A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: Original Sin

This is part 3 of 13 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Augsburg Confession

Article II: Of Original Sin.

1] Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.

Now that the Reformers have confessed who God is, they now confess what humanity’s number one problem is: Original Sin. Original Sin is our fallen nature inherited from our forefather Adam.  Because of his first sin, we are now all born into sin and continue in it.  It is this sin that causes death to enter the world and for creation to be subjected to futility (Romans 5:12-21, Romans 8:18-25).

Interestingly this Scriptural requirement rules out evolution as an option for interpreting Genesis 1-3.  After all, evolution requires death, which does not enter the world until after the Fall.  Thus if evolution is to work at all it must occur after the Fall.  As such the house of cards that is theistic evolution (and frankly many Old Earth theories) fall apart due to this one critical fact, death and sin are intimately tied together.  Attempts to divorce the two, which you can find some Church Fathers doing with statements regarding animal and plant death prior to the Fall, are foolhardy eisegesis similar to medieval scholastic musings.  The Church Fathers, for all their wisdom, must also be subject to clear Scripture.  Scripture plainly confesses that sin and death are tied to together, one proceeds the other.  There is not a shred of clear Scripture to support any other option.

Thus since the Fall, man has Original Sin.  This is illustrated by the fact that we die.  We are sinners from conception.  It is a state of being that we find ourselves in. Our human nature is corrupted with evil.  Even if we were to commit no sin, we are still sinners deserving of death due to this corruption (Psalm 51).  Hence it would no injustice if God were to consign all humanity to Hell and all misfortune should fall upon us as we rightly deserve.

The ancient church called this inborn desire to sin, concupiscence.  The Reformers, in line with clear Scripture, make very clear that this desire is in fact sin itself (Matthew 5:17-48).  Concupiscence, which is sin and a byproduct of Original Sin, condemns us to death even if we were to do no physical act of sin (John 3:1-21).

3] They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

Pelagians: Taught by Pelagius (354-420). Denies Original Sin and says one can save themselves through their own reason and strength.

The Roman Catholics are Semi-Pelagian.  They hold that Baptism removes Original Sin and all committed sins up to that point, but then the person must work off all actual sins after Baptism.  That is that the Christian cooperates with the work of Christ by adding their own merits which evidence their faith.  This the Reformers also reject.  No amount of Pelagianism is acceptable as it places the burden for salvation not on Christ but on the person being saved.

The Confutation agrees with the fact that Original Sin exists.  That said the Confutation rejects the definition of Original Sin as concupiscence namely the inclination to sin and the lack of trust and fear of God. However, Melancthon points out in the Apology that rather the Confutation has a faulty definition of what Original Sin is.  They held that concupiscence was not sin itself but rather a penalty of sin. They also say that sin is a defect, a blemish.  To which Melancthon responds:

26] We, therefore, have been right in expressing, in our description of original sin, both namely, these defects: the not being able to believe God, the not being able to fear and love God; and, likewise: the having concupiscence, which seeks carnal things contrary to God’s Word, i.e., seeks not only the pleasure of the body, but also carnal wisdom and righteousness, and, contemning God, trusts in these as good things. 27] Nor only the ancients [like Augustine and others], but also the more recent [teachers and scholastics], at least the wiser ones among them, teach that original sin is at the same time truly these, namely, the defects which I have recounted, and concupiscence. For Thomas says thus: Original sin comprehends the loss of original righteousness, and with this an inordinate disposition of the parts of the soul; whence it is not pure loss, but a corrupt habit [something positive]. 28] And Bonaventure: When the question is asked, What is original sin? the correct answer is, that it is immoderate [unchecked] concupiscence. The correct answer is also, that it is want of the righteousness that is due. And in one of these replies the other is included. 29] The same is the opinion of Hugo, when he says that original sin is ignorance in the mind and concupiscence in the flesh. For he thereby indicates that when we are born, we bring with us ignorance of God, unbelief, distrust, contempt, and hatred of God. 30] For when he mentions ignorance, he includes these. And these opinions [even of the most recent teachers] also agree with Scripture. For Paul sometimes expressly calls it a defect [a lack of divine light], as 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. 31] In another place, Rom. 7:5, he calls it concupiscence, working in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. We could cite more passages relating to both parts; but in regard to a manifest fact there is no need of testimonies. And the intelligent reader will readily be able to decide that to be without the fear of God and without faith are more than actual guilt. For they are abiding defects in our unrenewed nature.

