Q: #156. Are babies born sinners?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Today (January 2018), I am updating this study. This study has been on the website for about 10 years, and when I originally wrote it, I offered both sides of this often debated and fairly complicated subject without picking a side. However, in the time since, I have become increasingly frustrated with the implications that go with the view which calls babies "born sinners." I can no longer remain neutral on this issue. This study in now going to focus on why I believe it is Biblically wrong to say that babies are born sinners.
Let me begin by saying that many scholars who I respect are on the side that babies "are" sinners. I realize that I am swimming against the current. However, each side of this issue can make a Biblical case for their position. When I am faced with a situation like this, my tie breaking factor is, "Which view is the most logical, and best fits with the whole of Scripture?" It is with this in mind that I make my case. First, let's me briefly explain the view (that I disagree with) which says that "babies are born sinners."
This view is often called "original sin." "Original sin" is the name for the first sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen Ch. 3). However, the name "original sin," has generally been given added meaning by those who hold the view that babies are sinners. It is said that when Adam "originally sinned," or committed that first sin in the Garden of Eden, his sin was then imputed or passed on (kind of like a genetic defect) to each successive generation that followed. The primary Biblical verses that are used to support this position are found in (Rom 5:12-21). Here are some others: (Isa 48:8)(Ps 51:5)(Ps 58:3)(Eph 2:1-5)(Job 14:4)(Job 15:14)(Gen 8:21)(Prov 22:15)(Ps 14:2-3).
This view is first of five components in Calvinism called "Total Depravity." It is taught that a baby is a condemned sinner at conception, and has no choice but to sin. He is also unable to seek God at all or choose Christ until God regenerates him, at which point he WILL be saved. (This is also a part of Calvinism called "Irresistible Grace," which says that anyone God has "regenerated" and elected to salvation WILL come when God draws them.) It is mainly because of this belief that Catholics, and other religions baptize infants. Baptism of the infant is said to "wash away" this "original sin."
This concept of "original sin" seems to have originated with Irenaeus in the 2nd century, however, it was made popular (especially amongst Catholics) by Augustine (354-430). He was the first to propose that baptism would cleanse the infant, and even went so far as to say the infant would go to Hell if he died before being baptized. (Most who baptize infants today do not go this far.) In addition, most who call themselves Calvinists do not believe in baptismal regeneration.
OK, now for the other view, which I am going to defend. This view, held primarily by Armenians, anabaptists, and a number of other Christian religions (i.e. most Southern Baptists), teaches that we are not "born as sinners," but rather, we are born with what is often referred to as a "sin nature." In other words, man is not forced to sin because he has the "sin gene" passed on to him from Adam, but instead, he has the "free will" choice to sin or not. In addition, we also have "free will" ability to accept or reject Christ/God (meaning that "regeneration" followed by "irresistible grace" is false).
God will judge the works of every man (Rev 20:11-15)(Rev 22:12)(Rom 2:16)(Col 3:25)(Jer 17:10)(Ps 62:12)(Prov 24:12). We ALL have the "free will" ability to choose "good or bad," "God or not" (Josh 24:15)(1 Kin 18:21)(2 Cor 5:10)(Rom 14:12)(Deut 30:15-19). Our "judgment" will be based upon the choices we made with our "free will" (2 Th 2:10-12)(Rom 2:6-11)(Mt 25:31-46)(Rom 1:18)(Jn 5:28-29)(1 Pet 1:15-17). (If we were "born sinners," how could we be fairly judged on sins we have no choice but to make? More on this below.)
We also have the "free will" ability to choose OR reject Christ: (Jn 5:40)(Mt 23:37)(Lk 13:34)(Jn 8:24)(Acts 7:51)(Mt 21:42)(Acts 4:11)(Lk 7:29-30)(2 Th 1:8-9)(Rom 10:21)(2 Kin 17:14-18).
****Note: Generally, those who hold the "sin nature" viewpoint also believe in what is called the "Age of Accountability," which states, in short, that a child is not responsible or accountable to God for his actions or sins until he reaches an age where he is truly able to distinguish between good and evil.
