B.H. Carroll on Original Guilt

Many of bits and bytes have been given lately to the question of the relation of Adam’s sin to the human race. Within the Southern Baptist Convention those who have championed the so-called “Traditionalist” statement of Southern Baptist soteriology deny that Adam’s sin results in his posterity inheriting guilt. As Adam Harwood, one of the most outspoken defenders of this document expresses it, their view

 distinguishes between a sinful nature (which every person bears from the first moment of life) and guilt (which occurs as soon as people become morally accountable and commit their first sin). To the question, Who is guilty of Adam’s sin? this view answers: Only Adam is guilty of Adam’s sin. The reason? According to the Bible, God judges people for their own sin. (original emphases)

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Admittedly this question has been debated throughout much of Protestant and Baptist history. The best expressions of those debates have been exegetical, as it should be. An additional approach, one that Harwood and those in his camp also like to take, is historical. In a recent post at the anti-Calvinist SBC Today blog, Harwood tries to shore up his “traditionalist” bona fides by claiming that he was informed by James Leo Garrett that “for over 100 years the theology faculty of SWBTS [Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary] has affirmed: we are not guilty of Adam’s sin.”

B.H. Carroll

While that may be technically true depending on how one defines “theology faculty,” it most certainly is not true with regard to the founding President of Southwestern, B.H. Carroll. In his massive, highly acclaimed Interpretation of the English Bible, Carroll argues plainly for the biblical teaching that 

“By the offense of one man, condemnation came upon all men.”

This, of course, flies squarely in the face of the position of the “Traditionalist” statement, which asserts,

“We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”

Read the whole section from Volume 14 of Carroll’s work below.


By a new line of argument the apostle conveys assurance of salvation to the justified, an argument based on our seminal relations to the two Adams. This great doctrine is expressed thus: “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (5:12). “So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall many be made righteous” (5:18-19). If we combine the several thoughts into one great text we have this: By one offense of one man condemnation came upon all men. So by one act of righteousness of one man, justification unto eternal life comes upon all men who by one exercise of faith lay hold on him who wrought the one act of righteousness.

This text startlingly offends and confounds the reasonings of the carnal mind which says,  
1. One may not be justly condemned for the offense of somebody else, but only for his own offense, nor justified by the righteousness of somebody else, but by his own righteousness. 
2. Condemnation must come for all offenses, not just one, and justification must be based on all acts of righteousness, not just one. 
3. To base a man’s condemnation or justification on the act of another destroys personal responsibility. 
4. The doctrine of imputing one man’s guilt to a substitute tends to demoralization, in that the real sinner will sin the more, not being personally amenable to penalty. 
5. The doctrine of pardoning a guilty man because another is righteous turns loose a criminal on society. 
6. The whole of it violates that ancient law of the Bible itself: “Thou shalt justify the innocent a
nd condemn the guilty.”
If the gospel plan of salvation, fairly interpreted, does destroy personal responsibility, does tend to demoralize society, does encourage to sin the more, does turn criminals loose on society, does not tend to make its subject personally better, it is then the doctrine of the devil and should be hated and resisted by all who respect justice and deprecate iniquity. But the seminal idea of condemnation and justification grows out of relations to two respective heads, and it results from varieties in creation, thus:

(1) God created a definite number of angels just so many at the start, never any more or less, a company, not a family, incapable of propagation, being sexless, without ancestry or posterity, without brother or sister or other ties of consanguinity, each complete in himself, and hence no angel could be condemned or justified for another’s act. The act of every angel terminates in himself. Therefore there can be no salvation for a sinning angel. And hence our Saviour “took not on him the nature of angels.”

(2) But God also created a different order of beings, at the start just one man, having potentially in himself an entire race – a countless multitude to be developed from him. And in propagating the race he transmitted his own nature, and through heredity his children inherited that nature. No act of any human being arises altogether from himself or can possibly terminate in himself. In considering heredity Oliver Wendell Holmes has said, “Man is an omnibus in which all his ancestors ride.” Moreover, man was created to be a social being, from which fact arises the necessity of human government whether in legislative, judicial, or executive power. The mind can conceive of only one human being whose act would terminate in himself, and under the following conditions alone: He must be without ancestry, without capacity of posterity, without kindred in any degree, without relation to society, living alone on an island surrounded by an ocean whose waves touched no other shore from which society might come. How much more the head in whom potentially and legally was the race could not do an act that would terminate in himself.

(3) The creature cannot deny God’s sovereign right to create this variety of moral beings, angels, and man.

(4) Nature does not exempt children from the penalty of heredity.

(5) Human law neither exempts children from legal responsibility of parents nor acquits criminals because of hereditary predispositions.

The context bases the condemnation of all men on the ground that all sinned in Adam, the head, and so having sinned in him they all died in him. The context, “And so death passed unto all men” (even those who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression) is the distinct proof of our proposition. Only one person ever sinned the sin of Adam and that was Adam himself, the head of the race. Now as proof that his posterity sinned in him, death passed upon all of his posterity who had not sinned after the similitude of his sin, that is, they sinned, not as the head of a race, but from depravity – an inherited depravity. Adam didn’t have that inherited depravity. God made him. upright. Whenever I commit a sin I don’t commit that sin from the standpoint of Adam, but I commit it on account of an evil nature inherited from Adam, and that sin is not after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. Moreover, if I commit a sin, the race is not held responsible for my sin, because I am not the head of the race. The race does not stand or fall in me. Thus there are two particulars in which sins which we commit are not after the similitude of Adam’s sin, and yet, says the apostle, with his inexorable logic, “Though they don’t sin after the similitude of Adam, yet death, the penalty of sin, passed upon every one of them.” The law was executed on every one of them; they died. Sin condemns on the ground of the solidarity of the law, the unity of the law. See James 2:10: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all.”

Human law in this respect conforms to divine law. If a man be law-abiding fifty years and then commits one capital offense, his previous righteousness avails him nothing. Nor does it avail that he was innocent of all other offenses. If a man were before a court charged with murder he would derive no benefit by proving that he had not committed adultery. If he were guilty on the one point, his life is forfeited. That is on account of the solidarity of the law. Nor does it avail a man anything in a human court that he was tempted from without. So Adam vainly pleaded, “The woman tempted me and I did eat.” 

Tom Ascol
Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts