The Origin of Sin by Herman Bavinck

From REFORMED DOGMATICS - Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ by Herman Bavinck

The fallen world in which we live rests on the foundations of a creation that was good. Yet, it had scarcely been created before sin crept into it. The origin of sin is a mystery; it is not from God, and at the same time it is not excluded from his counsel. God decided to take humanity on the perilous path of covenantal freedom rather than elevating it by a single act of power over the possibility of sin and death.

Genesis 2:9 speaks of two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both are integral to the Genesis narrative, and attempts to discount one or the other destroy narrative meaning. Similarly, efforts to explain the meaning of either of the trees in terms of progress and development (tree of life as awakening of sexuality) ignore the plain reading of prohibition and punishment associated with eating the trees’ fruit. No, the story is a unity, and it is about the fall of humanity and the origin of sin. Genesis 3 is not a step of human progress but a fall.

This fall, however, is not simply human effort to achieve cultural power as a means of becoming independent from God. The Bible does not portray human cultural formation as an evil in itself so that rural simplicity is preferable to a world-dominating culture. The point of the “fall” narrative in Genesis is to point to the human desire for autonomy from God. To “know good and evil” is to become the determiner of good and evil; it is to decide for oneself what is right and wrong and not submit to any external law. In short, to seek the knowledge of good and evil is to desire emancipation from God; it is to want to be “like God.”

The entry into sin comes by way of the serpent’s lie. The serpent’s speaking has often been mistakenly considered an allegory for lust, sexual desire, or errant reason. The various mythical interpretations and even attempts to explain the narrative in terms of animal capacity for speech before the fall all fail to meet the intent of the passage and the teaching of Scripture as a whole. The only appropriate explanation is to recognize, with ancient exegesis, the entrance of a spiritual superterrestrial power. The rest of the Bible, however, is relatively silent about this, though its entire narrative rests on this spiritual conflict between the two kingdoms. Sin did not start on earth but in heaven with a revolt of spiritual beings. In the case of humanity, the temptation by Satan resulted in the fall. Scripture looks for the origin of sin solely in the will of rational creatures.

The Christian church has always insisted on the historical character of the fall. In our day this is challenged by historical criticism as well as evolutionary dogma. Those who would challenge this notion attempt instead to accommodate it by demonstrating the reality of the fall from experience, thus validating Genesis 3 as a description of reality rather than as history. This rests on a misunderstanding; it ignores the fact that we need the testimony of Scripture in order to “read” our experience aright. Neither the Genesis account nor its historical character can be dispensed with. In fact, objections to the reality of the fall are themselves increasingly under review by more recent trends in the biblical and archeological/anthropological sciences. The Genesis account, especially of the unity of the human race, speaks positively to our conscience and our experience.

Though no true parallel to the biblical account has been found, it is clear from the myths of other ancients that underlying the religious and moral convictions of the human race are common beliefs in the divine origin and destiny of humanity, in a golden age and decline, in the conflict of good and evil, and in the wrath and appeasement of the deity. The origin and essence of sin, however, remain unknown to them. The origin of sin is sometimes found in the essence of things, its existence even denied by moralists and rationalists, treated as illusion or desire as in Buddhism, or dualistically traced to an ultimately evil power. Philosophers have treated sin as hubris that can be overcome by human will, as ignorance to be overcome by education in virtue, or even as a fall of preexistent souls. However, outside of special revelation sin is either treated deistically in terms of human will alone or derived pantheistically from the very necessary nature of things.

Both views also found their way into Christianity. The British monk Pelagius rejected all notions of original sin and considered every person as having Adam’s full moral choice of will. The fall did not happen at the beginning but is repeated in every human sin. Though the church rejected Pelagianism in its extreme form, Roman Catholicism maintained the notion of a less than completely fallen will, limiting the fall to the loss of the donum superadditum, which can only be restored by sacramental grace.

When the Reformation rejected Roman Catholic dualism, streams within Protestantism, notable rationalist groups such as the Socinians as well as the Remonstrants robbed Christianity of its absolute character by dispensing with the need for grace in some measure. The image of God is regarded as the fully free will, which, like that of the pre-fall Adam, remains intact. While we are born with an inclination to sin, this inclination is not itself culpable; atonement is needed only for actual sin. Suffering is not necessarily linked to sin; it is simply part of our human condition.

Interesting attempts have been made to reconcile Pelagius with Augustine. Ritschl agrees with Pelagius that the human will and actual sin precede the sinful state or condition. But he also then insists that these singular sinful acts mutually reinforce each other and create a collective realm of sin that exerts influence on us, a reinforcing reciprocity that enslaves all people. Others combine Ritschl’s approach with evolutionary theory. When this is envisioned in strictly materialistic and mechanistic terms, all notions of good and evil, the possibility of a moral life, vanish behind physical and chemical processes. A more acceptable route is to see the evolution of moral life as one in which human beings rise above their primitive animal nature as they become more humanized, more civilized. From this evolutionary viewpoint, sin is the survival of or misuse of habits and tendencies left over from our animal ancestry, from earlier stages of development, and their sinfulness lies in their anachronism. The remaining animal nature is shared by all people; sin is universal, but so is moral responsibility and guilt.

This attempt to reconcile Augustine and Pelagius fails at several levels. Apart from the lack of proof for materialistic evolution, the major obstacle is explaining the origin of a free human will in the evolutionary process. To think of the will as somehow outside of human nature and unrelated to it is psychologically inconceivable. In fact, moral freedom not only becomes precarious, moral improvement becomes virtually impossible. Sin’s power increases, and explanations for its origin flounder. Thinkers move from attributing it to human nature to cosmic explanations—all matter is evil. From there it was an easy step to locate evil in a tension of potencies within God himself as in the theosophical tradition of Böhme and Schelling. Hegel even considered the fall as the Ur-fact of history when the Absolute realized itself in the world as its own alternative existence. From here it is a small step to Buddhism, which considers existence itself as the greatest sin.

The question of sin’s origin, like the question of existence itself, is an enigma. The philosophical tradition provides evidence for the scriptural teaching that this world is inexplicable without a fall but provides no satisfactory explanation. Sin cannot be inferred from the sensual nature of humanity since the “spiritual” sins of those who are older are often more appalling than the “fleshly” sins of youth. Asceticism does not solve the problem of sin; monks take sin with them into the cloister in their hearts. Appealing to the Pauline understanding of “flesh” to defend this view fails. “Flesh” is a sinful direction of the heart in opposition to the Holy Spirit and is not a contrast between material and immaterial or spiritual. From attributing sin to human nature it is a natural move to attribute it to the Creator. Consistent with our experience of life’s contradictions, sin is the necessary obstacle to our moral development and perfection. Sin is God’s own will; it is his design for creation. While there is a semblance of truth here, sin is made eternal, inferred from physical matter, necessary not accidental, seen not as the antithesis of good but as a lower grade of the good; this view makes God the author of sin. Scripture and human moral consciousness rebel against these conclusions. Pessimism and libertinism are the natural consequence of this view.

The question of God’s will in relation to sin is vexing. Those who speak of God’s permission with respect to sin rightly seek to avoid making him the author of sin. However, because this formulation risks denying God’s full sovereignty, Reformed theology, following Augustine, was never satisfied with the idea of permission. At the risk of using “hard sayings,” Reformed theologians insist that while God does not sin or cause sin, sin is yet not outside his will. In addition, God created human beings holy and without sin; sin’s origin is in the will of the rational creature. God most certainly created human beings to be capable of sin; he willed the possibility of sin. How that possibility became reality is, however, a mystery. Sin defies explanation; it is a folly that does not have an origin in the true sense of the word, only a beginning. Attempting to locate the time of the fall, too, is impossible. Attempts to identify that time in the preformed chaos of Genesis 1:1 or in notions of preexistent souls are theologically and philosophically, as well as scripturally, without ground. We must be satisfied with the straightforward account of Scripture: humanity was created good and by its own volition, at a given time in the beginning, fell from that state and plunged into sinful alienation from God, who incorporates sin into his purposes, even as something that had to be there though it ought not to be there.

[307] When God had completed the work of creation, he looked down with delight on the work of his hands, for it was all very good (Gen. 1:31). Granted, at that moment the world was only at the beginning of its development and hence enjoyed a perfection, not in degree but in kind. Inasmuch as it was something that was positively good, it could become something and develop in accordance with the laws God had set for it. When Scripture has a positively good world precede this fallen world, it presents to human thought a basis of support that philosophy simply cannot provide. For when philosophy conceives original being as insubstantial potency, which is nothing, but can become anything, it reasons apart from reality and attempts to satisfy us with an abstraction. From nothing, nothing can become; apart from any antecedent being, there can be no becoming, and evil only becomes possible if the good has priority, not only in an ideal sense but in reality. The fallen world in which we live rests on the foundations of a creation that was very good inasmuch as it came forth from the hands of God. But that world did not long continue to exist in its original goodness. It had scarcely been created before sin crept into it. The mystery of existence is made even more incomprehensible by the mystery of evil. Almost at the same moment creatures came, pure and splendid, from the hand of their Maker, they were deprived of all their luster, and stood, corrupted and impure, before his holy face. Sin ruined the entire creation, converting its righteousness into guilt, its holiness into impurity, its glory into shame, its blessedness into misery, its harmony into disorder, and its light into darkness. But where does that evil come from? What is the origin of sin? Scripture vindicates God and presents a continuous theodicy when it proclaims and maintains that God is in no way the cause of sin. He, Scripture says, is righteous, holy, far from wickedness (Deut. 32:4; Job 34:10; Ps. 92:15; Isa. 6:3; Hab. 1:13), a light in whom there is no darkness (1 John 1:5); he tempts no one (James 1:13), is an overflowing fountain of all that is good, immaculate, and pure (Ps. 36:9; James 1:17). He prohibits sin in his law (Exod. 20) and in the conscience of every human (Rom. 2:14–15), does not delight in wickedness (Ps. 5:4), but hates it and demonstrates his wrath against it (Ps. 45:7; Rom. 1:18). He judges it and atones for it in Christ (Rom. 3:24–26), cleanses his people from it by forgiveness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30) and, in the event of continued disobedience, wills to punish it with both temporal and eternal penalties (Rom. 1:18; 2:8).

The Genesis Story of the Fall

When it comes to the origin of sin, Scripture always points us in the direction of the creature. For that reason, however, it is never isolated from God’s government nor excluded from his counsel. On the contrary: it is God himself who, according to his special revelation, created the possibility of sin. Not only did he make humanity in such a way that it could fall, but he also planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, confronted Adam with a moral option by means of the probationary command, whose decision had the greatest significance for himself and all his posterity, and, finally, even permitted the temptation of the woman by the serpent. It was God’s decision to take humanity on the perilous path of freedom rather than elevating it by a single act of power above the possibility of sin and death.

According to Genesis 2:9, there were two trees in the garden for which God had a special purpose: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Since the tree of life does not surface again in the story, except in Genesis 3:22, 24, some scholars believed that it did not belong in the original report and was only inserted later. An argument against this, however, is that it is most natural for the tree of life not to be mentioned again between 2:9 and 3:22, because the entire narrative revolves around the other tree, the tree of knowledge. Furthermore, the tree of life occurs not only in 2:9 and 3:22, 24 but also in Proverbs 3:18; 13:12; Revelation 2:7 and 22:2, and in the sagas of many peoples.1 Others, accordingly, have voiced the suspicion that the tree of life is original in the Genesis story but that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was inserted later.2 And it is in fact true that up until now no parallel has been found elsewhere; but this circumstance does not change anything by having it arise later and having it inserted in the paradisal story. The questions still remain and become much harder to solve: Where does the tree of the knowledge of good and evil come from, and why was it included in Genesis 2 and 3? More important is the fact that this tree cannot be taken out of this narrative without completely changing its character and even robbing it of its real content. The probationary command, the temptation, and the punishment all concern the eating of the fruit of that tree. If the original story had only mentioned the tree of life, the reason why eating from that tree was prohibited and threatened with such a heavy penalty makes no sense. Some argue that the intent of Genesis 3 is simply to relate how humans, by eating from the tree of life, became conscious of their vitality, awakened to their sex drive, and passed from a state of childlikeness to that of maturity.

But if that is the heart of the story, why were humans prohibited from eating the fruit of that tree, fruit that would give them this vitality and life? Were they not permitted to outgrow their childlikeness and to become conscious of their sex life? But they had already been given the mandate to multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (1:28); Adam had already been given a wife with whom he was to become one flesh (2:24); and what evidence is there in the narrative or in its entire context that the life of sex and being sexually awakened was something sinful in itself? Resounding from the entire Old Testament, rather, is that fertility is a great blessing from God. If Genesis 3 were designed to tell us about the awakening of the sex drive, the punishment threatened and applied to the violation of the command would be totally incomprehensible. Why did the punishment consist in death? Why did it strike the woman especially in her becoming a mother? Why, despite all this, is she nevertheless called “the mother of all living”? And, finally, why were both the man and his wife denied the chance to eat from the tree of life and to stay in the garden? Reading the narrative without bias, one gets an impression of profound unity 3 and of its obvious aim to tell us not about the progress and development but about the fall of humankind. The entire context in which the story occurs shows that it seeks to tell us about the origin of sin. Preceding it is the creation of humans by the hand of God and in his image, and following it, in brief outline, comes the story of increasing wickedness in the human race up until the flood.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is undoubtedly so named because humans, by eating of it, would acquire a knowledge of good and evil such as they had not had until then, one that was forbidden to them and denied to them. The question, however, is what that knowledge of good and evil amounts to. The usual explanation is that, by eating of the tree, humans would gain empirical knowledge of good and evil. But this has rightly prompted the objection that this knowledge of good and evil would make humans like God—as not just the snake (in Gen. 3:5) but also God himself (in 3:22) says—and God certainly has no empirical knowledge of evil, nor can he have it. In addition, by eating of the tree, humans especially lost the empirical knowledge of the good. Finally, [in this view] Genesis 3:22a must then be interpreted as irony, which by itself is already implausible but specifically in conflict with verse 22 as a whole. Others therefore came up with the idea that Genesis 3 relates the development of the human race from an animal state to self-consciousness and reason, and they therefore viewed the fall as the first hazardous undertaking of reason, the genesis of moral life, the origin of culture, the happiest event in the history of humanity. This, in earlier times, was the idea of the Ophites, who held the snake to be an incarnation of the Logos,4 and later of Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Strauss, and others.5 This view is so contrary to the intent of the narrative, however, that today it has almost universally been abandoned. For it would assume that God created humanity in a state of childlike, even animal, innocence, and planned to keep it in that state. However, knowledge, also moral knowledge, had already been given to mankind at the time of its creation, as is evident from the creation in God’s image, the naming of the animals, and the reception and understanding of the probationary command. The knowledge that humanity acquired by the fall was a very different kind of knowledge, one that was forbidden by God and made humans deserving of various punishments. Genesis 3 does not tell the story of a “giant step of progress” but of a human fall.

Nowadays, though this is again acknowledged by many people, they connect it with the idea that the knowledge of good and evil that was forbidden to humans was a special kind of knowledge.6 This cannot be the very first intellectual or moral knowledge, for it is contrary to the tradition of all peoples to imagine the first humans as a kind of animal that was still bereft of all that knowledge, nor does the author of the Genesis story take this view. For, according to him, the first two people were created as adults. They were created as man and woman and united with each other in marriage; they think and speak and know the things around them; they also have a moral consciousness and know, from receiving the probationary command, that obedience to God brings with it blessing and reward, and that evil consists in the violation of his law and is followed by punishment. The paradisal story, therefore, absolutely does not describe the human person as an intellectual or moral tabula rasa on which everything still has to be inscribed from without. Therefore, it cannot mean by the knowledge of good and evil an awakening to self-consciousness and reason nor the origination of conscience. But by the knowledge of good and evil that is prohibited, they say, we must understand the achievement of a mature intellect (3:6), the ability to distinguish between the useful and the harmful (Deut. 1:39; 2 Sam. 19:35–36; Isa. 7:16; Jonah 4:11); independent insight enabling persons to help themselves and not be dependent on others; intellectual knowledge of the world, the metaphysical knowledge of things in their connectedness, their value or worthlessness, their utility or inutility for people. In other words, this refers to wisdom, to the skills of controlling the world, the culture that is said to make humans independent of God and like God.

This opinion, however, has the same drawbacks as that which speaks of the progress mankind made in the fall and actually introduces only a slightly different twist in it. According to both views, the paradisal story describes the passage of humanity from a state of rural simplicity to that of world-dominating culture. Whereas the proponents of the first opinion, from their point of view regard this passage as progress, others stress that, from the viewpoint of the author, it was a decline and a fall. But in saying this, they fail to reproduce the idea of the paradisal story correctly. Culture as such is absolutely not sinful or wrong. In Genesis 1:28, the humans, who were created in the image of God, were instructed to exercise dominion over the earth (cf. 9:1–2), and in Genesis 2:15 and 19, they were instructed to till and keep the Garden of Eden and to name the animals (cf. 3:23). In Genesis 3:21, the manufacture of clothing for Adam and Eve is attributed to God himself, while in Genesis 4:17, 21–22, the building of a city, dwelling in tents, the keeping of cattle, making a range of musical instruments, and the processing of metal, though attributed in origin to the descendants of Cain, are not in any way at all condemned. The Old Testament generally accords such high status to wisdom that there can be no question of condemnation. This is all the more the case because, also according to the proponents of the above view, the first human couple even before the fall possessed an intellectual and moral knowledge that may at best differ from wisdom in degree but not in kind.

