Steven Mueller, regarding the Lutheran Confessions, suggests that “We cannot honestly say that we agree [with the Confessions] unless we have read and studied both the Scriptures and the confessions.” Similarly, Edmund Schlink, in Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, said “Confessions in their proper sense will never be taken seriously until they are taken seriously as… the church’s exposition of Scripture.” In this article, I will seek to heed the words of Mueller and Schlink to test the Confessions against Scripture, and (hopefully) spur us on to take them seriously as the Church’s exposition of the Bible.
In a previous post entitled “The one about DiMaggio,” I used Philip Melanchthon’s claims in the Augsburg Confession to support my argument regarding human depravity. Below you will find a brief (brief in light of the writing that exists on this topic) examination of Melanchthon’s claims in the Augsburg Confession about original sin.
“In Article II of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon wrote,
‘Since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.’
Is this biblical?”
I answered the question above with a “yes,” supported by a few isolated passages which I believe demonstrate the case. Here, however, is a more extensive discussion of Melanchthon’s particular points.
1. All men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin.
Melanchthon claims as biblical doctrine, that is, true Christian belief taught to us by God in the Bible, that ‘all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin.’ Where does God say this?
In the book of Genesis, chapter 1 verse 27, God tells us that He created Adam and Eve, humanities great-great-great-great-(you get it)-grandparents, “in His own image.” Here’s the full quotation: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Many Christians have attempted to comprehensively articulate what the image of God is. It’s a tough cookie. The basics that most all agree upon though, based in Genesis, have been listed nicely in “Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess.”
Genesis reveals that the first man was created as an intelligent and a moral being. He spoke, made decisions, and displayed an understanding of right and wrong¹ (see, for example, Genesis 2:17, 23). It is also evident that he was not created to be alone, but was meant to live relationally with others (Genesis 2:18). Furthermore, this life he lived would be without death (Genesis 2:17).
¹In verse 17, God tells Adam what is wrong, making him fully aware of it, and in verse 23 Adam clearly recognizes and praises God with a poem about the goodness and blessing of his wife.
And it is added for clarification…
The language [used here] simply reflects that of Genesis itself, which speaks of God creating both man and woman, and that when he had done so he ‘named them man’ (Genesis 5:2). Because the inclusive use of this term can often be confusing if not contentious, it is important to highlight the fact that the first woman was also created in God’s image.
So, based purely in Genesis, before the fall, God’s image seems to include intelligence, morality, relationship, and not death.
Now, Genesis 5 clarifies for us what had been told already in the previous chapters of Genesis. It says,
“This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”
Now this topic requires a lot of study and meditation coupled with the Holy Spirits enlightenment of the Christian with regards to God’s Word, but it seems here that Adam and Eve, who were made in God’s image, then had children in their likeness, after their image. It does not say “as opposed to God’s image” or “without God’s image” or something like that. However, because God’s image is one without death, after the fall of Adam and Eve, where death came into the world (Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:2), it seems that we bear, in the very least, a distorted or broken image of God.
Paul, for example, contrasts ‘the image of the man of dust’ with a future, restored ‘image of the man from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49). That this image or likeness – which Adam had possessed in the past – will be fully restored only in the future seems quite clearly to suggest that it has been lost.
Melanchthon, in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (the defence of it) also points out Ephesians 5:9 and Colossians 3:10. “Paul shows that the image of God is the knowledge of God, righteousness, and truth.” Does a sinner have knowledge of God, righteousness, or truth?
The image we bear, then, whether it is sinful Adams & not Gods, or it is a fractured version of God’s image because of sinful Adam; it clearly includes sin, and sin has consequences.
Melanchthon, then, based on the account of man’s creation and fall in Genesis, seems to be correct when he says “all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin,” because we are all children of Adam, after Adams likeness, in his image.
To further answer this question, we are moved into the next.
2. All men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs.
Really? Babies are full of evil lust and evil inclinations? It might seem odd, but I do firmly believe that Scripture teaches your baby is a cute little sinner! And it is also very clear: The wages of sin is death.
King David, in the Psalms, confesses that He had sinned against God, and in order for God to be recognized as correct in His judgments upon David’s sin, David rightly says “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Sin. Iniquity. David was brought forth, even conceived, in these.
David restates this same truth elsewhere. In Psalm 14 David says:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
David describes ‘fools’ as those who say there is no God. He says that they are corrupt and do ‘abominable’ deeds. He says there is none who does good. He describes God looking down from heaven to see if there is anyone who doesn’t fit his previous description, anyone who does seek after God. Does God find any? No.
“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
That’s sobering. If we take seriously the all-inclusive nature of the word all, this includes me. It includes you. It includes our children, infants, and unborn babies. None do good, none seek after God. What is this, if not evil lusts and inclinations in the heart? If a heart doesn’t do good or seek God, what does it do? Evil lusts and inclinations. It can be therefore inferred that Melanchthon’s claim is true, by clear logic.
