Contrary to our Augustinian tradition which assumes that practically all the problems we experience in this world stem from sin, fall and the so-called Adamic or cosmic curse, I have long argued at length that the main root of our difficulties is not sin, which is primarily an exacerbating factor, but the plan and purpose of God our Creator. According to even Jesus himself there are two ages (Luke 20:34-36), and the first is by divine design visible, pejorative and fundamentally different from the glorious age to come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). It is an age of testing (Acts 14:22; James 1:2-4,12-15; 1 Pet. 1:6f., cf. Rev. 2:10) where death and corruption are endemic. Since creation is visible, it is intrinsically temporary (2 Cor. 4:18) and intended ultimately to pass away (Mt. 5:18; 24:35; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). Briefly, the temporal will give way to the eternal, earth will yield to heaven and the presence of God. If this is true, it is hardly surprising that congenital and associated problems are evident in Scripture, and sin with its wages of death is not one of them as we shall see.
First, it must be stressed that in contrast with the eternal God himself (Ps. 90:2; 93:1f.; Isa. 66:1) creation has a beginning and therefore an end (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12). This being the case it is inevitable that we, the offspring of Adam who stemmed from the earth as flesh and blood, also have both a beginning and an end or terminus. Biblically speaking, it is simply impossible for us who are created in the fleshly image of Adam (Gen. 5:1-3) to live forever. Even before he sinned, Adam’s natural mortality as flesh is made apparent by the somewhat cryptic promise of Genesis 2:17. According to Paul, God himself of express purpose subjected the entire creation to the futility of corruption (decay) from the start (Rom. 8:18-25). And if the creation is so subjected, it follows necessarily that we creatures of flesh and blood who derive from creation are similarly affected. In other words, it is a biblical axiom that the visible material is temporary (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Mt. 6:19-21; Luke 12:32-34) and that our hope as those who are also made in the (spiritual) image of God is an invisible one (Rom. 8:24f.). The question is then: Does this harmonize with other teaching of Scripture? It is here that examination of other congenital matters requires attention.
In the OT, animals are used as sacrifices at God’s direction. They formed part of the divinely ordained worship (cf. Rom. 9:4). Though certain restrictions were imposed, they were also used for food and eaten with joy (e.g. Dt. 12:15-19). However, with regard to the point at issue, it needs to be carefully noted that only unblemished animals were to be used (cf. Ex. 12:5). Though Leviticus 21 and 22 refer repeatedly to these, it has to be conceded that they do not explicitly indicate whether congenital deficiencies as opposed to accidental ones are involved, though verses like Leviticus 21:18,20 and 22:22 (cf. Mal. 1:8) suggest that they are. If we have reservations on this score, however, we can allay them by noting not merely the promises made to barren women (Isa. 54:1) and eunuchs (Isa. 56:4f.) but also to Matthew 19:12 where Jesus refers to eunuchs who have been so from birth. To clarify the point, our Lord is saying that in a world that is divinely subjected to futility defects can be congenital. This leads us naturally to the next comment.
The Congenitally Blind Man
Many writers over the years have been troubled by the story of the congenitally blind man described in John 9. The problem arises because, as we have seen, it has been traditionally believed that congenital defectiveness is ultimately the result of sin, original sin in particular. (1* Augustine of Hippo whose influence over his successors has been pervasive misunderstood Genesis 1 where creation is said to be ‘good’ and assumed that it was originally perfect and subsequently marred by Adam’s sin. Not only did he posit fallen man but a fallen creation too. See further below.) But Jesus whose words are regarded as authoritative flatly denies that sin is involved. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the man’s congenital blindness is so that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3). Again in John 11 he makes it clear that Lazarus’ death is not the wages of sin but for the glory of God (John 11:4). (If it is claimed that the devil is at work as in the case of the crippled woman, Luke 13:16, cf. Job 1-2, we need to remind ourselves that God is still sovereign and that the devil operates only by permission. In any case, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil to the glory of God, 1 John 3:8, cf. Mt. 12:28f.)