Hence the knowledge of good and evil that is prohibited to human beings has to mean something different. Marti points in the right direction when he describes it as the ability to stand on one’s own feet and to find one’s own way and speaks of the desire of humans to emancipate themselves from God by cultivating that ability. In Genesis 3, the issue is not primarily the content of the knowledge that humans would appropriate by disobedience but the manner in which they would obtain it. The nature of the knowledge of good and evil in view here is characterized by the fact that humans would be like God as a result of it (Gen. 3:5, 22). By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was. The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but (as in 2 Sam. 19:36; Isa. 7:16) the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own. The issue in Genesis is indeed whether humanity will want to develop in dependence on God, whether it will want to have dominion over the earth and seek its salvation in submission to God’s commandment; or whether, violating that commandment and withdrawing from God’s authority and law, it will want to stand on its own feet, go its own way, and try its own “luck.”7 When humanity fell, it got what it wanted; it made itself like God, “knowing good and evil” by its own insight and judgment. Genesis 3:22 is in dead earnest. This emancipation from God, however, did not lead and cannot lead to true happiness. For that reason, God by the probationary command forbade this drive to freedom, this thirst for independence. But humanity voluntarily and deliberately opted for its own way, thereby failing the test.

The Serpent’s Lie

[308] Humanity had probably existed in the state of innocence only for a short while when it was tempted and toppled from without by a serpent that was more crafty (עָרוּם; LXX φρονιμος; prudens; cf. Matt. 10:16; 2 Cor. 11:3) than any other wild animal. The serpent addressed not the man but the woman, who had not herself received the probationary command directly from God but through her husband and was therefore more open to argumentation and doubt. The serpent, accordingly, first of all tried to create doubt in the heart of the woman about the commandment of God and to that end presented it as having been given by God out of harshness and selfishness. The woman, by the manner in which she reproduces and expands the command, clearly shows that it had come to her mind as a sharp boundary and restriction. After raising the doubt and bringing home to the woman the inconvenience of the command, the serpent continues by sowing unbelief and pride in the woman’s now well-prepared mind. The serpent now firmly denies that violating the command will result in death, indicating that God gave the command out of sheer selfishness. If humans will eat of the tree, they will, instead of dying, become like God and receive perfect, that is, divine, knowledge. The serpent’s assurance and the high expectation it raised prompted the woman to look at the tree, and the longer she looked, the more she became enchanted with its fruit. The desire of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life [cf. 1 John 2:16] made the temptation irresistible. Finally she took of the fruit, ate it, and gave some to her husband, and he ate.

The fact of the serpent’s speaking has suggested to many people that this story is an allegory, in any case that the serpent was not a real animal but only a name and image for lust,8 or sexual desire,9 or errant reason,10 or Satan.11 But this explanation is not acceptable. In Genesis 3:1, the serpent is counted among the animals; the punishment (vv. 14–15) presupposes a real snake; and in 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul is of the same opinion. Also, the mythical view that arose later and was widely accepted is inconsistent with the intent of the narrative, the entire context in which it occurs, and the ongoing teaching of Scripture. The mythical interpretations themselves, moreover, are most divergent.12 The serpent’s speaking, accordingly, has to be explained differently. Not, however, along the lines of Josephus,13 in terms of the opinion of the narrator that before the fall animals had the gift of language, for he has just informed us that humans are essentially distinct from animals, that they gave names to the animals and could not find a suitable helper among them. It undoubtedly has to be explained in terms of the infiltration of a spiritual superterrestrial power. In the narrative itself there is not a word that describes the nature of that power. Genesis 3 simply sticks to the visible facts; it describes but does not explain. Granted, many scholars have believed that Genesis 3 only tells us of the origin of the hostility existing between humans and animals. But aside from the fact that this explanation is too banal to be persuasive, it is in conflict with what Genesis 2 says about the relation between humans and animals and fails to tell us how and why the serpent acts toward humankind as a seductive power. This is the reason why many exegetes today again return to the ancient exegesis, if for no other reason than that this is the viewpoint held in the apocryphal literature of the Old Testament.14

It is also understandable, moreover, that Genesis 3 makes no mention of the spiritual background of the events in question. Only gradually, as revelation progressively unfolds, does the depth of the darkness come out. Though seemingly innocent in the beginning, sin in its basic nature and power only becomes known in the course of history. At the start the deviation from the right road is small and scarcely perceptible, but when continued, it leads into entirely the wrong direction and to a completely opposite outcome. This also explains why Scripture, both in the Old and the New Testament, relatively rarely harks back to the story of the fall. The principal verses that have a bearing on it are Job 31:33; Psalm 90:3; Proverbs 3:18; 13:12; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Isaiah 43:27; 51:3; 65:25; Joel 2:3; Hosea 6:7; Ezekiel 28:13–15; John 8:44; Romans 5:12ff.; 8:20; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 42–49; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14; Revelation 2:7; 22:2; and in part these verses are uncertain in their interpretation or contain no more than an allusion.15

Yet, this relative silence cannot be explained in terms of the idea that the origin of the story in Genesis 3 is very late, for also according to recent criticism, it is Yahwist and existed prior to the rise of the writing prophets in the eighth century, and almost all peoples possess ancient traditions about a golden age in which humanity lived originally. It should be remembered, however, that the fall, though not mentioned very often, still underlies the entire scriptural teaching on moral perfection as integral to the essence of humankind, on sin and redemption. Old Testament revelation also bears a prophetic character and looked forward, not backward, and thus only the second Adam was able to illumine the full significance of the first Adam.16 Paul looks back from the second Man to the first. Only gradually, in the course of the history of revelation, does the spiritual power emerge that hid behind the appearance and seductive activity of the serpent. Then we learn that involved in the struggle of evil on earth there is also a contest of spirits and that humanity and the world are the spoils for which the war between God and Satan, between heaven and hell, is waged.

All the power of sin on earth is connected with a kingdom of darkness in the world of spirits. There, too, a fall has occurred. In John 8:44, Jesus himself states that the devil was a murderer from the beginning (ἀπʼ ἀρχης) of the existence of humankind, that he did not and hence does not stand in the truth (οὐχ ἑσιηκεν) because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature. First John 3:8 similarly teaches that the devil has sinned from the beginning. Paul warns the neophyte (1 Tim. 3:6) against being puffed up that he may not fall into the condemnation of the devil, that is, fall into the same condemnation that has struck the devil. And Jude (v. 6) speaks of “the angels that did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling,” that is, of angels who did not hold onto their principle, origin, or even rule, and left the dwelling place assigned to them. Clearly implied here is that many angels were not content with the state in which God had placed them. Pride took possession of them to make them strive for another and higher position. Sin first broke out in the realm of spirits; it arose in the heart of creatures of whom we have but little knowledge, under conditions that are almost completely unknown to us. On the basis of Scripture, however, it is certain that sin did not first start on earth but in heaven, at the feet of God’s throne, in his immediate presence and that the fall of angels took place before that of humankind. Scripture is silent on whether there is a connection between that fall of the angels and the creation of humankind, nor does it tell us what drove the fallen angels to seduce humans. But whatever the reason may have been, Satan is the adversary, the tempter, the slanderer of the human race, the murderer of mankind (Matt. 4:3; John 8:44; Eph. 6:11; 1 Thess. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:26), the “great dragon,” the “ancient serpent” (Rev. 12:9, 14–15; 20:2). As such he came to Christ, the second Adam, and as such he also came to the first. That he did not appear to him directly and personally but used a serpent is probably to be explained from the idea that he had better hopes of success if the seduction occurred by means of a being that was known to humans as good. Undoubtedly the serpent’s speaking must have seemed strange to the woman, but precisely this strangeness enhanced the seduction: even an animal, rejecting God’s command, had achieved a higher level of perfection! For the rest Scripture teaches us that even unclean spirits can do superhuman things and temporarily take possession of bodies and organs of speech (Matt. 8:28ff.; Mark 5:7ff.; Luke 8:28ff.; Acts 19:15). In the case of humanity the temptation by Satan resulted in the fall. Scripture looks for the origin of sin solely in the will of rational creatures.

The Fall as History

[309] The historical character of the paradisal story was maintained in the Christian church throughout the ages. There were different opinions about the location of paradise, the character of the two trees, the serpent, and so on, but the historical truth of the knowledge of good and evil, of the probationary command, of the temptation by the serpent, and of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve was certain to everyone and rigorously maintained against the allegorical interpretation of Philo and Origen.17 But in modern times the historicity of the paradisal story was put under serious pressure from the side of historical criticism and even more from the side of evolutionary theory. Geology, paleontology, and all prehistorical studies seem to leave no room whatsoever for an original moral perfection and for a subsequent fall of the first humans. The further we go back into the past, scholars tell us, the more we find people who lived in a most primitive state and were virtually without any culture. Human beings seem to have gradually evolved from the animal world, so that with reference to the past as well as to the present one can only speak of progress. Paradise lies ahead of, not behind, us. We have emerged from darkness and are progressively moving in the direction of light and life, peace and happiness.18

Over against this criticism, many scholars believed they were on firmer ground if they took position not in the paradisal story but in the midst of sinful reality. Bishop Charles Gore, for example, claims that the doctrine of the fall and original sin has certainly not been constructed on the assumption that the early chapters of Genesis are purely historical. This doctrine is not a dogma proclaimed solely on the basis of external authority but finds its substantiation in experience. Granted, there is an inspirational activity of the Holy Spirit present in the Genesis narratives, but if Irenaeus, Clement, Athanasius, and Anselm can interpret them, in whole or in part, as allegorical, then we have the same freedom. In any case, “the Christian doctrine of sin rests on a far broader and far surer foundation than the belief that the early chapters of Genesis belong to one form or stage of inspired literature rather than to another. It rests on the strong foundation of our Lord, accepted and verified by man’s moral consciousness.”19 Others, however, go still further and believe they can totally dispense with Genesis 3 and Romans 5. It is incorrect, according to de Hartog, to present the fall of humankind as a truth of faith that we accept because Scripture speaks of it. The reverse is the case: because the fall is evident from experience, Genesis 3 witnesses to this reality. The fall of humankind, sin, and death are not articles of faith but the data of experience.20

In this connection, we cannot avoid speaking to the misunderstanding present here. If Genesis 3 reports history, then the fall is a fact that occurred at one time at the beginning of the human race and constitutes an indestructible component of the world and of history. As fact the fall is not based on the story of Genesis 3, but, conversely, it is reported in Genesis 3 because it had occurred long before in history. Furthermore, according to Scripture, the fall of humankind was such a serious and appalling fact that the consequences of it continue to have their effect in the history of the human race to the present. Indeed, experience is full of data that point back to the fact of the fall. But it is wrong to infer from all this that the Genesis story is unnecessary and superfluous and can, if necessary, be altogether dispensed with or totally and without loss be deprived of its historical character by criticism. For there is a distinction between a fact and the knowledge of a fact. A fact is a piece of reality that can never be undone, and the weightier it is, the more vast will be its consequences; however, for the knowledge of a fact, especially when it is part not of the present but of the past, we are dependent on a witness, in whatever form it may be given. Based on this, in part, is the distinction between natural science and historical science. Nature remains the same, and its phenomena can be studied independently and anew by every natural scientist; but the practitioners of the science of history, because they are not present at the events themselves, depend for their knowledge on testimonies. Such historians would act very foolishly if they reasoned thus: all the events that have occurred are constituents of reality and still, to the degree that they were important, affect the present. If necessary I can dispense with the testimonies, for from the data in the present I can reason back to this or that event in the past. Essentially, that person would not act any differently from those who would reconstruct the fact of the fall, aside from the historic witness of Scripture, on the basis of the data of experience. There may be a difference in degree because the fall of the human race far surpasses in importance and consequences all other world events, but materially the reasoning remains the same and is absurd in both cases.

Another thing that must not be forgotten in connection with this reasoning is that people have known the witness of Scripture beforehand and learned to read reality in the light of that witness. People may say they can reconstruct the fall from the data of experience without the help of Genesis 3 and Romans 5, but in reality they have already incorporated the witness of Scripture in the data of experience. Thousands, even millions, of people have observed the same reality that still presents itself to us today, but it has never suggested to them the idea of a fall of the first human couple. Instead, they have sought to explain it by means of a precosmic fall or an evil god or blind fate. The fact that we view reality in such a way that it everywhere shows the consequences of a fall in paradise is something we owe exclusively to the light Scripture has shed on it. It is not a noble act, after having first made use of its services, to then bid it farewell and pretend that one has oneself achieved such insight by one’s own reasoning.

Finally, if one really seriously believes in a fall of the first humans (even though it is, as one thinks, on the basis of the data of experience), then all reason to question the historical character of Genesis 3 actually collapses. For the main critical objection (of both Old Testament scholars and evolutionists) is not directed against the literary report in Genesis as such but against the event reported there. This event is of such great weight that the whole of Christian doctrine stands or falls with it. “All of faith consists in Jesus Christ and in Adam and all of morality in lust and in grace” (Pascal). The two truths or facts by which all of Christian dogmatics is governed are (1) the fall of Adam and (2) the resurrection of Christ (Gerretsen). If one recognizes this and considers Adam’s fall an appalling reality, one will in any case be at odds with present-day criticism in the matter of both of its attacks and will gain nothing by making a few literary concessions. The theory of evolution, as it is usually presented today and applied to the history of the human race and of Israel, leaves no room for a state of integrity and for a fall of the first humans. According to this theory, there never even existed a first human, for the transitions were so minute and stretched out over so many centuries that no one can say where the animal stops and humanity begins. Its beginnings are shrouded in darkness, and its state was originally like that of an animal.

However strongly this theory of evolution claims a factual basis for itself, one should bear in mind the following: (1) While investigations into prehistoric humanity have brought to light that it lived in very primitive conditions, there is no evidence that it gradually evolved from the animal world and is still caught up in a period of transition. Confirmed, rather, is the idea that prehistoric humans were persons of like nature to ourselves and that, living in Europe, they came from Asia. (2) The discoveries that occurred in the past century in the land of Babylon and Assyria reveal to us that the most ancient inhabitants we find there were not a savage, coarse, semibestial race but enjoyed a high level of civilization and regressed in their subsequent history rather than progressed. (3) The Ur-history, which is contained in Genesis 1–10, has received powerful support as a result. On the one hand, it has emerged in its uniqueness—the marvelous purity of its historical, religious, and ethical ideas—and, on the other, it has been relieved of its isolation and connected with all the peoples, traditions, customs, mores, and so on. In this connection a strong light has fallen on the distinction between the antiquity of a story and the time at which it was recorded. Also, if the Ur-history of Genesis dates from the time of Moses, it is separated by a series of centuries from the events it narrates. (4) Modern science, although believing in evolution, still as a rule assumes the unity of the human race. When it does this, it accepts in the bargain a series of inferences that are of the greatest importance. For if humankind is one, then it has descended from one ancestral couple; then it has spread out over the whole world from one specific location; then from the beginning it held in common a complex of intellectual, religious, and moral ideas and traditions; then a moral deviation must have occurred at the beginning in the life of the first human couple, for sin is universal.21 All in all, the science of nature and history to this day lacks the right to make a pronouncement on the truth of the state of integrity and the fall of the first humans. The witness pertaining to these things contained in Genesis, confirmed by the later appeal made to it by prophets and apostles and Christ himself, and intertwined as a necessary constituent in the whole revelation of salvation, continues to maintain itself in people’s conscience and meshes perfectly with the reality our daily experience informs us about.

Alternative Explanations of Sin

Indirectly this witness of Scripture is also borne out by the traditions, sagas, or myths that among various peoples speak of a fall into sin. A true parallel to the biblical story has so far not been found anywhere. Delitzsch believed he saw one in a representation on a cylindrical seal that depicts two persons stretching out their hands to the fruit of a tree. On the left of this representation, something has been set up that may be a snake, but since both persons are clothed and sitting down, both stretch out their hands toward the tree, and are probably both male figures, there is here no discernible kinship with the story in Genesis 3. Also other stories, cited for the purpose of comparison, upon further inquiry cannot serve this purpose or are too problematic to base anything on them.22 Nevertheless, it is remarkable that in a Babylonian myth Adapa loses eternal life by not consuming the food and drink set before him. Furthermore, in many religions the serpent was venerated as an embodiment of hostile or beneficent powers. There is also a widespread popular belief forging a connection between different trees, especially the tree of life, and the destiny of humans. In many sagas the memory of a golden age experienced by the human race has been preserved, and according to the Avesta, the holy book of the Persian religion, the first human, Yima, the noble ruler of the golden age, lived for a time in paradise but, having fallen as a result of pride, was driven from it and was finally killed by an evil spirit.23 All these stories and others like them have no higher meaning other than to show that the human race from ancient times and everywhere wanted to give an account of the horrendous destruction the world exhibited, by seeing in it the result of a fall that took place in the life of humanity. But in that light they are valuable. Underlying the religious and moral convictions of human beings, more or less clearly articulated or unconscious, there is belief in the divine origin and destiny of humanity, in a golden age and subsequent decline, in the battle between good and evil, and in the wrath and appeasement of the deity.24

At the same time, they bring out how pagans, though they gropingly searched for God, did not find him [cf. Acts 17:27]. Both the origin and the essence of sin remained unknown to them. Even the Jews, who recognized the fall and the temptation by Satan (Wis. 2:24) and therefore frequently called him the “ancient serpent,” sometimes taught that Satan was created simultaneously with Eve on the sixth day, that, being sensually titillated, he tried to tempt man, and that even before the fall humans received, along with an impulse toward the good (יצר הטוב), an impulse toward evil (יצר הרע), in order to overcome it and so to make their works truly meritorious.25 Similarly, in the pagan world, the origin of sin was found, not in the will of rational creatures, but in the essence of things.

