Doctrine of Man (Part 12)

December 01, 2013     Time: 00:41:05

In our lesson we have been talking about the doctrine of sin and particularly the doctrine of the Fall of man. Last week we looked at challenges to the existence of the historical Adam. Of course if there was no historical Adam then there was no historical Fall. So the Fall as a doctrine stands or falls with the historicity of Adam and Eve.

We saw that the historicity of Adam and Eve have a significant challenge today from population genetics. The best argument against the historicity of an original human pair is fairly simple to understand. It is that the genetic diversity that is exhibited by the human population on earth today is so broad that it could not have originated from two original people. The diversity in the population of the earth today is such that it would have required a minimum population of a few thousand or so and therefore, given the genetic diversity that we see today on this planet, it is argued that there could not have been an original human pair from whom the human race descended.

Last time I looked at some challenges to this. It is predicated upon mathematical models that assume that the mutation rate is constant over time and that genetic diversity is not subject to natural selection. We saw, at least in one example on the sub-Antarctic archipelago, that these models yielded false predictions with regard to the sheep population on that island. The amount of genetic diversity exhibited by the present day population of sheep would have seemed to require, given these models, a much larger initial population. But in fact we know that it was only two original sheep that were introduced onto that island in 1957. So it seems that the person who believes in the historical Adam can challenge the assumptions that underlie these mathematical models.

Calling into question these estimates of the size of the ancestral population is not without precedence. For example, back in the 1990s the evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, a very prominent evolutionary biologist, attempted to estimate the ancestral population size based upon present day genetic diversity in a portion of the human genome involving what are called HLA genes. Assuming a constant mutation rate and a lack of natural selection for genetic change, Ayala arrived at an estimate that there must have been at least 32 separate versions of these HLA genes at the time of our last common ancestor with chimpanzees. Before the tree of primate evolution broke into separate branches for chimpanzees and human beings there must have been enough of a population size to carry these 32 separate versions of these HLA genes. Indeed, Ayala estimated that that population size must have been around 4,000 individuals at a minimum. That would obviously be incompatible with the origin of the human race from an ancestral pair.

It turns out, however, that these assumptions that Ayala made were very likely false for HLA genes. Subsequent estimates which have corrected for those assumptions yield a number of different versions of the HLA gene to be, not 32, but only 5. And of those 5, only 3 were ancestral, primary before chimps and human beings diverged on the tree of human evolution.[1]

So the last common ancestor may have carried only three different versions of the HLA gene and that could have been easily transmitted by an original human pair to the present day population with the HLA diversity in the human genome that is exhibited today.

So I’m told that Ayala’s original estimate of human population size based upon HLA genes is now obsolete. This is no longer offered as part of the evidence for the size of the ancestral human population because it has simply been shown to be predicated on false assumptions. Therefore, no one appeals to it today. It is of historical interest only. But that historical interest, I think, is important because what it shows us is that calling into question some of the assumptions underlying these mathematical models is not without precedent. There is precedent for thinking these assumptions may be false and that therefore these estimates of minimum population size may well be incorrect.

So I think that the person who wants to defend the historicity of an ancestral human pair for the human population is rational in doing so. His view is tenable in light of population genetics and therefore the doctrine of the human fall into sin is not ruled out by such studies.


Question: It seems as though when you read the biblical account of Adam and Eve, that God created Adam fully grown as opposed to evolving from some previous primate or animal or being.

Answer: That issue wouldn’t be relevant to the question of the challenge of genetic diversity to the original human pair. Why is that? Well, even if Adam and Eve were special creations by God, unrelated to previous hominid forms like Homo eructus and Homo habilis and so forth, the question would still be: “How could present day genetic diversity arise from that original human pair?” In fact, it occurred to me talking to someone last week after class that this challenge is even worse for the special creationist because the Young Earth Creationist has to say that this genetic diversity has evolved within only about ten to twenty thousand years. Whereas the progressive creationist can say that the creation of human beings took place around 150,000 years ago and therefore that gives some scope for the evolution of genetic diversity. So this challenge is actually worse, I think, for the Young Earther who thinks that Adam and Eve were special creations by God at most 20,000 years ago. He is really going to be hard pressed to explain how this much genetic diversity could be exhibited by present day humans. I don’t think that we need to enter into debates over whether or not Adam and Eve were the result of special creation or guided evolution or whatever. The challenge to the historicity of Adam and Eve from population genetics is really quite independent of their origin.

Question: How critical is this issue to the overall Christian worldview? I know you’ve talked about that web where there are certain critical things in the center and there are other things at the edges. Where does this fit in the whole scheme of things?

