Arminian teaching regarding original sin

One of the purposes of this blog is to clarify Arminian theology and distinguish classical Arminianism from the all-too-common misrepresentations of it by some Calvinists, Lutherans and (ironically!) self-styled Arminians.  One point I have been trying to get across to readers (e.g., in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities as well as in my published dialogues with Reformed theologian Michael Horton) is that much of what gets called “Arminianism” in contemporary American church life is simply semi-Pelagianism.  Through sloppy scholarship and sometimes sheer ignorance (and sadly, occasional blatant misrepresentation) the two have become confused in most people’s minds.  The result is that many who are classical Arminians don’t want that label applied to them. 

So, further along that line, classical Arminianism, as distinct from semi-Pelagianism and its popular folk religious expressions in contemporary American church life, DOES affirm original sin and total depravity.  All one has to do to know this is to read Arminius, The Arminian Confession of 1621 (written by Simon Episcopius), John Wesley, John Fletcher (Wesley’s most faithful theological interpreter during Wesley’s own lifetime), Richard Watson, William Burton Pope, Thomas O. Summers, John Miley, H. Orton Wiley, Ray Dunning, Kenneth Grider, Thomas Oden and any other faithful follower of the original teaching of Arminius.  All affirm the bondage of the will to sin before and apart from supernatural, prevenient grace.

Sidebar: Some here have questioned where prevenient grace is found in the Bible.  One answer to that is–where is the Trinity found in the Bible?  On almost every page (slight exaggeration).  It is a theological concept for a reality assumed in the Bible that only needed to be named and explicated once it was denied (by semi-Pelagians).  Calvinists also believe in prevenient grace.  The difference is that Arminians believe it is resistible.  Arminians point to the many uses of “draw” in John and elsewhere as evidence of resistible, prevenient grace.  Calvinists typically argue that the Greek word means “compel.”  Arminians point to its use in John 12:32 (Jesus saying “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me.”)  The same Greek word is used there as in the passages Calvinists point to as evidence of its irresistibility.  If the Greek word MUST mean “compel,” as R. C. Sproul and other Calvinists claim, then in John 12 Jesus is affirming universalism.  In any case, a theological concept does not have to be spelled out in Scripture in order to be Scriptural.

Contemporary Arminianism is of two minds about original sin and inherited guilt.  All agree about total depravity–every aspect of human nature is corrupted by the fall and incapable of exercising a good will toward God apart from God’s supernatural, enabling grace.  But some Arminians believe that children are born without any hint of Adamic guilt; inherited condemnation is not even acknowledged by them.  This would be the case with most Baptist Arminians AS WELL AS MOST REFORMED BAPTISTS!

Other Arminians, including some Arminian Baptists, believe that racial guilt and condemnation is real but set aside by the atoning death of Christ.  They base this on Romans 5.  One interpretation of Romans 5 (especially verse 12 as it was rendered in Augustine’s faulty Latin translation) is that it teaches universal condemnation because of the first Adam’s sin.  That such condemnation was set aside by Christ’s atoning death is justified (such Arminians claim) by the parallelism in Romans 5 between the universality of the effects of the first Adam’s disobedience and the second Adam’s obedience.  Without any doubt this is the doctrine espoused by church father Athanasius.  All one has to do is read De Incarnatione to find it.

So, just as Calvinists don’t agree among themselves about everything (supralapsarianism versus infralapsarianism is one example of Calvinist diversity) so Arminians don’t agree among themselves about everything.  But, so far as I know, no Arminian makes this disagreement a test of fellowship. 

What all Arminians agree about is that in fact (de facto) condemnatory guilt that causes one to go to hell only attaches to presumptuous sinning which ALWAYS occurs with the awakening of conscience (what Baptists call the “age of accountability” which is not a specific age but a stage of moral and spiritual development).  Thus, all Arminians deny that any children who die go to hell.

It is high Calvinists who have a problem with children.  They don’t believe baptism saves; it parallels circumcision as a sign and seal of belonging in the covenant.  So what assurance is there that a child who dies is not in hell?  Some Calvinists say “there can be no such assurance.”  Others say children of covenant parents are in the covenant until they are old enough to make their own decision for or against Christ.  But what about children of non-covenant parents?  Are all who die in infancy or childhood destined for hell?  I know very few Calvinists who will say that.  But why?  If Adam’s guilt is imputed to all people without exception (except for Christ, of course) and not removed by Christ’s atonement then surely some children who die go to hell.  What argument could be given to deny it?

This is a hard pill to swallow, but it seems strict, high Calvinists must just do that.  (And some I have asked do.) But most appeal to mystery and say “It is best to leave such cases to the mercy of God.”  But wait!  Why not say “It is best to leave such cases to the justice of God?”  Why suddenly appeal to God’s mercy just because they are children?  They are born guilty, condemned.  Christ’s atoning death has not set that condemnation aside.  What ground is there, within the Calvinist system, for asserting that God will have mercy on all children who die?  That is the same, is it not, as claiming that all children who die are elect?  But what are the biblical or theological warrants for such a claim within the Calvinist system?

In any case, inherited guilt and condemnation is NOT an item of ecumenical orthodoxy (as distinct from the orthodoxy of a particular branch of Christianity).  Inherited corruption IS.  Inherited guilt and condemnation is virtually unheard of in theology before Augustine who based it on a mistaken translation of Romans 5:12 in the Latin Bible he used.

