Ezekiel 18 and the Imputation of Adam’s Sin

I once had the occasion of engaging some individuals who deny the imputation of Adam’s sin. This of course happened on Facebook; a dank place, filled with many dark corners occupied with the cages of every theologically foul bird imaginable.

My antagonists appealed to Ezekiel 18:20 as their proof text against the doctrine of imputation. The prophet Ezekiel, they claimed, demonstrates that each individual person is responsible for his own sin before the Lord. Hence, a son will never be held accountable for his father’s sin, nor can a wicked father pass the guilt of sin onto his son. Imputation is a false doctrine because Ezekiel’s words refute the idea of Adam’s sin imputed to all of humanity.

I was challenged to provide a response, so I wrote up a rebuttal for this sloppy heresy.

Let’s outline the particulars first

The earliest doctrinal statement, apart from Scripture, affirming the imputation of Adam’s sin is the Council of Orange in 529 AD. That council condemned the heresy of Pelagius, affirming and concisely defining the doctrine of Adam’s sin.

Canon 2 provides the relevant definition to my discussion here,

CANON 2.  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).

In other words, the Bible clearly teaches that when Adam sinned, he imputed his sin of disobedience to the whole of humanity. Meaning, every person, both man and woman, born after his fall into sin, were born sinners, incapable of saving themselves apart from God’s grace. Furthermore, all humanity bears the full guilt of Adam’s sin. They are born under the curse of God, separated from Him, and judicially under His judgment. That truth is solidly confirmed with the exegesis of all the relevant Scriptures speaking to Adam’s sin.

So how exactly does Ezekiel 18 fit into the debate?

Ezekiel was an Exilic prophet. He was more than likely taken captive with 8,000 other Israelites in 598 BC by the Babylonians, a decade before they utterly leveled Jerusalem. His prophetic ministry was specifically to those captives.

During his ministry, Ezekiel confronted the erroneous idea believed by his fellow countrymen that the reason why they were in their circumstances languishing in captivity had to do with the sins of the previous generation. In their minds, the people believed they did nothing wrong. They didn’t feel guilty about anything, and so denied any responsibility for the judgment they were experiencing. As far as they were concerned, they were innocent. Chapter 18 rebukes that false belief.

With that bit of background in mind, let me briefly sketch out what Ezekiel 18 is and is not saying.

(This is the point where I would expect folks to go and read the chapter, hint, hint).

First, it needs to be known that the use of chapter 18 against the doctrine of imputation is something of a novel idea. That “interpretation” has only been seriously considered within the last 200 years or so with the emergence of higher critical views of the Bible, as well as among unorthodox groups who hate the doctrine of imputation. Making Ezekiel 18 teach against imputation has not been the view of the historic, Christian church.

Second, Ezekiel is not rebuking the notion of transgenerational punishment as some modern commentators suggest. Moses was already clear about that centuries before Ezekiel wrote out his prophecy. Deuteronomy 24:16 specifically states that fathers were not to be put to death for the sins of their sons, nor the sons for the sins of their fathers.

Third, Ezekiel is not teaching that individual salvation can be lost.

Fourth, Ezekiel is repudiating the doctrine of retribution. The idea God will honor a person’s good deeds, but will bring disaster and misfortune upon his life for bad deeds. That is what Job’s head-wagging friends suggested was the reason for his personal calamity and trials. They were wrong.

Fifth, Ezekiel also repudiates the charismatic teaching of generational curses.  That is the false belief that a person comes under a curse for the past sins of family members and distant relatives.

What Ezekiel 18 does tell us is, according to verse 3, that the people of Israel are the focus of God’s rebukes. Meaning, the primary audience is the nation of Israel in judgment and captivity.

Those who are oppose the doctrine of imputation want us to believe the chapter is teaching extreme individualism.  Ezekiel, however, is specifically rebuking that false belief. He reminds the people they are in their circumstances because ALL of them, as the collective nation, share in the responsibility of committing those sins listed throughout the chapter, (18:29-31). They all shared in the sin for which they were being judged.

