More on Original Sin
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 9:13am
This is a follow-up discussion growing out of my earlier note on “Original Sin and the Incarnation.” My friend Tom Lawson makes some interesting observations, and I give a response. (OS=original sin)
TOM LAWSON: In discussing OS, I come back to the old debate if post-fall humanity was born with a nature damaged in any degree that resulted in a tendency toward sin and whether this was universally reversed at the atonement? Pelagius, if accurately represented in the extant (and biased) material would seem to suggest a nature born with the same neutrality in regard to sin as Adam. If OS, as maintained by Augustinian-Calvinists, is not valid, then does this conclude the only universal impact of the Fall post-atonement is the presence of death? Jesus, although severely tempted, could have resisted such a nature and thus both shared our weakness and yet sin. Is the ongoing evident sinfulness of humanity then produced only by exposure to the corruption of the world into which we are born? Or, can some degree of inherent damage in our nature resulting from the fall, a leaning toward sin that can nonetheless be resisted, be maintained even post atonement?
JACK COTTRELL: Tom, I believe it is a mistake to think that what Jesus accomplished via the atonement (whether re OS or personal sin) took effect only from that moment on. Though the atonement occurred at a specific point in history (c. A.D. 30), its benefits were being APPLIED by God all through OT history (and righteously so, as Rom. 3:25b explains). With regard to OS, I believe Rom. 5 shows that the effects of Adam’s sin were indeed reversed BY (not AT) the atonement, beginning with Adam’s children. I take v. 19 to mean that the sin-nature that WOULD have resulted from Adam’s sin is precluded by the proleptic application of the atonement. Adam and Eve themselves continued to be fallen by their own choices and continued to sin, thus creating an ongoing atmosphere of corruption into which all children are born and the pressures of which none actually resist. Thus the universal impact of the Fall (post-Fall, not post-atonement) is not just the presence of death but the presence of SIN itself.
ONE ISSUE I have not explored, but one very relevant here, has to do with the effects of original sin on our bodies, and the extent to which the atonement was applied for the cancellation of these effects even from the beginning. In writing my commentary on Rom. 6-8, I concluded that sin affects not just the souls of sinners but their bodies as well–and not just in physical ways. Our bodies are corrupted not just physically (e.g., disease & death) but SPIRITUALLY also. See Rom. 6:6, 12-14; 7:17-24. Is this spiritual corruption of the BODY the result of personal sins only, or of Adam’s sin as well? We know that the effects of the atonement re bodily death will not be applied until the day of resurrection. SO: is it possible that this SPIRITUAL corruption that dwells in the body is a vestige of original sin that was NOT erased for all by the proleptic application of the atonement? I.e., can we say that the atonement cancels all effects of OS re the SOUL, but not re the BODY? (In Rom. 6 Paul specifically teaches that conversion applies to the inner self or soul and not to the body; by analogy, could the “conversion” effects of the atonement regarding OS have applied only to the soul and not [immediately] to the body?)