The Imputation of Adam’s First Sin as Our Guilt

The imputation of Adam’s guilt to us is not based on anything that is in us, but is something legally applied to us by God from the outside and not based on any sinful thought or action on our part. Not all Reformed are agreed on this. Calvin himself followed Augustine in putting the emphasis on inherited corruption as foundational. But I myself would stand with the “federal theology” of John Murray, Hodge, Turretin, which talks about “original sin” in terms of legal representation. (as for contemporaries, both Mike Horton and John Piper speak of legal representation from Adam, but there are “realists” who are more in the tradition of Jonathan Edwards and Shedd–people like Schreiner and Blocher)

This imputation from Adam to humans, is about the legal transfer of the guilt of Adam’s one action, his first sin. The guilt of Adam is “external” to Adam–it’s the value, the demerit of his action, as judged by God, and that guilt is transferred to every human (Christ, the God human, the second Adam, excepted). This guilt is not simply the liability or punishment for sin, but is the sin itself.

That which is transferred from Adam to us is first of all EXTERNAL.

1. When Christ “bears sins” or is “made sin”, this does NOT mean that Christ himself ever became corrupt. Christ had no need of regeneration, which is why Romans 6 is not about regeneration, not about water, but about legal placing into the death of Christ. Why was the legal death of Christ necessary—because of the guilt of the elect imputed to Christ, this guilt demanded his death, and his death demanded the remission of this guilt. Justice has been done, and those in Christ legally must have their guilt forgiven. This is good news indeed!

2. The guilt of the elect imputed by God to Christ is not the same as the guilt of Adam imputed by God to all humans, but the nature of the imputation of guilt is the same in both cases. We must teach an external (judicial) imputation. The more basic solution is not a regeneration of our insides (though that is necessary for other reasons, so that we believe), because the most basic problem we have is that apart from the cross (the death of Christ) God counts everyone’s sins against them.

3. Emphasis on the external is very important when we consider II Corinthians 5:21. I won’t extend the discussion here to talk about who died with Christ (5:14-15) or to whom the appeal to be reconciled is made (II Cor 6;1), but I will point out that “become the righteousness of God in Christ” is about having an external righteousness imputed to us. Because that is so, the “made sin” of the first part of the verse must be seen as about external guilt being imputed to Christ.

In other words, if the first part (made sin) is about some “inner corruption”, then 1. that says that Christ needed to be born again. God forbid! but 2. it would say that our righteousness is something found in us, or something in our faith, or something in Christ in us, or something indwelling. When the gospel is first of all about LOOKING OUT to Christ outside us, to Christ external to us. To become the righteousness of God in Christ is to be imputed with Christ’s righteousness, the external “merits” of the obedience of Christ for the elect.

This is not denying that the “in us” or the “new birth” is important, but it’s saying that those miracles are a result of the legal imputation of the EXTERNAL. Romans 8: 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

A Lutheran tells me—one must not attribute to the Lutherans the Calvinist idea that God imputes Adam’s sin to us, for we are all responsible for our actions that do not derive from full fear, love, and trust in God

mark: I am hoping that not all Lutherans would agree with this, because it seems to be a rejection of any notion of “original sin”. If we are only responsible for our own sins, then what is left of original sin? If we find the imputation of Adam’s sin not just, why should we find the imputation of Christ’s finished work to be acceptable? If we can’t be condemned for Adam’s sake alone , how could we be justified for Christ’s sake alone?

Most people in our day do reject both imputations. Certainly the “new perspective on Paul” does. But it seems that many others reject it as well. Are Lutherans saying that the only effect in our life from Adam’s sin is death and being a sinner? Are they rejecting any idea that we are sinners because of Adam’s guilt? If you deny that you can be legally judged because of Adam’s sin, must you not also deny that you can be legally justified because of Christ’s righteous death?

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13 Comments on “The Imputation of Adam’s First Sin as Our Guilt”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    from the Protestant Reformed Seminary Journal, April 2002, by David Engelsma

    Against the interpretation of Calvin that has him teaching original guilt, albeit in embryonic form, however, stands Calvin’s commentary on Romans 5:12ff. He explains our relation to Adam in terms of Adam’s extending his corruption to us, which corruption constitutes our only guilt in the matter of Adam’s sin. Calvin explicitly rejects the doctrine of original guilt in the sense of our responsibility for Adam’s deed of disobedience.