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  • W B McCarty

    Thanks, Dr. Olson, for further clarification of the Arminian understanding of original sin and original (or inherited/imputed) guilt. I again apologize for mistaking your view, which was clearly stated on p. 33 of your book _Arminian Theology_. That some Wesleyan Arminians of my acquaintance _do_ affirm original guilt (at least, hypothetically) and that Calvinists tend to use the term “total depravity” in a way that assumes the entailment of original guilt have contributed to confusion.

    Concerning John 12:32, the near context (12:20-22) shows that Jesus was speaking to a mixed audience consisting of Greeks and Jews. It is therefore reasonable to understand the word “all” in v. 32 as referring to all men without distinction (i.e., Greeks and Jews) rather than all men without exception. Thus, assigning the usual meaning of “compel” to the word translated “draw” in v. 32, as Calvinists generally prefer, does not entail universalism or other inconsistency.

    As a Reformed Baptist, I have a rather different impression of the prevalence, among Reformed Baptists, of a belief in inherited guilt. I suspect a subtle confusion on this point. Because Calvinists believe in unconditional election, we can consistently affirm inherited guilt while denying that all who die in infancy are necessarily reprobate. A goodly number of Calvinists, Baptist or otherwise, affirm inherited guilt along with the necessary election, not merely the possible election, of those who die in infancy. The tendency among Reformed Baptists to affirm the salvation of those dying in infancy might explain an incorrect inference that Reformed Baptists reject inherited guilt.

    I have any number of problems with denial of inherited guilt, whether by Arminians or Baptists. But let me cite just two. Paul in Rom. 5:12 explains death as the result of sin. If humans are born without original guilt or personal sin, why do some infants die? That many infants do die seems clearly to indicate that they are, in fact, under the guilt and condemnation of sin. A second problem is the requirement of the Mosaic Law that events related to birth and generation require a purifying expiation. The Law apparently reflects not merely a sinful tendency but actual sin and guilt.

    I concur that inherited guilt was a concept foreign to the Greek Fathers. But Berkhof cites Tertullian, writing roughly two hundred years before Augustine, as affirming some form of inherited sin: “He [Tertullian] speaks of the innocence of infants, but probably assumes this only in the relative sense that they are free from actual sins.” Berkhof cites Cyprian, Hilary, and Ambrose as other Latin Fathers with relatively well developed anthropologies positing a sinful, not merely corrupt, nature.

    To say that high Calvinists have a “problem with children” would be to overlook the fact that the Calvinistic view of salvation is monergistic. God can save whom he wills, even infants and the mentally infirm, by effectually calling them and granting them the gift of faith. That God elects all who die in infancy (or those of elect parents who die in infancy) is a common view among Calvinists, who find such grounds for their view as David’s confidence of reunion with his dead child, Jesus’ welcoming attitude toward children, and God’s mercy toward the children of the Hebrew generation that was doomed to wander the wilderness.

    It seems to me that the Arminian has faced, and improperly resolved, a more serious problem with respect to children. Because Arminian election is conditional, the sinner must freely exercise faith, requiring a mental capacity lacking in infants and the mentally infirm. To cope with this problem, the Arminian incorrectly posits a anthropology that fails to give full weight to the biblical testimony that we are born as “children of wrath.”

    • Terry Tiessen

      W.B. McCarty,

      You wrote: “I concur that inherited guilt was a concept foreign to the Greek Fathers.”

      I suggest that not be too quick to grant this, though it is a common opinion.

      On pages 214-18, of “Irenaeus on the Salvation of the Unevangelized,” I spelled out my reasons for believing that Irenaeus did believe in original guilt. I see it in his doctrine of recapitulation, passing through every age of human maturation, including infants (AH II,22,4; IV,38,2 ). Christ became an infant and thereby sanctified infants, just as he became an old man for the sanctification of old people (AH II,22,6; Irenaeus believed that Jesus died at the age of 50!).

      Further, Irenaeus writes of the war of Christ against our enemy who “in the beginning, in Adam, had made us his captives” (AH V,21,1), and speaks of Christ’s passion as destroying that human disobedience which had taken place at the beginning, since WE had offended God in the first Adam and WE had become debtors to God through the covenant which WE transgressed at the beginning (AH V,16,3). He speaks of sin and death as entering through one man, in obvious reference to Romans 5:19 (AH III,21,1). He says that “being all implicated in the first formation of Adam, we were bound to death through disobedience, the bonds of dead had necessarily to be loosed through the obedience of him who was made man for us” (Proof 31).

      Contrary to the Gnostics, who described a class of people who were by nature perfect through relationship to the Aeons, Irenaeus views the entire human race as implicated in Adam’s sin and needing to have the consequences of its obedience undone.

      Irenaeus was certainly a synergist in his soteriology. As I read him, he did affirm universal guilt in Adam but also affirmed that the obedience of Christ was objectively effective to the undoing of that original disobedience so that there is no class of people whose situation is hopeless or whose condemnation is certain. All share an equally fallen beginning and an equally hopeful future. Whether, in fact, their destiny is salvation or condemnation will depend upon the free exercise of their will.

      • W B McCarty

        Thanks for that additional information, Terry. I don’t pretend to possess expertise in church history, particular early church history. So, my opinion was based solely on the single source I consulted, Berkhof. I had wrongly figured that, given that Berkhof was a Calvinist, if he conceded the point, he must have had at best a very weak case for developed anthropology among the Greek Fathers. But, of course, his work dates from 1937 and scholarship is not static.

    • Terry Tiessen

      W. B. McCarty,

      You make an apt point about the reason why many Calvinists, including Reformed Baptists, may appear to deny original guilt, namely their affirmation of the election of all infant mortalities or at least of the children of believers.

