The GOSPEL TRUTH
Are Men Born Sinners?

by A. T. Overstreet  

Chapter 3

THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN

 

Many Christians who profess to believe in the doctrine of original sin do not know what it teaches. Even more Christians are ignorant of its history and origin: that it had its roots in a heathen philosophy, that it has evolved, and that it was made a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in the fifth century A.D., primarily by the influence of Augustine.

Finally, most Christians do not know the fact that the doctrine of original sin is really a theory. In fact, there are more than three differing theories of original sin. The admission of A. H. Strong as to the unsatisfactory nature of even the best of these theories is very interesting:

We must grant that no one, even of these latter theories, is wholly satisfactory. We hope, however, to show that the last of them the Augustinian theory, the theory of Adam's natural headship, the theory that Adam and his descendants are naturally and organically one explains the largest number of facts, is least open to objections, and is most accordant with Scriptures.

Now let us see what the advocates of the doctrine (theory) of original sin teach:

1. The whole human race sinned in Adam when he sinned. Adam's will was the will of the race, so that all men sinned in Adam and rebelled with him when he sinned.

2. When Adam sinned, human nature was corrupted, so that now all men are born with a sinful nature.

3. This sinful nature is the fountain and direct cause of all of man's sins. Man sins by nature and cannot help but sin.

4. Because of Adam's transgression, all men are guilty, under the just "wrath and curse of God," and are liable to the "pains of hell forever."

5. Even newborn babies open their eyes in this world under the "wrath and curse" of God. They are guilty and condemned from the moment of their birth.

This is the incredible dogma that is unblushingly taught by those who hold to the doctrine of original sin. (Note: see the end of this chapter for direct quotes from advocates of original sin.)

Up to this point we have spoken of the theory of original sin without distinguishing between the differing theories. But now, let us look at the historical origin of each of the three main theories, along with their distinctive features, as outlined below:

1. The Augustinian Theory. This is also called the Theory of Adam's Natural Headship and the Realistic Theory. This theory was formulated by Augustine in the fifth century A.D. The Augustinian Theory affirms that, by virtue of organic unity, the whole human race existed in Adam at the time of his transgression. It says that Adam's will was the will of the species, so that in Adam's free act, the will of the race revolted against God, and the nature of the race corrupted itself. All men existed as one moral person in Adam, so that in Adam's sin we sinned, we corrupted ourselves, and we brought guilt and merited condemnation upon ourselves.

2. The Federal Theory. This theory is also called the Theory of Condemnation by Covenant and the Immediate Imputation Theory. It had its origin with Cocceius in the 17th century A.D. According to this theory, God made a covenant with Adam, agreeing to bestow upon all his descendants eternal life for his obedience, but making the penalty for his disobedience to be the condemnation of all his descendants. Since our legal representative or federal head did sin, God imputes his sin, guilt, and condemnation to all his descendants. It was thought that this theory was necessary because of the problem in the Augustinian Theory of accounting for the non-imputation of the subsequent sins of Adam and less remote ancestors for if real existence in Adam explained our responsibility for his first sin, why should not real existence in Adam and in subsequent ancestors make us guilty for those sins, too?

3. The Theory of Mediate Imputation. This theory is also called the Theory of Condemnation for Depravity. This is the theory formulated by Placeus in the 17th century A.D. Placeus originally denied that Adam's sin was in any way imputed to his posterity. But when his first view was condemned by the Synod of the French Reformed Church in 1644, he published this later view. According to this view, all men are born with a depraved nature and are guilty and condemnable for that nature. They are not viewed as being guilty because of the sin of Adam, as in the Federal Theory. Instead it is the corrupted nature which they inherit from Adam that is sufficient cause and legal ground for God to condemn them.

