The Theological Significance of Descent From Adam

And that is not the only possibility. The idea that original sin spread by inheritance was an artifact of the belief that Adam was the first and only original man. It is not something that the scriptures actually say. If we understand he was not, then we can take another look at the scripture on it. It would take a lot of theological work to think it through, but someone should think it through…


But how do you interpret Paul in Romans then? Can you summarize?

I disagree.

That is absolutely true.

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That the story of the fall involved, as a consequence of their actions, “greatly increased pain in childbirth” is, for those who pay attention, a really big clue, that should cause us to question an implied sudden change in brain morphology, namely the rapid (over)development of the human neocortex, becoming a trait which gets fixed in the human population that is uniquely attributable to Adam and Eve. But, most of you have heard me say that before, right?

@Randy Paul never says we inherit the original sin from Adam so there is nothing to explain away. Instead it says death spread “because all sinned”.


Paging @jongarvey.

I put my pager in a pint of beer when I retired… (“You can always tell a doctor at a party - he’s the one who drops his drink when the phone rings”).

You need a New Testament scholar, or a bunch of commentaries, here really. But the Reformed understanding of this passage is based on Adam’s federal headship, rather than his progeniture, though the former is usually derived partly from the latter.

How do we know this is the emphasis? Because Eve was the first to sin, not Adam, but Paul’s whole argument is based on Adam. This is because the responsibility for the sin was his, rather than Eve’s, implying some connection between his sin and ours beyond mere comparison, or imitation (this was the Pelagian position).

It’s the representative nature of Adam that is compared to the representative nature of the new Adam, ie Christ, throughout the argument. Our problems arise from being “in Adam” (as opposed to “in Eve”) as federal head, and our solution comes from being in Christ, our new head. The same idea is present in 1 Cor 15:21-22.

I’m excluding here the idea that Paul got federal headship wrong because he was wrong about the existence, or primogenture, of Adam - this is an inspired and authoritative text, right? But it’s notable that most of those scholars who wish to do without an historical Adam have to wrongfoot Paul or have him jump through hoops to avoid the idea of ancestral sin in some form, from Adam. It’s there in the text, and few interpreters deny it.

So, in order for Paul’s argument to make sense, sin and death are the fruit of our being “in Adam”, and it’s in that context that Paul says, “for all sinned”. The only question raised historically amongst the orthodox (at least in the west) is whether Paul is saying “all sinned because they inherited Adam’s sinful nature in some way”, or whether, in the forensic approach of Reformed thinking, Paul is saying they “sinned in Adam” - the idea that as our head, the penalty of Adam’s first sin was imputed to his offspring, apart from their “actual sin”, just as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, apart from any actual deeds of ours.

Such an idea is found elsewhere in the NT, in Hebrews, where Levi, still “in the loins of Abraham” pays tithes to Melchizedek, thus showing the superiority of his preisthood to Aaron’s.

Note that this last thought is not (as is falsely said) dependant on Augustine’s faulty Latin translation - it arises from the way Paul’s whole argument is constructed. In my considered opinion, unpopular though the teaching is nowadays, I think both aspects - the imputation of guilt and the inheritance of sinfulness (dealt with at length at the start of the letter) - are implied by Paul.

But either way, I can’t get round the fact that Paul is linking our liability to death and our liability for sin to Adam’s first sin; and it’s hard to refute that his governing concept of Adam as head of the race is based on biological descent from him.


Thanks for your thorough thoughts.

Love it!

When we have scholars debating whether original sin was transmitted to the Outside-the-garden humans via physical descent per GA or sin came to life in some other way then that will be a great day because it means we have already mainstreamed the two-population model for Early Genesis. May it get big enough so that there is room for two (or more) “camps” on the details.

I like the strain of thought that has federal headship not necessarily tied to natural descent. Good for all two-population models, good for GA, and good for Christ as our federal head.

And my argument is that natural descent is not what it means to be “in Christ” so its not what it means to be “in Adam” either. “In Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive”. Both Christ and Adam were appointed by God to be the stand-in for humanity. Adam failed despite the best of circumstances and the most privilege
and Christ succeeded despite His abhorrent mistreatment and humble roots.


