The origins of sin, part 2

For Christians and others

Part one of this topic discusses the effect of the sinful nature as it applies to humans in general and to children in particular.  As if that wasn't controversial enough already, here is part 2 where we shall ask whether God created a fallen world or a morally perfect world.

sources of knowledge

Without wishing to get too heavily involved in the analysis of the sources of knowledge it is appropriate that I first state what I believe to be valid means of acquiring knowledge:

  • First, we have the creation — to include everything around us — as we perceive it through our five senses.
  • Second, we have our own conscience which is an internal testimony that does not always tell us what we would like to hear.
  • Third, we have an awareness of our own existence.
  • Fourth, we are given the scriptures which are God's written account of his dealings with men.
  • Fifth, we are given logic and the power of reasoning or rational thought which is the means by which we draw conclusions after interpreting and analysing the information that we acquired in other ways.

a problem arising from part one

In part one of this discussion paper we saw that all people, including newly born and unborn babies, are sinners and under God's just condemnation.  We were able to arrive at this conclusion because

1.  the scriptures say that it is so, and,
2.  it is not possible to explain how a “pure” person could ever sin or desire to sin and so, knowing that we are sinners now, we must deduce that we have always been sinners.

Now we can follow this process back from ourselves to our parents to our grandparents to our great-grandparents and so on all the way back to Noah and thence back to Adam — the only person created directly by God and the ancestor of us all.  But then the same reasoning applies to Adam also: If Adam sinned (and we are told that he did) then his nature must have been that of a sinner since a pure person could not possibly have desired to do what was wrong.  But Adam was created by God so Adam's nature was exactly the nature that God created him with — which leads to the conclusion that God created a race of sinners; that God created a species whose very nature was to rebel.  This is a rather uncomfortable conclusion because it is not what most of us were taught and not, perhaps, what we would like to believe.  After all, if God created men to be sinners and then condemns sinners, where does that leave all our cosy and simple ideas about God?  Suddenly, we are forced to confront a universe that is bigger, harder less familiar than the one we we thought we knew.

The discomfort however must be faced — we are called to love God with all of our mind as well as with all of our body, strength and spirit.  We can hardly claim to have loved with all our minds if we turned and ran at the first sniff of intellectual cold air.  Furthermore, if we refuse to face this discomfort then we shall have to confront an altogether bigger one — namely that of admitting that reason is not a valid source of knowledge — and if reason is tumbled from its position of validity?  Well, every other belief that we have ever held will come crashing down behind it, including the belief that reason is not valid, and that would leave everyone in an intellectual vacuum and darkness.

The first objection that has been raised against the above conclusion was proposed from the first chapter of the book of Genesis where God declares that his creation is “good”.  Let us look at those verses:

creation according to scripture

During the process of creation God pronounced on several occasions that his creation was “good”.  Let us see exactly what he said and then decide what it means:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." and there was evening, and there was morning -- the first day.  And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water."  So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it.  And it was so.  God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning -- the second day.  And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so.  God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas."  And God saw that it was good.  Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds."  And it was so.  The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning -- the third day.  And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth."  And it was so.  God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.  He also made the stars.  God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fourth day.  And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky."   So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.  And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth."  And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fifth day.  And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind."  And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.  Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."  Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground -- everything that has the breath of life in it -- I give every green plant for food."  And it was so.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning -- the sixth day.

So, from first to last God pronounces everything “good”.  Nonetheless we are commanded to think (to love God with all our minds) and even a very short and elementary session of thinking will show us that we cannot conclude there was no evil in the universe just because God pronounced the creation “good”.

First, we need to ask what exactly did God mean when he pronounced the creation “good”.  In the English language the word “good” has three distinct uses:

  1. We use it to mean that something is aesthetically pleasing,
  2. we use it to declare something fit for a particular purpose, and
  3. we use it to declare something morally untainted.

When we use the word good in the sense of aesthetically pleasing we are in fact making a statement about our own thoughts about the object in question.  When I use the word in this sense, I am only saying that I like the object; that it pleases or satisfies me.  What I like is not necessarily what anybody else likes — my satisfaction could be your dissatisfaction.  This sort of “good” is a matter of personal preference only.

When we use the word “good” in the sense of "fit-for-purpose" we are saying that the object is suitable or appropriate for the use of it that we have in mind.  In other words it will do the job we want it to do.  This does not mean that we like the object (though we might) and it has no moral connotations whatsoever.  An object can be “good” for one task and “bad” for another.

Only when we use the word “good” to declare something morally untainted does the it carry an implication of sinlessness.

So in which sense was God using the word?  In the first creation passage, God describes six things as good, namely:  the light, the land, the vegetation, the two lights (the sun and moon), the creatures of the sea and air and, the wild animals.  Finally, God looks at everything and pronounces it to be “very good”.  Now, unless we are going to ascribe moral virtues to light and land, God must have been describing the light and land as either aesthetically pleasing or as being fit for his intended purposes (or both); likewise the moon and sun and vegetation.  We have no reason to then change the implied meaning of the word when God refers to animals or to creation as a whole and to claim that God was making a moral statement; it would be a very unnatural way to read the text.  It is also worth noting, even if only in passing, that God does not declare man specifically to be “good” — man is only included in the general pronouncement of “very good” that God makes of his work as a whole.  From the creation passages, therefore, we have no basis for claiming a sinless nature for Adam.  There might however be other reasons for such a claim:

other passages that might be used to suggest that Adam had a pure nature

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote “...  sin entered the world through one man, ...” (Romans 5:12).  This is normally understood to mean that Adam's trespass was the means by which entered the world.  However, there are two points that need to be examined:  First, in the Genesis account it is Eve, not Adam, who first disobeys the command to refrain from eating a certain fruit.  Second, Paul's statement does not exclude the possibility of sin entering the world through the creation of the man — in other words, the possibility that when God created a moral being he also created a being with a sinful nature and thus, at that point, released sin into the world.  The second of these two points cannot be refuted and must be left, therefore, as a viable explanation of how sin entered the world, namely by the act of creating a man with a sinful nature.  The first point, regarding the act of Eve, has often been explained by reference to Adam's headship (see 1 Timothy 2:13-14).  In other words, Eve sinned and Adam was held accountable.  This is a view with which I have much sympathy.  Nonetheless, the basic problem is unchanged:  How could Eve have sinned if she did not already have a sinful nature?  If she had a sinful nature, from where did she get it if it was not from Adam from whom she was created?  Personally, I contend that the nature of sin entered the world through the creation of Adam and that Eve's specific sin was reckoned to Adam because of his headship.

passages that support the view that God created a sinner

In Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome he writes, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”  The important points to notice here are (1) that God is the one binding men to disobedience, (2) that he has a reason for doing it — namely in order to have mercy on them, and (3) that God's action was effective against all men, so including Adam.

The origins of sin: Part 1

Related articles that you might like to read:
The origins of sin: Part 1. A short explanation of how the human race ended up with a bad character. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.
“Not far” from the Kingdom of God. Many people think that they are pretty good and that God is really quite pleased with them.  This article shows that being “good”, or even “very good”, is just not good enough.  We need more than our own goodness to please God.
The Perfectly Paradoxical Problem of Paradise. If everything is perfect in paradise then how are imperfect people like you and I going to get in?
What really happened on that cross? This article gets past the popular misconceptions about the death of Jesus and shows why, for humans who want to be right with God, the death of Jesus was, quite simply, the most important thing that has happened since the planet began.
Take care!  Do not be deceived. Every author in the New Testament warned their readers about the proliferation of false teachers in the church.  So, how come we never meet any?