It is probably shocking for the Christian who has been taught these theories as Bible truths to be told that not one word of any of them can be found in the Bible. Christians believe these theories to be Bible doctrines because theologians, preachers, and Sunday school teachers teach them as if they were Bible doctrines quoted directly from the Bible, and give them a semblance of credence with Bible texts quoted out of context. However, these theories are not Bible doctrines. Where can you find written in the Bible that "The whole human race existed in Adam at the time of his transgression"? Or that "Adam's will was the will of the species"? Or that "In Adam's free act the will of the race revolted against God and the nature of the race corrupted itself"? Or that "All men existed as one moral person in Adam, so that in Adam's sin we sinned, we corrupted ourselves, and brought guilt and merited condemnation upon ourselves"? Or where can it be found written in the Bible that "Adam was the federal head and moral representative of the race, and God made a covenant with Adam, agreeing to bestow upon all his descendants eternal life for his obedience and making the penalty for his disobedience to be the condemnation of all his descendants"? Or where in the Bible can it be found written that "All men are guilty and condemnable for the depraved nature with which they are born"? Nowhere! These theories are not in the Bible. You can search the Bible through from cover to cover and you will never find a word of these theories on its pages. The fact that mere men have had the boldness to teach these theories as Bible truths is a serious and sobering fact. God has twice warned men not to tamper with his Holy Word, neither adding to it nor taking from it. Deut. 4:2, Rev. 22:18, 19.

There is another sobering fact that should be of interest to every Christian who has ever been an adherent of the doctrine of original sin. The theologians themselves, who advocate the doctrine of original sin, prove conclusively that it is false. For instance, those theologians who advocate the Realistic Theory (the Augustinian Theory) prove conclusively that the Federal and Mediate Imputation Theories are unscriptural and false. On the other hand, those theologians who advocate the Federal Theory prove just as conclusively that the Realistic and Mediate Imputation Theories are unscriptural and false. Each theologian, in his turn, proves all the other theories to be false.

Hodge is an advocate of the Federal theory of original sin. His arguments show conclusively that the Realistic Theory is false:

The realistic theory cannot be admitted. The assumption that we acted thousands of years before we were born, so as to be personally responsible for such act, is a monstrous assumption. It is, as Baur says, an unthinkable proposition; that is, one to which no intelligible meaning can be attached...We did not then exist. We had no being before our existence in this world; and that we should have acted before we existed is an absolute impossibility...The doctrine, therefore, which supposes that we are personally guilty of the sin of Adam on the ground that we were the agents of that act, that our will and reason were so exercised in that action as to make us personally responsible for it and for its consequences, is absolutely inconceivable.

Berkhof is also an advocate of the Federal Theory. These are some of his arguments against the Realistic Theory:

...(3) It does not explain why Adam's descendants are held responsible for his first sin only, and not for his later sins, nor for the sins of all the generations of forefathers that followed Adam. (4) Neither does it give an answer to the important question, why Christ was not held responsible for the actual commission of sin in Adam, for he certainly shared the same human nature, the nature that actually sinned in Adam.

And,

If in Adam human nature as a whole sinned, and that sin was therefore the actual sin of every part of that human nature, then the conclusion cannot be escaped that the human nature of Christ was also sinful and guilty because it had actually sinned in Adam.

Now A. H. Strong, who advocates the theory which the above theologians have rejected, in his turn, rejects the Federal Theory which they advocate:

...It impugns the justice of God by implying: (a) that God holds men responsible for the violation of a covenant which they had no part in establishing...We not only never authorized Adam to make such a covenant, but there is no evidence that he ever made one at all. It is not even certain that Adam knew he should have posterity... (b) that upon the basis of this covenant God accounts men as sinners who are not sinners... (c) That, after accounting men to be sinners who are not sinners, God makes them sinners by immediately creating each human soul with a corrupt nature such as will correspond to his decree. This is not only to assume a false view of the origin of the soul, but also to make God directly the author of sin...

Hodge himself, although he is an advocate of the Federal Theory of original sin, still admits that it is somewhat difficult to reconcile his view with the justice and goodness of God:

It may be difficult to reconcile the doctrine of innate evil dispositions with the justice and goodness of God, but that is a difficulty which does not pertain to this subject. A malignant being is an evil being, if endowed with reason, whether he was so made or so born. And a benevolent rational being is good in the universal judgment of men, whether he was created or so born. We admit that it is repugnant to our moral judgments that God should create an evil being; or that any being should be born in a state of sin, unless his being so born is the consequence of a just judgment.

