Baptist Statesman James Boyce on Original Sin and Imputed Guilt

The doctrine of original sin has been under much discussion as of late. Historically associated with the doctrine of original sin is the understanding of imputed guilt. Imputed guilt is the doctrine that the original sinful act of Adam and the corresponding guilt is reckoned to all of his posterity as though they had performed the very act itself. The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 5:12-21:

12 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- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 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 ttype of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 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. 19 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. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It has been suggested by some pastors and academics within the SBC that a “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding of original sin does not include the imputation of Adam’s guilt to all of his posterity. However, from the very beginning of the SBC and continuing today, Southern Baptists both in the pew and in the academy have affirmed that all humanity is born guilty of Adam’s sin, are under condemnation, and then go on to commit their very own actual transgressions. It is inaccurate and unhelpful to label one theological position regarding original sin as a Southern Baptist consensus.

The founder of the Southern Baptist Convention’s first seminary, James Petigru Boyce, doctrinally affirmed the imputation of Adam’s guilt to all mankind. In his Abstract of Systematic Theology, Boyce writes:

5. The conscience of mankind has universally taught that this condition of their natures is sinful, and is as fully worthy of punishment as the personal transgressions which proceed from it.

6. The Scriptures plainly assume and declare that God righteously punishes all men, not only for what they do, but for what they are. Men are indeed represented as more guilty and sinful than they know themselves to be, because, through the restraints with which God surrounds them, their natures have not been fully developed into all the sin towards which they tend. This is the argument of the first part of the Epistle to the Romans, the turning point of which is Romans 2:1. It is also illustrated in the case of Hazael. 2 Kings 8:12, 113.

7. It follows from the facts in these last two statements, that a corrupt nature makes a condition as truly sinful and guilty, and liable to punishment, as actual transgressions. Consequently, at the very moment of the birth, the presence and possession of such a nature shows that even the infant sons of Adam are born under all the penalties which befell their ancestor in the day of his sin. Actual transgression subsequently adds new guilt to guilt already existing, but does not substitute a state of guilt for one of innocence. [Emphasis Added]

Boyce further states:

4.  …the Scriptures teach us that Adam was not merely the natural, but also the federal head of the race. This is done not only in express language, but especially by teaching that the relation borne to Christ, our federal head in salvation, is similar to that borne to Adam in our sin.

5. This shows that the mass of mankind proceeding from Adam by natural generation sinned in him, not consciously, but representatively, and therefore are justly treated as though they had consciously sinned, because they are responsible for the act of their representative.

Boyce’s writing and teaching agrees with the founding confessional document of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Abstract of Principles (AP). On the state of fallen man, the AP reads:

VI. The Fall of Man

God originally created man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors. [Emphasis Added]

Thus, it is historically accurate to view original sin and the doctrine of imputed guilt as an historic Southern Baptist doctrinal position. To claim a denial of imputed guilt is a “traditional” doctrinal stance of Southern Baptists is historically myopic and terribly misleading.

Southern Baptists have existed together peacefully and co-labored together with much reward while disagreeing on these issues. It is my hope that we can continue to exist in such a state with an even greater outcome. However, inaccurate and exclusive doctrinal claims will serve only to hinder the unity and work God has given to Southern Baptists. This work is bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations so that God may be glorified through the salvation of sinners.

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James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2006), 249-251.

Abstract of Principles 1858 [Read Online]