Larry Kirkpatrick

A Positive Place on the Web for the Third Angel's Message

1957, Original Sin, and Questions on Doctrine

Let's take a theological and historical journey. We're headed for

  • The 1950s,
  • QOD,
  • Adventist experimentation with original sin, and
  • A review of what the Bible teaches concerning the same.

Consider this excerpt from the current Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Number seven, The Nature of Man:

When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.

This wording was voted by the Church in the 1981 General Conference Session. It has been official Adventist belief for a generation. We are born, not condemned, but with "weaknesses and tendencies to evil." We'll return to this vital fact.

Return to the 1950s

Backwards, now, in time. Nineteen-fifty-five marked the first of 19 meetings between Adventist leaders and evangelicals. The outgrowth was the book: Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, known unaffectionately ever since as QOD. QOD is the most divisive book in Adventist history.

Adventists Meet with the Evangelicals

Walter Martin was a researcher in cult religion and an evangelical. Martin was planning a new book about Adventists. He contacted Adventist church leaders hoping to meet with them and have certain questions answered.

Adventist Le Roy Froom saw unusual opportunity in Martin's inquiry. Froom wanted Adventists out of the "cult" category. Face-to-face meetings were soon arranged. The first was held in General Conference headquarters March 8-10.

Adventists who participated in the series of meetings included conference president T.E. Unruh, soft-spoken GC field secretary Walter E. Read, and assertive historian Le Roy Froom. Evangelist Roy Allen Anderson, then head of the GC Ministerial Association, was also in attendance in the first meeting.

For the Evangelicals, Martin's associates included Presbyterian pastor and editor of Eternity magazine Donald Grey Barnhouse, and New Testament theology professor George E. Cannon. Cannon accompanied Martin in the initial interview.

Martin pressed his questions aggressively from the start (See Juhyeok Nam, Reactions to the Seventh-day Adventist Evangelical Conferences and Questions on Doctrine 1955-1971, p. 52, quoting Froom's Movement of Destiny, p. 478).

"What troubled Martin and Cannon the most," wrote Nam, "involved Adventist teachings on the nature of Christ" (p. 53). Martin's most pointed questions probed Adventist understanding of what kind of humanity Jesus had taken (e.g. Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, pp. 50-67, 142, 143, 383, 406-408, 647-660).

The Adventists responded with carefully prepared statements. The guests were surprised. All agreed to continue, conducting interactions and preparing documents in question and answer format. Cannon and Martin were given a stack of books supporting claims made by the Adventists, and that first day's meeting concluded. The Adventists met to debrief, after which Froom spent the remainder of the afternoon writing two dozen additional pages. Froom's secretary stayed late to type them. Martin and Cannon received copies that evening.

In an extended excerpt from his study, Nam describes what happened. It seems a glorious breakthrough. It is actually one of the most dangerous moments in Adventist history.

When the two parties returned to the General Conference building the following day, Wednesday, March 9, Martin made a dramatic announcement that shocked the Adventist conferees and permanently changed the nature of the relationship between Adventists and evangelicals. He and Cannon had pored over the documents given to them and reflected on the discussions of the previous day until 2 a.m. As a result, they had concluded that they had been wrong in their past assessment of Seventh-day Adventism. Martin said: 'While we did not expect things would turn out this way we are now prepared to say, you folk are not heretics as we thought but rather redeemed brethren in Christ.' With this new-found conviction, Martin stood in stark contrast to not only his own earlier writings, but also to the entire evangelical world. He made it clear that he now believed that 'Adventists who believed as did the conferees were truly born-again Christians and his brethren in Christ.' Then, 'in a dramatic gesture he extended his hand in fellowship' (Nam, including material from Roy Allen Anderson's documentation as recounted in Nam, pp. 56, 57).

Change was in the air.

The months sped on. Froom buried GC president Figuhr in letters insisting that Adventists place "the gospel--as shared with the evangelical world--prominently in the presentations of the Adventist message" (Nam, p. 65). In Unruh's words, ". . .the evangelicals helped Adventist leaders to express their beliefs 'in terms more easily understood by theologians of other communions" (Nam quoting Unruh, Ibid., p. 73).