The fall is simply unknown. Confucianism is a shallow form of rationalism and moralism that considered humans naturally good and sought the way of salvation in a virtuous life in keeping with the world order.26 According to Buddhism, the Atman, or Brahman, the divine substance, is the only reality; the world of phenomena is but a dream, is fundamentally maya, illusion, and in a state of perpetual becoming and change. Suffering and sorrow, accordingly, are universal, for all things are subject to transitoriness, to birth, aging, and death. The cause of that suffering is to be found in desires, in the desire for existence, in the will to exist. Salvation therefore consists in extinguishing the consciousness or in the annihilation of existence: nirvana.27 Parsism traced evil to an original evil spirit, Ahriman, who is opposed to the supreme god, Ahuramazda, has his own kingdom of darkness and corrupts the creation of God, but is subordinate to Ahuramazda and will someday yield to him.28 The Greeks and the Romans, though in their sagas of a golden age, of Prometheus and Pandora, they possessed something reminiscent of the biblical stories, originally knew nothing of evil spirits that were opposed to the good and attributed to the gods all sorts of evil desires and misdeeds. The human race did not fall all at once but gradually degenerated. And the human will still possesses the power to live a virtuous life, to stay within moral bounds, and thus to conquer sin, which is essentially hubris.29

Philosophy, as a rule, took the same position. According to Socrates, the cause and essence of sin consists solely in ignorance. No one is voluntarily evil, that is, unfortunate. Hence the person who knows the good is good and acts according to the good. All that is needed is education to guide humans, who are by nature good, to the practice of virtue.30 Plato and Aristotle indeed understood the inadequacy of this view. Reason, they said, is certainly far from always being able to control the passions. Sin is too deeply rooted in human nature to be overcome by knowledge alone. Plato even arrived at a totally different theory about the origin of sin, locating it in a fall of preexistent souls. Still, both maintained free will and continued to believe that virtue remains within our power. Our external lot may be determined, but virtue is without a master (ἀδεσποτος) and depends on the human will alone. “Both virtue and evil depend upon us.”31 The Stoics could not, on the basis of its pantheistic and deterministic position, locate the cause of sin in the human will and therefore attempted to fit both physical and moral evil into the order and beauty of the whole. It was not even possible for the deity to keep human nature free from every defect. Sin is as necessary as diseases and disasters and is something good to the degree that it serves and brings out the good.32 Still also the Stoics knew no way to overcome sin and to practice virtue other than the human will.33 Finally, in the works of Cicero, Seneca, Plotinus, and others, there was the ever-recurring thought that sin was an act of the will and could also be undone by the will.34 Outside the area of special revelation, therefore, sin was always either interpreted deistically in terms of the human will and construed purely as an act of the will or derived pantheistically from the essence of things and incorporated as a necessary component in the order of the universe as a whole.

[310] Both views also found their way into Christianity and repeatedly met, in smaller or larger circles, with agreement and had their defenders. The practical Christianity that prevailed in the churches following the death of the apostles and is known to us from the so-called Apostolic Fathers and other writings already contained all kinds of religious and ethical notions that deviated from the New Testament and especially from Paul and were formed under the influence of Jewish piety and popular pagan philosophy, especially that of Cicero. Believers were indeed convinced that in Christ they had received great benefits, especially the forgiveness for all past sins in baptism; but if after that event they saw themselves called to a holy life, they already opened up a large space for free will, for their own power, and for the meritoriousness of good works.35 When, at the beginning of the fifth century, Pelagius proposed his theories, he could appeal to countless statements made by others before him. Still he isolated them from the context in which they occurred and combined them into a single whole in such a way that they ran fundamentally counter to the Christian doctrine of sin and grace.

To this monk from Britain everything depended on the free will. He saw it as the characteristic feature of human nature, the image of God, the first principle and foundation of the dominion granted him. Human nature has been so created by God that, depending on its free choice, it is able to and able not to sin; and this equal possibility in either direction, as a natural good, as a constituent of human nature, cannot be lost. As a result Pelagius had to reject all notions of original sin. Adam only brought sin into the world as an example or form. There is indeed a power of evil custom, but this does not so completely control humans that, if they seriously wanted to avoid sin and lead a holy life, they would be prevented from doing so. In any case, sin is not innate; it is always—and cannot be anything but—a free act of the will. The fall, accordingly, did not just occur once, in Adam, and take the whole human race with it, but every human being is still born in the same state in which Adam was, granted that, as a result of the power of custom, conditions are less favorable now. And all humans therefore stand or fall by themselves. Sin originates anew in every person; in every human life there occurs a fall when the power of free will is neglected or applied in a wrong direction.36

These ideas of Pelagius were so obviously at odds with the teaching of Scripture and the faith of the church that they could not possibly be accepted by the church. They were, accordingly, modified and toned down in various ways. Specifically, to Adam’s transgression was ascribed a stronger influence on the state of human nature, and, correspondingly, grace was credited with more vigorous cooperation at the beginning and in the development of the new Christian life. But, fundamentally, the final decision at all these points was again reserved for the free will. In Roman Catholicism, Adam’s transgression did result for him and his descendants in the loss of the superadded gift; and insofar as God had granted this gift to Adam and he therefore should have enjoyed it, the loss of it can be called culpable. But original sin is no more than this privation; it does not consist in the concupiscence that by itself is not sin, nor in an innate evil of the will, for though the will may have been weakened, it is neither lost nor corrupted. Thus fallen nature is actually totally identical with uncorrupted nature; true, the supernatural gifts have been lost, but the natural gifts continue intact. In the abstract, therefore, a person could possibly abstain from all actual sins and, like unbaptized children dying in infancy, acquire a natural state of bliss.37 In this connection Rome could still maintain the absolute necessity of Christianity, however, inasmuch as humans, although in the most favorable scenario they could also acquire a natural state of bliss, could never by their free will receive supernatural righteousness and salvation. To that end the church with its sacraments is the only proper road. But when this Roman Catholic dualism was cast aside by the Reformation, the modalities that, within the circle of Protestantism, took over the Roman Catholic assumptions about original sin and free will 38 virtually automatically had to relapse into the ancient errors of Pelagius and Coelestis or in any case into those of Hilary of Arles and John Cassian.39 For if Adam’s fall did not, or did only in part, deprive the will of the freedom and power to do good, and original sin did not consist either in a culpable loss of an original supernatural gift, then in that same measure grace became dispensable and Christianity was robbed of its absolute character.40

Sin as an Act of Will

This is actually what happened in Socinianism, Remonstrantism, and rationalism, in which, despite small modifications, the basic idea was always that sin is not rooted in a nature and is not a disposition or a state, but always an act of the will. In the case of humans, the image of God then primarily or exclusively consisted in dominion. To the extent that a state of integrity was assumed, it consisted mainly in childlike innocence, in the freedom of indifference, in the possibility of opting for either good or evil. The fall itself, when it is still recognized as a historical fact, loses its appalling significance and is an event rather like what occurs at every moment in human life when evil is chosen over the good. And the consequences of the fall are therefore also of little weight. Children are born in the same state as that in which Adam lived before his disobedience. Freedom of the will, that is, the image of God, remains intact. At most a certain tendency toward sin is transplanted from person to person, but such a tendency is not really the result of the first sin of Adam but of all the sins of all our ancestors. Nor is it a sin by itself; it only becomes a sin when the free will gives free rein to that tendency. Hence there is a distinction between sin (pollution; sinful inclination) and guilt (an evil deed; deliberate and voluntary transgression). Only the latter needs atonement and forgiveness; the former, the inclination to sin and unconscious and involuntary compliance with it, is really not a sin. Rather, it is ignorance that is not culpable. And just as sin and guilt have to be distinguished, so also sin and suffering. There are many kinds of suffering that exist independently of sin and would also exist if there were no sin. Death is essentially not a consequence of sin but integral to the nature of humanity. Spiritual and eternal death was in no way a punishment for the first sin. At most the punishment consists in the necessity of dying (moriendi necessitas), which, in the case of Adam, had he not fallen, would have been prevented by a miracle; or in the manner of dying, which, without sin, would have been less painful and less premature.

Despite the unsatisfactory character of this view, it has again, also in our time, been revived by many theologians. First to be considered in this connection is Ritschl and his school. As he does with all the doctrines of dogmatics, so also in the doctrine of sin Ritschl takes his position in the Christian faith. This is in itself commendable, of course, for the origin and essence of sin are first known to us from revelation and hence the object of Christian belief. But from this position Ritschl drew the false conclusion that sin has become known to us, not from the story of Adam and his fall, nor from the law and the Old Testament, but solely from the gospel, which in Ritschl means from the person and teaching of Jesus. Sin, he says, must be understood from the viewpoint of the reconciled church; the gospel of the forgiveness of sins is the basis for the knowledge of our sinfulness. Although sin exists and is known also outside Christianity, its nature has certainly first been revealed to us by the gospel. To know it for what it is, we must measure it by the good that is opposed to it, namely, the kingdom of God. Christ, who has revealed the destiny of man to us, also informs us about the nature of sin. Now, this position brings with it that Ritschl attaches no value to the doctrine of the state of integrity. Genesis does not say a word about it. At the beginning of history such a high moral state is inconceivable. If it had existed, Christ would have been an irregular phenomenon in history, a Doppelgänger, nothing but the bearer of the divine counteraction against sin. But Christ was much more than that: he brought us the highest ideals for life. Orthodox dogmatics, accordingly, dates these ideals much too early, namely, already in the life of Adam.

Reconciling Augustine and Pelagius

Adam’s trespass, therefore, cannot have been the origin of sin in the human race; perhaps it was the first of a series of subsequent trespasses, but it is neither their source nor their first principle. Is sin, then, rooted in human nature? Ritschl denies this in the strongest possible terms. Sin is sin: its cause is not in God; it is not a functional element in his world order. It is, after all, the opposite of the good and experienced by us as guilt. But in the interpretation of the origin of sin, Ritschl can concur neither with Augustine nor with Pelagius. The former made humanity or human nature the subject of sin. But in that case every human already participates in the highest degree of sin in participating in original sin, and actual sins virtually no longer count. As a result of original sin, after all, humanity is already a “lost mass” (massa perdita), deserving of eternal punishment. But this cannot be true, for such a doctrine not only leads to untruth and makes all nurture impossible, but actual sins, according to everyone’s mind, are something other and more than the mere phenomena and accidents of original sin. Also, Pelagius’s view, according to which not human nature but the will of the individual is the subject of sin, is untenable, for sin is in fact something communal. Ritschl, therefore, tries to bridge the difference between the two, thinking he can achieve this by saying that the subject of sin is indeed humanity as a whole but the latter viewed as the sum of all individuals. He therefore agrees with Pelagius insofar as he, like Pelagius, has the sinful deed precede the sinful state, not the sinful state the sinful deed. All sin is grounded in the self-determination of each person’s own will. And granted, under the existing circumstances and especially as a result of human ignorance, sin is indeed a “seemingly unavoidable testimony” to his will; still, the possibility of a sinless life cannot a priori be denied. So far Ritschl agrees with Pelagius. But he then tries to approximate Augustine’s position by viewing sins as a unity that arises, not in virtue of their origin from a single principle, but as a result of mutual interpenetration and connectedness. Sin begins with an act of the will, but every act retroactively shapes the will, gives it a nature and a character, produces an egoistic tendency in it, and so cooperates in establishing the dominion of the law of sin. But this is not all; sinful human acts and tendencies in turn exert influence on each other. Just as a sinful environment accustoms us to sin and dulls our moral judgment, so our own sinful deeds call those of others into being. In short: there is no original sin, but out of the sinful acts of all people collectively arises a collective unity, a realm of sin.41

But also after Ritschl, Pelagius’s theory of the origin of sin has been defended and in a unique way connected with the theory of evolution. When this evolution is construed along purely and consistently materialistic-mechanical lines, there is no longer any room for a typically moral life, for sin and virtue. In that case, so-called good and evil acts are chemical products in the same sense as vitriol and sugar, only somewhat further and more finely distilled. But since nature is usually stronger than theory, the proponents of a mechanical evolution also continue to speak of good and evil, of moral law and moral obligation, of a culture of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Materialistic atheism, moreover, has lost credibility in recent years, and since the rebirth of philosophy and the revival of metaphysics, many thinkers do their best to restrict mechanical evolution to the material world and to make it subservient to a teleological ethical idealism. The world, according to Carlyle’s saying, is something more than a kitchen and a cow barn; it is also an oracle and a temple. People thus fully accept the animal ancestry of humanity and do not object to construing the first human state in extremely primitive terms. They cannot picture the Ur-human as being “dumb, bad, coarse, egoistic, mean, or otherwise reprehensible enough by the standards of contemporary ethics.”42

In this state one can, of course, not yet speak of good and evil, justice and injustice, religion and morality. Human beings are still like animals, slaves of their lusts and passions. But in view of what we later became, primitive man must have been potentially different in aptitude from animals. It is hard to say in what that aptitude consisted—whether it was originally present in humans or gradually instilled in them from without; whether humans originated from the animal world by a single leap of chance or by a series of slow and small mutations. Let it be enough to say that primitive man could become something different and higher than he was at the time, because he in fact did become something different and higher.

Once primitive “humans” had been placed on the road toward humanization, they advanced with great strides. In that development they owed an enormous lot to the influence of society. Even an animal lives in the society of others and has consequently acquired a wide range of intellectual and moral attributes. But in the formation of a human person, society plays an even larger and richer role. From birth on, a child lives in the company of its mother and is subject to her authority. The wife is subject to her husband, a man, who for his part is a member of a tribe, owes obedience to the tribe’s chief, is subject to the rules that society, labor, war, the hunt, the fishery, and so on prescribe to the individual. In short: whereas primitive “man” originally carries with him nothing but self-centered animal desires, he is tied down from all directions by the environment in which he lives. His egoistic tendencies are balanced by altruistic duties. Initially these are not yet duties, for all law arose from power and violence.43 But gradually that power that confronted the individual from without is ethicized, and human beings, who first rebelled against that power, became accustomed to living under and adjusting to it. They begin to do on their own and willingly what they first did unwillingly. They gradually even acquire the awareness that they ought to do what society demands of them. A moral consciousness is formed in them. Altruistic demands acquire for them the character of moral duties, later even of divine commandments. Then comes the time in which the moral life is born, the contrast and contest between good and evil emerges, and sin as well as a fall become possible.

The self-centered tendencies and desires that humans bring along with them from their animal past are not, of course, as yet sinful as such. For where there is no law, there is no transgression, and humanity in its first period lived without law. But when the law came to his notice, there also arose within society the possibility of submission or nonsubmission to that law. Ideally speaking, it would now have been the will of God that humanity should have developed normally, that is, in keeping with then-current norms of the moral life; some even claim that with the rise of moral consciousness in humans a free will came into being as well by which they could overcome their selfishness and pursue their altruistic tendencies. But whereas this was perhaps a possibility in the abstract, in reality it was very difficult. In any case, humans from the beginning and repeatedly ever since made their self-centeredness triumph over the moral law given them. Their development has been not normal but abnormal. They fell not once but persistently. Their fall did not consist “in a fall from an actual state of original righteousness,” but their entire state, after the inauguration of the moral life, implies “a fall from the divine intention, a parody of God’s purpose in human history.”44 Also, sin did not arise all at once and suddenly, but its origin, like all the origins, was “a gradual process, not an abrupt and inexplicable plunge.” The first human sins were like those of a child, not the most horrible but the least culpable of all. If we remember that the aftereffect of their self-centered animal past was still very strong, that the instincts, lusts, and inclinations were natural to them and uncommonly powerful, and that in that early period the moral consciousness was still weak and impersonal, it is not at all hard to understand that in the struggle between egoistic and altruistic tendencies people kept yielding [to their original instincts]. Actually the word “sin” is too strong to describe these weaknesses; it is fitting only when moral evil evolves and finally even rises to the level of hostility against God. But that does not describe the early transgressions of humans; they were of a rather innocent nature and can at most be described by the term “moral evil.” They are “the continuance of a primitive society or group of individuals in certain practices or in the satisfying of certain natural impulses, after that things had come to be regarded as conflicting with a recognized ‘sanction’ of ethical rank as low as that of tribal custom.” In other words, from an evolutionary viewpoint, “sin is not an innovation, but is the survival or misuse of habits and tendencies that were incidental to an earlier stage of development and whose sinfulness lies in their anachronism.”

