there are verses in the Bible which seem to teach it. Psalm 51:5 comes immediately to the mind of the Christian who has been taught to believe in the doctrine of original sin: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." This settles it for the Christian. If the Bible says we were "shapen in iniquity" and "conceived in sin," then it has to be so.
And the above text would teach that men are born sinners if it were meant to be taken literally. But the language of this text is not literal, it is figurative. Both context and reality demand a figurative interpretation of this text.
For example, let's compare Psalm 51:5 with Job 1:21, which says: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." If Psalm 51:5 can be interpreted literally to teach the doctrine that David and all other men are born sinners, then Job 1:21 can be interpreted literally to teach the doctrine that Job and all other men will some day go back into their mother's womb.
Neither Psalm 51:5 nor Job 1:21 is to be understood literally. They are both figurative expressions. Both context and our knowledge of reality demand a figurative interpretation of these two texts.
David uses figurative language throughout his Psalms. In fact, in the 51st Psalm, verses five, seven, and eight are all figurative expressions. So if verse five can be made to teach that men are born sinners, then verse seven can be made to teach that hyssop cleanses us from sin when it says, "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean." Also, verse eight can be made to teach the doctrine that God breaks the Christian's bones when he sins, and that his broken bones rejoice when he is forgiven "Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice." Another of David's Psalms, Psalm 58:3, can be made to teach the astonishing doctrine that babies speak from the very moment they are born: "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies."
But who would seriously teach from this last text that babies actually do speak as soon as they are born? None of these passages is meant to be understood in a literal sense. They are all figurative expressions. If they were understood literally, they would all teach what we know to be contrary to reality; for reality teaches us that bones don't rejoice, hyssop doesn't purge sin, babies don't speak as soon as they leave the womb, and an unborn child is not morally depraved.
The same rules of interpretation that would permit Psalm 51:5 to teach that babies are born sinners, would, if applied to these passages (or if applied to many other passages in the Bible), allow for every kind of perversion and wild interpretation of God's Word. Look again at the words of Job 1:21: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." Did Job, by these words, mean to teach that he and all other men would some day go back into their mother's womb? We know that such a meaning is absurd. But it is just as reasonable to give to Job 1:21 the nonsensical meaning that Job and all other men will some day go back into their mother's womb, as it is to give to Psalm 51:5 the nonsensical meaning that David and all other men are born sinners. David was not teaching in this passage that he was born a sinner. He instead was confessing to God the awful guilt and sinfulness of his heart, and he cried out to God in strong language the language of figure and symbol to express that awful guilt and sinfulness.
But if David intended to affirm that he was literally "shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin," then he affirmed absolute nonsense, and he charged his Creator with making him a sinner; for David knew that God was his Maker:
Thy hands have made me and fashioned me. Psalm 119:73
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother's womb. Psalm 139:13 (Living Bible)
Know ye that the Lord he is God: It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. Psalm 100:3
Are we to understand from these passages that God fashions men into sinners in their mother's womb? No, we know that God does not create sinners. Yet, upon the supposition that Psalm 51:5 teaches that men are born sinners, these texts could teach nothing else. Who cannot see that the doctrine that men are born sinners charges God with creating sinners? It represents man as being formed a sinner in his mother's womb, when the Bible clearly teaches that God forms man in his mother's womb. It represents man as coming into this world a sinner, when the Bible clearly teaches that God creates all men. It may be objected that God created only Adam and Eve, and that the rest of mankind descended from them by natural generation. But this objection does not relieve the doctrine of an inherited sin nature of its slander and libel of the character of God. For if man has a sinful nature at birth, who is it who established the laws of procreation under which he would be born with that nature? God, of course. There is no escaping the logical inference that is implicit in the doctrine of an inherited sin nature. It is a blasphemous and slanderous libel on the character of God.
But one might as well reject the Bible out of hand, if he does not want to recognize that God is the Creator of all men. For the fact that God is the Creator of all men is one of the clearest truths taught in the Bible.
Thy hands have made me and fashioned me. Psalm 119:73
Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee: for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13, 14
Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb? Job 31:15
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee. Jer. 1:5
Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Mal. 2:10
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Eccl. 12:1
Know ye that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves. Psalm 100:3
I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth...for it repenteth me that I have made them. Gen. 6:7
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Gen. 1:26,27
Ye are gods; and all of you are the children of the most High. Psalm 82:6
For in the image of God made he man. Gen. 9:6
Man is the image and glory of God. I Cor. 11:7
Men are made after the similitude of God. James 3:9
The Lord formeth the spirit of man within him. Zech. 12:1
The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life. Job 33:4
He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. Acts 17:25
We are the offspring of God. Acts 17:29
I am the root and the offspring of David. Rev. 22:16
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. Eccl. 7:29
This last text not only declares that God has created man, but it also affirms that God created man upright. If man is created upright, he cannot be born a sinner; and if he is born a sinner, he cannot be created upright. Either one or the other may be true, but they cannot both be true for the two are contradictories.
But when God says he "created us in his image, and gave us life and breath and all things," are we to understand that he created us as sinners? When he says, "We are his offspring," are we to understand that his offspring are born sinners? When Jesus said, "I am the root and the offspring of David," are we to understand that David sprang forth from the root Christ Jesus with a sinful nature? Or, are we to understand that Jesus, as the offspring of David, was born with a sinful nature? The very fact that Jesus was a man, descended from Adam, and born with a human nature as we are, shows that men are not born with a sinful nature. I John 4:3, II John 7, Heb. 2:14, Heb. 2:16-18, Heb. 4:15, Rom. 1:3, Matt. 1:1, Luke 3:38.
The doctrine of original sin is false: it slanders and libels the character of God, it shocks man's god-given consciousness of justice, and it flies in the face of the plainest teachings of God's holy Word. The doctrine of original sin is not a Bible doctrine. It is a grotesque myth that contradicts the Bible on almost every page. But because good Christians can quote texts from the Bible to "prove" the doctrine of original sin, they are convinced it is true. But good Christians have rejected truth and clung to error in the name of the Bible before.
For instance, Galileo and Copernicus brought to the church the truth that the earth was not the center of the universe, that the sun did not go around the earth but that the earth went around the sun and that the earth rotated on its axis, giving the illusion that the sun was going around the earth.
We all know this to be true now, but did all good Christians believe it then? No, both John Calvin and Martin Luther clung, along with the church, to the error that the earth was the center of the universe, that the sun went around the earth and that the earth stood still.
"Martin Luther called Copernicus 'an upstart astrologer' and a 'fool who wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy.' Calvin thundered: 'Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit? Do not the Scriptures say that Joshua commanded the sun and not the earth to stand still? That the sun runs from one end of the heavens to the other?'"
Both Calvin and Luther were good, well-meaning men, but they still clung to their false views because they could quote Scripture texts to support them. Likewise, there are good, well-meaning Christians today who also erroneously cling to the doctrine of original sin because they can quote texts from the Bible to "prove" it.
It is these texts, that have been taken out of context and misinterpreted to support this false doctrine, that we will examine in the next chapter.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Psalm 58:3
And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Eph. 2:3
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. Job 14:4
What is man that he should be clean, and he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Job 15:14
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned...Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Rom. 5:12, 18, 19
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