There was no fall (almost)

An example of laws unrelated to morality is what side of the street to drive on. Such laws are a matter of convention only. There is no good reason why one side rather than the other only that everyone follows the same rule.

Huh??? How we behave towards other human beings is God’s biggest concern. He made it clear that the way we treat a stranger is how God views us as treating Him. In Isaiha chapter 1, God says that He is downright sick of all our religious gatherings and rituals and would really prefer that we simply “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” And in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

That is a legalistic understanding of religion. Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5 shows that is not about keeping the letter of any law but about our heart and attitude toward other people. He sums it up in Matthew 22 to tell us that all the law and prophets are really about love.

What God has always sought was that the “law of God” would be written on our hearts. It was never about obedience but about how we value ourselves as reflected in other people. It was about creating heaven rather than hell in our relationships with others.

Read the Pete Enns’ article. Romans is my favorite book of the Bible, by the way – so commentaries are likely to spark my interest. And here is my comment on the three points He makes in the article.

  1. Yes. I agree on this point completely. Death/condemnation spread to all because sin spread to all.
  2. No. I think Pete Enns goes too far. In Romans Paul talks about both: what constitutes the people of God AND salvation. Yes Paul is particularly concerned about the works of the law but he also speaks about works in more generality also. So it is just wrong to oversimply the whole epistle in this way and one would do better to examine when Paul is speaking of works of the law and when he is speaking of works more generally. For example, in Romans 2:6, when Paul says, “For he (God) will render to every man according to his works,” Paul is not speaking of works of the law.
  3. Maybe I am simply not finding Peter Enns being clear enough on this one. Making this about salvation being corporate rather than individual simply isn’t supportable. Paul speaks of the election of particular individuals. The dubious conclusion of Augustine, however, is to equate election with salvation of that individual. Rather the context points more to Paul speaking of election of individuals to play their part in God’s providence of salvation so you could say it is collective in that sense. And maybe that is what Pete Enns intended.

Good comments; thanks. Enns goes into this in more depth in his books (Evolution of Adam and Inspiration and Incarnation, as does Scot McKnight in Adam and the Genome.) He goes through some of the 2nd Temple extra-biblical literature (including Sirach, Wisdom) to see whether the Jews considered Adam a representative of the human race, or a cause of the fall. In most cases, they didn’t (exception: physical death was considered that way, as I recall).

This ties into the “New View on Paul,” (see McKnight:)

where people recognized that we (particularly, perhaps, Calvin) misunderstood Paul to be saying that the Jews relied on works for salvation. They didn’t; they were the outward signs of a covenant, which was also based on grace.

I may be missing your point–sorry if so. There is better reasoning in Enns’ books. Thanks.
I also thought that it seemed too simplistic on the post, but I thought that the other sources clarified it.

Ok… I watched this but… I am having a little hard time seeing how a new perspective on Judaism (which btw I have no problem with), has much of an impact on understanding Romans because Paul’s dispute is not with the Jews but with a sector of Christians called “the circumcisers” unless the point is that Paul is drawing upon the teachings He already had from Judaism to oppose them. That would indeed be an interesting new perspective because it shoots down the idea that Paul was teaching something so radically different from the religious mainstream.

PS: None of this is surprising to me because my professor in seminary for my OT class, a jewsh rabbi, told us that vast majority of what Jesus taught was right in line with the teachings of the Pharisees (also known as rabbinical Judaism). There were differences but not what many might think. The biggest difference was the idea that being a rabbi (teacher) and holy man did not call for separating oneself from Gentiles and sinners. In fact you can say this is Jesus’ principle indictment of hypocrisy on the Pharisees is that they would teach all the same things Jesus did about helping strangers and those in need while in practice they set themselves apart and would have nothing to do with such people as part of their dedication to purity and holiness.

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Hm! Thank you for that excellent perspective! Good to chew on.

Quite right.
Love will be introduced later in history by Jesus-Christ.

Dear Michel,
You have highlighted a major problem in the misunderstanding of God’s creation which started in John 1:1, not Genesis 1:1.

Little is written in the Bible about the creation of God’s spiritual world, nor about the time that Jesus and God lived in harmony with His spiritual creation. Then came the fall from Heaven and the creation of the plan of restoration for those separated from God (Genesis 1).

God sent the King of Heaven down to become a mortal man to show us the way home and to conquer Death, after the first attempt to reform the fallen failed in the Garden. (Genesis 3:24)

I must say that in my opinion (full disclosure, I’m a Calvinist) Peter Enns’s post is bad. Very bad. The concept of the Fall is not tied to a single passage (Rom. 5:12). Also, he argues a second strawman:

This bad reading of Romans 5:12, rooted in a bad Latin translation of the Greek, has led to the notion that all humans are culpable (guilty) with Adam for what Adam did —all humanity sinned in him.

