Dr. Michael Heiser and Romans 5:12

Dr. Heiser is a well-known and respected theologian who is orthodox but not conventional in his theology. In his multi-part series on Romans 5:12 he defends the position that humanity does not inherit sin or guilt from Adam, only that his failing produced the conditions which put humanity under sin due to our own choices. These ideas are very consistent with the views of Romans 5:12 from Early Genesis, the Revealed Cosmology so I was heartened to read this series.

Links for the whole series are laid out here.

Part 1 Romans 5:12 is one of the most abused passages in the Bible

Part 2 What it says and what it doesn’t say

Adam’s Sin and Old Testament Theology (If we inherit guilt for Adam’s sin, why doesn’t the OT mention it?)

Part 4 Refuting Common Arguments

Follow up

I left a note on his blog asking if he would come by here and check in on the dialog.

I should add Dr. Turner @deuteroKJ first put me onto this.


How is this position distinguished from Walton and Longman? Or is it the same?

@jongarvey is our Walton expert, yes?

Links aren’t really working, but the OT does appear to mention it. We even see it in the Genesis story itself. The OT has includes concepts of ancestral sin.

I don’t know where either have addressed it extensively. But they both have given a nod to “the Eastern view” as an option (though part of this “Eastern view” may be somewhat of a myth, as we’ve discussed). I think it’s safe to assume both Walton and Longman shy away from the Augustinian view.

I’ll be working through Longman’s Genesis commentary as I teach an upper-level Genesis class this semester. I’ve already read through Walton’s work, but he shies away from the NT mostly.


They are slow but they work. It appears in the OT as far as what happens on this earth but the OT comes out against it - saying just the opposite. To wit: That everyone should be held accountable for their own sin. @Ashwin_s and I recently discussed this. Was that example in Ezekiel Ashwin?


In the meantime I found other lesser known names to me who seem to have similar ideas as M. Heiser. The YEC are complaining about a Karl Gilberson and Dr. Denis Alexander who have positions on 5:12 in the same ballpark…

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I’ve taken the Eastern View under my wing. I’m not sure how much room there is for back-pedaling.

What seems certain is that the Latin speculators on sin, after Augustine, took it all very seriously… while the Eastern Orthodox were more casual and less in a hurry to generate a definitive conclusion. And even when they were silent on the matter, it was a silence based on the quiet confidence that children might be baptized for lots of reasons… but NOT because the were tainted by sin.

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Yes it is well known that most EC leaders do not like original sin, or do not want to connect it to descent. That’s fine, however there remain a large number of theologians that aren’t ready to take that leap. Maybe they are wrong, or not, but they are part of the audience.

Your position here certainly has some defenders. I’m just not convinced. I see some real challenges to that view. I’m fine with you (or anyone else) holding it, but I think it misses something.

Also, I’m not putting forward an “Augustinian” view.

Regarless, it seems that his whole argument is an argumetn from absence:

What this means is transparent: There isn’t a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible that produces the theology put forth by the traditional interpretation of Romans 5:12. The idea that Adam’s guilt was transmitted to all humanity is completely absent from OT theology. One would think that, given its central importance to the whole idea of salvation, if this view were accurate, at least one writer in the OT during the 2000 year history of Israel from Abraham to Jesus would have put the idea out there. But none did (under inspiration to boot).

This is, it seems, an argument from absence. However, I’m not sure it is absent. You see the outlines of this in the OT very clearly. Perhaps I am wrong, but statements like that make me just wonder if he even knows what I am talking about.

Yes, Ezekiel 18:20 is a common proof text against original sin. This, however, misses the context of that passage, and is very much a selective reading of the OT. The larger narrative is of exactly the opposite. We see Isreal in exile and occupied because of the sins of their fathers. God mercifully provides provision for people, but they are subject to the sins of their fathers. Passages like Jeremiah and Ezekial what talk about God treating them for their own sins are not a statement about the world as they find it, but about God’s intention and desire.

Once again, I think it is hard to read it any other way in light of the context. Children are suffering under God’s judgement because of the sins of their fathers in story after story in the OT. One of the most important ones on which I explicate is I Samuel 12 and Psalms 51, where David says he was “concieved in sin”, as he grieves the death of his unnamed son whose life was taken due to David’s sin. Here it is clear that God decrees this to happen, even though David’s son has done no wrong. This is one of the clearest example of the “unfairness” those who dispute original sin seek to avoid. But here, in the OT, we see it clearly laid out.

Also, @jongarvey and @Jack.collins reflections are helpful on it in that there is a difference in emphasis in the easter and western views. One focuses on “guilt” while the other focuses on “perishability.” With that in mind, we see clearly that Adam’s sin closed off access to the garden for everyone. That is a statement of original sin too. He closed to the door for everyone, not just himself. With that closed door, there is no more access to immortality, so all become perishable. Once again, we do see that notion of original sin right there in Genesis. It affects all his descendants. They inherit a world from Adam without access to the Garden. In that sense, they inherit his original sin.

I’d have to see some of those passages and narratives engaged before I’d be able to agree with that argument.


My goal here is not to convince anyone. I am not even so thoroughly convinced of my position on this issue relative to some of my other views. The more ideas that fit into the two-population model the better. Whether the position on 5:12 is strict Augustinian, or that of M. Heiser, or something in between such as E. Orthodox, they should be able to plug in to the two-population model. That’s my goal. When I try to talk to someone more Augustinian on Romans 5:12 about people outside the garden prior to Adam I mention GA. Because it can still fit into their existing views of 512. I hope they have many debates over this issue as it applies to the two-population model. Because when they do we have won.


Who is saying it is strictly Augustinian? Certainly not me.