All the above theologians reject the Mediate Imputation Theory. Strong says:

Since the origination of this corrupt nature cannot be charged to the account of man, man's inheritance of it must be regarded in the light of an arbitrary divine infliction a conclusion which reflects upon the justice of God. Man is not only condemned for a sinfulness of which God is the author, but is condemned without any real probation...

Sheldon, who rejects all three of these theories makes this comment on the Mediate Imputation Theory:

An evil which is matter of pure inheritance cannot rationally be made the ground of the moral reprobation of the person inheriting. To him it is calamity, and more properly calls for compassion than for condemnation...If it is irrational cruelty to blame one for a bodily deficit which was thus given, rather than acquired by personal misconduct, it is, in like manner, gross injustice to blame one for a spiritual deficit which was imposed outright and in no part was acquired.

From this, we see that the dogma of original sin is proven false by its very advocates. If, then, it is false, where did it come from and how did it come to be received as a Christian doctrine? I quote again from Finney:

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

The above statement by Finney can be confirmed by a simple reading of church history. Church history records that from the second and third centuries A.D. on, both the practices and doctrines of Christianity were corrupted in an ever-increasing way by heathen philosophies with their attendant pagan superstitions and morality. This influence was profound. There was gross licentiousness on the one hand and extreme asceticism on the other; veneration and worship of saints, relics, images, and pictures; the development of a priesthood with priestly rituals and ceremonies; magical and spiritual powers ascribed to water, sacred words, and signs; water baptism for the remission of sins; and the baptism of infants. Heathen mythology was introduced and given a Christian form. The heathen concept of a purgatory was accepted with its doctrine of the purging of sins in the after life, and the saying of masses and prayers for the dead.

Many of the theologians during these first centuries were converts from heathenism, who wedded their pagan philosophical concepts to Christianity. These were literary men, educated in the philosophies, who gave the concepts of their heathen beliefs to Christianity, thereby corrupting its purity. To read the theological writings of some of these early "church fathers" is like reading a fantastic story! And it was these early church fathers, from the second and third centuries on, who made the first allusions to a doctrine of original sin.

Tertullian was one of the first church fathers to allude to a doctrine of original sin. His views on sin harmonize with his stoic philosophy. He believed that the soul was physical and that it was propagated by the parents in procreation. He gives an account of a Montanist prophetess, who professed to have seen a soul and attempted to describe its outward appearance. Because of his materialistic concept (the stoical idea of the essential unity of matter and spirit, i.e., materialistic monism), he could not allow that God himself was immaterial. He taught that sin is a physical taint that is propagated from the parent to the child through procreation.

Origen was another of the church fathers who taught a doctrine of original sin. He was a student of all the current philosophies and far outstripped Tertullian in wild philosophical speculation. His theology bears the unmistakable marks of both Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism. He taught the preexistence of souls and that all men sinned and fell in a former existence. His belief was that men, before their existence in this world, were spirits without bodies, and that the material world was created by God for the disciplining and purifying of these fallen spirits. Fallen man had been banished into material bodies to be disciplined and purified. He taught that this estrangement of fallen spirits would some day come to an end, and all men would be saved. Even the devil and demons would someday be restored to God. Origen believed in a purgatorial fire where souls would be punished and prepared for the presence of God. In the end, all spirits in heaven and in earth including the demons, would be brought back to God, after having ascended from stage to stage through seven heavens. Origen believed that sin is rooted in the human nature of man. He believed that sin is a necessary consequence of man's material nature. Origen later assumed the existence of a sort of hereditary sin originating with Adam and added this idea to his belief in a preexisting fall. And he, like Augustine after him, supposed that there was an inherent pollution and sinfulness in sexual union.