Ezekiel is further reminding them that even though they all share in the guilt of Israel’s sin, God is not unjust. He will judge everyone according to their obedience to the law. A law-breaking father is responsible for his personal law-breaking. His children will never be held accountable for it. Just as a faithful, law-keeping father is not held judicially responsible for his law-breaking son, (18:4-20).

Additionally, God makes it clear in verses 21 and 22 that a wicked man who is a law-breaker, but turns from his wicked way, will not have his past sin of law-breaking held against him. God forgives and does not remember his past disobedience. In like manner, God states that a man who turns from righteousness and lives out the rest of his life as a God-defying law-breaker, will be judged for his sin and not his past righteousness. His apostasy is described as treachery in verse 24, and for it he will die.

The prophet concludes his words by proclaiming God’s heart who wishes none to perish, but that all of them would do right and live. That would entail them recognizing their collective sin against God’s covenant, their repentance from law-breaking, and their return to obeying God’s commands.

So, rather than this chapter being a treatise that rejects and refutes the biblical doctrine of imputation, it is a specific word to the people of captive Israel to turn away from the law-breaking that brought them to their circumstances. God pleads with them to return to Him and live.

2 Comments
  1. Profile photo of Rick Owens
    Rick Owens 4 days ago

    The Problematic reasoning of what Christianity has called: ‘Original Sin’ is a Doctrine deeply ingrained into the church and VERY Difficult to break free of. Separating the Nature from the Will seems to be the basics of the delusion. If man is NOT Born with a Corrupted nature inherited from Adam, HOW do you explain the problems with children, Or the impossibility of finding anyone honest and upright? By appearances the ‘Sin Nature’ Doctrine holds credibility when you consider the condition of mankind. But it’s TRUTH we are looking for here, not conjecture. Therefore let’s take an honest look at Scripture.

    What happened when Adam & Eve Sinned, according to the Scriptures?

    1) He Died Spiritually, Cut off from God

    2) The Ground was Cursed

    3) His Burden of work was increased

    4) The Pain of Child Birth increased

    5) They were expelled from the Garden, cut off from the tree of life (Gen3:1-24)

    Nothing is said about their NATURE becoming Corrupted or that all future mankind ‘sinned in Adam’, meaning: are accountable at birth for the original transgression of Adam. Each succeeding generation would be born as mortal Flesh and Blood with a living Soul, responsible to God for their own choice to be righteous or wicked. Cain and Able prove this beyond any doubt, born after the ‘fall, both fully able to obey God within the capacity of their free will, Able chose to offer God a more acceptable sacrifice, attaining witness that his deeds were Righteous, Heb11:4, while his brother Cain chose to do evil after God gave him the opportunity to turn and do what was right, God told him: ‘If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’ Gen4:7 The fact that he was told he could ‘Rule over it’ PROVES he had to ability and will to do so.

    Thus Paul tells us in Rom5:12, that Through ONE Man Sin entered the world and Death through sin, spread to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED!| ALL Sinned after the LIKENESS of Adam, FOLLOWED his example. They are Born with the a Moral Conscience and Natural inclination as Adam. The Same ‘Passions and Desires’ that gave Eve the choice to overcome here temptation of the eye, flesh and and pride of life, Gen3:6, but she choose not to. There is no such thing as a ‘Nature of Sin’ handed down from generation to generation. Ezk18:18-19 proves this:

    The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

    Sin cannot be inherited, passed down, inbred into the flesh or be part of human genetics. If Sin is ‘in you’ at birth, like a disease, then Sin is no longer a Transgression against God’s law, its a Calamity we have no control over. The fallacy goes that ‘All men sinned in Adam’, that each human being came out of the womb as a morally depraved wretch, dead in sin, cut off from God and is wholly disposed to evil. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Article Six) But this defies reason! Why would God hold man accountable for something that is no fault of his own and WHY would He also Command him to ‘Rule over it’, if there was no possibility in the Universe he could?

    The answer is He wouldn’t! Because man is born with a Moral Conscience and natural inclinations he has the ability and will to make a CHOICE between good or evil. It’s by the ‘nature of growth’ he ‘physis’, he either learns to do good or do evil.

