Systematic Theology

Is “Original Sin” Unfair? A Theological Response to President Duterte

Last month, social media went crazy with polarizing responses to President Duterte’s comments about the stupidity of the doctrine of original sin. In his speech at the opening of the 2018 National ICT Summit in Davao City, President Duterte questioned the fairness of the doctrine of original sin. Why would God create a perfect world only to curse it when Adam sinned? Why would Adam’s sin—the sin of one man—incriminate the entire human race? Critics were either appalled at Duterte’s comments or impressed with his acquaintance with deep theology. 

While the President has apologized for his scandalous speech, I’ll open up old wounds in an attempt to have a theological discussion. Better late than never. This short article provides not a political response to President Duterte’s comments, but a theological one. Regardless of your political allegiance or religious beliefs, you need to think through the classic Christian doctrine of “original sin.” Is it fair or not? If it’s not fair, then wouldn’t that make Duterte’s remarks somewhat accurate? If you think it’s fair, why do you think so? 

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What Is “Original Sin”?

The theological term “original sin” is a loaded concept. Some theologians prefer “inherited sin” as a more precise label. Christian theologian Wayne Grudem makes this insightful nuance,

I have used the phrase “inherited sin” rather than the more common designation “original sin” because the phrase “original sin” seems so easily to be misunderstood to refer to Adam’s first sin, rather than to the sin that is ours as a result of Adam’s fall…. If the term [“original sin”] is used, it should be remembered that the sin spoken of does not refer to Adam’s first sin, but to the guilt and tendency to sin with which we are born. (Systematic Theology, 494-495)

The doctrine of “original sin” teaches that the entire human race inherited the sin and guilt of Adam. In other words, the sin of Adam was counted as yours and mine by virtue of Adam’s role as the representative of the entire human race. This is precisely what Paul meant in Romans 5:12—“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (emphasis mine).” 

Four Reasons Why Original Sin Is Not Unfair

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President Duterte seemed to understand “original sin” and its apparent implications when he made his controversial comment: 

Who is this stupid God? You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would destroy the quality of your work. How can you rationalize that God? How can you believe him? So now we’re all born with an original sin. Even in the womb, we already have sin. What kind of religion is that?

President Duterte’s comment is a natural protest to the apparent unfairness of the concept of inherited sin. You and I did not decide to sin in the Garden—it was Adam—but why are we counted guilty? Is this fair? I propose four reasons why the classic Christian doctrine of “original sin” is not unfair.  

Reason #1: God, though absolutely sovereign, does not cause people (e.g. Adam) to sin

This is a crucial objection. President Duterte seems to implicate God for causing Adam to sin. The biblical narrative, however, makes it clear that God did not send the serpent to tempt Adam, nor did he orchestrate and plan for Adam to fail. 

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. James 1:13

While God is absolutely sovereign—so that nothing in the universe takes place without his authorizationHe is not the cause of sin. Each man is responsible for his own sinful actions. This truth is found all throughout the Christian Bible.

  • In the Old Testament, while the brothers of Joseph sinned against him, God sovereignly allowed it to happen. In the end, Joseph testifies, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
  • In the New Testament, while it was God’s plan for Jesus to die on the cross, the Jews were guilty of killing Jesus on their own volition, and they are without excuse. Peter brings this up in his sermon when he said, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

This is one of the mindboggling mysteries of God’s sovereignty. Did God allow Adam to sin or is Adam responsible for his actions? The answer to both questions has to be “yes.”

Reason #2: You and I could have made the same sinful choice if we were in Adam’s situation 

This may be a hypothetical reason, but it does not make the argument invalid. Our own rebellion against God demonstrates that if we were in Adam’s place, sooner or later, we would have made the same sinful choice of disobedience (Grudem, 495). Do you really think that you would have done better than Adam? 

Reason #3: Those who inherit the guilt of Adam have their own guilt from voluntary sins

There is no sense of complaining about the unfairness of receiving the guilt of Adam’s sin when we are guilty of our own sinful acts. Everyone blames Adam because of his failure, but one thing we learn from the story in Genesis is that you cannot blame others for your own sin. That’s precisely what Adam did when he blamed Eve (or God who gave Eve to him) and what Eve did when she blamed the serpent who tempted her. Yet Adam, Eve, and the serpent all received consequences for their sinful choices.

Those who object that they should not be guilty of Adam’s sin must realize that their own voluntary sins place them in the same state of condemnation. Grudem points out that these voluntary sins “will constitute the primary basis of our judgment on the last day” (see Romans 2:6 and Colossians 3:25) (Grudem, 495). 

Reason #4: The federal headship of Adam is the basis of the headship of Christ

The primary reason why inheriting the guilt of Adam is not unfair is because the same concept establishes the basis for any sinner to inherit divine righteousness. The message of the Christian gospel is that God sent Jesus Christ to live a perfect and righteous life and to die on the cross for the payment of sins on behalf of those who would believe in him. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

If it is unfair for us to receive the guilt of Adam, then wouldn’t it be unfair for us to receive the righteousness of Christ? But God finds it just to call those who believe in Jesus “not guilty” because, one, their sins are completely paid by Christ’s death and resurrection, and two, the perfect righteousness of Jesus is placed on their account. As Adam represents all mankind, so does Jesus—the “second Adam”—represent all believers. Paul sums it up this way,

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19

The last stanza of a classic Christmas hymn captures this truth (emphasis mine):

Come, Desire of nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home:
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head;
Adam’s likeness now efface,
  Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
  Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!


 

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