Froom suggested

"that many Adventist leaders supported the idea of a sinful nature of Christ without understanding all its implications--due to imprecise theological thinking and lack of experience in communicating with other Christians" (Nam, p. 67).

Froom, in many ways, had come to view the gospel similarly to Evangelicals. He agreed with Martin: Jesus could not have taken after-the-fall humanity; the atonement must be completed on the cross; fallen human nature itself is guilty. Froom labored to change Adventist ministerial thinking on these points.

The Adventists were in over their heads (See Herbert E. Douglass, A Fork in the Road, first ed., pp. 26, 27, 99). Froom was a remarkable historian, but in systematic theological understanding the Adventists were outclassed.

Martin and his friends, as non-Adventists, held quite different doctrinal understandings than us in several theological points. But their wrong pieces fit together into a logical whole. They understood well that if the Adventists embraced certain ideas, that that acceptance would create logical leverage toward changing other teachings where they deemed Adventists to be in error. In other words, they understood that they had an unusual opportunity to introduce instability into a system they thought to be wrong. And they were very ready to do that.

To invite these evangelicals to help us explain our theology was dangerous. Froom, Read, and Anderson were eager for Martin's approval. Meanwhile, M.L. Andreasen, the church's strongest systematic theologian, had been placed on retirement, and Froom's group sought to keep him and F.D. Nichol out of the picture.

Some have represented Andreasen as a crank. The facts are otherwise. Andreasen's life had been spent advancing the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He had served not only as a pastor but as president of college and conference, and became the most widely appreciated Adventist author in his time. The last decade of his professional life he served as field secretary for the General Conference. He was the most brilliant Adventist writer on the Sabbath and the Atonement. Review and Herald had published his book on Hebrews in 1948. As a young minister he had spoken with Ellen White. Andreasen linked two eras. But the 1950s marked a dangerous new epoch for the Church. Just when we needed him most, our strongest theological thinker was set aside.

Enter QOD

The meetings with the evangelicals gave birth to the book QOD. Let's be fair. QOD assembles a wealth of historical sources; it has a positive approach; portions of it contribute to Adventist scholarship. Yet it makes a decided attempt to revise Adventist theology. Three areas stand out.


Questions on Doctrine presented a distorted view of what Seventh-day Adventists believed on the atonement. Herbert Douglass wrote,

The general emphasis in their [QOD's] answer unnecessarily threw the center of gravity onto the Cross, thus minimizing the equally essential role of Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary--even though that may not have been their intent. . . . Andreasen was wary about Calvinism's limited gospel which focused Christ's atonement ministry primarily on the Cross; he feared that the Adventist twin-focus on Christ's atonement ministry on the Cross and in the heavenly Sanctuary was being muted (Opportunity of the Century (OOTC), pp. 19, 17).

Were Andreasen's concerns valid? Donald Barnhouse, participant in the meetings in 1956, responded in a letter to a then recently released from ministry R.A. Grieve in Australia. Barnhouse wrote that

. . .the whole doctrine of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment have undergone recasting and reinterpretation in Adventist theology within the last few years, and in the new definite volume . . . these reinterpretations are rather plainly evident (Quoted in Juhyeok Nam, Reactions to the Seventh-day Adventist Evangelical Conferences and Questions on Doctrine, 1955-1971, fn, p. 88).

In his 1965 book The Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin wrote

The Adventism of 1965 is different in not a few places from the Adventism of 1845, and with that change the necessity of reevaluation comes naturally. . . . In recent years, however, there has been a definite movement toward a more explicit declaration of belief in the principles of the Christian faith and the tenets of Christian theology. In short, 'clarification' and 'redefinition' have characterized recent Seventh-day Adventist theological activities (Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 1965 ed., pp. 359, 365).

