What Does Man Inherit From Adam?

By Weldon E. Warnock

“That the sin of Adam injured not himself only but also all descending from him by ordinary generation, is part of the faith of the whole Christian world. The nature and extent of the evil this entailed upon this race, and the ground or reason of the descendants of Adam having involved in the evil consequences of his transgression, have ever been matter of diversity and discussion.”(1)

Theologians speak of Adam’s sin as “original sin” and they usually define it to mean “that man has gone very far from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil.” Consequently, they say that all men, as the descendants of Adam, have this original depravity, derived from continual descent from father to son. There are four (4) principal hypotheses, to one or the other of which all the various explanations offered on this subject may probably be reduced.


(1) The first theory is that the whole human race was literally in Adam as the oak is in the acorn, and thus participated in his transgression.(2) Augustine taught that “human nature in its totality was present seminally in the first man; not personally but a common act of mankind in their collective or undistributed form of existence.”

(2) The second theory is that Adam was the representative of the race; that as a king, or as an ambassador, or a congress represents the nation, and the entire nation is held responsible for the act of its representative, so Adam represented the human race, was chosen as the type to stand for humanity, and by his trial the whole race was tried, thus sinning in his sin and falling in his fall. Acting thus as representative for the race, his sin was imputed, i.e. charged, to the whole race.

Berkhof wrote: “When he (Adam) sinned in this representative capacity, the guilt of his sin was naturally imputed to all those whom he represented; and as the result of this they are all born in a corrupt state.”(3) This theory explains (in the proponents’ minds) why the descendants of Adam are only responsible for the one sin which he committed as head of the human race, and why Christ, who was not a human being, does not share in the guilt.

(3) The third theory holds that Adam fell, and in falling became a sinner. The universal law of nature is that like begets like. So all his descendants have inherited from him a nature like his own, a nature depraved and prone to sin. Those who maintain this theory add, usually, that man is not responsible for this depraved nature, and that he is not in any strict sense guilty before God for it. . . . In other words, this school distinguishes between sin and depravity, holding all sin to consist in voluntary action, and depravity to be simply that disordered state of the soul which renders it prone to commit sin. . . . According to this view, mankind are overwhelmed in ruin, which Adam brought upon the race, but are not guilty except as they become so by personal conduct.(4)

Tertullian thought the soul consists of human substance and it comes into existence with the body in and through generation as a transmission from the seed of Adam. This is “Truducianism,” a philosophy which means that the soul as well as the body is begotten by reproduction from the substance of the parents. It is the opposite of “Creationism,” which is the doctrine that God creates a new human soul for every human being that is born.

The Bible teaches that God “formeth the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1) and that He is “the God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num. 16:22; 27:16). Hebrews 12:9 states, “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”

J. Barmby stated: “Our earthly parents transmit to us our carnal existence; our spiritual part, in whatever mysterious way derived or inspired, is due to our Divine parentage; and it is in respect of this that we are God’s children and accountable to him” (Pulpit Commentary). Though Hebrews 12:9 does not teach Creationism. as opposed to Truducianism, it does teach, as Barmby said, our Divine parentage. Hence, we do not inherit a depraved and evil nature since God is the Father of our spirits and we are His offspring (Acts 17:29).

(4) The fourth theory, known in theological language . . . . as Pelagianism, denies that there is any connection between Adam and his posterity, or that the race is in any sense held responsible for, or on account of, Adam’s sin . . . . Each soul, for itself, chooses its own destiny by its voluntary choice of good or evil, right or wrong.(5)

Obviously, and very succinctly, the Bible teaches what is stated in #4. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is as little children or infants (Matt. 19:13-15; Lk. 18:15-17). Certainly, Jesus was not saying the kingdom was like little depraved sinners! Man has free will to come to the Lord (Matt. 11:28-30; Rev. 22:17). Space does not allow an extensive study on this matter. Compare other articles in this special series.

Post-Apostolic Teachings

The views about “original sin” and “inherited depravity” arose after the days of the apostles. Tertullian (145-220) was the first to use the expression vitium orginis to describe the stain or blemish or defect from which man’s nature suffered since the Fall; so that while his true nature is good, evil has become a second nature to him. But this “original sin” he did not regard as involving guilt.(6) The moral powers might be enfeebled by the Fall, but with one voice, up to the time of Augustine, the teachers of the church declared they were not lost.(7) Athanasius (293-373), father of orthodoxy, maintained in the strongest terms that man has the ability of choosing good as well as evil, and even allowed exceptions to original sin, alleging that several individuals, who lived prior to the appearance of Christ, were free of it.(8)

Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386) assumed that life of man begins in a state of innocence, and that sin enters only with the use of free will. It is said that Chlysostom (345-407) passed a sincere censure upon those who endeavored to excuse their own defects by ascribing the origin of sin to the fall of Adam. Others, such as Hilary (died 367) and Ambrose of Milan (340-379) taught the defilement of sin by birth. However, neither excluded the liberty of man from the work of moral corruption.(9)

