Sinfulness Is Not Inherited
By Alfred Overstreet:
Many Christians mistakenly believe that the doctrine of original sin has always existed. It has not always existed. The doctrine did not exist, even in its elementary stages, until about the third century A.D. And it did not become a generally accepted doctrine until the fifth century A.D., after it was made a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, through the influence of Augustine.
Charles G. Finney makes the following comment upon the origin of this doctrine:
"It is a relic of heathen philosophy, and was foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine, as every one may know who will take the trouble to examine for himself."
This doctrine, that was "foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine," now boldly parades about, wearing a mask of decency and respectability, fashioned of Biblical proof-texts. It is these proof-texts, which have served to mask the falseness of this doctrine, that we will now examine:
I. "Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."
We have already examined this text in chapter one and have seen that it is a figurative expression and does not teach that men are born sinners. The very idea that men can be born sinners is absurd. It is both a physical and a moral impossibility to be born a sinner. It is a moral impossibility because men cannot justly be sinners by birth. That men can be sinners and guilty and condemned at birth is morally unthinkable. It is a physical impossibility to be born a sinner because of the nature of sin. Sin is not a substance. It has no physical properties and cannot possibly be passed on physically from one person to another. What is sin? The Bible says, "Sin is the transgression of the law." I John 3:4. So, according to the Bible, sin is an act or a choice that transgresses the law of God. It cannot, therefore, be a substance because choice and substance are contradictories. Is a wicked act a substance? Is disobedience, transgressions, lawbreaking, or unrighteousness a substance? Is guilt a substance? No, they are all moral concepts or moral qualities. And it is impossible for them to be transmitted physically. When we speak of sin, we are describing the character of an act. The word sin describes the character of an act as being wicked or wrong.
Sin is no more a substance than friendliness, goodness, or virtue are substances. If sin is a substance that can be transmitted physically, then virtue also must be a substance that can be transmitted physically. And what would be the result if all this were true? Why, sinners would beget sinners, and saints, of course, would beget saints! Sin is not a substance, and we all know that sin is not a substance. Yet learned theologians still maintain the impossible dogma that sin, like some malignant disease, has been passed on physically from Adam to all his descendants. How ridiculous it is to make sin a physical virus, instead of a voluntary and responsible choice. How foolish to speak of men being born sinners! Only in some fantastic science fiction novel might moral character be spoken of as being passed on physically in the bloodstream of man. Moral character, whether holiness or sinfulness, cannot be passed on physically. It is gross superstition to believe that it can be.
Then what did David mean by the expression, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me"?
I answer, he used this figure of himself conceived and formed in his mother's womb as the embodiment of iniquity and sin to express, in strong symbolic language, his present sinful and guilty condition before God. This is David's penitential Psalm. He is deeply humbled and repentant for the sins he has committed, and he uses this strong language to confess his wickedness and guilt. But if David wanted God to understand his language to mean that he was a sinner by birth, the whole spirit of the Psalm is contradicted and changed. It is no longer a Psalm of penitence for sin, but it is turned into a Psalm of excuse for sin. For what better excuse could David make for his sins than the excuse that he was born a sinner? But these are not the words of a man making excuses for his sins; these are the words of a man humbled and deeply repentant for having sinned against God.
To interpret this text literally violates two fundamental rules of sound Biblical interpretation. The first one is the rule that a text must not be interpreted in such a way as to contradict the clear teachings of the Bible in other parts. The Bible is the word of God. It is without error or contradiction, and so it is only reasonable that each part should maintain a unity, harmony, and agreement with every other part. God is not the God of confusion and contradiction. There is unity and agreement throughout his Word. But we have already pointed out that a literal interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is completely inconsistent with its context, because it amounts to David making an excuse for his sins in a Psalm which is manifestly a confession of guilt for his sins. The whole character and spirit of the Psalm is contradicted and changed by giving verse five a literal meaning.
A literal interpretation is also inconsistent with the figurative and symbolic language used throughout this Psalm. To arbitrarily give a literal meaning to this one verse, without giving a literal meaning to the other symbolic expressions in this Psalm shows an inconsistency in interpretation that can only be explained by a prepossessed belief in the doctrine of original sin. A literal interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is also inconsistent with numerous passages and teachings throughout the Bible. It makes God the Creator of sinners. For the Bible clearly teaches that God is our Creator, that he forms us in our mother's womb, and that he gives us life, breath, and all things. It directly contradicts the Scriptures that teach that God has created us upright and in his own image. And it makes Jesus a sinner, for the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus took upon himself human nature and became a man. Heb. 2:11, 14, 16-18; Heb. 4:15.
The second rule that it breaks is the rule that a text must not be interpreted in such a way as to contradict reality. We should forever remember that the Bible does not teach nonsense. It does not teach that God breaks our bones when we sin (Psalm 51:8). It does not teach that broken bones rejoice (Psalm 51:8). It does not teach that our sins are purged with hyssop (Psalm 51:7). It does not teach that babies speak and tell lies as soon as they are born (Psalm 58:3). It does not teach that men go back into their mother's womb (Job 1:21). And it does not teach that the substance of unborn babies is sinful (Psalm 51:5). These are all figurative expressions, and to interpret them in their literal sense is to teach nonsense and what every man knows to be impossible and contrary to reality.