It is true that this incorrect notion is widespread, and that it impugns the character of God, but it is not the Augustinian view. (Hence the strawman.) Adam’s sin is his alone and is not in our debit column.

The Fall is in fact much worse. It is that Adam corrupted his own moral DNA, and we, as his decedents, inherit those bad genes. We don’t have to have Adam’s sin charged against us to necessitate a savior, we sin from the moment of conception in that we are in moral rebellion from conception. We lost the moral ability to please God. (I did give you the trigger warning that I’m a Calvinist.)

Mind you I am not saying that I am right and Enns is wrong is his theological positions. I am saying, as an Augustinian, that he misrepresented our views.


David, this is news to me, so I’d like to hear more. Obviously Augustinians may hold a differently nuanced view than Augustine himself, but my understanding is that he did not limit Adam’s effect on us to inheritance. Instead, we participated with Adam because we were in Adam in seed form. Yes, we inherit a corrupted sin nature from Adam, but we also participated in the sin that spawned this nature.

In City of God, he writes, “we all existed in that one man, since, taken together, we were the one man who fell into sin.” Even though “the specific form by which each of us was to live was not yet created and assigned, our nature was already present in the seed from which we were to spring” (13.14).

Similarly, in On Marriage and Concupiscence he states, “By the evil will of that one man all sinned in him, since all were that one man, from whom, therefore, they individually derived original sin” (2.15). And in A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants (MFS) he makes the connection repeatedly. “Adam is the only one in whom all have sinned” (1.19); “none whatever […] die except in Adam, in whom all sinned” (1.55).

In A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, he writes that there are two viable options on how to read the last clause of Romans 5:12, but both reveal the same truth: “Let them, then, choose which they will,—for either in that ‘man’ all have sinned, and it is so said because when he sinned all were in him; or in that ‘sin’ all have sinned, because that was the doing of all in general which all those who were born would have to derive” (4.7). He says much the same thing two more times in the rest of the chapter, and also explains these two readings in MFS 1.11. Adam’s sin, according to Augustine, was the doing of all (and incidentally, he did lean heavily on Romans 5:12 to make his case, even if the surrounding verses and a few other passages were sometimes also mentioned).

And how, exactly, did Augustine picture us existing in that one man? The closest he gets to explaining his reasoning comes from his last work, the Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian (I’m quoting the 1999 Teske translation, though second-hand):

Some sort of invisible and intangible power is located in the secrets of nature where the natural laws of propagation are concealed, and on account of this power as many as were going to be able to be begotten from that one man by the succession of generations are certainly not untruthfully said to have been in the loins of the father. They were there […] though unknowingly and unwillingly, because they did not yet exist as persons who could have known and willed this (6.22)

We were all present in Adam in seed form, we participated in the sin with Adam, and the sin corrupted our seed form so that, together with Augustine’s view of concupiscence in sexual union (which I won’t get into now), we are conceived in sin. It isn’t just the sexual act that makes us conceived in sin, but this act confirms the sin we already participated in and bear the stain of.

Anyway, that’s how I’ve understood Augustine. I am quite interested in how he can be read as teaching that “Adam’s sin is his alone and is not in our debit column.”


Hi Marshall,

I believe it is fair to say that we are discussing two views on what one means by claiming an Augustinian view of Original Sin. One view is this:

V1: That Adam was our representative, and furthermore given that he was chosen by God we can assume he was the best possible representative. When he sinned he lost the moral ability to choose not to sin. Put differently, he lost the ability to please God. This moral inability was then inherited by all his descendants. In other words, we suffer devastating consequences (and in fact, spiritual death) as a result of Adam’s sin.

The other view is:

V2: Everything in V1, plus we are charged with Adam’s first sin, as if we committed it.

If I have set up a strawman it was unintentional. Feel free to correct me.

Now practically speaking the difference between V1 and V2 is completely irrelevant. In both views we cannot save ourselves and we need a savior. However, theologically speaking they say very different things about God. But we are not examining the theological aspects, just the limited question of what did Augustine teach.

I (and others) would argue that everything you quoted from Augustine, about being in Adam in seed form and the like, is perfectly consistent with V1 as well as V2. It does not require that we are charged with Adam’s actual first sin. In V1 and V2 we are saying that we inherit something awful from Adam (in V2, epsilon more), and Augustine, in the language of his day, is explaining what that is so. His defense of the representative nature of Adam and our inheritance of a sin nature does not demand what Enns claims.

