The GOSPEL TRUTH
Are Men Born Sinners?

by A. T. Overstreet    

Chapter 2

PROOF-TEXTS USED TO SUPPORT THE DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN

 
Many Christians mistakenly believe that the doctrine of original sin has always existed. It has not always existed. The doctrine did not exist, even in its elementary stages, until about the third century A.D. And it did not become a generally accepted doctrine until the fifth century A.D., after it was made a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, through the influence of Augustine. Charles G. Finney makes the following comment upon the origin of this doctrine:

It is a relic of heathen philosophy, and was foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine, as every one may know who will take the trouble to examine for himself.

This doctrine, that was "foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine," now boldly parades about, wearing a mask of decency and respectability, fashioned of Biblical proof-texts. It is these proof-texts, which have served to mask the falseness of this doctrine, that we will now examine:

I. "Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."

We have already examined this text in chapter one and have seen that it is a figurative expression and does not teach that men are born sinners. The very idea that men can be born sinners is absurd. It is both a physical and a moral impossibility to be born a sinner. It is a moral impossibility because men cannot justly be sinners by birth. That men can be sinners and guilty and condemned at birth is morally unthinkable.

It is a physical impossibility to be born a sinner because of the nature of sin. Sin is not a substance. It has no physical properties and cannot possibly be passed on physically from one person to another. What is sin? The Bible says, "Sin is the transgression of the law." I John 3:4. So, according to the Bible, sin is an act or a choice that transgresses the law of God. It cannot, therefore, be a substance because choice and substance are contradictories. Is a wicked act a substance? Is disobedience, transgressions, lawbreaking, or unrighteousness a substance? Is guilt a substance? No, they are all moral concepts or moral qualities. And it is impossible for them to be transmitted physically. When we speak of sin, we are describing the character of an act. The word sin describes the character of an act as being wicked or wrong.

Sin is no more a substance than friendliness, goodness, or virtue are substances. If sin is a substance that can be transmitted physically, then virtue also must be a substance that can be transmitted physically. And what would be the result if all this were true? Why, sinners would beget sinners, and saints, of course, would beget saints!

Sin is not a substance, and we all know that sin is not a substance. Yet learned theologians still maintain the impossible dogma that sin, like some malignant disease, has been passed on physically from Adam to all his descendants. How ridiculous it is to make sin a physical virus, instead of a voluntary and responsible choice. How foolish to speak of men being born sinners! Only in some fantastic science fiction novel might moral character be spoken of as being passed on physically in the bloodstream of man. Moral character, whether holiness or sinfulness, cannot be passed on physically. It is gross superstition to believe that it can be.

Then what did David mean by the expression, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me"? I answer, he used this figure of himself conceived and formed in his mother's womb as the embodiment of iniquity and sin to express, in strong symbolic language, his present sinful and guilty condition before God.

This is David's penitential Psalm. He is deeply humbled and repentant for the sins he has committed, and he uses this strong language to confess his wickedness and guilt. But if David wanted God to understand his language to mean that he was a sinner by birth, the whole spirit of the Psalm is contradicted and changed. It is no longer a Psalm of penitence for sin, but it is turned into a Psalm of excuse for sin. For what better excuse could David make for his sins than the excuse that he was born a sinner? But these are not the words of a man making excuses for his sins; these are the words of a man humbled and deeply repentant for having sinned against God.

To interpret this text literally violates two fundamental rules of sound Biblical interpretation. The first one is the rule that a text must not be interpreted in such a way as to contradict the clear teachings of the Bible in other parts. The Bible is the word of God. It is without error or contradiction, and so it is only reasonable that each part should maintain a unity, harmony, and agreement with every other part. God is not the God of confusion and contradiction. There is unity and agreement throughout his Word.

But we have already pointed out that a literal interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is completely inconsistent with its context, because it amounts to David making an excuse for his sins in a Psalm which is manifestly a confession of guilt for his sins. The whole character and spirit of the Psalm is contradicted and changed by giving verse five a literal meaning.

A literal interpretation is also inconsistent with the figurative and symbolic language used throughout this Psalm. To arbitrarily give a literal meaning to this one verse, without giving a literal meaning to the other symbolic expressions in this Psalm shows an inconsistency in interpretation that can only be explained by a prepossessed belief in the doctrine of original sin.

A literal interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is also inconsistent with numerous passages and teachings throughout the Bible. It makes God the Creator of sinners. For the Bible clearly teaches that God is our Creator, that he forms us in our mother's womb, and that he gives us life, breath, and all things. It directly contradicts the Scriptures that teach that God has created us upright and in his own image. And it makes Jesus a sinner, for the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus took upon himself human nature and became a man. Heb. 2:11, 14, 16-18; Heb. 4:15.