Martin put "clarification" and "redefinition" in scare quotes, a writer's device indicating he is using those words with a wink. Elsewhere, Martin wrote that the original Adventist understanding of the atonement "has been repudiated by the SDA denomination. . . . Current Adventist writings teach that the atonement was completed on the cross" (Ibid., p. 376). Martin believed Adventists had changed their teaching. But QOD claimed itself to be no new statement of faith (QOD, p. 8).

These are different stories. Adventists missed the changes or refused to admit them; our Evangelical visitors did not.

Nature of Christ

In QOD the position that Jesus took the nature of Adam after the Fall, was changed to His having taken the nature of Adam before the Fall. A compilation was made of Ellen White statements. But the statements were stripped from their written contexts, and the resulting buffet selection was made the centerpiece of QOD's revised Christology. Douglass remembers:

As associate editor of the Review and Herald, I had the luxury of research in the publishing house's magnificent library. I began to read the context of each of QOD's statements that seemed to be cherry-picked by someone who tried to emphasize a certain point of view. One by one I would bring those statements to Kenneth H. Wood, editor in chief, and we stared with amazement at someone's remarkable disregard for the context. This collection of tampered quotations became ever since the armament factory for teachers and pastors and authors who relied on this collection for their understanding of Christ's human nature, thus missing the big picture (OOTC, pp. 43, 44).

Original Sin

There is a third topic where QOD attempted to change Adventist understanding: the doctrine of sin.

Anglican Geoffrey Paxton, author of the book The Shaking of Adventism, wrote that the idea of original sin had been "almost entirely absent" (The Shaking of Adventism, p. 99) in Adventist history, but that new interest in it spawned by QOD was a "soteriological gain of the 1960s" (p. 107).

Edwin Zackrison, former theology professor, former Adventist, in his book The Loins of Adam, wrote

In the 1960s, the present writer researched the published writings of M.L. Andreasen in an effort to trace the effect of his rejection of original sin on his position regarding the moral nature of Christ. The study suggested that there was a direct correlation between his own conclusions, and that his objection to the 1957 Adventist statement on the nature of Christ [in the book Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine] stemmed from a reticence to appreciate sin beyond its actual nature (Ibid., p. 11).

Zackrison's understanding of sin is mistaken, but he correctly identified a difference between approaches.

The content of QOD itself confirms the QOD authors' desire to introduce the idea of original sin into Adventist theology. For example, in QOD on page 383, speaking of Jesus, they write

Although born in the flesh, He was nevertheless God, and was exempt from the inherited passions and pollutions that corrupt the natural descendants of Adam. He was 'without sin,' not only in his outward conduct, but in his very nature.

The QOD authors here assume that humans in our "very nature" have sin, and then, predictably, they exempt Jesus. But this is the very move that exempts Jesus from any possibility of atoning for our "very" humanity!

Original sin is also implied on QOD pages 22 and 23 with the categorical statement, "In common with conservative Christians and the historic Protestant creeds, we believe. . . . That man was created sinless, but by his subsequent fall entered a state of alienation and depravity." Human alienation and depravity is here defined as a state of being--another way of inculcating the original sin doctrine. Contrast the QOD idea with Ellen White's description:

In our present fallen state all that is needed is to give up the mind and character to its natural tendencies. In the natural world, give up a field to itself and you will see it covered with briers and thorns; but if it yields precious grain or beautiful flowers, care and unremitting labor must be applied (In Heavenly Places, p. 195).

Descent to a situation of depravity and alienation is accomplished by choice, by giving "up the mind and character to its natural tendencies." We are born neither guilty nor alienated, but damaged. We are ready on a hairline decision to choose alienation. White calls our situation a "fallen state," not a "state of alienation." "Fallen" is one thing and "alienation" another. I have no choice about inheriting a "fallen" state, but I do choose whether or not I enter into a "state of alienation." Furthermore, Ellen White sees alienation not as sin itself but as preparing the way to choose sin.

Her illustration is a field. It has been cleared but then left to be overgrown. The cultivation of grain or flowers would require labor to accomplish. But the Bible tells us that Jesus lights every man (John 1:4, 9); Jesus clears the field. By our own individual choices, when we are left to ourselves, fallen humans accomplish alienation.

