Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Epitome “I. Concerning Original Sin” pp. 487-491.
Solid Declaration “I. Concerning Original Sin” pp. 531-542.
The question of original sin is encapsulated in one simple problem. Is human nature one thing and original sin another thing, which brings corruption? Or is the nature of humanity sinful in and of itself? This is the question raised in the Formula of Concord article one (Kolb 2000, 487). Considering the biblical account of creation it is clear that human nature in itself is pure and holy, but has been terribly corrupted in the fall. The human nature is still a creation of God. Furthermore, Christ assumed human nature but not a sinful nature. The sinful elements will not be glorified, but will be destroyed in the end (Kolb 2000, 488). However, the damage sin has inflicted upon human nature is so extensive that we cannot effectively separate the human nature from sin, regardless of our efforts at holiness. This is a work which only comes in the resurrection (Kolb 2000, 489).
Because of this view of the sinful nature, the Formula of Concord lists a number of ideas which are rejected. The rejections include the idea that sin is merely guilt caused by others, that evil desires are not actually sin, that human nature can be good by itself, that sin is superficial or an obstacle only, and that human nature has areas which are not corrupted (Kolb 2000, 489). There’s also a rejection of the idea that sin is the essence of the human nature and of the idea that sin itself does evil, not our corrupt human nature. The sinful nature is itself “embedded in the human being’s nature, substance, and essence. That means that even if no evil thought ever arose in the heart of the corrupted human being, no idle word were uttered, no evil deed done, nonetheless our nature is corrupted by original sin, which is implanted in us at birth in the sinful seed and which is a source of all other, actual sins, such as evil thoughts, words, and deeds” (Kolb 2000, 490). The difficulty in understanding is closely tied to the various ways we use the word “nature.” In general, we need to be careful about identifying the difference between a human nature as it was created and a human nature corrupted by sin, as well as the fact that sin may consist in things other than our actions (Kolb 2000, 491).
The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord gives more of the history behind the dispute. There were contentions that human nature was in itself sinful, meaning that human nature was sinful in essence (Kolb 2000, 531). Another group taught that sin was a terrible perversion which lives within the huan nature. Humans lack righteousness and are turned to evil, with sin flowing from within. Yet the essence of the human nature was good. That good would simply not be visible due to the power of the fall into sin (Kolb 2000, 532). This article of the Formula of Concord attempts to distinguish a biblical view from errors, particularly those identified as Pelagian and Manichaean. The goal is to distinguish between God’s good work and the devil’s corruption of human nature.
To make this clear, first, Christians recognize that sin is not limited to activities which are described as sinful, but that it also encompasses a sinful nature, which is corrupted in the sight of God. This has been our condition since the fall recorded in Genesis 3 (Kolb 2000, 533). The Formula of Concord asserts that God does not cause sin, but that it is a creation of the devil. Sin is not easily recognized by reason, but only by the light of Scripture. Sin does, however, cause guilt. Because of original sin it is impossible to please God (Kolb 2000, 533). Because of our sinful nature, we have “an inborn evil way of doing things, an internal impurity of the heart, and an evil desire and inclination. so that we all by nature inherit such a heart, mind, and way of thinking from Adam (Kolb 2000, 534). The inborn hostility to God in humans deserves death and destruction. It can only be forgiven through the forgiveness worked by belief in Jesus.
The Formula of Concord rejects a number of false opinions. The list in the Solid Declaration is very similar to that of the Epitome, but with more specific examples. In a nutshell, sin is corruption of a nature. It includes sinful actions and attitudes. It ruins every part of our nature and actually removes spiritual ability from us. There is no remaining ability to cooperate with God in anything of a spiritual nature (Kolb 2000, 535). Although human nature in the creation was good, it has been ruined by the inherited sin we receive from our parents. That sin is not the essence of humanity, but it has corrupted every part of humanity. However, it is not the sinful nature in us that engages in sin. It is our nature. We cannot separate ourselves from responsibility for our sin (Kolb 2000, 536). The only cure for sin is forgiveness delivered by faith in Christ (Kolb 2000, 537).
Numerous biblical examples of our humanity being a good work of God follow (Kolb 2000, 537-538). In summary, God didn’t create us as sinful beings. However, through our failure in Adam, we have natures which are corrupted. God’s work in Christ is to confront our human nature, “so that he might cleanse, sanctify, and save it through his dear Son” (Kolb 2000, 538).
The distinction between an uncorrupted and a corrupted human nature is very important. Specifically, it matters because Christianity confesses that Christ assumed the human nature, but without sin (Kolb 2000, 539). Jesus does take on human nature which, in its essence, is identical to our human nature. However, he did not take original sin upon himself prior to making his atoning death. Further, God does receive forgiven humans to himself. If human nature itself were sinful, the one who was cleansed from sin would no longer be human. Likewise, the resurrection would be an impossibility because the corruptions of the human body would mean the resurrected being would not actually be human (Kolb 2000, 539).
As in the Epitome, here in the Solid Declaration, the reader is urged to care in using words such as “human nature.” They can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Likewise, a “sinful nature” is not necessarily clear because it could indicate that the nature of humanity is sinful. The authors also urge avoidance of the Latin terms substantia and accidens in discussing sin. Those who are not well versed in the theological language will misunderstand. But it is altogether proper to speak about acts of sin and sinful attitudes (Kolb 2000, 540).