Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Answering Common Questions and Objections Part 1 - Vintage
11/07/2012 - James White
1. Why are people today being punished for Adam’s sin? Why do women have to endure pain in childbirth because of Eve’s sin, especially in the light of Deuteronomy 24:16 and other references?
Answer to Question #1: Original sin.
Few doctrines come under more consistent and heavy fire than that of man’s sin. This is hardly to surprise us, as man does not like to be reminded of his sin, nor of his responsibilities before God. So we can see the basis for such a question about original sin.
First, we are not being “punished" for Adam’s sin. Instead, we are living with the consequences of Adam’s sin. There is a big difference between them. God does not punish someone else for Adam’s sin, and if someone thinks he does, that person is mistaken. First, we must remember that in the Eastern culture of the peoples of the Bible, we do not encounter the fierce individualism that marks the Western mindset. Rather, we see much more of a communal system. The individual is subserviated to the good of the whole. So, when Achan sinned (Joshua 7:20) he was punished by death and his whole family perished with him. They were not punished, but they experienced the results of Achan’s sin. They were not said to he guilty, but Achan, as the head of his house, was their representative, and what he did was considered to be their responsibility as well.
The same goes for Adam. As our representative, Adam fell, and (according to Paul in Romans 5) we fell with him. We are not punished for his one act - rather, we live in a world that is completely affected by that act. Now, the Christian message is that God, in his mercy, is willing to do the same again - this time with our representative as Jesus Christ. We can have the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ when we are united with him (Romans 5:12-19).
Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that we are punished in Adam’s place or for Adam’s sin. Of course, the anti-theist may reply, but that’s not fair! Why should I live in a messed-up world because of what someone else did?” That is true - it’s not fair. It is not fair that an innocent person dies when a drunk crosses the line and collides with the innocent person’s car. But it happens. It is also not fair that God would allow anyone salvation in Jesus Christ. Mercy is not fair. So, if we want only justice, we are in big trouble, for there is none righteous, no not one. I’m glad God shows mercy, fair or not!
2. How could two perfect beings, Adam and Eve, have sinned?
Answer to Question #2: Adam’s Fall
This is an extremely common question which is based on a purely false assumption. Indeed, the Christian must learn to recognize the false assumptions that underlie most of atheistic thinking, and be prepared to point those errors out. This question provides us with a classic example of this.
The flawed assumption inherent in this question is as follows: if a perfect being sins, then that being was not perfect to begin with. Or, in other words, Adam and Eve’s “perfection" also made it impossible for them to sin. The question is, where does the Bible say that? Where does the Bible say that Adam and Eve could not sin? Where does
it say that because God created them innocent that they did not have the ability to sin? On what basis can we say that if something created by God and proclaimed by him to he "good" sins, then it wasn’t perfect? As you can see, we have to assume that perfection = inability to sin, and therefore, the inability to choose! This means that the only beings God could create that were perfect are those who have no personal choice. But we are now seeing the foolishness of this line of reasoning. There is no basis for stating that perfection includes within it the inability to become imperfect. Besides all of this, where does the Bible use the term "perfect” of Adam and Eve in this context? It doesn’t. Always remember this kind of false logic when dealing with anti-theists - it will come up every single time!
3. Christians claim that in order to be saved you must accept Jesus as your savior. If so, then how are babies who die in infancy, the mentally infirm, those who lived before Jesus, and those who lived in the New World before missionaries arrived, saved, and how could God be just if he condemned people because of where or when they were born?
Answer to Question #3: The Pygmies in Africa
Few Christians have been able to avoid this type of question that basically objects to the specificity of salvation in Jesus Christ. The lost do not like Jesus’ claim to be the “way, the truth, and the life, and they constantly bring this question up. Two things - first, Christians need to do better in their understanding of God and sin to he able to deal with this, and second, we must again deal with a false assumption at this point as well.
The first and most basic thing that must be asserted is the holiness of God. God is holy, and he is sovereign, and has the perfect right to do with his creation as he sees fit. God does not sit before the judgment bar of man’s reason or man’s sense of what is right and wrong. Instead, our senses and reasoning must be attuned to his. I say this because many Christians are afraid to state what the Bible says so clearly: "The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth..." (Psalm 135:6).
