Is the Propagation of Sin fully due to Imputation or is the a Physical Aspect Involved?

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TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
So, here's what I believe with regards to the propagation of sin. I would like to see if anyone can change my mind on this because I recognize the position of natural propagation of sin has been the dominant position throughout history, however, I do not think this aligns consistently well with Reformed theology.
The common answer as to how Jesus was born sinless is that the Holy Spirit's conception of Him kept Him from the sin nature he would have naturally received from Mary (or the explanation is that sin is received from the father, and thus Christ was sinless as virgin-born). I remember reading a post a while back by Michael Heiser where he proposed some complicated scenario in which a child could be born without a father and then asked whether that child would be sinless. While his rant against original sin was obviously misguided, I think he's correct on this point; sin is not propagated through the human father (the thought that it was once led to me think the Nephilim were in an unfallen state). If sin is propagated naturally, we should affirm that it is done so from both parents, as both are fallen.

However, I would go further and argue that sin is not even propagated through natural generation at all. I believe this because I think the early church came to this conclusion in trying to explain original sin apart from the categories of covenant and imputation.

It seems much more biblical to say that sin nature flows from the imputation of Adam's sin. In the same way, the new nature flows from the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Thus, Jesus Christ was not exempt from a sin nature because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, rather, He was exempt from sin because He was not in the Covenant of Works with Adam. Jesus never received the imputed sin of Adam because He was His own federal head in the Covenant of Redemption.

The duplex gratia of justification and sanctification is grounded in covenantal union with Christ. Similarly, the reverse of this, condemnation and a sin nature, is grounded in covenantal union with Adam; not natural generation. Thus, a sin nature flows out of condemnation (the imputed disobedience of Adam) because of covenantal representation, not physical generation.

Thoughts? Any arguments for a both/and position? I've read Turretin on this and he argues that souls are created without original righteousness as a result of Adam's sin (which I consider to be the imputation part of this), certainly correct, but he then further argues that the body is also corrupt and infects the soul with a positive inclination towards evil. I, however, am not sure that this is necessary or if the idea of sin somehow being passed on physically rather than covenantally would have even been in the mind of the biblical authors.

Also want to note that Turretin sees Romans 5:12 as teaching the entrance of inherent sin as well as imputed sin into the world. I think this is dangerous, as it might open up an interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 where all are seen as "dead in Adam" because of inherited sin, not imputational sin (which is much more exegetically faithful to Paul's context), loosing the forensic focus. This has the potential to misconstrue Romans 5:18-19 as Christ making us actually righteous rather than positionally righteous.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I'd say the majority of Reformed theologians (the one's whose work continues to be available to us in print) have favored the teaching that the guilt of Original Sin is primarily if not essentially and entirely an imputational matter. These convictions typically flow from exegesis of Rom.5 (not exclusively).

I think the question of what sort of nature all men are born with, Christ excepted, cannot be disentangled from our natural parents' nature, which is composed of both a physical and a spiritual aspect. This sort of inquiry ends up trying to account for the origin of souls, i.e. are they naturally and mediately propagated or individually and immediately created).

I agree that the notion: a male's seed carries along a sin-nature to everyone, therefore the virgin-born Son was thereby released--is false. The Christ was prevented from any inherited sin-naure via the mother on account of the Spirit gifted her, and the overshadowing divine Protection that was insured, Lk.2:35.

But sin is also in our flesh from conception, Ps.51:5, Ps.58:3. Consider the implications of NT writers' comments like Heb.2:14; Col.2:11; Rom.7:14, 25; Rom.8:3; 1Cor.3:3. I don't think a purely covenantal understanding of the sin nature makes a just accounting of the "flesh" problem.

We have in the complex issue of Original Sin 1) the guilt of Adam's first sin, 2) the want of original righteousness, and 3) the corruption of his whole nature (WSC 18). It is from this whole reality that all actual transgressions proceed from those who have inherited his nature.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Brandon, several things need to be said here. First of all, the doctrine of total depravity states that every faculty of humans is corrupted by original sin. If there is no physical aspect of the propagation of original sin, then how is it that human bodies bear in them the marks of total depravity? Imputation cannot answer this, as it only speaks to guilt, not to corruption. Corruption itself cannot be imputed. Only guilt can be imputed.

