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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How Did Adam and Eve Sin if they were created "Good"?

In a prior post, I argued that not even Adam and Eve had a truly free will. If this is true, then the so-called Free Will Defense for the Problem of Evil fails, for they were created with a predisposition towards evil.

R. L. Dabney, the 19th century Calvinist theologian, attempts to explain how beings created as "very good" (Gen. 1:31)could sin. He writes:

How a holy will could come to have an unholy volition at first, is a most difficult inquiry. And it is much harder as to the first sin of Satan, than of Adam, because the angel, created perfect, had no tempter to mislead him and had not even the bodily appetites for natural good which in Adam were so easily perverted into concupiscence. Concupiscence cannot be supposed to have been the cause, pre-existing before sin; because concupiscence is sin, and needs itself to be accounted for in a holy heart. Man's, or Satan's, mutability cannot be the efficient cause, being only a condition sine qua non. Nor is it any solution to say with Turrettin, the proper cause was a free will perverted voluntarily. Truly; but how came a right will to pervert itself while yet right?

... The most probable account of the way sin entered a holy breast first, is this: An object was apprehended as in its mere nature desirable; not yet as unlawful. So far there is no sin. But as the soul, finite and fallible in its attention, permitted an overweening apprehension and desire of its natural adaptation to confer pleasure, to override the feeling of its unlawfulness, concupiscence was developed. And the element which first caused the mere innocent sense of the natural goodness of the object to pass into evil concupiscence, was privative, viz., the failure to consider and prefer God's will as the superior good to mere natural good. Thus natural desire passed into sinful selfishness, which is the root of all evil. ...

When we assert the mutability of a holy will in a finite creature, we only say that the positive element of righteousness of disposition may, in the shape of defect, admit the negative, not being infinite
(Systematic Theology, ch. 29).

So, if I understand Dabney correctly, Adam and Eve fell because they were created as finite beings. Even as a candle will eventually burn out due to its finiteness, the first human beings eventually sinned due to their finiteness. Thus, it was inevitable that they sin.

Shedd (vol. 2, p. 149)Adam was holy by creation, but not indefectibly and immutably so. The inclination of his will, though conformed to the moral law, was mutable, because his will was not omnipotent. When voluntary self-determination is an infinite and self-subsistent power, as it is in God, the fall of the will is impossible. But when voluntary self-determination is a finite and dependent power, as it is in man or angel, the fall of the will is possible. ... The power to the contrary; the possibilitas peccandi, or power to originate sin ; belonged to Adam's will because of its finiteness.

If it was inevitable that the first couple sin, then how can they be held culpable?

see discussion at Tribalogue

Unfortunately, since we are not in the position of Adam and since the Bible is silent on the issue, we can only answer with speculation. Granted, it is speculation that is informed by the rest of Scripture, but this isn't an issue that the Bible addresses specifically.

We do know that Adam's sin did not catch God off-guard. It was foreordained, yet in such a way that Adam freely sinned. These concepts are all clear from Scripture. While I do not have a perfect answer for the question, I will give you my speculation with the caveats that 1) I haven't really worked through this in its entirety and 2) I do not hold this position dogmatically and can easily be influenced away from it.

My current belief is that barring active influence from God in the form of common grace, it is impossible for anything to remain in a perfect state. That is, the natural state of everything is entropy, and this is true of man and his spirituality. Thus, it is impossible for God to create a man who of his own power (that is, apart from God's continual upholding via His grace and mercy) will remain steadfast and not turn toward sin.

The advantage to this argument is that it would explain why Adam sinned (i.e. God removed His grace and let Adam be as Adam would be, which invariably means Adam would "break" and sin) and it explains why we will not sin in heaven (i.e. God will not ever remove His grace from us, and therefore we will continually rely on His power to keep us in communion with Him for all time).

The drawback is that it relies on saying that it is impossible for God to create a man who would not sin if God ever let the man exist of the man's own power. However, I wouldn't have a problem with this in theory since I do not believe God can make a round square or any other contradiction, and if it is logically impossible for God to create a person who cannot sin without His continual grace then we don't have a problem there.

So the question would be, is it logically possible for God to create a person who is able of his own power to remain faithful to God? And I haven't worked through that one yet.

