THE basf it's importance and teaching
“V- That Adam broke this law, and was adjudged unworthy of immortality, and sentenced to return to the ground from whence he was taken – a sentence which defiled and became a physical law of his being, and was transmitted to all his posterity. – Gen 3:15-19,22,23; 2Cor 1:9; Rom 7:24; 2Cor 5:2-4; Rom 7:18-23; Gal 5:16-17; Rom 6:12; 7:21; Jno 3:6; Rom 5:12; 1Cor 15:22; Ps 51:5; Job 14:4
For one reason or another, this Clause of our Statement of Faith has arguably been the object of more controversy than any other, in the history of Christadelphia. It presents to us certain key principles, vital doctrines for us to understand and accept in order to recognise both the extent of the problem of sin and death; and also the solution provided in Christ Jesus. It describes the great and catastrophic effect which Adam’s offence had, both for himself, and for his progeny – and being an explicit definition of the effect of Adam’s sin, it therefore has a direct bearing on the principles of the Atonement, the principles whereby those effects might ultimately be removed. An understanding of the problem goes hand in hand with an understanding of the solution, for if we misunderstand particular aspects of the problem, then we will need to modify our understanding of the solution to meet all the requirements of the case. And similarly, if we misunderstand the principles and purpose of the sacrifice of Christ, this affects our understanding of the problem it was designed to solve. So it is, that this clause has quite naturally fallen into controversy; for many, if not all the false doctrines which some have sought to introduce to the brotherhood have a bearing on the Atonement in some way or another – and therefore involve a misunderstanding of the underlying principles involved with it. Significantly, in the present writers’ experience, every controversy he has encountered relating to this clause has, either directly, or indirectly been caused by those who seek to present a position on the Atonement which is different to the “traditional” Christadelphian teaching (and the clear Biblical teaching) which has remained such for over 150 years.
THE SENTENCE OF DEATH
The Genesis account describes the sentence pronounced against Adam, subsequent to his transgression of Divine Law:
“Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen 3:17-19).
In these words, we find that there are two aspects to the curse against Adam; the cursing of the ground, necessitating additional labour for man to eat bread; and the condemnation of Adam himself, necessitating his eventual death after a lifetime of toil and travail. It is this latter aspect which the BASF is concerned with, the fact that because of Adam’s offence, he was condemned to return to the grave. In the simple terms of Genesis, Adam was to return to the dust, from whence he came.
There are those who claim that the consequence of Adam’s sin is a kind of “legal condemnation” of eternal death, which passes to all his descendants – and that therefore unless a believer has this “legal condemnation” removed by Baptism into Christ, he cannot be raised by God to Judgement. According to this position of things, the Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is seen as a kind of substitutionary affair, whereby he – as the innocent – suffers the legal penalty due to the guilty. He bears it instead of them, thus allowing them to go free. But apart from the inherent injustice of this concept (an innocent man being punished for the sins of another); it is entirely foreign to Scripture. We do not read in the Genesis account of any kind of “legal condemnation”, other than the simple declaration that as a consequence of breaking the Law of God, Adam would be condemned to dissolve into dust. That is, the process of Mortality would begin – with all that it entails and dying, Adam would surely die. This is the simple, easy to understand teaching of the Inspired Word.
Again, in the passage which we have often had occasion to cite in this series, Romans Chapter 5, the Apostle describes how that sentence of death affects the progeny of Adam – not the imputation of a “legal” sentence in the sense of a piece of legislation which condemned Adam’s seed for his sin – but the physical inheritance of sin and death: “by one man sin entered into the world (of men and women- CAM) and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12). Here, the Greek for “upon” can also be rendered “into”, as it is 573 times elsewhere. By the offence of one man, sin entered into the “world” of men and women – so death also “passed into all men”. This makes it clear that it is not so much the event of death being spoken of, rather it is the process of death, or “mortality”, passing into all of Adam’s seed by heredity. But notice the order here – sin entered first, then death. The one is a corollary of the other. We inherit death, because being descended from Adam, we bodily partake of the physical substance of his nature – and that is a sinful, dying, nature. Death passes into all men – not that it is a distinct, physical substance which can by examined under a microscope – rather it is an inherent principle of decay, found in the nature of all Adam’s progeny, which inevitably leads all to the grave. As the BASF expresses it, the sentence of death “became a physical law … and was transmitted to all his (Adam’s) posterity”.