      My comment about Reformed Baptists was written much later than yours but both were waiting for moderation so I hadn’t seen yours. Just to be clear, my own sense that Roger is right about the prevalence of a denial of original guilt had in mind the concept of the “age of accountability” that I meet even among fellow Reformed Baptists. Millard Erickson (4 point Calvinist Baptist) has spelled out one clear theological rationale for this position. (I critiqued it in my chapter “Can Infants Be Saved?” in –Who Can Be Saved–). Recently, John Piper’s explanation of his reason for believing in the salvation of infant mortalities seemed to me to be in a similar vein, though his rationale differed – inculpable ignorance.

      • W B McCarty

        Terry, you can add Al Mohler to the list, too:

        So, in terms of explanations I’ve read, I concede that Olson’s thesis holds the field. But I’m not convinced that those who offer the explanations are necessarily representative of Reformed Baptists at large. At least within my circles, folks seem to lean more heavily toward older views that don’t depend on the age-of-accountability/condition-of-accountability construct.

        • Terry Tiessen

          Thanks WBM,

          I see an interesting tension in Mohler’s position. He affirms original guilt but also recognizes that Scripture never speaks of final judgment in terms of that original guilt. I agree with him on both accounts and have offered my own proposal to account for this (along with God’s distress at the unbelief of the non-elect) in Who Can Be Saved?.

          The tension in Mohler’s post, however, lies in his putting together two different approaches to this without recognizing that he has done so.

          The people whom Mohler quotes take this position: 1) all are guilty in Adam; 2) the guilt of those whom God has elected to salvation (whether original or personal/actual) is atoned for by the death of Jesus; 3) all who die in infancy are elect. That looks to me to be a coherent position though I am not convinced that the third premise is biblically demonstrable.

          By quoting the above position from others, at length, Mohler gives the impression that it is the one he too believes. Where he creates tension, however, in his earlier personal rationale about inculpability because of ignorance. There he puts forward the “age of accountability” construct but, in so doing, he explains eternal judgment on the grounds of deeds done in the body in a way that negates original guilt.

          I would be much happier with Mohler’s position if he had taken the one put forward by the numerous others whom he quotes, rather than the one he lays out himself (which is essentially the same as Piper’s). Unfortunately, given the influence of Mohler and Piper within the Reformed Baptist world, their affirmation of the “age of accountability,” which effectively negates original guilt, Roger’s sense that Reformed Baptists generally do not affirm original guilt may turn out to be the reality.

          • W B McCarty

            Terry, I concur. I see tension of a sort in Erickson (“contingent” guilt), too. These men seem to _want_ to affirm original guilt while affirming the election of those dying in infancy. It seems odd that, instead of appealing to unconditional election and effectual calling as did older writers, they appeal to an age of accountability (or, as John MacArthur, “condition” of accountability), which is rather weakly attested in Scripture, IMO. Any speculation as to why they do so?

          • Perhaps because they are already comfortable with inconsistency? Why not one more? 🙂

          • Terry Tiessen


            It looks like we ran out of “reply” opportunities to specific items but hopefully you’ll find this.

            I really can’t explain the penchant of which you speak. It has a very peculiar result, though. If we assume that human life begins at conception a very large part (perhaps most?) of the human race is never born. If they never became sinners, they do not need salvation. So then most of the population of the human race would not have gotten there by virtue of Christ’s atoning work. That is certainly odd.

            On another point, I find Mohler and Piper’s position peculiar given their very strong gospel exclusivism with regard to the salvation of adults. I have argued that one’s soteriology should account for all the categories of the “unevangelized” in a coherent way. I’m awaiting a copy of Piper’s recently published book and hope that he may address this in his latest treatment.

          • W B McCarty

            Terry, Piper has more books in the works at any time than I’ve written altogether 🙂 Which forthcoming book do you have in mind?

          • Terry Tiessen

            WB, I was speaking of Jesus the Only Way: Must You Hear the Gospel to Be Saved?

          • W B McCarty

            Terry, TY! I hadn’t seen that one.

    • @Paul in Rom. 5:12 explains death as the result of sin. If humans are born without original guilt or personal sin, why do some infants die?

      Easy really, Paul is primarily referring to spiritual death. There isn’t an absolutely necessary correlation between physical death and sin, there is an absolute correlation with spiritual death.

      @A second problem is the requirement of the Mosaic Law that events related to birth and generation require a purifying expiation. The Law apparently reflects not merely a sinful tendency but actual sin and guilt.

      With no specifics cited, it appears you’re conflating collective/temporal responsibility with personal guilt.

      @To cope with this problem, the Arminian incorrectly posits a anthropology that fails to give full weight to the biblical testimony that we are born as “children of wrath.”

      To the contrary, we are children of wrath due to our nature -just not due to nature alone apart from actual sinful action (the latter concept having no scriptural warrant). It’s rather those who push the unscriptural inherited guilt myth who reject the scriptural teaching that we fall by committing sin (Rom 3:23), not merely having a sinful ancestor.

      • W B McCarty

        J.C.: “Paul is primarily referring to spiritual death. There isn’t an absolutely necessary correlation between physical death and sin, there is an absolute correlation with spiritual death.”

        Pauls’ argument is that we can discern the operation of sin by observing the reign of death. Therefore it follows that, whether or not the intended sense of “death” in v.12 is primarily spiritual, physical death as an observable phenomenon is clearly in view there and elsewhere in the local context. See, 5:10, 15; see also 1:32; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5, 10, 13, 8:2.

        J.C.: “With no specifics cited, it appears you’re conflating collective/temporal responsibility with personal guilt.”

