In this episode Kurt talks with Dr. Adam Harwood on the spiritual condition of infants. Do babies have sin in their lives and are they guilty of sin? Listen in as they explore some tricky topics.
Listen to “Episode 33: The Spiritual Condition of Infants” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be back with you after a week off. I thank Chris for filling in for me last week as I was still recovering from my bout with bronchitis which was not very good. I was out of commission for awhile there and just needed some more time to recover. I had actually done I guess a couple of episodes even with it, but I just needed that recovery time so thanks Chris. If you haven’t had an opportunity yet to listen to that past episode, Chris did his second part of a series on Mere Christianity, that famous book by C.S. Lewis and the things that we can learn about the power behind the moral law. So we’ve got a few announcements here before we get going on our show today. The show’s topic is the spiritual condition of infants, and I am so very pleased to be bringing and talking about this topic because this gets a little bit into my research, my Ph.D. research on the topic of original sin and the study of human nature or in the academics language it’s called theological anthropology. Before we get to that, we’ve got some announcements and we’re going to hear from our movie man as well so first, actually occurring right now, it’s starting right now, is a debate between Dr. Mike Licona and the atheist Matt Dillahunty, so I can’t blame you if you wanted to stop listening to this show, I can’t blame you if you want to listen to Licona who’s just a giant on the resurrection, so there’s that debate going on which is being recorded I know so there’s that. Also, Blake Giunta who runs BeliefMap and also, Mike Licona and Blake Giunta, they’re part of the Defenders Alliance, and so that’s why we’re pleased to tell you about the work that they’re doing too. Blake had a debate with Justin Schieber on Divine Hiddenness on Justin Brierley’s show called Unbelievable? which is the most listened to apologetics radio show in England, so when you get a chance go ahead and listen to that. You can find Justin and his show Unbelievable? on Facebook and the links there to that show.
March 18th, we’re doing an event in Wheaton, Illinois called Reliable: Can You Trust The Bible? And if you want details and such you can go to Defendersmedia.com about that. It’s going to be at Faith Covenant Church in Wheaton, Illinois. I’ll be speaking along with Ted Wright, who’s the founder of Epic Archaeology and we’re speaking on a variety of topics such as what is the story line of the Old Testament, is there evidence for the Exodus, and did God really command genocide? And then moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament, why are there differences in the Gospels, how did we get the canon of the New Testament, why were those books chosen and not others? It should be a really fun time. Lunch will be sponsored by KFC so we thank those there at KFC for the support that they’re giving to this event. So if you want more details and want to register go to Defendersmedia.com. Next week, we’re going to be continuing on in our worldview series. Last, I guess, this month, we’ve started the first Saturday of each month we are devoting that to a worldview issue or topic perspective and so you can look forward to that. If you’ve got worldviews that you want addressed sooner rather than other ones please let us know. There’s a number of ways you can get in touch with us. First, you can call our show line. The number to call is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483 and if you want to talk to me during the show or have a question for our guest you can use that call line to do that. You can also text me as well. Just text the word, that’s VERACITY to the number 555-888. So we had a couple of people text in. They said that they were very much looking forward to this episode so we’ve got here numbers 8094 and 3401, those are the last four numbers. I won’t reveal folks names if they do end up putting out their names but those are the numbers saying that they’re going to be listening so thanks for your support guys. And please if you like the topic and you want to converse with us on it, give us a call.
I think that does it for our preliminary announcements and now at this time I wanted to welcome our movie master, Mark Lester onto the show for a very good reason, because we’ve got the Oscars tomorrow, so Mark, how are you doing?
Mark: Doing fine. Yourself?
Kurt: Good. I’m doing well. Thanks for coming on the show again. Give us the rundown. Some of us are entertainmently, is that a word, illiterate. What are the Oscars first of all for those that aren’t paying attention?
Mark: Good word, entertainmently or whatever that was.
Mark: Basically the Oscars have been around for, this is their 89th one, this is the basic movie awards, the best awards of the year, which has some known titles, some not, but yeah. They give awards for the basics and then for balance you always have to kind of know all the smaller categories so even if you just guess at things in the categories like Silent Mixing and silent editing which I don’t know the difference between those two either…
Kurt: And there were some of the bigger awards too. Right? Best actor. Best movie is called what, best picture?
