Imputed Injustice – Calvin Against the Calvinists

Imputed Injustice

Yet we still quarrel. We still contend with the Almighty. We still assume that somehow God did us wrong and that we suffer as innocent victims of God’s judgment. Such sentiments only confirm the radical degree of our fallenness. When we think like this, we are thinking like Adam’s children. Such blasphemous thoughts only underline in red how accurately we were represented by Adam.[1]

According to R.C. Sproul, repudiating the imputation of legal guilt for Adam’s sin upon ourselves as his descendants constitutes blasphemous thoughts, indicative of the radical degree of our fallenness. Then I am the chief of blasphemers; having visceral and vehement contempt and detestation for this ecclesiastical innovation! Had I first heard this nonsense, confirmed by the larger part of Christendom, I would have rejected Christianity outright as perversely absurd and unjust. I would have been as Christopher Hitchens, as Sam Harris, or as Richard Dawkins. Thank God that He saved me from His church, albeit in a most painful way.

Rejecter of the Faith

Apparently, I am not alone in my radical blasphemer and radical degree of fallenness.

But lest the thing itself of which we speak be unknown or doubtful, it will be proper to define original sin. (Calvin, in Conc. Trident. 1, Dec. Sess. 5.) I have no intention, however, to discuss all the definitions which different writers have adopted, but only to adduce the one which seems to me most accordant with truth. Original sin, then, may be defined a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh. This corruption is repeatedly designated by Paul by the term sin, (Gal. 5: 19;) while the works which proceed from it, such as adultery, fornication, theft, hatred, murder, revellings, he terms, in the same way, the fruits of sin, though in various passages of Scripture, and even by Paul himself, they are also termed sins. The two things, therefore, are to be distinctly observed, viz., that being thus perverted and corrupted in all the parts of our nature, we are, merely on account of such corruption, deservedly condemned by God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. This is not liability for another’s fault. For when it is said, that the sin of Adam has made us obnoxious to the justice of God, the meaning is not, that we, who are in ourselves innocent and blameless, are bearing his guilt, but that since by his transgression we are all placed under the curse, he is said to have brought us under obligation. Through him, however, not only has punishment been derived, but pollution instilled, for which punishment is justly due. Hence Augustine, though he often terms it another’s sin, (that he may more clearly show how it comes to us by descent,) at the same time asserts that it is each individual’s own sin. And the Apostle most distinctly testifies, that “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” (Rom. 5: 12;) that is, are involved in original sin, and polluted by its stain. Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt.[2] [Institutes 2.1.8]

We are not condemned in Adam as if we were innocent in ourselves, but we have contracted pollution from his sin; and so it has come to pass that each must bear the punishment of his own crime, since the punishment which he deserved first is not simply inflicted on the whole human race, but we have been tainted with his sin, as will afterwards be said.[3]

David confesses himself conceived in sin. (Psalm 51:5.) He does not here accuse either his father or his mother so as to extenuate his own wickedness; but, when he abhors the greatness of his sin in provoking the wrath of God, he is brought back to his infancy, and acknowledges that he was even then guilty before God. We see then that David, being reminded of a single sin, acknowledges himself a sinner before he was born; and since we are all under the curse, it follows that we are all worthy of death. Thus, the son properly speaking shall not die through the iniquity of his father, but is considered guilty before God through his own fault.[4]

It appears that the Champion of the Reformed, John Calvin, whom R.C. Sproul has labeled “The Theologian,”[5] was a heretic and/or radical blasphemer.

Indeed, it would be amusing, were it not so grievous, the lengths to which contemporary Calvinists and Reformed go to negate and obfuscate Calvin’s view of Original Sin as hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature alone; explicitly repudiating an imputation of Adam’s Sin. And the early Reformed Confessions, the French Confession (1559), the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561), the Second Helvetic Confession (1566); all upheld similar view.

We believe that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and a hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produces in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. (The Belgic Confession of Faith, 1561, Article XV)

We believe that all the posterity of Adam is in bondage to original sin, which is an hereditary evil, and not an imitation merely, as was declared by the Pelagians, whom we detest in their errors.  And  we consider that it is not necessary to inquire how sin was conveyed from one man to another, for what God had given Adam was not for him alone, but for all his posterity; and thus in his person we have been deprived of all good things, and have fallen with him into a state of sin and misery. (The French Confession of 1599, Article X)

Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants– except for Christ alone–not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature. (Canons of Dort, 1618–9, The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Article 2: The Spread of Corruption)

But when at the instigation of the serpent and by his own fault he abandoned goodness and righteousness, he became subject to sin, death and various calamities. And what he became by the fall, that is, subject to sin, death and various calamities, so are all those who have descended from him.

SIN. By sin we understand that innate corruption of man which has been derived or propagated in us all from our first parents, by which we, immersed in perverse desires and averse to all good, are inclined to all evil. (The Second Helvetic Confession, 1566, Of Man’s Fall, Sin and the Cause of Sin)

It is only into the next century that we see the devolution; The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCFm 1646, 6.3), The Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675); the era of Lutheran and Calvinist Scholasticism.

Canon X: God entered into the Covenant of Works not only with Adam for himself, but also, in him as the head and root with the whole human race. Man would, by virtue of the blessing of the nature derived from Adam, inherit also the same perfection, provided he continued in it. So Adam by his sorrowful fall sinned and lost the benefits promised in the Covenant not only for himself, but also for the whole human race that would be born by the flesh. We hold, therefore, that the sin of Adam is imputed by the mysterious and just judgment of God to all his posterity. For the Apostle testifies that “in Adam all sinned, by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom 5:12,19) and “in Adam all die” (I Cor 15:21Ä22). But there appears no way in which hereditary corruption could fall, as a spiritual death, upon the whole human race by the just judgment of God, unless some sin of that race preceded, incurring the penalty of that death. For God, the most supreme Judge of all the earth, punishes none but the guilty.

Canon XI: For a double reason, therefore, man, because of sin, is by nature, and hence from his birth, before committing any actual sin, exposed to God’s wrath and curse; first, on account of the transgression and disobedience which he committed in the loins of Adam; and, secondly, on account of the consequent hereditary corruption implanted to his very conception, whereby his whole nature is depraved and spiritually dead; so that original sin may rightly be regarded as twofold, imputed sin and inherent hereditary sin. (The Formula Consensus Helvetica, 1675, Translated by Martin I. Klauber, Trinity Journal 11 (1990): 103-23.)

See Next: Imputed Injustice – The Judicial Importance of Consent



[1] Sproul, Chosen by God, “Adam's Fall and Mine”.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4th Edition, 1581 (1536), Translated by Henry Beveridge, Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845, 2.1.8.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on Ezekiel, Vol. 2, Translated by Thomas Myers, Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1848–9, Ezekiel 18:1–4.

[4] Calvin, Commentary on Ezekiel, Ezekiel 18:20.

[5] R.C. Sproul, “The Theologian,” Tabletalk, July 1, 2009,

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