Inheritance from Adam

Interestingly, the Rabbis taught, as recorded by Edersheim, that Adam lost six things by his sin. They are: the shining splendour of his person, even his heels being like sun; his gigantic size, from east to west, from earth to heaven; the spontaneous splendid products of the ground, and of all fruittrees; an infinitely greater measure of light on the part of the heavenly bodies; and finally, endless duration of life. But even these are to be restored by the Messiah.(10)

What we inherit from Adam or what consequences we suffer as a result of his sin are set forth in Genesis 3 and other places. The modernists contend that the Genesis 3 account of the Fall and the consequences thereof, are nothing more than allegory or fable. But Horne wrote, “It has been the fashion with minute philosophers and philosophising divines to endeavor to explain away the reality of the fall, and to resolve it all into allegory, apologue, or moral fable; but the whole scheme of redemption by Christ is founded upon it, and must stand or fall with it; a figurative fall requiring only a figurative redemption.”(11)

Genesis 3 is a historical account of man’s fall and we observe the following things man inherits or receives as a consequence of Adam’s sin.

(1) The penalty of physical death. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v. 19). God had said to Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). We see this sentence pronounced on Adam after he had eaten the forbidden fruit and fallen in 3:19. Indeed, dying, he died.

Paul wrote, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

(2) The continuous struggle between descendants of woman and serpent. The hostility commenced between the woman and her destroyer was to be continued by their descendants. . . . the seed of the serpent being those of Eve’s posterity who should imbibe the devil’s spirit and obey the devil’s rule. . . . and the seed of the woman signifying those whose character and life should be of an opposite description, and in particular the Lord Jesus Christ, who is styled by preeminence “the Seed” (Gal. 3:16-17), and who came to “destroy the works of the devil.”(12)

Thus Genesis 3:15 has been rightly called the “maternal promise,” the “protevangelium,” meaning the first proclamation of the gospel. We would not want to claim that this “maternal promise,” in its deeper application, refers exclusively to the Christ. It is obvious that in the first part of the verse the terms “the seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent” are collective nouns and they indicate an ongoing spiritual conflict between the seed of the woman will gain the ultimate victory, a victory not won by the collective seed of the woman, but by that one unique seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus Christ, and by Him alone.(13) However, through Him we can be conquerors (cf. Jn. 12:31; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:8; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 17:14).

(3) Pregnancy and childbirth attended by pain. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (v. 16). For woman the bearing of children is to be a difficulty. The pains which will come to her will threaten her own life, she will go down to the very gate of death before her children come into the world. Too, she will be dependent on her husband and he will rule over her.(14)

(4) Physical hardship, painful toil, disappointing vexations and hard struggle. “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the bread of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. . . ” (vv. 17-19). So serious was man’s transgression that on account of him the ground is cursed. How is it possible for a curse to be placed upon the ground since it is inanimate and not responsible? What is meant is that the curse upon the ground is with respect to man, so that the one who will feel the effects of the curse is not the ground but man himself.

Instead of a friendly earth, a curse now spreads out over the ground and man stands as it were upon enemy soil. Adam is to eat of the ground. It will not deny him its produce, but his eating will be in sorrow. All labor will be difficult. Man will have to engage in severe struggle for his own existence. He will till the soil, but it will send forth thorns and thistles.(15)

(5) Environmental influences and conditions for temptations. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Paul does not say how these were made sinners by the disobedience of Adam, nor how they are to be made righteous by the obedience of Christ. It is pure assumption to argue that the disobedience of Adam is imputed to his offspring, or that the obedience of Christ is imputed to anybody. Neither guilt nor personal righteousness can be transferred from one person to another, but the consequences of either may, to some extent, fall upon others.

By his sin Adam brought about conditions that make every person subject to temptation. In this way he made sinners.(16) “It was through the conditions brought about by Adam’s sin that the temptations and environmental influences tended to cause man to sin, that by his disobedience many were made sinners. Actually they were made sinners by their own sins, and not his.”(17)

In the midst of this earthly life we toil, struggle and die. There is nothing we can do to earn the right to partake of the tree of life. There is only One, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who makes it possible for us to obtain eternal life and gain access to the tree of life in the heavenly paradise of God. In this second Adam there is life, hope and peace. Only in Him who was dead and liveth for evermore, do we have life.


1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Part 2, p. 192.

2. McClintock and Strong, Vol. 9, p. 765.

3.(NOTE: No corresponding number found in original document) Ibid.

3. L. Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine, p. 144.

4. McClintock and Strong, op. cit.

5. Ibid., p. 766.

6. J.F. Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine, p. 307.

7. Ibid.

8. K.R. Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, Vol. 1, p. 293.

9. Ibid., pp. 293-295.

10. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus, Vol. 1, p. 166.

11. Thomas Horne, Introduction to the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp. 143-144.

12. Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 1.

13. G. Charles Alders, Genesis, Vol. 1, p. 107.

14. Edward J. Young, Genesis 3, pp. 123-124.

15. Ibid., pp. 130-139.

16. R.L. Whiteside, Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome, pp. 125-126.

17. Bryan Vinson, Sr., Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome, p. 106.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 1, pp. 19-21
January 1, 1987