        The Mosaic Law prescribes many conditions related to generation/birth that require purification (conditions such as menstruation and seminal emission and purifications such as male circumcision). Surely you don’t mean to argue that human reproduction necessarily entails _personal_ guilt? Clearly, the indication is that children inherit guilt and condemnation.

        J.C.: “we are children of wrath due to our nature -just not due to nature alone apart from actual sinful action”

        Scripture affirms condemnation resulting from our relationship to Adam apart from the guilt arising due to personal sin:

        * “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19 ESV).

        * “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22 ESV).

        * “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV).

        • Ah, there it is–Romans 5:18-19 (even in the ESV!)–strict parallelism between “the many” (all) and “the many” (all). So, if every person including every infant is born guilty condemnation, then every person (those same ones) must be “made righteous” by Christ’s death. The only way to interpret this and avoid universalism is that the atonement reversed racial guilt such that all of Adam’s posterity are born paradoxically both guilty and forgiven. Or so it seems. Or maybe this issue just isn’t that clear in Scripture. Why must it be if we don’t believe any infants who die go to hell (per my earlier response)?

          • W B McCarty

            Dr. Olson: “The only way to interpret this and avoid universalism is that the atonement reversed racial guilt such that all of Adam’s posterity are born paradoxically both guilty and forgiven.”

            I checked five modern, original language commentaries on Rom. 5:18-19. None affirms universalism. None posits that the atonement reversed racial guilt.

            Here’s one of the more concise explanations:

            “Just as the one sin of Adam brought condemnation, so also did the one righteous act of Christ bring justification. Just as condemnation spread to all, so also is the divine acquittal offered to all. Paul did not intend to imply that the result of Christ’s atoning work automatically provided justification for all regardless of their willingness to accept it. Universal salvation is not taught in this text. Context indicates that Paul was comparing the fate of those who are in Adam (the position of all by virtue of their birth into the human race) and the blessings of those who are in Christ (the position of all who have responded in faith).”–R. H. Mounce. Vol. 27: Romans, _The New American Commentary_ (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers: 2001), 146.

          • This doesn’t begin to answer my question. Besides, it appears to me that Mounce is here simply importing his own theology into his exegesis. The “alls” appear strictly parallel. Only a theological interpretation imposed on the text can nullify that.

        • @Pauls’ argument is that we can discern the operation of sin by observing the reign of death.

          That’s merely conjecture which doesn’t fit facts. The operation of sin in the world is observable through physical death, but such death occurs even to plants and animals, and sometimes doesn’t occur to those who have sinned, indicating that there’s not an absolute correlation. Spiritual death on the other hand….

          @Surely you don’t mean to argue that human reproduction necessarily entails _personal_ guilt?

          Sorry, did you confuse this for some other conversation? Where did I indicate any such thing?

          @Clearly, the indication is that children inherit guilt and condemnation.

          What are you talking about? That conclusion makes no sense whatsoever.

          @Scripture affirms condemnation resulting from our relationship to Adam apart from the guilt arising due to personal sin:

          For your evidence, you only quote texts with no explanation as to how they could be twisted to fit the inherited guilt fallacy. Of course one trespass/one man’s sin led to/resulted in the condemnation of all men -through the sinful nature passed to us by which we commit sin. The “children of wrath” issue was quite clearly addressed above if you’ll recall.

          • W B McCarty

            Dr. Olson, fair enough. I was trying to find an exegesis that I could post without setting off copyright alarms 🙂 Morris provides a much better, though longer, explanation. I’m struggling with time issues but will try to find time to summarize and post the salient parts of Morris’s exegesis.

            JC, “For your evidence, you only quote texts with no explanation as to how they could be twisted to fit the inherited guilt fallacy.”

            I admit that I don’t always find time/space to provide much in the way of exegesis. But at least my view is justified by reference to Scripture rather than to philosophical speculation. For instance, your objections generally take the form of denying that the Calvinistic exegesis is “absolutely necessary.” It really doesn’t say much for your view to claim that it isn’t necessarily false. In fact, choosing a belief that’s merely not necessarily false doesn’t seem to me epistemically responsible. Where is the Arminian counter-exegesis? Do you suppose that I will find it to be necessarily true?

            I notice that the tone of your comments is becoming more tense/aggressive, now including an accusation of twisting Scripture, which I take as implying a deliberate act. What’s with that?

  • It sounds like the view of the Eastern churches (who are no big fans of Augustine). Ihen shouldn’t you just ditch the term “Original Sin” which has so much theological baggage?

  • I don’t know where to post this relative to your posts, but I am wondering if you think Roman Catholic Thomism has kept the RC church from slipping over into the hard predestinarianism of Augustine and maintain a “middle way.” I think much of the problem with Reformed thought (I am a graduate of Westminster Seminary) is its inability to escape necessary conclusions based on its “Bible says” hermeneutic. It gets locked into all kinds of commitments that to me are morally uncomfortable to say the least(and I think to them also), one of which is double predestination and the other of which is limited atonement. I am of the impression that their desire to be faithful to Scripture locks them in, even if it means believing something that is morally repugnant. Thomism offers a way between unbridled reason and fundamentalism. Its high view of reason offers a way through that “Bible only” movements do not. I commend to readers Peter Kreeft’s teachings in the Modern Scholar series (audio cds), The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Norman Geisler is about the only evangelical scholar I am aware of who attempts to bring Aquinas to the table. By the way, thanks for The Story of Christian Theology. I reread it on a regular basis.