More on Original Sin

Let's zero-in on this doctrine of original sin. While studying in the Adventist Heritage Center at Loma Linda, I discovered a portion of a prepublication draft manuscript for Questions on Doctrine. See your handout. This material finally became pages 406 and 407 of QOD. The phrase "original sin" occurs several times. The draft of QOD teaches that Romans 5:12 is referring to original sin. You remember Romans 5:12:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

Notice that sin entered the world through one man: Adam. Death came with sin; all men began to die. The passage does not say that "all men sinned in Adam." It says, "because all men sinned."

The draft of Questions on Doctrine, commenting on 5:12, included in the main text this quote from Martin Luther:

This sin we bear as his children and we are guilty on account of it, for with his nature Adam also transfers his sin to all.

When QOD was finally published, the phrase "original sin" was changed to "Adam's sin." The Luther quote was removed. Prepublication feedback had been mixed. For example, Raymond Cottrell had written, "This is the first I knew that Adventists believe in 'original sin,' at least in the technical theological definition of the word."

Did the editorial changes made before publication mean that the QOD authors changed their minds about original sin while preparing the book? No. If they abandoned the idea of original sin, why so desperately revise and reinterpret the Adventist teaching on Jesus' humanity? Without original sin there is no theological need to protect Jesus' humanity from guilt. But add the dogma of original sin and then every effort must be made to protect Jesus from birth-nature guilt.

Be sure; in QOD every effort is made!

But the nature of Christ's humanity is only one theological domino. Once this dogma is erected round Jesus, another mutation is triggered: Jesus had been viewed as Example and Substitute. Now His Example role is nullified; alleging that His humanity is unlike ours, Jesus' salvific role is effectively reduced to his being our Substitute only. And there is more.

Now there is a shift in His work in the atonement process. Forgiving and making believers holy is reduced to forgiveness only. Obedience to God's law, impossible because of supposedly continuous human guilt, is quietly downgraded. Standards disappear.

In the notes introduced in the "Heritage Library" reissue of QOD, George Knight admits that QOD misrepresented Adventist teaching on the nature of Christ. Yet Knight claims that on the atonement, Andreasen and the QOD authors mostly agreed.

Knight's theory is unlikely. The Bible's teaching about the atonement and about Jesus' humanity is closely intertwined. All the main New Testament texts touching the humanity of Jesus closely connect it with the question of the atonement!

These teachings--Jesus' humanity, the atonement, and original sin--are interlocked. To successfully change the theological foundations of the Church, it was necessary that the QOD authors successfully modify all three. Failing this, the changes would be unstable.

Is the modification of Adventist doctrine complete in QOD? Some changes were not fully achieved. After all, other leaders had to give their approval or the book would never have gone to press; change must not be highlighted. How alert were leaders who read the manuscript? Some likely did not understand what they were approving. Still, none of this makes QOD less nefarious.

Several have held that the Bible teaches original sin. But history shows original sin as a dogma added centuries after the completion of the New Testament. The core of the original sin understanding is that, as fallen humans, we are born guilty; born such that at our essence, we are sin, and that we are sinning all the time. All are said to have been "in Adam" when he sinned. Before the individual has made a single intentional, morally-informed decision, he is said to be guilty for the sin of another person.

Follow the dominoes. Born guilty, the infant child is said to be condemned. If it dies before baptism, supposedly it is lost, and so Catholic parents baptize infant children as soon as possible. Walter Martin held a similar view. He believed that fallen human nature condemns. He was ready to classify the Adventist Church a cult if it continued to teach that Jesus had a fallen nature.

Once the doctrine of original sin is introduced, it becomes necessary to protect Jesus' humanity from having the same nature as other men. If we are guilty in our birth-nature, Jesus cannot have the same birth-nature. We should never forget that original sin is included in the wine of Babylon. It undermines the brotherhood between Jesus and fallen man. It denies the completeness of Jesus' humanity.

We've surveyed history. Let's turn to a study of Scripture. If original sin is a wrong understanding, what does the Bible teach?