The great reformed confessions, written by men who certainly considered themselves Augustinian, are explicit only about V1. If they meant V2, they left it for our inference. The 1530 Augsburg Confession, for example, writes:

It is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God” (II:2).

The Heidelberg catechism states:

III.7. Whence then comes this depraved nature of man?
From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, whereby our nature became so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

The closest that arguably comes to affirming V2 is the Westminster

They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was
imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed
to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation

Even there one could legitimately hold that that while the divines are arguing for imputation, they are explicitly stating the consequences or effect of the imputation (V1) without claiming that the actual sin is in our debit column.

This is interesting. Your quotes show how the Reformed tradition has developed the Augustinian doctrine, but I’m not seeing a different way of understanding Augustine’s own words. In particular, neither of the two views on original sin seem to do justice to his teaching.

Against V1, Augustine views us as present in Adam in some real way, not merely represented by Adam. Adam doesn’t sin as proxy for us all; we all sin in Adam.

Against V2, Augustine doesn’t see us charged with Adam’s sin as if we committed it. In some unexplained way we actually commit the sin in Adam. We’re not linked with Adam because of a social contract or legal fiction: for Augustine the link is ontological (the shift from actual to legal is often laid at Calvin’s feet). The quotes in my last post show both of these points, and many more examples from Augustine’s writing could be added.

One of Augustine’s favourite ways of explaining how we can justly be held guilty for something we did in Adam apart from our will and mind is by analogy to baptism for infants. In a mirror image, a child is “delivered from the bondage of the devil through the grace of Christ” without any act of their own will or mind (A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin 2.45). This analogy depends on how Augustine saw every person (except Jesus, born of a virgin and thus not from corrupt male seed) as guilty of the sin in Adam.

I thought that Calvin was the one who moderated Augustine’s view my watering down a real presence in Adam to Adam being our legal representative. That may still be the case, but in his Institutes Calvin also says things like this (emphases mine):

First, we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. And this is not liability for another’s transgression. For, since it is said that we became subject to God’s judgment through Adam’s sin, we are to understand it not as if we, guiltless and undeserving, bore the guilt of his offense but in the sense that, since we through his transgression have become entangled in the curse, he is said to have made us guilty. Yet not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment. For this reason, Augustine, though he often calls sin “another’s” to show more clearly that it is distributed among us through propagation, nevertheless declares at the same time that it is peculiar to each. And the apostle himself most eloquently testifies that “death has spread to all because all have sinned” [Rom. 5:12]. That is, they have been enveloped in original sin and defiled by its stains. For that reason, even infants themselves, while they carry their condemnation along with them from the mother’s womb, are guilty not of another’s fault but of their own. For, even though the fruits of their iniquity have not yet come forth, they have the seed enclosed within them. Indeed, their whole nature is a seed of sin; hence it can be only hateful and abhorrent to God. From this it follows that it is rightly considered sin in God’s sight, for without guilt there would be no accusation. (2.1.8)

So I’m struggling to see how the words of Augustine, and even sometimes Calvin, can be read to say that guilt for Adam’s sin comes to Adam alone.

I’m not claiming that the Reformed tradition is wrong to understand original sin this way. I just don’t see evidence they are following Augustine when they do so.


Calvin is completely consistent (as I read him) with what I said. The parts you bolded make the point. Calvin clearly states that that we are not liable for Adam’s transgression. You can’t get more explicit than

we are to understand it not as if we, guiltless and undeserving, bore the guilt of his offense but in the sense that, since we through his transgression have become entangled in the curse, he is said to have made us guilty.

Calvin is saying (clearly I think) that the sense in which we are guilty in Adam’s sin is via the consequence of Adam’s sin (the curse).

You wrote,

So I’m struggling to see how the words of Augustine, and even sometimes Calvin, can be read to say that guilt for Adam’s sin comes to Adam alone.

Fair enough, but not really the point of my interjection into this thread. In my original post I objected to Peter Enns’s statement that Augustine’s exegetical error has led to the misunderstanding that we are guilty of Adam’s sin (only his first one, for some reason) as if we committed it. I only tried to point out that I believe Enns is wrong, at least in the sense that he give no indication there were alternative views among those who claim to be Augustinian in regards to Original Sin. I have tried to show that there are alternative views among serious scholars (like Calvin, and many others) who do not read Augustine (or Paul) as making such a claim. You can argue that you can’t see how they can read Augustine that way, but that’s a separate question.

