Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Christadelphian magazine and evolution. Part 6e - Andrew Bramhill

5. Romans 5:12 does not demand monogenesis

Ultimately, the question is answered not by appeal to authority, but appeal to the scriptural evidence, and here it is clear that Romans 5:12, one of the key passages cited as proof that humans genetically inherit the consequence of Adam’s sin does not say what opponents of evolution allege it does. Unfortunately, Romans 5:12, one of the more difficult passages to interpret, not only has suffered more than its share of flawed exegesis, but carries the legacy of Augustine’s deeply flawed reading. Romans 5v12 has traditionally been read as proof that all humanity sinned in Adam, and therefore genetically inherited the consequences of Adam’s sin. 

This cannot be sustained as this reading stems from the Old Latin text, which is regarded as inferior. A comparison of a representative modern version with the Douay-Rheims, which follows the Vulgate, makes this clear:
NRSV: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.

Douay-Rheims: Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.
The flawed nature of the Old Latin rendering of Romans 5v12 was recognised around half a millennium ago by the Dutch Biblical scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) who acknowledged that the Greek was better translated “because all have sinned.” The Council of Trent, the official Catholic response to the Reformation was aware of this, but still used the Latin!

Tellingly, contemporary Catholic theologians acknowledge Erasmus’ point. Jack Mahoney, in a recent book on Original Sin notes:
“The formal teaching of the Council of Trent, then, is that Adam’s original sin is inherited by everyone through procreation and that its guilt is forgiven by the conferring of baptism, yet something of its results remains even in the baptized, experienced as concupiscence or sinful desires, fomenting or fueling sin in each of us. On this several comments can be offered, the first crucially relating to where it all starts, namely, to what Paul meant in Romans 5:12 when he used the Greek phrase eph’ hō relating to Adam’s action. Augustine and others, including the council fathers at Trent, relying on the Old Latin translation, took this to mean in Latin in quo, or “in whom,” with the clear implication that everyone had sinned in Adam. Most exegetes today understand this phrase as using the common Greek preposition epi to imply succession rather than inclusion, thus giving the meaning “since when” all have sinned rather than “in whom” all have sinned. We must conclude that if this is the original Pauline meaning, it removes from divine revelation any reference to Adam’s descendants being incorporated in solidarity “in him” (in quo), and as a result it dispenses with the conclusion that the whole of succeeding humanity has been condemned en masse as a sort of “condemned mass in Adam,” as Augustine and others explained. J. N. D. Kelly delivers his considered verdict in explaining how the Old Latin version of the New Testament (which had influence only in the West) gave “an exegesis of Rom 5:12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin.”

“As a consequence of this reflection, it follows that there is now no need for theology to find a method by which to explain how all Adam’s offspring inherit his original sin. Trent’s insistence that Adam’s original sin was transmitted among all subsequent human beings by propagation, or by generation, rather than simply by imitation (which Pelagius was considered to have maintained) was clearly due more to the theological polemic of Saint Augustine against Pelagius and his supporters than to Paul’s writing centuries earlier.” [1]
Support for the view that physical death not only was unknown prior to Adam’s sin, but was genetically transmitted to his descendants as a punishment for sin is alien to the Bible:
1 Cor 15:21-22: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Note that it is death, and not mortality that comes through human sin. Failure to properly differentiate between these terms results in a confused understanding of the verses. It is nonsensical to read 1 Cor 15 as saying that mortality came through human action. Humans were created mortal – as bro. Thomas said earlier, ““Death and corruption, then, with reproduction, the characteristic of spring and summer, is the fundamental law of the physical system of the Six Days.” What came though human action was the introduction of eternal death as a punishment for sin, which is effected by letting people die, and not raising them from the dead. Needless to say, this answers perfectly with the second part of the verse – resurrection from death comes through human action.

The reference in verse 22 to dying ‘in Adam’ needs to be read in parallel to being made alive ‘in Christ’. Being ‘in Adam’ has nothing to do with being physically descended from Adam, and remember, the genomic data rules out universal human descent from Adam, so this interpretation is impossible. Rather, being in Adam refers to following his example of disobedience. The way in which we are made alive in Christ gives us the context to properly interpret the reference to being in Adam. Put simply, we are dealing with two different paths to follow. One leads to eternal death. The other leads to eternal life. Confusing death as a punishment for sin with mortality, which as bro Thomas noted was part of the original ‘very good’ creation results in confused exegesis, and sets us up for a pointless conflict between religion and science.


1. Mahoney J Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration (2011: Georgetown University Press) p 55