Secondly, if corruption flows out of imputation of Adam's sin, and renovation out of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, then how are you not confusing justification and sanctification? Justification takes places entirely outside the believer, sanctification inside.

Thirdly, Christ most certainly did voluntarily take upon himself the sanctions of the broken covenant of works ("born under the law"). Your position seems to indicate that Christ had no relationship with the covenant of works at all. This is incorrect.

Fourthly, Christ's incarnation really doesn't solve anything with regard to this debate, since there is a literal deus ex machina in the person of the Holy Spirit, who prevents Christ from having the corruption due to original sin. The fact that Christ had no earthly father means that He was not already under the condemnation of Adam's imputed sin, but could take it on voluntarily. The fact that the Holy Spirit placed Him in Mary's womb prevents Him from having the corruption of original sin.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I'd say the majority of Reformed theologians (the one's whose work continues to be available to us in print) have favored the teaching that the guilt of Original Sin is primarily if not essentially and entirely an imputational matter. These convictions typically flow from exegesis of Rom.5 (not exclusively).

I think the question of what sort of nature all men are born with, Christ excepted, cannot be disentangled from our natural parents' nature, which is composed of both a physical and a spiritual aspect. This sort of inquiry ends up trying to account for the origin of souls, i.e. are they naturally and mediately propagated or individually and immediately created).

I agree that the notion: a male's seed carries along a sin-nature to everyone, therefore the virgin-born Son was thereby released--is false. The Christ was prevented from any inherited sin-naure via the mother on account of the Spirit gifted her, and the overshadowing divine Protection that was insured, Lk.2:35.

But sin is also in our flesh from conception, Ps.51:5, Ps.58:3. Consider the implications of NT writers' comments like Heb.2:14; Col.2:11; Rom.7:14, 25; Rom.8:3; 1Cor.3:3. I don't think a purely covenantal understanding of the sin nature makes a just accounting of the "flesh" problem.

We have in the complex issue of Original Sin 1) the guilt of Adam's first sin, 2) the want of original righteousness, and 3) the corruption of his whole nature (WSC 18). It is from this whole reality that all actual transgressions proceed.
Good response. Turretin makes me go back and forth on this, but I still wonder why the creation of the soul with lack of original righteousness is not sufficient to account for a corrupt nature. The point you bring up, of both body and soul composing a sin nature is a very good one, but when dealing with a sin nature, is it necessary to place its origin also in the physical body? An inclination towards sin would seem to be wholly a faculty of the soul, though the connection between body and soul is so intricate and mysterious that I might very well be wrong on this, but if it is passed on physically, I am not sure how to think of this. Genetically, perhaps? I guess this isn't much of an objection, but it's just weird to me to think of a "sin gene" or something like that which the Holy Spirit kept Jesus from inheriting or something along those lines.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Brandon, several things need to be said here. First of all, the doctrine of total depravity states that every faculty of humans is corrupted by original sin. If there is no physical aspect of the propagation of original sin, then how is it that human bodies bear in them the marks of total depravity? Imputation cannot answer this, as it only speaks to guilt, not to corruption. Corruption itself cannot be imputed. Only guilt can be imputed.

Secondly, if corruption flows out of imputation of Adam's sin, and renovation out of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, then how are you not confusing justification and sanctification? Justification takes places entirely outside the believer, sanctification inside.

Thirdly, Christ most certainly did voluntarily take upon himself the sanctions of the broken covenant of works ("born under the law"). Your position seems to indicate that Christ had no relationship with the covenant of works at all. This is incorrect.