  • Thanks Dr. Olson. Your blog is so helpful! I’m glad you decided to start blogging.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Your suggestion that most Reformed Baptists deny that all are guilty in Adam took me by surprise at first but, on further thought, I suspect that you are right. I confess that this puzzles me because I find the exegetical grounds for the position very flimsy. Yet, the concept of an “age of accountability” seems to be very widespread among Baptists, including the Reformed. By contrast, the Philadelphia Confession (American heir to the Old London Confession and itself a Baptist form of the Wesminster Confession) very clearly stated original guilt, making all of Adam’s posterity by nature children of wrath (Chap. VI, art. 3). I haven’t tracked down the history of change in regard to the doctrine of original sin among Calvinists (including Baptists) but it would be interesting. I suspect it has been done. Anyone know where?

    • W B McCarty

      Terry, I find the concepts of original guilt in Dagg (the first Baptist systematic theologian in America, and Boyce (founder and first president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Boyce’s work was published in 1887. So, I suppose that the shift among Baptists to an unorthodox anthropology (as I see it) occurred subsequent to that time.

      The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message did not mention “age of accountability.” That term appeared in the 1963 revision. However, I don’t want to make too much of that particular bit of evidence because the related article of the Baptist Faith and Message is somewhat ambiguous, probably deliberately so.

      • Terry Tiessen

        Thanks, WBM. That is helpful.

      • What gives you cause to think that “original guilt” was ever within any ecumenical definition of orthodoxy?

        • W B McCarty

          A.M., Canon 2 of the Council of Orange stated “If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12).”

          The Roman Catholic Church did not accept the Canons of Orange as infallible. However, Protestants have long relied on them to justify rejection of semi-Pelagianism.

          • I find it ironic whenever a high Calvinist appeals to the 2nd Council (really Synod) of Orange because it condemned belief that God predestines anyone to evil: “We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.” (from the Conclusion of the Canons following 25). Furthermore, the 2nd Council of Orange is not an ecumenical council; for the most part the Eastern (Greek) church was not represented there. There can be no doubt that the Latin bishops gathered there in 529 intended to condemn any idea of “double predestination”–shorthand for the idea of predestination held today by many if not most Calvinists. (See R. C. Sproul’s books where he frequently criticizes belief in “single predestination” as inconsistent.)

          • WB, Please point out the portion that mentions “original guilt”. 2nd Orange did not address “original guilt”.
            Now, as Roger pointed out, are you also going to accept 2nd Orange’ anathematizing of Calvinist predestination (double predestination)?

          • W B McCarty

            Dr. Olson: “I find it ironic whenever a high Calvinist appeals to the 2nd Council (really Synod) of Orange”

            As it happens, I’m infralapsarian, not supralapsarian. So, I can’t properly lay claim to the title “high Calvinist.”

            Dr. Olson: “[the Synod] condemned belief that God predestines anyone to evil.”

            I don’t understand this concluding proposition to reject predestination to reprobation. After Schaff, I understand it to reject predestination “to sin (ad malum)”–Philip Schaff, § 160. Victory of Semi-Augustinianism. Council of Orange, A.D. 529., in _History of the Christian Church_, vol. 3. Paul Helm similarly claims that Orange “_affirms nothing directly about predestination_ [italics added] or about the particularlity and irresistibility of grace.”–Paul Helm, Classical Calvinist Doctrine of God, in Bruce A. Ware, ed., _Perspectives on the Doctrine of God_ (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008), 6n. I do not find that Helm’s claim was disputed by any of his three co-authors.

            Dr. Olson: “[T]he 2nd Council of Orange is not an ecumenical council”

            True. However, it was cited extensively by the Reformers, especially Calvin in his _The Bondage and Liberation of the Will_. And, both Arminians and Calvinists look to Orange as a main basis for their rejection of Semi-Pelagianism. So I think it follows that Orange has some measure of authority.

          • Arminians do not look to the 2nd Council of Orange as the main basis of our rejection of semi-Pelagianism. We look rather to Scripture. 🙂 I simply reject the Calvinist interpretations of the concluding statement of the synod as another example of imposing on the words meanings foreign to them. Historically speaking, the Roman Catholic Church, which rightly claims the synod as theirs, has often used it to exclude double predestination. “High Calvinism” does not mean only supralapsarianism. It means “Five Point Calvinism.” Would you prefer your infralapsarianism be called “low Calvinism?”

          • W B McCarty

            A.M.: “Please point out the portion that mentions ‘original guilt’.”

            The term, as such, does not appear. But the concept is clearly present. Article 2 affirms that sin–not merely sinful tendencies–passed from Adam to all mankind: “sin . . . passed through one man to the whole human race. . . .” And sin–not merely sinful tendencies awaiting realization as personal transgression but actual sin–entails guilt.

          • WB … The term, as such, does not appear. But the concept is clearly present. Article 2 affirms that sin–not merely sinful tendencies–passed from Adam to all mankind: “sin . . . passed through one man to the whole human race. . . .” And sin–not merely sinful tendencies awaiting realization as personal transgression but actual sin–entails guilt.

            The use of the term sin particularly refers to that encompassing bent or corruption of the body, the fallen nature of man. Paul did much the same thing when he referred to sin with a definite article making a distinction between acts of sin and “the” sin or sinful nature. When he taught that we are not to let sin reign, he was not referring to acts of sin but that sinful nature instead.
            How can there be guilt when the scriptures teach a man is not accountable for the sins of his father? Eze 18 makes that rather clear.

  • Brian

    I heard a pastor once argue that since Christians cannot lose their salvation, then children who die before they profess faith in Christ inevitably go to Hell since they cannot be “saved” when they were infants but become “unsaved” once they reach the age of accountability. He was simply bringing his Calvinist beliefs to its logical, repugnant conclusion.