THE INHERITANCE OF A SINFUL NATURE
There are those who reason that, because we die as a direct consequence of what Adam did, we are in some way being held accountable for his sin; we bear the punishment for it. But such is not the teaching of the Inspired Word. Human nature itself is condemned to the grave, not as an individual judgement upon those whose misfortune it is to bear it (although they do become worthy of death when they transgress), but because it is also inherently sinful, and full of rebelliousness against the Creator – and He cannot permit such to live indefinitely. As we have shown in previous studies, when Adam transgressed, he developed within him a new disposition of thought – his mind became carnal, and therefore at enmity with that of his Maker (cp Rom 8:7). Once transgression had taken place, sin had entered into the world, and it became part of man’s natural instinct to continue to transgress, rather than to seek after the things of the Spirit. And because we physically partake of the substance of Adam’s flesh by being descended from him, we also inherit the primary instincts of that flesh – to seek it’s own pleasure. So it is, that Sin is the overriding law of our being. As the inspired Apostle spoke of his own experience: “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7:23). He also speaks of Sin as physically residing in him: “if then I do that which I would not, I consent to unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom 7:17).
One of our critics claims that the term Sin can only be used in the sense of transgression, citing 1Jno 3:4 to “prove” his point. But if this is so, how are we to understand these inspired words of Paul? Did he have specific acts of transgression dwelling within him? Such would be absurd, for he uses the term Sin with reference to that which was within him which induced him to transgress – clearly the natural propensity of his nature. But the same critic also falsely claims – and quite openly in a publication he is circulating – that we teach Sin to be a physical substance “injected” by God into human nature at the fall!!! We mention this by way of illustration of the lengths to which some will go to discredit those who uphold Bible Truth. Only by grossly distorting our teachings beyond recognition, can he set them at variance with the Oracles of God. All who have read our works will know that we have never, at any time taught, or believed such a thing (see “The TRUTH Concerning the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ”, and “The Defilement of Human Nature, and it’s Cleansing in Christ”.
Rather, we believe the simple, straightforward teaching of Scripture that within human nature there naturally “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18), only inherent desires to transgress, styled by the Apostle, “the motions of sins” which “work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Rom 7:5). Not a physical substance, any more than the “death” we inherit is a physical substance; but the built in urges of human flesh to satisfy its cravings in ways which dishonour it’s Maker, derived in the first instance from the reasoning of the Serpent, adopted by Eve and her Husband, which then became the predominant instinct of Man.
This being so, Sin in scripture, is used to speak of acts of transgression; but also that which produces those acts, the natural bias of the flesh towards evil – as witnessed by the words of the Apostle we have cited. By the same principle as the “death” which passes “into all men” is so called (i.e. in terms of it’s end result – a manner of speaking known as “metonymy”), so the “law” of our being which produces transgression is spoken of as Sin, or “sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3) in Scripture – a natural, carnal mode of thought which induces it’s possessors into sin. So Paul collectively refers to these two aspects as “the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2), from which we can be freed in Christ. These are the dominating features of all human kind – all men are both sinful, and deathful, by nature. But notice the order here. First there is sin, secondly there is death, which is the Lord’s judgement upon it. This is why babies, who have done not transgressed (Rom 9:11) sometimes die; not because they are being punished for another’s wrongdoing, but because it is their misfortune to inherit a sinful nature which is under the condemnation of death. God cannot permit human nature, in it’s present sinful and rebellious condition to survive perpetually. As we shall see in our later studies, an important principle displayed in the Sacrifice of our Lord, was a declaration that human nature is rightly under the condemnation of death – even in the case of one who was without transgression. Yet because of his sinlessness, the Grave could not hold him, and he was raised the third day.
The BASF also speaks of the sentence of death as being defiling, for speaking of Adam it states that it is “a sentence which defiled and became a physical law of his being …”. In what sense than, can it be said that death is defiling? The answer to this question is found when we recognise that this language of the defiling nature of death is taken from the Law, and it’s ordinances of fictional uncleanness. Death was regarded as being a major source of defilement, which needed special purification by the use of “the water of separation”: “He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with it (i.e. The water of separation) on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean. Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of Yahweh; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him” (Num 19:11-13).