I affirm a historical Adam but I can’t seem to find “ancestral sin in some form, from Adam. It’s there in the text”. I won’t deny it if its in there. But where is it?

Here is the text I think you are referring to…

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[e] because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Verse twelve does not say that we inherited our sin nature from Adam because we are his physical ancestors. It says that sin (God’s definition) entered the world through Adam and because of that death “passed” upon all men. Why? Was it because Adam was their ancestor? No, but rather “because all sinned.”

“Entered” in this verse is the Greek word eiserchomai and it is used in the metaphorical sense of “arise, come into existence, begin to be”. Another way to put it is to “come to life.” Sin came to life and mankind died when Adam transgressed. Paul himself used very similar language nearby, in chapter seven of Romans when he describes the role of the law and sin. Here I quote chapter seven, verses eight and nine. This time from the New International Version:

“… For apart from the law, sin was dead.9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”

If you will read the whole passage you will see what I am suggesting about how sin “entered” the world. I say the same thing Paul says about the relationship between sin, death, and the law. Before he knew the law, he had life and sin was dead. But once the commandment came, sin came to life (it entered his world) and he died. What I am suggesting is that the condition Paul describes is just what it was like for those men who lived before Adam. They were alive apart from the law. They were acting out of God’s will, but there was no law and hence no accountability.

Once Adam, as the stand-in for all mankind, broke the law then sin came to life and Adam died (as the Bible defines death). If any of them had been perfect, they would not have died, but none of them were. All of them needed the protection afforded by Adam as the stand-in for all of mankind, even as we need the protection afforded by Christ as our stand-in.

Sin sprang to life. What was once dead had existence in the world. That is what is meant by sin “entering” the world. There is no need for theologians to concoct another method of entry of sin into the world besides the one Paul describes two chapters later. Sin was dead before Adam’s failure. After that, it was alive and Adam was dead. Sin entered, became alive, in the world.

That word “passed” is from a Greek word deirchomai , which means just that- to pass through or spread through. It is used to describe events like going on a journey or the children of Israel “passing through” the Red Sea. It has nothing to do with inheritance. Paul could have used the word for inheritance, kleronomeo , if he had meant that.

But if our being “in Adam” means natural descent from, then why isn’t our being “in Christ” mean the same thing? That is, I accept the logic of your statement but don’t share your view of what “in Adam” means. it is more like connected to this material and fleshly creation as he was rather than being his physical ancestor.

Those are the questions they asked when they didn’t have a two-population model of early Genesis. We do. Now its possible to use the method of sin springing to life and humanity dying that Paul talked about in Romans 7 to explain the spread of sin and death (eternal). There may have never been any need to invent another method for that to happen. But I am not trying to prove that here tonight. I only want theologians to take this challenge and sort through it. It could be an exciting time for theology.

Which is fine for showing who is superior, but not ascribing sin and rewarding with eternal death. For that flied in the face of passages such as…
Ezekiel 18:20

Verse Concepts

"The person who sins will die The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.

This verse is also used as an argument against imputing the righteousness of Christ to us who are sinners…(the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself). How do you deal with that?

Galatians 2 20I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ livesin me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Col. 3 1Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.…

Romans 610The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. 11So you too must count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.…

Can you elaborate on what point you want to make…

I am too tired to do so well but when it says …

It doesn’t mean that Christ as a federal head of humanity can’t stand in for you if your faith is in Him rather than your own works. If you read the whole chapter for context it just means you can’t count on your parent’s righteousness to save you without personal repentance. You have to have your own. Nor will their sins hurt you. But faith in God is counted as righteousness. It always has been.

So having your faith in Christ is not the same as believing you are justified because of the family that you are born in, absent faith in God. Just the reverse, the sons of Abraham cannot count on having Abraham as their “father” to deliver them. If they don’t repent they will perish. Matthew 3

…7But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his place of baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit worthy of repentance. 9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.…

Each person in each generation needs their own faith and repentance. They can’t count on their bloodlines nor do their blood lines in the flesh doom them.

