Further Remarks on Sinful Nature
The Christian doctrine of sinful nature proposes that, as a result of the Fall, all human beings are born sinners, not because they personally choose to disobey God but because they have inherited the status of sinner through the propagation of the species. While no one claims that sin is passed on by DNA, the doctrine essentially suggests that the very act of conception insures the resulting child will be a sinner in need of saving grace. Why? Because the spiritual nature of this newly-created being has already been tainted by Adam’s original sin and is therefore deserving of eternal punishment. The inherited sinful nature is the ultimate cause of all resulting sinful actions. In this sense, sinful nature is much like blood type. It cannot be changed. It is part of what it means to be a unique human being and it is the foundation of one’s existence. Sinful natures, of course, produce what they essentially are – sin. Just as an acorn cannot produce a banana tree, so a man with a sinful nature cannot produce righteousness. Sinful natures produce sin and on that basis every man, no matter what age, is guilty either because he has actually followed his nature and committed acts of disobedience or in principle because given time he will produce acts of disobedience. Having a sinful nature is being guilty.
Kierkegaard wasn’t the first to recognize that if this doctrine is true, every sex act that results in pregnancy propagates more rebellious human beings. Therefore, it must follow that pregnancy itself is a concomitant in crimes against righteousness. If Christians wish to eradicate the sinful nature of men, they must stop producing children. In fact, insofar as they have children, they are merely adding to the register of those condemned to hell. To produce a child knowing that this child will add to the enormity of sin by simply being born must strike at the very heart of righteousness. Christian parents become the progenitors of sinners. God’s institution of marriage and His command to be fruitful results in expanding the borders of Hades. That is certainly comforting, isn’t it?
Furthermore, if men are born with a sinful nature that causes their actual sins, then it is hardly reasonable to hold them accountable for such behavior. Would we condemn a child born blind for not being able to cross the freeway safely? Would we prosecute a Downs-syndrome infant for not walking properly at 12 months or speaking with perfect diction at age three? If our sense of justice makes allowances for those who are born with defects not of their choosing, what kind of God would condemn the otherwise innocent to eternal punishment simply because their most distant ancestor passed on to them a defective trait?
For that matter, if sinful nature is not a direct result of the physical human genome, then how does it get passed to human offspring? Does God Himself insure that this nature determined to rebel against the Creator makes its way into the “spiritual” DNA of the child? Or does God simply declare that all subsequent human beings following Adam will be treated as if they were also engaged in Adam’s act? Either way, do we really wish to serve a God who is so implacable and uncaring as to condemn millions to eternal hell for being born? How can we reconcile this with the overwhelming evidence of personal responsibility and culpability found in Scripture? Or perhaps we should simply erase all those passages, knowing that they make no difference in the long run.
Maybe we need to consider just how much Greek philosophy influenced this idea of sinful nature, an idea that did not arise in theological thinking prior to the second century AD. Perhaps we need to begin once more with a thorough review of the difference between the Greek and the Hebrew view of Man.