A Bible Doctrine of Sin

Genesis 4:6, 7

Genesis four: Cain and Abel make sacrifice. God accepts Abel's offering, and rejects Cain's. Cain becomes angry and God warns him:

sin is crouching at the door;
and its desire is for you,
but you must master it (Genesis 4:7).

God says, "You are on the point of sinning." Sin is likened to a predatory animal ready to pounce. His expectation? "You should master it." Cain is called to resist his desire but he murders Abel. Cain and Abel were damaged children born to damaged parents. Adam and Eve had sinned; Cain had grown up outside the garden. But God's expectation even for fallen people is that they overcome.

Deuteronomy 24:16

Deuteronomy 24:16 contains another essential text for understanding sin.

Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.

Guilt and capitol punishment come only for sin for which the person is himself responsible. Family bonds, as between a son and a father, do not extend to the death penalty. Sin is always personal; the individual is always accountable.

Ezekiel 18

The same understanding is seen in Ezekiel 18:20-22:

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all my statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.

Read the whole chapter. If a person turns from his wickedness, he is righteous and lives. If, on the contrary, a person turns from right-doing to wrong-doing, he dies. Sin is separate from birth nature. Guilt is determined by personal and individual actions.

Psalm 51

In the fourth century A.D. one verse from Psalm 51 is made the primary supporting Old Testament text for original sin. Moses' Torah (Genesis and Deuteronomy) concept of sin is long forgotten. A misinterpretation of Psalm 51:5 is set forth:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.

Some interpret this as meaning that David--and the rest of us--are born guilty. Even in the moment of conception humans are said to be guilty.

And yet the same Psalm contradicts the idea of original sin. Psalm 51 says that sin can be entirely removed (51:1); the believer can be "washed thoroughly" and cleansed from sin (51:2); the sinner can be purified, even rendered "whiter than snow" (51:7). David says that God can "blot out all my iniquities" (51:9). These are emphatic phrases, not just saying "wash me" but "wash me thoroughly"; not just make "white" but "whiter than snow"; not just "blot out" but "blot out all my iniquities."

What then about the carefully stripped-from-context line: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me"? Is the psalmist saying that his mother sinned?

No. David is in introspection-mode. He sees his choices to sin in darkest hue. He writes in hyperbole. In verse four he says to God, "against you, you only, I have sinned." But David sinned against Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba, others, and against God. He sees himself damaged to his core by his failure. Far from teaching a vague, collective guilt, David owns his personal choices. He emphasizes his own depravity; he makes no mention of Adam.

Romans 3:9-20

Now, to the New Testament.

Our next passage is Romans 3:9-20. And notice: not once does Paul cite Psalm 51! On the contrary, in verse nine he writes "we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin." Paul already makes his case that all are under sin--in Romans 1:17-2:14. Follow the logic:

The non-Jews know there is a God and that they are operating in a morally-weighted environment. But while they know there is a God and that their actions have moral weight, they suppress that knowledge; they choose darkness. They place themselves in opposition to truth. They worship and serve the creature.

How? By their actions. Paul's view of right-doing and wrong-doing, sin and righteousness--unsurprisingly--is the same as written by Moses in Genesis four. All are "under sin" because all choose rebellion. All with open eyes decide to be in opposition to God. This is how we become guilty. Some theorize that in Romans three God is injecting a new teaching about sin into the Bible. Not so. Review the passages Paul quotes in their original context:

From 3:10 onward Paul offers a half dozen Old Testament quotations. Psalm 14 speaks of the fool, the wicked who fight God's people. God's people believe that God exists, and the Psalm speaks of Him delivering His righteous people. All do not say in their heart "There is no God"; all are not presented as sinners. The fool says "there is no God." Paul quotes Psalm five, contrasting the boastful and wicked with those who take refuge in God. Psalm 140 asks that God save righteous people from evil people. Notice: there are righteous people. We see the same in the other passages Paul cites--Psalms 10, 59, and 36. Not one--in its original context--teaches that all men are born sinners.