But at least it gives me something to think about.
12/16/2007 9:58 PM

see discussion Puritanboard

You are also going to have to avoid the Roman error: that Adam's human nature was naturally deficient, that it tended toward concupiscence without the donum superadditum, special grace needed to remain sinless

Rome says concupiscence (inclination to wrongdoing) is natural. Dabney says, "concupiscence was developed." At least Dabney admits the result is mysterious, and not a natural occurrence


  1. Something I have always wondered: Christians believe that God created a system of blood-atonement covenants to bring humankind to salvation, and that the Christ covenant will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus comes back to Earth, there's a big war between good and evil, good wins like any good fiction, and then there is a new heaven and a new Earth, and everything's peachy like it was before the Fall.

    So barring God turning people into will-deprived robots, what would stop people in the "new heaven" from repeating the Fall all over again? Not only do you have a lot more people, but you have eternity. Which as Stephen Hawking said once, is a very long time – especially toward the end.

  2. Mike,

    The answer I hear from Sunday School Christians is that once we see God's glory in heaven, we will not want to sin. Yes, free will must exist in heaven -- for an eternity without free will would totally suck -- but we will never choose to sin once we are in that place.

    This of course is pure speculation on the part of believers unless they are claiming special revelation. The Bible does not reveal any such details of the afterlife.

    I wonder if theologians have a better answer? There's a lot to be desired from the everybody-could-sin-but-they-won't theory of eternal bliss.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Your question reminds me that as a kid, heaven sounded so boring. No one could tell me what it would be like except we would spend a lot of time singing praises to God (or something like that).

    Even at the age of 6 or 7, I understood that this was figurative speech, but it still sounded like a place I should not be in a hurry to reach.

    Even as a believer, I would put on my seat belt. :-)

  5. Just for clarity, to long time readers of this blog, who is posting?

  6. The original posts (as opposed to the comments) were apparently set up in advance, and time-stamped to publish themselves on particular days. I'd guess that Dr. Pulliam intended to come back and clean this one up a bit, as the formatting and links are somewhat confusing.

  7. A lot of people (particularly ex-Christians) have wondered how on Earth Adam and Eve could have "sinned" if they had no knowledge of good and evil, and therefore no culpability. To be honest, I think theologians have ignored the Genesis creation story's inconsistencies, and have been trying to ret-con the story ever since.

    1. Ahab, They were told that they would die if they ate the fruit. Their Flesh believed the lie. They didn't need to know the difference between good and evil. The flesh cannot please God.

  8. I listened to your audio on why you left Christianity, and then I started looking through some of your posts and am very interested in speaking with you about some of your problems with Christianity. So far, from what I gather, you reject the Western scholastic view of God, as do I (Eastern Orthodox here) Just as you do in this above post.

    "If Adam and Eve were created good, how could they sin?" (paraphrase).

    This is a wonderful question, and a good observation. First of all, Eastern Orthodox Christians have been asking this question to Western Christians (Roman Catholics and protestants) for years now, and honestly, the patristic Christology answers these questions quite easily indeed.

    The problems are found in the Western confusion of nature and grace, and nature and person. Both Rome and protestantism share in the idea that nature became "bad", and our sins come from our nature. This is false. We fell from grace, meaning, our nature is alone now. Before the fall, grace was coupled with our nature. So now, we just have nature alone, which brings death about.

    Secondly, sin is not accrued by nature, but by persons (nature person distinction) If natures did things, then Jesus would have been two persons (Nestorianism) This is exactly what the West is, Nestorian to the core. They confuse nature and grace, along with many other weird things.

    The problems started with Original sin, which the East flat out denied from the get go, and said similar things I am saying here. I ask the question to protestants and Roman Catholics all the time, that if our nature is why we sin, then how is it that Adam and Eve sinned?

    Some advice though, protestantism won't help you out with any of your questions, or problems with Christianity, because their conclusions do not flow smoothly from the assumptions about nature/grace/person/ and Christology.

    I was a hardcore Calvinist for years, and never thought I would leave, until I read patristic thought. Read St. Maximos the confessor, St. Gregory the theologian, and see what they have to say.

  9. This is one question I come back to when speaking with other Christians. It always seems no one really has an answer. They say a lot of things, but no real answers.

  10. Hello!

    How much aronia juice to drink?