Exposing the Myth of "Original Sin"

by Jerry Shugart

The Interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 by Those Who Teach "Original Sin"

Next we will look at what is said at Romans 5:12-21 and examine the interpretation of those verses by those who hold to the teaching of "Original Sin." Of upmost importance in this discussion is determining "how" people die spiritually. According to those who teach "Original Sin" all men are born spiritually dead as a result of the sins of Adam and Eve:

"They (Adam & Eve) being the root of 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 original generation" [emphasis added] (The Westminster Confession of Faith; VI/3).

Spiritual Death...Because All Have Sinned

Here Paul says that death comes to all men because all have sinned:

"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" (Ro.5:12).

Because All Have Sinned "in Adam"

Despite the fact that Paul says that all people die spiritually because they all sin those who adhere to the teaching of "Original Sin" say that we must understand that Paul is saying that death passed upon all men because all have sinned "in Adam." Those same people quote the following verse in their effort to prove that idea:

"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.7:9-10).

Dispensationalist John MacArthur quotes Hebrews 7:9-10 and then writes:

"In other words, although Melchizedek lived many years before Levi, the father of the priestly tribe, was born, along with all other descendants of Abraham, Levi, by being in the seed of Abraham's loins, shared in the tithe paid to the ancient king. In the same way, although with enormously greater consequences, the sin of Adam was passed on to all of his descendants. When he sinned in the Garden of Eden, he sinned not only as 'a' man but as 'man.' When he and his wife, who were one flesh (Gen.2:24), sinned against God, all of their descendants--that is, the entire human race in their loins--would share in that sin and the alienation from God and subjection to death that were its consequences" [emphasis added] (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Romans 1-8 [Chicago: Moody Publishers 1991], 294).

Here MacArthur's argument rests entirely on the idea that we can take literally what is said about Levi paying tithes "in Abraham." According to MacArthur's argument, since it can be said that Levi actually paid tithes "in Abraham" when he was in his loins then it can also be true that all on mankind actually sinned when Adam sinned because all were in his loins when he sinned. But can what is said about Levi be understood in a "literal" sense? In order to answer this question let us look at the verse again while paying particular attention to the part in "bold":

"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.7:9-10).

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 taklen literally. That is why he 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, 1871).

Despite these facts MacArthur cites Hebrews 7:9-10 as evidence that all of mankind "actually" or "literally" sinned "in Adam."

However, let us look at the implications of a 'literal" understanding of the thought that all sinned "in Adam." According to MacArthur all of mankind shared in Adam's sin. However, we read the following about Jacob and Esau:

"And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil" (Ro.9:10-11).

If MacArthur is right then both Jacob and Esau sinned when Adam sinned because they shared in Adam's sin. Therefore, according to MacArthur, they had both done evil before they were even born. However, at Romans 9:11 Paul states in no uncertain terms that neither had done evil prior to their birth. That in itself demonstrates that a literal reading of the thought that "all sinned in Adam" is not valid.

According to MacArthur all of mankind shares in Adam's sin and "the alienation from God and subjection to death that were its consequences." From this we can understand that MacArthur is saying that "death" is a direct result of a judicial sentence passed upon all of mankind because they shared in Adam's sin. However, the Scriptures state that a death sentence is based on one's own sin and not the sins of others:

"The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin" (Deut.24:16).

"But he slew not their children, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, where the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not die for the children, neither shall the children die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin" (2 Chron.25:4).

Now we will see that all people die spiritually as a result of their own sin and not as a result of the sin of Adam.

The Commandment...Slew Me

In the following passage the Apostle Paul speaks of being "alive" once and when the commandment came he "died":

"For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me" (Ro.7:9-11).

Paul is not speaking of "physical" death because he was alive physically when he wrote those words. He is speaking about breaking one of the Ten Commandments (v.7) and it was that which resulted in his "spiritual death."

In a commentary written by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary John A. Witmer writes, "As a result Paul 'died' spiritually (cf. 6:23a) under the sentence of judgment by the Law he had broken...so this sin deceived him...and 'put' him 'to death' (lit., 'killed' him), not physically but spiritually" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament [Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1983], 467).

The Letter Killeth

"Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away" (2 Cor.3:6-7).

Here the Apostle Paul is contrasting the New Testament with the Ten Commandments (written and engraved in stones). In regard to the New Testament he says that "the spirit giveth life" so this is obviously referring to "spiritual life."

We are told to compare "spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor.2:13) so in order to maintain a logical consistency we must understand that the "ministration of death" refers to "spiritual" death. This idea is reinforced by the words of Paul ar Romans 7:9-11 where he states that he died when he broke one of the Ten Commandments. There are many places in the Scriptures where we can see that it is our own sins which bring death:

"But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (Jas.1:14-15).

"What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death...For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Ro.6:21,23).

From all of this we can understand that a person does not emerge from the womb in a state described as being spiritually dead. If a person is born spirtually dead as a result of Adam's sin then it would be impossible for him to die spiritually as a result of his own sin. That is because a person must be alive spiritually before he can die spiritually. The very definition of "death" demands that a person must be alive spiritually before he can die spiritually: "the end of life" (Merriam-Webster.com.).

With this in mind we can know that Adam's spiritual death does not descend to all men as a result of original generation:

"They (Adam & Eve) being the root of 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 original generation" [emphasis added] (The Westminster Confession of Faith; VI/3).