Southern Baptists and the doctrine of imputed guilt has recently been a much discussed topic. Today, SBC Heritage is running a post documenting Southern Baptist statesman and seminary founder James P. Boyce’s affirmation of imputed guilt in his Abstract of Systematic Theology. In light of this historical documentation of Southern Baptists affirming the doctrine, I thought it would be helpful to document a current SBTS professor’s understanding regarding the imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt.
The theological implications of this text [Romans 5:15-19] have been fiercely debated since the days of Pelagius and Augustine. The pelagian view can be excluded at once, for verses 15-19 state directly that people die and are condemned by virtue of Adam’s sin. People also die because of their own sin (1:18-3:20). Nonetheless, such personal sin does not merely imitate Adam’s transgression, nor are people born into the world “good” as Adam was at his creation. The heirs of Adam enter the world spiritually dead (cf. Eph. 2:1-5), destined for physical death, and condemned because of Adam’s one transgression. Paul could scarcely say that all people are condemned and destined to die by virtue of Adam’s sin if human beings sin merely by imitating what Adam has done. If this were the case, people would die solely because of their own sin, not Adam’s, and bringing Adam into the equation would be extraneous to the topic at hand.
But how was Adam’s sin reckoned to all human beings? This text is more difficult, and the text does not provide an explicit answer.
…The view that Adam functioned as the head of the human race is more satisfactory. Adam as the head of the human race sinned as our representative, and we are sinners by virture of being in corporate solidarity with Adam. Many theologians have explained the connection in terms of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his descendants. This explanation accounts for the wording of the text, which repeatedly attributes death and condemnation to Adam’s one sin. It accounts for the analogy between Adam and Christ, for just as Adam functioned as the head of the human race, so too did Christ. Finally, it explains why only Adam’s first sin was imputed and not the rest. It seems that the corporate solidarity of the human race is undeniable. We are all affected by the sins and actions of our ancestors, and human beings entered the world in a state of spiritual death as descendants of Adam. Thus all people inevitably sin because they enter the world alienated from God. Paul is not interested in sorting out whether people are condemned only because of Adam’s sin, for he never conceived of separating individual sin from Adam’s. To those in Christ, God graciously imputes Christ’s righteousness. At precisely this point the contrast between Adam and Christ emerges, and the wonder of grace shines brightly.
Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 288-290.