    • W B McCarty

      Brian, I don’t see any point of identification between that man’s teaching and Calvinism. All Calvinist confessions acknowledge the salvation of all the elect who die in infancy. Some Calvinist confessions affirm that all who die in infancy are considered to be elect. And, most importantly, you won’t find the concept of an “age of accountability” in the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession, the London Confession, the New Hampshire Confession, etc.

      This man was apparently some sort of Baptist describing himself as Calvinist because of his belief that saved Christians cannot “lose” their salvation. But, he was no Calvinist in any historical sense of the term.

      • Brian

        He may not have been a Calvinist in the historical sense of the term, but he did draw out the logical conclusions of Calvinist doctrine.

  • Roger –

    From this article, I know what holes you see in Calvinist teaching, but I am not exactly sure what your Arminian understanding of ‘original sin’ is.

    Would you say it is definitely inherited corruption, but it is up for discussion whether this includes inherited guilt and condemnation?

  • John abcdarian

    Regarding John 12:32, the interpretation of “all” as “all without distinction” is the common Calvinist interpretation. That interpretation seeks to understand the “all” as meaning “all kinds of people”. Though that might be a possible interpretation (I’m not convinced it is, but let’s assume so for the sake of argument), it remains only a possibility and not a required or only interpretation. Hence, the Calvinist is choosing from among the possible interpretations (including “all” = “everyone”) the one interpretation that fits their ideological. Thus the most that can be said for this verse is that it can be interpreted consistent with the Calvinist ideological framework / system. It cannot be said, however, to support that system because the verse will support more than one interpretation.

    Furthermore, given the universal nature of Christ’s glorification as discussed elsewhere in Scripture (all created things, not just people), it is far more likely that the “all” is meant universally and inclusively, viz., every person.

    John abc

    • W B McCarty

      John, I very much appreciate your shared concern to address issues such as this by means of exegesis of Scripture rather than philosophical argumentation. But, with due respect for your view, I’d suggest that the Calvinist view is shaped not by the imposition of a theological system but by the local context. Can the same be said of your view? What feature in the local context supports your understanding that “all” is best understood as a reference to all men without exception rather than all kinds of men without distinction?

      • David Rogers

        While John abcdarian is perfectly capable of giving his response, I will offer mine.

        The passage is this in John 12

        31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.
        32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
        33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. (Joh 12:31-33 NAU)

        Of course, we can understand that this was a mixed crowd (John 12:20-21) but the question is whether the pericope clearly make this such a significant point that it moves the interpretation toward the “all-kinds-of-persons without distinction” position.

        Note that vs. 31 mentions judgment on this world. I would assume that you would recognize that the judgment is deserved of “all-persons without exception”. The drawing of “all-persons” to Jesus would be to focus a point that all who would believe would be saved and all who would not believe would perish.

        Also, we have the implied contrasting of two rulers. The ruler of this world who has deceived all persons (without exception?) is now going to be cast out, while the true ruler will draw all (without exception? in order to parallel the implied contrast?) through his being lifted up (ironic exaltation through his death).

        I suggest the close proximity of the statement of “judgment of this world” to the phrase in question lends more to the “all-persons without exception” interpretation.

        • John I.

          Good points, David.

  • I’m having trouble understanding, “Some Calvinist confessions affirm that all who die in infancy are considered to be elect.” Would that not make mass murder of infants in Moses’ and Jesus’ time a good thing? So Pharoah and Herod were not actually evil, they were doing the infants a favor? Why then would a Calvinist be against abortion if all aborted babies are considered to be elect?

    • W B McCarty

      Dale, firstly not all Calvinists affirm election of all who die in infancy. Secondly, those Arminians who believe that infants are born without original guilt, which Dr. Olson supposes to include _all_ classical Arminians, are subject along with _some_ Calvinists to your argument, which therefore weighs more heavily against the Arminian than the Calvinist.

      It is true that, in the case of both the Arminian and Calvinist view, the murdered infants might in some sense have benefited from their early deaths. But that in no way mitigates the sin or Pharaoh or Herod or a contemporary abortionist. Paul’s rejoinder remains apt: “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? Their condemnation is just” (Rom. 3:8, NASB).

      • John abcdarian

        WBM writes, “which therefore weighs more heavily against the Arminian than the Calvinist.”

        Sorry, I don’t follow. If you have time and this thread is not dead, please explain.

        John I.

    • Ivan Song

      I’m a Calvinist and I’m against abortions.
      I also didn’t think it was the Calvinists alone, or majority, who were against abortion. Abortion doesn’t go hand in hand with the knowledge that infants are elect by God’s grace because the act of it (arguably and in most cases) is tantamount to murder? If one extrapolates from your reasoning, why would Christians (not just Calvinists) be against murder inflicted upon themselves or one another, since it would actually speed up their entry into paradise? In fact, it would be a favor.

      • John abcdarian

        The issue of abortion and the fate of the unborn killed is quite relevant and there is a very thought provoking article on that very topic in the current issue of Philosophi Christi. The TOC of the current issue is not yet up on the Evangelical Philosophical Society website, but I’ll post the title of the article when I get home.


        John I.

  • WBC & IS – You both are missing the point of what I am saying. I am not saying that Calvinists and all Christians shouldn’t be against abortion. I’m not saying that Pharaoh and Herod should be exonerated for their actions.

    What I am saying is that the Calvinist definition of election causes unnecessary problems. Instead of saying, “Some Calvinist confessions affirm that all who die in infancy are considered to be elect” it would be more accurate to say, “The Bible seems to affirm that all who die in infancy are redeemed.” Why is it necessary to say that “those who die in infancy are CONSIDERED TO BE ELECT”? The Calvinist definition of election causes problems by assuming that God predetermined before the beginning of time who He would elect without giving them an opportunity to accept Jesus’ salvation.

