Isn't it unfair for God to punish all human beings for Adam's initial sin?

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As I read Romans 5, for instance, Paul is teaching there that somehow all human beings are caught up in the initial sinful act of Adam, that his sin and death becomes the sin and death of all human beings, who are, of course, traced back to him. This is compensated for, of course, by the fact that on the other side Christ represents all who belong to him and that we have the benefit as we belong to him of life and the good things that come to us because we belong to Christ as well. The idea of what we sometimes call "original sin" has been called an offense to reason. In his day, Pascal, the great French philosopher/theologian dealt with this, and he said, in a sense, yes it is. It is hard for all of us to understand how it can be fair for all human beings to be judged by something Adam did so many millennia ago. Yet that's what Scripture seems pretty clearly to teach.

I don't think we can ultimately remove that offense, but there are a couple of things we can say. First of all, there is the fact that according to Romans 5 we all really were with Adam when he sinned, so it's not just kind of an arbitrary fact in which God says, "Well, because Adam sinned I'm going to consider you sinned also." No, there was a sense when we really were with him when he sinned so that his sin is our sin. Second, we have to remember as well, that at least for humans who are reaching an age where they can commit sin on their own, all humans do in fact sin on their own. So, whether we attribute our sin and death ultimately to Adam or just realistically recognize that yeah, I am a human being, have sinned and deserve death, we come out to the same place in some ways in the end. And the third point, and this is a point that Pascal made himself, is original sin can be a sort offense to reason, but he went on to say, how do we explain the world without it? I think that if any of us are realistic about the world we live in, we're going to see that in fact the tendency of humans is to be self-centered, to be concerned about themselves, to treat others badly, to exalt ourselves at the expense of others in all kinds of ways. I'm always amused when people say, "Oh, there is a genocide that took place in country X. What a terrible thing, what an unusual thing." And in fact if you look at human history, genocide has been the typical thing that has happened again and again and again and again. And Pascal's point was to say how do we explain the actual human condition we see around us unless something like an original sin in Adam took place so that we can understand how universally it is the case that humans everywhere all across the globe are caught up in this nexus of evil and sinfulness, and ultimately death.

Answer by Dr. Douglas Moo

Dr. Douglas Moo is the Kenneth T. Wessner of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School.