“Original Sin” - Fact or Fiction?
Part II of V
Although mankind was created in the image and likeness of Almighty God (Genesis 1:26-27), proponents of Original Sin contend the image and likeness of God in humanity was altogether lost by the sin of Adam and Eve, and thus all subsequent humans are born with a totally depraved nature which leads irresistibly to sin. The theory proposes that while Adam and Eve were created with a sinless nature, their offspring inherited the sinful nature of their fallen parents.
The immiscible difficulty of this allegation is the fact that one of the clearest truths of the entire Bible is that all men have been created by God. His hand is in the process of life. To assert that all humans are born with a depraved nature indicts God as culpable for the sinful nature in which they are born, for God creates the immortal spirit that inhabits the human body of each individual. If the spirit created by God is tainted by sin before and without personal choice, then God is responsible for creating a sinful nature.
The evil shadow surrounding the doctrine of Original Sin is evinced by the blasphemous and slanderous accusations leveled against the holy character of God on account of what is alleged in the theory. On the basis of this single Christian doctrine, God has been castigated as a demonic fiend or monster for creating mankind with an inbred nature of guilt and sin that dooms even a dying infant to the horrors of hell. Only Satan could incite such an insidious assault against the holy and righteous character of God!
God Created Man in His Own Image
Volumes have been written through the centuries explaining the meaning of man’s creation in the image and likeness of God and no doubt many more will be written in the future. The intent here is not to offer an all encompassing exegesis of the various possibilities that may be assigned to the “image” of God; rather, a simple look at what the phrase does not mean, followed by the review of a few points certainly included in the description which separates man in the image of God from all other creatures absent the divine image. The very placement of the phrase in the Genesis narrative illustrates the exceptional circumstances involving the creation of man in the image of God.
The physical body of man is sometimes characterized as having been created in the image and likeness of God. However, the scriptural view of the omnipresence of God disproves the materialistic representation that God is composed of material elements which are confined in time and space. “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me?” (Isaiah 66:1).
The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s claim to omnipresence: “Am I God who is near,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:23-24). If God were composed of material elements, possessing a physical body, and if the language of Isaiah and Jeremiah is to be taken as true, we would have an unbelievable proposition that is obviously false. The image and likeness of God has no respect to the material composition and arrangement of the body.
T. Pierce Brown correctly observed:
“The fact that God is spoken about as one who has eyes, hands, ears, and so on, has no bearing on the subject for two reasons. First, if God is trying to let us know that He can observe us, hear us, and minister to us, He has to do it in words that mean something to us. These expressions are called “anthropomorphisms” or “forms of man” figures of speech. Second, a bird or a fish may have eyes without being in the form of a man. So it is not without reason to speak about God’s eyes, ears, or hands, although He is Spirit (1993, 135:50-51).
Those adhering to Original Sin have concluded that the image of God was lost at the occurrence of the first sin. Allegedly, the image of God pertained only to the sinless character or nature that Adam and Eve received from God in creation. When the first pair sinned, that sinless image of God was lost. In contradistinction to such an absurd position, theologians have recognized a multitude of distinctive attributes and qualities possessed only by mankind created in the image of God. Consider the following:
(1) One of the most obvious differences between man and the lower animals is the unrivaled intelligence of man that allows him to communicate in a variety of ways, to reason and understand, to exhibit creative design, etc. The truth is quite simple: no animal can speak in the manner in which man is able to articulate through either oral or literary expression.
Skills of verbal and written communications form a direct link between God and man. God reveals His communicative abilities in the opening lines of Genesis, the phrase “and God said” occurring ten times in the first chapter. Not only did God speak the heavens and earth into existence, but He communicated directly to Adam and Eve (v. 28).
The Scriptures also affirm that God communicates through written words. On the occasion of the Law being given to Moses, the Bible records: “And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18); “And the tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets” (Exodus 32:16).
