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The Nature of Sin

Two views of the nature of sin

There are essentially two prevailing views of the nature of sin held in the Adventist church. Although theologians may disagree with this simplistic understanding, our categorization results from the consequences of these two views, and not the individual details or wording theologians like to attribute to the nature of sin. These views are:

  1. Sin is more than an act. Often this concept is known as original sin.
  2. Sin is an act. It is transgression of God's law.

Original Sin

Q. What is original sin?


"Original sin” like “trinity” is not a biblical but a theo- logical term. Yet, it expresses what most Christian theologians believe is a biblical concept.

A Catholic catechism asks the question: “What is original sin?” The answer given is: “Original sin is that guilt and stain which we inherit from Adam, who was the origin and head of all mankind.” We note that the answer clearly identifies two aspects of original sin: (a) inherited guilt and (b) inherited stain. The inherited stain refers to our sinful passions, to our tendencies or propensities to sin." Gerhard Pfandl, Some thoughts on original sin, p. 41


Q. Does Adventism teach and believe original sin?


"Thus the general consensus of Adventist scholars, as expressed in this book, defines sin as an act (1 John 3:4) as well as a state (Ps 51:5; Eph 2:3). We inherit a sinful nature (SIN) which, unless checked by the Holy Spirit, entices us to commit individual acts of transgression (sins)." Gerhard Pfandl, Some thoughts on original sin, p. 182


"While some believe that sin is only a wilful or negligent violation of God’s will, our study of Scripture has shown that sin is also a state into which we are born (original corruption). This sinful state will remain with us until the end, though by God’s grace we can overcome every temptation to sin." Gerhard Pfandl, Some thoughts on original sin, p. 223


Q. What are the theological results of accepting the original sin concept?


If man’s fallen nature is sin:

  1. Then Jesus could not have taken upon Himself mans fallen nature. He must have had a sinless nature like Adam before he fell. If this was the case, He could not really be our example and He could not have been tempted like we are.
  2. Then man is guilty of sin even when he doesn't commit sin.
  3. Then babies are born sinners.
  4. Then man cannot hope to achieve a life of perfection.
  5. Our whole view of salvation is radically changed.

“A correct understanding of the nature of sin is also vital for a balanced view on the nature of Christ. While He became truly man, “made like unto his brethren” (Heb 2:17), he did not inherit the original corruption with which we are born (Heb 4:15).


The study of original sin and corruption should lead us to a greater awareness of our need of righteousness. That we need a Saviour the day we are born, not only after we have transgressed God’s law, this is the message of this study. The everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ meets our need.” Gerhard Pfandl, Some thoughts on original sin, p. 224


The Bible's definition of sin?

Q. What is the Bible’s definition of sin?


“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4


Q. Is 1 John 3:4 the only definition for sin in the Bible?


“Our only definition of sin is that given in the word of God; it is "the transgression of the law;" it is the outworking of a principle at war with the great law of love which is the foundation of the divine government.” The Great Controversy, p. 492.2


"The only definition of sin given in God's Word, is transgression of the law.” General Conference Daily Bulletin, March 2, 1897 par. 32


“It is the privilege of every sinner to ask his teacher what sin really is. Give me a definition of sin. We have one in 1 John 3. "Sin is the transgression of the law." Now this is the only definition of sin in the whole Bible.” Sermons and Talks, Vol. 1, p. 228.2


Ellen White could not have been more emphatic. The Bible gives us only one definition of sin. Some will argue that the Bible says in Romans 14:23 that “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” but this is not defining sin. It explains an act of sin. For example, we can say stealing is sin but it is not the definition of sin. Sin is far broader than just stealing. It encompasses every act that transgresses God’s law, whether in thought, word or deed.


Born a sinner

Q. But Doesn't the Bible teach we were born sinners, guilty of sin?


This all depends on what Bible you read. For example, the following two versions interpret what the original text was saying. An interpretation can be formed by carefully comparing Scripture with Scripture or it can be formed from a biased or preconceived opinion. In this case we believe Psalm 51:5 has been incorrectly interpreted as the Hebrew never said David was born sinful or guilty.


"I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful." Psalm 51:5 (Good News Bible)


"Indeed, I was born guilty. I was a sinner when my mother conceived me." Psalm 51:5 (God's Word)


The King James Version (or many other Bibles for that matter) which is a literal translation reads as follows:


“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5 (KJV)


You will notice this is remarkably different from the other two versions above. Notice David does not say he was a sinner or guilty of sin from birth. So what did David mean? One writer says:


"Where else could David have been born except in iniquity and sin? His mother and father were sinners, and he was born in pain because of the sin of Adam and Eve. David was born in a sinful world to sinful parents. If a child would happen to be born in a family of thieves, where thievery was practiced and taught by the parents, he would be born in thievery. Would this in itself make him a thief? Likewise, to be born in sin does not automatically constitute one a lost and condemned sinner. It does mean that one's circumstances from birth are extremely undesirable, and that one is most likely to end up a sinner.”5


Q. Doesn't Romans 5 suggest we are all born sinners?


“The clearest summary of the entire chapter is verse 18. "Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life….” Because of Adam's sin all men were truly condemned. Because of his rebellion, Adam was subject to immediate annihilation (the second death), and the entire human race was thereby subject to the same condemnation and annihilation. But the second half of the verse tells us that Christ reversed that penalty for the same all men condemned by Adam. In other words, the corporate condemnation brought by Adam is cancelled by the corporate justification brought by Christ. Because of His atoning death, all men have been freed from Adam's condemnation.