In this manner also Augustine and Pelagius can be reconciled. Ritschl did not succeed in doing this, for though he accepted a kind of oneness in sins, it was only oneness that arises as a result of their mutual connectedness and cooperation. There is still another and deeper kind of oneness, however, that underlies sins as a substratum. And it consists in a self-seeking animal nature that belongs to humanity in virtue of its origin and extends to all humans individually. Though this is not inherently sinful, it is nevertheless “the raw material for the production of sins, as soon as these native propensities are brought into relation with any restraining or condemning influence.” It explains the universality of sin, the “mistakes” of childhood, the typical moral state of uncivilized peoples, the phenomenon of crime in a civilized society. But that inborn nature is not sinful in itself, for, as Pelagius clearly saw, sin is always an act of the will. Self-seeking lusts and tendencies only become sins when the will maintains and yields to them against better knowledge, and the culpability of sins increases in proportion as the intellect is better informed and the will has become morally more vigorous. Every human is “the Adam [or Eve] of his [or her] own soul.” While Augustine rightly stressed the universality of sin, the moral unity and solidarity of the human race, Pelagius with no less warrant upheld personal responsibility and guilt.45

Evolving out of a Sinful Nature?

[311] Although this theory was presented as one that reconciled Augustine and Pelagius and as the solution to an age-old problem, upon reflection it absolutely cannot be used for that purpose. In the first place, it has obviously been constructed under the influence of the theory of evolution, specifically that of the descent of humanity, and already assumes it as certain and proven,46 while in fact all solid ground for it is lacking.

In the second place, it does not account for the contrast in the view of humanity that exists between the evolutionary hypothesis and the teaching of Scripture and therefore oscillates between the two. If it accepts the former and wishes to remain faithful to it to the end, it cannot maintain the essential distinction between humans and animals, the absolute character of the moral law, the origin and abnormal character of sin. If, however, it does not wish to abandon all this, it must to the same extent relinquish the evolutionary theory accepted earlier. In the case of Tennant, this is very clearly evidenced in the fact that, in a most deterministic sense, he again attributes to the human being, who slowly evolved from the animal world, a free will 47 that has the power to make a choice between egoistic and altruistic tendencies. But he fails to explain with a single word how in the process of evolution there is room for such a free will. In the third place, he wraps himself in even greater difficulty when answering the question how that will relates to the innate animal tendencies. According to Tennant, the free will already evolved in primitive “man” before the awakening of a moral consciousness. Hence, for a considerable period of time primitive “man” was already an intellectual and volitional being before becoming a moral being and in that period lived without law, without sin, and without virtue:48 a conception of humanity that is completely impossible and that in its inscrutability ranks with that of homo naturalis. Gradually, however, there arises in primitive “man” a moral consciousness, a sense of responsibility, an accusing or excusing conscience, and in connection with all this a moral will as well. So far we have ignored the question—as yet never adequately answered—how this higher rational and moral life could emerge, by evolution, in primitive humanity from without. What is the nature and power that characterizes the will that is thus formed in humans? Innate animal tendencies and lusts, according to Tennant, are not sinful. They are only the “raw material for the production of sin,” but equally the “raw material” for doing good. They are simply “non-moral, natural, necessary, neutral, indifferent material waiting to be moralized; they may be turned to bad or they may be turned to good; our virtues and vices, in fact, have common roots.” The will, accordingly, seems to be unrelated or opposed to the innate animal tendencies and does so without “any bias to evil.”49

Such a will, which is in no way rooted in human nature but exists outside it and hangs in the air far above it, however, is psychologically inconceivable and open to many more objections than the creation of humans in an adult state and possessing original righteousness. Such a conception of the will, accordingly, cannot be practically maintained and soon becomes its precise opposite. For one who ponders the power of inborn animal tendencies and contrasts it with the vagueness of the original moral consciousness, the weakness of the moral will, senses that the theory of freedom in this argument will soon have to make way for a theory of necessity. This is clearly evident in Tennant. Not only does he assume the absolute universality of sin, but he recognizes that our nature and our surroundings are such that they make “the realization of our better self” into “a stupendously difficult task.” Indeed, the internal conflict between “nature and nurture, natural desire and moral end” is the inevitable condition of human life and the expression of God’s intent.50 As a result, sin, in its rise and further development, in the child and in the people of nature, has been precariously weakened,51 and the definition of it is really restricted to those transgressions of the moral law that occur with full awareness and intention.52 Let me say briefly, finally, that this theory of the origin of sin is diametrically opposed to the witness of Scripture and entails the modernization of the entire Christian confession concerning revelation, atonement, infant baptism, and so on.53

It is not surprising, therefore, that this new theory about the origin of sin has evoked a wide range of criticism.54 In fact, it again comes down to the ancient view of Pelagius that was repudiated by the entire Christian church. But whereas Pelagius remained true to his starting point and attempted to maintain the freedom of the will to the end, the new theory, though it begins by giving prominence to free will, in fact allows it again to be bested in the struggle against the power of inborn animal nature. The more deeply people penetrate the phenomenon of sin, the less it becomes something accidental and arbitrary, and the more it gains in power and importance, not only for the religious and ethical life but also for the intellectual, the aesthetic, the psychological, and all of cosmic life. If, in this connection, one asks about the origin of sin, however, one again receives a variety of answers. Not all people go equally far. Some explain it in terms of human nature, others in terms of the cosmos as a whole, still others in terms of God himself.

In the first category are those who locate the origin of sin in the domination of humans by matter. Greek philosophy was generally committed to the view that the role of reason was to curb one’s sensual urges and passions. Jews assumed the existence in humans of an “impulse toward evil” (יצר הרע) that in the course of one’s physical development steadily gained in strength, reached its peak in sexual desire, and while not evil in itself nonetheless seduced humans into a variety of sins.55 This notion regularly returns in ascetic movements. Catholic theology even recognized its relative validity when in the case of humans devoid of the controls of the superadded gift they spoke of a natural conflict between flesh and spirit and of a “sickness” and “faintness” (morbus and languor) of human nature.56 In modern philosophy and theology, sin is often similarly derived from an original opposition between nature and reason, sensuality and intellect, a lower and a higher self, flesh and spirit, egoistic and social tendencies. Sensuality in this view, though not itself considered sinful, is nevertheless regarded as the occasion and stimulus to sin. All sin, therefore, essentially consists in a person’s mind serving his or her sensuality and permitting it to control it; and all virtue consists in humans ruling over nature by their reason and thus developing into free and independent personalities.57 For this view people even eagerly appeal to the Pauline doctrine of the flesh (σαρξ) and delight in this scriptural support.

But this interpretation of sin is marked by halfheartedness. One has to make a choice: either the sensual nature of humans is not as such sinful, sin arising only if reason and will comply with its demands—and then the theory relapses into Pelagianism; or one’s sensual nature is inherently sinful and then sin is inherent in matter as such—and the anthropological interpretation has to proceed to the cosmic. This, accordingly, is precisely what happened in the thinking of many. Plato assumed the existence of eternal matter (ὑλη) alongside of and over against God. Though the cosmos was a work of reason, from the beginning there was also at work in it another factor, a blind force that could not be completely controlled by the demiurge. Therefore, God could not make the world as good as he wanted it to be: he was bound to finiteness, to matter. The cause of sin, suffering, and death, therefore, lies in the corporeal; matter (ὑλη) holds back the invasive and pervasive power of the idea. The body is a prison house of the soul, the source of fear and unrest, of desire and passion.58 Matter (ὑλη) has the same significance in Neoplatonism and Gnosticism and in numerous ascetic and theosophical schools of thought.59 Related to this doctrine of Plato are all the theories that derive sin from matter, which, though created by God, is opposed to him;60 or from the finiteness, “the original imperfection,” of creatures;61 or, generally speaking, from the realization of the “cosmic idea.”

This interpretation of sin in terms of creaturely existence, however, cannot consistently avoid somehow having to go back to God to locate the origin of sin in his nature or work. In the thought of Plato, matter (ὑλη) itself had eternal and independent status alongside God. In Parsism and Manicheism, two personal divine entities stood eternally over against each other as the creators of light and darkness and gave to the existing world its dual character. Neoplatonism and Gnosticism made the creation, fall, redemption, and so on into aspects of an emanation that as the “unknown deep” (βυθος ἀγνωστος), the absolute pleroma, issued from God in ever-descending formations, finally giving existence to the material world with its ignorance, darkness, sin, suffering, and death, but then, by a process of redemption, led that divinely emanated but now fallen world back to God.62

Theosophy, in the case of Böhme and Schelling, fed on these ideas when it attempted to interpret the personality of God, the Trinity, creation, fall, and redemption in terms of the being of God.63 The three potencies assumed in God—to ensure his becoming person, mind, spirit—are at the same time the basic elements of another existence, namely, that of the world. As person, God has the freedom and the power also to project outside himself and to set in polar tension the potencies that are present in him and that he eternally controls.64 In that tension lies the possibility of sin. In the original creation, the first either ideally or also in reality, these potencies were at rest. Sin, misery, darkness, death, and so on existed only potentially; they slumbered in the womb of creation. But humans, who bore these potencies within themselves, broke their oneness and unleashed the evil forces that were potentially present in the creation. A world like the present one, with so much savagery and misery, can only be explained in terms of a fall. This fall is the Ur-fact of history.65 Hegel, even more strongly, viewed it as a fall that the idea of the Absolute realized itself in the world as its own alternative existence. However much he regarded nature as a product of reason, he could not deny that it was powerless to fully realize the Idea; he therefore stated that the Idea, in giving existence to such a world, had become unfaithful to itself, had in fact apostatized from itself.66 Thus he paved the way for the pessimism that, in the manner of Buddhism, considers existence itself the greatest sin, a sin committed by the blind irrational will, which is the ultimate guilty party.67

The Enigma of Sin’s Origin

[312] The question of the origin of evil, second to that of existence itself, is the greatest enigma of life and the heaviest cross for the intellect to bear. The question, Whence is evil? has occupied the minds of humans in every century and still waits in vain for an answer that is more satisfactory than that of Scripture. Insofar as philosophy has taught us anything significant in this matter, it is, broadly speaking, a strong proof for the scriptural truth that this world is inexplicable without a fall. All the great thinkers, even if they were ignorant of Genesis 3 or rejected it as myth, have, despite themselves, given tacit or explicit support to this simple story. And insofar as philosophy looked for a solution to the problem in another direction, it has gotten off the track and sadly gone astray. This applies first of all to the Pelagian explanation of sin, the many objections to which have been touched on above and will come up at length in our discussion of the essence and propagation of sin. But it applies further to all the systems that trace evil not to a creaturely act of will but to the nature of humanity, the world, or God.

In the first place, sin cannot be inferred from the sensual nature of the human race. If that were the explanation, sin certainly would always have a sensual or carnal character. But this is far from being always the case. There are also spiritual sins, sins of a demonic nature, such as pride, envy, hatred, enmity against God, which, though less visible, are absolutely no less serious than the sins of carnality; and these cannot be explained by sensuality, any more than the existence of fallen angels can be explained on this basis. If sins originated from humanity’s sensual nature, one would certainly expect that they would be most vigorous and numerous in the early years of life, and that to the degree that the mind became more developed it would also exert firmer control over it and finally overcome it altogether. But experience tells a very different story. To the degree that people grow up, sin—also sensual sin—has a stronger grip on them. It is not the child but the young man and the adult male who are frequently enslaved by their lusts and passions; and mental development is often so little able to curb sin that it tends rather to make available the means of seeking the satisfaction of one’s desire on a larger scale and in more refined ways. And even when at a later stage in life the sensual sins have lost their dominance, they still secretly stay on in people’s hearts as desires or make way for others that, though more spiritual in nature, are no less appalling. Accordingly, if this explanation of sin in terms of sensuality is meant in earnest, it should result in seeking release by suppressing the flesh; but it is precisely the history of asceticism that is best calculated to cure us of the error that sin can be overcome in that fashion. People take their hearts with them when they enter a monastery, and from the heart arise all sorts of sins and iniquities.

The Sinful “Flesh”

This theory erroneously tries to keep itself afloat with an appeal to the idea of flesh (בשׂר and σαρξ) in Scripture, especially in Paul. This word first of all denotes the material substance of the human body (1 Cor. 15:39); second, the body itself that is composed of matter in contrast to spirit (πνευμα), mind (νους), and heart (καρδια) (Rom. 2:28; 2 Cor. 7:5; Col. 2:5); further, in the Old Testament sense of humans as earthly, weak, fragile, and transient beings (Gen. 6:3; 18:27; Job 4:17–19; 15:14–15; 25:4–6; Pss. 78:39; 103:14; Isa. 40:6; Jer. 17:5; Rom. 3:20; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16); and finally in Paul the sinful life-orientation of humans. Thus he speaks of “carnal,” “in the flesh,” of “being, living, walking according to the flesh,” of “the body of sin,” “the mind of the flesh” (Rom. 3:7; 7:14; 8:3f.; 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 10:2–3; etc.). In this sense “flesh” is contrasted with “spirit,” though not with the human πνευμα, which, after all, is also sinful and needs sanctification (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 7:34; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:23), but with the “Holy Spirit” (πνευμα ἁγιον) of God (Rom. 8:2, 9, 11), which renews the human spirit (Rom. 7:6; 8:14; Gal. 5:18) and also consecrates the body and puts it at the disposal of righteousness (Rom. 6:13, 19; 12:1; 1 Cor. 6:13, 15, 19–20), thus putting in people a “new person” (καινος ἀνθρωπος) in opposition to the old sinful life-orientation, the “flesh” (σαρξ) of the “old person” (παλαιος ἀνθρωπος) (Rom. 7:5f.; 8:1ff.; Gal. 5:13–25; Eph. 2:3, 11; Col. 3:9). Some now have the idea that in this view the “flesh” is not only the seat and organ of sin but also its source and origin.68

But this cannot be maintained against or squared with the undeniable fact that Paul clearly traces sin to the temptation of the serpent and the transgression by Adam (Rom. 5:12; 2 Cor. 11:3). Paul also speaks of the defilement of the body and of the spirit and desires the cleansing of both (2 Cor. 7:1) and lists, among the works of the flesh, a range of spiritual sins such as idolatry, strife, anger, and even heresy (Gal. 5:19f.). Paul describes hostility against God as the “mind of the flesh” (φρονημα της σαρκος; Rom. 8:7) and accepts the existence of evil spirits, which, after all, have no σαρξ (Eph. 6:12). [Positively] Paul recognizes Christ, though born of a woman (Gal. 4:4) and of Jewish stock “according to the flesh” (το κατα σαρκα; Rom. 9:5), as being without any sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and calls the body a temple of God, claiming all its members for the service of righteousness (Rom. 6:13, 19; 12:1; 1 Cor. 6:13–20). Finally, Paul teaches a resurrection of dead bodies (1 Cor. 15), and in principle opposes asceticism (Col. 2:16; 1 Thess. 4:4). The proponents of the view that Paul considers the “flesh” to be the principle of sin, accordingly, often turn around halfway by saying that human flesh is not itself sinful and does not automatically bring sin with it but does incite and tempt people to sin.69

Other scholars have therefore expressed the view that Paul, when he uses the word σαρξ in an ethical sense, completely ignores the original meaning.70 This in itself is not too likely, however, and fails to do justice to the connection Scripture repeatedly makes between the earthly, weak, and transient nature of humans and their sin. There is undoubtedly a close connection between the two; while the sensual nature of humans is not itself sin, nor the source or principle of sin, it is its dwelling place (Rom. 7:17–18) and the instrument of its dominion over us (Rom. 6:12). Human beings are not pure spirit but from the earth, people of “dust,” and become living souls (1 Cor. 15:45ff.), and are therefore connected with the cosmos and always have bodies as their instrument and as organs of their activity (Rom. 6:13; 8:13). This sensual nature gives to sin, as it characterizes our humanity, a character distinct from that of the angels, both in origin and in essence. Temptations come to us from without via “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride in riches” (1 John 2:16). It is the sensual nature of human beings that makes their sin such that they make a god of their belly, that they think the things that are below, that they are self-seeking and live for themselves, and honor the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:21ff.; Phil. 2:4, 21; 3:19; Col. 3:2; etc.).

Σαρξ denotes the sinful life-orientation of humans who in soul and body turn away from God and toward the creature. The Pauline use of the word “flesh” becomes clear to us when we abandon the familiar Greek contrast between the material and the immaterial and replace it with the biblical contrast between the earthly and the heavenly, the divine and the creaturely, between what is below and what is above. Thus Jesus spoke of the flesh in John 3:6. Flesh became “the proper designation of the race as self-evolved and self-continued. Human nature as now constituted can produce nothing but its like, and that like is now sinful. Flesh therefore may be appropriately used for the principle of corrupt nature in the individual, for the obvious reason that it is in the course of the flesh, or of the ordinary production of human nature, that the evil principle invariably originates.”71

Sin as God’s Design?