In later times, the demise of Belshazzar’s kingdom was foretold through the writing which appeared on the wall (Daniel 5:5; cf. 5:24-28). Man’s ability to communicate through written language represents one of his greatest intellectual achievements, and this ability is patterned after that possessed by the Creator.
The intellectual powers of man are also demonstrated in his ability to reason. With the Psalmist we continue to ask, “What is man…?” (Psalm 8:4). The Lord answers, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Being created in His image and in His likeness, man has been blessed with an intellect which allows critical thinking and analysis. Man does not merely react by instinct and outward influence as do the animals, but God has bestowed the powers of rationality and understanding upon man. A dog may be trained to fetch the morning paper, but he has no ability to comprehend for what purpose it is beneficial; neither is he able to read the paper or sit and discuss the contents with his master. The powers of understanding were not bestowed upon the animals as they were conferred upon man (cf. Job 32:8; 39:17; Psalm 32:9).
Only man is capable of reading and understanding the Bible in order to know God and realize the intended purpose of man. An animal has a brain with which he can think, but he doesn’t think about God. He has a mouth that allows him to eat food, but has the first prayer of thanksgiving ever been offered heavenward? He has eyes that can view the starry heavens, but he doesn’t perceive the universe as the handiwork of God (cf. Psalm 19:1); neither does he understand that the reality of the celestial bodies demands the existence of a Creator (Romans 1:20; Hebrews 3:4).
Although an animal may have ears, he cannot comprehend the message of the gospel when it is preached. The kinship of man with God is seen in the superior intellect and powers of reasoning possessed by man. In his efforts to persuade the Jews to believe the gospel of Christ, Paul often “reasoned” with them in the synagogues (see Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19). Man’s aptitude for rational thought and reason most certainly factors into the dominion granted to him by God over the earth and the other inhabitants (Genesis 1:28).
Man’s creative genius also demonstrates his affinity with the Creator. Although man cannot create from nothing as God is able to do (speaking things into existence via His omnipotent power), man is extraordinarily adept at expressing himself through creative design. Consider the advances in human civilization as compared to all other entities of life. Man is a keen inventor, developing an increasingly complex infrastructure to improve his habitation and sanitation, creating masterful works of art and composing beautiful music for his own enjoyment, excelling in medical advances for the treatment of humans and animals, etc., etc.
Nothing even remotely equivalent to this creative ability is witnessed in the animal kingdom. A spider is capable of weaving an intricate web, a bird builds a nest, a bee forms a cell, and a beaver constructs a lodge of cut timbers, but no design improvement has ever been catalogued. These animals work by instinct alone, producing that which the wisdom of God granted them to accomplish. They are mere artisans; not architects or designers determining a path of pursuit and initiating action to accomplish the goal.
Only man exhibits the intellectual capacity for knowing and understanding the work of creation and of comprehending the purpose of man existing in a covenant relationship with His Creator. The image and likeness of God shines forth like the sun at perihelion through the incomparable mind of man.
(2) God gave man an independent will with volitional power. Every man has been given the ability to choose his own path in life. God Himself possesses independent exercise of determination in choosing whether He will or will not act. God created man with the right and responsibility to also make important choices for himself.
God could have created man so that he would automatically do His will, having absolutely no choice in the matter. However, God gave man freedom of will and determination, including the individual moral responsibility to choose for himself whether to obey God or not. God did not create man in the image of the sun that shines light on the earth every day, but has no other alternative action. The sun fulfills the will of God every day involuntarily, rendering service from an established role which is predetermined and unavoidable.
The creation of man stands in stark contrast to all else, and bearing the image of the Creator, mankind was intended to bring glory to God (Psalm 100:7). This glory is achieved when man willingly submits Himself, diligently seeking the Lord and praising His holy name (I Chronicles 16:8-36).
God is love; and from all that is revealed of His divine mind, it is clear that God desires man to love Him with pure and undivided affection (Mark 12:30). Of necessity, true love demands freedom of choice and will. Love that is compulsory or obligatory is not real love. Man, in the image of God, was fashioned with the unique capacity to express choice in loving God or rejecting Him, hence Satan and the forbidden tree that grew in the garden to test fidelity.