Fourthly, Christ's incarnation really doesn't solve anything with regard to this debate, since there is a literal deus ex machina in the person of the Holy Spirit, who prevents Christ from having the corruption due to original sin. The fact that Christ had no earthly father means that He was not already under the condemnation of Adam's imputed sin, but could take it on voluntarily. The fact that the Holy Spirit placed Him in Mary's womb prevents Him from having the corruption of original sin.
I'll just comment on two parts here:

"Secondly, if corruption flows out of imputation of Adam's sin, and renovation out of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, then how are you not confusing justification and sanctification? Justification takes places entirely outside the believer, sanctification inside."

I'm not sure how you can see a confusing here. Sanctification flows out of justification, thus they are not confused because they are distinct yet inseparable. The federal union proceeds the vital, but it does so necessarily.

"Thirdly, Christ most certainly did voluntarily take upon himself the sanctions of the broken covenant of works ("born under the law"). Your position seems to indicate that Christ had no relationship with the covenant of works at all. This is incorrect."

Christ takes up the same sanctions of the original Adamic Covenant of Works (obedience to the moral law), yes, but He does not participate in the original Adamic Covenant of Works itself. The Covenant of Redemption is a separate covenant. Christ is not represented by Adam.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Good response. Turretin makes me go back and forth on this, but I still wonder why the creation of the soul with lack of original righteousness is not sufficient to account for a corrupt nature. The point you bring up, of both body and soul composing a sin nature is a very good one, but when dealing with a sin nature, is it necessary to place its origin also in the physical body? An inclination towards sin would seem to be wholly a faculty of the soul, though the connection between body and soul is so intricate and mysterious that I might very well be wrong on this, but if it is passed on physically, I am not sure how to think of this. Genetically, perhaps? I guess this isn't much of an objection, but it's just weird to me to think of a "sin gene" or something like that which the Holy Spirit kept Jesus from inheriting or something along those lines.
I don't think you need a "sin gene," which to me smacks somewhat of perceptions beholden to modern technical understandings of biogenesis. That physical beings reproduce "after their kind" seems like a truth of both nature and special-revelatory confirmation. It is less technical, but possibly more true because of that fact.

Therefore, as two sinners come together to multiply and perpetuate their kind, their general being and its nature: it doesn't seem possible to imagine that death--which has a physical dimension--can give birth to something other than death. This is not equal to a claim that the physical, the flesh, accounts for all or most, or the most important issues related to attraction to sin. Yet, we recognize concupiscence or the inclination to sin IS sin, and some portion of that inclination is endemic to our unredeemed flesh; which is a condition that only physical death and the resurrection of the body will heal--first in part, then finally.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
T
I don't think you need a "sin gene," which to me smacks somewhat of perceptions beholden to modern technical understandings of biogenesis. That physical beings reproduce "after their kind" seems like a truth of both nature and special-revelatory confirmation. It is less technical, but possibly more true because of that fact.

Therefore, as two sinners come together to multiply and perpetuate their kind, their general being and its nature: it doesn't seem possible to imagine that death--which has a physical dimension--can give birth to something other than death. This is not equal to a claim that the physical, the flesh, accounts for all or most, or the most important issues related to attraction to sin. Yet, we recognize concupiscence or the inclination to sin IS sin, and some portion of that inclination is endemic to our unredeemed flesh; which is a condition that only physical death and the resurrection of the body will heal--first in part, then finally.
Thank you. Very helpful. Will definitely think about these things.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I'd say the majority of Reformed theologians (the one's whose work continues to be available to us in print) have favored the teaching that the guilt of Original Sin is primarily if not essentially and entirely an imputational matter. These convictions typically flow from exegesis of Rom.5 (not exclusively).

I think the question of what sort of nature all men are born with, Christ excepted, cannot be disentangled from our natural parents' nature, which is composed of both a physical and a spiritual aspect. This sort of inquiry ends up trying to account for the origin of souls, i.e. are they naturally and mediately propagated or individually and immediately created).

I agree that the notion: a male's seed carries along a sin-nature to everyone, therefore the virgin-born Son was thereby released--is false. The Christ was prevented from any inherited sin-naure via the mother on account of the Spirit gifted her, and the overshadowing divine Protection that was insured, Lk.2:35.