Now, I am going to list 8 significant reasons why I Biblically hold to this position.
#1. Let me ask these two questions: Is God in control of ALL things
(sovereign)? If so, does this include creating ALL aspects of an unborn
child? I would hope that you would answer "yes" to the first question, as
the Bible confirms (Col 1:16-17)(Ps 97:9)(1 Chr 29:11-12)(Job 42:2). And, if you answer yes to the first question,
then "yes" to the second question should follow. God does create ALL aspects
of the unborn child (Ps 139:13-16)(Jer 1:5)(Isa 44:24)(Isa 49:1)(Job 31:15).
(***Note: These verses are also good to use for those who defend abortion, and say that life does not begin at conception.)
Therefore, if one says that sin is "genetic," or "passed on" from one generation to the next, who is responsible for it being passed on? If God "is" responsible for creating every aspect of an unborn child, including every "gene," then this makes GOD responsible for genetically "passing on" sin from one generation to the next! It makes God the author of sin in us! Do we really want to say this?
In discussing this with a friend recently, he said, "Sin is 'passed on' from Adam, not from God." I am sure he is not alone in thinking this. However, this is illogical. If God is totally in control of all things, He MUST be responsible for "passing on" sin. It is interesting to me that most who teach that God is not responsible (i.e. "most reformed churches") are all about the "sovereignty" of God, but when it comes to this issue, all of a sudden God is not in control.
The Bible clearly tells us that God is "not" the author of sin in us (Jas 1:13-15)(Hab 1:13)(1 Jn 3:8)(Mt 13:24-43)(Jn 8:44)(Lk 8:12).
#2. Flowing from #1., the Bible says in (Jn 16:9) that it is a sin not to believe in Jesus. So, not only has God created sin (evil) within us (#1.), but He is responsible for creating us "totally depraved," unable to believe in Christ, or accept Him for salvation (unless He chooses to regenerate us).
It is also worth noting that if a person must be "regenerated" by God before they can place their faith in Christ, then for a period of time we have a person who is "regenerated," or has been given "life" (been saved) without the blood of Jesus covering his sins (a saved unbeliever). (The Calvinist says we must be given "life" before we can have faith because we are totally "dead," unable to have faith until given "life.") Even Charles Spurgeon, a reformed preacher in many ways, pointed out the ridiculousness of teaching "regeneration before faith" saying, "Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine?"
The Bible says over and over that when we believe in Jesus Christ, and place our faith in Him, THEN we receive new life (are born again). New life = "regenerated." Again, regeneration ("life") cannot precede belief/faith, or for a period of time we have a saved ("life") unbeliever.
Some verses showing "belief/faith precedes new life:
(Jn 20:31) "believing" / "have life"
(1 Tim 1:16) "believe on Him" / receive "life everlasting"
(Jn 5:40) "ye will not come to me" / "that ye might have life"
(Jn 6:47) "He that believeth on me" / "hath everlasting life"
(Jn 3:15,16) "believe in Him" / "have eternal life"
More verses: (Jn 6:53,57)(1 Pet 1:23)(James 1:18,21)(Acts 16:31)
Then we have verses like these:
(Jn 1:12) "receive Him" / "become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name"
(Acts 2:38) "repent" / "receive the Holy Spirit"
(Acts 11:18) "repentance" / "leads to life"
(Gal 3:26) "by faith in Christ Jesus" / "ye are all the children of God"
(Jn 12:36) "believe in the light" / "that ye may be the children of light"
(Eph 1:13) "believed" / sealed with the Holy Spirit"
More verses: (Ezek 18:23,30-32)(Acts 15:9)(Gal 3:2,5)(2 Cor 3:14-16)
Charles C. Ryrie, in his book "The Holy Spirit" (pg. 90), says what I have already said above in a little different way, "Regeneration does not precede faith chronologically.... if a sinner has the new life then believes, why does he or she need to believe, for that one already has been regenerated. If there is any chronological sequence in regeneration followed by faith, then there must be an interval, however brief, during which the person is regenerated without having believed. Such a monstrous idea is completely unbiblical."