    And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 1Pet1:17-18 ‘By ‘tradition, not inherited, its a process of learning’ You may have ‘inherited the likeness of your father, but not his nature, you learned that.

    But here’s where they try to Prove the ‘Nature of man is Corrupted from the start:

    among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. Eph2:3

    Nature in the Greek is ‘Physis’, a transliterated Scientific term meaning the ‘Nature of Growth, the principle of growth’ So Nature in the ancient mind meant something you became skilled at by doing over and over, thus ‘growth of a nature’, we would refer to it as something people do by ‘second nature’, a habit so common to them it seems like it’s part of their nature. Nature of itself CANNOT be Corrupt, if so HOW could the Gentiles DO ‘By Nature’ the things contained in the Law, Rom2:14, if there was not the ability within them to choose between good or evil? So Sin is not inbred, it’s not what you are it’s what you DO! You become a child of ‘wrath by indulging your sinful passions through a process of selling yourself into the Slavery of sin. ‘Your a Slave to WHO you Obey, Sin unto death or Obedience unto Righteousness’ Rom6:16

    The Fallacy of Original Sin negates Repentance proven by deeds. If man is Born with a Corrupted Nature inherited from Adam, then

    his sin is a malady, (like a genetic disease) So how can he Repent of a ‘nature, or malady dwelling inside him? He can’t, it’s absolutely impossible to rule over something he has no control over, or that occurred by the mere fact he was born. CHOICE is out the picture altogether, either God has to make the Choice (unconditional election) or something has to happen to intervene with his inbred inability to make the choice. So the ‘original fallacy’ became MANY fallacies by necessity! Man had to invent a ‘Doctrine by which Salvation could take place in spite of this ‘condition man was born into. The TULIP fit the dilemma perfectly! If man is born ‘Totally depraved, then God has to ‘unconditional elect or condemn him apart from any choice of his own and then set up a System under which he could be called, Justified and Sanctified dead in his sins and fit for heaven as a wretch. OR God could ‘off-set his inbred inability with some kind of special Grace and give him an opportunity to turn from his sins, thereby making it more fair that he could be held accountable for making the wrong choice instead of merely condemning him by election.

    So by Necessity the Churches (regardless which side of the doctrinal coin they are from) MUST Preach that you are Saved in Your sins, as a filthy wretch, imputed Righteousness by a magic transfer of Christ’s Virtue to you by faith and your ‘sinfulness is Covered forever more. In this the Gospel is turned on its head! It’s no longer what must I DO to be Saved (repent, turn from your sins) its what HE DID for me and I ‘receive it by faith, believing He obeyed, took my punishment, died in my place and even went to hell for me! No DEEDS are necessary, even though hundreds of passages call for them. Mat3:8, Lk3:8, Acts26:18-21, Rom2:7-8

    But Why do All men Choose to Sin if they are NOT Born Sinners?

    1) Simply because they are born with a moral conscience and natural inclinations and choose to do evil

    2) Also they inherit foolish habits from their parents and grow up in godless circumstances

    3) Jh3:19-21says anyone doing evil will not come to the light because their DEEDS will be exposed as evil

    4) The god of this age, Prince of Air is at Work deceiving the mind and inciting the desires

    5) False Teachers run the Churches and Control the Platforms, almost world wide

    6) By his Own Free Choice his Pride rebels against God and refuse to rule over it

    Note: The Rom8:3 Passage that States Jesus was Born in the Likeness of Sinful flesh, is further proof that no Nature of sin exists in the flesh. Otherwise Christ would have possessed this Nature! Christ partook of human flesh and blood, Heb2:14 to give an example we could follow after 1Pet2:21 thereby ‘dying to our sin and living for Righteousness! 1Pet2:24

    Thus a Person is Born 100% Neutral into the World, a Clean Slate, innocent, having done nothing right or wrong. (Ecc7:29, Deut1:39, Matt18:24, 19:14, Rom9:11) He DOES NOT Possess the Holy Spirit at Birth nor the Divine Nature of Christ. But he DOES Retain the LIGHT of God in his soul that ‘Lights’ EVERY MAN that comes into the World! (John1:9) Which is fully shown in Rom2:14-15

    for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) In his unregenerate state man has not forfeited his ability repent and turn from his sins.
    Isa1:16-20 Proves this beyond doubt, spoken to ‘Scarlet sinners, calling them to come and ‘Reason with God.

