Of Chickens and Eggs
An age-old question is, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” It gets used for a wide variety of situations, but today I’d like to apply it to a particular verse mentioned in the last post: Rom. 5:12—
through this even-as through one human the sin into the world entered and through the sin the death and thus into all humans the death passed-through on which all sinned
The phrase “on which” means “because of that...” or “due to that...”, but it was erroneously rendered “in whom” by Jerome in his Vulgate translation, which had a huge influence on the idea that we all sin “in Adam”. I’ve written before about the fact that being “in” someone in scripture cannot be literal, but will briefly summarize. If Heb. 7:10 means that Levi was literally, physically in the body of Abraham, two major problems arise: (1) so were ALL of Abraham’s descendants, such that none of them would need to tithe, and (2) nobody exists as a whole person until sperm meets egg, or we’d have to declare all the sperm of all time to be fully human— which also means that all the eggs of all women for all time are irrelevant (which people used to believe before anyone even suspected that women make a genetic contribution to their own babies)! So scripturally, logically, and biologically, we cannot have sinned “in Adam”.
But “because” is hardly an improvement by itself, as it gives the meaning that sin causes death (which I have argued in the past, until studying this carefully). The meaning is not merely “because” but “because of which”, and the distinction is critical; the former means sin causes death, while the latter means death causes sin. (Some use the meaning “seeing that”, which fits better with the beginning of the sentence: We observe that death entered through sin, and the sin we observe in all of us proves that death passed to us too. In other words, sin is the evidence that death passed to everyone, making death the cause of sin.)
Now before some may jump to the conclusion that this somehow proves a “sin nature”*, remember that “death” is never, anywhere in scripture, called “spiritual death”. Moreover, in the next sentence (Rom. 5:13-14) Paul contrasts sin and death (see also Rom. 8:2,10,13) rather than equating them, and states clearly that some die without having sinned “as did Adam” (and there is no fine print saying “this means the type of sin Adam committed”). And in the very next chapter Paul says that our own death is “like His” (Rom. 6:5), which no one would dare to say was spiritual (1 Peter 3:18).
Now in Rom. 5:19 we need to examine another component of the passage: what “made” means. In English we can say “I will make you some breakfast” (meaning “make [for] you”, not literally to turn you into breakfast!), such that context and figure of speech determine whether the making is literal or not. The Strong’s note on “made” (#G2525) (see also LSJ) is “to place down permanently (i.e. figuratively), to designate, constitute, appoint, be, conduct, make, ordain, set”. So “make” is in the sense of naming to a position, not literally turning people into something different. This would match not only Paul’s use of legal terminology in Rom. 5:16-18 but also Jesus’ statement in John 3:18 about being condemned for lack of faith in Him. So if we apply this understanding to the verse, we get something like this: “Through the disobedience of the one person, many were designated ”sinners“, and through the obedience of the one, many will be designated ”just“. Note also the change of tense: many WERE called sinners, but many WILL BE called righteous.
It follows, then, that if we are not literally turned into righteous beings (Rom. 4:24, 1 Cor. 1:30, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:9) by Christ, then we were not literally turned into sinners ”by nature“ because of Adam. When I consider all the scriptures, I have the understanding that this is all about a change of position or relationship, not nature. If this were not true (ref. Eph. 2:3), what would we do with verses such as Rom. 2:14? It is death that influences us to sin. But how does it do this? As I’ve said before, scripture says a lot about ”this body of death“ and battling the ”flesh“, which has cravings of its own, along with the environment into which we’re all born: a world of other sentient beings, all in corrupt flesh, a corrupt earth, and the devil ”who prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour“ (1 Peter 5:8).
And again, we have only to look for the cause of Adam’s sin to see that ”nature“ is not it, because then we’d have to say God created Adam with a ”sin nature“. He was in an un-corrupted environment, yet chose to sin willingly, without even being directly tempted (Eve did NOT tempt him!). The only cause for his sin was his will or choice, which was not coerced to go one way or the other by God or ”nature“ or anything else. To make only Adam a free-will agent is the fallacy of special pleading, and still doesn’t answer the question of how anyone could sin without a ”sin nature“. And if he could sin under such ideal conditions, what can we expect in this corrupt world?
This brings the number of articles I’ve written on this issue to at least four, but when I studied the Greek here I was compelled to do some ”detailing“, and I don’t expect to need to write more on this point. Yet we have to remember that though we make all sorts of appeals and explanations for why people should want to accept Jesus as Savior, the gospel itself is still restricted to the fact of His resurrection from the dead and our faith in Him alone for our salvation. We may have strong personal convictions about how to explain the ”why“ of this, but we must not confuse ”why“ with ”what“.
Jesus saves— not us— and it’s STILL all about faith alone.
* In case anyone is wondering, I’m not the only one who does not believe in ”original sin“ or a ”sin nature".