Answer: That forms a very nice segue to the next portion of the lesson that I am going to give. But let me highlight what you have said because I do think this is important. I think that our Christian worldview can be thought of as like a web of beliefs. Kind of like a spider’s web. Beliefs that are near the center will be more deeply ingrained than beliefs that are at the periphery of the web. If you pull one of the strands that is out at the periphery of the web, that will cause some minor reverberations in the web but it won’t cause the web to collapse.[2] On the other hand if you pull out some of these central beliefs in your web of beliefs, that is going to send reverberations throughout the rest of the structure and will cause significant revisions and maybe even collapse of the web of beliefs. So what are some of these central doctrines that lie near the core of the Christian web of beliefs? Certainly things like the existence of God would be one of these core beliefs. If you pull that out, Christianity is toast! You can’t have Christianity that is atheistic. I think the deity of Christ would be one such core belief. His resurrection from the dead. Human sinfulness and hence need of redemption. These would be central doctrines that could not be easily given up without really destroying the Christian doctrine. By contrast, doctrines like the rapture of the church, or the tribulation, modes of baptism – infant baptism versus adult believer’s baptism. Even I would say doctrines like predestination would be more at the fringes of the web of beliefs. You could give those up and it would cause you to have to revise your beliefs but they wouldn’t be devastating. Indeed, there are many Christians who don’t hold to those same beliefs that you might with regard to these more peripheral doctrines. So the question is: where does the doctrine of the Fall stand with respect to this web of beliefs? How deeply ingrained in the web of Christian beliefs is this doctrine? Does it lie somewhere near the center or closer to the periphery? I will say something about that in just a moment.

I’ve argued that the traditional doctrine of the Fall is defensible in light of modern population genetics. Still, it is worth asking, I think, what would happen in the worst case scenario that belief in a historical Adam is no longer tenable? If we have got to give up belief in the historical Adam and Eve, how significant would that be for the Christian faith? Clearly, as I said, if you give up belief in the historical Adam then the doctrine of the Fall goes out the window. You couldn’t have a historical Fall if there wasn’t a historical Adam. So the doctrine of the Fall would be lost if the historicity of Adam and Eve were to be abandoned.

That would in no way imply that the historical Fall would be necessary to man’s being sinful and in need of God’s forgiveness. The fact that there wasn’t a historical Fall would not do anything to deny the fact that all people are fallen and sinful and therefore need God’s forgiveness and redemption. You don’t need to have a historical Fall in order to affirm that all people are lost and in need of salvation. So the doctrine of the Fall isn’t essential to the doctrine of the universality of sin and the need of salvation.

On the other hand, it does seem that the doctrine of the historical Fall is essential to the doctrine of original sin. There is no way that all people can be implicated in Adam’s sin if in fact Adam never existed. So the doctrine of original sin, I think, could not survive the abandonment of the historicity of Adam and Eve.

That raises then a further question: can Christianity survive without the doctrine of original sin? We know the answer to that question, and the answer is yes! Because although the doctrine of original sin is part of Catholic and for the most part Protestant doctrine, the Eastern Orthodox churches like Russian, Greek, Syrian, Slavic Orthodox Churches do not in fact hold to the doctrine of original sin.[3]

Now these Orthodox confessions believe in the historicity of Adam. They do accept that Adam and Eve existed but they see Adam merely as the portal through which sin entered into the human race. Through the deception of Adam by Satan, sin entered into the human race and then spreads to all people. But Eastern Orthodoxy does not believe that we are implicated for Adam’s sin or that we are somehow culpable for what Adam did. Neither, by the way, does Judaism believe this. This is not part of traditional orthodox Judaism – that we are implicated in and culpable for Adam’s sin.

So while the abandonment of the doctrine of original sin would have major theological consequences for Catholics and for most Protestants, such a move would not faze Orthodox Christians. Cornelius Plantinga, who is a theologian at Calvin College – obviously, a Reformed institution – has written the following:

Although . . . Christians of various theological orientations differ on central issues in the doctrine of original sin – for example, how a child acquires the fateful disposition to sin, whether this disposition is itself sin, how to describe and assess the accompanying bondage of the will – they agree on the universality, solidarity, stubbornness, and historical momentum of sin.[4]

So that still leaves us with a robust doctrine of sin and human fallenness and universal need of salvation among all mankind.