The most basic error in thinking in this question is the idea that God somehow “owes" everyone an equal chance at salvation. This error is so common that many Christians have fallen into it. It is wrong to think that God owes us anything - salvation is a matter of grace, and grace is never “owed." God did not have to save anyone at all - he could have allowed us to go on our way, under his judgment and wrath. He did not have to devise the plan of salvation. He did because of his mercy, grace, and love. But we must remember that he did not have to provide salvation for anyone. Given this we can see the problem with the above question - it is based on the false assumption that God owes everyone salvation - he doesn’t. This brings up the question of those who have not heard the gospel. Can God possibly condemn someone who has never heard the Gospel? The Biblical answer is, yes, he can. God does not judge on the basis of whether one has or has not heard the Gospel - sin is the criterion, and all have sinned. We must remember that all are condemned regardless of the matter of having heard or not heard. Only God’s grace and mercy makes possible the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. How can we complain that God shows his mercy to some and not to all? This would be like faulting the governor of a state who extends a pardon to one man on death row. Would we be right to say, "he pardoned one, but he is unfair because he did not pardon the other 65 people who are condemned to die”? Of course not, since the governor was under no compulsion to pardon the one that he did. In the same way, God is under no compulsion to save anyone, so how can we get angry with him when he saves some and not all? Every man receives either justice or mercy - none receive injustice.
The question above also asked about infants and mentally incompetent individuals. The Bible does mention an “age of accountability as we call it, where a youth knows the difference between good and evil and is responsible for that decision (Isaiah 7:15- 16). Little is said other than this. Therefore, we have little to go on in discussing the condition of the infant or the mentally incompetent. Since they have made no conscious decisions against God, it is inconceivable that they undergo any kind of punishment. Rather, it is clear that they are ushered into the presence of the Lord. Huldreich Zwingli felt that all who died in infancy or who were mentally incompetent were of the elect of God, and I feel comfortable with that idea. Now, of course, anyone who asks you this question is neither an infant, nor mentally incompetent, nor someone who has never heard the Gospel, so they cannot hide from the clear implications of the Gospel in their lives.
In our radio debate, McKinsey pushed the idea that since Jesus said that no man comes to the Father but by him, and babies can’t accept Jesus, then they must to hell. I tried to point out to Mr. McKinsey that people are punished for sin; babies have committed no sin, therefore how could they be punished? At that point Mr. McKinsey said, “I don’t know where you got the idea that you had to be a sinner in order to go to hell - you go to hell not because of your acts - you go to hell because of whether or not you accept Jesus.” I tried to get him to see that Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 is in reference to all men because all have sinned, not in reference to those who died in infancy and never committed sin. Interestingly enough, this is what McKinsey would call an “extra-biblical” topic, and he claims to avoid such topics. The Bible nowhere says "Babies go to hell" - McKinsey is making up his own ideas as he goes along on this one. Since he has created a position that is not biblical, am I not just as safe to say the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient for all infants and mental incompetents? I could say that if I wished (if someone simply would not allow for babies to be innocent - i.e., have a sin nature while not yet being guilty of individual sin).
McKinsey added something about escaping via Romans 1 and 2. His comments show that again he knows little of Biblical theology. Romans 1:18-20 definitely says that man is inexcusable before God. But McKinsey makes it sound as if the biblicist will say that ‘belief in God and inherently knowing the good’ is how we “escape” from this dilemma. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and no good apologist would make that statement.
4. How could Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Job (1:1) have been perfect if all have sinned (Romans 3:23)?
Answer to Question #4: Perfection and Sinlessness
Little time need he spent on this, as it is clearly answered by asking the question, “why do you equate perfection and sinlessness?” The Hebrew terms used in these passages do not mean sinlessness. Rather, the Hebrew word is tarn, which refers to completeness, not sinless perfection. When applied to man, it would refer to a complete man with moral integrity (see Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon for details). Also, we see that Noah offered sacrifices (Genesis 8:20) as did Job, for it was his “regular custom” (Job 1:5). Why would these men sacrifice if they did not know of their own sin?
5. How could Paul have said we are saved through faith in Jesus when Jesus himself repeatedly said good works are the pre-requisite?
Answer to Question #5: Grace and Works
Pauline theology most definitely teaches that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). Paul does emphasize good works for the Christian, but those works always follow - salvation and are the results of the indwelling Spirit - good works are never the pre-requisite of gaining salvation. The above question posits a contradiction between Paul and Jesus at this point. But does such a contradiction exist?
