Exposing the Myth of "Original Sin"

by Jerry Shugart

An Examination of the Two Different Theories of Original Sin

Augustine and the Natural Headship Theory of Original Sin

Augustine wrote that "nothing remains but to conclude that in that first man all are understood to have sinned, because all were in him when he sinned; whereby sin is brought in with birth, and not removed save by the new birth." [emphasis added] (De Nupt. et Concup. 2. 34.).

He also said that "In respect to the origin of the seed from which all were to spring, all were in that individual, and all these were he, none of whom as yet existed individually. Agreeably to this seminal origin, Levi is also said to have been in the loins of his father Abraham. When in respect to his substance, he did not yet exist, still, as respects the relation of seed, it is not falsely nor idly said, that he was there and was tithed, In respect to seed...all were in the loins of Adam when he was condemned, and hence he was not condemned without them." [emphasis added] (Op. Imp. IV. 104).

John Witmer writes that "The natural headship view...recognizes that the entire human race was seminally and 'physically' in Adam, the first man. As a result God considered as participating in the act of sin which Adam committed and as receiving the penalty he received. Even adherents of the federal headship view must admit that Adam is the natural of the human race physically; the issue is the relationship spiritually. Biblical evidence supports the natural headship of Adam. When presenting the superiority of Melchizedek's priesthood to Aaron's, the author of Hebrews argued that Levi, the head of the priestly tribe, 'who collects the 10th, paid the 10th through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor' (Heb. 7:9-10)" [emphasis added] (John A. Witmer, " Romans," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck [Colorado Springs:ChariotVictor Publishing, 1983], 458).

The Federal Headship Theory

Matt Slick says that the "Federal Headship is foreign to the modern mind, but it is a biblical concept. It is the teaching that the father is the one who represents his family, his descendants. Proof of this can be found in Heb. 7:8-10:

'Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.'

"Levi was a distant descendant of Abraham, yet it is said that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek even though Levi hadn't yet been born. How is this so? It is because Abraham represented his descendants. We know that Levi did not physically carry out the act of paying tithes to Melchizedek, but we know that Abraham did. Therefore, this passage teaches the representative nature of Abraham over his descendants. Without this understanding of this passage, it would not make any sense" (Matt Slick,"Federal Headship," Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry; https://carm.org/federal-headship).

Henry Blocher does not agree with those who attempt to use Hebrews 7:9-10 to build a theory of "seminal participation" of all of mankind in Adam's sin. "Hebrews 7:9-10", he says, "hardly bears the weight that some would put on these verses. In harmony with the writer's free method of interpreting Old Testament details, it need not signify more than the point he draws from Genesis 14, namely the subordination of the Aaronic preisthood to Melchizedek's: Levi (as a descendant) was subordinate to Abraham, Abraham was subordinate to Melchizedek (in his priesthood, at any rate), therefore the Levitical priesthood acknowledges the superior rank of Melchizedek's. Otherwise, if we were to build a theory of 'seminal participation' equivalent to identity, Hebrews 7:9-10 would prove too much: all actions of all progenitors would have to be ascribed to each of their descendants, which is nearly absurd." (Henri Blocher, Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle", 115).

Slick says that without Hebrews 7:8-10 the Federal Headship view would make no sense. The Natural Headship view is also dependent on Hebrews 7:8-10 and without that passage it makes no sense. But can we take what is said in that Hebrews passage literally? To answer that question let us look at that passage while paying particular attention to the part in "bold":

"And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him" (Heb.7:8-10).

Now let us read the comments of Albert Barnes on this verse:

"And as I may so say - So to speak...For numerous examples in the classic writers of this expression, see Wetstein in loc. It is used precisely as it is with us when we say "so to speak," or 'if I may be allowed the expression.' It is employed when what is said is not strictly and literally true, but when it amounts to the same thing, or when about the same idea is conveyed. 'It is a 'softening down' of an expression which a writer supposes his readers may deem too strong, or which may have the appearance of excess or severity. It amounts to an indirect apology for employing an unusual or unexpected assertion or phrase.' 'Prof. Stuart.' Here Paul could not mean that Levi had actually paid tithes in Abraham - for he had not then an existence; or that Abraham was his representative - for there had been no appointment of Abraham to act in that capacity by Levi; or that the act of Abraham was imputed or reckoned to Levi, for that was not true, and would not have been pertinent to the case if it were so" [emphasis added] (Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Hebrews [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855], 159).