The explanation of sin from the sensual nature of humans cannot, however, as noted above, stop here but has to move on to locating its cause in the material nature or the finiteness of the creature, and so in an eternal and independent power alongside God, or in the dark nature or blind will in the divine being itself. This view of the origin of sin commends itself over the preceding one by its profounder insight into the power and dominion of sin. It has a keen eye not only for its ethical and anthropological but also for its cosmic and theological meaning. It takes seriously the undeniable truth that a power as appalling as sin cannot have originated accidentally, outside God’s will and counsel. It finds support in the whole present state of the world, both the physical world and the world of ethics. Everywhere in nature and history there are stark and deep contrasts that seem to be necessary for life and development. Heaven and earth, light and darkness, day and night, summer and winter, storm and quiet, war and peace, labor and rest, prosperity and adversity, love and hate, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, life and death, truth and falsehood, sin and virtue: these are the contradictory factors of which the whole of our existence is composed and without which there can apparently be no continuation and progress. What storms are in nature, wars and revolutions in society, peasants and slaves in a drama, solecisms and barbarisms in a language, antitheses in a public address, false notes in music, dark shadows on a painting: that sin is in the world.72 All activity seems also to presuppose some hindrance. A pigeon might imagine it could fly better in a vacuum, but precisely the resistance of the air is what enables it to fly. Similarly, human beings may think they could live better without sin, but in fact sin is necessary for their moral perfection (Kant). The law of contradiction is the fundamental law of all that is, the “source of eternal life. What prompts, even compels, us to act is contradiction alone. Without it there would be no movement, no life, no progress, but everlasting repose, the death slumber of all forces.”73 What would be a life without sin? It would be an existence without content, an empty abstraction without opportunity for struggle and victory or conflict and reconciliation; without material for drama and song, for science and art. That was the reason why Dante could paint his inferno with colors derived from this earth, but for the portrayal of heaven this earth offers no materials (Schopenhauer). The proponents of this view of the origin of sin delight in appealing to many verses in Scripture that speak of a necessity of sins and disasters (Matt. 18:7; Luke 24:26; John 9:3; 1 Cor. 11:19; 2 Tim. 2:20); to the teaching of Augustine and Calvin, who include sin in God’s counsel and providence; to the well-known words in the Easter vigil of the Roman missal: “O truly necessary sin of Adam that is wiped out by the death of Christ! O happy fault that was worthy to have such and so great a Savior!” There is so much truth in this conception that it need not surprise us that it has at all times fascinated people. Sin is not accidental or arbitrary but incorporated in the counsel of God. It is so intertwined with our whole existence that we cannot even picture a holy life or a sinless history. It is, against its will, made subservient by God Almighty to the revelation of his attributes and the honor of his name.

Still, despite all the truth that is concealed in this idea and will come out even more clearly later on, it cannot and may not be accepted. In the first place, it robs sin of its ethical character. Sin is certainly not only and not always an act of the will, as Pelagianism teaches, and certainly also a state of the will, but it never completely occurs apart from the will. Augustine said: “All sin is voluntary.” This sentiment is undoubtedly true when understood in the sense in which Augustine understood it. In the view being considered, however, sin is made analogous to and—in Gnostic and theosophic fashion—equated with the physical phenomena of darkness, sickness, death, and so on. Moreover, it is inferred from the flesh, from matter, from the essence of creatures, from the nature of God, and thus made into a substance or a necessary quality of the existence of things. In the process, sin is deprived of its ethical character and degraded to a physical phenomenon.

Second, in this view sin is made eternal and invincible. Inasmuch as it is not ethical but physical in nature, it is necessarily a feature of what exists, God as well as the universe, and indispensable to the existence of everything. Not only is the good necessary to evil, but, conversely, evil is necessary to the good. Evil, here, is not a quality of the good and of existence but is itself a kind of existence and good, without which even the good cannot exist. Human beings who strove to be freed from sin would entertain a wicked wish and work for their own ruin. A world without sin could not be, and a state of glory would be nothing but a dream.

In the third place, in this view sin ceases to be antithetical; it simply becomes a lower or lesser degree of the good, in its place as good as the good itself. It becomes a component in life and history that is always destined to disappear but never does: a not-yet being what a creature ought to be, yet never becomes or can become, a pure negation that has no reality and exists only in thought. “As far as good and evil are concerned, they also indicate nothing positive in things, considered in themselves, nor are they anything other than modes of thinking, or notions we form because we compare things to one another.”74

In the fourth place, in this view God has to become the author of sin. Parsism and Manicheism still shrank from this conclusion, set the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness in direct opposition to each other, and placed an eternal divine being at the head of each. The god of nature is very different from the god of the good, the moral power, which asserts itself in the human conscience.75 But Gnostic philosophy and theosophy incorporated the opposites into a single Absolute. God himself, in order to become a person or spirit, had to carry within himself and to perpetually overcome a dark nature as well. By a conflictual process, before and from without or in and through the world, he himself arrives at divine existence. In himself he is an “unknown abyss” (βυθος ἀγνωστος), a dark nature, a blind will, and as such the creator of matter. “In order for there to be no evil, God himself would have to not be.”76

Not only does Scripture testify against this view, but the moral consciousness of all humans rises up in protest against it. Sin may be whatever it is, but one thing is certain: God is the Righteous and Holy One who prohibits it in his law, witnesses against it in the human conscience, and visits it with punishments and judgments. Sin is not rational, nor is it lawful; it is lawlessness (ἀνομια); it is not necessary to the existence of creatures, much less to the existence of God. The good is necessary even for evil to exist, but the good does not need evil, nor does holiness need sin, nor truth falsehood, nor God Satan. If sin, nevertheless, frequently serves to bring the good to fuller disclosure and to glorify God’s attributes, this occurs—against sin’s intent, not with its consent and cooperation—by the wisdom and omnipotence of God. Against its own genius, sin is forced to serve the honor of God and the coming of his kingdom. Thus evil frequently pays tribute to the good, the lie is overtaken by the truth, and Satan, to accomplish his deceptions, often has to appear as an angel of light. But all this is attributable, not to sin, but to the almighty power of God, who is able to bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, and life out of death.

Finally, this entire false conception has a horrible effect on the practice of life. If philosophy announces in so many words “God is to blame for everything; humans are blameless,” then in practice libertinism and pessimism are not far behind. This is the libertinism that considers sin an illusion, and this illusion, as the only sin, erases all boundaries between good and evil, falsifies or, with Nietzsche, transvalues all moral concepts, and, under the rallying cry of the emancipation of the flesh, glorifies bestiality as geniality. This is the pessimism that, blind to sin, has eyes only for suffering, projects the blame for all that suffering upon the irrational act of an absolute will, and seeks deliverance from suffering in the destruction of the existing world. Judging by the outcome, so-called independent philosophy is also guided by the native tendency of all humans to justify themselves and to charge God with injustice.77

Sin and the Will of God

[313] Still, in saying that God is not the cause of sin, we have not said everything. Scripture, which strongly distances God from all wickedness, firmly announces, on the other hand, that his counsel and government also extend to sin.78 God is not the author of sin, yet it does not lie outside his knowledge, his will, and his power. Then how are we to conceive God’s relation to sin? Some, to exempt God from all responsibility for sin, have even deprived him of omniscience and omnipotence.79 Others were of the opinion that, though sin does not lie outside God’s knowledge, it does lie outside his will, and contented themselves with the concept of “permission.” Though he knew of sin before it occurred, God did not will it. He only permitted it and did not prevent it. Thus spoke the church fathers 80 and were followed in this respect by Pelagians,81 Roman Catholics,82 Remonstrants,83 Lutherans,84 and many modern theologians.85 Indeed, people in this camp acknowledged that “permission” did not mean a lack of divine knowledge and power, nor did it make God an idle spectator of sin. Still, “permission” was always described as a “negative act,” as a “withholding of obstacles” (suspensio impedimenti), as neither a positive willing nor a positive non-willing of sin, but as an unwillingness to prevent it (non velle impedire).

It is clear that this view not only fails to provide a solution but also is ambiguous and avoids the real issue. The question at issue is this: Suppose that in a certain case a more or less negative act of divine permission precedes. Then does sin or does sin not follow, is it still a matter of the free will of humans or not, and can they still equally well commit as not commit the sin? If the decision then still depends on the free will of humans, Pelagius is right, and the control of sin has in fact been totally taken away from God and he is at most an “idle spectator of sins.” If, on the other hand, the divine permission is such that humans, situated in those circumstances, have to commit the sin, not by compulsion but in virtue of the ordinances that pertain especially to the moral life, then Augustine is right, regardless of what one thinks of the word “permission.” In posing this issue, Augustine already saw that “permission” could not be merely negative but had to be an act of God’s will. “Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen: he either permits it to happen or he brings it about himself.” God does everything he wills; he does not will anything without doing it, but what he wills he does, and what happens does not ever happen apart from his will. “In a wondrous, indescribable way even that which is done against His will is not done without His will. It simply could not be done if He did not permit it, and of course He permits it not against His will, but with it; nor would He in His goodness permit evil unless in His omnipotence He could bring good even out of evil.”86 Many scholastic and Augustinian theologians still spoke along the same lines. Even when they used the word “permit,” it was still understood as a “willing to permit” or a “willing to permit evil to happen.”87

Essentially, the Reformed had no other conviction. For that reason a certain Livinus de Meyer correctly said: “One egg is no more like another egg than the Calvinian doctrine is to the Thomistic one.”88 Only, they had found that the word “permission” was used in a most ambiguous sense to conceal Pelagianism. For that reason they did not like the word. But they had so little objection to it per se that in fact they all again used it.89 In their view, however, “permission” was no pure negation, no mere cessation of volition, proceeding from ignorance or impotence or negligence, but a positive act of God, an efficacious will, not efficient or productive, but deficient, an act upon which, in keeping with the nature of the moral life, sin has to follow.90 It is true that sometimes in the heat of battle, the Reformed used “hard sayings” (dicta duriora).91 Catholics,92 Socinians,93 Remonstrants,94 and Lutherans,95 consequently, referring to these sayings, did not lose any opportunity to charge the Reformed with making God the author of sin. But, first of all, these “hard sayings” are all less hard than those that sometimes occur in Holy Scriptures (e.g., Exod. 7:3; 2 Sam. 16:10; 24:1; Mal. 1:3; Luke 2:34; Rom. 9:17–18; 2 Thess. 2:11; etc.). Further, all such hard sayings have been held against Paul by Judaizers, against Augustine by the Pelagians, against Gottschalk by Hincmar, and against the Jansenists by the Jesuits. Third, the Reformed have always avoided using them in their confessions. Maccovius was challenged in this connection at the Synod of Dort.96 Subsequently, they were either avoided or explained by most Reformed theologians.97 And finally, their meaning and intent are perfectly transparent from their connection with the whole of Reformed theology to everyone who wants to understand them. The issue is simply that the word “permission” conceived in a negative sense offers no solution whatever to the problem of God’s relation to sin, fails utterly to answer the objection that God is the author of sin, and in fact withdraws the whole reality of sin from the context of God’s providential government. After all, one who can prevent an evil but, while quietly looking on, lets it happen is as guilty as one who commits that evil.98 Furthermore, even if God merely allowed sin to occur, there has to be a reason why he did not want to prevent it. That reason cannot be a lack of knowledge or power; hence it has to lie in his will. So “permission” proves to be an act of his will after all. He willed to permit it; and this willing can only be construed to mean that sin now also actually occurs not by divine but by creaturely agency.

Not Mere “Permission”

Christian theology, for that matter, when speaking of God’s government over sin, never stopped with the idea of permission. For if both Scripture and Christian thought forbade placing sin completely or partly outside the will and providence of God, a solution could only be attempted by making a distinction in the manner of God’s government over the good and over the evil. And indeed, though in a sense it can be said that God willed sin, that is, he willed that there would be sin, he willed evil in a totally different sense than good. He takes delight in the good but hates evil with divine hatred. In order that this difference in God’s government may stand out, we need first of all to point out that God and humanity, though never separate, are nevertheless always distinct. Faith is a gift. God causes people to believe; still, formally speaking, it is not God who believes, but the human being. This applies even more intensely to the sinful deed. Materially, certainly, this must be attributed to God, but formally it remains the responsibility of human beings. When a murderer kills somebody, all the planning ability and the power he needs for that purpose come from God, but the act, from a formal point of view, is his, not God’s. Indeed, the fact of homicide taken by itself is not yet a sin, for the same thing frequently occurs in war and on the scaffold. What makes homicide a sin is not the matter, the substrate, but the form, that is, the depravity, the lawlessness (ἀνομια) of the deed; not the substance but the accident in the act.99

Lodged against this view is the objection that this distinction, even though correct, actually makes no difference because it places the formal aspect of the deed, the sinfulness in the sin, outside God’s government.100 This comment is only partly correct: it contains truth, not in general but in this particular case as it pertains to sin. In respect of faith, no one will infer from the fact that humans are the formal subject of it that it therefore lies outside God’s providence. But it is true that, in the case of faith, things are very different than in the case of sin. Faith, after all, is an absolute gift and excludes all merit; sin, by contrast, is a human deed and carries guilt with it. Consequently, sin here must be opposed not to faith, which is given by God out of grace, but to the good that humans would have done had they not fallen. That good, materially speaking, would have been totally the work of God; formally, however, human beings would be the subject of it, and for them it would have carried with it—not of itself but in virtue of the covenant of works—a claim to reward. Now, sin is no more situated outside God’s providence than the good, on the ground that it formally has humanity, not God, as subject.

Yet there is more. In the case of the good, God’s providence must be understood as God himself by his Spirit working in the subject and positively enabling this subject to do good. In the case of sin, it may not be pictured that way. Sin is lawlessness, deformity, and does not have God as its efficient cause, but at most as its deficient cause. Light cannot of itself produce darkness; the darkness only arises when the light is withdrawn. God, therefore, is at most the negative or incidental cause of sin; its real and positive cause is located in human beings. However, because sin is merely a form and not a substance, it is in no way placed outside God’s providence by being formally a human act. He impacts it in a way that completely corresponds to the nature of sin. Just as in his providence he governs all things in keeping with their nature, so in the domain of morality God also upholds the ordinances he has established specifically for that domain. Sin also arises and develops in accordance with a fixed law, not the laws of nature or of logic but those that are increated in the ethical life and are still operative in its destruction. Sickness, decomposition, and death are the antipodes of health, development, and life, but are no less than these controlled from beginning to end by fixed laws. In the same way, there is a law of sin that determines its entire history both in individuals and in humanity as a whole. And precisely this normativity in sin proves that God’s kingdom governs in and over it as well. People who sin do not make themselves free and independent of God; on the contrary, though they were sons and daughters before, they are now slaves. Those who commit sin become the slaves of sin.101

Possibility of Sin as God’s Will

[314] By the distinction of the material and the formal aspect of sin, however, we have not yet [in any way] answered the question why God included sin in his decree and its execution. The answer is implied in the providence of God as it also pertains to sin. Scripture repeatedly states that God uses sin as punishment of the wicked (Deut. 2:30; Josh. 11:20; Judg. 9:23–24; John 12:40; Rom. 1:21–28; 2 Thess. 2:11–12), as a means of saving his people (Gen. 45:5; 50:20), to test and chastise believers (Job 1:11–12; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:13; 11:19; 2 Cor. 12:7), and to glorify his name (Exod. 7:3; Prov. 16:4; Rom. 9:17; 11:33; etc.). Precisely because God is the absolutely Holy and Almighty One, he can use sin as a means in his hand. Creatures cannot do that; with the least contact, they themselves become polluted and impure. But God is so infinitely far removed from wickedness that he can make sin, as an unresisting instrument, subservient to his glorification. There are countless examples that prove that also in this connection “when two parties do the same thing, it is not the same.” It was God’s will that Shimei cursed David, that Satan tested Job, that Jews and Gentiles wanted to give up God’s holy servant Jesus to death—still in all these iniquities, human creatures are guilty and God is innocent. For even when he wants there to be evil, he only wants it in a way that is holy: though using it, he never commits it. And for that reason, he has also allowed sin in his creation. He would not have tolerated it had he not been able to govern it in an absolute holy and sovereign manner. He would not have put up with it if he were not God, the Holy and Omnipotent One. But being God, he did not fear its existence and its power. He willed it so that in it and against it he might bring to light his divine attributes. If he had not allowed it to exist, there would always have been a rationale for the idea that he was not in all his attributes superior to a power whose possibility was inherent in creation itself. For all rational creatures as creatures, as finite, limited, changeable beings, have the possibility of apostatizing. But God, because he is God, never feared the way of freedom, the reality of sin, the eruption of wickedness, or the power of Satan. So, both in its origin and its development, God always exercises his rule over sin. He does not force it, nor does he block it with violence but rather allows it to reach its full dynamic potential. He remains king yet still gives it free rein in his kingdom. He allows it to have everything—his world, his creatures, even his Anointed—for evils cannot exist without goods. He allows it to use all that is his; he gives it opportunity to show what it can do in order, in the end, as King of kings, to leave the theater of battle. For sin is of such a nature that it destroys itself by the very freedom granted it; it dies of its own diseases; it dooms itself to death. At the apex of its power, it is, by the cross alone, publicly shown up in its powerlessness (Col. 2:15).102

For that reason God willed there to be sin. “Although, therefore, what is evil, insofar as it is evil is not a good, nevertheless it is well that not only good but also evil should exist. For, were it not a good that evil things should also exist, the Omnipotent Good would most certainly not allow evil to be, since beyond doubt it is just as easy for Him not to allow what He does not will, as it is for Him to do what He wills. Unless we believe this, the very first sentence of our profession of faith is endangered, wherein we profess to believe in God the Father Almighty.”103 Because he knew he was absolutely able to control sin, “he deemed it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist at all.”104 He thinks and guides evil for good and makes it subservient to his glory. Augustine even employs an array of images to assign to sin a place in the order of the whole. There it has the same function as the shadows in a painting, the solecisms and barbarisms in the language, the contrasts in a song.105 God composed the order of history, like a beautiful poem, of antithetical elements to heighten the beauty and harmony of the whole.106 Though these images contain some truth, they easily occasion misunderstanding. They tend to make sin appear necessary and entirely fitting in the whole of things. They sacrifice the particular to the universal and as a result offer no reconciliation or solace to those who wrestle with sin or experience suffering. But it is true that also and even especially in God’s government over sin his attributes are splendidly displayed. The riches of God’s grace, the depth of his compassion, the unchanging nature of his faithfulness, the inviolable character of his justice, the glory of his wisdom and power have shone out all the more brilliantly as a result of sin. When humans broke the covenant of works, God replaced it with the greatly improved covenant of grace. When Adam fell, God gave Christ as Lord from heaven. It is precisely God’s greatness to so rule and overrule sin that against its own genius and intent it becomes serviceable to the honor of his name. And therefore the sin that is in the world, so far from being able to rob us of our faith in God, his love, and his power, rather confirms and strengthens us in that faith. “If there is evil, there is a God. For there would be no evil, if the order of good were removed, the privation of which is evil; and there would be no such order, if there were no God.”107

[315] Although sin has thus been subject to God’s government from the beginning, its origin is in the will of the rational creature, not in God. At this point, however, there immediately arises another problem. How can sin ever be explained in terms of the will of a being created after God’s image in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness? The Pelagian notion that the first human existed in a state of childlike innocence, of moral indifference, already proved unacceptable to us earlier;108 it does not explain the fall but changes it into a minor misfortune and renders unintelligible the fact that from it such appalling consequences and horrendous miseries for the entire human race should result. If a spring can produce such a stream of polluted water, it must itself be inwardly polluted. It is impermissible, therefore, to so minimalize the distance between the state of integrity and the state of corruption that the transition becomes easy and gradual. Humans were not created morally indifferent by God, but positively holy. Still we have to bear in mind the following as well. In the first place, God most certainly willed the possibility of sin. The possibility of sinning is from God. The idea of sin was first conceived in his mind.109 God eternally conceived sin as his absolute polar opposite and thus, in that sense, included it in his decree, or else it would never have been able to arise and exist in reality. It was not Satan, nor Adam and Eve, who first conceived the idea of sin: God himself as it were made it visible to their eyes. By means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, he clearly showed human beings the two roads they could take. And before the fall he even permitted an evil power from without to insinuate itself into Paradise, using the snake as its medium, and to discuss with Eve the meaning of the probationary command. There is therefore no doubt that God willed the possibility of sin.