And yet, all are indeed under sin. Not because born sinners, but because everyone, eventually, willfully joins themselves to the attitudes of wickedness and rebellion toward God described in those passages. People are born ready to choose sin.

Romans 5:12

Romans 5:12 is the main New Testament passage offered in support of the idea of original sin. Augustine poularized this interpretation three-hundred years after the New Testament. He taught that all men sinned "in Adam." The idea originated in a Latin mistranslation of the text. In biblical Greek the passage says death spread to all men "because" all sinned. Men become guilty, not because they sinned in Adam, but because in due course each person personally chooses to sin.

If somehow we did inherit Adam's sin and guilt in Romans 5:12, we would be freed from it at 5:18, where "all men" receive justification to life from Jesus. Romans 5:12 agrees with the rest of the Bible: each person chooses sin for himself.

Romans 14:23

Romans 14:23 says, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Each is responsible to live the faith he has. Each should behave so as not to weaken the faith of other believers. Whatever a person does that is not rooted in faithfulness to conscience and to God's will is a sinful choice. All such choices have guilt attached. Every morally-charged decision is an act of faith or of sin. We act either on our own selfish impulses, or on Heaven-given, unselfish impulses.

Ephesians 2:3

At Ephesians 2:3 Paul is describing the pre-conversion behavior of those who later became believers. Before conversion, people acted to satisfy their lusts "and were by nature children of wrath." Some take this as meaning people are born guilty. But verse one says they were dead in the trespasses and sins in which they had walked. Verse three shows these were intentional actions, choices acted out "in time past."

We find something similar at Ephesians 5:6 and Colossians 3:6--"children of disobedience." God's wrath comes upon children of disobedience. First there is the choice to disobey, then, after disobeying, God's wrath. Those who disobey have no inheritance in His kingdom. God is ready to empower changed behavior.

James 1:13-15

Next, James chapter one, 13-15.

Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

God has no evil in Himself and cannot be tempted by evil. Nor does He tempt anyone. How then does temptation come? It arises when one permits himself to center his affections on forbidden things. Pursuing his wrongly-placed desire, in effect, he tempts himself. It is a series of choices. First there is lust. When wrong desire has been nurtured the heart embraces it, choosing the evil. Heart embrace is character embrace, a willful choice to sin. And sin, ripened to full maturity, causes death.

Wrong desire itself is not sin. There is a process of attaching oneself to wrong desire. Temptation itself is not sin. We can choose differently. To be recreated, to be changed from a disposition to sin to a disposition not to sin, is a process. Ellen White encourages us:

If we would not commit sin, we must shun its very beginnings. Every emotion, every desire, must be held in subjection to reason and conscience. Every unholy thought must be instantly repelled. By faith and prayer all may meet the requirements of the gospel. None can be forced to transgress. Temptation, however strong, is never an excuse for sin. 'The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers.' Cry unto the Lord tempted soul. Cast yourself helpless, unworthy, upon Jesus, and claim this very promise. The Lord will hear. He knows how strong are the inclinations of the natural heart, and He will help in every time of temptation. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Ellen G. White, Southern Watchman, February 19, 1907).

You can live without sinning; you can resist fallen human tendencies. Choose not to contaminate yourself. The elements are faith, prayer, and self-control. "None can be forced to transgress." Temptations, both external and internal, will assail, but contamination is chosen.

James 4:17

James 4:17 offers a striking Bible definition of sin:

To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

The fourth chapter of James' epistle warns against high-handed disobedience. God has shown what is right. We are to resist the devil and submit to God. Light is given to enable moral action.

Similarly in John 9:41:

Jesus said to them, 'if you were blind, you would have no sin'; but since you say, "we see," your sin remains.'

To sin is to rebel against moral facts, to vote against God's universe and for the primacy of self. Attitudes are manifest in action. Sin is something you do, just as righteousness is something you do.