Inspiration tells us that Christ's death "restored the whole race of men to favor with God" (1SM 343). e. J. Waggoner commented on this verse nearly a hundred years ago. "As the condemnation came upon all, so the justification comes upon all... the free gift comes upon all" (ST, March 12, 1896).

This straightforward understanding of Romans 5 completely destroys the false concept of original sin which has misled Christians for most of the Christian centuries. This chapter says absolutely nothing about being sinners by nature. In fact, it says that we have been freed from whatever condemnation Adam brought into the world. Because Christ is the true head of the race, although we are born with all the effects of sin in and upon us, we are not born either guilty or condemned.”6


You can read more from Dennis Priebe here regarding this subject.


Original sin after the close of probation

A doctrine must not only sound good, it must also fit squarely into the framework of truth. If it doesn't, eventually the entire framework will be destroyed. Sadly, this is what the original sin concept is doing as we have already pointed out. One example of this is our understanding of what takes place after probation closes. Original sin teaches that we are sinners even if we don't commit a sin. Therefore we need a Saviour even if we don't commit an act of sin. This is supported by Edward Heppenstall, one of Adventisms most influential writers based on a 1985 questionnaire7:


"From the Word of God it is this spiritual maturity and stability that is possible in this life. To teach from the Bible uses of this word that ultimate sinless perfection is possible to inherently sinful man here on earth is not supported by the Word of God, and is denied by the very nature of man himself. This does not deny that there is growth towards perfection. Sin does not reign, but it does remain in terms of the limitations of human nature as we know it on this earth. It takes into consideration, even after the close of probation, that as people grow old the arteries harden, the mental and physical systems slow down and therefore the responses are not what they were in the full strength of youth." Edward Heppenstall, Some Theological Considerations of Perfection.8


However this conflicts with the truth that once probation closes, God's people will have to live a perfect life without a mediator.


Q. Will anyone sin once probation has closed?


“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Revelation 22:11


“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.” Revelation 14:1, 4-5


“When He leaves the sanctuary, darkness covers the inhabitants of the earth. In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor. The restraint which has been upon the wicked is removed, and Satan has entire control of the finally impenitent.” The Great Controversy, p. 614.1


“As Jesus moved out of the most holy place, I heard the tinkling of the bells upon His garment; and as He left, a cloud of darkness covered the inhabitants of the earth. There was then no mediator between guilty man and an offended God. While Jesus had been standing between God and guilty man, a restraint was upon the people; but when He stepped out from between man and the Father, the restraint was removed and Satan had entire control of the finally impenitent.” Early Writings, p. 280.2


When Christ shall cease His work as mediator in man's behalf, then this time of trouble will begin. Then the case of every soul will have been decided, and there will be no atoning blood to cleanse from sin. When Jesus leaves His position as man's intercessor before God, the solemn announcement is made, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." Revelation 22:11. Then the restraining Spirit of God is withdrawn from the earth.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 201.2


“I also saw that many do not realize what they must be in order to live in the sight of the Lord without a high priest in the sanctuary through the time of trouble. Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully.” Early Writings, p. 71.1


“I saw that many were neglecting the preparation so needful and were looking to the time of "refreshing" and the "latter rain" to fit them to stand in the day of the Lord and to live in His sight. Oh, how many I saw in the time of trouble without a shelter! They had neglected the needful preparation; therefore they could not receive the refreshing that all must have to fit them to live in the sight of a holy God. Those who refuse to be hewed by the prophets and fail to purify their souls in obeying the whole truth, and who are willing to believe that their condition is far better than it really is, will come up to the time of the falling of the plagues, and then see that they needed to be hewed and squared for the building. But there will be no time then to do it and no Mediator to plead their cause before the Father. Before this time the awfully solemn declaration has gone forth, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." I saw that none could share the "refreshing" unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action. We should, therefore, be drawing nearer and nearer to the Lord and be earnestly seeking that preparation necessary to enable us to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. Let all remember that God is holy and that none but holy beings can ever dwell in His presence.” Early Writings, p. 71.2


"Those only who through faith in Christ obey all of God's commandments will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression. They testify to their love of Christ by obeying all His precepts, including the one relating to the observance of the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, the day that He blessed and sanctified, "because that in it He had rested from all His work" (Gen. 2:3)." Manuscript Releases, Vol. 8, p. 99.2


As can be seen from the quotes above, Ellen White did not believe in original sin. She fully believed that once probation closes, God's people will live a perfect life, a condition of "sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression."



How we understand the nature of sin will impact on our entire understanding of salvation. On one side we are being taught by the majority of our teachers that we are born sinners and are guilty of sin even if we don't commit sin. This leads us to think that 1) we cannot overcome all our sins 2) we will be sinning or will be guilty of sin until Jesus returns. On the other hand we have the Bible clearly teaching us that "sin is transgression of the law" and Ellen White positively states that "this is the only definition of sin in the whole Bible."


We encourage you to seek out for yourselves what is the truth on this subject, as the consequences of what we believe will be eternal. Below are studies that may be helpful: