The theory of "imputed sin," which is often referred to as "immediate sin," and sometimes as "original sin," teaches that there is an imputation or a legal assignment of Adam's "original" act of sin to each member of the human race because Adam stands as a legal representative of all his progeny and because each one of them have a positional or "legal" relationship to him that is indicated by the term, "in Adam."

Accordingly, each person is assessed the same guilt that was assessed to Adam, is held spiritually accountable for that sin, and comes under the condemnation of God because of that sin.

I suggest that this theory is false; that it is neither taught in the bible nor is it a theological necessity for understanding the depravity of the human race. The idea that there is some kind of positional association "in Adam" is based on only ONE explicit passage (1 Cor. 15:22) which should not even be translated as "in Adam," and on only one implicit passage (Romans 5:12-19) where the implication is quite ambiguous.

Throughout the Old Testament there is no mention or hint of imputed sin.
The basis for indictment from God is either inherent sin or personal sin.
And although the theologians will claim that imputed sin is necessary based on a FEDERAL HEADSHIP of Adam, the claims cannot be validated. Charles Hodge, for example, writes,

"The chief argument in favour of the doctrine of imputation is that the Scriptures present Adam as not only the natural, but also the federal head of his posterity. This is plain, as already remarked, from the narrative given in Genesis. Everything there said to Adam was said to him in his representative capacity."

That is an assumption. Even Hodge so regards it as he continues,

"Besides the plain assumption of the truth of this federal relation . . ."

So after stating what I first quoted, Hodge admits that it is all an assumption. No matter how PLAIN he thinks it is, an ASSUMED TRUTH is not TRUTH unless it can be confirmed by the rest of the bible. So of course, Hodge continues, "it is expressly asserted in the word of God."

Hodge finds this EXPRESS ASSERTION in the biblical statement that Adam was a type of the Christ (Romans 5:14). However, the fact that Adam was indeed a type of Christ does not prove a federal headship. The typology that is established is one of universal cause and effect. That is, just as Adam's act of disobedience had a universal EFFECT on all mankind, transmitting the sin nature to all through physical birth, and death through THE sin, and a future condemnation; so also, Christ's one act of righteousness had a universal effect of providing the gift of grace to all mankind, and the gift of righteousness to those who believe. But, all of this will be more fully discussed when I get to the Romans five passage.

To recap, there is nothing in the bible that places Adam as a "representative" of his progeny. He is simply the first man, and because of his sin, there are physical and spiritual consequences that extend to all mankind by virtue of a clearly stated PHYSICAL relationship to Adam. That is, All of Adam's progeny are born with a sin nature and reap the consequences of possessing that sin nature (spiritual death) BECAUSE they possess it and not because of some assumed federal headship of Adam. Furthermore, the consequence of physical death as an extension beyond Adam to all of his progeny, results from the PHYSICAL effects of the curse on the earth and not because of a misunderstood idea of being IN ADAM.

The first issue in man's judicial accountability to God is inherent sin, which we designate by the term, the sin nature. It is described in several passages in the Old Testament (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Ec. 9:3; Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Prov. 22:15).

At Gen. 8:21 we see that "the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth."

At Psalm 51:5, the sin nature is represented by the Hebrew word Awōn, which is consistently translated as iniquity. This word refers to the inclination to do evil or the actual expressions of evil that come from the sin nature. It conveniently gives us the transition from the nature of sin to the expression of sin that comes from that nature. The first recorded crisis for man after Adam's fall revolves around the influence of the sin nature in a man named Cain (Gen. 4:7). Here, the Hebrew word, chattAth, is given a personification in order to communicate the active influence and control that the sin nature wields in the heart of man. It reads, "Will you not be accepted if you do right? And if you do not do right, sin (the sin nature) is stretched out at the door (of your life) and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

It is for this reason that Jeremiah describes the heart of man as "deceitful and desperately sick," (Jer. 17:9). At Galatians 5:17, Paul describes this influence and the conflict that exists in the soul between the flesh (sin nature) and God's Spirit.

The issue of personal sin is mentioned many times, but is summarized nicely at Isaiah 59:2 with both the word iniquities (Awōn) and sins (chattAth), "but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and you sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

When we get to the New Testament, we observe that the same two issues are clearly stated as being the basis for divine indictment.

At Eph. 2:1, the basis for spiritual death is personal sin as is stated, "dead in trespasses and sins."

At Col. 2:13, Paul says that we were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of the flesh. The context makes it clear that the uncircumcision of the flesh refers to the sin nature and transgressions is obviously, personal sins.

When we backtrack to the teachings of Jesus, we find the same two issues brought up at John 8.
At John 8:21, we find that "you shall die in THE sin of you (ie, your sin nature), and at verse 24, "you shall die in your sins (plural)." The distinction is for a reason. It is because both inherent sin and personal sin contribute to the depravity of the human race and the indictment that comes from God because of that depravity. Jesus continues in the same discourse to clarify that those who commit THE sin, are "the slaves of THE sin." Committing THE SIN refers to the expression of sin nature rebellion that rejects faith in Christ as the Messiah. The one who so follows the independence of the sin nature is the slave of the sin nature.