The second rule that it breaks is the rule that a text must not be interpreted in such a way as to contradict reality. We should forever remember that the Bible does not teach nonsense. It does not teach that God breaks our bones when we sin (Psalm 51:8). It does not teach that broken bones rejoice (Psalm 51:8). It does not teach that our sins are purged with hyssop (Psalm 51:7). It does not teach that babies speak and tell lies as soon as they are born (Psalm 58:3). It does not teach that men go back into their mother's womb (Job 1:21). And it does not teach that the substance of unborn babies is sinful (Psalm 51:5). These are all figurative expressions, and to interpret them in their literal sense is to teach nonsense and what every man knows to be impossible and contrary to reality.

The nature of sin, the nature of justice, and the nature of God are such that it is impossible for men to be born sinners. First, sin is voluntary. Is it a sin to be born with blue eyes, black hair, a small nose, or large ears? Is it a sin to be born short or tall? Is it a sin to be born at all? No, because we have no choice in the matter of our birth. Our birth, and everything we are and have at birth, is ours completely involuntarily. Second, sin is not a substance. It has absolutely no material or physical properties. Sin is an act, and so it is impossible for it to be passed on physically. Third, sin is a responsible choice. Newborn babies are not responsible. They do not know the difference between right and wrong, and so cannot be responsible. A child has no moral character at birth. Moral character can only belong to a child when he has come to know the difference between right and wrong. A child must first reach the "age of accountability" before he can sin. Isaiah 7:16, Deut. 1:39. Fourth, sin is personal and non-transferable. No man can sin for, or be made guilty for, the sin of another man. Moral character, guilt, and accountability are non-transferable. Ez. 18:20, Deut. 24:16.

God's justice makes it morally impossible for men to be born sinners. Is it possible that the infinitely just God could cause men to be born sinners and condemn them to hell for the sin of Adam? Can the perfect justice of God permit him to impute guilt to the innocent or punish the innocent for the guilt of another? Is it really possible that innocent little babies open their eyes in this world under the wrath of God and that they are condemned to the torments of hell for the sin of Adam? Our whole reason revolts at such an idea. Yet this is the incredible dogma that is taught as orthodoxy in Christian churches today!

This doctrine represents God as the most cruel and unreasonable being in the universe. It represents him as condemning and sending men to hell for a nature which they received without their knowledge or consent, and with which he created them. According to this doctrine, millions of heathen have been born into this world with a sinful nature and have lived without ever hearing the Gospel; they have sinned necessarily because of the nature with which they were born, and then they have died and gone down into hell without a chance to be saved. What a blasphemous slander this doctrine is upon the character and justice of God!

II. Psalm 58:3 "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies."

This text is also supposed to teach that men are born sinners. But like the last text, it is not literal but figurative. If it were literal, it would teach that babies speak and tell lies as soon as they are born, and that they alienate themselves from God, and go astray from him immediately upon coming out of the womb.

But all of this is clearly contrary to reality. We know that babies do not do any of these things at birth. Therefore it is clear that this language is not to be understood literally. If this verse taught that babies literally come forth from their mother's womb "estranged from God," it would contradict other passages of the Bible which teach that babies are not "estranged from God" at their birth. John the Baptist was not "estranged from God from his mother's womb." On the contrary, the angel who announced his birth said, "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb." Luke 1:15. Also, while still in the womb he literally leaped for joy when Mary, the mother of our Lord, greeted Elizabeth. These facts are hard to reconcile with a literal interpretation of Psalm 51:5 and 58:3.

Job also testified that he had been a guide to the widow "from his mother's womb." Job 31:18. Job obviously did not mean that from the time he was a helpless little newborn infant that he had been ministering to the needs of the widow. Also, the Psalmist David testified that God had been his help "from the womb." Psalm 71:6. It is easy to see that the phrase "from the womb" is often used in a figurative sense and should not always be understood in its literal sense. The following passages illustrate how the phrases "from the womb" and "from my mother's womb" are used in the Bible: Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 48:8; Isaiah 49:1, 5; Gal. 1:15; Psalm 71:5, 6; Job 31:18; Psalm 58:3.