So what does this imply? Surely that Paul’s contention in Romans 8:18-25 that creation has been subjected to futility by God himself irrespective of sin is correct (2* See my Job And Romans 8:18-25.). The plain truth is that the entire creation is for the glory of God (cf. Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20). It is a temporary phenomenon geared to producing a harvest of men and women conformed to the image of God in Christ (Rom. 8:29) whose purpose as his children is to worship him (John 4:22, cf. Rev. 4 & 5; 7:9-12). Even Jesus himself became man with a view to being fully perfected in his likeness (Heb. 1:3) but even he as man will be subjected so that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
Suffering and Sin
But this implies something else, that is, that this world is a place where suffering (3* And arguably death, cf. Ps. 49:12,20; Eccles. 3:18-21.) are endemic even apart from sin as the book of Job and the life of Jesus amply illustrate. At the very start, man is charged with exercising dominion over an intractable even recalcitrant creation – a hard task indeed as any farmer will acknowledge. (4* Cf. Lamech who begs for relief from painful toil, Gen. 5:29. For him the ground was cursed as it was for Adam who had lived in the naturally prolific Garden of Eden. When God made his covenant with Noah, however, he specifically denies that he will ever again curse the ground because of man, Gen. 8:21. On the assumption of recapitulation, the implication of this would seem to be that during infancy ample provision is made for him naturally. But then as he is ‘weaned’ there is a transition period when things get difficult. Later in life, creation’s natural, that is, God-ordained, futility makes its impression. But this is not a curse. See further my Romans 8:18-25.) Needless to say, he comes short of his calling. As flesh, that is, as part of creation himself, man is also required to keep the commandment or law which is the condition of eternal life (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5) but this in the event proves to be beyond his capability. While he is called to seek honour and glory (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5-8; Rom. 2:7,10), far from mastering the sin that is constantly crouching at his door (Gen. 4:7), he repeatedly gives way to temptation in violent contrast with Jesus who does not (Heb. 5:7, cf. 4:15). Only one sin is enough to ensure that he comes short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; John 8:34; James 2:10). Thus not without reason does Paul tell us that it is only through tribulation that we shall enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). James (1:2-4) and Peter (1 Pet. 1:6f.) and John (Rev. 2:10) tell the same story though in the latter the work of the devil is prominent. This of course should not surprise us for Jesus himself had to suffer in order to overcome the temptations of the flesh, the mind and the spirit (Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 5:7). In light of all this it is little wonder that only he, God’s unique Son purposely sent to redeem those under the law (Gal. 4:4), succeeded in triumphing in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.) and paving our way to heaven (Heb. 6:19f.; 10:19f.; 12:1f.).
According to church tradition which is denied by the Jews and the Orthodox, since the so-called fall of Adam and the cosmic curse that he brought on creation, man is born sinful and hence has a sinful nature by birth. (5* On Psalm 51:5 see additional note below.) The consequence of this is that he can achieve no good least of all save himself. His efforts are stymied from the start. The problem here is that Scripture defines sin as transgression of the law (James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4, etc.) and that where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15; 7:8). (6* Rom. 5:13, cf. 2:12, clearly relates, as verse 14 indicates, to Gentile sin apart from the law of Moses which was of the same sort as that of Adam against a specific commandment.) In light of this babies who are born in total ignorance are regarded as being innocent like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the womb of the race (cf. Rom. 9:11). Parents and their children are clearly and constantly differentiated (cf. Ps. 106:6; Dt. 24:16, etc.). While sinful parents earn the wages of sin in death as, for example, in the wilderness even though they are given manna or bread from heaven to eat (John 6:31,49), their innocent children (Dt. 1:39) arrive safely at the Promised Land. (Num. 14:3,31).
Of course, it may be countered that Isaiah 48:8 refers specifically to birth sin. In reply it must be stated that the metaphorical birth of Israel who sinned within sight of Mount Sinai (Ex. 32) was not literal like that of a baby completely devoid of knowledge of the law. Indeed, Israel had just received the law from God himself through his servant Moses, had even committed himself to obedience (Ex.24:7) and was manifestly guilty as Moses made abundantly clear as he ‘broke’ the law and ground the golden calf to powder (Ex. 32:19f.).
This raises the question of ignorance. In the Bible it is always a mitigating factor. Jesus himself distinguishes between those with much light and those with little (e.g. Mt. 11:20-24). Even on the cross he pleads with his Father to forgive those who are doing something they do not fully understand. But total ignorance implies total mitigation. Thus the Augustinian idea long touted by some that babies that are not baptized go to hell is manifestly false. Indeed, the very idea that babies should be baptized at all is rendered entirely redundant by infantile ignorance. For where there is no law or knowledge there is neither sin (Rom. 4:15, etc.) nor righteousness (Rom. 2:13; 6:16). In any case baptism, which by definition involves repentance, faith and regeneration, requires knowledge of both sin and salvation. Whereas the Bible in principle distinguishes between culpable, relative and congenital ignorance, the church has over the millennia failed to do this. The plain fact is that where there is no knowledge there is no guilt as numerous examples like that of Abimelech which occurs as early as Genesis 20:4,6 indicates (7* Cf. also Pharaoh, Gen. 12:10-20, Jonathan, 1 Sam. 14:27, Ahimelech, 1 Sam. 22:15, Abigail, 1 Sam. 25:25, David, 2 Sam. 3:26,28,36f.). But even before that, the Bible makes it plain that Adam and Eve though physically adult were spiritually like babies in that they initially lacked knowledge of good and evil and so were regarded as innocent (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22) and certainly not righteous.