    • W B McCarty

      Dale: “The Calvinist definition of election causes problems”

      The Calvinist definition of election is not an arbitrary philosophical construction but is grounded in Scripture. For instance: “[A]ll who dwell on earth will worship it [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8 ESV). From this it follows that the names of the elect were written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world (i.e., election is personal).

      And: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). From this it follows that God does not foresee saving faith but, instead, he provides it.

      Now, we might dispute my quick exegesis of these verses. But, given the exegesis, the salient aspects of the Calvinistic definition of election follow.

      • John I.

        I do not believe that the point contended for flows from Revelation 13:8. G. Boyd is an open theist, but his response on this verse works just as well for Arminians:

        1) First, the “from the foundation of the world” clause can attach to either “everyone whose names have not been written” or to “the lamb that was slain.” For example, the TNIV translates this passage “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. ” So it is with many translations of this passage. If this is correct, the passage suggests that the crucifixion of Christ was part of Gods’ plan from the beginning, but not that people’s names were or were not written in “the book of life” from the foundation of the world.

        2) The phrase “from the foundation” (apo kataboleis) can mean “from before” or “from the time of” (=since). So even if we attach the phrase to “everyone whose name has not been written…” the passage need only refer to those who didn’t enter into eternal life from the beginning of the world – that is, throughout history. As history progresses, God (metaphorically of course) puts into his “book of life” all people who enter into a life-giving relationship with him.

        3) Several times in Scripture God warns people that he may blot their names out of the book of life (Exod. 32:33; Rev. 3:5, cf. Rev. 22:18). In this light, it seems we should not think that having one’s name in or out of “the book of life” is a permanent thing. On a side note, if names were written (or not written?) in the book of life before the world began, and if one can’t add or detract from this book, one might legitimately wonder what these passages mean.

        John I.

        • W B McCarty

          John, sorry for the late reply but I’m drowning in work 🙂 Does this exegesis appear in one of Boyd’s books? If so, can you point me to it? I’d like to study it more carefully. Thanks!

  • WBM – I understand that Calvinism is a cohesive sytem of interpretation of the Bible. I realize that the Calvinist interpretation of election does not present problems for the Calvinist as you aptly posited.

    I just happen to think that the Calvinist interpretion of election is wrong. Acts 16:31 teaches that belief in Jesus Christ leads to salvation. Eph 2:8 teaches we are saved by grace thru faith. Not, the Calvinist interpretation that we are saved thru grace by faith. These two verses among others teach that salvation is by belief and faith.

    Arminians believe in election, just not the Calvinist definition of election. God, who knows everything, knows all who would freely accept/reject His salvation, offered to everyone by Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, and recorded their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life as the Bible clearly states.

    For a more complete analysis:

    • W B McCarty

      Dale, actually I think/hope that our mutual beliefs are a bit more involved than you found time or space to express. I assume that we both believe that we’re saved _by Christ_, though we differ as to the role of grace and faith in the process of salvation.

      As a Calvinist I, too, believe that we are saved by grace through faith. So, I don’t think that phrase puts the finger on our differences. I think what separates us is a different understanding of the origin of saving faith. In particular, Calvinists understand faith as having been graciously conferred by God as a consequence of his unconditional election rather than as a result of cooperation with (or absence of persistent resistance to, whichever you prefer) common/prevenient/pre-regenerating grace. The bottom line is that the Arminian view entails a more optimistic understanding of the nature/state of fallen man than Calvinists find in Scripture. That, I think, is the crux of the matter.

      • This is a common criticism of Arminian theology by Reformed/Calvinist observers. But it is mistaken. Read my chapter on it in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Classical Arminians believe in the total depravity/helplessness of the human person apart from supernatural, prevenient, partially regenerating grace. God is the author a person’s ability to respond to the offer of the free grace of salvation. What I wonder is why some Calvinists are so intent on pushing Arminians away by continually repeating old, worn out accusations that have been answered?

      • WBM – I am pleased that you believe there is more in common than what space allows. You wrote, “The bottom line is that the Arminian view entails a more optimistic understanding of the nature/state of fallen man than Calvinists find in Scripture. That, I think, is the crux of the matter.” That is not the crux of the matter.

        Arminians believe in total depravity as well. Mankind cannot do anything to come to Christ. God’s prevenient grace, offered to all, is what softens the sinner’s heart to stop resisting the gift of Christ’s salvation.

        Many Calvinists get it wrong as to what the crux of the matter is for disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians. Arminius parted ways with Calvinism, not on the issue of irresistible grace or free will. Rather, the crux of the matter is the character of God. That is why Arminius parted ways with Calvin/Beza. Arminius was calling the church back to the way things were before Calvin presented his views.

        Arminians believe that God’s character is slandered with the Calvinist belief that God only applies grace to a select group of people. God’s Word makes it clear that He desires all to be saved. God’s prevenient grace offers all people the opportunity to stop resisting His offer of salvation. That is the true, loving, character of God.

  • @But at least my view is justified by reference to Scripture rather than to philosophical speculation.

    It seems it would have to find some support in scripture to be justified by it.

    @For instance, your objections generally take the form of denying that the Calvinistic exegesis is “absolutely necessary.”

    I was talking about correlations between physical death and sin.

    @It really doesn’t say much for your view to claim that it isn’t necessarily false.

    I honestly can’t make sense of that statement in the context of this discussion.

    @Where is the Arminian counter-exegesis?

    I do a little myself here:

    @I notice that the tone of your comments is becoming more tense/aggressive, now including an accusation of twisting Scripture….