Mark: Yeah. Best picture. Best director and actor and actress and supporting actor and actress and major film.
Kurt: And so on and so forth. We don’t have much time to go through all of the nominees for those awards, so if you can just give us your predictions for who you think will win say the top five awards or something like that.
Mark: The main ones. Definitely the big win of the night I think cause it’s got the most nominations and because it was awesome is going to be LaLa Land will win best picture and best director. As far as close races go, there is a close race for best actor between Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea and Denzel Washington for Fences because Casey had been winning a lot of the awards previous but then Denzel came back winning the Screen Actors Guild award and there’s also been talk of past mistakes that Casey Affleck has done that hasn’t set well in the community, it’s going to be one of those two. My personal prediction will be Denzel, but it could go with Casey as well. If you are doing an Oscar pool, if there’s one easy category to pick for the whole night it’s supporting actress, it’s going to be Viola Davis for Fences. That’s my opinion, the easiest one of the whole night. She’s going to win that one. The same could pretty much be said for supporting actor for Mahershala Ali, I know I probably mispronounced that, but that’s probably who will win for Moonlight, and best actress, I’m going to go with Emma Stone for LaLa Land because she’s been getting a lot of love and deservedly so and that’s about it for the major ones. As far as animated feature film goes, I’m going on a limb a little bit, I think that there’s going to be a kind of an upset. I’m going to go with Kubo and the Two Strings because I think that, well first off, that was my favorite movie of last year and secondly I think there could be a split in Disney between Zootopia that could go to so I’m going to go out on a limb and go with Kubo and the Two Strings on that one.
Kurt: Hey Mark. Thanks so much for going on and giving your predictions. Now that they’re on the podcast they’re set in stone so you can’t change them and we’re going to check back with you in a few weeks to see how you did so thanks for that.
Mark: Thank you.
Kurt: Of course, be in touch. If you want to give more of Mark’s reviews. You can go to at his website at checkmarkedfilmreviews.com, so again that’s checkmarkedfilmreviews.com and you can check them out there. That’s it for the movie reviews for the Oscars. Those are tomorrow night if you want to end up watching that or if you’re like me I’ll likely just be reading a news article to find out who won what and some of these movies, maybe even most, I haven’t even seen or watched, but I guess that’s just the way it is with life. Let’s move to the main topic of our show today. We are talking about the spiritual condition of infants and so joining me now is Dr. Adam Harwood who’s the McFarland Chair of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Adam, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Adam: Good to be with you Kurt.
Kurt: Great! So you’ve written this book, The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal here. Tell us why you think it’s important that Christians think about the spiritual condition of infants.
Adam: Yeah. Great question. All of us were infants at one time. Many of us become parents and so we will bring infants into the world and because infants are people, their spiritual condition is significant.
Kurt: That’s a nice little summary. It seems to me that there’s even some, working in apologetics myself, there seems to be some implications here for the different perspectives that people take on this, especially if you think like from a pastoral perspective, how should a pastor counsel someone who say loses a child or like if there’s a miscarriage or a stillborn and the parents are wondering, well, is that person going to be in Heaven? Some Christian theologians think yes, some Christian theologians think no. Tell us why is it that, let me see, I think the majority of folks at least like to think that infants are going to heaven, so first give us this perspective of theologians that think that they aren’t. What are some beliefs and reasons why some Christians think infants are not going to go to heaven?
Adam: Sure. This is a sensitive topic and as you mentioned it has significant pastoral implications and so I would simply mention to your listeners that this book is not written at a lay level and it’s not meant to address specifically couples that may be dealing with the loss of an infant, although this may be helpful for someone who is wanting more information and guidance and what Scripture has to say and what Christian theologians had to say on the matter, but this book is actually a revision of my Ph.D. dissertation that I completed at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007 and then this was revised and published with WipfStock in 2011 and what I do is basically try to answer the question, what is the spiritual condition of infants, and I do it two different ways. One is through looking at key biblical texts which come up when people discuss the baptism of infants or infant salvation or original sin and then also trace it through a variety of Christian thinkers throughout Christian history, sixteen different individuals, some church fathers both from the East and West and then of course, Augustine, and then I fast forward to the Reformation era and try to get a good selection of reformers both magisterial as well as radical or Anabaptist and then some contemporary and when I get to the contemporary area I focus in on Baptists which is my own theological tradition.