Absent personal choice, Adam and Eve (along with all mankind) could have been forced to serve the Creator in undeviating compliance with His determined will. However, such service would be cold and meaningless and man nothing more than an instrument forged specifically for the task at hand, honoring the will of the master through blind obedience of necessity. God never intended this for man, and, therefore, God gave man an independent freedom of will to choose for Himself the higher, nobler, more dignified service of self-abasement which honors and adores the Creator as opposed to the self-gratifying service associated with worship of a mere creature or the inanimate creation.
With freedom to exercise personal choice, God did not leave man to his own devices in determining right from wrong, but spoke laws of prohibition designed to serve man’s best interest. God’s undeviating nature of holiness is the ground and immovable foundation of “right” and “wrong.” The moral law implemented by God reflects His own true, immutable nature. Why are men not to lie to one another? The answer is found in the holy nature of God that does not allow Him to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). The unchanging nature of God guarantees that the moral law He has imposed for man’s good is equally immutable.
The image of God casts it shadow in the self-determining ability of man to decide each day for himself whom he will serve (Joshua 24:15). Free will is repeatedly both affirmed and implied in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 23:37; John 5:39-40; Revelation 22:17).
(3) Like his holy Creator, mankind has an innate sense of morality and justice. It is impossible to escape the fact that all men have a common awareness of right and wrong, and they have this awareness without having ever read the Bible. Every population of people, whether in the great cities of the earth or in the wandering bands and tribes of sojourners, displays an awareness of responsible morality and justice.
Paul appealed to this principle when he argued that even the ancient Gentiles, who had no written revelation from God, either were condemned or excused by a certain set of moral imperatives written in their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). All men, everywhere, recognize themselves to be free and responsible moral agents, and when confronted with an obvious breach in morality, all recognize that the offender is deserving of judicial punishment. This awareness comes from the creation of man in the image of God, bearing the law of God in the heart.
Even among the criminal element, the sense of right and wrong exists. It is often reported in media news segments titled, “Dumbest Criminals,” that a thief who has stolen from others will in turn seek assistance from law enforcement when another thief steals the stolen merchandise from him! Although not disturbed by his own selfish acts of injustice perpetrated upon others, the moral awareness of right and wrong and the need for judicial satisfaction is greatly heightened when he personally becomes the victim of crime. The wrong is immediately felt when the criminal becomes the victim.
And what liar bent on defrauding another of fortune expresses gratitude and admiration when another liar defrauds him of his personal wealth or property? Will he not rather accuse the other of being a liar? And for what reason? Because he recognizes that lying is wrong. A man may be a liar, a thief, or an adulterer himself, but he judges those same actions in others as wrong and deserving of judicial satisfaction. King David was moved to outrage by Nathan’s parabolic rebuke of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-7).
Man was created distinct from the myriads of other creatures upon the earth. If the image of God in man was lost through sin, why has man retained unique attributes which are shared only by man and God? The truth is man did not lose the image of God endowed upon him in creation. The Bible nowhere says that the image of God was lost. It is only in the speculations of philosophers that such allegations arise. The Bible presents in clear and unmistakable language that the image of God continues to reside in all humanity.
Long after the fall of Adam and Eve, murder was condemned on the ground that human life is sacred because mankind is “in the image of God.” Following the global flood, God counseled Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). God ascribes immense value and worth to humanity on the basis that all men are in the image of God.
In contrast, God had granted man the right to kill all other creatures, saying, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you: I give it to you, as I gave the green plant” (Genesis 9:3). However, to avoid the killing of human beings as part of “Every moving thing,” God prescribed the prohibition cited from 9:6. Man was not to be killed, “for in the image of God He made man.” It is impossible to miss the import of these words unless one is wedded to a previous assumption that the image of God was lost by the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam was dead, but God prohibited the future shedding of any human blood on the impregnable foundation that all humans are made in the image of God.