In the second place, in keeping with this objective possibility, God so created angels and humans that they could sin and fall. They did not yet possess the highest [gift];110 they were placed at the beginning of the road, not the end. The gift of perseverance, which is and always remains a gift and can never really be merited and be part of the nature of a creature, was still denied to them. Otherwise it would have seemed as if God feared the power of sin and wanted to prevent it by force. Angels and humans, accordingly, received the grace by which they could stand, not the grace by which they would stand in perpetuity.111 They did not yet possess the highest, inadmissible freedom, that is, the freedom of no longer being able to want to sin. The image of God in humanity was therefore still limited; it had not developed in all its fullness; it still had its limit in the possibility of sinning. Humanity was positioned in the good, but the possibility of evil still lay right alongside it. Human beings, though they walked on the right road, could stray onto a side road. They were good, but changeably so. God alone is fully existent in all his attributes and therefore immutable. Creatures, however, become and can therefore also degenerate. All that has been created can change (παν κτιστον τρεπτον). If matter and form are distinct, as is always the case in creatures, there is always a possibility that the matter can change its form. What has been formed can be deformed and hence again be reformed; what has been created can become a miscreant and hence also be re-created. Moral freedom, however vigorous, is inherently distinct from logical necessity and physical force. A creature naturally incapable of sin, therefore, is a contradiction.112

In the third place, in the question concerning the origin of sin the faculty and activity of the imagination must be considered. In earlier times dogmaticians paid little attention to this subject, even though they were aware that in the case of humans temptation is first of all and primarily directed toward the imagination and thereby seeks to affect desire and the will.113 In mysticism, however, the imagination played a large role. According to Böhme, it was by fantasy that Lucifer imagined himself into the abyss of sin; he dipped deeply into fantasy, so it took hold of him and surrendered itself to him in his life.114 And in fact this is how things always go in the origination of the sinful act, as Thomas à Kempis describes it: “At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colours; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent.”115 The mind entertains the idea of sin, the imagination beautifies and converts it into a fascinating ideal, desire reaches out to it, and the will goes ahead and does it. Thus, in the case of both angels and humans, the imagination was the faculty that made the violation of the commandment appear as the road to equality with God.116

Finally, we must note that Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15:45ff. of the first man as “from the earth, a man of dust,” who by creation became a living soul, thus contrasting him with Christ, the Lord from heaven who became a life-giving Spirit. This comparison and contrast between Adam and Christ is also deeply significant for the fall of the first human. Adam was from the earth, a man of dust, even before the violation of God’s commandment. By his creation he became a living soul. The natural comes first, then the spiritual. Articulated here is that in the case of angels and humans the origin and nature of sin is very different. True, we know little about the fall of angels, but in view of 1 Timothy 3:6 and 2 Peter 2:4, it must be considered highly probable that pride, the will to be equal to God in power and dominion, was the beginning and principle of their fall. The angels were not, like humans, led astray. Temptation did not come to them from without. They fell by their own agency. Jesus says that the devil speaks “according to his own nature” [John 8:44] when he lies. He became discontented with his status and power on his own, that is, by his own thinking; he produced the lie from within himself and projected it as a realm, a system, over against the truth of God. But in the case of the first human, it was not so. He was not a pure spirit; he was not as highly positioned, although, being created after God’s image, he was closer to God than the angels. He could not think as loftily and elevate himself as boldly: he was from the earth, a man of dust, a living soul, a being more finely and delicately organized but for that reason also weaker and more fragile. As such a being, a being created in God’s image, yet earthly and sensual, he presented to Satan a suitable target for temptation. Satan came to him from without, adapted himself to his nature as it were, aroused in him the lust of the eyes, the craving of the flesh, and the pride of life, and so brought about his fall. The origin and essence of sin has a very different character in the case of humanity than in that of the angels. In both it is evident that we sin as human beings, not as devils, but as beings who are from the earth, made of dust, and who by the act of creation were made into living souls.

For this reason Scripture, and Paul in particular, so closely links the sensual nature of a human being and sin. We must not for a minute think that underlying this connection there is a dichotomy between sensuality and reason, or the idea that matter is of a lower order and the principle of sin. The origin of this contrast and this idea is not Hebraic but Greek. Scripture knows nothing of such a dualism, but it does know something else, namely, that, in virtue of their origin, humans are sensual, “psychic,” or earthly beings. From the very start the first person was created a living soul, from the earth, a man of dust. He was that, accordingly, in the state of integrity; and for that reason, despite the knowledge and righteousness he possessed, was susceptible to seduction and temptation. Already from the first sin it was evident that human beings are σαρξ (“flesh”). All subsequent sins have only and consistently highlighted our human nature as temptable, weak, and unreliable beings. All human sin, also that of an intellectual or spiritual kind, bears a character that corresponds to our “psychic” (earthly) nature and thus differs from the sin of angels. The pre-fall human was not the image of God despite but in his or her peculiar “psychic” (earthly) nature; and it is from this nature that his or her sin receives its stamp.

With all this we have established nothing other and nothing more than the possibility of sin. How that possibility became a reality is and will presumably remain a mystery. We can show that the idea of sin was eternally present in God’s mind; that it was made visible to humans in the probationary command; that they, therefore, aside from the good, also had knowledge of a forbidden evil; and that the imagination is the faculty by which humans transform ideas into ideals. But this is by no means to explain the passage from possibility to reality, from the bare notion to the sinful deed. This explanation eludes us, not only in connection with the origin of the first sin but over and over with respect to all sorts of human deeds and actions. In psychology and biography we indeed content ourselves with a few scant data. If we know something of people’s ancestry, parents, upbringing, and so on, we think we have explained their personality, life, and conduct. But certainly this is rather superficial: every human being is a mystery, and every action is grounded in something other and deeper than the environment. To a much greater degree, the same applies to sin. Here we enter the mysterious area of moral freedom and face a phenomenon that in the nature of the case, as it concerns its origin, escapes explanation. A moral act, after all, is never equivalent to a conclusion from premises nor to a physical or chemical result. It essentially differs from both and has a character of its own. The moral life is utterly unique; it is always a life of freedom and that, in the nature of the case, is a riddle. But this is even much more the case with a sinful act, specifically with the first sinful act. Sin cannot be physically or logically deduced from antecedent circumstances, reasonings, or considerations. Above all, it cannot be inferred from a holy nature created in God’s image. One who understood and explained sin, that is, could demonstrate that it necessarily followed from antecedent factors, would fail to do justice to its nature, erase the boundaries between good and evil, and trace something evil to something good. The sinful act is caused by the sinful will, but who will indicate to us the cause of this sinful will? “Trying to discover the causes of such deficiencies—causes which, as I have said, are not efficient but deficient—is like trying to see the darkness or hear the silence.”117 Sin started with lying (John 8:44); it is based on illusion, an untrue picture, an imagined good that was not good. In its origin, therefore, it was a folly and an absurdity. It does not have an origin in the true sense of the word, only a beginning. Satan has, therefore, not incorrectly been called an “irony of all logic.”118 The impossibility of explaining the origin of sin, therefore, must not be understood as an excuse, a refuge for ignorance. Rather, it should be said openly and clearly: we are here at the boundaries of our knowledge. Sin exists, but it will never be able to justify its existence. It is unlawful and irrational.

Time of the Fall

[316] As to the time of the fall, we cannot possibly pinpoint it precisely. For Manicheism and pantheism the very question is meaningless. Sin, in these systems, is eternal. It is rooted in an evil being or in God himself and coincides with the existence of the finite. There is no distinction between the creation and the fall; creation itself is an “apostasy” of God from himself as pure being. According to theosophists, the fall of the angels occurred in the period that lay between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The formlessness, emptiness, and darkness of the earth, in their opinion, cannot have been created by God, who is the God of life and light; they presuppose a fall and a subsequent curse. The angels first lived on this earth, which was their proper dwelling (Jude 6). This is also evidenced by the fact that Satan is even now called the prince of this world; that he wants to wrest it out of the hands of humanity that later received it from God as an inheritance; that in the temptation [in the wilderness] he was prepared to relinquish it to Christ in exchange for being worshiped; that he now still lives in the air; and that the world lies in the Evil One. The heaven and earth that were created in Genesis 1:1 and assigned to the angels, however, were of a very different nature than those that were later formed in the six days of Genesis 1:3ff. They were a spiritual, that is, immaterial, realm of light. The material earth that came into being in the six days, like the formlessness, emptiness, and darkness of Genesis 1:2, already presupposes the fall of angels. Matter itself is impure, self-seeking, and cannot have been directly created by God. “Only an enormous transgression, less a fall than an uprising, could occasion this material manifestation as a crisis—a movement of contradiction and restoration—and only the continuation of this transgression makes the continued existence or the continued generation of this matter intelligible” (Baader).119

But this theory, however attractive, lacks sufficient grounding in Holy Scripture. In Genesis 1:2 we read, not that the earth became formless and void, but that it was. Not a word suggests that this formless and empty state consisted in a destruction that followed an ordered state. Much less is there mention of the idea that the fall of the angels took place before that time and was the cause of the desolation. It is impossible to see, moreover, what connection there can be between the fall of the angels—supposing it took place before Genesis 1:2—and the desolation of the earth. To make such a connection, one has to resort to all sorts of gnostic ideas. One then has to teach that in some sense angels are corporeal beings and were assigned the original earth as their dwelling, just as according to some they still inhabit the fixed stars. Also, then the first earth, which was created in Genesis 1:1, has to be essentially different from what was prepared in the six days and consisted of more refined material. The coarse matter of which it now consists, though created by God, nevertheless presupposes the fall, is something unspiritual and essentially impure and self-seeking. All these opinions are derived, not from Scripture, but from Gnosticism.

Nor is there any ground for the opinion that the fall of humans occurred already before Genesis 3, either in the preexistent state of the souls or in Genesis 2 at and before the creation of the woman. The former notion was widely dispersed in antiquity. We find it in India, Persia, and Egypt; in various Greek philosophers such as Empedocles, Pythagoras, and Plato; in Rome; and in the Jewish Kabbalah. The rise of such a notion is not hard to explain. The wretchedness of life—outside the light of revelation—drove people toward such a hypothesis. According to the witness of the moral consciousness of humankind, virtue and happiness, as well as guilt and misery, are most intimately connected. When this life frequently seems to be pure misery, when that misery does not just begin at a later age but already at the time of conception and birth, it points to a moral debt that humans brought down upon their own heads before their earthly existence. The present life with its distress and sorrow is a penalty for the evil they have done in a previous existence, and if they fail to fully pay that penalty in this life or even increase the debt, they will in the hereafter be accorded a lot that corresponds to their conduct in this life. The ideas of the preexistence of souls and of the transmigration of souls, therefore, are correlative: both are controlled by the idea of retribution, of karma.120

Also, later this idea of retribution repeatedly helped win acceptance for the notion of preexistence. Origen adopted the theory of the preexistence and fall of souls in order thereby to explain the inequality of rational creatures in their lot in life 121 and was later followed in this also by Synesius and Nemesius. Theosophy was similarly attracted to it, frequently combining with it the idea that human beings were first created androgynous and that the creation of the woman was in fact proof of an antecedent fall.122 In modern philosophy the idea of a preexistence and the fall of souls surfaced again as well. It has even been attributed to Kant, because he tried to explain the radical tendency toward evil and inborn guilt from an “intelligible” act of freedom. Over against the superficial rationalistic optimism of his day, Kant in fact again upheld the absolute character of the moral law and elucidated the universal and radical corruption of human nature. But, in addition, he was committed to the view that in the core of their being, humans were nevertheless good and could—in line with the inference “you must, therefore you can”—also again opt for and do good. Further, though one can speak of a tendency (Hang) but not of an inherent predisposition (Anlage) toward evil in humans, Kant believed that the tendency to sin, therefore, cannot be acquired by heredity nor be innate. Finally, he also believed that every human was personally responsible for his or her own acts, but only for them, and therefore there could be no fall involving the whole human race in Adam or original sin. If the tendency toward evil was nevertheless a characteristic feature of every human from conception and birth on, this can only be explained from the fact that the fundamental decision of all humans with respect to their good or evil character is an “intelligible” act. This is not a pretemporal, but an atemporal and extratemporal act, not a temporal, but a logical act. This was not an explanation, of course, but only an acknowledgment that we are here confronted by a mystery and can only maintain human responsibility and guilt by affirming the inexplicability of the origin of sin.123

By this theory of intelligible freedom, Kant not only collided with his own criticism but also paved the way for all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding. If the act of intelligible freedom were to mean anything, it could not be merely atemporal and extratemporal but had to be conceived as pretemporal. From being an idea, it had to be transferred into reality, even if as a preexistent reality. This was done in particular by Julius Müller in his famous work on the Christian doctrine of sin. He considered the church’s confession that the whole human race had fallen and was guilty in Adam inadequate, since it failed to do justice to personal responsibility. If, however, humans are responsible—as appears from the witness of their conscience—for their entire moral state, that is, in this case, sinful state; if then this state has to be rooted in an antecedent act of the free will; if (since the sinful state is inborn) no room can be found in this life for such an all-determining decision, then the first sinful act must in fact have occurred in a time that preceded this life: inborn personal guilt makes the preexistence of souls necessary.124

Although the preexistence of humans in this sense found little acceptance, in another form it was adopted by many scholars and linked to the theory of evolution. If there are no leaps in nature but all higher forms of life have developed from lower forms, then also humans, or the human soul, cannot at one time have sprung into life all of a sudden. It must, then, have its preformation in the animal world, continuously develop in humans, and at death pass over into a higher form of existence. This modification in the theory of preexistence, which already started with Helmont, Leibniz, Bonnet, Lessing, and others,125 was combined in the nineteenth century with the theory of human descent and currently enjoys widespread acceptance. Darwinism and Spiritism are on the same wavelength. The preformation of humans downward is supplemented by their metamorphosis upward: the animal becomes a human and “man” becomes “Superman.”126

But all these assertions lack sufficient grounding, philosophically as well as theologically. In the first place, they imply the preexistence of souls—something that is unacceptable for various reasons 127—or proceed, in the modern form, from the essential identity of animals, humans, and angels, an assumption that rests on false philosophical postulates, not on the facts of reality.128 In the second place, the fall, the story of which is told in Genesis 3, is robbed of its character and meaning. It ceases to be a fall and becomes the mere appearance of something that occurred long before. In this connection the temporal empirical freedom given to humanity loses all its value. The soul already abused its freedom beforehand in its preexistent state and was lodged in a body as punishment, and this body is thus from the start dualistically opposed to the soul and cannot be said to belong to the essence of humans. In the third place, this theory is also in conflict with the organic connectedness of the human race. Every human individually is the creator of his or her own destiny. “The essence of a man is essentially his own deed” (Schelling), in which connection it makes one wonder why all people individually, without exception, choose to do evil and why only the first human, though fallen, was still tested to see if perhaps he wanted to remain “upright” and correct his fall. It is clear, finally, that humanity, thus dissolved into an aggregate of individuals, can neither have a common head in Adam nor in Christ. There is no common fall; neither, therefore, is there a common restoration. Everyone falls by himself; everyone must therefore also rise up by himself. Despite the “tendency to radical evil,” Kant, accordingly, drew the inference “you can” from the imperative “you must.”