Kurt: So you said this term here, original sin. While you and I have had some personal discussions about this theological doctrine, we haven’t really talked about it on the show all that much. Tell us a little bit about what is the doctrine of original sin?
Adam: Great question. It depends on who you ask. In general, Christians of all traditions are in agreement that all persons are sinners and in need of God’s grace and our sinfulness extends all the way to the first moment of our life and so not only children, but infants and even infants in the womb in that sense are sinners because of the impact of Adam’s sin on humanity and so that general view is affirmed by groups as diverse as the Eastern Orthodox Tradition and as well as the Reform tradition, both historically and today, and then other groups in-between, and then the question comes whether definitions of original sin come up when you mean, what do you mean when an infant is a sinner, as you asked earlier, the implications extend into pastoral situations, because if infants are sinners, then you run into the horrible case in which an infant dies and there’s need to perform a funeral and provide pastoral care, then that Christian minister should have sort of theological basis, some sort of biblical basis, for extending some sort of assurance that their child is in heaven and so if their child is a sinner, and there would also be the assurance they are in heaven then there are issues to work through such as most Christians would not make the case that infants would have to hear and respond to the Gospel so if they can’t repent of their sin and believe in Jesus, then how do they get to heaven? Infants don’t have to do that and so their sin is simply forgiven and then the follow-up question might be, well what sort of sin are you talking about? Because surely with infants you don’t mean by the word sin, that person has committed a wrong act where they had sinned in thought, action, or attitude. No no no no no. They’re not sinners that way. They’re just sinners because of Adam. Okay. Then you’re talking about their nature or you’re talking about perhaps a bent towards sin which they’re born with so this is what’s universal and so this is the basic division in, the various definitions of original sin. Sometimes when people use the word original sin, they are referring to that tendency towards sin which all people receive and that tendency can be traced all the way back to Adam or Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden.
The second definition or variety of original sin includes guilt and that’s a major distinction. Either there’s a tendency toward sin or an inclination or bent or a sin nature only, that’s one definition, or there is not only that bent towards sin or a nature an inclination towards sin, but there’s also the guilt of Adam’s sin and one thing that your listeners may be surprised to know is that the definitions, that division does not fall on a clean division between Calvinism and non-Calvinism. Some people have the impression that all Calvinists believe that second definition or would affirm that second definition of original sin which included inherited guilt and there are many examples of reformed theologians who would deny inherited guilt but they would affirm what Donald McCloud has called immediate imputation. That’s the view that a person is immediately guilty. Mediate imputation would be the view that infants are born with corruption and then later become guilty on their own so they’re not born guilty. Under mediate imputation, guilt is mediated later after their sinful actions and that’s a dispute even within Calvinism or the larger broader reformed community of Arminians and Calvinists and so forth.
Kurt: Here’s a trying question. If infants are, in your description, are born sinners, how can someone be a sinner, but not be guilty because at least in the way that I’ve understood how someone is a sinner, that usually means that they’ve transgressed the law or not necessarily the Mosaic Law mind you, but just God’s law. How would it be then that they wouldn’t be guilty? Is that a fair question? Is that some people are often asking?
Adam: Yes. Absolutely. How can someone be a sinner or have a sin nature and not be guilty? I think that’s a great question. I would preface all of these comments by saying that Christians have to have confidence about a number of things and make confident Scripture and from the church tradition on a number of things, but there are other areas in which we need to be careful and we need to exert a degree of humility and caution in making comments because there are certain areas in theology in which there is a lack of clarity both in Scripture and in the church tradition and so although it doesn’t keep us from developing an opinion and from studying the Scripture and trying to gain a conviction regarding the teaching of Scripture, we should hold that position in such a way that we’re not overly critical of other believers who come up with other conclusions because, again, I think this is one of those areas in which because Scripture is not crystal clear and other Christians come up with other conclusions that we should just deal with one another in grace. A passage of Scripture that comes to mind is Psalm 51:5. This is David’s Psalm of confession after his sin with Bathsheba and he says in verse 5, “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Most Old Testament commentaries that address this text will say that David did not have in mind what later developed in the church as the doctrine of original sin. He wasn’t talking about guilt here and he wasn’t talking about the transfer of sin from his mother to him and he wasn’t talking about guilt. This was simply a declaration on David’s part that sin has always been with him.
