This widely advertised booklet (Faverdale North, Darlington, 2009) which is likely to find a wide readership contains some useful information and here and there makes good points. But as an exposition of what the Bible teaches in certain critical areas it is something of a disaster.
On page 12, in opposition to the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Blanchard tells us correctly that the Virgin Mary was not born without sin and refers to Psalm 51:5 to prove his case. However, bearing in mind that the Jews and the Orthodox have never accepted the Augustinian interpretation of this verse, we do well to be suspicious. The problem is that depending on its correct translation and interpretation, it could arguably apply to the sinless Jesus himself who certainly came into a wicked world and was born of a sinful woman.
Our author then generalizes by adding that “at birth” (Gk “by nature”) all human beings are “children of wrath”. The difficulty here is that Ephesians 2:3b to which Blanchard refers is preceded by reference to actual sin and evil living prior to the attribution of nature. In other words, the passage cannot refer to babies and birth sin but only to those who have already sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
On page 31, however, Blanchard draws the opposite conclusion and claims that what we do is the result of what we are, that is, sinners at birth. While it is clear that what we do later in life is conditioned by what we are (e.g. Mt. 7:17), this is not true of babies who have not committed any sins. As Jesus says, it is those who commit sin that are the slaves of sin (John 8:34). So, we are forced to infer that what we do early in life determines our nature. This was certainly true in Adam’s case and since we all recapitulate Adam and Eve’s experience, it is true in all other cases. In Romans 7:9f. Paul, for example, claims that far from being guilty at birth he was “alive”, but like Adam died when he broke the commandment that promised (eternal) life. Again, in 9:11 Paul’s assumption of the innocence or moral neutrality of Esau and Jacob in the womb is vital to his argument regarding election.
What the Bible teaches then is that like Adam we acquire our sinful natures by disobedience (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:16) and our righteous natures by obedience (Dt. 6:25; 24:13; Rom. 2:13; 6:16; 1 John 3:7, etc.). (1* Throughout the Bible sin is defined by law. See further my Law and Sin) We follow either Adam or Jesus. In the event, like Adam we all prove incapable of obedience (cf. Rom. 7) and have to rely on the alien righteousness provided for us by Jesus.
Blanchard is so conditioned by his Augustinian tradition that he tells us on page 30 that Adam at first had a natural inclination to do good. This is in compete opposition to the teaching of Paul who having first characterized Adam as flesh or dust (1 Cor. 15) tells us that nothing good dwells in his own flesh (Rom. 7:18, cf. John 6:63) and further informs us that by divine design no flesh will boast in the presence of God (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:9). The real reason why we have a fatal tendency to break God’s law is not because we have inherited “a guilty fallen nature” but because in contravention of the law we give way to our animal appetites which like Adam and Eve we fail to control (cf. Gen. 3:6; Rom. 7:14; James 1:14f., etc.).(Of course, I do not intend to deny a la Pelagius the unspecified role of Adam in Romans 5:12-21 and the machinations of the devil.)
Next, Blanchard introduces a colossal contradiction into his argument and unwittingly undermines his entire thesis regarding birth sin. On page 31 he tells us correctly that “where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 7:8). However, he fails to recognize that since embryos and babies, like animals, know neither good nor evil, there is no law to be broken and therefore there is no sin (Dt. 1:39; Rom. 7:9f.; 9:11, etc.).
Referring back to page 30 our author tells us that Adam was not only the natural but also the representative head of the human race. Needless to say, he produces no evidence to support this lamentable assertion for the simple reason that there isn’t any. Adam was simply prototypical representative man according to the flesh with whom God failed conspicuously to make a covenant. (On this see my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?) He then goes on to say that Adam began to father children “in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3). And to make his point clear he adds that they and their successors inherited not only their father’s physical nature but also his spiritual nature! If this is true, then Jesus was born a sinner since Scripture certainly teaches that along with other unsavoury characters mentioned in his family tree (Mt. 1:1-6) Adam was his father too (Luke 3:38). The plain truth of Scripture is that while the children of man and woman are born with human natures (flesh, cf. John 1:13; Gal. 4:4) they do not and cannot inherit their moral natures which can only be acquired by reacting with (the) law. Fathers and sons often differ substantially. A good father can beget a bad son and vice versa as Ezekiel 18 in particular affirms and as Hezekiah and Manasseh and Amon and Josiah demonstrate. While solidarity is important, personal responsibility remains intact (Ex. 32:33; Dt. 24:16; Jer. 31:29f.; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 9:27). It is worth adding, however, that Jesus confirmed his own divine sonship by keeping the law in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). In this he was of course unique.
The degree to which Blanchard has uncritically allowed tradition to colour his interpretation of the Bible is frightening. It reminds us of Jesus’ reference to the nullification of the word of God in Mark 7:13.
It remains to add that the reason why Jesus came to earth was to rescue us who were unable to meet the condition of eternal life which was to keep the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom 7:10, etc.). He alone of all men that have ever lived attained to righteousness by his perfect obedience (Heb. 2:17f.; 4:15; 5:7-9; 1 Pet. 2:22) and as a consequence inherited the promise. This permitted him to die on our behalf and serve as the pioneer of our salvation (Heb. 2:10, etc.). In our author’s words, “He came to solve our greatest problem and to bring us into a living relationship with God that will transform our lives here and now and enrich them in heaven for ever” (p.38).
The reader is urged to read along with other relevant articles my Augustine: Asset or Liability?