Augustine himself was deeply imbued with the heathen philosophies of his day. He first became a disciple of the Manichaeans. The Manichaeans were a Gnostic-Christians sect, with the Christian elements reduced to a minimum. They taught, among other things, that all matter is inherently evil. Because of this view, they also taught that Christ's bodily manifestations were only apparent, and that he did not actually come in the flesh. They denied the real incarnation of Christ, as well as his bodily resurrection, because of their view of the essentially evil nature of all matter. Augustine's nine years with them accustomed him to regard human nature as essentially evil and human freedom as a delusion.

Augustine next fell under the influence of Neo-Platonism, and his theological views were strongly influenced by this philosophy as well. However, his doctrine of sin shows the obvious influence of the Gnostic teachings of Manichaeism, in which he assumes the most ridiculous teaching of all the heathen philosophies the teaching that matter can be sinful. And this is the source of his doctrine that sin can be passed on physically from one person to another. Harnack says:

We have, finally, in Augustine's doctrine of sin a strong Manichaean and Gnostic element; for Augustine never wholly surmounted Manichaeism.

Albert Henry Newman also remarks:

Augustine, the greatest of the Latin Fathers, was for many years connected with the Manichaeans and his modes of thought were greatly affected by this experience.

Augustine's doctrine of sin, with his belief in the inherent sinfulness of the physical constitution, is wholly Manichaean. His idea that sin is propagated through the marriage union, that sexual desire is sin and that sexual lust in procreation transmits sin is also Manichaean. Augustine built his doctrine of original sin upon this premise that sexual lust in procreation transmits sin. Harnack says:

The most remarkable feature in the sexual sphere was, in his view, the involuntariness of the impulse. But instead of inferring that it could not therefore be sinful and this should have been the inference in keeping with the principle "omne peccatum ex voluntate" he rather concludes that there is a sin which belongs to nature, namely, to natura vitiata, and not to the sphere of the will. He accordingly perceives a sin rooted in natura, of course in the form which it has assumed, a sin that propagates itself with our nature. It would be easy now to prove that in thinking of inherited sin, he always has chiefly in view this very sin, the lust of procreation; but it is impracticable to quote his material here.

And again:

...and Augustine imagined paradisaical marriages in which children were begotten without lust, or, as Julian says jestingly, were to be shaken from trees. All that he here maintains had been long ago held by Marcion and the Gnostics. One would have, in fact, to be a very rough being not to be able, and that without Manichaeism, to sympathize with his feeling. But to yield to it so far as Augustine did, without rejecting marriage in consequence, could only happen at a time when doctrines were as confused as in the fifth century.

Augustine went so far as to say that, although matrimonial intercourse was permitted by the Apostle Paul, it was nevertheless still sinful.

Augustine taught that God makes us sinners and decrees our sinfulness. God punishes sin with sin. He punishes us for sin with original sin. The sin which mankind inherits is both sin and sin's punishment. This has been ordained by God. It is the penalty of sin that we do the evil we would not.

He believed in absolute and unconditional predestination and election, irresistible grace, complete bondage of the will (a necessitated will man is free only to do evil), and natural inability to obey God. He taught that all mankind sinned in Adam when he sinned and is condemned with him. Men are born sinners now and are completely unable to obey God or do anything good.

He taught that those who are elect and saved are to make up for the fallen angels, so that the number of angels will be complete again. The death of Christ was a payment of what was rightly owed to the devil for our redemption. He believed in a purgatory, masses, alms, and prayers for the dead. He believed that all are polluted by original sin except for Mary. Unbaptized infants are damned because of inherited sin and guilt. He believed in the intercession of saints and martyrs in our favor, and the whole superstitious baggage of the Roman Catholic Church. In short, he was subject to all the prejudices and superstitions of his day in forming his religious views. Harnack says:

So also he was implicated in all the prejudices of contemporary exegesis. It is to be added, finally, that, although less credulous than his contemporaries, he was, like Origen, involved in the prejudices, in the mania for miracles, and the superstition of the age...A slave learns to read in answer to prayer, in three days, and without human help; and we have divine judgments, miracle-working relics, etc.