Yes, I did lose sight of the specific issue when I got to Calvin. I saw that he acknowledged guilt due to Adam, but as you point out, this doesn’t distinguish the two positions. It’s not, according to Calvin, that we are guilty for Adam’s sin, but that we are created guilty because of Adam’s sin. So from conception each person is “guilty not of another’s fault but of their own” because they were created as rebels due to how Adam corrupted human nature.

Augustine wasn’t content with that option since he thought it made God too directly responsible for sin. Either God is creating rebel souls, or if the corruption is located in the body instead of the soul, God is ensuring the corruption of good souls by placing them in rebel bodies (see his The Nature and Origin of the Soul 1.34 and 1.6, among many other relevant chapters). For Augustine it was necessary to show each human’s culpability for the condition they were born into, and he did so by claiming we were all present in Adam and sinned in Adam.

Certainly there are alternative views, including among those within the Augustinian camp on original sin. Many Augustinians don’t follow him on the need for infant baptism. Most recognize that modern biology makes it untenable to view males as containing all their progeny in their loins. Many take a different position on how God creates each human soul. To be Augustinian does not need to mean sharing all of Augustine’s views.

But I haven’t seen evidence here that serious scholars read Augustine as holding these alternatives. Calvin was not writing to exegete Augustine: he was giving his understanding of Christian doctrine. He quoted or referenced Augustine and other church luminaries to support many points, but felt no need to itemize where he disagreed with each one. The Reformed confessions, likewise, are attempting to distil Christian teaching, not Augustine’s thought.

When Reformed theologians do trace the history of original sin, I’m often impressed by their care to get Augustine right rather than read their own views into him. For instance, Louis Berkhof notes that Augustine shared the “realistic conception of Tertullian” in which the whole human race is really in Adam so that all “sinned when he sinned and became corrupt when he became corrupt.”[1] But original sin “is not merely corruption, but also guilt.”[2] He also notes that Augustine sometimes comes close to the idea of Adam as representative, that his idea of “imputation” was not fully developed, and that he emphasized how the sexual act propagates Adam’s sin. He gives a good taste of the complexity of Augustine’s view without watering it down to a few ingredients that fit in his own system.

I am still interested in seeing how some read Augustine differently. If you have sources for your V1 and V2 positions that show how they are present in Reformed scholarship, I’d be grateful.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 237.

[2] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 244–45.

I follow theologians more than scholars-- and I do not who rises to your standard of “serious scholar.” If my V1 is not clearly equivalent to the position of Calvin, or the confessions/catechisms (for a couple more see The Belgic, article XV, and John Knox’s) then it is because of my lack of clarity. I will rest on the circumstantial evidence that many/most/all who authored these positions would claim to be Augustinian in their view of Original sin.

I think we have reached diminishing returns, thanks for the discussion.

Oh, I certainly agree that Calvin is within the “serious scholars”: I was borrowing that phrase from you, actually. I think we were just focused on different things. I was focused on getting Augustine right, and you were focused on getting the Reformed tradition right.

Hopefully, if nothing else, it’s now clear that the two overlap significantly but are not the same.

I appreciate the time you put into the conversation.

People take the Hebrew word for “good” (which actually does not denote “goodness” in a moral sense) and conflate it with a Platonic conception of perfection. I don’t believe that’s in the original text or meaning of the text.

I think it’s also helpful to distinguish between sin as “transgression” (i.e., specifically of Torah or even a command or law) and sin as “less than perfect” (i.e., hamartia, missing the target). When we ask “when did sin enter the world,” which do we mean?

I also think the Augustinian view of “the Fall” is deleteriously challenged by Genesis 4:6.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’” (NIV)

Sin crouches at the door and “desires to have [or master] Cain.” But this is “post-Fall.” A strong view of depravity would say that Cain should already be “mastered by sin” and that he is incapable of ruling over it. Surely God is not being disingenuous here…

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Yes. This is also a good counter to the Articles of Remonstrance nonsense claiming that doing good only counts if you are a Christian.

Quite right.
The human life is too HUGE to be left to humans.
To live a human life you had better be God; that is what Jesus-Christ did.

Obviously you don’t read the news. Humans are not flawed??? Sheesh, murder, theft, battery, abuse, rape, war (123 million dead in 20th century), oppression, racism in ALL groups not just one, hatred, jealousy that someone got the promotion and we didn’t, envy that someone else makes more than us, resentment at the result of our own choices, lust when looking at a pretty girl or gorgeous guy walking down the street when we should we thinking of our spouse instead, cheating on marital vows, lying both to ourselves and others,kidnapping, slavery(even exists today), embezzlement, sex trafficking, getting rich off other people’s addictions to drugs and not caring about them, etc etc etc.

Yeah we are a pretty wonderful species. Not flawed in ANY way at all.

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