    There are indeed some who contend, that we are so lost through Adam’s sin, as though we perished through no fault of our own, but only, because he had sinned for us. But Paul distinctly affirms, that sin extends to all who suffer its punishment: and this he after wards more fully declares, when subsequently he assigns a reason why all the posterity of Adam are subject to the dominion of death; and it is even this—because we have all, he says, sinned. But to sin in this case, is to become corrupt and vicious; for the natural depravity which we bring from our mother’s womb, though it brings not forth immediately its own fruits, is yet sin before God, and deserves his vengeance: and this is that sin which they call original.

    Commenting on verse 17, which compares death’s reigning by Adam and our reigning in life by Jesus Christ, Calvin calls attention to a “difference between Christ and Adam”:

    By Adam’s sin we are not condemned through imputation alone, as though we were punished only for the sin of another; but we suffer his punishment, because we also ourselves are guilty; for as our nature is vitiated in him, it is regarded by God as having committed sin. But through the righteousness of Christ we are restored in a different way to salvation.

    For Calvin, our sinning in Adam, as taught in Romans 5:12, is strictly that “we are all imbued with natural corruption, and so are become sinful and wicked.”8 The race becomes guilty for Adam’s transgression only by sharing in Adam’s depraved nature. Adam sinned. The punishment for Adam was, in part, the immediate corruption of his nature. But this is the nature of all his posterity (Christ excepted). All of Adam’s posterity are held responsible for the corrupted nature. Not sheer legal representation by a covenant head, but involvement in a corporate nature renders the race guilty before God. I am not responsible for Adam’s disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit. But I am responsible for the sinful nature with which God punished Adam for his act of disobedience.

    This view of original sin leaves Calvin with a huge problem. By what right did God inflict the punishment of a corrupt nature on Adam’s posterity? That the corruption of human nature was divine punishment on Adam, Calvin acknowledges. But it was as well punishment of Adam’s posterity. This, Calvin does not like to acknowledge. Rather, he likes to regard the depraved nature only as the guilt of Adam’s posterity. The question that exposes the weakness — serious weakness — of Calvin’s doctrine here is this: If I am not guilty for Adam’s act of disobedience, with what right does God punish me — not Adam, but me — with a totally depraved nature?

    Calvin’s explanation of the origin of the sin of the human race also has an important implication for the headship of Adam. Adam was head of the race, to be sure. But his headship consisted only of his depraving the human nature of which all partake. His was not the headship of legal representation. Adam did not stand in such a covenantal relation to all men, that, altogether apart from the consequent corrupting of the nature, all are responsible before God for Adam’s act of disobedience.

    In view of the apostle’s comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12ff. (“as by the offence of one … even so by the righteousness of one,” v. 18), Calvin’s explanation of the headship of Adam would mean that Christ’s headship also consists only of His being the source of righteousness to His people by actually infusing it into them. If Adam’s headship was not legal representation, neither is Christ’s headship legal representation. But this destroys the fundamental gospel-truth of justification as the imputation of Christ’s obedience.

    Calvin recognizes the danger. Therefore, in his commentary on Romans 5:17 Calvin proposes a “difference between Christ and Adam.” “By Adam’s sin we are not condemned through imputation alone,” but “through the righteousness of Christ we are restored in a different way to salvation.”

    The trouble is that Paul does not teach such a “difference between Christ and Adam.” Paul rather declares, “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom. 5:18).

    If our guilt in Adam is not by imputation of a deed of disobedience, neither is our righteousness in Christ by imputation of a deed of obedience. This is the theology of Rome, dishonoring the God of grace. It is also the heresy that increasingly finds favor with Protestant theologians.

    The “difference between Christ and Adam” that Calvin injects into Romans 5:12ff. does not exist. Verse 18 teaches that the transgression of one man — Adam, according to verse 14 — was the condemnation of all men. In verse 19, the apostle states that the disobedience of the one man rendered many people sinners. The verb translated “made” by the King James Version does not mean “made” in the sense of causing people actually to become sinful. Rather, it means “constituted” in the sense of a legal standing of guilt before God the judge.

    One could translate: “By one man’s disobedience many were declared sinners.” Even so, the righteousness of one — Jesus Christ — was the justification of all whom He represented, and His obedience constitutes many people righteous.

