Did Adam sin?

appleWhy is what Adam and Eve did a sin?

Yes, I’m serious about this question.

Paul writes that sin entered the world through Adam.

Adam’s sin, the traditional view goes, was disobedience to the express command of God. Sin, in this view, is any breaking of the law and command of God. John Wesley added that sin must be willful or intentional breaking of God’s law.

I read someone once who argued that Paul was not calling what Adam did sin, but saying sin was the curse that God imposed as a result of Adam’s actions. Sin entered the world because of Adam but sin is not a name for what he did when he took a bite of that fruit. I’ve had others tell me — without reference to Adam — that sin is only sin if it causes some sort of harm to ourselves or others. Since God cannot be harmed, this strikes me as a definition that excludes Adam’s actions from the category of sin.

What do you think?


19 thoughts on “Did Adam sin?

  1. I tend to think that a wrong action is a “sin” when it is understood to be an offense against God. In a similar way if a wrong action is understood to be an offense against the laws of a society it is a “crime.” Sin is a theological term.

  2. You’re caricaturing this (my?) view of sin, John. To say that death is the condition of sin even if it’s also a consequence of Adam’s sin is the standard Eastern Orthodox view of sin; this isn’t something I just made up yesterday. How do you hear me saying Adam’s sin not harmful to himself? It is the origin of shame and fear. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid.'”

    To affirm the arbitrariness and aloofness of God’s law from human well-being is not Wesleyan; it’s Calvinist, because the assumption being displayed is that God’s sovereignty is established through His ultimate indifference to human well-being, same as in double predestination. If you say that holiness and happiness are the same thing, as Wesley does (and Augustine before him), then you’re saying that even if it’s not immediately evident to us, God’s law ALWAYS concerns our well-being and not some abstract power trip on His part. We worship Him and honor Him FOR THE SAKE OF our well-being. We are not completely ourselves without loving God. Therefore, sin does in fact concern that which harms us and others.

    1. Morgan,

      Would you agree that God’s law is in part a vision of God’s holiness; that it is for us, but it is also a limited manifestation of what it means for God to be God?

      Many blessings,

      1. The degree to which it’s important to affirm that God’s holiness is an entirely different (and ultimately more essential) thing than His love is the degree to which you’re operating with Calvinist theology. If you’ve grown up in popular evangelicalism, which has been taken over by Calvinism, you have probably unwittingly inherited some Calvinist binaries. For Wesleyan theology, “no scripture can mean that God is not love and that His mercy is not over all His works.” This means that God’s law for us is concerned with His love for us. God wants for us to be able to experience intimacy with Him and each other. Holiness is not just “His nature” in some kind of way that supersedes His love for us. There’s no reason to speculate about God’s abstracted essence anyway since “anyone who has seen [Christ] has seen the Father.”

        1. No Calvinism here (even the evangelical variety) and I’m tracking with you. Here’s my pastoral question…Of what use is the law in the Wesleyan sense? It’s one thing to say the God is love and the law of God is, therefore, also a show of His love. It’s another to say, “and here’s how a pastor uses and teaches the law.” Whereas Wesley’s theology of the law borrowed heavily from the east, I tend to think his use of the law borrowed heavily from Luther.

        2. Wesley was trying to apply the sensibilities he gained from what he called “primitive” (Eastern) Christianity in a context in which the language of the discourse was virulently juridical and mostly polemically Calvinist (against which he had to pick his battles, make concessions, etc). In terms of how I apply it as a pastor, I don’t feel like it’s somehow being “soft” to say God says don’t this because it hurts you in this way rather than just saying “because God says so.” It feels more Barthian and macho to say it the latter way, but I don’t think that makes it more faithful.

        3. I think I’m with you, Morgan. I outright reject a theology of “do it because God tells you to.” Such a theology can do nothing but drive people to despair because, try as they may, they’ll never do it and they’ll see God as a subjective taskmaster. My approach is to always make sure people know that the law is a manifestation of God’s love. At the same time, it seems to me (and this is where I see Orthodoxy missing the mark), the fact that we do not love God similarly means we do deserve hell. That should bother us. My goal, therefore, is to make them hate their lack of love (sinfulness) and turn to Christ who is the fullness of the Father’s love, and who will sanctify them by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    2. I gotta get to work this morning, but do not be so quick to assume I am writing about you and your view, Morgan. I enjoy our exchanges, but I did not have you in mind when I wrote this.