Of course what the author said at Hebrews 7:9-10 cannot be taken literally. The author of Hebrews was merely using a figure of speech in order to assert that Melchisedec's priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood. That explains why the author used the opening words "And as I may so say. " According to A. R. Fausset that phrase can only be understood in a figurative sense: "as I may so say-to preclude what he is about to say being taken in the mere literal sense" [emphasis added] (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible; https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Hbr/Hbr_007.cfm?a=1140010).

The argument used by the proponents of the theory of Original Sin that all people sin in Adam and with Adam falls completely apart when we realize that what is said at Hebrews 7:9-10 cannot be taken literally. There is absolutely no Scriptual evidence to support either the Natural Headship Theory or the Federal Headship Theory. Even Slick says that without Hebrews 7:8-10 the Federal Headship Theory makes no sense.

The Natural Headship Theory and Romans 5:12d

Douglas Moo says that the sin attributed to "all" in the following verse in "bold" is identical to the sin committed by Adam:

"For this cause, even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Ro.5:12; DBY).

He writes that "If we are to read verse 12d in light of verses 18-19, 'all sinned' must be given some kind of 'corporate' meaning: 'sinning' not as voluntary acts of sin in 'one's own person,' but sinning 'in and with' Adam....The point is rather that the sin attributed to the 'all' is to be understood, in the light of verses 12a-c and 15-19, as a sin that in some manner is identical to the sin committed by Adam. Paul can therefore say both 'all die because all sin' and 'all die because Adam sinned' with no hint of conflict, because the sin of Adam 'is' the sin of all. All people, therefore, stand condemned 'in Adam,' guilty by reason of the sin committed 'in him.' This interpretation is defended by a great number of exegetes and theologians" [emphasis added] (Douglas J. Moo, Fallen: A Theology of Sin, 124).

Moo teaches that the sin of Adam 'is' the sin of all. However, Paul makes it clear that the sins of those who lived between Adam and Moses was not the same sin committed by Adam:

"For this cause, even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: for until law sin was in the world; but sin is not put to account when there is no law; but death reigned from Adam until Moses, even upon those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam's transgression" (Ro.5:12-15; DBY).

Schreiner also sees this same truth, writing that "Paul specifically and emphatically distinguishes the sin of those who live in the era between Adam and Moses from Adam's sin" (Thomas R. Schreiner, Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin, 287).

Schreiner correctly points out that "Those who lived in the era between Adam and Moses were accountable for their sin, so that they were condemned because they violated God's moral norms. Their sin was counted against them and thus they were judged. Paul himself teaches the same truth in 2:12, when he claims that 'all those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law'...What Paul claims here fits with the judgments inflicted on the flood generation and at Babel. Gentiles did not have the Mosaic law, but they were judged for violating the unwritten law--the law inscribed on their hearts. Romans 2:12 is of paramount importance, for it prevents us from adopting a mistaken view of 5:12-14" (Ibid., 279-80).

The Natural Headship Theory and the "One" Sin of Adam

Murray points out another problem with the Natural Headship Theory:

"It may not be questioned that there is something severely unique and distinct about our involvement in the sin of Adam. The sin is the one sin of Adam. If the relationship to Adam were simply that of seminal union, that of being in his loins, that would not provide any explanation why the sin imputed is the first sin 'alone.' We were as much in his loins when he committed other sins and these other sins would be just as applicable to us as his first sin if the whole explanation of the imputation of his first sin resides in the fact that we were in his loins. Hence some additional factor is required to explain the restriction to the one sin of Adam" (John Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin, 38-39).

It is a fact that my interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 reveals that it was the "one" sin of Adam, the eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which resulted in the spiritual death of all people who sin. When Adam ate of the forbidden tree he received a "conscience" of the law written in the heart and after that all of his posterity likewise received a conscience when they were made in the image of Adam. Then spiritual death came upon all men when they sinned against their conscience. That explains why Paul stresses that it was just the "one" sin of Adam which resulted in the spiritual death of all people when they sin.

The Natural Headship Theory and Jacob and Esau

The teaching of the Natutral Headship view is based on the idea that Paul understood and taught that all people sinned "when" Adam sinned. If this theory is correct then Paul certainly would have understood that both Jacob and Esau were in Adam's loins and participated in his sin when he sinned. Therefore, both of them sinned when Adam sinned and this happened before they were born. However, Paul makes it plain that before they were born they had done neither good or evil:

"For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth" (Ro.9:11).

This evidence demonstrates that Paul did not think that either Jacob or Esau sinned when Adam sinned or else he would not say that before they were born they had not sinned.


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