Adam's Original Sin: Imputation
The doctrine of Adam's original sin
1) The term "Adam's original sin" refers to Adam's first sin. It is not his whole life, it is the first sin he committed which was the sin of disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was the issue. Throughout the Scriptures there is so much teaching about the impact of Adam's sin, and it always treats Adam's sin as a literal historical event. If that did not occur historically then it takes the foundation completely out from under what is taught in the New Testament regarding sin and salvation.
2) Adam was the designated head of the human race, and that is called federal or representative headship. That means that is was Adam's sin and not the woman's sin that is determinative. 1 Timothy 2:13, 14, "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression." So in some sense her sin is not as significant as his, first because he is the head, and second because she is deceived. Her sin did not impact the creation, it did not impact their progeny. It was not her sin that was determinative, it was Adam's sin.
3) Federalism is the view that Adam is the representative of the entire human race. Therefore Adam's decision would affect all of the human race. Adam's decision was set up to be a representative decision so that whatever he decided, however he went, that would determine the course for the human race. If he passed the test and rejected the temptation and did not eat of the fruit if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil then all of his descendents would be born with positive, confirmed righteousness. If he failed the test, then all of his descendents would be born in corruption, in a world of suffering and spiritual death as well as physical death. Therefore when Adam sinned as humanity's representative head the entire race fell. There are many examples in the Scripture of representative headship at work, where God designates a certain person as the head of the family or as the head of a people group, and their decision has ramifications that go down throughout all of history. For example, in Genesis chapter nine there is a curse announced by Noah on his grandson Canaan. Actually, it is his son Ham who violates Noah's privacy, but when Noah pronounces a blessing and a curse on his sons that curse fell on Canaan. Canaan wasn't even the one directly involved in the sin and it is actually his descendents on whom the curse falls. We can also say that the blessing on Japheth was one that didn't actually go to Japheth himself, but went to all of the descendants of Japheth. Another example is with Esau and Jacob. When Esau sold his birthright to Jacob all of his descendants from the consequences of that as they were excluded from the blessing of the promise to Abraham and to Isaac. And again, the promise to Abraham is a promise of blessing to a representative head. The promise to Abraham was to all of his descendants. The principle in the federal headship of Adam is that God in His omniscience knew that any human being put in that same situation with Adam under any set of circumstances would end up committing the same sin eventually.
4) The other view, which has to do with the transmission of guilt, is called seminalism, which comes from the Latin word which means seed. The idea in seminalism, which was a view originally set forth by Augustine and also held by Calvin and Luther, is the view that all humanity participated physically in Adam's sin, that the sin nature and the guilt of Adam's sin was passed on physically through procreation. That is the idea of seminalism. It is not only the sin nature but also the guilt of Adam's original sin were passed on physically through procreation. The biblical support for seminalism comes out of a passage in Hebrews—Hebrews 7:9, 10, "And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him." Levi was one of the sons of Jacob who later became known as Israel. Levi was the great grandson of Abraham, so there was quite a distance of time between them. Levi was not physically present when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, but what the writer of Hebrews says is that he was there seminally "in the loins of his father." Therefore you can say that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. So the argument is that this shows that there is a physical or genetic tie or connection that is passed down physically through procreation from one generation to the other. When the argument is looked at you have Romans 5:12 to support federalism and you have Hebrews 7:9, 10 to support seminalism. The fact is, there are elements of both that are true and so we have to refine our thinking a little bit. Remember that in federalism both the sin nature and Adam's original sin are imputed on the basis of the representative principle. In seminalism the sin nature plus Adam's original sin are passed on genetically. But the way both are true is that the sin nature is passed on genetically and Adam's original sin on the basis of Adam's federal headship, is then imputed to that sin nature. So there are elements on both that are true and this is how you put them together. Adam's original sin is the result of the federal headship of Adam; seminalism is the result of the physical connection the sin nature is passed on genetically from father to the next generation.
1) Understanding how the elements of both are true. In seminalism we see that the sin nature is passed on genetically through procreation. On the male side every sperm cell in the human body contains 46 chromosomes which give the blueprint of who you are. Those chromosomes pass on the genetic physical aspect to the sin nature. Wee know this because the sin nature is referred to in Scripture with such terms as "flesh," "body of sin," an other terms indicating a physical dimension to the sin nature. When these chromosomes that contain this genetic corruption of the sin nature are passed on they go down through the male. The cell splits into two cells that have 23 chromosomes each, and then those two cells mature into two mature sperm cells. This is an operation called meiosis. Then on the female side there is an egg that is produced, and it starts off with 46 chromosomes but in the process of meiosis it throws off 23 chromosomes in what is called polar bodies, a process of cell purification, so that when it is ready for fertilization the egg has only 23 chromosomes and has been purified. So on the female side is a purified egg but on the male side nothing is lost and so there is still a sin nature. When the sperm cell fertilizes the egg then the sin nature is passed on from one generation to the next. This shows one of the reasons for the virgin birth. When the male side is removed at the virgin conception and the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, then what happens in the virgin conception is the Holy Spirit causes the egg to have parthenogenesis without benefit of the sin nature so that the product is one hundred per cent true humanity, minus a sin nature and minus Adam's original sin. Because there is no sin nature there is no home for the assignment/imputation of Adam's original sin. Therefore Jesus in His humanity is born without a sin nature and without the imputation of Adam's original sin. He is born sinless or impeccable. That explains the seminalism side of the issue. It just deals with the physical transmission of the sin nature. On the federalism side where we see Adam as our designated head, his guilt is imputed to us, so that at the instant of birth we are born with a sin nature, and that sin nature is going to be the home to which God is going to impute Adam's original sin—the legal (not emotional) guilt of Adam's original sin.
