Did Jesus only pay the price for Adam’s sin?

Only for Adam's SinThe title here reflects one idea behind the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it seemed a decent topic to bring up as we approach Passover. In particular, while some may quibble with the wording, it is a summary of how Jehovah’s Witnesses approach the issue of how Jesus’ death atones for sin: The idea that in His death, Jesus paid the price of Adam’s sin, one man for one man, and that by paying, through His perfect life, for the sins of Adam, all of us are then “ransomed” from death. Actually, here’s how one of the JW resources summarizes it: “[H]e would pay the wage for Adam’s sin … the ransom would cut off the destructive power of sin right at its source [that is, Adam’s sin — WGS].”

They reference many verses — the verses you would expect one to refer to if you were trying to justify such a position. (Noting that through one man’s sin death entered the world, etc.) But they do not establish the central point: That Jesus atoning death paid only for Adam’s sin and that the gift of forgiveness is extended to all of us through an architecture of “legal consequences.”

And it is a false point, contradicting God’s Word concerning death, guilt, and sin. None of us die in connection to Adam’s sin other than in the fact that we are following in Human Dad’s sinful footsteps. The death we experience due to sin was, indeed, “welcomed” into the world when he sinned, but the death we earn is our own and is due to our own sins, not his.

God sets out the “legal doctrine,” if you will, very plainly in the book of Ezekiel:

“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” — Ezekiel 18:20

The whole passage is worth a read (of course), but this is a great one verse summary. God wanted to make it clear, and He does. Crystal.

  • “The son shall not bear the guilt of the father”–meaning none of us bear Adam’s guilt. We bear our own.
  • “The soul who sins shall die”–meaning Adam’s sin earned his death, not mine and not yours. My sin earns mine. Your sin earns yours.
  • “The wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself”–meaning Adam’s wickedness is on Adam. Mine is on me. Yours is on you.

Sin entered the world through Adam–true. But I didn’t have to dance with it, myself. But I have.

In contrast to that faulty idea of atonement, the one Mr. Armstrong made so plain is so much more sensible: Only the Eternal, Divine Creator’s death was sufficient to cover all of ours.

John 1:1 — translated accurately — says that the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, existing as the Word, the Logos, “was with God” and “was God.” If John did not believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and His equality with God (which He did not claw at, desperately, to keep it but, rather, gave it up willingly for us and emptied Himself: Phil. 2:6), then this is one of the most poorly written statements in the entire Bible. But knowing the truth — that there are two Persons in the Divine Family that is God — John 1:1 shows itself for what it is: a beautiful poetic statement of a beautiful and remarkable truth. (And it is a truth with profound implications for all of us.)

With that understood, we can see how three days and three nights in the grave for the Son of God, our Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16), can pay the price of eternal death for all of us. No life was worth more. And the death of an infinite life there on Calvary, for however long it would have been, is enough to pay the price for all the sin we could ever have committed in all of our little finite lives combined.

[Sort-of-side note… That, to me, provided an answer, however speculative, that used to allude me, to a question that vexed my little math brain: If the ultimate penalty of sin is eternal death, how could a death that lasted only 3 days pay that price? No problem: The death of the Eternal, for however long at all, is the ending of an eternal life. That the Eternal, Himself, who inhabits eternity, is the one who died, what death of a finite creature–even an unending one–could ever compare? His taste of death (Heb. 2:9) was more than all the death I could ever drink in. If you will forgive the math-ish slang: Whether you look at it as ∞ × n = ∞ or n × ∞ = ∞, the result is still ∞.]

Claiming Jesus Christ is a created being is heresy, and it is heresy for very good reason. It not only robs the Son of God of all that is due Him — all that His Father and ours wants recognized in Him — but it also robs His atonement for all of its force and robs our purpose of all of its meaning and significance, as we are to be made like He is (1 John 3:1-3).

For those who claim Jesus Christ is a created being, the ability of His sacrifice to pay for all of our sins becomes a problem. That’s why you see nonsense like this idea that His death really only paid for Adam’s sin, and our own sins are forgiven through some legal architecture.

But it is a legal architecture that is contradicted by God’s Word. As God makes plain through Ezekiel, we all die for our own sins, and we do not bear the guilt of our forefathers’ — not even Adam’s.

All this brings to mind two things for me. First, theology matters. The idea that some doctrines, like the nature of the Godhead and the deity of Jesus Christ, are simply theoretical and don’t make much difference is wrongheaded. It makes a great difference. Jesus, Himself, said on that Passover 1,984 years ago, that “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). If Jesus Christ is God, then it is a stretch to believe that one knows Him if one doesn’t know that. (Seems to me that it would be the equivalent of claiming that one knows George Washington while believing that he is a cocker spaniel.)

Secondly, it reminds me that when I am sitting there Thursday night on Passover, meditating on what Jesus Christ did for me and how I need it, I am in that need because of what I have done. The life I have lived. The choices I have made. The guilt lifted off of me every time I kneel and ask God to forgive me day-by-day is my own. I cannot blame it on others. I cannot blame it on Adam. I cannot blame it on my neighbor. I cannot blame it on my wife. I cannot blame it on my kids. It is all mine.

Yet, the beautiful and magnificent Eternal was willing to empty Himself so that He could take my guilt–the guilt I owned, I earned, and I had compiled over a lifetime of ignoring Him and disobeying Him–and make it His, to rid me of it forever.

What an amazing thing.