1 John 3:4

The classic translation of 1 John 3:4 states that "sin is the transgression of the law." To sin means to intentionally disobey God's revealed will. It means becoming a rebel by choice, intentionally crossing God's lines. This echoes the description in Genesis 4:6, 7. Sin is a morally-charged choice. Sin is like the predatory animal ready to slay. Self-indulging creates wrong desires ready to master us. Each must search himself and ask, Will I choose self and sin or Jesus and His righteousness?

The Seal of God and the Close of Probation

We would profit from study of the seal of God and the close of probation. If men can be sealed they won't sin. When probation closes before Jesus' Second Coming, men must not sin. The Bible says believers can be sealed and that during that time they will not sin. But if sin is an essential part of fallen human nature, if we are guilty for the fallen humanity we had no choice being born into, the believer could never be sealed and could not be kept from sinning after the close of probation. Were the doctrine of sin and atonement introduced in QOD correct, none could be saved.

The Knight-Whidden Narrative

Without QOD's change to the doctrine of sin, no adjustment of Adventist teachings on the nature of Christ and the atonement could seriously have been attempted. But certain ones made the attempt. Where is the Seventh-day Adventist Church today?

For a time after QOD, Le Roy Froom was the narrator of Adventism. His viewpoint about the history and identity of the church was canvassed again and again through the pages of Ministry magazine and in talks and classes. In due course, Froom died and the Ford crisis came and went. Then came George Knight.

George Knight, Woodrow Whidden, and similarly-minded travelers have produced many dozens of books from the 1980s until today which have offered an essentially unified viewpoint on what Adventist history and identity is. The story as they have told it has become the establishment view in North America. Every minister who has gone through the system of theological education to become an Adventist minister has been required to read book after book all sharing the same essential contours.

We can call this the Knight-Whidden Narrative (KWN). The essential pieces are:

  • The 1888 message was evangelical Christianity
  • The 1888 messengers were deeply flawed and fell into fanaticism
  • QOD was flawed but mostly good
  • KWN books quietly avoid substantive criticism of Ford's salvation theology
  • Contemporary interest in the last generation theology is a continuation of the flawed 1888 message given by Jones and Waggoner which likewise takes people into the same erroneous direction.

    To believe Knight-Whidden is to accept that Jones and Waggoner taught four key heresies: (1) denial of original sin, (2) Jesus took the fallen nature of Adam, (3) Righteousness by faith includes both justification and sanctification, and (4) the last generation will cease from sin before Christ returns. In short, the KW Narrative defines distinctive Adventist views error and replaces them with evangelical Christianity.

The truth is, they did teach these four things, but these are actually four biblically-correct positions, not heresy.

And so, what you have been hearing this Sabbath is in a sense, the contra position. We hope to give you enough clues to alert you that Knight-Whidden is an erroneous understanding, a fairy-tale version of what Adventism is. The truth remains.

Conclusion: The QOD Legacy Repudiated

QOD introduced theological instability, and books of a new order are very much in evidence. Be that as it may, the natural gravity of Adventism is to match the testimony of the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White. Because of this irrepressible fact, the Church continues to affirm its understanding of sin held from long before the publication of QOD. The fundamental beliefs of the Church in 2018 describe the same understanding of what sin is as held by M.L. Andreasen, Ellen White, and the earliest Seventh-day Adventists.

The 1980 General Conference Session-voted statement of Fundamental Beliefs made clear that the larger church had not assimilated the QOD understanding of sin. The church does not say that we sinned in Adam, but that

When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.

The rejection by the Church of Questions on Doctrine's single most significant attempted theological change predicts the ultimate failure of other changes QOD sought to introduce. it also signals the ultimate collapse of the Knight-Whidden Narrative.

Froom and associates--and at the height of their denominational influence--were unable to permanently imprint their changes onto the theology of the Church. We have revisited the 1950s, the book QOD, and the question of original sin. We studied the Bible teaching about what sin is, and considered where Adventists stand today. Adventist teaching on sin has not been lastingly changed.

This is one epic debate the Church can now put to rest.


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Burnt Mills MD SDA 2016-07-16

Milton Freewater OR Stateline SDA 2016-01-16

Sacramento CA Central SDA 2015-04-18