As I mentioned, Orthodoxy does affirm, along with Catholicism and Protestantism, the historicity of Adam and Eve. Although they don’t have the doctrine of original sin, they do preserve the historical Adam. If you give up on the historical Adam, I think that this would serve to destroy the typology of Adam with Christ. Paul calls Jesus Christ “the second Adam” and he draws a parallel between the two. Adam is a type of Christ; a sort of figure or foreshadowing of Christ who is called the second Adam. Just as through Adam all persons fell into sin, so in Christ redemption is made available for all persons. If there is no historical Adam then this typology of Adam and Christ would be destroyed. There would no longer be any historical parallel between Christ and Adam. That, I think, is very troubling.

Notice this would not mean that if Adam is a mythological figure then Jesus of Nazareth was a mythological figure. That would be ridiculous. Saying that Adam didn’t exist wouldn’t in any way imply that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t exist. On the contrary, in fact, it would be precisely the parallelism between Adam and Jesus that would be destroyed by denying the historical Adam. Now what you would have is a figurative or mythological figure on the one hand and an indisputably historical person on the other hand. So the parallelism between the two would be destroyed if we give up on the historical Adam.[5]

Even proponents of the modern view of the Fall, who see the Fall as simply symbolic of the fallenness of all mankind, admit that Paul the Apostle at least believed that there was a historical Adam. When you read Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15, it is evident that Paul at least thought that Adam was a historical person who was parallel to Jesus of Nazareth. More than that, however, Paul didn’t simply believe that Adam was a historical person, he asserted and taught that he was a historical person. So you can’t say that this was just a kind of incidental belief that Paul held. For example, if Paul thought that the sun goes around the earth, that would be a mistake but it wouldn’t be an error in Pauline theology because Paul didn’t teach this even if that is what he thought as a first century person. But in this case he not only believed that Adam was a historical person but he actually asserts it and he teaches it. Remember we saw in Acts 17 that Paul says, “From one man God made every nation of men that they should inhabit the face of the whole earth.” So to deny the historical Adam would be to say that Paul is in theological error in thinking of Adam as a type of Christ. And that threatens to undo Pauline theology. You pull that thread and the whole fabric, I think, threatens to unravel.

Therefore, it does seem to me that there is a lot at stake here and that therefore we should resist if we can claims that Adam and Eve were purely symbolic or mythological figures and not historical. So, given the defensibility of Adam and Eve in light of contemporary population genetics and estimations of ancestral population size, I am sticking with the historical Adam and Eve on the basis of Paul’s teaching as well as the affirmations in the book of Genesis.


Question: The sin in contrasting the first Adam and second Adam basically is due to the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So that basically means that if we embrace God’s standard of good and evil as Jesus does then the sin will be redeemed. But if we do not hold on to God’s standard of good and evil, we in turn interpret what is good and basically we interpret what is good for me is good so that changes the nature of good and evil in its standard. That becomes sin. It is from God’s standard to man’s standard and man’s standard differs one from another. So I believe in historical Adam but even if it is symbolic the Fall is basically denying God’s standard of good and evil.

Answer: I think that is right and I think for that reason you don’t need the historical Fall in order to preserve the doctrine that all people are sinful, they have distorted and warped God’s standard of righteousness, they have pursued finite goods like their own goods instead of God himself, the ultimate good, and that is I think the essence of sin. It is to no longer seek God as the ultimate good but to seek lesser goods in the place of God. So that doctrine I don’t think is threatened by denying the historicity of Adam. I think you are right about that. I think that was Plantinga’s point as well.

Question: I was going to say in regards to original sin we may not have inherited that specific sin, saying we would do the same thing in the same place, but what we inherit is the effects of the original sin. We don’t have the personal one-on-one with God, and so we have a predisposition where we are born into a sinful world with that predisposition and we become accountable we will become sinners in our own right by our own nature and choice.[6]

Answer: All right. You are offering here a reinterpretation if you will of the doctrine of original sin that is one that I know some people hold today. What he is saying is that it is not that you are culpable for Adam’s sin - you can only be guilty and culpable for your own sins, not for somebody else’s. But he is saying there is a kind of corruption that is introduced through Adam’s Fall into the human race so that we are all born with this inward disposition to sin; we are warped and selfish and therefore no longer naturally pursue God’s goodness. That would be closer to the Eastern Orthodox view of sin where we don’t inherit the culpability and guilt of Adam but simply this corruption. We will talk about that when we get to the doctrine of original sin. This is a multi-faceted doctrine. So what you have hit on here is just one facet of the doctrine and I suppose the question would be could you give up some of these other facets and retain that part of it?

Question: It is not just the Eastern Orthodox Church that denies the Western view of original sin but also there is Anabaptist traditions as well. If you read Kirk MacGregor’s A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology he goes through these doctrines of original sin.

Answer: When was this written?

Followup: I don’t know. It was fairly recently.

