Before the Fall: Why We Need Baptism

By John Pacheco

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'" (Genesis 1:26). As a perfect being, God created Adam as a perfect man. He could not create an imperfect human being since, in doing so, He would contradict His own perfect nature. In creating Adam, God Himself dwelt in Adam's soul and shared His own divine life with him. When his natural life ended, Adam would neither experience death nor would his soul be separated from his body. Rather, Adam would be assumed into heaven to share in the ecstasy of God's presence forever. His relationship with God would be changed from an invisible one to a visible one. In the meantime, while he was on earth, Adam enjoyed a perpetual, interior, and efficacious communication of God's divine spirit. Our first parents, therefore, were endowed with spiritual life, or sanctifying grace as it is called in Catholic theology. This imparted sanctifying grace purifies those who possess the gift by giving them a participation in this supernatural, divine life.

As created beings, however, humans have no right to the supernatural life which God, out of his infinite Goodness and Love and without necessity, has imparted to us. In fact, despite God's benevolence, this infused sanctifying grace was not unconditionally guaranteed since Adam was also endowed with the free will to accept or reject God and His command. For Adam to make sanctifying grace secure for himself and his posterity, only one thing was necessary: he must not eat the fruit of 'the tree of knowledge'. This command was given to Adam so that he might prove that he really preferred God to himself. In this way, though he could never initially claim the right to sanctifying grace, Adam's obedience was apparently required by God in order to demonstrate his being worthy of such a gift.

The doctrine on sanctifying grace and original sin is based primarily on the writings of Saint Paul. The Apostle taught that Christ through his obedience restored what the first Adam had lost through disobedience, that is, the original state of holiness and justice. Naturally, in order for Adam to lose this justice, he must have previously possessed it. Saint Paul touches on this subject throughout his letters (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:14; see also John 8:44), however it is in Romans that the Apostle most forcefully develops this teaching, especially in Romans 5:18-19 where Saint Paul teaches: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous."

Before Adam and Eve's original sin, in addition to sanctifying grace, our first parents were endowed with, preternatural gifts, which are outside or beyond the usual course of human nature. The spiritual dimension of these gifts included wisdom — a flawless natural knowledge of God; complete strength of will; and perfect control of passions and senses (Cf. Genesis 1:28, 2:15, 2:20, 2:23). The physical dimension included freedom from suffering and freedom from death (Cf. Genesis 2:15-17, 3:16-19; Romans 5:12-21). After the fall, however, these preternatural gifts were lost forever, never again to be recovered.

Original Sin

When Adam disobeyed God (Cf. Genesis 3:6), he did so with full knowledge of the severity of the sin and with complete freedom to disobey Him. The sin was an enormous transgression since Adam did not have any pre-existing disposition toward sin. As a consequence of this 'unspeakable sin', our first parents and their posterity lost both the preternatural and supernatural gifts, and were only left with what was inherent to human nature; that is, what an unregenerate person has today. As a result of this original sin, God imposed death as a punishment — bodily death and separation from His divine life (Cf. Genesis 2:17, 3:19; Romans 5:12). "In that sin, man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him.

The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul's spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination [Cf. Genesis 3:7-16]. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man [Cf. Genesis 3: 17,19]. Because of man, creation is now subject 'to its bondage to decay' [Cf. Romans 8:21]. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will 'return to the ground' [Cf. Romans 5:12] for out of it he was taken. Death makes it entrance into human history. [Cf. Genesis 4:3-15, 6:5, 6:12; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 1-6; Revelation 2-3]" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pt. 398-400).

The fifth chapter of the Book of Romans is critical in understanding the Catholic view on original sin. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned — for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam who is a type of Him who was to come" (Romans 5:12-14). Saint Paul begins with the general principal that death is caused by personal sin: "therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned — for until the Law sin was in the world."

Saint Paul uses the personal sin of Adam to explain the origins of death, and so death spread to everyone because everyone has sinned since the fall of Adam. If Saint Paul had ended his discourse at this point, the reader would probably conclude that death is a result of individual, personal sin since 'death spread because all sinned'. Hence, if it were possible, a person who never sinned would never die. However, Saint Paul does not end his discourse and instead focuses his teaching on Adam's sin. After stating the general rule that personal sin causes death, he qualifies this teaching by restricting the punishment due to personal sin only to those who are given the law: "but sin is not imputed when there is no law." He therefore links the punishment of personal sin to the law — if there is no law, then there is no culpability for not obeying it.

The next logical objection by the Jews is then posed: if a person cannot be blamed when he does not know the rules, why did death still reign between Adam and Moses when the Law had not yet been given? The Jews perceive a contradiction in the Apostle's teaching when he says that sin is not imputed but still admits that death, which is a punishment, is charged against the human race. Saint Paul's answers their objection by giving the true cause of humanity's death, which is not personal sin per se, but rather Adam's sin, the original sin: "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam."

Although personal sin is not imputed, death still reigns from Adam to Moses because of original sin. Saint Paul uses the word 'nevertheless' very effectively. He tries to draw out a contrast between the non-imputed consequences of personal sin before the law and the 'death-punishment' which nevertheless still exists due to Adam's sin. In Saint Paul's teaching, there exists an implicit recognition of the degrees of sin since he says, "even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." In other words, death still reigned even over those who had committed more minor sins (who would otherwise not be condemned). His discourse is therefore a fluid and tight argument, completely consistent with his opening remark regarding Adam's sin and death spreading to all men because of this first sin.

