(A fascinating, and concise, examination of why we are born sinners... I really agree with his conclusion, even as I firmly hold to Covenant Theology. In my opinion, Rev. Lewis' organic idea, which includes traducianism, appears not to logically contradict basic Covenant theology. ~ Ralph)
by A. Allison Lewis
Is the word IMPUTE used correctly? When we speak of the IMPUTATION of Adam’s sin to his posterity we are dealing with the connection between Adam’s sin and the resultant depravity, guilt and condemnation of the human race. Is it proper to say that Adam’s sin is IMPUTED to his offspring? We do not believe that it is in keeping with the meaning of the word and the teaching of the Bible.
First there are those who deny any connection whatever between Adam’s sin and that of his descendants. Second, there are those who teach that the connection rests solely in a COVENANT made with Adam as the REPRESENTATIVE of all men. Third, there are those who believe that the connection is a NATURAL one, whereby all men partook of that original sin–all sinned in Adam [ROM 5:12]. Finally, there are various mixtures and/or variations of the above.
The foundational question is: ‘How can we be responsible for the sinful nature which is so very evident in every man and yet a nature which we did not consciously and separately originate?’ To put it another way, 'How can God justly hold responsible, every person born to the first father of the human race, for the sin of Adam?'
The answer is contained in the fact that Adam and his posterity are ONE, and, by virtue of their unity, the sin of Adam is the sin of the race. The name applied to this teaching is TRADUCIANISM. It is not a new or novel idea, though few believe it. This is the third position listed above. We find an analogy in Hebrews 7:9, 10. Man has the nature of Adam just as naturally as the little oak shoot has the nature of the great oak tree from which it came. Man receives by his natural or REAL connection to Adam his sin nature. It is properly his own and he properly bears responsibility for its consequences. Individual acts merely add to a person’s sin. He sins because he is a sinner by nature.
Much is said about ORIGINAL SIN–that is Adam and Eve’s first sin in the Garden of Eden. Liberals and Modernists believe that the Genesis account is just an ancient myth. HERE our concern is with that original sin and our connection with that sin. If we wish to use the term IMPUTATION with reference to God’s accounting us sinners we should be careful not to permit our use of that term to be hindered or prejudiced by the fact that certain schools of theology, notably the popular FEDERAL school, have attached to it an arbitrary, external, and mechanical meaning–holding that God imputes sin to men, not because they are sinners, but upon the ground of a COVENANT whereby Adam, without their consent, was made their REPRESENTATIVE. This is the ESSENCE of COVENANT theology. Other elements often associated with Covenant theology, whether necessary or unnecessary, are simply a filling out of their system and are totally irrelevant as to whether one believes in Covenant theology or not. Even such a contentious doctrine as infant baptism is an unnecessary element.
Important to our discussion is the origin of souls. Most teach that the soul of each person is immediately CREATED by God at conception (or birth). Few, if any, believe this concerning the body. The body is produced by natural generation. Those who hold the TRADUCIAN position believe that the soul is created mediately. In other words creation was finished with Adam and Eve so that both body AND soul are produced through the process ordained by God for the replenishing of the Earth.
The term IMPUTATION is commonly applied to:
1. Adam’s sin being imputed to his posterity.
2. The sinners individual sins being imputed to himself.
3. Believers sins being imputed to Christ.
4. The righteousness of Christ being imputed to the believer.
If IMPUTATION is used simply to mean to ascribe, account or reckon to a person some quality, act or possession it is then possible to use it in these four ways. However, the teaching of the Bible with respect to sin would be far less confusing if we restricted its use to numbers three and four. In numbers one and two it is not a quality or deeds being GIVEN. It is merely a statement of fact of one’s condition. In number three the believers sins (not simply "original sin") are GIVEN–laid on Him. Again in number four something is GIVEN to the believer.
Modern dictionaries certainly do not determine Christian theology but they can sometimes be useful and certainly necessary to meaningful communication. Of IMPUTE the dictionary of my college days says: "3. Theol. To ascribe vicariously" [Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1953]. My current dictionary says: "2. Theol. to ascribe (goodness or guilt) to a person as coming from another" [Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, 1982]. The wording varies but the meaning is the same. The believers righteousness or justification may be ascribed vicariously or our sins can be vicariously laid on Christ i.e. "as coming from another" in both cases. BUT OUR sin certainly cannot be so described. Men are sinners on their own account. It is therefore confusing to use "impute" simply to mean "to consider," "count" or "reckon" WITHOUT any implication of doing so "vicariously" or "as coming from another."
Some of the various views discussed in the theology books are as follows:
THE PELAGIAN THEORY
Every human soul is immediately created by God, and created as innocent, as free from depraved tendencies, and as perfectly able to obey God, as Adam was at his creation.
The only effect of Adam’s sin upon his posterity is the effect of evil example: it has in no way corrupted human nature: the only corruption of human nature is that habit of sinning which each individual contracts by persistent transgression of known law.
Adam’s sin injured only himself. The sin of Adam is "imputed" only to Adam. It is imputed in no sense to his descendants. God "imputes" to each of Adam’s descendants only those acts of sin which he has personally and consciously committed. Men can be saved by the Law as well as by the Gospel and some have actually obeyed God perfectly, and have thus been saved. Physical death is therefore not the penalty of sin, but an original law of nature. Adam would have died whether he had sinned or not. This teaching is named after Pelagius, a British monk, in the early 400’s. The Liberal Unitarians of today would for the most part hold to this position, IF concerned with sin at all!