If this text, or any other text from the Bible, teaches that babies are sinners by birth, then it teaches that all newborn babies are children of the devil. For the Bible teaches that all sinners are children of the devil. John 8:44, I John 3:8, 10. I have already referred to the remark of a friend of mine a strong advocate of the doctrine of original sin who, as we stood looking down at his little newborn baby, said, "Of course our little Tommy is a sinner." I said nothing at the time, but I have since wondered what would have been his reaction, if I had responded, "Then you believe that God has given you a child of the devil." Now, we know that little babies are not children of the devil. They are children of God. Jesus said of them: "Of such is the kingdom of God." Luke 18:16. God's Word testifies that "children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward." Psalm 127:3. Jesus would not have said, "Of such is the kingdom of God," if children were literally "estranged from God from their mother's womb."

III. Eph. 2:3 "And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."

This text is supposed to teach that babies are born with a sinful nature and that they are under the wrath of God because of that nature. But isn't it a monstrous and a blasphemous dogma to say that God is angry with any of his creatures for possessing the nature with which he created them? What? Can God be angry with his creatures for possessing the nature that he himself has given them? Never! God is not angry with men for possessing the nature he has given them, but only for the perversion of that nature. The Bible represents God as angry with men for their wicked deeds, and not for the nature with which they are born.

The word nature in this text has nothing at all to do with what man is by birth. The word nature here refers to the character of contemporary sinners before they were converted. The word nature can be used in two distinct senses. It may refer to what man is involuntarily because of his birth, or it may refer to what man is voluntarily, by choice and apart from birth. The Apostle Paul uses it in the latter sense in the text under consideration. They were not children of wrath by birth. They were children of wrath because of voluntary wickedness. This is evident from the context of Eph. 2:3. The context shows that Paul did not have his eye on their birth at all when he used the word nature. On the contrary, he had his eye wholly on the conduct of contemporary sinners before they were converted to Christianity. He calls attention in verses one and two to the fact that, before their conversion, they had "walked according to the course of this world," in "trespasses and sins." In verse three, he calls attention to their former fellowship with other sinners in fulfilling the "lusts of the flesh" and "the desires of the flesh and of the mind." And then, summing up the wickedness, the guilt, and the ill-desert of their former life, he says "and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."

But to teach from this text that babies are born with a sinful nature, and that they come into this world under the awful wrath of God because of that nature is a shocking doctrine. What? Is God really ready to let loose the terrors of his anger and the consuming fires of his wrath upon innocent little babies for the nature with which they are born? Shame on the church for teaching such an abominable, God-dishonoring doctrine!

Adam and Eve had two natures; yet we know that they were not created with two natures. They had the nature they were created with, which was good and upright, and they also had a sinful nature after they had sinned. It was this last nature, a voluntary nature, which made them "By nature the children of wrath." Men may have a nature in three distinct ways:

1. By birth. This is the good and upright nature with which we are all created.

2. By having sinned and come short of the glory of God. This is a voluntary nature. It is the nature that makes us enemies of God, children of the devil, and "by nature the children of wrath."

3. By being born again. John 3:3. This is also a voluntary nature in which we, by faith, become "partakers of the divine nature." II Peter 1:4

The word nature in the Bible, when it refers to our birth, never refers to a sinful nature. This is shown in Rom. 2:14, which says: "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law..." Now the word nature in this text does refer to the nature we receive at birth. But it is evident that the word nature used here is not a sinful nature. For how would a sinful nature ever cause us to "do by nature the things contained in the law"? A sinful nature would not cause us to do the things contained in the law a sinful nature would only cause us to commit sin! (See Rom. 1:26, 27; I Cor. 11:14; and Rom. 2:14, 15, which show that our nature teaches us the differences between right and wrong, but never causes us to do the wrong.)

To maintain that we are born with a sinful nature is to charge God, the Author of our nature, with creating sinners. Men are not "born short of the glory of God." They "sin and come short of the glory of God." Our Lord took on human nature. We know therefore that human nature is not sinful in itself. Finally, that babies are not born with a sinful nature and are not "children of wrath" by birth is evident from what Jesus said of them: "For of such is the kingdom of God." Luke 18:16.

IV. Job 14:4 "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one."

This text is supposed to teach that sinful parents will bear sinful children. But this is to completely ignore its context, which shows that Job had his eye wholly on the frail and dying state of man, and not at all upon his moral state. Job 14:1-6. The whole sense of what Job was saying was that no one can bring other than frail and dying offspring from frail and dying parents. To arbitrarily force this text to teach something that is completely foreign to its context can only be another example of an interpretation dictated by a prepossessed belief in the doctrine of original sin.

If this text teaches that a sinner invariably produces another sinner, it teaches blasphemy. For if the doctrine of original sin is true, then Mary, the mother of our Lord, was born a sinner. So if Job 14:4 really does teach that a sinner must produce another sinner, there could be no way of escaping the blasphemous conclusion that our Lord also was born a sinner.