32] In reference to original sin we therefore hold nothing differing either from Scripture or from the Church catholic, but cleanse from corruptions and restore to light most important declarations of Scripture and of the Fathers, that had been covered over by the sophistical controversies of modern theologians. For it is manifest from the subject itself that modern theologians have not noticed what the Fathers meant when they spake of defect [lack of original righteousness]. 33] But the knowledge of original sin is necessary. For the magnitude of the grace of Christ cannot be understood [no one can heartily long and have a desire for Christ, for the inexpressibly great treasure of divine favor and grace which the Gospel offers], unless our diseases be recognized. [As Christ says Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17: They that are whole need not a physician.] The entire righteousness of man is mere hypocrisy [and abomination] before God, unless we acknowledge that our heart is naturally 34] destitute of love, fear, and confidence in God [that we are miserable sinners who are in disgrace with God]. For this reason the prophet Jeremiah 31:19, says: After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh. Likewise Ps. 116:11: I said in my haste, All men are liars, i.e., not thinking aright concerning God.

(Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article II (I) 26-34)

As with the Church Fathers, even some of the scholastics, so with the Reformers.  Nothing new is taught.  Concupiscence is sin, such is the profundity of our fallen state.  Original Sin then is the lack of original righteousness.  We are dead spiritually.  The image of God has been lost.

15] Neither have we said anything new. The ancient definition understood aright expresses precisely the same thing when it says: “Original sin is the absence of original righteousness” [a lack of the first purity and righteousness in Paradise]. But what is righteousness? Here the scholastics wrangle about dialectic questions; they do not explain what original righteousness is. 16] Now in the Scriptures, righteousness comprises not only the second table of the Decalog [regarding good works in serving our fellow-man], but the first also, which teaches concerning 17] the fear of God, concerning faith, concerning the love of God. Therefore original righteousness was to embrace not only an even temperament of the bodily qualities [perfect health and, in all respects, pure blood, unimpaired powers of the body, as they contend], but also these gifts, namely, a quite certain knowledge of God, fear of God, confidence in God, or certainly 18] the rectitude and power to yield these affections [but the greatest feature in that noble first creature was a bright light in the heart to know God and His work, etc.]. And Scripture testifies to this, when it says, Gen. 1:27, that man was fashioned in the image and likeness of God. What else is this than that there were embodied in man such wisdom and righteousness as apprehended God, and in which God was reflected, i.e., to man there were given the gifts of the knowledge of God, the fear of God, confidence in God, and the like? 19] For thus Irenaeus and Ambrose interpret the likeness to God, the latter of whom not only says many things to this effect, but especially declares: That soul is not, therefore, in the image of God, in which God is not at all times. 20] And Paul shows in the Epistles to the Ephesians 5:9, and Colossians 3:10, that the image of God is the knowledge of God, righteousness, and truth. 21] Nor does Longobard fear to say that original righteousness is the very likeness to God which God implanted in man. 22] We recount the opinions of the ancients, which in no way interfere with Augustine’s interpretation of the image.

23] Therefore the ancient definition, when it says that sin is the lack of righteousness, not only denies obedience with respect to man’s lower powers [that man is not only corrupt in his body and its meanest and lowest faculties], but also denies the knowledge of God, confidence in God, the fear and love of God or certainly the power to produce these affections [the light in the heart which creates a love and desire for these matters]. For even the theologians themselves teach in their schools that these are not produced without certain gifts and the aid of grace. In order that the matter may be understood, we term these very gifts the knowledge of God, and fear and confidence in God. From these facts it appears that the ancient definition says precisely the same thing that we say, denying fear and confidence toward God, to wit, not only the acts, but also the gifts and power to produce these acts [that we have no good heart toward God, which truly loves God, not only that we are unable to do or achieve any perfectly good work].

(Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article II (I) 15-23)

This is the depth of our corruption.  We not only break the Second Table of the Law, but also the First Table.  Too often we forget that sin is not just a trespass against civil righteousness but even more horrific is a trespass again God.  Our consciences are so dead that we do not recoil in horror at violations of the First Three Commandments as we should.  For to fear, love, and trust in God above all things is certainly more important and fundamental than the love of neighbor, which while critically important is subordinate to the love of God.