Coming to the New Testament, Paul instructs, “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7). That this admonition pertains to all men and not merely Christians is obvious by the later statement, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him” (11:14). The apostle applies the reprimand to all men; therefore, the image of God remains indelibly present and was not lost by Adam’s sin.
James spoke of the untamable tongue, saying, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). It will not do, as some attempt, to argue that James means “we curse Christians, who have been made in the likeness of God.” That, for certainty, is not what the text says. James uses the term “brethren” sixteen times in this short letter to indicate fellow Christians, but James does not say, “we curse brethren, who have been made in the likeness of God.” Anyone acquainted with Genesis 1:26-27 will immediately comprehend the censure by James concerning cursing mankind made in the likeness of God.
Furthermore, it will not do to argue that God only created Adam and Eve, and that all other humans bear the sinful image of the parents through natural procreation. Not only is the allegation false according to numerous texts to be examined in our following segment, but if allowed, who ordered the “natural procreation” which results in the alleged sinful nature at birth?
If God established the laws of procreation in which He knew mankind would sin and pass along a depraved nature to all subsequent offspring, the culpability for the birth of each one as a condemned sinner remains with God. Such allegations are preposterous, and are shamefacedly blasphemous in every word!
When one contemplates Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7, and James 3:9, it should become apparent that the Bible unambiguously teaches that all men are in the image of God. Who can cite even one verse which teaches the image of God was lost when man sinned? It cannot be found in the Bible. Being created in the image and likeness of God is what defines and distinguishes humanity. If the image of God was lost, we would no longer be human, but just another beast of the field as the evolutionary hoax has caused many to believe.
In spite of the sin of Adam and Eve, and even our sin today, man has not cast off the image of God in which he was created. As paradoxical as it may seem, the very ability to commit sin is proof that man retains the image of God. The act of sinning presupposes rationality and voluntary decision. Animals cannot sin. A bear, lion, or shark does not sin when it kills a human being. No animal has ever sinned against God, because sin is a responsible act committed in violation of the image of God. Apart from comprehended moral responsibility and accountability, there can be no such thing as sin.
God is the Creator of all Humanity
In order to counter the passages previously cited from the New Testament which reveal all men are created in the image of God (see 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9), it is necessary for Original Sin advocates to insist that these references pertain only to Christians who have been restored to the image of God. But this line of reasoning leads to yet another immiscible impasse.
If Christians are restored to the image of God, why are their offspring not born in the image of God like their restored parents? Proponents of Original Sin cannot enjoy a one sided argument. If the sin of Adam caused the image of God to be lost for his posterity, but the righteousness of Christ restores the Christian back to the image of God, then why are the children of Christians not born in the image and likeness of God?
Children are either born in the image of God due to creation, or born in the image of parents? Which is it? If they are born in the image of their parents, and Christians have been restored to the image of God, how are children of Christian parents allegedly born without the image of God? The negative concept cannot be more binding than the positive concept, can it? Does evil influence remain where God has forgiven the sin of the parents? In contradistinction to such silliness and quibbles, the Bible affirms God as the Creator, not just of Adam and Eve, but of every human being. Consider the following passages:
(1) Prior to the global flood, God said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land” (Genesis 6:7). This was long after the death of Adam and Eve, yet God referenced living men as those He had “created.”
(2) Following the global flood, God cautioned Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). As discussed previously, this passage reveals the sanctity of all human life on the grounds that God made every man in His own image.
(3) Referring to himself and one of his slaves, Job retorted, “Did not He who made me in the womb make him, and the same One fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15).
(4) Elihu confessed, “The Spirit of God made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).
(5) The Psalmist exhorted, “Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).
(6) Psalm 119:73 reads, “Thy hands made me and fashioned me.”
(7) “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14).
(8) God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
(9) The prophet announced, “Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundations of the earth, and forms the spirits of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1).
(10) Malachi 2:10 asks, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?”