The doctrine of imputations
There are two categories of imputation. The first is real imputations and the second is called judicial imputations. Real imputation is when the justice of God imputes under the principle of antecedence and affinity. What is imputed has an affinity, which is an agreement or a correspondence for that to which it is imputed. That means there is an affinity between Adam's original sin on the one hand and its home which is the sin nature. They are like things, there is no discontinuity there. So there are two factors involved here: what is imputed from the justice of God, and the home or the target for the imputation. In terms of antecedence, that antecedence goes back to Adam's original sin, the original fall, and the affinity is the agreement between Adam's original sin and the sin nature. This makes it a real imputation.
There are four real imputations. The first is Adam's original sin to the sin nature. The second type of real imputation is eternal life to the human spirit—there is an affinity there. The human spirit is that which the Holy Spirit creates and imparts to us at the instant of salvation, and that is what gives us the ability and understanding to relate to God. The third is blessings in time are imputed to our perfect righteousness. We have perfect righteousness imputed from a judicial imputation and blessings in time are imputed to that. Fourth, blessings in eternity are imputed to the resurrection body. So those four imputations are real—Adam's original sin to the sin nature, eternal life to the human spirit, blessings in time to perfect righteousness, blessings in eternity to the resurrection body. Those are all real imputations because there is an affinity between what is imputed and its home.
Then we come to the second category of imputations, and these are judicial imputations. Judicial imputations take place where the justice of God imputes what is not antecedently one's own and where there is no affinity. In other words, there is no preceding action of event in the one to whom something is judicially imputed which warrants that imputation. Therefore there is no affinity, no agreement or inherent similarity between what is imputed and the recipient. That becomes clear when we look at the two judicial imputations.
The first is personal sin to Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ was born without a sin nature. He never committed any act of personal sin. Therefore there is nothing in Christ, no antecedent action, nothing preceding the cross which has any affinity or correlation with sin. The point here is that when personal sins were imputed to Christ there was nothing in Christ that had any affinity to personal sin, or there was no action in the life of Christ which made a basis for that imputation. In the same way on the second type of imputation, which is perfect righteousness to the believer at the point of salvation, there is no affinity. The believer is born with a sin nature. He has three strikes against him: he has a sin nature; he has been imputed with Adam's original sin; and he has personal sins. So there is no antecedent action of perfection in man to make him worthy of salvation. There is nothing in man that has affinity with perfect righteousness; therefore it is a judicial imputation.
So to go back to where we started, there are two ways of explaining the relationship of Adam's sin to his descendants. These are called federalism and seminalism. To remember this, a key word for federalism is "representative"; a key word for seminal is "physical." So that one is not physical and is going to be legal and the other is going to be physical and genetic. They both have elements of truth to them and they are both supported by passages in the Scripture. Therefore we can say that federalism deals with the imputation of Adam's original sin and seminalism has to do with the genetic transmission of the sin nature. They way they come together is that at the instant of birth Adam's original sin is imputed to the sin nature, and that is called a real imputation. The key passage for this is Romans 5:12, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and [spiritual] death by sin; and so death [spiritual] passed upon all men, for [this reason] all sinned."
The "one man" of Romans 5:12 is Adam. Because of Adam's decision sin entered into the world. Here we have the aorist active indicative of the verb EISERCHOMAI [e)iserxomai] which means to go into or to enter. This is a culminative aorist, it looks at the conclusion of a process, the completion of an action in past time, and that indicates that Adam's sin entered the world at one time in human history. That is a completed action that happened when Adam sinned in Genesis chapter three. That sin ended the age of perfect environment, ended the first dispensation, violated God's covenant which had been established with Adam, and plunged the human race into sin. Prior to the fall God's love was the basis for man's relationship with God and the foundation of his fellowship, but after Adam sinned the point of contact shifted from God's love to God's righteousness and justice. These had to be satisfied before God could save mankind.
All have sinned because spiritual death is the situation in man. This takes place because man is born with a genetically formed sin nature to which Adam's original sin is imputed. The result of this is spiritual death. This occurs at the instant of birth. That explains man's condition. The reason there is so much suffering in the world is because man is under condemnation. He is spiritually dead, separated from God, cannot understand divine things, and he does not understand the truth of God's Word.
Romans 5:13, "For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law." The point that Paul was addressing here is that there were many Jews who taught that it was the Mosaic law that condemned man, that because they failed to obey the law they were under condemnation. But the problem is that the Mosaic law doesn't define sin, it is not the basis for condemnation, it exposes sin. All of the things defined as sin in the Mosaic law had been sin for 2000 years before the Mosaic law. It was a sin to commit murder in Genesis four, as we will see. So the Mosaic law doesn't define sin, it is designed to expose sin in the life of the nation Israel. Romans 3:20, " … by the law is the knowledge of sin." The law was designed to expose man's inability to live up to God's righteous standards. Cf. Romans 7:7. The point of this, then, is that personal sin is not the basis for condemnation. We are not condemned because of what we do, we are condemned because of what Adam did. Condemnation is based on original sin. As a result of that we are born condemned, born a sinner.
The conclusion that we draw from all of this is that Adam's sin is not just his sin. Adam's sin is our sin, the sin of the entire human race. All of Adam's descendants are born in a state of helplessness, hopelessness and under condemnation. They are born with a corruption. That means that there is nothing in any of us that allows us to do anything to merit salvation.