They can’t take their sin nature with them, that has to die. But the real them, the better them, the new man, lives in Christ. The old man does die. But what Christ does is give us a new life that is clean. We must be “born again”. So this is NOT a situation where I hang onto my same old sin nature, stay the same person, and get off the hook because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to my Old Man. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me, but its to the new man. Ephes. 2 to put off your former way of life, your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be renewed in the spirit of yourminds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

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Thanks for taking the time to reply…
So if we apply the same context to the comment on one dying for his own Sin… it has nothing to do with the concept of federal headship or imputation…
It’s just a warning to the nation of Israel that each individual will be held accountable for his her actions… similar warning is given in an universal sense in Romans 2… Followed by Romans 3 which explains that all of us deserve judgement.

I like how you connect redemption to Sanctification and the healing of our sinful nature. I am totally with you on that…
The Bible is clear we inherit this sinful nature and are sinners from birth.
Do you believe in the virgin birth? And that Jesus himself is like Adam in that he had no sinful nature?

There is good reason to view our corruption as inherited.

My reply to this is that (as Tom Wright and others have said) recent theology has neglected the centrality of union with Christ to salvation doctrine. The idea of “stand-in” doesn’t capture that “organic” spiritual union at all: “If anyone in Christ - new creation.” His body becomes our body, his blood our blood, representationally if not spiritually in the Eucharist, expressing the nature of new birth. And new birth itself expresses the concept of a new line of descent - we were children of the flesh, we become children of God.

So although Trinitarian concepts would be muddled if we were said to be “descended from Christ”, we are in Christ made children of God, and brothers (and sisters) of Christ.

In other words, the controlling concept of federal headship is ontological participation, and I don’t think the difference between natural descent and supernatural adoption is sufficient to break the analogy.


I consider that the population outside the garden was in a state of innocence, not sinless perfection. As it says in Romans “where there is no law the penalty for sin is not imputed.” I have described elsewhere that this is referring to the law of Moses but even so after the eyes of mankind were opened we were self-condemned. We wanted the power to decide for ourselves what was good and evil and as soon as we got that power it forced us to realize that we were evil!


I think so but describe what you mean here when you say “sinful nature”?

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I strongly agree. Heck they have neglected salvation doctrine period over here in the states. I am not retired so please don’t get me started on that!

Again I strongly agree. Children of the flesh to children of God. There is a long passage in Romans which puts it in terms of the flesh and the spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus He spoke in terms of a natural birth and a spiritual birth.

This is exactly the point I make to support the idea of a population outside the garden. Adam fits better as a figure of Christ if He is not the genetic progenitor of the whole human race, though both Adam and Christ are “sons of God” (though Christ is so in a unique way). Adam was a son in the natural (since the LORD God physically fashioned him from red earth) and Christ is a son in the truest sense of the word, by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps not. That is a key point that I hope to see professional theologians debate one day. The more ways we can get people to see and accept that Genesis has a two-population model the better as far as I am concerned. Is the ontological participation in the form of “descent” in either case? I mean past the idea that both Adam and Christ are God’s sons in some special sense and we can participate in their sonship irrespective of physical descent from them.

Just for exegetical (dis-)clarification, the double preposition eph ho in Rom 5:12 could just as easily be understood as “so that” rather than “because” (thus, switching the cause and effect). I don’t know what bearing this might have on the overall discussion, bu it’s worth pointing out. For a detailed investigation of the other side of the coin, see Michael Heiser’s take.


Thanks. Doesn’t Scot McKnight say something like that in the discussion of “eph ho” in “Adam and the Genome”?

Interesting link. I did not realize anyone thought that that portion may have been added. I don’t know Michael Heiser.

I found a book called “Evolution and the Fall,” by James K A Smith and Cavanaugh. Do you have insight to add on this one?


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He’s a credible scholar (head academic guy at Logos) and does a lot with divine council. He’s always worth reading/listening to, no matter your conclusions. He’s not a kook, but well respected in academia.

I’ve read it. It’s a mix of articles from different perspectives trying to think of “what’s next?” given the way the scientific consensus seems to be. Worth a read, but still more to come overall.

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