There’s no escaping sin.
Kurt: And the context here, as I understand a lot of scholars recognize Psalm 51 as being a piece of poetic literature that David wrote after he was outed by the prophet Nathan for his very corrupt behavior and so David likely felt like the dirt of the Earth for what he had done. In that expression, he wrote these words, expressing how he felt. In that sense, the genre that he’s writing might be different than say what we read in the book of Romans as sort of a theological treatise. But then there might be concerns too because in Romans we do read about, say in Romans 5, and I know this is the hot verse, Romans 5:12 that because sin entered the world through Adam he’s responsible for why we inherit this fallen human nature and I know there’s a lot of debate over that verse. If you’re able to, could you tell us a little bit about sort of the history behind that verse and why that plays an important role in the contemporary debate.
Adam: Yes. Romans 5:12-21 is probably the most significant text when discussing original sin. In the history of the church, when sin is discussed in its origin and transmission, Romans 5 is the key text and as you mentioned verse 12, in verse 12, Paul makes the comment that through one man sin entered into the world and so it is clear that sin is in the world and the presence of sin in the world today can trace itself all the way back to the first man, Adam, or the first couple, Adam and Eve, because of their disobedience, and so 12-21 is a notoriously difficult text to interpret exactly what Paul is getting at. Some things are clearer than others and one thing that it is interesting about the text and is sometimes overlooked is this focus on sin and the different ways that sin is discussed. Just the word “harmartia”, the Greek word as you know for sin, Paul actually uses that word in all of his letters 89 times. He uses it in Romans in 2/3 of those instances, 2/3 of all the occurrences in his books occur in Romans and it occurs 10 times just in these verses and what’s interesting the word shows up in the three different grammatical. Harmartia shows up as a noun, and a verb, and an adjective. Basically, the takeaway on that is the way occurs, sin is something that people do. In other words, It’s correct to say someone is a sinner when they commit a sinful act, but it’s also true that sin is a condition in which we find ourselves so you don’t have to do something to be regarded a sinner. It’s a condition that humanity finds itself in, for example earlier in the book in chapters 2 and 3, Paul is making the point that Jews and Gentiles are both sinners, both groups, in the sense that they do things that are sinful and then in 5:12, sin entered the world. It sounds like sin is described as a thing, but then in verse 19 it’s used in an adjectival sense. In 5:19, people are made sinful through Adam’s sin and then later in the book Christians are freed from sin and at the same time in chapter 7 sin dwells in us and causes death and so I did that background to say that there’s a complexity because there are different ways that the word sin or sinners is used and it’s important to pay attention to how the biblical author is using the word in his arguments and in the context of the particular verse. The most significant thing about 5:12 of course is the statement at the end of 12, that death to all men because all sinned, and just briefly the history behind this is Augustine’s interpretation really took root in the history of the church and Augustine, all scholars acknowledge, was working from a poor translation of the Bible because he was working from…
Kurt: Not because all sinned, but in whom all sinned.
Adam: Yes. He was relying on either an old Latin or Vulgate translation and so the Latin translated this as “in whom all sinned” so we should understand that as all people sinned in Adam.
Kurt: They were present there at the fall.
Adam: Yes, and not to be graphic, they were seminally present. Think high school biology, where do people come from, or how are people made? The word seminally sounds like something else.
Kurt: And this was Augustine’s theory.
Adam: That’s right. And so in that sense all of humanity was present with him and so in whom all sinned made perfect sense to him, and the problem is that that is not a good translation of…in the Greek, and so today when Christians read their English Bibles, you can look at English Standard Version, you can look at New American Standard, NIV, New King James, take your pick, they’re all going to translate as because all sinned and you say, “Well that’s just a bunch of Greek and I don’t get the point of that.” The point is that Augustine thought the Bible said all people sinned in Adam and when we look at the Greek and we look at these English translations, we say that’s actually not what the text says. It says death spread to all men or all people because all sinned so there is not this link and this explicit statement that we were actually in Adam. The Bible doesn’t actually tell us that.