No where in the teachings of Jesus is there any hint of imputed sin or of a positional identification "in Adam."

Nor is there in the non-Pauline writings any hint of imputed sin, so that even many of the theologians who teach this theory describe it as Paul's theology. Accordingly, when we get to Paul, we should first approach him with the frame of reference established by the Old Testament and by the teachings of others.

In the apostolic letters, the only place the term, "in Adam," occurs is at 1 Cor. 15:22 where we find, "For as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive."

The first problem with this statement is the universality of resurrection that is associated with "in Christ." The "all" MUST be the very same "all" referenced by the phrase, "in Adam," for there is nothing in the context that would allow for us restrict the "all" as occurs in other contexts. And yet, not ALL are in Christ and cannot be given a resurrection based on a relationship they do not have.

There must be a universal application of the action associated with Christ in this passage, and since it cannot be "in Christ," it must be "by means of Christ." Jesus taught us at John 5:28-29, that "ALL who are in the tombs" will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and that based on that, they ALL will be raised. However, the resurrection that is accomplished for ALL humanity is broken down into two categories; a resurrection of life and a resurrection of judgment. Both are accomplished BY MEANS of Christ and this totally agrees with 1 Cor. 15:22. The passage then, is describing what all humanity has "BY MEANS" of Adam. This is even clearer when we recognize that verse 22 is explanation of verse 21. Verse 21 says, "For since THROUGH (dia) a man came death, THROUGH a man also came the resurrection of the dead." The word, through, communicates the cause by which physical death was brought upon the entire human race; that it was because of a man. Through, also indicates that the GENERAL resurrection from physical death will be caused by a man. Then verse 22 explains by naming the specific men involved. By means of Adam, that is, because Adam sinned against God in the garden, he was placed into the process of physical death (Gen. 3:19) and all of his progeny were placed into the same process by virtue of being born into a cursed earth that is in slavery to corruption (Rom. 8:21; Heb. 9:27).

Likewise, because of Christ's act of obedience in accomplishing the Father's will at the cross, He becomes the administrator of resurrection, and it is BY MEANS OF Him that both believers and unbelievers will be resurrected - but each in his own order.

It has been argued that Paul cannot have both resurrections in view because the passage is speaking of the HOPE of resurrection for the believer in Christ. However, in a few other passages where the focus is on the HOPE of the believer for a future resurrection, the speaker includes the fact of a future resurrection unto judgment for the unbeliever (Dan. 12:3; Acts 24:14-15; and John 5:28-29). The mention of resurrection unto judgment in those passages of HOPE for the believer, is not out of place, but quite relevant as it emphasizes the HOPE by contrasting it with the judgment. Likewise, although not specifically stated, to view a general resurrection of both just and unjust, which will be accomplished by Jesus Christ, is not out of place at 1 Cor. 15.

To restate, the only translation that accurately represents the truth of this passage is "by means of." To translate it as "in," simply cannot hold up to the truth of biblical context. Accordingly, the concept of "in Adam" is a humanly manufactured doctrine that finds no support in the rest of the bible.

However, there are those who will appeal to Romans 5:12-19 to support the theory of man's "position in Adam." First of all, let me point out that many of those who do so, use a circular reasoning. They seek to prove that 1 Cor. 15:22 means "in Adam," because Romans 5 teaches a "positional" relationship to Adam through implication. And then they seek to prove that Romans 5 teaches a positional relationship "in Adam," because 1 Cor. 15:22 says "in Adam all die." However, as I have demonstrated, it is impossible for 1 Cor. 15 to be teaching the idea of "in Adam," because that would then universalize the status of being "in Christ," and that is totally unacceptable. Instead, 1 Cor. 15:22 should be translated as "by means of Adam" and "by means of Christ" and both factors perfectly agree with what Romans 5 is really teaching. Romans 5 is simply clarifying the CAUSE by which sin and spiritual death came upon all of Adam's progeny, and the cause by which salvation is provided and offered to all of Adam's progeny. What should be a very sobering fact to all diligent bible students, is that there is absolutely no other place in the entire bible that even hints at the theory of a position "in Adam," except Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15, and these do not teach it either.

An analysis of Romans 5:12-19 is required to complete this study, but before that is considered, It is necessary to lay the contextual framework of Romans, and see if there is any basis for building a theory of imputed sin when we get to Romans 5.

What is the basis for condemnation taught in the book of Romans?

At Romans 1:18-32, God's wrath is revealed against those who DO the many things mentioned in the context. The basis for judgment is very clearly the commission of personal sin.

At Romans 2:1, the one who judges someone else for that same list of sins, simply condemns himself, for he too is guilty of one or more of those very things.

At Romans 2:2, judgment of God rightly falls on those who DO such things.

At Romans 2:3-16, the judgment of God falls upon all equally, for there is no partiality with God (v. 11), for all who HAVE SINNED without the law . . . and all who HAVE SINNED under the law, are all equally under judgment - and the focus is clearly on personal sin. The verb for HAVE SINNED, is an aorist active indicative (point of time action) but very clearly refers to the commission of personal sin throughout one's life. This is pertinent because is speaks to the use of the same aorist active indicative at Romans 3:23 and 5:12.

At Romans 3:9, the indictment is that all are under sin. Then Paul gives extensive Old Testament documentation to demonstrate the exceeding sinfulness of all and explain what it means to be UNDER SIN. The indictment from these quotes is that all are guilty of personal sin IN GENERAL. It is not claiming that every single person is guilty of each of the mentioned violations. Each quote must be kept within its specific Old Testament context, and not used as a universal accusation. Each one of the passages is restrictive and not universal in its scope. For example, not ALL of them are murderers; Not all of them are unkind; not all of them refuse to seek for God.

What then is the purpose of this list, and of Paul's appeal to the law?

Verse 19 says, "so that every mouth (that claims personal righteousness) may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God;" just as at verse 9, "all are under sin." The word accountable is hupodikos, and it means "under justice" or "under judgment." Thus, the idea of condemnation is in view. And what is the basis for this condemnation? It is personal sin as exposed by the formal document of the Mosaic law.

And no matter how much man attempts to keep the law and acquire personal righteousness through the law, he will always come up short because, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," (Rom. 3:23). That is, throughout their life, they have all sinned. This is the very same construction that occurs at Romans 5:12 (aorist active indicative of hamartano, for ALL HAVE SINNED) and at both places should focus on the presence of personal sin in the lives of all people.

The teaching in Romans so far is that all people, personally and individually, merit judgment from God by virtue of their acts of personal sin. Thus the need for a non-meritorious solution, since there is no merit in man and in man's attempt to keep the law, for there will always exist a violation of the law.

But when the formal law came on the scene to establish the sinfulness of man, man turned it around and attempted to use it as a means by which he could measure his approval before God and actually achieve personal righteousness in the eyes of God. Before the law, this was not a problem, although man still came up with many different ways to get right with God, which were contrary to His established policy, because the gospel of salvation clearly revolved around, "calling upon the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26; Joel 2:32), and the future provision of the Messiah (Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Gal. 3:8). This is taught by Paul in Romans 4 by indicating that Abraham was saved through faith and not by the law, for the law was not even in existence, and in fact, his salvation was also totally unrelated to the ritual of circumcision, for he was saved while yet uncircumcised.

In Romans 5:1-11, Paul discusses the magnitude of God's salvation provision by focusing on the grace sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He then makes a comparison between the effects of Christ's work and the effects of Adam's act of disobedience, which was the cause for the blight of sin upon the race. To amplify the magnitude of God's grace, he delineates the magnitude of man's sinfulness. He does this first by referencing the 4 issues of human depravity in verses 6-10; HELPLESS, which means man can do nothing in and of himself to solve his sin problem; UNGODLY, which refers to the basic nature of man as being rebellious against God and unworshipful (this describes the sin nature); SINNERS, which refers to the mental, verbal and overt expressions of sin that result from having a sin nature; and ENEMIES, which refers to the status of man in relationship to God, which results from being ungodly and sinners.

As we have already seen, the basis for condemnation in Romans 1 through 5 is personal sin. There is no mention of inherent sin (the sin nature) until we are introduced to the term, "ungodly" at verse 4:5 and 5:6, which I suggest communicates the idea of a "natural" rebellion toward God, thus the influence of the sin nature. Then beginning at Rom. 5:12 and continuing through chapter 8, Paul uses the term "The Sin" to refer to the sin nature, and he develops it considerably in that section, while also using the term "the flesh" to emphasize the physical location of the sin nature.

Since there is no other place in the bible that teaches the theory of imputed sin, AND since the presence of the sin nature and its many expressions of personal sin fulfill both the grammatical and theological context of Romans 5:12-21, I suggest that there is no reason to try to force another idea into the passage.

Furthermore, Paul's discourse on THE sin nature continues beyond Romans 5, which is clearly indicated by the Greek construction, "THE sin." This is the very same sin factor that is introduced to us at Romans 5:12, "just as through one man THE sin entered into the world and THE death through THE sin." The statement at Romans 6:23, "the wages of THE sin is death," indicates that the sin NATURE is in view as the cause of spiritual death.

At Romans 7, the sin factor that is in view is the sin nature as is summarized at verse 11, "for THE sin taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me."

In Romans 7:14-25, Paul teaches that THE sin nature is "in my flesh" and begins using the term "the flesh," to indicate the sin nature. Thus at Romans 8:1-4, our salvation and our Christian living after salvation is based on Christ's work of condemning THE sin nature in the flesh. There is no mention of imputed sin; no hint of its presence or of its being removed. Nor is there in the rest of Romans or in any other place in the entire bible.

Another vital fact is that when the solution to man's sinfulness is discussed in the bible, the focus is on judgment on the sin nature and on personal sin rather than a deliverance from some unstated imputed sin. When the issue of OLD position vs. NEW position is in view, the focus is on deliverance from the kingdom of darkness rather than deliverance from being IN ADAM.

See Commentary on
Romans 5:12-21




İRon Wallace, Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it,
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