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Does the Bible tell us that all men are born into sin? Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S., explains.
[Editor's note: the following letter is an abridgement of a much lengthier response to one of our devotionals based on Psalm 51:5. The letter is abridged because the original brought up numerous denominational issues with which Answers in Genesis does not involve itself since we are a parachurch organization dedicated to biblical authority. These issues are important, and we encourage you to consult your local church for details on denominational positions.]
I'm very alarmed over the teaching you present on your website October 20th 2010 - the idea that man is born in sin by Steve Ham - which would also include babies and which could be used as a license to sin and potentially make people lose their salvation. I notice that you didn't present any valid verses for this idea, but I'm of course not surprised since I know there are NONE . . .
In 1 Chronicles 2:16 we are told that David and his brothers had two sisters. In 2 Samuel 17:25 we are told that the two women were the daughters of Nahash, not Jesse. So at least paternally it appears that they were not related. That can only mean one thing: they had the same mother. However that would require us to come to the conclusion that Nahash (presumably, the King of the Ammonites, mentioned in 1 Sam 11:1 and 12:12) conceived Zeruiah and Abigail in the womb of the same woman in which Jesse conceived his eight sons. . . . [Steve Ham said,] "Today's verse tells us a harsh reality: we are all not just born in sin, we are actually conceived in sin." Nowhere does the Bible teach this. David's mother conceived David in sin - IF we can accept this literally. . . .
And do study the history behind the council at Carthage and how much the devious Augustine was involved and the fact that Pelagius wasn't even there to be able to defend himself against the strawmen claims erected against him. Augustine was a former gnostic and very much affected by the gnostic teaching that there is nothing good in our flesh, which is why they had difficulties accepting that Jesus had come in the flesh. But denying that Jesus has come in the flesh is the spirit of the antichrist . . . .
Hello A. B.,
Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis and sharing your concerns.
I'm very alarmed over the teaching you present on your website October 20, 2010—the idea by Steve Ham that man is born in sin—which would also include babies and which could be used as a license to sin . . . . I notice that you didn't present any valid verses for this idea, but I'm of course not surprised since I know there are NONE. . . .
I'm sure you are aware that these issues are very controversial in the church and have been for some time. While I cannot take the time to respond to all of your points, allow me to offer a few comments to help clarify what was written in the devotional.
First, consider some related issues. If babies are not sinners, how could they die since death is a punishment for sin? How could two sinful people make a sinless person? Do parents need to teach their children how to be selfish and sinful, or is sin part of their very nature that is exhibited at an early age? As the father of two wonderful blessings from the Lord, I can say with full confidence that they did not need to be taught how to be selfish and rebellious. Their sinful flesh is a part of them, just like it has been a part of me. Praise God that His Spirit gives us the ability to overcome this when we rely on Him.
Second, our Statement of Faith states:
All mankind are sinners, inherently from Adam and individually (by choice), and are therefore subject to God's wrath and condemnation.
The devotional is consistent with this statement, which we feel is entirely biblical. I believe you jumped to some conclusions based on the idea that man is born in sin, which were not stated in the article.
You mentioned that these ideas come from Augustine and Calvin. However, one does not have to agree with these men to believe that sin is inherited from Adam. For example, Jacob Arminius (namesake of Arminianism) also believed that all inherit Adam's sin:
The whole of this sin [Adam's first sin], however is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam "all have sinned."1
While Arminius believed we inherit Adam's sin, he did not necessarily agree with Augustine and Calvin that each person will be judged for that sin:
It may admit of discussion, whether God could be angry on account of original sin which was born with us, since it seemed to be inflicted on us by God as a punishment of the actual sin which had been committed by Adam and by us in him . . . I did not deny that it was sin, but it was not actual sin. . . . We must distinguish between actual sin, and that which was the cause of other sin, and which, on this very account might be denominated [classified] "sin."2
These quotations should not be seen as an endorsement of either Arminianism or Calvinism. Answers in Genesis does not take a position on this because it is not a "biblical authority issue" (see Where Do We Draw the Line?), but, like both Calvin and Arminius, we do believe the Bible declares that all people inherit Adam's sin.
In 1 Chronicles 2:16 we are told that David and his brothers had two sisters. In 2 Samuel 17:25 we are told that the two women were the daughters of Nahash, not Jesse. So at least paternally it appears that they were not related. That can only mean one thing: they had the same mother. However that would require us to come to the conclusion that Nahash (presumably, the King of the Ammonites, mentioned in 1 Sam 11:1 and 12:12) conceived Zeruiah and Abigail in the womb of the same woman in which Jesse conceived his eight sons. . . . [Steve Ham said,] "Today's verse tells us a harsh reality: we are all not just born in sin, we are actually conceived in sin." Nowhere does the Bible teach this. David's mother conceived David in sin - IF we can accept this literally.
I agree with you for part of this. From an exegetical standpoint, Psalm 51:5 (by itself) does not say that everyone is sinful from the moment of conception. David wrote, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." This verse teaches that David was conceived in sin (if that is the proper interpretation, which I believe it is).
However, this passage naturally leads us to ask, "If David was conceived in sin, are we?" Your response was that David's mother had children with two men (Jesse and Nahash), so David was of illegitimate birth. We should not be dogmatic about his mother's relationship(s) since the Bible gives few details about her. There are other possibilities, which would not entail an improper relationship. For example, Nahash could have had children (Abigail and Zeruiah) with David's mother after David's birth (maybe even after Jesse's death), which would mean that David was not conceived in an adulterous woman, as you imply. We do know he was a son of Jesse. If David's birth was legitimate, then there is no reason to believe we are not also conceived in sin.
There is no getting around the fact of Paul saying that because of Adam's sin, "judgment came . . . resulting in condemnation" to more than just Adam.Romans 5:12–21 was also cited in Steve Ham's article. Verse 18 states, "Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men . . ." If we say that only Adam was condemned for his sin, then it follows that only Christ can be saved (not that He needed to be) from His sacrifice. One can debate whether "all men" means "all" or "some" or "many," but there is no getting around the fact of Paul saying that because of Adam's sin, "judgment came . . . resulting in condemnation" to more than just Adam.
Consider also that the Bible states we were "in Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:22). Consequently, we all die. In a similar way, the author of Hebrews points out that the sacrifice of Christ is of much greater value than that of the Levitical priests. To support this, he points out that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (who is compared to Christ in Hebrews), and that Levi "was still in the loins of his father [ultimately Abraham] when Melchizedek met him" (Hebrews 7:10).
And do study the history behind the council at Carthage and how much the devious Augustine was involved and the fact that Pelagius wasn't even there to be able to defend himself against the strawmen claims erected against him. Augustine was a former gnostic and very much affected by the gnostic teaching that there is nothing good in our flesh, which is why they had difficulties accepting that Jesus had come in the flesh. But denying that Jesus has come in the flesh is the spirit of the antichrist. Augustine also believed in purgatory, promoted worship to Mary, started the false idea of "once saved always saved" and most importantly introduced the idea of infant baptism into church due to his false idea that even babies are sinners. Augustine taught that unbaptised babies go to hell . . . .
We base our Statement of Faith on the Word of God—not Augustine's beliefs. It is true that, early in his life, Augustine became a Manichean (a specific brand of Gnosticism), and during that time, he had trouble reconciling Christ's full divinity and full humanity. However, by the time of the Council of Carthage—more than 30 years after his conversion to Christianity—Augustine had a thoroughly orthodox view of Christ.
Evaluating the beliefs of a person like Augustine can be very difficult because so many of his writings are extant, and his views often changed during his lifetime. For example, he attempted several commentaries on Genesis 1: a section of Confessions contains a heavily allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1, On Genesis: A Refutation of the Manicheans, the Unfinished Literal Commentary on Genesis, and The Literal Meaning of Genesis. The first two are heavily allegorical, and the other two so-called "literal" commentaries are not anything like what modern interpreters consider to be literal. He also devoted sections in the City of God to interpreting Genesis 1. Nevertheless, his interpretations are very different throughout these works, so it is not fair to quote one of them and proclaim that was his belief. The latest work should be given greater weight in determining his final view on a matter, but even that may not accurately convey his settled beliefs.
That being said, just because he held an orthodox view of Christ does not mean that Augustine was perfect or that Christians should follow all of his teachings. For example, he endorsed some of the apocryphal books as being inspired and, as explained above, often interpreted the first chapter of Genesis in an allegorical manner, both of which we reject. We strongly encourage our readers to compare Augustine's writings (and anyone else's, including our own) with the Word of God.
Also, the article did not mention what you called "once saved always saved," infant baptism, or Augustine's idea of non posse non peccare (able only to sin). The word depravity was used, but this should not be seen as an endorsement of the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity ("T" in TULIP). 1 Timothy 6:5 talks about men with "corrupt" or "depraved" minds (see also 2 Timothy 3:8, Romans 1:28, and Philippians 2:15, (NIV)), so depravity is a biblical term. Furthermore, Paul reminded his readers that we are all sinful when he wrote, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Finally, while this particular debate will probably continue until the Lord's return, we can be thankful that Christians can agree on much. We can only be saved by God's grace alone, which is received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. We can agree that believers should not continue in sin or take salvation for granted (Romans 6:1–2), but we should instead allow God to transform us to become more and more like His Son. We can also rejoice that when we are with Him, we will have better understanding and complete unity on this and every issue.
Thank you again for your concern and for taking the time to respond to our devotional. I hope this helps to clear up some things concerning our position(s). May God bless you as you serve Him.
Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.