By no means!
When asked by the Jews “What must we do to do the works of God?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:28-29). Note that the “work” Jesus mentions is belief - faith! Jesus never taught that a man could come to God by his works, nor that good works brought salvation. Instead, he taught that he was the way to God, and that salvation was by faith in his atoning sacrifice (John 3, etc). Therefore, the skeptic’s question is again seen to be based on a falsehood - the assumption that Jesus taught works-salvation. Now, certainly, if one wishes to sacrifice context, and if one assumes that Jesus was inconsistent with himself, then one could assert that Jesus taught works salvation. But if one takes Jesus’ words at face value, and examines the context and over-all meaning of his teaching, one will quickly see that Jesus, and his foremost disciple, Paul, were completely in agreement on this most vital subject. The burden of evidence, then, lies with the skeptic to prove that Jesus taught what he asserts above. It is clear, though, that such an assertion is false.
6. Ask someone if they believe. The answer is nearly always yes. Then ask if they would be willing to drink arsenic or handle deadly snakes since Mark 16:18 says, those who believe shall take up serpents and drink any deadly thing with impunity.
Answer to Question #6: Demonstrating how little one knows.
I saw an entire little “tract” built around this theme once - I cannot express in words the stupidity of such a question, and I sometimes wonder why I bother even dealing with it. But, it does crop up once in a while (rarely from an honest person) and therefore it should be addressed.
The first and most obvious thing is the simple fact that Mark 16:9-20 is not included in the best and most ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, and it is not included in the actual text of most modern editions of the Bible. (For further information on this, write and request our information sheet entitled Mark 16:9-20: Scripture or Not?) But, I have learned that it is fruitless to expect anti-theists to be willing to study such subjects as textual criticism, so it does not bother them that they are using a passage that is not original in the Bible. What is worse, many of the believers they encounter are not aware of textual criticism either, and therefore such inane, senseless, and idiotic questions as the above tend to carry more weight with the uninformed Christians. Of course, such questions as the above completely discredit the questioner in the eyes of anyone who has done more than a cursory study of the Bible.
7. How can Numbers 23:19 and I Samuel 15:29 (both stating that God does not repent) be reconciled with Exodus 32:14 and I Samuel 15:35 (which say that he does)?
Answer to Question #7: Repentance and God.
This is again a rather common question. The answer lies, of course, in realizing that the context of the usage of any word must be examined before a “contradiction” can be alleged. We must also examine the meaning of the term itself, for words can be used in different contexts with different emphases. This is especially so in Hebrew which uses one word in one form for one meaning, and then turns around and uses the same word with a completely different meaning a little later on. This is not as common in Greek, but since we are dealing with the Old Testament here, that is irrelevant.
The Hebrew term nacham is used to express a range of meanings, from the idea of “relenting" or “repenting" to "grieving" and “being sorry.” It can mean a changing of the mind or simply a permissive action, all depending on the context of the passage. Now, atheists like to make fun of the fact that the Hebrews could use a word within one minute in two different ways, but this objection does not weigh much with those who have studied the subject. Indeed, if one would take the time and trouble to learn to read Hebrew writing, one would be better able to determine if the objection is right or wrong. And notice also the fact that in the last two sentences I used two sets of words with completely different meanings (ways/weigh; writing/right). I doubt anyone was confused by those words because the context was clear in each instance. We normally assume that a person who is relating a story does not desire to contradict himself - in other words, we give the writer the benefit of the doubt.
This can clearly be seen in the example given by the question itself: 1 Samuel 15:29 and I Samuel 15:35. Here the writer uses the term nacham in two different settings - first, in verse 29, in reference to God’s unchanging purposes and will - that of the fact that God would tear the kingdom from Saul. Only seven verses later the author writes, “And Jehovah was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.” The context is completely different. In the first we are told what God does not do - that is, change. In verse 35 we are told that God experiences sorrow over Saul and his state. Given the range of meaning of the word itself, and the fact that it is completely illogical to assume that the same author would contradict himself within seven short verses, the objector is left searching for some reason for his objection; unless, of course, we assume guilt a priori, something that no one does with any other book of antiquity. Why the Bible is treated differently is left unanswered. However, when one admits the possibility of harmonization and the idea that accounts can be complimentary, many objections fade away.