All men, as a divinely appointed result of Adam’s transgression, are naturally destitute of original righteousness, and are exposed to misery and death. By virtue of the infirmity propagated from Adam to all his descendants, mankind are wholly unable without divine help perfectly to obey God or to attain eternal life. This inability, however, is physical and intellectual, but not voluntary. As a matter of justice, therefore, God bestows upon each individual from the first dawn of consciousness a special influence of the Holy Spirit, which is sufficient to counteract the effect of the inherited depravity and to make obedience possible, provided the human will cooperates, which it still has the power to do.
The evil tendency and state may be called sin but they do not in themselves involve guilt or punishment. Mankind is not accounted guilty of Adam’s sin. God imputes to each man his inborn tendencies to evil, only when he consciously and voluntarily appropriates and ratifies these in spite of the power to the contrary, which, in justice to man, God has specially communicated. The soul is immediately created at conception.
The NEW SCHOOL teaching was a reaction to the strict Puritan (Calvinist) teaching. All men, they teach, are born with a physical and moral constitution which predisposes them to sin, and all men do actually sin so soon as they come to moral consciousness. This moral weakness of nature may be called sinful, because it uniformly leads to sin but it is not itself sin, since nothing is to be properly denominated sin but the voluntary act of transgressing known law.
God imputes to men only their own acts of transgression. He does not impute to them or hold them accountable for Adam’s sin. Neither original moral weakness or physical death are penal inflictions. They are simply consequences which God has in His sovereignty ordained to mark His displeasure at Adam’s transgression. God immediately creates each human soul at conception.
Charles G. Finney, a Modernist, taught the NEW SCHOOL position.
FEDERAL THEORY OR COVENANT THEOLOGY
Adam was constituted by God’s sovereign appointment the REPRESENTATIVE of the whole human race. With Adam as their REPRESENTATIVE, God entered into COVENANT, agreeing to bestow upon them eternal life on condition of his obedience, but making the penalty of his disobedience to be the corruption and death of all his posterity. In accordance with the terms of this covenant, since Adam sinned, God accounts all his descendants as sinners, and condemns them because of Adam’s transgression.
In execution of this sentence of condemnation, God immediately creates each soul of Adam’s posterity with a corrupt and depraved nature, which infallibly leads to sin, and which is itself sin. The theory is therefore a theory of the immediate imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, their corruption of nature not being the cause of that imputation, but the result of it.
It would appear from the preaching and writing of today that most Christians hold to this position. The Federal Theory, or Theory of Condemnation by Covenant had its origin with Cocceius [1603-1669]. It was further developed by Turretin [1623-1687]. It is the position held by Charles Hodge and generally by the Reformed churches. It is also the BASIS of the teaching of most Baptists and independents even though they may attack the term "Covenant Theology" with a passion! NOTE how many doctrinal statements make use of the term REPRESENTATIVE to describe their theology!
THEORY OF MEDIATE IMPUTATION
This idea was developed by Placeus [1606-1655]. He taught that all men are born physically and morally depraved this native depravity is the source of all actual sin, and is itself sin. So far as man’s physical nature is concerned, this inborn sinfulness has descended by natural laws of propagation from Adam to all his posterity. The soul is immediately created by God, but it becomes actively corrupt so soon as it is united to the body at conception!
ADAM’S NATURAL HEADSHIP or TRADUCIANISM
This was first elaborated by Augustine [354-430] and is therefore, frequently called the Augustinian Theory. It was the view held by the Reformers with the exception of Zwingle. It is the view promoted most vigorously by William G.T. Shedd.
It holds that God reckons to all Adam's posterity the sin of Adam mediately, IN VIRTUE OF THAT ORGANIC UNITY OF MANKIND BY WHICH THE WHOLE RACE AT THE TIME OF ADAM’S TRANSGRESSION EXISTED, NOT INDIVIDUALLY, BUT SEMINALLY, IN HIM AS ITS HEAD. The total life of humanity was then in Adam. The race as yet had its being only in him. In Adam’s free act, the will of the race revolted from God and the nature of the race corrupted itself. The nature which we now possess is the same nature that corrupted itself in Adam. Adam’s sin is placed to our account mediately, therefore, not as something foreign to us, but because it is ours–we and all others having existed as one moral person or one moral whole, in him, and, as the result of that transgression, possessing a nature destitute of love to God, prone to evil, guilty and deserving of the just condemnation of God, and are dead in our trespasses and sins; . . . by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest [EPH 1:1, 3].
The atonement of Christ was vicarious, substitutionary–He bore our sins in His own body [1PE 2:24]. Though He is our Advocate or Lawyer before the Father, He is far more than just a lawyer REPRESENTING us. Our righteousness is something not ours by nature or the filthy rags [ISA 64:6] of our own doing. It is something freely GIVEN in sovereign mercy [EPH 2:1-10].
Shedd, William G. T. Dogmatic Theology, Volumes I and II third edition, 1891 Volume III Supplement, 1894. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Strong, Augustus Hopkins, Systematic Theology, Three volumes in one, 1907. Philadelphia: The Judson Press.