Answer: I see, OK. But historically, have Anabaptists? I am not familiar with Anabaptist doctrine.

Followup: He believes so. I haven’t read enough Anabaptists to say for sure. But it looks like, yeah, Anabaptists generally, historically have denied the sin nature in humanity.

Answer: I see. The Protestant evangelical that I am most familiar with who denied the doctrine of original sin is Finney, the 19th century theologian who is something of a maverick for having denied the doctrine of original sin as a Protestant and evangelical. But that would be interesting if there are parallels in Anabaptist tradition as well.

Followup: If you want to read more about the Eastern Orthodox, probably the best author is John S. Romanides. He wrote an article, “Original Sin according to St. Paul”[7] where he goes through Romans 5:12 saying, as a native Greek speaker, the best interpretation of Romans 5:12 is through Adam sin came into the world and through sin death and so death spread to all men because of which all sin. Because of death, all sin. Not the other way around. That was Romanides and it’s a traditional Eastern Orthodox view.

Answer: OK.

Question: A couple things. I was taught that the original Fall was the angelic fall first. Another point is that humanity could be in a state . . . the fallen angels upon the earth at that time. But God could create Adam in southern Mesopotamia, create him as an adult, and have him walk with him like Enoch and give him this charge to rule over the world. Then Adam could fall and there would be a new awareness of death. When man chose to decide for himself what was right and wrong and be his own god. He would immediately have to darken his mind because of the condemnation. He’d be . . . death wouldn’t enter him as far as he would be running from God. He would be all . . . all the attributes God had given him to rule the world he would be using to hide from God to preserve his life. Because we are all made of one blood, one flesh, it would be imparted to all people, a new hiding, a new death, throughout the world. Even though there was physical death before, this would be a spiritual death. It would be impossible to come back to God if we didn’t have the sins lifted off.

Answer: Yeah, that is closer to the traditional doctrine of original sin. Remember when we talked about the Fall and its consequences on the original view: falling from the state of integrity and innocence into the state of corruption and separation from God and the major and minor perfections that were lost. The emphasis on the angelic fall that you rightly point to is a characteristic emphasis, again, of Orthodoxy - of Eastern Orthodoxy. They want to say that the origin of sin is through the satanic fall and then it enters into the human race through Adam as the doorway, so to speak.[8] But the real origin goes back further to this angelic fall. But there is no suggestion anywhere in Scripture that human beings are implicated in the angelic fall. We are not held guilty or corrupted by the angelic fall; it is through Adam that sin enters into the human race. So when we are talking about the doctrine of the Fall that is why we focus on Adam’s sin rather than this prior angelic fall.

Followup: What I was trying to point out is it could have been created. There is a lot of Samaritan texts that support Adam being created. They talk about it. That he lived 900 and something years when most people died early. There is a good book, Historical Genesis, and it supports everything in the Bible I think, because the guy is a devout Christian who wrote it from my understanding. Another thing - the first Scripture we quoted in Philippians about Christ came to redeem - every knee is going to bow in heaven, on earth, and listen to this, under the earth. So he is going to get to fallen things to, all right?

Answer: Yeah, all right. This is a doctrine . . .

Followup: Wait, listen, listen. Here is how it applies to Adam. Adam was created – humanity existed – and he was to form the family that Christ was going to come from and the creation of Adam and the laws were to preserve the Adamic but then when it’s extended to the Christians, we were not part of that. Christ’s grace is to cure our problem which is our separation from God. He’s lifted off the guilt and now you have access of his spirit again. That is, as Colossians says, in whom we have the redemption and then it says what it is, the lifting off of our sin.

Answer: All right. Let me just respond to this notion that through Christ everything is going to be restored. This is the doctrine that Origen taught called Apocatastasis. He was a Greek church father who believed that the redemption wrought in Christ was so powerful and so universal that not only all human beings would be redeemed but that Satan himself and his demons would be redeemed. Everything would be restored ultimately through Christ. So, this denies the doctrine of hell, it holds to universalism, not simply with respect to human beings but even with regard to Satan and demons. I think it is very, very difficult to square with orthodoxy. By that I mean orthodoxy with a small “o” – with biblical teaching. Origen was condemned for his views on this. So this is not a doctrine that I think we should embrace. Now, I see you waving your hands, but I do want to move on to someone else.

Question: I don’t know if I can agree with what you said about the doctrine of original sin is not essential. I believe it is. Here’s why. Why would Christ have needed to die? There would be no need for him to die on the cross. He could have just come and could have, through his act of obedience, could have imputed righteousness to us. There would have been no need for the removal of the sin.

