Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Defense of the view that Adam's sin is the cause of moral and natural evil

For centuries, the church has historically viewed The fall of man, i. e. Adam's transgression, as the cause of moral and natural evil. At least since the days of Augustine, this was the dominant view of the church in the West. While the Roman Catholics refer to this as the doctrine of Original Sin and Reformed Protestantism referred to it in terms of Total Depravity, most Evangelicals are more comfortable referring to this as the Fall of Man.  One of the passages that was used to defend this idea was Romans 5:12-21.

In recent years this doctrine has come under heavy attack. In no small part, this is motivated by a desire to make the Bible compatible with the speculative inferences and assumptions of Old Earth theories and Evolutionary theory. If it is a fact that the earth is old (millions to billions) or if it is a fact that evolution is the authoritative narrative of natural history, then it follows that animal death has been around for a long time before the fall. This comes into direct conflict with traditional teaching concerning the fall of man.

At stake in this issue is the nature of God and the nature of morality. The standard Christian answer to the problem of evil is that Satan's - then  man's - rebellion introduced evil into the world. If death existed before Adam and if death  was an original part of creation, then it follows that either God is not  good (He would be a masochist), or Judeo-Christian morality is not an accurate way to view moral issues.

Those who seek to conform the Bible to scientific speculations have sought loopholes in the passages. They allege that the traditional view cannot be right because:

--1 If Adam's sin caused corruption in creation or death to animals, then the atonement must apply to animals. (straw man).
--2 Death in Romans 5 can only mean spiritual death. (In this quasi-gnostic view, God is not interested in the body, only the spirit).

In this article, I will focus on the exegesis of Romans 5:12-21 and compare it to the bigger picture presented in chapters 6-8. I will show that:

--1 Adam's sin directly made all of his descendants sinner - and with that  brought spiritual and physical death.
--2 As a consequences of bringing physical death to man, the entire eco-system was infected with death.
--3 Jesus Christ reverses the curse of Adam on humanity.
--4 As a consequence of applying the redemption of humanity to the physical bodies of believers, the creation is restored to a pristine state that is free of death.

With that in mind, here is the verse-by-verse commentary, starting with Romans 5:12.
 12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

This is introducing the concept that Adam's sin made all of his descendants sinners. Verse 19 explains this explicitly.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

Paul is giving a proof that those between Adam and Moses were sinners. Because the Law was not yet given, there was no basis for specific charges of command-breaking (One must first be commanded before one can be guilty of breaking them). These people, however, possessed a human nature that was corrupted by Adam's transgression - a nature that was biased towards command-breaking the moment a command was given. Paul uses death as a proof that these people were sinners. If death was limited to spiritual death, then Paul's statement is not falsifiable - and therefore useless as proof. If death was already normative in the eco-system, then humans would have likely died from exposure to that eco-system regardless of whether they sinned - Paul's statement would be useless as proof. Physical death, however,  is falsifiable. Paul use of death is proof only works if death includes physical death and death is introduced into a system relatively free of death before the fall. While the focus is man, this idea also has implications for creation. Genesis 3 confirms that Adam's sin affected creation when it is written that God cursed the ground for man's sake. With that curse came death to the rest of creation.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one  man, Jesus Christ!

This is simply saying that Christ reversed the curse of Adam.
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

This is comparing the universal scope of Adam's sin upon his descendants to the universal scope of Christ upon the redeemed. The universality of both of these is relative. Adam's corruption was passed on only to his descendants through sexual reproduction; Christ perfect human nature was replicated only to believers through spiritual reproduction that occurs when the word of God is mixed with faith.  All other effects of either are indirect.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul is comparing the power of sin to the power of grace. sin reigned through death, while grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life.

Chapters 6-8 continues the theme of human redemption. Chapter 6:1-10 instruct us in how the corrupt human nature is destroyed and replaced with a perfect human nature. Chapter 7 begins with an illustration from marriage to show that our relation with Christ is a marriage whose purpose is for use "to bear fruit unto God." This fruit is the result of mixing the Word of the gospel with our faith, resulting in good works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 1:16-17, etc.) The latter part of chapter 7 shows the futility of trying to live the Christian life in the power of the flesh.

Chapter 8 begins with instruction that the functioning of this new nature, called the law of the Spirit of life, is actually the Holy Spirit working inside the believer. The difference between the regenerated person and the unregenerate is the leading and work of the Holy Spirit. The connection to the Holy  Spirit is the difference between the new nature and the old.

Starting in verse 18, the text instructs us on the redemption of the bodies of believers. Unlike gnosticism where God is interested in only the spiritual, the Judeo-Christian God is also interested in the body. We are instructed that the restoration of creation is tethered to the redemption of the body.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
- Romans 8:18-25

Creation has been subjected to decay and must wait for the redemption of the bodies of God's people. According to verse 19, the restoration of creation is a consequence of the redemption of the bodies of believers. In God's program, this phase begins with the general resurrection of believers followed by uprooting from the earth all that is evil; after this creation can be restored (see also Matthew 13:40-43).

In conclusion, the traditional view both provides a powerful and coherent answer to the problem of evil and is supported by the text. Christ offers  redemption to the spirit now. When  Christ returns, He will redeem the bodies of believers. At that time he will restore the creation to a death free state where the lion will lie down with the lamb and there will be no more killing (Isaiah 11).