    Just as Rom1:18-32 Clearly show the ‘Process by which man descends into reprobation. If he is ‘born ‘reprobate, or depraved’ as most of professing Christianity has said for the past 1500 years, WHY isn’t he ‘given over to a debased mind from birth, but SHOWN to be given over to it after he:
    Knew God but rejected such knowledge

    But suppressed this knowledge and choose rather to follow his foolish heart
    In this he professed to be wise and created an image of God in his mind that tolerates his sin
    Finally he exchanges the truth of God for a lie and worships the image instead of God Rom1:18-25

    THEN he reverses nature (turns good into evil, evil into good, Isa5:20) and God gives him over to his reprobated mind to do as he pleases and reap the consequences thereof. Rom1:26-31. An OBVIOUS Progression into evil of giving yourself to the slavery of sin, becoming so addicted to it you THINK its inbred in your flesh and no longer your fault. So you go to Palmas 51:5 and repeat: ‘In sin my mother conceived me’ unable to comprehend that David was talking about his mother’s sin, not his! He also said that ‘We are fearfully and wonderfully made and that Children are an inheritance from the Lord’ Ps139:14, 127:3. HOW could man we ‘wonderfully made’ if he comes out of the womb as a filthy lump of sin, THINK about how foolish that is to believe.

    All the teaching or original sin does is give man another reason to SIN! And then turn around and blame it on God. Because if it’s God’s job to Stop him from sinning, who’s at fault when the sin never stops? (which every preacher I’ve ever heard says you can never stop sinning) Thus by birth, which you have no control over and by ‘nature, you have no control over, you’re declared ‘depraved by Christendom. You’re defeated from your first breath, even though it is constantly said that God can do all things, nothing is beyond His Power to control, in Him you can do all things and be abundantly blessed with worldly success, BUT you can NEVER Stop sinning! That’s the ONE thing He can’t Do for you, magically Change your ‘Nature form naughty to nice.

    Try to stop for a moment from you daily ‘sin routine and give this some serious thought in light of reason. You can’t go to heaven as a drunken reprobate lusting after the filth and depravity of this world, yet that’s what you ARE, so you think. What kind of ‘magic are you depending on to get you in after your time is up here? Instant Glorification? The Word says otherwise:

    He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. Rev22:11-15

  2. Profile photo of Fredman Author
    Fredman 12 hours ago

    Thanks Rick for the cutNpasted document dump. (http://www.standingthegap.org/born_in_sin.htm)
    It would be helpful to actually engage the arguments I am making here in your own words. Not a cutNpasted attempt at comment plagiarism.

    – If man is NOT Born with a Corrupted nature inherited from Adam, HOW do you explain the problems with children, Or the impossibility of finding anyone honest and upright?-

    Or serial killers, or sodomites, or ISIS, or comment plagiarizers etc.

    – By appearances the ‘Sin Nature’ Doctrine holds credibility when you consider the condition of mankind. But it’s TRUTH we are looking for here, not conjecture.-

    Whatever you do, don’t believe your lying eyes! Of course, the Scriptures contradicts you. For instance, Ephesians 2:3 “were by…What? By nature the children of wrath. Ut oh. Seems like the Bible is telling me sinners have a sin nature.

    – They are Born with the a Moral Conscience and Natural inclination as Adam.-

    Moral conscience and natural inclinations, according to the very passage you cite, means Adams sin. The old man is Adam, and Paul goes on in Romans 6 to explain how that our identification with the Old Man enslaves us to sin. Enslaving to sin doesn’t mean you have a choice. If you reject the imputation of Adam’s sin, as Paul argues for in Romans, you have to reject the imputation of Christ’s death. He died for sinners and His death and Resurrection makes those for whom He died righteous by nature.

    So, with that in mind, let’s actually go back and deal with the arguments I put forth in this specific article. Not cutNpaste from a secondary source that doesn’t.

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