    The comparison between the two covenant heads of the human race in history consists exactly of this, that both are legal representatives of others, Adam, of the entire human race, Christ only excepted, and Christ, of the new human race of the elect church. Because Adam was covenant (federal) head of the race, his act of disobedience was imputed to the race as their guilt. Because Christ is covenant (federal) head of the elect church, His obedience is imputed to the church as our righteousness.


    from Blocher, p 564, From Heaven he Came

    Some of the Reformed have denied the universal love of God. though they quote verses such as Malachi 1:3 (Esau I have haged) and Psalm 5:5, their denial is so opposed to the drift of Scripture that I rule it out of court.

    So Blocher teaches universal love but not ‘egalitarian love which smacks of humanism”

    So he disagrees with Barth and the Torrances when they claim that “any attribute necessary to God is necessarily exercised by God equally on all of whom it is logically possible to exercise it.”

    Blocher praises the “beautiful essay” by Andrew Swanson, “The Love of God for the Non-Elect”, Reformation Today, May 1976

    p 565 “I choose to speak of God’s will of desire (which generates precepts) and God’s will of decree.”

    “The permissive character of the sovereign decision over the vessels of wrath makes it possible to coexist with the salvific desire and universal love. Yet it is no rational decision solution. I cannot understand why the Lord of Lords so decides about men and women he loves.”


  3. markmcculley Says:

    If that assertion is, ‘all men are regarded as sinners on account of Adam,’ the meaning and pertinency of these verses are clear. But if Romns 5: 12 asserts merely that all men are sinners, then verses. 13, 14 must be regarded as proving that men were sinners before the time of Moses – a point which no one denied, and no one doubted, and which is here entirely foreign to the apostle’s object

    Of course it is not denied that men are subject to death for their own sins; but that is nothing to the point which the apostle has in hand. His design is to show that there is penal evil to which men are subject, anterior to any personal transgression or inherent corruption.


    In other words, it was “by the offense of one man that judgment came on all men to condemnation.” It is of course not implied in this statement or argument, that men are not now, or were not from Adam to Moses, punishable for their own sins, but simply that they are subject to penal evils which cannot be accounted for on the ground of their personal transgressions

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Bill Parker, What is a Christian, Reign of Grace, 2016—

    p 138—“The wrath of God has never been on God’s elect personally.”

    Parker thinks the only salvation is the new birth, not justification.—even though the ot elect did not know it, they were born justified.

    Bill teaches that all infants who die (or who were born mentally challenged (what about those who became mentally challenged later in life>), even though they are not born again, are not ever under God’s wrath merely because of Adam’s guilt imputed. p 34

    If none of the elect are ever under the wrath of God in Adam, salvation by the new birth is only evidence that they were always justified.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Robert Letham—I will focus my comments on chapter 4, which addresses the question of what kind of humanity the Son of God assumed. The thesis is that for Christ to identify with us in our fallen condition, it was necessary for him to have a fallen human nature. By assuming humanity in its fallenness he redeemed it from where it actually is, otherwise he could not have saved us in our actual state as fallen human beings. This is akin to the teachings of Edward Irving and Karl Barth, as well as Torrance.

    There are a range of problems with the claim. At best, it entails a Nestorian separation of the human nature from the person of Christ. The eternal Son—the person who takes humanity into union—is absolutely free from sin but the assumed humanity is fallen. If that were to be avoided, another hazard lurks; since Christ’s humanity never exists by itself any attribution of fallenness to that nature is a statement about Christ, the eternal Son.

    The authors do not consider biblical passages that tell against their views. Romans 5:12–21, crucial for understanding Paul’s gospel, is not mentioned. If Christ had a fallen human nature it is unavoidable that he would be included in the sin of Adam and its consequences. In short, he could not have saved us since he would have needed atonement himself, if only for his inclusion in the sin of Adam.

    The authors state that Christ assumed flesh “corrupted by original sin in Adam” (p. 116, italics original). He took a humanity “ruined and wrecked by sin” (p. 119), “corrupted human nature bent decisively toward sin” (p. 121). He healed the nature he took from us (p. 117). In this they acknowledge that a sinful nature and original sin are inextricably linked and that Christ himself needed healing. Such a Christ cannot save us for he needed saving himself.

    Christ’s healing of human nature happened from the moment of conception (p. 121–22). He was without sin. Thankfully this obviates the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph but simultaneously it destroys the argument for it means Christ’s humanity was not entirely like ours after all.Christ does not identify with us to the extent of being a sinner, has “a peculiar distance” from our own performance, does not follow our path, and has an “estrangement from us” due to his obedience (p. 122–23).