We must therefore confine ourselves to the scriptural data, however scanty they may be. The time of the fall of the angels is nowhere reported. With a view to the phrase “from the beginning” (ἀπʼ ἀρχης, John 8:44), many theologians judged that the angels—certainly not at the very moment of their creation but then surely immediately after—by their first act of volition were either confirmed in the good or had fallen into sin.129 Others assumed that a short period elapsed after their creation and that their fall occurred either still before the creation of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1),130 or within the period of the six creation days,131 or (with a view to Gen. 1:31) only after the completion of the work of creation as a whole.132

Equally little can be said with certainty about [the time of] the fall of humanity. Some theologians speak of years after creation; others—because Genesis proceeds immediately after the creation narrative to that of the fall and also on the basis of Genesis 4:1—think that the fall of humanity occurred only a few days after, or even on the same day as, its creation.133 These time stipulations, for that matter, are of little importance. What is important is that, according to Scripture, the fall is essentially distinct from the creation itself. Sin is a phenomenon whose possibility was indeed given in the creation of finite, mutable beings, but whose reality could only be called into being by the will of the creature. It is a power that does not belong to the essential being of the creation, a power that originally did not exist, but that came by way of disobedience and transgression, that is, entered the creation unlawfully, and did not belong there. It is there, and its existence is no accident. With a view to the counsel of God that incorporated it and assigned a place to it, it may up to a point and in a sense even be said that it had to be there. But then certainly it always had to be there as something that ought not to be and has no right to exist.

From REFORMED DOGMATICS - Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ by Herman Bavinck



Herman Bavinck


1 A. Wünsche, Die Sagen vom Lebensbaum und Lebenswasser (Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1905); *B. D. van der Voo, “De boom des levens,” Tijdspiegel (1909).

2 B. D. Eerdmans, “De beteekenis van het Paradijsverhal,” Theologische Tijdschrift 39/6 (November 1905): 481–511; cf. C. Clemen, Die Christliche Lehre von der Sünde (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1897), I, 155ff.

3 Eerdmans, although he acknowledges interpolations, nonetheless is convinced that Genesis 2–3 is a unit. W. B. Kristensen, “Een of twee boomen in het Paradijsverhaal,” Theologische Tijdschrift 42 (May 1908): 215–33, judges that the two trees belongs to a very old tradition. Cf. also J. C. Eykman, “De eenheid en beteekenis van het paradijsverhaal, onderzocht met het oog op de meeningen der jongste critiek,” Theologische Studiën 25/3–4 (1907): 197–237.

4 Cf. Luthe, “Ophir,” PRE3, XIV, 400–404. Ed. note: The Ophites (also known as Naasseni) were a group of gnostic sects who inverted biblical morality and especially revered the serpent.

5 I. Kant, “Mutmasslicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte,” in Berliner Monatsschrift 7 (January–June 1786); F. Schiller and W. Scherer, Über die erste Menschengesellschaft, in vol. 3 of Thalia, 3 vols. (Leipzig: Georg Joachim Göscher, 1787–91); G. W. F. Hegel, Sämtliche Werke (Stuttgart: F. Frommann, 1952), VII, 30ff. (Philosophie des Rechts, Werke, VIII, 14ff.). Ed. note: When possible, references to Hegel’s writings will be cited from the modern Stuttgart edition and/or a published English translation. The title of Hegel’s work and Bavinck’s original citation from Hegel’s Werke will be given in parentheses. Idem, Sämtliche Werke, XI (1949), 390ff. (Philosophie der Geschichte, Werke IX, 390ff.); idem, Sämtliche Werke, XV (1959), 210 (Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion [1832], Werke, XI, 194); D. F. Strauss, Die Christliche Glaubenslehre in ihrer Geschichtlichen Entwicklung und im Kampfe mit der modernen Wissenschaft (Tübingen: C. F. Osiander, 1840–41), II, 29; cf. K. G. Bretschneider, Systematische Entwickelung, 4th ed. (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1841), 589.

6 J. Wellhausen, Geschichte Israels, 2 vols. (Berlin: Reimer, 1878), 344ff.; R. Rütschi, Geschichte und Kritik der katholischen Lehre von der ursprünglichen Vollkommenheit (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1881), 8; R. Smend, Lehrbuch der Alttestamentlichen Religionsgeschichte (Freiburg: J. C. B. Mohr, 1893), 120; K. Marti, Geschichte der Israelitischen Religion, 3rd ed. (Strassburg: F. Bull, 1897), 197; C. Clemen, Sünde, I, 151ff.

7 J. Köberle, Sünde und Gnade im religiösen Leben des Volkes Israel bis auf Christum (Munich: Beck, 1905), 64ff.

8 Philo, De opificio mundi, §56; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, III, 14, 17; Origen, On First Principles, IV, 16; cf. also Augustine, City of God, XIII, 21.

9 A. Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 6th ed. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1887), II, 654, 666.

10 C. K. J. Bunsen, in his Bibelwerk, 9 vols. (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1858–70).

11 Thus Cajetan, Eugubinus, Junius, Rivetus, Amyraut, Vitringa Sr., Vitringa Jr., Venema, and others. Cf. J. Marck, Historia paradisi (Amsterdam: Gerardus Borstius, 1705), III, 5, 5; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., II, 256; also J. P. Val D’Eremao, The Serpent of Eden: A Philological and Critical Essay on the Text of Genesis III and Its Various Interpretations (London: K. Paul, Trench & Co., 1888).

12 E. W. Hengstenberg, Christologie des Alten Testamentes, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (Berlin: L. Oehmigke, 1854–56), I, 5 (ed. note: ET: Christology of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1988]); *L. Köhler, Biblische Geschichte, I, 6; F. Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis, trans. Sophia Taylor (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1899), on Gen. 3:1.

13 F. Josephus, Antiquities, I, 1, 4.

14 C. Clemen, Sünde, I, 158ff.

15 For references in the apocryphal literature, see Clemen, Sünde, I, 169ff., 173.

16 Cf. O. C. Krabbe, Die Lehre von der Sünde und vom Tod (Hamburg: Friedrich Perthes, 1836), 83–100; J. C. K. von Hofmann, Der Schriftbeweis, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Nördlingen: Beck, 1857–60), I, 364ff.; J. H. Kurtz, Geschichte des alten Bundes, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Berlin: J. A. Wohlgemuth, 1853–58), I, 69; F. R. Tennant, The Origin and Propagation of Sin, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906), 142ff., 227ff.; J. Orr, God’s Image in Man and Its Defacement in the Light of Modern Denials (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906), 199; J. H. Gerretsen, De Val des Menschen (Nijmegen: Ten Hoet, 1909), 11, 14ff.

17 J. Marck, Historia paradisi, 1ff.

18 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 511–20 (#279–80) (= In the Beginning, 137–47).

19 C. Gore, Lux mundi, 13th ed. (London: Murray, 1892), 395; idem, The New Theology and the Old Religion (London: J. Murray, 1907), 233; cf. also J. Orr, God’s Image in Man, 298ff.

20 Dr. A. H. de Hartog, De Heilsfeiten (Amersfoort: Veen, 1907), 34–39; cf. Dr. Gerretsen, who writes as follows: “The fall of man is the necessary presupposition underlying the whole of soteriology. Even if it were not mentioned in Genesis 3 and Romans 5, keen dogmatic thinking would still have to make the inference that there has been a first transgression of original man by which the entire development of the human race is controlled.”

21 For a more thorough treatment, see H. Bavinck, Philosophy of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 146ff., 172ff., 188ff.

22 H. H. Kuyper, Evolutie of Revelatie (Amsterdam: Höveker & Wormser, 1903), 37, 112–14.

23 Cf. “Fall,” DB, I, 839.

24 See further H. Bavinck, Philosophy of Revelation, 187–88. Ed. note: Bavinck refers here to literature cited at the beginning of Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II, §37, #291 dealing with human nature (“Het Wezen van den Mensch”). Included are the following authors (for full information see bibliography): Oehler; Hofmann (Schriftbeweis); Delitzsch (Psychology); Laidlaw; Van Leeuwen (Anthropologie); John of Damascus; Peter Lombard; Thomas Aquinas (Summa theol., I, qu. 75ff.); Bonaventure; Bellarmine; Petavius; Kleutgen; Möhler (Symbolik); Heinrich; Stöckl (Menschen); Oswald (Urgeschichte) (Vorzeit); Köstlin (Luther); Oorthuys (Zwingli); Talma (Anthropologie); Gerhard; Quenstedt; Hollaz; Calvin (Institutes); Polanus; Zanchius; Mastricht; Turretin; Marck; Moor; Vitringa; Ch. Hodge; Schleiermacher; Dorner; Philippi; Frank; Kohler; Oettingen; and articles in PRE3 on “Geist,” “Herz,” “Seele,” “Ebenbild Gottes,” “(ursprüngliche) Gerechtigkeit des Menschen.”

25 F. W. Weber, System der altsynagogalen palästinischen Theologie (Leipzig: Dörffling & Franke, 1880), 210ff., 242ff.

26 P. D. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1905), I, 249, A. I, 100ff.

27 Ibid., I, 411ff.; II, 89ff.

28 Ibid., II, 34ff., 199ff.

29 Ibid., II, 191, 397.

30 E. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen, 4th ed., 3 vols. (Leipzig: O. R. Reisland, 1879), II, 141ff.

31 E. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen, 3rd ed., 5 vols. (Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag. [L. W. Reisland], 1895), II, 852; III, 588.

32 Ibid., IV, 175ff.

33 Ibid., IV, 167ff.

34 Ibid., IV, 667–717, 722; V, 585.

35 F. Loofs, Leitfaden zum Studium der Dogmengeschichte, 4th ed. (Halle a.S.: M. Niemeyer, 1906), 85ff.

36 Ibid., 418ff.; B. B. Warfield, Two Studies in the History of Doctrine: Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1897).

37 Decrees of the Council of Trent, V, 2–5; VI, 1.

38 O. Fock, Der Socianismus (Kiel: C. Schröder, 1847), 484ff., 653ff.

39 Episcopius, Institutes theologicae, in Opera (Amsterdam: Johan Blaeu, 1650), IV, 3 c. 6; IV, 5 c. 1, 2; P. van Limborch, Theol. Christ., II, 24; III, 2ff.; cf. also, Canons of Dort, III/IV: “Rejection of Errors.”

40 J. Wegscheider, Institutiones theologiae Christianae dogmaticae (Halle: Gebauer, 1819), §§99–112; K. G. Bretschneider, Handbuch der Dogmatik (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1838), II, 17ff.

41 A. Ritschl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (Bonn: A. Marcus, 1880–83), II, 241–46; III, 304–57 (ed. note: The third volume of Ritschl’s work is available in English: The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation [Clifton, NJ: Reference Book Publishers, 1966]; the section on sin is found on pp. 327–84); J. Kaftan, The Truth of the Christian Religion, trans. George Ferries, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1894), 246ff.; J. Kaftan, Dogmatik (Tübingen: Mohr, 1901), §§34, 38–40; F. Nitzsch, Lehrbuch der Evangelischen Dogmatik, prepared by Horst Stephan, 3rd ed. (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1902), 319ff.; H. Siebeck, Lehrbuch der Religionsphilosophie (Freiburg i.B. and Leipzig: Mohr, 1893), 436ff.; T. Häring, The Christian Faith, trans. John Dickie and George Ferries, 2 vols. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1913), I, 391–93.

42 W. Ostwald, Energetische Grundlagen der Kulturwissenschaft (Leipzig: W. Klinkhardt, 1909), 120.

43 Ibid., 137.

44 Ed. note: The cited passages in this sentence and in the remainder of this paragraph are English-language insertions into Bavinck’s Dutch text without attribution. Likely they are from F. R. Tennant (see following note).

45 F. R. Tennant, Origin and Propagation of Sin; cf. the declaration of Clemen (Theologische Literaturzeitung [January 23, 1904]), who argues with Tennant but repudiates his doctrine of human free will. Others, too, attempt to reconcile a more or less Christian-tinted doctrine of sin with theories of evolution. Thus, e.g., Illingworth, Personality Human and Divine (London: Macmillan, 1908), ch. 6; R. J. Campbell, The New Theology, popular edition (New York: Macmillan, 1907), 38ff.; Sir Oliver Lodge, The Substance of Faith Allied with Science: A Catechism for Parents and Teachers, 3rd ed. (London: Methuen, 1907), 6ff.; Orchard, Modern Theories of Sin (London: Clark, 1909), 114ff. Sin is then regarded as a necessary element in the development process of humanity that will gradually be overcome by the awakened and strengthened moral consciousness. Orchard denies any objective guilt to sin and regards the consciousness of guilt (sorrow, contrition) as an instrument used by God to morally instruct human beings and lead them to perfection.

46 F. R. Tennant, Origin and Propagation of Sin, 10, 27, 142.

47 Ibid., 121ff.

48 Ibid., xxii.

49 Ibid., xvii, xxii, 84, 95, 101, 102.

50 Ibid., 86, 92, 113, 118, 119.

51 Ibid., 82ff., 89ff., 93ff., 100, 105ff.; cf. Brown, “The Over-emphasis of Sin,” Hibbert Journal 8 (April 1909): 614–22.

52 Tennant, Origin and Propagation of Sin, xxiii, 163ff.

53 Cf. ibid., xii, xxviii, 113, 119, 123ff., 144, 446.

54 Cf. ibid., preface, xi–xxx.

55 F. W. Weber, Syst. der altsyn. pal. Theol., §§49–50.

56 R. Bellarmine, De gratia primi hominis (Heidelberg: J. Lancellot, 1612), c. 5.

57 Cf. Descartes, Wolff, Fichte, Hegel, in F. Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik in der neuern Philosophie, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1882–89), I (1882), II (1889); and E. von Hartmann, Das sittliche Bewusstsein, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: W. Friedrich, 1886), 265ff., in F. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), §66; R. Rothe, Theologische Ethik, 2nd rev. ed., 5 vols. (Wittenberg: Zimmerman, 1867–71), §§459ff.; A. E. Biedermann, Christliche Dogmatik (Zürich: Füssli, 1869), §§763ff.; O. Pfleiderer, Grundriss der christlichen Glaubens- und Sittenlehre (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1888), §§100ff.; R. A. Lipsius, Lehrbuch der evangelisch-protestantischen Dogmatik (Braunschweig: C. A. Schwetschke, 1893), §§468ff., 477ff.; Schultz, Grundriss der evangelischen Dogmatik, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1892), 61; J. H. Scholten, De Vrije Will, Kritisch Onderzoek (Leiden: P. Engels, 1859), 177; idem, De Leer der Hervormde Kerk in Hare Grondbeginselen, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Leiden: P. Engels, 1850–51), II, 422ff., 574ff.

58 E. Zeller, Philos. der Griechen., II, 765ff., 855ff.

59 Ibid., v, 125, 171, 236, 297, 386, 547.

60 C. H. Weisse, Philosophische Dogmatik oder Philosophie des Christentums, 2nd ed. (Freiburg: Mohr, 1890), §§541ff., 561ff.; R. Rothe, Theol. Ethik, §55.

61 G. W. Leibniz and J. C. Gottsched, Theodicee (Leipzig: Forester, 1744), §156.

62 A. Stöckl, Die spekulative Lehre vom Menschen und ihre Geschichte (Würzburg: Stahel, 1858), II, 52ff.

63 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 322–29, 412–15 (##230–31, 252).

64 F. W. J. Schelling, Ausgewählte Werke, IV, 275–360. (“Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände,” [1809]), Werke, 1/7, 331–416. Ed. note: Bavinck’s references to Schelling that are to works incorporated into the new, unrevised, but abridged and repaginated Ausgewälte Werke (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968) will be cited with the full title of the work as well as Bavinck’s original reference. Since this is not a complete edition of Schelling’s original Ausgewählte Werke (Stuttgart and Augsburg: Cotta, 1856–61), writings not included in the new edition will be cited as Werke, using Bavinck’s original reference. Cf. E. von Hartmann, Schellings philosophisches System (Leipzig: H. Haacke, 1897), 118ff.

65 Cf. J. Claassen, Jakob Böhme, sein Leben und seine theosophischen Werke, 3 vols. (Stuttgart: J. F. Steinkopf, 1885), II, 185ff.; F. W. J. Schelling, Werke, I/7, 336–416; I/8, 331ff.; II/3, 344ff., 358ff.

66 G. F. Hegel, Werke, VI, 413; VII, 1, 23ff., 15ff.

67 A. Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille, I, 193ff.; II, 398ff.; E. von Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten, 9th ed., 2 vols. (Berlin: C. Duncker, 1882), II, 198ff., 273ff., 295ff.

68 F. C. Baur, Holsten, Lüdemann, Zeller; O. Pfleiderer, Der Paulinismus, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: O. R. Reisland, 1890), 60ff.; H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Theologie, 2 vols. (Freiburg and Leipzig: Mohr, 1897), II, 13ff.; C. Clemen, Sünde, I, 188ff.; J. C. Matthes, “De Inrichting van den Eeredienst door Jerobeam,” Theologische Tijdschrift 24 (1890): 225–39; W. Wrede, Paulus (Halle a.S.: Gebauer-Schwetschke, 1904), 59ff.

