By Mel Futrell
Some years ago I received a bulletin article from a religiously liberal congregation which contained this statement:
“The flesh or sinful nature, is that which we have inherited as a result of the fall in the Garden. We did not inherit the sin of Adam and Eve; we did inherit a sinful nature from them. The nature is characterized by an affinity for sin.”
Now brethren, is it really the case that you and I have inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve as a result of the fall in the garden? I unreservedly answer, it is not! Say- ing we have a sinful nature implies that there is a “native depravity which we have derived by inheritance from our first parents.” 1 And if it is the case that we have inherit- ed a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, the next logical question would be: “How did Adam and Eve be- come sinners?” Further, to borrow a line from Foy E. Wallace, Jr., “If Adam inherited sin as he was ‘the son of God’ (Luke 3:38) he would have derived sin from God…” Is that the conclusion some brethren have come to? Let’s hope not!
The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, in noting the sin of Adam and Eve, says this:
“[T]he guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and cor- rupted nature conveyed, to all their [Adam and Eve’s] posterity, de- scending from them by ordinary generation. From this original cor- ruption, whereby we are utterly in- disposed, disabled, and made oppo- site to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.” 2
Pray tell, what is the difference in a brother in Christ writing that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve and the denomina-
tional creed above, which says, Ad- am and Eve conveyed to us a cor- rupt nature? Again, brother Wal- lace wrote the truth with these so- bering words:
“Man does not inherit a sinful na- ture—his nature is derived from God, his spirit comes from God, his soul is the emanation from God who is the father of man’s spirit— man becomes a sinner.” 3
A slow reading of Genesis 2 & 3 and James 1:13-15 ought to be enough to convince a truth seeker that man did not inherit a sinful na- ture; but rather he became a sinner through the exercise of his own free will. Consider as well these other verses of Scripture which topple the Total Hereditary Depravity petal of Calvin’s “TULIP” (Deuteronomy 1:39; Job 14:1; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ezekiel 18:20). Adam and Eve chose to violate the will of God (Genesis 2:16-17) and suffered the consequences (Genesis 3:23-24). Scripture informs us that we have inherited the consequences of their sin (Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:22). But this in no way will sus- tain the notion that we have inherit- ed a “sinful nature” from them.
In my judgment, some of the confusion in the religious world in general and in the Lord’s church in particular over the concept of a “sinful nature” has arisen as a result of its inclusion in some English translations of the New Testament. A major flaw of the New Living Translation is its rendering of the Greek word sarx as “sinful nature” rather than flesh. In doing so they have established themselves as commentators, and faulty ones at that, rather than translators. In the NLT the expression “sinful nature” occurs nine times in Romans 8 alone [verses 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,12,&13].
This is of concern to us for a number of reasons not the least of which is that the NLT is the third best-selling English Bible translation in the world based on both dollar and unit sales. The current [as of 2016], top five best-selling English Bible translations are: NIV, KJV, NLT, ESV, and NKJV.4 Many people are reading the NLT and no doubt being left with the false idea of our having a “sinful nature”. Also, the 1984 edition of the NIV unfortunately carried seven occurrences of “sinful nature” in Romans 8. Thankfully the 2011 edition of the NIV has elimi- nated all of these and returned to a correct and simple translation of “sarx” as flesh.
Brethren, no one is denying that man has desires of the flesh, call them carnal desires if you will. Paul affirmed this in Romans chapters 7-8 and in Galatians chapter 5. But he also said we could control these by walking in or after the Spirit. This of course, means that we take and follow the Spirit’s Revelation—the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). What we are denying and op- posing is the idea that we are the recipients of a sinful nature via Adam and Eve. All men are the heirs of the consequences of Adam’s sin, but none inherited his sin, the guilt of his sin, or a sinful nature.
1 McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theo- logical, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 1894, p. 443.
2 Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church, 1939, pp. 26-27.
3 Foy E. Wallace, Jr., A Review of the New Versions, 1980, p. 663.