Kurt: Interestingly enough, it’s only from what my research has indicated, from the time of Augustine, it took roughly 1,000 years for people to recognize this translation error. It was Erasmus who discovered the error and you can even see when you survey commentary from other Christian theologians, they’re also citing in whom, so for example Thomas Aquinas had in whom, even though his interpretation was different than Augustine’s, it’s just fascinating to see that this mistranslation existed and was even dominant for so long, so it’s just a fascinating issue. Dr. Harwood. We’ve got to take a short break but afterward, I want to pick your brain about 1 Cor. 15 and how that might relate to Romans 5:12 so we’ll catch you back here after a break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. I am here with Dr. Adam Harwood and today we are discussing the spiritual condition of infants, but before we get to that segment, we have our most lasting tradition on the show for a segment that we call Rapid Questions and this is a segment where of the show where we ask short light-hearted questions and we’re looking for fast responses, so Dr. Harwood, are you ready to play Rapid Questions?
Adam: I am, but I have to tell you this is the part of the interview that I was most nervous about, because I don’t think fast on my toes and I don’t make quick decisions. I like to think about things for a long time so this is going to be the hardest part of the interview.
Kurt: Hopefully, these won’t be super-deep theological questions here and so you’ll maybe be able to answer.
Adam: Okay. Great.
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Adam: Wal-Mart. I rarely buy clothes. Probably a horrible answer.
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Adam: Neither. Chick-Fil-A.
Kurt: What is your favorite sport?
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Adam: Only when it’s real cane sugar?
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Adam: Yes. I was in England.
Kurt: What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?
Adam: A way to filter so I could have clean water.
Kurt: Nice. That is a very practical answer. Excellent. In fact, that might be the first practical, I mean of course people said like the Bible, which is of course spiritually practical, but if you need water, yeah. Wow. Awesome. Thanks for playing a round of Rapid Questions. Before we went to the break we were talking about Romans 5, specifically 12-20, I guess you could sort of draw then wherever, but there’s a lot of meaty theology in that chapter about the doctrine of original sin and of course there are different interpretations to that. We were talking specifically about verse 12 and the mistranslation that Augustine was going off of, but now what about folks that might point to 1 Corinthians 15:22? There’s this phrase, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.” What do you make of that? I might have some follow-ups for you because I’ve got some thoughts myself on it.
Adam: Sure. That’s another important text and it goes with or is consistent with the argument that Paul’s making in Romans 5. Before I answer that, let me just also throw in that even those who still argue that we inherit Adam’s guilt or we were present seminally or maybe Adam was our representative, there are different ways to do this, even those who would argue from an inherited guilt position, they would acknowledge that Augustine was working from an inadequate text, but they would say you can still make the argument from Romans 5 despite Augustine’s error and that 1 Corinthians 15 would be consistent with this and the short answer I would give is there is a parallel, but to be consistent, I think that neither condition is automatic and here’s what I mean by that. If the argument is we are guilty because of what Adam did in the same way that we are justified because of what Christ did, I would say, there’s actually more to that and that’s not exactly the argument that Paul is making and what I mean by that is when we share the Gospel with people, we do not say to them that because Christ died for them or because Christ died for sinners, that they are saved. We don’t say that. We call them to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus so they have to appropriate the work of Christ and there are many people, and I’m in this group, who would say that we also have to appropriate the work of Adam, that in the similar way that we are not saved simply because Christ died for sinners, we do not become guilty simply because Adam acted.
