Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Original Sin
James Hoffer

From: JASA 15 (December 1963):

. . . The quotation from Hyma equates "original sin" (a purely extra-biblical term) with "present sin." This is a most unfortunate position.

The statement of the Psalmist, "I was shapen in iniquity" (Ps. 51:5, KJV), has been subject to various interpretations. The dualist has said that this proves that sexual union is evil, a notion which God never intended (Gen. 1:27-28). The Catholic and the "evangelical" have said that man is born subject to eternal death. "Shapen in iniquity" implies a relationship which requires study of the entire Bible to understand. It involves the nature of man, eschatology, and the fall of man.

There are four references in the Bible that speak of a "second death" (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). The reader is asked to study these carefully. This second death is not so significant numerically as it is forensically. According to the Scriptures, the wicked are reserved for punishment until the end of time. So the second death is the final and complete eradication of the wicked in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

Since there is a "second death," there must be a "first death." We find no mention of this in Scripture as such, but by deduction we ascertain that it must be natural human death. Many of the Jews, especially the Sadducees, believed that natural death was the end of everything-there was no hope beyond the grave. Jesus came to do away with that idea. He often referred to death as mere sleep (John 11:11), implying a resurrection.

If Adam had never sinned, mankind would never have been subject to death. But when he did sin, death was pronounced upon him, and apparently for him it was a twofold penalty. For not only was he to pass on natural death to his offspring (a penalty that was never to be revoked), but he became subject to eternal death. God in His mercy provided a sacrifice, as promised in Gen. 3:15, but this Sacrifice was never to atone for natural death.

The vicarious death that Jesus died was the second death. Consequently, if He had lived on and died of old age this would not have been an atonement. The Christian need have no fear of death, for it is only a sleep and not a penalty at all, though a legacy from Adam. Furthermore, no amount of baptism or sacraments can remove this "penalty." On the other hand, the sinner has both natural death and eternal death to face. This eternal death is the penalty for one's own sin, else the justice of God's government is in question.

So, "shapen in iniquity" means that a man is born into a sinful world, with tendencies toward, but not the responsibility for, sin. He reaches a point of responsibility in his late childhood. He learns to sin from parents and others.

The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father
bear the iniquity of the son (Ezek. 18:20).

The great Sacrifice was given to atone for our personal sins. No amount of grace or faith can remove e penalty of that original sin-natural death.

This position is consistent with biological research and, of course, does away with infant baptism, the "immaculate conception," and anathema against birth control. Criticism and comments are invited.

Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Berrien Springs, Michigan