Another point, attributed to Dr. Norman Geisler (I am not sure if he said it or not, but if he did, I want to give credit), says: "that if regeneration is prior to conversion, then salvation is no longer by faith. If one is already regenerated before he believes, then faith is not a condition to salvation but the evidence of having been saved."
#3. Also flowing from #1., having established that if a baby is born a sinner, then God is responsible for making him a sinner, this leads to another "illogical" problem. This problem is that God holds us morally culpable for something that we had no choice but to do. Here is an example that came to me.
God created us to sneeze right?
So, let's say that God makes a law: "Do not sneeze."
The next day, you sneeze.
God then says, "Because you sneezed, I am now going to punish you."
You reply, "But God, you created me to sneeze! I couldn't help it! How can you punish me?
God's reply, "I am punishing you because I told you NOT to sneeze, and you did it anyway.
Does this even make sense?? How can God punish us for something that we have no choice but to do? Something He created us to do. On the other hand, if God did not create us to sneeze, told us not to sneeze, and then we did it, we would be worthy of punishment. We chose to sin.
I love how Charles G. Finney, an evangelist from the 1800's describes this:
"If man is in fault for his sinful nature, why not condemn man for having black or blue eyes? The fact is, sin never can consist in having a nature, nor in what nature is; but only and alone in the bad use which we make of our nature. This is all. Our maker will never find fault with us for what He has Himself done or made; certainly not. He will not condemn us, if we will only make a right use of our powers - of our intellect, our sensibility, and our will. He never holds us responsible for our original nature."
Sometimes, those who defend the right for God to punish us for something we had no choice but to do will use verses such as (Rom 9:20-21)(Isa 29:16) to say that we have no right to question why God does things the way He does. However, if God WAS like this (He isn't), I think we have every right to question Him! How would God respond to us if we punished our creation/children for "sneezing?" We punish them for what they can control, not what they can't control, right? Why would God hold us to a different standard than Himself?
#4. Because sin is said to be "passed on" from Adam, we are said to be responsible for, and accountable for, the sin of Adam.
However, the Bible teaches us numerous times that man is not held responsible for the sins of the father (Ezek 18:14-20)(Deut 24:16)(2 Kin 14:6)(2 Chr 25:4)(Jer 31:29-30). We are each responsible for our own sins, not for those of our fathers.
#5. Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? This question was recently asked by John MacArthur, with the following quote, "Only one answer is biblically true." His "biblically true" answer is, of course, "we sin because we are sinners." (The "sin-gene.") Really?? This is actually what led me to redo this study.
What is the definition of sin? Let's look at a few clear definitions the Bible gives us.
Perhaps first and foremost, (1 Jn 3:4) says that "sin is the transgression of of the law." (Rom 7:7)(NASB) also says, "...I would not have come to know sin except through the law..." (Also see: Rom 3:20). Are we "transgressors of the law" because of what we do, or because of who we are? Is it even logical to say it is because of who we are?? Could a person be thrown in jail for being "born a murderer, a thief, a rapist?" Of course not... A person must "break the law" before they are considered guilty... This is why the law was given, to show us what sin is. When we keep the law, we don't sin; when we break the law, we do sin. However, no one in history has been able to keep the law, and be perfect except for Jesus. We ALL fall short. (The Old Testament Hebrew word for sin is chata, which literally means "to miss the mark.") We all sin. This is why we need to accept Jesus' payment for our sins.
Another Biblical definition of sin is found in (1 Jn 5:17) "All unrighteousness is sin." In short, righteousness is "doing" what is right or just according to God's standards. Again, this standard for being righteous means keeping God's law (Deut 6:25)(Rom 10:5) and this "instruction in righteousness" is found in the Bible (2 Tim 3:16). Jesus tells us that we will be "blessed" if we "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Mt 5:6). However, our righteousness will still fall short of God's standards (Eccl 7:20)(Rom 3:10)(Isa 64:6)(Mt 5:20).