It is the case that we have a bent towards sin that we’re born with and we don’t have any say about that so there is something that we inherit from Adam, that tendency or inclination towards sin, but I think a strong, strong case can be made from Scripture that when God judges people, he judges them for their own sinful thoughts and attitudes and actions. He does not judge them for the sinful thoughts, attitudes, actions, of other people and what I mean by that is He doesn’t judge them personally guilty. It is true that people can suffer temporal consequences for the sins of another person. In other words, there are examples in Scripture where a person dies as a result of the sin that another person commits. David’s infant son is an example, but in that particular instance, Scripture’s clear that the infant son didn’t die because of Adam’s guilt. The infant son died because of David’s act and the death of that infant son was not a judgment that the infant son was guilty of anything. It was simply a temporal judgment which was exercised and resulted in the death of that child, so in answering the question, what’s the relationship between Adam and Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, I don’t think that can be answered from any single verse anywhere in the Bible. I think what happens is you zoom out and you think about what all of Scripture is teaching on particular issues and it’s the nature of sin, the nature of God’s judgment, and then you reread all of Scripture and ask what’s happening and then you return to those texts and say “What are the possibilities in Romans 5 and what are the possibilities in 1 Corinthians 15?”, and keep in mind that at any point, Paul could have said, “All are sinners because Adam sinned and when he sinned, everybody was guilty.” He never did say that. In the book of Romans for example when he makes the case that we’re sinners, he points to particular thoughts, attitudes, and actions in chapter 1 that people commit and says “You’re a lawbreaker. You’re an idolater because of the things that you did,” and so it’s separation a sinful nature or that tendency we’re born with from the guilt that results when morally capable people perform sinful actions.
Kurt: So here, and it seems that your position isn’t totally non-Scriptural, for example there’s a principle that we see in Ezekiel 18, that the one who sins is the one who will die. Now this principle might be referring to physical death and sort of judicial rule there in Israel, but I think that’s a principle that carries over, but what I find interesting at least is not only is this seen in 1 Corinthians 15 and in Romans 5, but you see here, and Travis comments here and I think he’s right to an extent, guilt and righteousness are corollaries, and so what I think is going on here is you just see these correlations because for someone, so 1 Corinthians 15:22 says “For as in Adam, all died, so in Christ, all will be made alive.” Some people believe that this is supporting the concept that there is the exhaustive all. Right? All die, but then that’s just in the first part of the verse. The second part says, “So in Christ all will be made alive.” But think here, I mean often times the people that are presenting the strong version of original sin shall we say, they’re not universalists even though the verse says “So in Christ all will be made alive,” and you see that similar statement made in Romans 5, about how all will be made alive in Christ, so here if we’re looking for consistency, at least my argument is that we should be universalists, but of course I don’t take Paul to be presenting, I’m not sure how to describe it, a wooden interpretation here of Paul. I think he’s just trying these correlations because the way of death, the way of life, the way of Adam, the way of Christ, and as you said Dr. Harwood, I think that we’re each going to be responsible for how we respond and live out our lives and how we respond to the Gospel message, so that’s the way I would understand those passages if I could just say it briefly.
Adam: Sure, and let just give you a 30 second answer because I realize I gave a long answer, but I didn’t give a short one. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is talking about the resurrection of those who had physically died. In verse 22, he says for as in Adam all die. Could it be that Paul is simply speaking of physical death in verse 22? Then when he says, “In Christ, all will be made alive”, we understand in light of other comments that Paul makes that he doesn’t think every person will be made alive, but those who have placed their faith in Christ will be made alive, so the short answer to v. 22 is it could be that this is simply physical death that is being referred to and I’m not aware of any Christian who argues against the idea that because of Adam’s act in the garden we all die physically.
Kurt: That seems to be a universal position that all humans inherit mortality.
Adam: 5:12. Sin, death, and corruption entered the world as a result of Adam’s sin.
Kurt: Let’s move along a little bit and you’ve only briefly touched upon this. In your book you look at a number of different thinkers, church fathers, theologians. What is the contrast, what’s your observation between, and sometimes we can just sort of strong arm stereotypes into labels, but what’s your observations between the West and the East, on the topic of original sin? Are there differences and what are those significant distinctions?