Answer: Well, now, I appreciate pushback on this because I think those of us who are Catholic or traditional Protestants should push back and say “Wait a minute! We are not going to easily give up this important doctrine.” But, having said that, if you think that Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering to God is necessary to pay the penalty for sin, why can’t it be the penalty for each person’s own sin that drives Christ to the cross and requires atonement? Why does it have to be original sin that I am guilty of and need redemption from? That is just not clear to me.

Followup: OK, because God had decided before he ever created that Christ was going to come to the earth and redeem mankind from sin. I don’t believe in a plan-B. I don’t believe he said, “Oh I made man and I have to come in and here’s sin so I have got to take care of it. So, OK, Christ you are going to have to do this.” I believe that that was decided before anything was ever created.

Answer: Yes, right. It says “from before the foundation of the world, he was slain” in the sense that this was in the foreordination and plan of God to deal with sin.[9] But I guess my question would be: doesn’t all sin require some sort of sacrificial offering to appease the wrath and justice of God? If that is true, then given the universality of sin and the stubbornness of sin that we are all fallen, isn’t that sufficient to require the cross? It is not clear to me that the need of the cross would be obviated if you give up the idea that I am implicated in Adam’s sin rather than for my own sins. So that would be my response, but I agree with you this is not a doctrine that we should easily abandon. When we get to the doctrine of original sin we will flesh this out some more. We will talk about it some more. But here we are just talking about the importance of the historical Fall for Christian theology.

Question: My question would be do we still have a sinful nature? When we are born, are we born with a sinful nature? If there wasn’t one specific instance, one specific time when sin entered, then were we designed by God to have a sinful nature?

Answer: This is really an excellent question. You heard an earlier questioner’s emphasis where he wanted to say we do have this corrupted, sinful nature even if we are not culpable for Adam’s sin. Remember I said you could hold that there is still a kind of corruption and disposition to sin that comes into humanity without saying you are culpable for what Adam did – that you have got to pay the penalty for what he did. But nevertheless I think that you are raising a good point. In what sense could we say that our very nature as human beings is corrupted and fallen just because there is sin prevalent among human beings? It would seem on this view that human nature would not be fallen in that way; rather, it would simply be that as every individual grows up to adolescence and adulthood in a culture that is permeated by sin that he will naturally fall into sin himself. Rather than having this in his nature, it would be something that is more external to him and which corrupts him by growing up in a fallen society and culture. That might make us feel uncomfortable. Maybe that is giving up too much of the doctrine of original sin to say merely that.

Followup: Would it then follow that, while we as Christians who have accepted Christ still feel the temptation to sin and still feel that disposition to sin, when we are born we are born without sin?

Answer: Right, that would follow. When a little baby is born, he is born without sin, he is innocent.

Followup: And we are not fallen until that first moment that we choose to sin?

Answer: Right, that would seem to be the consequence of this view. Children would be innocent. Now that in one sense might be helpful because it could explain then the salvation of infants who die. They don’t bear Adam’s guilt and so you don’t need to baptize them. If they die in infancy, they go to heaven because they are not sinners. But on the other hand, here’s the troubling implication I think that that view has. That would mean that it is theoretically possible that somebody could grow up and never sin and therefore never have any need for redemption by Christ if he lives a sinless life. That would seem to be possible on this view because he doesn’t carry this fallen nature. So given that sin isn’t necessary (it is always a free act, sin isn’t compulsory) it would seem to imply that a person could avoid the need of redemption by Christ and just go to heaven through his own merits. And that seems terribly wrong.

Followup: There are some verses that I can’t bring to mind but I seem to remember verses in the New Testament where it talks about our sin nature and our fallen sin nature and how we are helpless to the sin nature.

Answer: Yes, that is certainly right. Paul talks about the old man, the natural man, the unregenerate man.[10] So you are absolutely right. Those would need to be taken into account in trying to craft our doctrine of sin and particularly original sin. Those are all very good points. But I think you can see that this exercise in exploring what is the worst case scenario - what happens if this doctrine of the historical Adam is abandoned? That is at least worth thinking about because then we will have a clear idea of the consequences of the denial of this doctrine and hence of the importance of this doctrine. So that is why we have engaged in this little exercise.

Next time we will turn to the question of the nature of sin. Wherein does sin consist? What is sin? What is it to sin? Those will be the questions we will explore next time.[11]


[1] 5:15

[2] 10:11

[3] 15:19

[4] Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 33.

[5] 20:05

[6] 25:10

[7] John S. Romanides, “Original Sin according to St. Paul,” St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. IV, Nos. 1 and 2, 1955-6.

[8] 30:05

[9] 35:03

[10] 39:55

[11] Total Running Time: 41:04 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)