Only God is truly righteous (Ps 145:17)(Jn 17:25)(Ps 50:6). However, it is interesting to note that numerous people are called "righteous," in the Bible: Noah (Gen 6:9,7:1), Abel (Heb 11:4)(Mt 23:35)(1 Jn 3:12), John The Baptist (Mk 6:20)(Lk 1:17), Joseph (Mt 1:19), and more. The Greek word for "righteous/just" is dikaios, and it is defined in Strong's as "equitable (in character or act); by impl. innocent, holy." Were these men actually "righteous" just as God is? Of course not... They all sinned (i.e. Noah get drunk; Gen 9:20-21). However, they were called "righteous" because their lives were filled with "choices" to put God first, and not sin. This was why "righteous" and "perfect" Noah was saved from the flood. He "found grace in God's eyes" (Gen 6:8). Why did Noah "find grace?" He "chose" to "walk with God" (Gen 6:9). God didn't "make" Noah walk with Him, Noah "chose" to walk with Him.
The rest of the Earth did not "choose" to walk with God. Why was the Lord upset that the "wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen 6:5) if God Himself had created man that way, with no choice but to sin unless He did something about it (regenerated them)?? It doesn't even make sense!
Check out these verses on Zacharias and Elizabeth in (Lk 1:5-6)(NASB), "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (6) They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord."
Why were Zacharias and Elizabeth "righteous?" They "walked blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord." Again, were they sinless? No... But, they made "choices" NOT to sin. Clearly then, even though we sin, we can have an identity of "righteous" (innocent/holy) rather than "sinner." How? By making choices not to sin (or "transgress the law'). Therefore, "we are sinners because we sin," NOT "we sin because we are sinners."
*** Note: I should add, however, that even those who were identified as "righteous" because of their choices still fell short of the "perfect" righteousness of God (which is needed) because of their sin. This is why they, and we need Jesus. Only Jesus had "perfect righteousness," and when we accept Him as Lord and Savior, His "perfect righteousness" (and sinlessness) is "imputed" to us (2 Cor 5:19,21)(Rom 4:7-8,24-25)(Phil 3:9).
#6. After God created all things (including Adam), He said that they were that they were "good" (Gen 1:4,10,12,18,21,25,31). (Ecc 7:29) says that God made man "upright." (Deut 32:4) says that "His (God's) work is perfect." Adam was created perfect, without a "sin-gene," yet he still sinned. Why? Because God gave man "free will," and Adam used that free will to choose that which was not "good." He chose to do that which God said not to do (he sinned: Gen ch.3). God punished Adam for this sin, and because of his sin, all of mankind was affected. The consequences of Adam's sin changed the world to come. All of mankind suffers for Adam's' sin (i.e. physical death, pain, sickness). However, facing the consequences of Adam's sin, and "inheriting" Adam's sin are two different things.
In addition to this, there is Satan. In (Ezek 28:11-19), we have what almost every scholar agrees is a description of Satan, and why he fell from Heaven. (Ezek 28:15) says, "You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you" (notice: "perfect").
(Ezek 28:16-17)(NASB) continues, "By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire. (17) "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, That they may see you."
Again, we have a being who was created "perfect," yet he still sinned. He CHOSE to sin, and was punished for that sin, being cast out of Heaven (along with one-third of the angels God had created; Rev 12:4) (Also see: Isa 14:12-15). It is also important to note that two-thirds of God's created angels chose NOT to sin. In Satan, we have another being (an angel) who sinned of his own volition, and not because of a "sin-gene." In fact, I think it is safe to say that angels do not have "genes" or DNA, yet they continue to sin. Therefore, Satan and the fallen angels do not "sin because they are sinners" (created that way with a sin-gene), but rather they are "sinners because they sin" (CHOOSING to sin in the beginning, and continuing to sin today).