(11) Paul declared, “He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25).
(12) The Hebrews writer referred to God as “the Father of our spirits” (12:9).
These passages, when taken collectively, present overwhelming evidence that the Bible affirms God as the Creator of all humanity. This explains why Solomon exhorted, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). God is the Creator of every individual person.
Zechariah attributed the spirit within man to the hand of God (12:1). If God forms the spirit of each person at the time of conception and that spirit is formed with a corrupt sinful nature, who is responsible? God is the “Father of our spirits” – not our parents or ancestral parents. Solomon spoke of death as the time that the body goes back to dust, “and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
It is unfeasible for the sin of a parent to affect the immortal spirit of the offspring, for God is the One who “forms the spirits” and it is God who “gave it” to the body – not the parents. On this basis, Paul correctly observes, “For we also are His offspring. Being then the offspring of God…” (Acts 17:28-29). Paul made this statement, not amidst a gathering of Christians, but among Pagan idolaters. He included his audience of heathens as the “offspring of God.” Explain it.
Are we to believe that God produces offspring that possess a sinful nature from birth? If the immortal spirit of Adam was given to him by God, and the immortal spirit of every other human is likewise given by God, why would God give Adam a clean, pure, sinless spirit, but then give his posterity a contaminated, sin-stained spirit? The injustice of such a proposal is what shocks every sincere student of the Bible who wrestles with the doctrine of Original Sin. No one contemplating the revealed attributes of God can imagine such an outrageous allegation against the justice and holiness of Almighty God.
Even strong advocates of Original Sin admit the difficulty of harmonizing the theory with the righteous character of God. Charles Hodge stated, “It may be difficult to reconcile the doctrine of innate evil dispositions with the justice and goodness of God, but that is a difficulty which does not pertain to this subject. A malignant being is an evil being, if endowed with reason, whether he was so made or so born, and a benevolent rational being is good in the universal judgment of men, whether he was so created or so born...We admit that it is repugnant to our moral judgments that God should create an evil being; or that any being should be born in a state of sin, unless this being so born is the consequence of a just judgment” (Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 308).
Dear reader, bear in mind, God is not the creator of sin or of a sinful nature! Sin is rebellion against the holy nature given by the Creator! As it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Because we are created in the image of God, all men are created in holiness, but by our own free will we turn from our God-given nature of holiness into sin. Solomon noted in the long ago, “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
God creates men “upright,” meaning without sin. This statement stands rigidly opposed to the doctrine of Original Sin. Man is born without sin, but then chooses to seek “out many devices.” Sin is rebellion against the “upright” nature belonging to every human at birth. God does not create sinners. Neither is God culpable for giving life to a sinner. God gives life to man through an “upright” spirit of holiness that belongs to Him as the Creator, but rebellious humans choose to sin against that holy nature. Each person is responsible for their own sin.
Conclusion (Part II)
God created man in His own image and likeness. Since God is the Creator of every man, and is “the Father of our spirits,” it is impossible to reconcile the teachings of Original Sin with the teachings of the Bible. This explains the necessity of adherents to deny the image of God in every man and to deny that God is involved in the process of life which forms each individual person, giving them an immortal spirit that belongs to Him.
Fortunately, we are not left to the vain speculations of uninspired men, but hold in view the inspired written revelation from God which addresses these matters clearly. Let no one be deceived, God “gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). If God created or formed each person with a corrupt nature of sin in which no one has a choice, but each must sin in accordance with their sinful nature, God would indeed be the greatest villain of all time, superseding even Satan as the enemy of mankind!
Such a view is blasphemous and difficult of expression by this writer even for impact of point. God creates men “upright,” but each one is responsible for his own turn downward. “Being then the offspring of God,” let each one recognize that God will judge according to the individual’s sin, and not according to the original sin of Adam.
Brown, T. Pierce (1993), “In the Image of God,” Gospel Advocate, August.
Hodge, Charles (1997), Systematic Theology.
(Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.).