      I am interested in your response to the question, though.

      1. Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans put up a blog post about the idolatry of virginity in the evangelical church. Many evangelicals are obsessed with their daughters’ sexuality, not for the sake of the psychological and social trauma that is created by premarital sex which is real, but for the sake of a zeal for rule-following that has been abstracted from love. Dozens of women have posted comments over the past day relating really sick, twisted things that were said to them by their parents about their sexuality. So when I consider questions about sin, I’m often thinking about the distinction between understanding that your body is a temple and you will gain the joy of experiencing God’s intimacy if you treat it as such and the bizarre, mean-spirited Pharisaism that many of my fellow evangelicals seem to have fallen into. Where do these two paths split? That’s what I’m trying to find. And right now for lack of better nuance, I see the fault line as falling between juridical and therapeutic accounts of sin. Sin is a violation of God’s will; that’s absolutely true. But there’s no need to divorce God’s will for me from my real best interests that might not be perceptible to me.

        1. I spent some time in Orthodoxy, and the difficulty for me between the juridical/best interests paradigm is that neither seems to lead to a robust explanation of how sin is overcome in the life of the believer. We fundamentally do not love. We also do not have the power within ourselves to know what love is in a Godly sense, which is where I see the importance of the law of God coming into play. The law cannot sanctify, but it can tell me “if you’re doing this, then you do not love God.” In a manner of speaking, the law perhaps explicitly states in a limited way what Christ is in fullness. The Spirit of God living in a person will lead to a person desiring deification and will provide the path of Christ, but we are too easily deceived without reminders from the law of specifically what it looks like to be deified.

        2. I can see that. There is a need for revelation. I think what I shudder at is anything that smells like the fetishization of nominalism. I’ve had the experience of reformed evangelicals flouting the arbitrariness of God in my face. They almost ran me out of the church entirely in college. I’m just committed to the belief that God is the perfection of truth, beauty, and goodness even though we understand all of those imperfectly, rather than truth, beauty, and goodness being merely terms that are given to things by divine fiat. I’ve seen the latter cultivate an ethical nihilism in people.

          A theology which affirms the opacity of God’s teachings and discourages trying to comprehend them tends to support an unhealthily elevated view of pastoral authority. I’d rather wrestle with God’s teachings openly and have a community where people challenge me when I’m wrong, then tell people, “God said do it; don’t ask why; just do it” and have them take that to mean that I shouldn’t be questioned either. I’ve read a whole lot of blog posts at the Gospel Coalition and on other reformed blogs about how you shouldn’t question the authority of your pastor. I need people to question my authority. Maybe when I’m older and know everything, I won’t, but I’m still very much in the learning phase of my career.

        3. I’m right there with you, Morgan. I spent about eight years in evangelicalism and began studying the Reformation and the early church, with stops in the LCMS and Eastern Orthodoxy. Though I am convinced of the power of the Gospel, I do not believe we ever stop working out new ways to express that power both individually and corporately. I have very much enjoyed our dialog because I too prefer to have my best understandings considered, examined, and corrected. Iron sharpens iron, and I have very much enjoyed the iron sharpening with you and John.

  3. Ephesians 2:3 is the clincher for me, and I really do believe that we are born sinners rather than made sinners by our outward action. I am defining sin, in this regard, as anything that is contrary to the will of God. Spend enough time around a toddler and it will be come pretty clear, pretty quick, that children are not necessarily inclined to honoring their fathers and mothers in all things. Well…What is that? By the definition of the law, it’s sin. This is why, in my opinion, babies are fit for baptism. They are, by nature, sinners, even as the nature of their hearts has perhaps not been manifested in ways we would look at and call “sin.”

  4. Great conversation, Morgan and Adam. Thank you.

    I may just start opening up threads to get you two to go back in forth.

    I really appreciate the insider perspective Adam brings from Orthodoxy. And I am not persuaded Morgan’s analysis of John Wesley’s motives and intentions regarding Orthodoxy holds up against any detailed reading of his letters, journals, and accounts of his own spiritual development.

    That said, having not grown up inside evangelicalism (former heathen here), I appreciate the insight Morgan brings from that experience. It helps me hear things that I do not otherwise hear in what I and others write.