Do Christians ever discuss whether it is morally wrong in today’s world to say to anyone (especially children) that they are sinful and undeserving human beings. I certainly think it is morally wrong to make such claims about anyone. I have never bought into the premise of original sin, even as a child, the thought of being blamed for the supposed sin of people long dead was invalid. Also the premise that in today’s world “thoughts” not actions could ever be sinful makes no sense at all. And of course most sexual sins are today not considered sins at all as sexual morality has changed greatly over the past decades. So why do most Christians feel it necessary to tell others (even non-Christians) that they are sinful and undeserving while at the same time rarely if ever practice what they preach?


Not you. I am just saying “here is the spectrum”. You are not on the far end of the spectrum, just more toward one side than the other. But they are out there. And when I talk to them about the two population model I mention GA.

That is very high on my mind @patrick. I think there is a paradox here that I’m trying to unpack.

I find that appalling too.

Though, I’m not saying that you are a sinner @patrick. I’m saying we all are sinners, including me. Whether that is offensive or not depends what we mean by sinner.

I think this is more complex. First of all, I’d say that on one had I agree with you. It seems also that God wants to set up the world just as you describe it, where we are responsible for our own action not that of our parents. This is one of the messages of the Gospel, put best like this I’d say:

The natural state of the world is to be subject to the sins of our ancestors, but God wants to treat us differently only responsible for our own sins. Even those He wants to forgive and bring us into family together.

However, look at the world as it is. The wrongs of our ancestors do carry over from generation to generation. This is one of the ways that injustice arises. Just look at something like segregation. Here in Saint Louis, and when black people moved into town, many white people just left. Their children had no direct role in that choice. Then end up living in a white suburbs, continuing to live away from black people. They didn’t choose to segregate, but now they continue on in a world shaped by the sin of racism. The original sin of racism here injures the black people they separated from for generations, and also seers the conscience of their own children. It creates a world where the racism of one generation continues on for many generations.

Some people call it “systemic injustice.” That might be true too. In that way original sin one way to understand and describe systemic injustice.

At the heart of this reality is what is our responsibility when our parents sinned in order to give us a world that gives us advantage? Are we now cut off from responsibility for what they stole to give us? Are we free to forget what happen? Can we really be taken on our own terms? I’m not sure we are free from our ancestors. In fact, justice calls us into account. It requires us to remember and redeem the sins we’ve inherit.

What i see in the Gospel, though, is that God wants to undo this natural order to the world. The issue is not that God is unfairly saying people are sinful for their parents sin. Rather, that is actually what we observe in the world. The fact that the world is like this, however, is not to say that God wants it this way. I think things like the generational sins of segregation and racism start to make this more clear and salient, at least for me.

I agree with this. I’m not trying to eliminate original sin, but I question the mechanism of transmission.


Amen. To be clear I also do not question Original Sin. It is the mechanics of it, how it applies to us, that I am questioning.

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I think it is not something to say to anyone and if told to children to be immoral, unethical and unjust. Be hey, I am just an atheist with higher moral standards. :sunglasses:

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I would say that I’ve struggled with that idea since I was a child, as well. It’s one of the things I argued about with my dad (one of the godliest men I’ve ever known), and one that attracted me to EC. Not only that, but my own parents were such godly, gracious folks that I couldn’t imagine that God would be any worse than they! The implications of the strict Jonathan Edwards type (who made the sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") just didn’t make sense: 1) because of one man’s sin, death occurred; plagues, children died, and God would not help them any more. 2) We’re born with a sin nature and can’t ever go to Heaven–because God made us that way because of Adam–and because God can’t tolerate sin, we’re stuck in Hell unless, per chance, we understand and accept the salvation message (a condition which applies to a tiny fraction of humankind).

Ezekiel 18: 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

Besides my parents, George Macdonald (a 19th century writer who influenced C S Lewis to become a Christian), and others agree.

Michael Heiser :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M97gjvIH8vA
https://peteenns.com/paul-winging-it/ (see also the review of Beverly Gaventa’s book, “When in Rome”)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5M0HBKZlIc Brian Zahnd

Why George MacDonald “turned with loathing from the god of Jonathan Edwards” - Ron Dart


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I don’t have a firm hold on this, but Psalm 103 says that God has compassion on us as children; He knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust. If He sent his son (himself) to us, then he must think a lot of those he made.

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Well, one place we both agree @Patrick is that this world really broken, in large part because of the bad behavior of people. The world is not as it could be. It did not have to be this way. I think they only way forward includes two parts. Perhaps we use different words for it, but it comes down to…

  1. We are all sinners.
  2. We are all redeemable.

That two part message seems to be exactly what we need on questions of race right now. On one hand, you have people arguing that racism does not exist; that no is really a sinner on this. On the other hand, you have people arguing that racists must be excluded from society and are total trash. I think the right answer is two part. Racism is real, but racists are redeemable. Racism is a dark sin that is far more common than we want to believe, but racists are not trash to be excluded from society. There is forgiveness and redemption for them too. The good society will include them too.

Rather than merely condemning sin (which usually reduces to condemning other’s sin), we are called reconciliation, to love our enemies, to rebuild a common family together.

It is that duality that is missed in the current moment. Ignoring sins like racism allows it to amplify, but just condemning it divides us. We need to acknowledge it and redeem it. Racism is redeemable.

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Don’t get me wrong, I see a lot of social injustice around. But what is the best way to improve the world? I think more can be done with science and reason without God, Christian doctrine, dogma and morality based on interpretation of Biblical passages. Religion seems to just get in the way too much in today’s world causing too much divisiveness on nearly every issue in social injustice and intolerance.

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