    If you’ll notice, I didn’t make any accusations at all, but clearly stated, \…you only quote texts with no explanation as to how they could be twisted to fit the inherited guilt fallacy.\

  • Stephanie

    Hi Roger, this is a genuine question… as I am exploring this whole issue of original sin. Is it possible that humans are born innocent (as Adam & Eve were created so)?

    Here is my thinking so far…. Adam and Eve sinned, not because they had a sinful nature, but because they had a free will (or God decreed it, for the Calvinists).
    Some people say that we sin because we are sinners (and not vice versa) but that seems odd to me because of the example of Adam and Eve. I am not trying to espouse anything, just trying to get my thoughts out and ask for your perspective on this… or the perspective of anyone else who cares to chime in! 🙂

    I am asking this question for a few reasons:

    I can only find Scripture that speaks of humans being damned because of sins committed (not because of a sin nature apart from sins committed). Is there Biblical evidence stating otherwise? Also, there are two passages I came across that talk about the shedding of innocent infant blood (God referring to child sacrifices) … one is in Jeremiah and the other is in Psalms.

    Also, about the Romans 5 discussion……. Paul says that the sin of one man led to condemnation for all, and the obedience of one Man led to justification for all. I am no greek scholar so could be wrong here, but just wondering if the emphasis here could rightly be placed on the phrase “led to”? If Adam and Eve chose to sin (in spite of having practically ideal and at least far more favourable circumstances than we all do to avoid sinning… no sin nature, no multitude of other sinners around them to influence them either directly or indirectly, no knowledge of good and evil or no conscience, and only one command to heed), then how much more likely would all of their descendants be to sin as well? In this sense, Adam’s sin did lead to the condemnation of all men (perhaps not in that we inherited his guilt, condemnation or even corruption, but in that we are on the back foot from birth and committing sin is inevitable because it is learned from our parents, etc). Maybe all we inherited from Adam was the knowledge of good and evil?

    In the same way, Christ’s obedience “led to” justification for all … it didn’t guarantee it, but makes it possible (just as Adam’s sin doesn’t guarantee condemnation for all… specifically I am thinking here of infants and the mentally infirm who would be considered innocent before God as their consciences have not been disobeyed). The whole idea of becoming accountable before God and losing that “innocence” when you mature to the point of being able to obey or disobey your conscience also seems to make sense in light of Romans 5 where it says that sin is not counted where there is no law (and also elsewhere in Romans where it speaks of the law written on men’s hearts – their consciences). Jesus also said that men become slaves to sin when they commit sin. (John 8:34) and Romans 6:16ff also talks about this principle.

    In spite of being born innocent (if it is true), I see no conflict with believing that we will all sin and become enslaved to sin very shortly after becoming accountable. After all, why would we do any better than Adam, who sinned in spite of being created pure, and walking and talking with God Himself? Does that make sense or am I out in left field? don’t worry, I can take it, so bring the critiques 🙂

    • rogereolson

      Without studying your lengthy comment/question in very much detail, Ill just say it appears we agree.

  • Erik

    I’m surprised that only one reference was made to Ezekiel 18. To me that’s always been a crucial text in the discussion of imputed guilt. To me it seems that God is there laying out an important aspect of His justice; that He neither imputes the guilt of the father to the son, nor brings the judicial consequences of the father’s sin upon the son. Why should things be any different between Adam and us simply because Adam is the figurehead of the race? (Wesley mentions Ezek 18 as well in his sermon, “Predestination Calmly Considered” toward the point that it would be unjust for God to not provide the opportunity of salvation to everyone).

    Also, quick question for you Roger if you’d be so kind to answer. I had a Calvinist friend a few days ago point out that “men” is not in the original in John 12:32. I assume it’s not in the TR because the KJV has the word in italics, but can it be found in other families of texts? And, do you know what the reasoning has been for translators (almost all to my knowledge except Douey Reims) to include the word in English translations? Thanks

    • rogereolson

      To what would “pantas” refer if not “all people?”

  • Hutton Richardson

    Hey so i was looking at john 12:32 and my friends said that he will draw all men to him self in the greek was actually saying all kinds of men so The elect as calvinists believe. and you said that drawing meant compel in greek. so it seems that it is saying god will compel the elect so it seems like calvinists got it right! please prove me wrong this is troubling me very much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • rogereolson

      Why so many exclamation marks??????????????? Your Calvinist friends are trying to confuse you. Don’t be confused. Use one of the many free interlinear Greek-English New Testaments on the web to see whether your Calvinist friends are right. Speaking for myself, I don’t see anything in the Greek that even permits that interpretation. It’s a clear case of eisegesis–reading into Scripture what isn’t there.

  • Stephen Walton

    Dr. Olson,
    I am curious as to your take on Jack Cottrell’s view of “original grace” over and against “original sin”? It seems as though he is denying original sin altogether. I know you have used him before in your book on Classical Arminianism and I find him very helpful on other subjects but was not sure how to take this idea of “original grace.”


    • rogereolson

      I don’t read everything Cottrell writes. I’ve read his book on the doctrine of providence. Where do you find his ideas about “original grace?” As time permits, I’ll try to look into them.

      • Stephen Walton

        It is in his book, “The Faith Once For All:Bible Doctrine For Today” pg. 179-190. Google books actually allows you to read the whole chapter for free.

        Thanks very much,

        • rogereolson

          This is Jack Cottrell’s book that includes his view of original sin? I will try to take a look at it as time permits. Thanks.

          • Stephen Walton

            Yes, the chapter is entitled, “Original Sin or Original Grace”.