    1. I really think that when Wesley talks about the “primitive church” which he does often, he’s referring to Macarius and possibly other ancient fathers who were pre-schism but taken up more in the East than the West, which got swallowed almost exclusively by Augustinianism. I haven’t had time to look in more detail at his Christian Library. It’s a hypothesis at this point which I perhaps state with more certainty than I should.

  5. I would like to share of an old article I read yesterday about John Wesley on original sin.

    Dr Herbert McGonigle, Chairman of the Wesley Fellowship, answers questions and queries concerning Wesleyan theology and doctrine sent in by enquirers.
    Note: These questions and answers are from 1988 to the present and are printed as they first appeared in the various Wesley Fellowship Newsletters.

    Question: What did John Wesley teach about the Christ’s Atonement for sin?

    Answer: This is a very large and a very important question and there is space only for a bare outline by way of answer. John Wesley taught that the contagion and condemnation of Adam’s sin is transmitted to the whole race; all men and constituted sinners because of the head-ship of Adam but guilt is incurred by each person only on account of their own personal sin. The atonement of Christ is sufficient for the sins of the whole world; it is appropriated by repentance and faith, which brings forgiveness, regeneration, adoption, sanctification and eternal life. John Wesley did not write a specific treatment of the Atonement, yet the death and resurrection of Christ is central to his whole theological system. To answer this question fully all his writings need to be carefully studied but the following are particularly important. An Earnest Appeal to men of Reason and Religion (1743); The Doctrine of Original Sin According to Scripture, Reason and Experience (1757); and the sermons, The Original Nature, Properties and Use of the Law (1750); On Original Sin (1759); The Scripture Way of Salvation (1756).

    Question: Did John Wesley believe that babies are born ‘in depravity’ because Adam’s sin is transmitted to all succeeding generations?

    Answer: Most definitely he did. He believed that the doctrine of the transmission of Adam’s sin to all his posterity was both the teaching of Scripture and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. He admitted that he did not know how this transmission took place but he was sure that is what the Bible teaches. Believing that Adam was the Federal Head of the human race and that his sin in Eden was rebellion against God, Wesley wrote: ‘In that day he died to God … the love of God was extinguished in his soul…. And in Adam all died, all the children of men who were then in Adam’s loins … Everyone descended from him comes into the world spiritually dead, void of the image of God, of all that righteousness and holiness wherein Adam was created. Hence it is that, being born in sin, we must be “born again.’” (Works, 6:67-68). Wesley further believed this doctrine of original sin to be a fundamental part of the Christian faith, as he went as far as to say that all who denied this doctrine were but heathens! For Wesley’s full teaching on this subject, see his three sermons, ‘Original Sin,’ ‘On the Fall of Man,’ and ‘The New Birth.’ See also his New Testament Notes on Romans 5, and, in particular, his 1757 major work on this subject, ‘The Doctrine of Original Sin According to Scripture, Reason and Experience.’ This was his very full reply to the Socinian teaching of Dr John Taylor who had repudiated the doctrine of original sin as taught in the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Westminster Confession. Socinianism, with its denial of the doctrines of Christ’s divinity and of original sin, is the teaching subsequently known as Unitarianism.

  6. Question: Did John Wesley ever speak of entire sanctification as the eradication of all sin?

    Answer: The closest that John Wesley came to the use of this kind of language was in his 1767 sermon, The Repentance of Believers. Replying to the Moravian teaching that the new birth delivers the Christian completely from all sin, Wesley stressed that although the Christian is justified at the new birth, sin still remains in the heart. This inbred or Adamic sin manifests itself in the believer as pride, self-will, love of the world, etc. ‘Though we watch and pray, we cannot wholly cleanse our hearts…. till it shall please our Lord to speak the second time, “Be clean.” Then only the evil root, the carnal mind, is destroyed, and inbred sin subsists no more’ (Works, 5:165). In the later years of his preaching and writing on entire sanctification, Wesley never wavered in his conviction that salvation is salvation from sin. The language he used, however, changed in tone, from an emphasis on sinlessness to an emphasis on the fullness of love. Now he began to describe entire sanctification as ‘love excluding sin’ and ‘love expelling sin.’ To be cleansed from all inner sin in this life by the heart being filled with the love of God and man was, for John Wesley, the height and depth of Christian holiness

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