35] Here our adversaries inveigh against Luther also because he wrote that “Original sin remains after Baptism.” They add that this article was justly condemned by Leo X. But His Imperial Majesty will find on this point a manifest slander. For our adversaries know in what sense Luther intended this remark that original sin remains after Baptism. He always wrote thus, namely, that Baptism removes the guilt of original sin, although the material, as they call it, of the sin, i.e., concupiscence, remains. He also added in reference to the material that the Holy Ghost, given through Baptism, begins to mortify the concupiscence, and creates new movements [a new light, a new sense and spirit] in man. 36] In the same-manner, Augustine also speaks, who says: Sin is remitted in Baptism, not in such a manner that it no longer exists, but so that it is not imputed. Here he confesses openly that sin exists, i.e., that it remains, although it is not imputed. And this judgment was so agreeable to those who succeeded him that it was recited also in the decrees. Also against Julian, Augustine says: The Law, which is in the members, has been annulled by spiritual regeneration, and remains in the mortal flesh. It has been annulled because the guilt has been remitted in the Sacrament, by which believers are born again; but it remains, because it produces desires, against which believers contend. 37] Our adversaries know that Luther believes and teaches thus, and while they cannot reject the matter they nevertheless pervert his words, in order by this artifice to crush an innocent man.

(Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article II (I) 35-37)

While Baptism does not immediately remove Original Sin it does remove the guilt of Original Sin.  This is what is meant by the Latin slogan: Simul Iustus Et Peccator.  We are simultaneously sinner and justified as St. Paul says in Romans 7.  We are at war with our sinful flesh.  While Baptism removes the guilt due to that sinful flesh, our sinful man still remains until we die.  Baptism begins the work of the mortification of our sinful flesh and brings to life the new man in us, and it continues to work in us until we die and are resurrected into our sinless bodies on the Last Day.  Thus we have the now not yet of Baptism, for the promise of the forgiveness of sins is given immediately while the full removal of our sinful nature awaits the completion of the work of the Holy Spirit on the Last Day.

In the end, we are utterly corrupted by Original Sin.  However, it should be made clear that mankind itself is not sin else Christ would not be fully man.  Rather sin clings to us as a disease and corruption we cannot remove no matter how hard we try.  Thus the Christian is to live a life of continual repentance as Martin Luther rightly confesses in the first of the 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

1 These are the holy Ten Commands
God gave to us by Moses’ hands
When high on Sinai’s mount he stood,
Recieving them fro our good.
Have mercy, Lord!

2 “I am alone your God, the Lord;
No other gods shall be adored.
But you shall fully trust in Me
And love Me wholeheartedly.”
Have mercy, Lord!

3 “Do not My holy name disgrace,
Do not My Word of truth debase.
Praise only that as good and true
Which I Myself say and do.”
Have mercy, Lord!

4 “You shall observe the worship day
That peace may fill your home, and pray,
And put aside the work you do,
So that God may work in you.”
Have mercy, Lord!

5 “You are to honor and obey
Your father, mother, ev’ry day,
Serve them each way that comes to hand;
You’ll then live long in the land.”
Have mercy, Lord!

6 “You shall not murder, hurt, nor hate;
Your anger dare not dominate.
Be kind and patient; help, defend,
And treat your foe as your friend.”
Have mercy, Lord!

7 “Be faithful to your marriage vow;
No lust or impure thoughts allow.
Keep all your conduct free from sin
By self-controlled discipline.”
Have mercy, Lord!

8 “You shall not steal or take away
What others worked for night and day,
But open wide a gen’rous hand
And help the poor in the land.”
Have mercy, Lord!

9 “Bear no false witness nor defame
Your neighbor nor destroy his name,
But view him in the kindest way;
Speak truth in all

10 “You shall not crave your neighbor’s house
Nor covet money, goods, or spouse,
Pray God He would your neighbor bless
As you yourself wish success.”
Have mercy, Lord!

11 You have this Law to see therein
That you have not been free from sin
But also that you clearly see
How pure toward God life should be.
Have mercy, Lord!

12 Our works cannot salvation gain;
They merit only endless pain,
Forgive us, Lord! To Christ, we flee,
Who pleads for us endlessly.
Have mercy, Lord!

(LSB 581)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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