Adam: There are differences, but the differences are that basically no theologian in the East argues that people are born guilty. They only would affirm that they’re born with a bent towards sin. That is the consensus in the East. What surprised me in my studies was that in the West, there is not a consensus. Entering into the study I thought everyone followed Augustine and that Augustine was simply restating the views beforehand, but there were theologians in the West before him and those who followed him who held different views. In fact, Augustine did not hold the same view throughout his entire ministry. There’s basically, scholars speak about early Augustine and later Augustine and early Augustine before he tangles with the Pelagians, has a basic view, barely mentions Romans 5:12, I think he only mentions it twice in all of his writings before his argument with the Pelagians, and his view is very basic on original sin and it’s simply that because Adam sinned, we are sinners. We are stained with corruption and we follow in that pattern and in his argument against the Pelagians attempting to clarify and distinguish his view from theirs and in his interaction with them, he solidifies, he dug in his heels, and he began to argue that we were guilty because Adam was guilty and that was an innovation. That was something, Cyprian had done that before, but very few Christian thinkers before Augustine, I mean hundreds of years before Augustine, very few argued that people were born guilty, but later Augustine, he picked up on that, began to state that, and then later that was codified by the Roman Catholic Church in various councils, so these were some of the things that I discovered.
Kurt: Interesting. So we’ve got a commenter here, Travis, he writes, the empirical proof that the spiritual condition of infants is total depravity is evidenced in that infant mortality exists. He writes the wages of sin is death. If a person dies, that person has accrued guilt because death is the judgment on sin, so how would you respond to Travis’s comment?
Adam: I would say that’s a very common sentiment. John Murray makes the same argument in his book where he traces the imputation of Adam’s sin. I think that’s incorrect and one of the things that I would point to is the example earlier of David’s infant son. In 2 Samuel 12, the text tells us specifically why the infant died and it doesn’t say he died because of his own depravity. It doesn’t say that he died because of Adam’s sin, but he died because of David’s sin and so my question would be “What sort of sinful act does the commenter think that that infant committed in the womb? Adultery? Lying? Stealing?”
Kurt: Yeah. I guess my concern would be here, the wages of sin is death, citing from Romans 6 there, and Dr. Harwood, as you previously brought up, sometimes in the Scripture death does refer to physical death, fleshly death, but sometimes it’s referring to spiritual death, and sometimes as you also mentioned it’s not quite clear what the Scripture is telling us. Sometimes it’s ambiguous and maybe sometimes it means both physical and spiritual or maybe at other times it means one instead of the other so that’s something we’ve got to consider.
Adam: That’s right. It could be physical death, spiritual death, or eternal death. I would point out Romans 7, this is an interesting verse where Paul makes this statement in verse 9. He says, “Once I was alive apart from the law,” Now when he says alive, does he mean physically alive or spiritually alive? Well, we can hold that question if we read the rest of the verse. Once I was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died, verse 9. So when he talks about being alive and being dead, is he talking about physical life and death? Probably not because he wouldn’t be writing about his own death in Romans 7 if it’s physical death, so it must be spiritual death, so is it the case that Paul thought he was spiritually alive at some point and then when he transgressed the law, when he broke God’s law, then he committed and, he died spiritually. That would make sense, but that would mean there was a period of time which he was spiritually alive and then later as a result of his sinful action, that he died. I think that would be a reasonable interpretation of Romans 7:9 and taking this passage with it that we just talked about with the infant, we’re making distinctions here between physical/spiritual death. Before we run out of time I want to point readers to a book that I discovered recently and read which would have been very beneficial in working on my dissertation. It was before I wrote my dissertation, but it was penned in Italian. The author is Pierre Franco Beatrice, and it wasn’t translated and published in English until 2013 and it was published by Oxford University Press and the title is The Transmission of Sin: Augustine and the Pre-Augustine Sources, and it’s a fascinating study and some of the things that I saw in here that I was unaware of, and he deals in the secondary sources, he’s working in Italian, Spanish, German, French, as well as English and the original sources, he’s working in not only the Greek, but also the Latin and so the documentation of his sources is fantastic because he can go back to those and double-check his interpretation as quotations of the text, but he deals with the way Augustine made his arguments for original sin and even though I’ve written now on this topic, I was unaware of some of the things he saw and I was shocked to see some of the biblical texts that Augustine went to and two of them that were surprising were Leviticus 12:6, repeatedly Augustine pointed to the Levitical code and the fact that a sacrifice for sin had to be made after a woman delivered a baby, and he pointed to that and he connected that with Job 14:4 in the Septuagint and of course the Greek translation, there’s a variant that reads “Who shall be pure of filth? No one, not even if his life on Earth has one day”, so he uses that word “filth”, and Augustine saw newborns as filthy as a result of original sin. He quotes Job 14:4 repeatedly and so when you read his interpretations of Psalm 51:5 and realize that he sees that the union between a man and a woman results in the transmission of filth, that this sin is attached to the sin of the male and its transmitted through the male and as a result of the marital union between a man and a woman, so even in the context of the marriage, what results is filth on a newborn and of course, it needs to be cleansed for washed by baptism so anyone who’s listening who’s an evangelical might be concerned to realize if you’re identifying yourself with Augustine and his view of original sin and you’re arguing against the biblical text and positions in your mind and saying, “No. Infants are born guilty,” you need to realize that Augustine’s solution to original sin was water baptism and God’s grace is mediated through water baptism, and that’s a place that most evangelicals won’t go.