But sin is also in our flesh from conception, Ps.51:5, Ps.58:3. Consider the implications of NT writers' comments like Heb.2:14; Col.2:11; Rom.7:14, 25; Rom.8:3; 1Cor.3:3. I don't think a purely covenantal understanding of the sin nature makes a just accounting of the "flesh" problem.

We have in the complex issue of Original Sin 1) the guilt of Adam's first sin, 2) the want of original righteousness, and 3) the corruption of his whole nature (WSC 18). It is from this whole reality that all actual transgressions proceed from those who have inherited his nature.
Just wanted to comment real quick that with regards to the verses you cited, pretty much everything I can get my hands on says that "flesh" refers not to the body, but is rather ethical. For example, Douglas Moo on Romans 8:3,

"Flesh', as in 7:5, is not the flesh of our bodies, or the bodies themselves, but the this-worldly orientation that all people share".

Come to think of it, I'm not sure if I could think of any verses that explicitly say our bodies are sinfully corrupt, but I think this can be reasoned towards, as you suggested with the problem of concupiscence. Certainly, Adam in his natural state did not have this problem (and thus we most hold that neither did Christ), so it seems to me that we can say the body is sinfully corrupt in at least that sense, but I am unsure exactly how else something physical can be ethically immoral; it seems like a complete category error to me apart from that example.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The very term, "flesh," at base refers to "meat." There's a reason why Paul takes such a world-bound earthy term, and then persistently associates "ethical" connotations to it. Believers' flesh remains tied to this world, a fact we share in common with the rest of mankind, and this world is corrupt and filled with death, on account of sin.

In Rom.7:18 Paul divides between himself (I, ego) in reference to his "moral self-consciousness," his new/spiritual self with a bent toward righteousness and holiness; and his "materiophysical phenomenal nature" that is still bent toward its base, animal desires that have replaced desires for God at the apex of fallen man's aims.
"If the ΣΆΡΞ (sarx), namely, were the seat of the moral nature, so that the will of the moral self-consciousness and that residing in the ΣΆΡΞ harmonized, in that case there would be nothing opposed to the carrying out of that moral tendency of will." (Meyer's NT Commentary, one of many free, online resources long since passed into public domain)​
Paul's point is not (contrary to frequently floated notions today) that Christians are basically schizoid beings, since the new birth bearing two "natural wills," two personae (alternate seats of self-consciousness) one which we should be killing/starving while strengthening/feeding the other. (I'm not here denying Christian duty of mortification of sin)

Rather he means: since we're not in heaven yet, we're still cumbered with a "flesh" that is still tied to this corrupt, dying, sin-victimized creation. There are still "relics" (Calvin's term) of the flesh--one part of us; but also there is "grace," which is the renewed part of us.

Calvin on Rom.7:14, "Under the term flesh is included whatever men bring from the womb; and flesh is what men are called, as they are born, and as long as they retain their natural character; for as they are corrupt, so they neither taste nor desire anything but what is gross and earthly." And on v.18, "Under the term flesh, he ever includes all that human nature is, everything in man except the sanctification of the Spirit.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I don't think you need a "sin gene," which to me smacks somewhat of perceptions beholden to modern technical understandings of biogenesis.
Yes. Would the state of the cloned human be fallen? Even though he isn't born of woman, he is born through and into a fallen world. I've wondered what would happen if Jesus' epithelial cells from the cloths in the empty tomb were used to create a clone.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Yes. Would the state of the cloned human be fallen? Even though he isn't born of woman, he is born through and into a fallen world. I've wondered what would happen if Jesus' epithelial cells from the cloths in the empty tomb were used to create a clone.
According to Turretin's argument, unless God considers that clone of Christ to be in the covenant of works with Adam (where the soul would then be created with lack of original righteousness), the clone would have no physical corruption (and thus no positive bent towards sin), which would effectively make him another Adam, but unlike Christ, he wouldn't be impeccable.

An otherwise cloned human would be in a fallen state.
 
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