By Keith Pruitt
For many years, those of mainstream Calvinism have taught that the son bears the guilt of his father’s sin. Reaching back to the original sin of Adam, these same teachers have condemned all under the guilt of Adam’s transgression. This article seeks to find the biblical teachings concerning such guilt.
The Bible student is aware that such a doctrine of inherited sin or total depravity is discussed in two Old Testament passages by prophets dealing with a rebellious and fallen Judah. Jeremiah (31:29-30) and Ezekiel (chapter 18) both deal with the false proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In both cases, with Ezekiel being the longer explanation of the concept of individual responsibility, the proverb is condemned as being contrary to the will of God.
From Ezekiel’s writing, we can learn three important lessons.
First, God, in explaining His judgment to the people of bondage, states the falseness of the proverb. “As I live, you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel.” But why should they wish for such a proverb to be true? Obviously, it allows one to shift the blame for sin. If one could merely proclaim one’s status before God to be a result of Adam, or one’s father, etc., then the feeling of guilt is removed. People are fond of doing so even in today’s world. “The devil made me do it,” or “it’s all their fault that I am the way I am,” are attempts to cast off responsibility for one’s actions. Judah would like to have thought God unfair for punishing them continually in Babylon for their fathers’ sins. This they would do before acknowledging their own failure.
But so did their fathers. Adam would rather blame God for giving him Eve and then Eve for tempting him, as the cause of his sin, than to admit in the very presence of God his own failure to obey God’s will (Gen. 3:12). Saul found it more honorable to blame the people for his failure to kill King Agag and the animals as God had said than to just admit his failure to lead responsibly before the all-seeing God (1 Sam. 15:13-15). Their attempts failed and so will ours.
One should understand that while God is just at this point laying bare the false concept of inherited sin, the concept had never been true. God has always held man responsible for just the sins he individually commits. And God further gives reasons as to why he so judges. “All souls are mine,” He says. God has no respect of one man over another. AD are accountable to Him. God rules, therefore, with equity (cf. Col. 3:25; Acts 10:34; 1 Pet. 1: 17). That means that everyone starts at the same point with God and will finish his course based upon his own record and not another’s. Therefore, God concludes, “The soul that sinneth, It shall die.” Personal responsibility to God is again taught in Romans 5:12, “for all have sinned.” As if to reinforce His statement, God repeats this message to Judah in verse 20 of our text. “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father. . . ” is plain enough that any Calvinist should be able to understand.
Secondly, God illustrates His point and further expounds that man does not bear the guilt or righteousness of another! (This point is critical in view of the theology of some who have gone out from among us relative to imputed righteousness.) A series of questions is presented. What happens to a righteous man who continues so (vv. 5-9)? This righteous man is then described as one who has not worshiped idols (v. 6) and has treated others fairly (v. 7). This one has done faithfully those things commanded of the law (v. 9). The pronouncement: “He is just, he shall surely live.”
Then what happens to his son who becomes unrighteous? The son is described as being immoral (vv. 10-11) and an idolater (v. 11). “Shall he then live? … he shall surely die; his blood be upon him” (vv. 13,18). The righteousness of his father has not spared nor excused his iniquity. Nor has he been condemned for the sin of Adam but for his own transgressions. (This also surely condemns the idea of universal salvation.)
But this second man has a son (the first’s grandson) who repudiates the sin of his father (w. 14-17). He is as righteous as his grandfather. If Calvinism is true, he should be counted as estranged from God due to the iniquity of his father. “He shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live” (v. 17). Surely he would be condemned for his father’s sin before being condemned for Adam’s. But neither were the case. He stood just before God because he was obedient to the God of heaven.
Finally, God reminds the nation of Judah, so torn from God because of disobedience, that a man can change (vv. 2124). God says that a wicked man can serve Him by turning from sin (v. 21). In the New Testament, this is referred to as repentance. The righteousness of the man, God says, is remembered; his wickedness, forgotten (v. 22; cf. Isa. 1: 18). The responsibility is upon man to turn from sins (Acts 2:40; 2 Pet. 3:9). God would have one also to realize the need for faithful obedience to His will (v. 21; cf. Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:8-9). Thus, if a man is lost, only he is responsible for such. He cannot blame Adam nor his parents nor society.
But dear ones, the righteous man can also change (vv. 24-26). One can leave righteousness and follow the pathway of the wicked (v. 24). God asks, “Shall he live?” (cf. Rev. 21:8) Could God ignore his unfaithfulness? Adam and Saul are perfect examples of this failure, and they show the consequences of one turning from God. The Scripture in verse 24 of our text says that his wickedness shall be remembered and his righteousness forgotten (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
This final point shows two tenets (at least) of Calvinism to be wrong. Man is responsible to God to respond to God’s loving grace so as to cause God to count his faith as righteousness. And once a person has started toward heaven, it is possible for that one to so live as to die and be lost. If these verses do not show this plainly, then this scribe has missed the point. One is responsible to live before God righteously; all wickedness is abhorred. May we, therefore, so live as to so die that we might live forever with Him who is perfect in all His judgments.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 19, pp. 595, 598
October 2, 1986