Kurt: That’s a fascinating point. Yeah. That’s exactly right. Something I’ve been reading up on. I know on the show I haven’t brought forth too much of my research, but that’s exactly right. Well, Dr. Harwood. We’ve got one question here in studio from David who’s helping screen calls for us today. So David, you’ve got a question for Dr. Harwood and what is that?
David: Yeah. So the aforementioned Romans 5 passage traditionally used for the proponents of original sin and the transferring of guilt especially to the infant, but even if we were to concede that Augustine made an error there, we would go, I think many in the Reformed camp, we would probably cite, and I apologize for the shock and style here, don’t expect you to interact with each and every one of these verses, we would probably go immediately to Ephesians 2:1, dead in transpasses and sin, verse 3, by nature children of wrath. We would probably also cite Psalm 58:3, wicked from the womb, and particularly Isaiah 48:8, transgressor from the womb.
Kurt: Alright Dr. Harwood. I know we don’t have too much time, but maybe select a couple there. What are some, shall we say, plausible interpretations of some of those verses. I know I have my own thoughts on the Ephesians ones, since I’ve thought of that, but we’ll give you a shot first Dr. Harwood.
Adam: Sure. Yes. Ephesians 2 is a key text and I deal with that in my book actually in a chapter entitled “Does God judge our sinful nature or our sinful actions?” and I pair that with Psalm 51:5 and I won’t mention to you the people that I interact with and their interpretations, but essentially, what I would say to that is the flow of Paul’s argument here is that he was reminding believers the kind of people they were before they were believers so he was not commenting on the spiritual condition of infants, but of adults who had previously been unbelievers. And so children of wrath doesn’t mean, infants are under God’s wrath. It means the people who were being described in Ephesians 2, formally lived in the lusts of their flesh and the desire of their flesh and of their mind so people who were acting those ways who were committing those sinful acts, right? Before they became believers were under God’s wrath so this is a comment on adults, not infants.
Kurt: And my own take of the Ephesians passage and I know David we’re going to likely disagree on the interpretation here, when we’re talking about spiritual death I don’t take Paul to be talking about inability to do any spiritual action, and I’m not talking about spiritual good action, I’m also talking about spiritually bad action, because if we are so dead we can’t be transgressors. We can’t do any wicked behavior if we’re spiritually dead. I know some reformed folks talk about, “That’s why we need to be resurrected” and in reformed thought regenerated, but I think how we interpret dead there, the word dead, is going to hinge upon where our theology leads us. That’s all the time we’ve got for today’s topic. David. That is a good question though and a number of other verses that we’ll perhaps to devote another episode to on this topic. Dr. Harwood, thanks for joining us on the show today. We’ll have to bring you on, we didn’t even get to talking about the traditional position and Baptist theology, I’d love to pick your brain more on that and the history behind that, so we’ll have to bring you on another time to talk about that so thanks for joining us today.
Adam: I appreciate it. Thank you very much for having me Kurt.
Kurt: Take care. Alright. That does it for our show today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a few bucks a month to help us run. I’m grateful for the sponsorship with our sponsors and they are Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, the Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Traffic Buffet. Thank you to the tech team today, that’d be Chris and David, and we apologize for some of the livestream. We’re still figuring out our new system here so we’re going to maybe work on it this next week and we’ll hopefully get you the fully up and running program here soon because we miss engaging with you there on Facebook so we’d love to hear from you. Various ways you can get in touch with us. Finally, I want to thank you for your devoted support of being a listener to this podcast and for your passion for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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