Again:

Even the most cultured Fathers from the fifth century ceased to be capable of distinguishing between the real and the unreal; they were defenseless against the most absurd tales of the miraculous, and lived in a world of magic and enchantment...Two clerics of North Africa were suspected of a scandalous act; both denied the charge; one must have been guilty; Augustine sent them over sea to the grave of Saint Felix of Nola. There they were to repeat their assertions; Augustine expected that the Saint would at once punish the liar.

And again:

At the sixth Council a Monothelite offered to prove the truth of his confession by writing it and placing it on the breast of a dead man, when the dead would rise up. The fathers of the Council accepted the test.

It was from this soil the soil of religious ignorance and superstition, and from the soil of heathen philosophical speculation that the Augustinian doctrine of original sin sprang up.

The following is a compilation of direct quotes from advocates of the doctrine of original sin, beginning with direct quotes from Augustine:

Our nature sinned in Adam. Augustine R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 338.

It was just, that after our nature had sinned...we should be born animal and carnal. Augustine R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 338.

Our nature, there transformed for the worse, not only became a sinner, but also begets sinners. Augustine R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 342.

From this condemnation no one is exempt, not even new-born children. Augustine R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 343.

Unconscious infants dying without baptism are damned by virtue of their inherited guilt. Augustine Albert Henry Newman, Manual of Church History, Vol. I, p. 366.

Children are infected by parents' sins as well as Adam's and the "actual" sins of the parents impose guilt upon the children. Augustine Harnack, History of Dogma, Vol. V, p. 227.

There is in us a "necessity of sinning." Augustine R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 343.

Whatever offspring is born is...bound to sin. Augustine R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 344.

The "nature and essence" of man is, from his birth, an evil tree and a child of wrath. Martin Luther R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. II, p.229.

Even children dying unbaptized are lost. Martin Luther R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. II, p.245.

Original sin is the hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature...which first makes us subject to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which the Scriptures call works of the flesh. Calvin R. Seeburg, History of Doctrine, Vol. II, p. 399.

This does not excuse man, for he himself has brought on this condition by the part he had in the sin of Adam. Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 230.

The sin of Adam is the immediate cause and ground of inborn depravity, guilt and condemnation to the whole human race. A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 625.

This evil tendency or inborn determination to evil, since it is the real cause of actual sins, must itself be sin, and as such must be guilty and condemnable. A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 611.

It may be difficult to reconcile the doctrine of innate evil dispositions with the justice and goodness of God, but that is a difficulty which does not pertain to this subject. A malignant being is an evil being, if endowed with reason, whether he was so made or so born, and a benevolent rational being is good in the universal judgment of men, whether he was so created or so born...We admit that it is repugnant to our moral judgments that God should create an evil being; or that any being should be born in a state of sin, unless this being so born is the consequence of a just judgment. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 308.

In the sight of God his sin was the sin of all his descendants, so that they are born as sinners...Every man is guilty in Adam, and is consequently born with a depraved and corrupt nature. And this inner corruption is the unholy fountain of all actual sins. L. Berhkof, Systematic Theology, p. 251.

Q. 16. Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?

A.The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression. Shorter Catechism.

Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto men fell?

A.All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever. Shorter Catechism.

By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. Westminster Confession.

They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation. Westminster Confession.

Original sin is the corruption of man's nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to evil, and that continually. Larger Catechism.

From this original corruption whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. Westminster Confession.

This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated: and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin. Westminster Confession.

No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed. Larger Catechism.

They deplore their inability to love their Redeemer, to keep themselves from sin, to live a holy life in any degree adequate to their own convictions of their obligations. Under this inability they humble themselves. They never plead it as an excuse or palliation; they recognize it as the fruit and evidence of the corruption of their nature derived as a sad inheritance from their first parents. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 273.

They have corrupted themselves. Deut. 32:5 All flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. Gen. 6:12

They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good...They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Psalm 14:1, 3

The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Gen. 8:21

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Rom. 3:23

Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. Eccl. 7:29

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