    Throughout, the authors oppose the idea that Christ took into union a nature like Adam’s before the fall. However, this is not the only alternative. Reformed theology has taught that Christ lived in a state of humiliation, sinless and righteous but with a nature bearing the consequences of the fall in its mortality, its vulnerability and its suffering—but not fallen. Furthermore, the NT witness is that the incarnation is a new creation, the start of the new humanity, not a re-pristinization of the old. Christ is the second Adam, not the first.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Vickers spends almost twenty pages discussing the meaning of the Greek clause evfV w-| pa,ntej h[marton (translated “because all sinned” by the ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, etc.) at the end of v. 12. Two questions essentially sum up the debate. First, does evfV w-| function as a relative clause referring to an antecedent or is it a conjunction typically translated “because”? Second, does pa,ntej h[marton refer to the actual sins that individuals commit, or does it refer to the fact that all humanity sinned when Adam, their representative, sinned?

    The typical Reformed reading of 5:12 holds to the latter of the two options in each of these questions–death spread to all men because all sinned legally when their representative Adam sinned.
    Vickers, however, adopts the first reading in each of the questions above, while at the same time upholding key Reformed doctrines. According to Vickers, evfV w-| functions as a relative clause, with the relative pronoun referring back to “death” in the preceding clause. “All sinned” refers to the actual sins that individuals commit. He translates 5:12 as follows: “Therefore, just as through one man sin came into the world, and death came through sin, so in this way death spread to all men on account of which condition all sinned” (124, emphasis his).

    In other words, the condition of death, resulting from Adam’s sin, leads to all people committing personal sin. His main arguments for this reading are that evfV w-| in the Bible does not support a causal translation and that the context refers to individual acts of sin (cf. 5:14). In fact, the same language, pa,ntej h[marton, is also used in 3:23 to refer to personal sin (“for all have sinned and fall short…”).

    Individuals are accountable for their own sin, not the sin of others, as passages such as Jeremiah 29:30 and Ezekiel 18:4 make clear. Vickers rejects the idea that “each person is guilty of Adam’s actual sin” (140 n. 106, emphasis his)…. Thus the ground for the sinfulness of humanity…rests upon the situation that resulted from Adam’s sin” (140).

    The biggest potential problem with Vickers’ view is that, if Paul is referring to the sin of individuals in 5:12, and if that sin in some way leads to their condemnation, doesn’t that leave the door open for understanding our individual acts of righteousness as in some way playing a part in our justification?

    The problem here is inserting personal sin into a context that repeatedly refers to the sin of “one man.” In this regard, Vickers appeals to 5:14 as a clear reference to personal sin. He says, “Even if personal sin is excised from verse 12 there is still an unavoidable reference to it in verse 14.” But this reading of v. 14 misses Paul’s point in vv. 12-14 and weakens the case for imputation.

    In 5:13, Paul uses the language of “imputing”: “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (NASB). In other words, Paul is saying that, until the Law comes, “sin” is not charged to people’s account. It is only when the Law comes, and sin becomes “transgression,” this it is legally charged. He made a similar point in 4:15: “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.”

    Yet, Paul goes on to say in 5:14, that does not mean that all who lived before the Law was given go through life blissfully innocent. They die and face condemnation: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” But if their sin was not reckoned to their account, how can they be condemned?

    There is only one answer: Adam’s sin was imputed to them. Paul’s point in 5:14, then, is not to draw attention to the personal sin of those who lived after Adam. It is, rather, to highlight the reality of death and how all who do not commit “transgression” face death. Death/condemnation is because of Adam’s sin imputed to all. If, indeed, this is Paul’s point, “all sinned” in 5:12 most logically refers to the legal reality that all sinned when Adam, their representative, sinned. It also primes the reader to understand the rest of chapter 5 in terms of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness


  7. markmcculley Says:

    Christ’s death will never be imputed to the non-elect, because the sins of the non-elect were never imputed to Christ

    when people object to having the guilt of Adam imputed to them, we try to answer
    by asking, do you object to having Christ’s death to you

    the truth is that some do object to having Christ’s death imputed to them
    they want transformation caused in them, but they don’t want death imputed

    and others agree that they need Christ’s death imputed to them
    but only as the addition to what God has done in them

    and then there are the others, the non-elect
    do you object to having Christ’s death imputed to you

    no, Christ’s death will never be imputed to the non-elect, and the guilt of Adam imputed to the non-elect is enough to condemn them

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Ephesians 2 is NOT about “spiritual death” (corruption) and regeneration

    in the flesh, and under the wrath, are not the same thing–two different categories

    if you are in the flesh and do not believe the gospel, then you are also under God’s wrath

    if you are still under God’s wrath, then you are also still in the flesh and do not believe the gospel

    Romans 8: 7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because the flesh does not submit itself to God’s law, for the flesh is unable to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God.

