The Good Creation fell into sin. This is the story of original sin. We confess it but cannot explain it. For we must start where the Bible starts. It reveals the historical beginning of sin and evil but not its behind–the–scenes origin. Yet Christian thinkers struggle with this problem.
Two biblical presuppositions must govern such theological reflection. First, Scripture affirms creation’s pristine goodness. Sin and evil cannot claim creaturely status. They are not realities. The Makers handiwork was “Very good” (Gen. 1:31). Second, is the Creator responsible, for this downfall? No, for “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Reformation creeds echo this note: God is “by no means” and “in no sense” its cause. No third possibility exists. The originating sin remains an unfathomable mystery. This is the end of the matter. But no.
Three major theories have emerged, “explaining” original sin as the effect of some prior, deeper cause, Monist theories trace it back to the divine decrees. As God acts “right–handedly” to do good, God is also involved “left–handedly” in evil, Both arise from an ultimate divine principle. Dualist theories trace it to two deities—the God of light and an anti–god of darkness. World history is a power struggle between them. Demonic theories point an accusing finger at the devil. The devil becomes our “scapegoat.”
All such “explanations” are exercises in futility. They only push the problem a step back into the hidden unknown. Every theodicy of sin ends in speculation. The biblical account is our only starting point: “In Adam’s fall we sinned all” (New England Primer; Rom 5:12–21).
The momentous event in Genesis 3 is our ultimate witness to the sin behind all sins. There Adam, With Eve, acting vicariously as covenant head of humanity, failed the probationary test, broke the covenant, and brought God’s judgment down upon every creature. We fell from the sate of uprightness into condemnation. Our sinfulness is a settled issue. Adam’s decision was also ours, made for us, but not apart from us. This is our existential predicament.
The transmission of guilt addresses the question, How are we implicated in that Original sin? By imitation, Pelagius and his followers answer. Adam’s act of disobedience set a bad example which all persons habitually emulate. By propagation, according to Augustinians. Sin is transmitted by heredity from generation to generation. By imputation, Calvinists hold. Adam acted representatively for us. We now share vicariously in the righteousness of the last Adam as an atonement for our vicarious participation in the unrighteousness of the first Adam. Contemporary views appeal to the theory f evolution, viewing sin and evil as remnants of a primitive stage in our development.
The effects of original sin are evident in personal and corporate rebellion against God, broken human relations, and abuse of the cosmos. As to legal Status, we are guilty; as to condition, polluted. Our sinful nature issues in actual sins. sins. Only in Christ is there now “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1).
H.Berkhof, CFI L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (4th rev. and enl. ed. 1949); G. C. Berkouwer, Sin (1971); Weber, Fd. vol.1.
CFI Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, rev, ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B, Eerdmans Publish ing Co., 1986)
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