In the Fall of Adam and Eve, the punishment due to the original sin is manifested in two ways. One consequence of the punishment is separation of body and soul, as manifested by physical death, while the other is the separation from the presence of God's life. In Genesis, both of these punishments are shown (Genesis 3:19 and 3:22-24). The restoration of this fallen state finds its answer in the 'second Adam', Jesus Christ, who comes to restore what the first Adam had lost. These are two of the central tenets of the Christian Creed: resurrection of the body and eternal life in its transformed state. Jesus said: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25).

The Catholic doctrine on original sin understands that original sin is the formal cause of human death and the initial cause of separation from God's presence. Evangelical Protestantism, on the other hand, recognizes that original sin causes death, but necessarily rejects that original sin separates humanity from God. According to Evangelical Protestantism, it is personal sin and not original sin which cuts off humanity from God's presence. In the Catholic view, original sin must then be conceived as a 'state' since a person cannot change the condition in which he was born. The Catholic and biblical remedy is to transform this state through baptism. If the Evangelical were to accept the Catholic conception of original sin and its punishment — which is the separation from God — then the whole notion of 'accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior' as a means of justification would be completely eroded. Since Adam's sin would mean that all people, not just those who have the use of their reason, would be deprived of heaven, then there would be no way of 'saving' babies or those who do not have adequate use of their mental capabilities. The only way of doing so is the way that Jesus taught, through 'water and the spirit' — baptism.

In light of the above analysis, the different avenues of justification between Catholic and Evangelical Protestantism therefore rests on whether separation from God is the result of original sin or personal sin, and consequently, the answer to this question will provide the conclusive proof for the correct view of justification. The remaining verses of the chapter not only serve as the backdrop to Saint Paul's remedy to original sin in the next chapter, namely baptism, but also point strongly to the Catholic views of original sin and justification as demonstrated below:

Problem Solution
Because of original sin, many have died. The gift of grace of Jesus Christ to many (v.15).
Judgment arose from the one transgression The gift arose from the many transgressions resulting in condemnation resulting in justification (v.16).
Death reigned through Adam. The gift of Christ's righteousness reigns in life (v.17).
Original sin resulted in condemnation. Christ's righteousness results in justification (v.18).
Adam's disobedience made people sinners Christ's obedience made people righteous (v.19)

As the above comparison shows, the solution to the problem of original sin is always Jesus Christ — His grace, His righteousness, and His obedience. There is no contention between Catholics and Protestants on this point. The key point in understanding Saint Paul's discourse, however, is not so much what is present, but what is missing, namely, personal sin. Each 'problem' involves original sin as its principal subject. Now, if the problem is restricted to original sin, and Saint Paul's solution to original sin is described as 'justification through Christ' and 'life in Christ', then the inevitable inference is that justification is necessary to overcome the punishment of original sin. Since the justification and the life that Christ offers is eternal life with the Father, the original sin that is supposed to be nullified and overcome by Christ's redemption must have as its punishment that which was missing, and which Christ came to restore, namely, union with the Father for eternity. Hence, the Catholic view of original sin, whose punishment separates humanity from God, is the only possible conclusion to Saint Paul's discourse in this chapter.

Original sin should not be conceived as a 'stain on the soul,' but rather as the lack of sanctifying grace: original sin is the lack, not the presence, of something. The death of the soul is the absence of sanctifying grace; it is a condition of being deprived of grace. This view is confirmed in the Pauline contrast between sin proceeding from Adam and justice proceeding from Christ (Cf. Romans 5:19). As the justice bestowed by Christ consists in sanctifying grace, so the sin inherited from Adam consists in the lack of sanctifying grace. The person stained by original sin is, therefore, under the power of the devil (Cf. Romans 6:4-6, 1Corinthians 5:7-8, Ephesians 4:22, Colosians 3:9, Hebrews 2:14).

Modernists sometimes make the charge that Adam's sin should not impact the rest of the human race. In other words, Adam's choice should not paint humanity with the same soiled brush. The problem with this reasoning is that humanity has not lost anything to which it was entitled. God is hardly to be blamed for the fact that His creation abused its freedom. Imagine a Billionaire knocking on a Poor man's door and offering him one million dollars a year for the rest of his life. The only condition that the Rich man puts on the free gift is that the Poor man cannot buy a particular red car at a particular car dealership. Now, when the Poor man goes out and buys that particular red car and the Rich man takes back his gift, whose fault is it? When the Poor man tells his children of his foolish decision, will the children blame the Rich man? No, they will lay the blame where it belongs - on their father.

The heritage that Adam would transmit to his posterity would be determined by his response to God's command because, at the time of the sin, Adam was the human race. "The whole human race is in Adam 'as one body of one man.' By this 'unity of the human race' all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called 'sin' only in an analogical sense: it is a sin 'contracted' and not 'committed' — a state and not an act" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pt. 404). Adam's sin is transmitted to his posterity by descent, not by imitation. Therefore, original sin is transmitted by human reproduction or 'natural generation'. At conception, human nature is communicated in a condition of deprived grace, which links people today with the head of the human race. This understanding of the effects of original sin is best supported in a number of scriptural references, with the classic proof text being Romans 5:12-21 as discussed earlier. Other biblical proofs include Psalm 51:5, Sirach 25:33, and Wisdom 2:24.

Infusion vs. Imputation: Two views of justification
Water in the Old Testament: A sign of God's presence
Baptism in the New Testament: Baptism now saves you!
Answering the Evangelicals: A biblical response to objections
Infant Baptism: A family affair
A Visual Image and Some Closing Thoughts
Return to:Apologetics of Baptism

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