    John 3 : Unless someone is born of the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.

    justification is not regeneration John 5: 24 “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has lasting life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

    regeneration is not justification John 5: 25 “I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

    no faith in the true gospel, no sign or evidence of regeneration—faith in the true gospel is not a condition but a result of the new birth

    I Corinthians 2: 14 But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because what comes from God’s Spirit is foolishness to them

    Ephesians 1: 13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.

  9. Mark Mcculley Says:

    if Adam was “eternally justified”, then how could Adam’s first sin be imputed even to Adam?

    Do those who teach “eternal justification” deny that Adam’s first sin was imputed to all humans with Adam’s nature?

    if all the elect were “eternally justified”, how could they have had Adam’s first sin imputed to them?

    Romans 5:12 As sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned

    Romans 5:21 As sin reigned in death, so also grace WILL reign through righteousness, resulting in lasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord

  10. Mark Mcculley Says:

    We know that the names of the justified elect are written in the book of life, and will not enter into the judgment of works. But what about the non-elect condemned?
    Do the non-elect become “spiritual dead” when they are thrown into the lake of fire?
    Or was Satan already “spiritually dead” before Satan was thrown into the lake of fire?
    What is “spiritual death”?
    How long do sinners keep living after the “second death”
    Revelation 19: 20 But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with him the false prophet, who had performed the signs. The false prophet had deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire
    Revelation 20: 10 The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet were. 12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened…and the dead were judged according totheir works by what was written in the books.
    13 Death and Hades gave up their dead. All were judged according to their works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And anyone not foundwritten in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire

  11. Mark Mcculley Says:

    the truth that some sinners have been baptized into Christ
    is no evidence that I have been baptized into Christ
    not all sinners have been baptized into Christ
    and not all sinners watered have been baptized into Christ

    those who have once been in Christ stay in Christ it did not depend on sin or faith for them to be in Christ nor does it now depend on sin or faith for them to stay in Christ
    those put in Christ by God’s imputation will now always be out of Adam

    not everybody is God’s own child, :
    Jesus died for Christians
    the gospel is for Christians
    not everybody is or will be Christians

    not everybody is baptized into Christ!
    even though everybody needs His death to pay for
    ALL their sins, even their unbelief
    Christ did not die for every sinner, and not every sinner died with Him

    Christ gave the full redemption price only for those who believe
    And this redemption causes them to believe
    This is why even their believing is not part of the payment
    Christ did not pay the price for those who will not be redeemed

    Do I need clergy and sacrament
    to make sure that eternal life lasts
    at least until I die
    Or is salvation free because Christ paid it all?

    The water cannot comfort
    because many with water perish
    but none die the second death for whom Jesus made the sacrifice

    It was not water or clergy
    that placed me into Christ’s death
    by God’s imputation I am located
    in the righteousness of Christ

    Satan accuses those whose guilt
    has not been paid with Christ’s death
    Satan turns even gospel into law
    claiming that Christ paid, but then still condemns
    those who sin the one sin the false gospel
    claims that Christ did not die for

    Satan says that death is nothing
    Satan promises that the real you will not die
    Satan lies that salvation depends on you
    Satan deceives with a false gospel conditioned on the sinner

    Satan tells us that we are immortal
    tells us that we have free will
    tells us that God loves everybody
    but where we will live depends on us

    But Genesis tells the truth
    Dust plus God’s breath becomes a; living human
    but the wages of sin is death
    only Christ is the life-giving Spirit for those the Father has given Him

    those once justified will be glorified
    they will not be condemned again
    they will not fall from grace

    having passed from death to life,
    their resurrection from the sleep of the grave
    is not another justification, not another judgment:

    those resurrected to immortality on that day
    will have already been justified
    and those raised for condemnation
    were never in Christ, never out of Adam

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