There was a tremendous seriousness about defilement by death under the Law; if a man did not cleanse himself in the appointed way, he would be “cut off” from his people, and therefore from the Tabernacle Worship (cp Num 9:6-10). He would be regarded as “unclean”, an uncleanness which would remain with him indefinitely – for the rest of his life, and all for simply touching a dead body, a bone, or a grave, or even touching the tent in which a person had died (Num 19:14-16), or anything else which had become unclean by contact with death (Lev 22:4). With Bro Robert Roberts, we may well ask, “Why should death merely as death be apparently treated with such abhorrence, and be made the subject of such stringent measures of purification?” (The Law of Moses, p 263). The answer lies in the fact that death came “by sin” – it is “the wages of sin” (Rom 6:23), and it’s very presence is a standing testimony to the rebellion of man against his Maker. So Bro Roberts answered the question: “so far as man is concerned, death is the result of sin, and not the necessary quality of the nature with which he was endowed in the first instance. This truth enables us to understand the peculiar detestation of death expressed by the ordinances we are considering. The presence of death – the touch of death – means the presence of sin, and sin is the awful thing that fools make a mock at: the crime of insubordination against the wish, will, or law of the Eternal Author and Proprietor of Creation” (Law of Moses, p 264).
Death then, is regarded as being defiling because it’s very existence in man was brought about by sin – and the presence of a dead human body was proof that the just “wages” had been paid for an individual’s rebellion against God. And human nature itself, being under the condemnation of death because of the sinful impulses which reside in it, can also be regarded as being in a sense “unclean”; that is, possessing a defilement which the BASF teaches passed to all Adam’s seed. Or in the words of Job: “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble … who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” (Job 14:1,4).
The physical substance of our being then, is rightly described in Scripture as being “unclean”, for it is both sinful and mortal – in that order. But in the course of the many debates which have arisen regarding so-called “clean flesh” theories and the like, some seem to forget that the terms “defilement” and “uncleanness” are not literal descriptions of the human body being physically contaminated, or dirty. The laws of “uncleanness” under the Mosaic system, and it’s rites of purification did not relate to literal filth which could be washed off in water, but spoke of what Bro Roberts called a “fictional uncleanness”, to teach spiritual lessons. They are figurative terms, used in Scripture to illustrate how the Creator views the state of His fallen Creation. Death as we have seen, is only defiling in as much as it stands as a testimony to the natural rebelliousness of man. Man brought the defilement of death upon himself by rebelling against his Maker – a principle plainly attested by the fact that the second major source of defilement under the Law was the committing of sin (Cp Lev 16:16,19; 18:24-30, Num 5; 2Chron 29:16; Ezra 9:11, Is 24:5; 64:6, Ezek 20:7,18,43 etc). The sentence which the Lord inflicted upon Man reflects, and proclaims both the fact of disobedience, and the existence of “the law of sin” in his members, which induces that disobedience. Wherever the signs of mortality can be found in man, they testify to the fact of his sinful, rebellious nature. For Adam, mortality, and all the suffering it involved was a standing reminder to him, and all his seed that he had become rebellious against his God – it marked him out before God to be a defiled sinner. And all who have emerged from his loins bodily partake of the physical substance of his make-up – which includes the cause of transgression, namely the diabolos, or devil – and are therefore also sinful, dying creatures, naturally “unclean” before the Creator, and in need of cleansing by the Sacrifice of His Providing. These are the simple Truths of Scripture, which we would do well to accept without the burden of controversy.
The last 3 clauses of the BASF which we have been considering outline the nature, and extent of the problem of sin and death. They describe the things which necessitated the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ to provide a hope of redemption, by speaking of both the origin of man himself, his condition before the fall, and the origin of “law of sin and death” which came into being by his offence. And as we said earlier, these principles really form the foundation of our understanding of the Sacrifice of Christ. In many debates regarding the Atonement, various points are argued regarding the efficacy of that Sacrifice and the redeeming principles it manifested, but it appears to be seldom recognised that the very foundation for all these things lay in the simplicity of the Genesis account, and Paul’s inspired commentary on it. When faced with any of the “alternative views” we are presented with concerning the Atonement; if we trace the reasoning back far enough, we invariably find that the root of the problem arises from a misconception of what took place, way back in Eden. But having understood these things, as outlined in Scripture and summarised in the BASF, we then find ourselves in a position to consider more fully the redeeming work of our Lord; and this we shall do, if the Lord will, in our subsequent studies.