Logic, however, is not the ultimate guide to what is true or not true. Scripture is.
Jesus, God made man, says in Matthew 15, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.”
The prophet Jeremiah, the mouth-piece of God as a prophet, says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?”
God, in Genesis 6:5 says “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And in 8:21, “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Paul says plainly in Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that through Adam sin came to all (Romans 3:23 & 5:12 respectively).
To set aside the ever-present word “all” which would include you, me, infants, and children in its definition, we will add to David’s and Paul’s words in Scripture that of Job, who says “Man who is born of a woman [or you might say, according to the course of nature] is few of days and full of trouble.”
Indeed, all are born sinful with hearts that are full of evil lusts and inclinations. But what does this mean?
3. [They] are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.
Do hearts full of evil lusts and inclinations mean that they can’t still better themselves, reach out to God, and somehow attain salvation? Does it mean that they can’t at all fear God or trust in Him?
In short, yes.
If the ‘red-letter’ words of Jesus would suffice: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Here, Jesus speaks of mans capability of coming to Him, and says that it does not exist. Literally translated from the greek (with funny word order and all), it says:
“No one (is) capable/possesses the strength/power to come to me if not the Father, the one who sent me, draws him.”
Jesus has plainly stated for us that nobody has the ability to come to Him unless the Father pulls him in so to speak. Paul has also said, in Romans 8, “the mind that is set on the flesh [flesh: what Paul uses as a synonym for total depravity in sin] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” He also says in chapter 7, verse 18, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”
So, Paul further solidifies the words of Christ and of all Scripture for us: nothing good dwells in us (our flesh), but only evil intentions within us, so we are not capable of pleasing God, or coming to Him (which would certainly please Him).
We cannot, and we do not.
It is possible, while considering Melanchthon’s claim, to ask if there is a false fear or faith as opposed to true fear or faith. I believe there is (Martin Luther also describes this in his Large Catechism). A sinful man can convince himself (or herself) that they are pleasing God and properly fearing/trusting Him. If it is the God of the Bible they fear and trust, then it is true fear and faith! For faith and fear to be false, it must have as its object that which is false. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) A true fear of and faith is true because its object is Jesus, God made Man, God’s Word: the fullest revelation of Himself. So, in a sense, there is false faith (trust) in God when the person’s trust is not actually in the true God. Sinful hearts do not rightly fear or trust, because they do not fear or trust Christ.
They, therefore, according to the course of nature, are born with a false fear and faith, because they are born not fearing or trusting Christ as God.
Further foundation for the inability of mankind to trust and fear God is found in the biblical vocabulary of slavery to, and death in, sin.
“Scripture also speaks about this sinful state-of-being with terminology such as ‘slavery’ and ‘death.’ We are, by nature, enslaved to sin (Matt. 6:24; John 8:34-36; Rom.5:19, 6:7,17-21; Gal 5:1), and dead in sin (Prov.21:16; Rom.6:23; Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 2:13).
The commonality in all of the above Scriptural references is this: mankind by nature is categorically “in sin.” This is in direct opposition to being “in Christ.” Being in Christ has to do with being included in His resurrected Body. Romans 6 teaches us that those who are baptized are actually “baptized into His death.” He says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Paul also says, in 2 Corinthians, that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” He encouraged the Colossian church similarly stating that, because they are in Christ, they have been “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Outside of Christ, people are dead in sin–enslaved to it–in darkness.
4. This inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
The above portion of Melanchthon’s claim is a restatement of his previous points. As such, they have been defended. We are conceived, born, and live as slaves to sin–spiritually dead in our transgressions. The wages of sin (what we’ve inherited in birth, and the actions that flow from) is death. In Genesis 3 we see the wrath of God against sin in the curse laid upon the serpent and upon Adam and Eve.
In Isaiah 13, for one of many examples, God said through His prophet Isaiah, “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity.”
We, enslaved to sin, deserving of death & God’s wrath, unable to fear or trust Him for salvation, are desperately in need of help. And herein lies the beauty of Melanchthon’s final point: the eternal wrath of God [is for] those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says in Mark 16 that all who believe and are baptized will be saved. He says in Matthew 28 that His disciples were to go and make more disciples by baptizing and teaching. And we know from Romans 10 that faith, right faith (fear, trust) comes by hearing, hearing through the Word of Christ.
The Gospel is that Jesus Christ became a man, lived perfectly, was crucified dying innocently of any sin, and rose again from the dead. “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Rom.10:13)” He took the sins of the world with Him to the cross, had the wrath of God put upon Him for sins He didn’t commit, and He died in our place. If you believe this to be true, this Gospel, this Good News about God’s grace through Jesus, is for you.
by pastor nick.
(I pray this article is an encouragement to you reading. I equally hope that this is a small step toward us taking the Lutheran Confessions seriously as the church’s exposition of Scripture. May we continue to delve deeply into the riches of God’s Word, and glean the wisdom of those church fathers who did the same.)
PS: blog posts won’t all be this long! 😁