#7. Was Jesus "fully" human? As Christians, we teach that Jesus was "fully God" and "fully man."
Coincidentally, the last study I wrote was on the different genealogies in Matthew and Luke. In speaking about the genealogy in Luke (through Jesus' mother Mary), I show that this genealogy was the "bloodline" or "physical" descent of Jesus. Through this genealogy we can see that Jesus was a "blood" relation to David and Abraham, and by going back to Adam, that He was "fully human" ("fully man and fully God" - hypostatic union).
In relation to this study, this shows that Jesus inherited genetic material because He was from the "seed" of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15). Jesus was also the "seed" David (2 Sam 7:12,16)(1 Chr 17:11)(Ps 89:3-4,29,34-37) and Abraham (Gen 22:15-18)(Gen 18:17-18)(Gen 26:2-4).
There are those who teach that Jesus did not "inherit original sin" from Adam (it was not "passed on") because God was His Father, and not man. However, the lineage given in Luke clearly shows a "direct" bloodline link to the "seed" of Adam and Eve (again see: Gen 3:15). Therefore, if there "was" a "sin-gene," it would have to have been "passed on" to Jesus through His mother Mary. According to the "Total Depravity" view, this would mean that Jesus was "born a sinner." However, we know that Jesus was sinless (2 Cor 5:21)(1 Pet 2:22)(1 Jn 3:5), so this is IMPOSSIBLE.
However, if Jesus had a "sin nature," with a free-will choice to sin or not (like we all have), then He could remain sinless by choosing not to sin. And, this is exactly what He did. He was tempted just like us (Heb 4:15)(Heb 2:18), but He did not give into that temptation and sin. (See: Mt 4:1-11 for an example of Jesus being tempted.) This also shows us that "temptation" is not sin. Temptations become sin when we give "birth" to them (James 1:14-15)(Mt 5:27-28). In other words, when we take those outward temptations and internalize them, they turn to sin. The difference between us and Jesus is that at some point, we ALL give "birth" to temptation. Jesus did not.
***Note: I also believe that because Jesus was "fully God," He could not have given "birth" to temptation (see: Q: #124.).
#8. "The devil made me do it." Back in the early 1970's, there was a comedian named Flip Wilson who had a comedy show on television. He sometimes played a character named Geraldine, and when she did something wrong, she would avoid responsibility for her wrong by saying, "The devil made me do it." In other words, she placed her wrongful action on someone else causing it. This could basically apply to "Total Depravity" too. Why did (or do) I sin? I couldn't help it, "God made me do it." By placing the blame for our sinful actions on God creating us that way, it takes the blame off of us!
Think about this logically: What should make us feel worse as humans: (A): that we are sinners because God created us that way, and we can't help it, OR (B): that we actually have a free will choice not to sin and we keep on making sinful choices? Which one of these most makes us realize how much we need a Savior to pay for our sins? I vote for (B). With (A) we have someone to blame for our sins (God); with (B) we can only blame ourselves.
This also makes me think of what we sometimes hear in the homosexual movement say today. How often do we hear the saying that "God made me this way?" It then follows that because "God made them that way," it must be ok to practice homosexuality. Some scientists have even gone as far as to look for a "homosexuality gene" that would further excuse this behavior. It is a dangerous path to go down when we start blaming our sinful behavior on God creating us that way.
In closing, as I said at the start, there are verses that support both positions in this debate. There are verses that "seem" to point to us being born sinners, and therefore condemned. However, are there actually places in the Bible showing God punishing people for being "born sinners?" You would be hard pressed to find any. Instead, God always punished people for sins they ACTUALLY committed ("breaking the law").
While I don't know if anyone has tested this theory or not, I honestly suspect that almost any non-Christian or new Christian reading through the Bible for the first time, without any outside influences, would come to the conclusion that God creates humans with a "total inability" to seek or choose Him. This should tell us something... It doesn't make sense. It is illogical. To me, it points to a man created doctrine, and it is destructive.