69 C. Clemen, Sünde, I, 204; H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch, II, 38.

70 A. Neander, Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel, 5th ed., 2 vols. (Gotha: F. A. Perthes, 1890), 508ff.; Tholuck, “Erneute Untersuchung über σαρξ als Quelle der Sünde,” Studien und Kritiken 28 (1855): 477ff.; B. Weiss, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, trans. David Eaton and James E. Duguid, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1883), §68; H. H. Wendt, Die Begriffe Fleisch und Geist im biblischen Sprachgebrauch untersucht (Gotha: F. A. Perthes, 1878); F. Nitzsch, Ev. Dogm., 315ff.

71 Laidlaw, “Psychology,” DB, IV, 166; cf. also Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, I, 559; J. Müller, The Christian Doctrine of Sin, trans. Rev. Wm. Urwick, 5th ed., 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1868), I, 326ff.; G. Lechler, Das apostolische und das nachapostolische Zeitalter, 3rd ed. (Karlsruhe und Leipzig: H. Ruether, 1885), 289ff.; H. Ernesti, Die Ethik des Apostels Paulus, 3rd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1880), 32ff.; H. Cremer, “Fleisch,” PRE3, VI, 98–105; J. Gloël, Der heiligen Geist in der Heilsverkündigung des Paulus (Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1888), 14–61, 246; P. Feine, “Der Ursprung der Sünde nach Paulus,” Neue kirchliche Zeitschrift (October 1899): 771–95.

72 These and similar images were already used by Plato, the Stoics, and Plotinus; see E. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen, II, 765, 929; IV, 173; V, 548–62. Later they were taken over by Augustine, Erigena, Leibniz, and others.

73 F. W. J. Schelling, Ausgewählte Werke, V, 25, 127 (“Die Weltalter Erstes Buch” [1813]); Werke, I/8, 219, 321; cf. also John Fiske, Through Nature to God (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1899), first essay on “The Mystery of Evil.”

74 B. Spinoza, Ethics, ed. and trans. James Gutman (New York: Hafner, 1949), preface; cf. idem, The Letters, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publication Company, 1995), 32, 34; idem, Cogitata metaphysics, I, 6, 7; G. W. F. Hegel, Sämtliche Werke, VII, 9, 196 (Philosophie des Rechts, Werke, VIII, 180); D. F. Strauss, Glaubenslehre, II, 365–84; F. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, §81; F. Paulsen, System der Ethik mit einem Umriss der Staats- und Gesellschaftslehre, 2 vols. (Berlin: Hertz, 1889), I, 551ff.; J. H. Scholten, Leer der Hervormde Kerk, II, 34ff., 422, 580.

75 This thought recurs frequently in more recent theology and philosophy. Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I, 555–56 (#146); II, 173–77 (#197); and also H. Bavinck, Philosophy of Revelation, 209–11.

76 F. W. J. Schelling, Ausgewählte Werke, IV, 347. (“Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände” [1809]; Werke, I/7, 403).

77 John H. Edwards, in “The Vanishing Sense of Sin,” Presbyterian and Reformed Review 10 (October 1899): 606–16, points out how positivism, pantheism, Buddhism, and others are accompanied with a weakened consciousness of sin. One can add to this list the new religion of Christian Science, according to which matter, illness, sin, and death exist only in the mind; they can be nothing except the results of material consciousness, but material consciousness can have no real existence, because it is not a living reality (Mary Baker G. Eddy, Unity of Good, [Boston: J. Armstrong, 1898], 53). Cf. also J. Müller, Christian Docrine of Sin, I, 276ff.; K. H. von Weiszäcker, “Zu der Lehre v. Wesen der Sünde,” Jahrbuch für deutsche Theologie (1856): 131–95; F. A. Kahnis, Die lutherische Dogmatik, historisch-genetisch dargestellt, 3 vols. (Leipzig: Dörffling & Francke, 1861–68), I, 478ff.; A. F. C. Vilmar, Theologische Moral: Akademische Vorlesungen (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1871), I, 143ff.; I. A. Dorner, A System of Christian Doctrine, trans. Rev. Alfred Cave and Rev. J. S. Banks, rev. ed., 4 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1888), III, 9ff.; J. Orr, The Christian View of God and the World as Centering in the Incarnation (New York: Randolph, 1893), 193; A. M. Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1905), 94ff.

78 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 345–47, 393–95, 615–19 (##233, 246, 306).

79 Cf. ibid., II, 196–203 (#201). More recently many proponents of Personal Idealism either deny God omnipotence and omniscience or ascribe to God a self-limitation [of power and knowledge]; cf. J. McTaggart, Some Dogmas of Religion (London: E. Arnold, 1906), 186ff., 221ff.; F. R. Tennant, Origin and Propogation of Sin, 141ff.

80 Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, ch. 12; Origen, On First Principles, III, 2, 7; John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, II, 29; cf. J. C. Suicerus, Thesaurus ecclesiasticus, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: J. H. Wetstein, 1682), s.v. pronoia and sugcwrhsiß.

81 Augustine, Against Julian, trans. M. A. Schumacher, vol. 16 of Writings of Saint Augustine (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1984), V, ch. 3.

82 Decrees of Council of Trent, VI, ch. 6; R. Bellarmine, “De amiss. gr. et stat. pecc.,” Controversiis, II, 16; D. Petavius, De Deo (in De theologicis dogmatibus, 8 vols. [Paris: Vives, 1865–67]), VI, c. 6, 5.

83 J. Arminius, Opera theologica (Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden]: Godefridum Basson, 1629), 644ff., 694ff.; S. Episcopius, Inst. theol., IV, sect. 4, c. 10; P. van Limborch, Theol. christ., II, 29.

84 J. Gerhard, Loci theol., VI, c. 9; J. A. Quenstedt, Theologia., I, 533; D. Hollaz, Examen theologicum acroamaticum (Rostock and Leipzig: Russworm, 1718), 449; J. F. Buddeus, Institutiones theologiae moralis (Leipzig: T. Fritsch, 1715), 560; K. G. Bretschneider, Dogmatik, I, 506.

85 J. H. A. Ebrard, Christliche Dogmatik, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Königsberg: A. W. Unzer, 1862–63), §265; A. von Oettingen, Lutherische Dogmatik, 2 vols. (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1897–1902), II, 339ff.; W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed., 3 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1891–94), I, 419, 444ff.

86 Augustine, Enchiridion, III, 95–100; idem, The Trinity, III, 4ff.; idem, City of God, XIV, 11; idem, On Free Will, 20, 21.

87 P. Lombard, Sent., I, 46; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, 19, art. 9; idem, Summa contra gentiles, I, 95; II, 25.

88 In C. G. Daelman, Theologia seu observationes theologicae in summam D. Thomae, 9 vols. in 8 (Antwerp: Jacob Bernard Jouret, 1734), II, 308.

89 In J. H. A. Ebrard, Christliche Dogmatik, §265.

90 U. Zwingli, Opera, ed. M. Schuler and J. Schulthess (Turici [Zürich]: Officina Schulthessiana, 1842), III, 170; IV; idem, On Providence and Other Essays, ed. William John Hinks, trans. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Durham: Labyrinth Press, 1983), c. 5; J. Calvin, Institutes, I.xvii.11; xviii.1–2; II.iv.2–4; III.xxiii.4, 8–9; T. Beza, Tractationum theologicarum (Geneva: Jean Crispin, 1570), I, 315, 387, 399; II, 347; III, 426; J. Zanchi, Operum theologicorum, 8 vols. (Geneva: Samuelis Crispini, 1617), II, 279; P. Martyr Vermigli, Loci communes (London: Kyngston, 1576), 206; F. Gomarus, De provid. Dei (in Opera theologica omnia [Amsterdam: J. Jansson, 1664]), c. 11; W. Twisse, de permissione (in Opera theologica polemico-anti-arminiana [Amsterdam, 1699]), I, 544–688; J. Maccovius, Loci communes theologici (Amsterdam: n.p., 1658), 206; H. Alting, Theologia elenctica nova (Amsterdam: J. Jansson, 1654), 316; A. Comrie and N. Holtius, Examen van het Ontwerp van Tolerantie, 10 vols. (Amsterdam: Nicolaas Byl, 1753), VI, 277; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., II, 96.

91 E.g., J. Calvin, Institutes, III.xxiii.7; T. Beza, Tract. theol., I, 319, 360, 401; J. Zanchi, Opera, V, 2; cf. also II, 328.

92 R. Bellarmine, Controversiis, II, c. 3ff.; D. Petavius, De Deo, VI, ch. 5; X, ch. 8; J. A. Möhler, Symbolik (Mainz: F. Kupferberg, 1838), 2–4.

93 Racovian Catechism, X, 16.

94 Apologia Confessionis Augustanae, ch. 2, 6; S. Episcopius, Op. theol., I, 375ff.

95 J. Gerhard, Loci theol., VI, ch. 10; J. A. Quenstedt, Theologia, II, 97.

96 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 361–68 (#238).

97 G. Voetius, Select. disp., I, 1119–37; S. Maresius, Syst. theol., IV, 18; F. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, VI, qu. 7–8; J. Trigland, Kerckelycke geschiedenissen (Leyden: Andriae Wyngaerden, 1650), IV, 673ff.; V, 694; idem, Antapologia (Amsterdam: Joannam Janssonium [et al.], 1664), chs. 8–10; D. Chamier, Panstratiae Catholicae, sive controversiarum de religione adversus pontificios corpus, 4 vols. (Geneva: Rouer, 1626), II, lib. 3; B. de Moor, Commentarius perpetuus in Joh. Marckii compendium theologiae christianae didactico-elencticum, 6 vols. (Leiden: J. Hasebroek, 1761–71), II, 487.

98 T. Beza, Tract. theol., I, 315.

99 “Take the vilest crime, and Christianity assures you, that throughout the transaction, as you observe it, there is nothing evil in the natural material which is employed, there is only the lawless misuse of material which is in itself good. The worst passions are but the disorderly exercise of feelings and faculties in themselves good and capable of redemption. Lust is only love uncontrolled by the will, and therefore lawless.” C. Gore, Lux mundi, 13th ed. (London: Murray, 1892), 388.

100 S. Episcopius, Op. theol., I, 180; J. A. Quenstedt, Theologia, II, 101.

101 On God’s relation to sin, see the church fathers Origen, Athanasius, Basil, and others in W. Münscher, Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmengeschichte, 3rd ed. (Cassel: J. C. Krieger, 1832–38), I, 157; and also T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 49, art. 2; II, 1, qu. 79, art. 2; idem, Summa contra gentiles, III, 3, 71; idem, Sent., I, dist. 46–48; II, dist. 37; R. Bellarmine, “De amiss. gr. et statu pecc.,” Controversiis, II, 18; D. Petavius, De Deo, VI, ch. 6; J. A. Quenstedt, Theologia, I, 535; D. Hollaz, Examen, 448; J. Calvin, Institutes, IV.xviii. 18; II.iv; idem, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. J. K. S. Reid (London: James Clarke & Co., 1961), 162–82 (Corpus reformatorum, 36:347–66 and 37:262–318); T. Beza, Tract. theol., I, 312ff., 337ff.; J. Zanchi, Opera, II, 259; D. Chamier, Panstratiae catholicae, II, lib. 3; W. Twisse, Vindiciae gratiae, potestatis ac providentiae Dei, 3 vols. (Amsterdam: Guilielmum Blaeu, 1632), I, 317ff., 544ff.; J. Trigland, Antapologia, ch. 9, 10; F. Gomarus, Opera, 136; Peter van Mastricht, Theologia, III, 10, 19ff.; F. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, VI, qu. 8; B. de Moor, Comm. theol., II, 492; C. Vitringa, Doctr. Christ., II, 196.

102 A. von Oettingen, Lutherische Dogmatik (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1897), II, 469ff.

103 Augustine, Enchiridion, 96.

104 Ibid., 112, 27; idem, City of God, XXII, 1; idem, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers 41 (New York: Newman, 1982), II, 9; idem, On Genesis, Against the Manichees, II, 28.

105 Augustine, City of God, XI, 18, 23; idem, On Order, II, 11.

106 Augustine, City of God, XI, 18; idem, On Genesis, Against the Manichees, I, 16; J. S. Erigena, The Division of Nature (1681), trans. Myra L. Uhlfelder (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976), V, 35; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 48, art. 2; idem, Summa contra gentiles, III, 61; A. Pichler, Die Theologie des Leibniz aus sämmtlichen gedruckten und vielen noch ungedruckten Quellen, 2 vols. (Munich: J. G. Cotta, 1869–70), I, 264ff.

107 T. Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, 71.

108 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 536–39 (#286).

109 Cf. ibid., 207–10 (#203).

110 Cf. ibid., 572–76 (#297). In describing Adam’s state, the Reformed consistently used sober language. Though they held onto original righteousness, they avoided the exaggerated notions that occurred in the work of the church fathers and others (Reformed Dogmatics, II, 564–65 [#294]). Still, one cannot say with certainty why the words in article 14 of the Belgic Confession (“entirely perfect in all things”; Reformed Dogmatics, II, 565–68 [#295]) were omitted by the Synod of 1566 at Antwerp. Van Toorenenbergen (De Symbol. Geschriften, 24–25) suspects that people found the expression exaggerated, but this suspicion lacks adequate grounding. However this may be, the doctrine of the covenant of works gave Reformed theology the opportunity to say that Adam did not yet have the highest [gift]. An expression like that of Bishop South (“An Aristotle was but the rubbish of an Adam, and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise,” in F. R. Tennant, Origin and Propagation of Sin, 25) was therefore rightly rejected. Culture, in a sense, only began after the fall, Gen. 4:17ff.

111 H. Heppe, Dogmatik der evangelischen reformierten Kirche (Elberseld: R. L. Friedrich, 1861), 178, 179.

112 T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 63, art. 1; idem, Summa contra gentiles, III, 109.

113 G. Voetius, Select. disp., I, 943; F. Burman, Synopsis theologiae (Ienae [Jena]: Joan. Felic. Bielckium, 1717), I, 46, 54; J. Edwards, Works, III, 122.

114 J. Claassen, Jakob Böhme, II, 95.

115 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans. William C. Creasy (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989), I, 13, 5; Augustine (On Genesis, Against the Manichees, II, 21) therefore already pointed out that in the experience of everyone who falls into sin the same process occurs that is described for us in Gen. 3. See also James 1:13–15.

116 C. H. Weisse, Philos. Dogm., II, 422ff.; F. H. R. Frank, System der christlichen Wahrheit, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Erlangen: A. Deichert, 1884), 433ff.; Kuyper, “Van de engelen,” De Heraut 906 (May 5, 1895): 1–2.

117 Augustine, City of God, XII, 7.

118 A. Tholuck, Die Lehre von der Sünde und vom Versöhner (Gotha: F. A. Perthes, 1862), 15; J. Müller, Christian Doctrine of Sin, II, 159ff.; F. A. Philippi, Kirchliche Glaubenslehre, 3rd ed., 7 vols. in 10 (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1870–90), III, 256; A. F. C. Vilmar, Theol. Moral, I, 37; A. von Oettingen, Luth. Dogm., II, 26ff.; W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, II, 156; J. Laidlaw, The Bible Doctrine of Man (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1895), 209. When Kant explained that the origin of sin was to be found in an intelligible act of the will, that was simply another way of acknowledging that the problem is unsolvable. Tennant (Origin and Propogation of Sin, 187), by contrast, insists that the origin of sin is foolish but not inexplicable.

119 J. Claassen, Jakob Böhme, II, 127ff.; *idem, Franz von Baader (1887), II, 157; P. F. Keerl, Der Gottmensch, das Ebenbild des unsichtbaren Gottes, vol. 2 of Der Mensch, das Ebenbild Gottes (Basel: Bahnmeier, 1866), I, 166ff.; and many others, for example, Hamberger, Schubert, K. von Raumer, R. Wagner, Kurtz, Delitzsch, and others; F. H. Reusch, Bibel und Natur: Vorlesungen über die mosaische Urgeschichte und ihr Verhältnis zu den Ergebnissen der Naturforschung (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1862), 88 (ed. note: ET: Nature and the Bible, trans. Kathleen Lyttleton from 4th ed. [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1886]); see also J. H. Gerretsen, De Val des Menschen, 45ff.

120 P. Gennrich, Die Lehre von der Wiedergeburt: Die christliche Zentrallehre in dogmengeschichtlicher und religionsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung (Leipzig: Deichert, 1907), 275ff.

121 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 460–63, 557–61 (#265, #292); J. Müller, Christian Doctrine of Sin, II, 76, 155.

122 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 565–68 (#295); C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., II, 265.

123 J. Müller, Christian Doctrine of Sin, II, 77ff.; T. Hoekstra, Immanente Kritik zur kantischen Religionsphilosophie (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1909), 26–41.

124 J. Müller, Christian Doctrine of Sin, II, 66–72, 137ff.

125 P. Gennrich, Die Lehre v. d. Wiedergeburt, 338ff.

126 Cf. H. Bavinck, Philosophy of Revelation, 293.

127 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 579–84 (#299).

128 Ibid., II, 485–88 (#272).

129 Augustine, City of God, XI, 13; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 62, art. 5; qu. 63, art. 5–6.

130 S. Episcopius, Inst. theol., IV, 3, 1.

131 J. Cocceius on John 8:44.

132 G. Voetius, Select. disp., I, 919–20; F. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IX, 5; C. Vitringa, Doctr. Christ., II, 261.

133 J. Marck, Hist. parad., III, 7; B. de Moor, Comm. theol., IV, 166; C. Vitringa, Doctr. chr., II, 261; O. Zöckler, Die Lehre vom Urstand des Menschen (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1879), 35ff.

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