V. Job 15:14 "What is man that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?"

It should first be said that these are the words of Eliphaz and so cannot be quoted as inspired truth. God himself testified that Job's comforters did not hold the truth. Job 42:7. But suppose we did accept this verse as inspired truth, what does it teach? It certainly teaches nothing about a morally depraved physical constitution. It merely implies the sinful condition of all mankind, without saying anything about how men got that way.

But again, this text, like the last, if used to teach the constitutional sinfulness of men, would teach the blasphemy that our Lord Jesus was born a sinner; because he was a man and was born of a woman.

VI. Rom. 5:12, 18, 19 "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 offense 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."

This passage is interpreted by those who believe in the doctrine of original sin to mean that because Adam sinned, men are now born sinners that is, they become sinners involuntarily and necessarily by inheriting a sinful nature from Adam. But this passage does not teach the doctrine of original sin. It does not teach that men are born sinners. It does not teach that sin is transmitted physically or any other way from Adam to his descendants. It does not teach that the sin of Adam was imputed to his descendants. It does not teach that men have sinned "in Adam." On the contrary, Romans 5:14 teaches that Adam's sin was not the sin of his descendants: "Them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression." (Those that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression were certainly sinners. But their sin was different from the sin of Adam. They had sinned before Moses gave the law, and had only sinned against the law of their conscience, and not against a positive precept, as had Adam. Rom. 5:13-14. And the fact that Paul says they "had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression" shows that Paul did not consider the sin of Adam to be their sin.)

Rom. 5:12-19 does not in any way teach the doctrine of original sin. Sheldon tells us what it does teach:

The Apostle here draws a comparison between the evil potency in the sinning Adam and the beneficent or saving potency in the righteous Christ...Both are pictured rather according to their tendency than according to literal fact. Surely the potency of grace in Christ does not actually come upon all men unto justification of life, but it tends to that end, and hence is so described. In like manner the evil potency in the sinning Adam is characterized according to its tendency.

To interpret the phrase "made sinners" to mean that men are born sinners and become sinners involuntarily and necessarily by receiving a sinful nature from Adam, is a forced and inconsistent interpretation of this passage; for this passage not only says that all men are "made sinners" because of Adam's transgression, it also says that all men are "made righteous" by the obedience of Christ, and that the free gift of life "came upon all men" by Christ Jesus. So, for the advocates of the doctrine of original sin to arbitrarily give to the phrases "made sinners" and "came upon all men" the meaning of physical force and physical necessity when these phrases refer to Adam's sin, without giving the same meaning to them when they refer to Christ's righteousness, is once again an example of a forced and inconsistent interpretation dictated by a prepossessed belief in the doctrine of original sin.

Paul does not affirm an involuntary, necessary, or irresistible connection between either the sin of Adam and mankind, or the righteousness of Christ and mankind. Otherwise, verse 18 would teach the universal salvation of mankind: "The free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." We know that universal salvation is not taught in the Bible. Men are not saved involuntarily, automatically, and necessarily because of the obedience of Christ. Nor are they "made sinners" involuntarily, automatically, and necessarily because of the transgression of Adam. But the context shows that men are "made sinners" in the same way that they are "made righteous," that is, voluntarily or willingly. Rom. 5:18, 19, 21. In verse 18, Paul compares the judgment that came upon all men because of Adam with the free gift of life that came upon all men because of Christ, and says "as" the one, "even so" the other. In verse 19, he compares the way the many were "made sinners" with the way the many were "made righteous," and says "as" the one, "so" the other. And in verse 21, he compares the reign of sin through Adam's transgression with the reign of grace through Christ's righteousness, and says "as" the one, "even so" the other. The context and language of this passage require that we understand the connection between Adam's sin and the sins of the rest of mankind to be moral and voluntary instead of physical and involuntary.

Paul did not teach that men are "made righteous" involuntarily through Christ, nor did he teach that men are "made sinners" involuntarily through Adam. He did not teach that sin is a substance that dwells in the flesh. He did not teach that sin is inherited from Adam through "natural generation." He did not teach that we receive a sinful nature from Adam that is the "fountain and cause" of all our "actual" sins. He did not teach that men are born sinners or that sin is transmitted physically from Adam to his descendants. All of this has been the fabrication of man's imagination. Paul's whole message, and only message, in this passage is the message that the power of Adam's transgression to bring sin, death, and condemnation upon all men has been transcended by a much greater power the glorious, liberating power of God's grace in Christ Jesus, which breaks the power of sin and brings justification, righteousness, and life upon all men. Rom. 5:15-21.

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