The Bible clearly teaches that the wages of sin is death. This is made plain in the death of Adam and Eve who suffered the consequences of their sin in the Garden. Paul tells us in Romans 5:12, a verse that in his ignorance of Greek Augustine massively misunderstood, that all died because all sinned. But at this point we encounter a problem. Why if there is no law there is no transgression do ignorant babies die? The traditional answer has been on account of the original sin of Adam either transmitted or imputed to all his posterity. This, however, is impossible for it is basic to the teaching of Scripture that children cannot be charged with the sins of parents (Dt. 24:16; Ezek. 18, etc.). Just as Jesus was born innocent (cf. Isa. 7:15f.) so are we (cf. Dt. 1:39, etc.). In light of this we are compelled to recognize that babies who are flesh die like animals not on account of sin but on account of the natural corruption of creation. In other words, we are all like Adam and Eve born both mortal and corruptible and as a result some whose life is not divinely maintained die irrespective of sin.
The Present Age
This brings us back to my thesis that the present age is a ‘manufactured’ age extrinsic to the eternal age or what is for us the age to come. Doubtless because of our received tradition, writers on biblical themes seem to have missed the point that what Scripture describes as being ‘made by hand’ (cheiropoietos) is qualitatively different from what is ‘not made by hand’ (acheiropoietos). (8* See my Manufactured Or Not So.)
The ultimate point to be made is that whatever is congenital, that is, associated with birth, is by that very fact inherently defective. (9* Here, the argument of Hebrews 7 is relevant. The author differentiates between the OT Aaronic priesthood and that of Melchisedek. The latter has no parental legacy for the simple reason that he has no parents! This I would argue puts paid to the traditional idea that Jesus was the eternal Son of God. In heaven, Jesus was the Word who was equal with, Phil 2:6, in fact, he was God, John 1:1. See my Still Docetic.) Only God himself is perfect and he has neither beginning nor end (Ps. 90:2; Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 57:15; 66:1f., cf. Heb. 7:3). Historically the church has confused the creation with the Creator by contending for the perfection of both and thereby failing to appreciate that the builder of the house has more honour than the house itself (Heb. 3:3). The idea that Adam was originally perfect and righteous is manifestly false. Since he was imperfect by nature, his calling was to perfection. Even the Lord Jesus as created flesh was defective as he himself implied in John 3:6 and 6:63, for example, and as Paul implied in his comments on the body in 1 Corinthians 15:42-53. Here the apostle without mention of sin differentiates between dust and spirit and insists on the impossibility of flesh (dust) inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). On the other hand, if Christ was merely a creature as Arius contended, he could never have become Lord to the glory of God (Phil 2:9-11). The truth that he was the Word of God made flesh is essential and unique to Christianity properly conceived. (10* The Ecclesiastical Christ, Still Docetic.)
Given its presuppositions it is less than surprising that the church in contrast with the Jews has criminally exploited Psalm 51:5. Its exegesis has had to dance to the tune of church dogma. Apart from the fact that this famous verse is often mistranslated (see, for example, NIV) assuming what needs to be proved, it can surely be interpreted in such a way as to exclude any reference to original sin as the Jews maintain. After all, we are all, including Jesus whose mother (not to mention his more distant ancestors referred to at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel) was obviously a sinner (pace Catholics) born of sinful parents and into a sinful world. (It is worth noting that in the LXX both iniquity and sin are plural.) If this is denied, we are forced to acknowledge in view of what Paul says in Romans 1:26f. that we are under an obligation, even under compulsion to sin by divine decree. To disobey our birth nature is sinful, in which case failure to sin would be sinful! But our birth nature may vary. Just as some animals are born blemished or physically defective, so are some humans like the congenitally blind man. What if after all some humans are naturally homosexual? Since I personally am strongly heterosexual, indulgence in homosexual acts would be sinful. But can the same be said of all? For some this may not be so.
It is still widely assumed that since death is said to be the wages of sin, all death is the result of sin. This of course is clearly false. Man as flesh like the animals is naturally mortal and corruptible as the entire creation amply testifies. Only as he breaks the law and thereby earns wages does his sin become the cause of his death (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, cf. 1 Cor. 15:56). Even Jesus as man was mortal, or he could not have died, and corruptible (subject to decay) or he would not have got older (Luke 2:42; 3:23, etc.) and needed transformation at his ascension. The point made in Scripture is that since he did not personally sin, he gained eternal life (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5). Moreover, he did not earn his own death but gave his (natural) life freely in atonement for his people (Acts 2:23f.).