The Gilead Institute of America



E. J. Waggoner & Original Sin

QUESTION: My purpose in asking is not to start a debate or to use this as a ‘test question,’ but rather to understand what exactly you believe and teach on this important issue. I have noticed a strange contrast to what people say today about 1888 and what was actually preached back then. I have come across some statements that seem to be out of harmony with what many people teach today. How do you reconcile those statements (and concepts) with the current understanding?

ANSWER: In your email you asked, How do I reconcile the statements made by E. J. Waggoner, with the current understanding? The fact of the matter is, I would rather if the statements you were using were that of Ellen G. White (or the Spirit of Prophecy) instead of E. J. Waggoner, since although he is recognized as a pioneer of the church he was never chosen as God’s special mouthpiece or messenger to the SDA church. As a result, his views or writings cannot be taken as a final authority. I believe that it is always best to use the Bible and the SOP writings as the basis of determining truth from error since that is where we have been instructed to go in order to find “light” versus error (Isa. 8:20). At the same time, however, if statements made by E. J. Waggoner (or any of the other pioneers) are to be taken or utilized in an authoritative manner we must first make sure that their position is in total harmony with that of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.

Hence, in answering your questions I shall endeavor to reconcile the following statements with what I presently believe is the understanding of the law and the testimonies on this subject.

(a) Statement#1—All men are by nature sinners. {November 30, 1893 E. J. Waggoner, PTUK 550.10}

My Understanding: To rightly interpret the statement that “all men are by nature sinners,” one has to do so without contradicting both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. The Word of God tells us that when people are ignorant of sin God does not hold it against them, for says the Scriptures, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at.” Acts 17:30. Also, the Spirit of Prophecy confirms this thought by declaring, “The sinner is such by his own deliberate choice.” ST, March 9, 1882, par. 3. Therefore, the statement “all men are by nature sinners” can only be interpreted in the sense that men are born with a sinful or carnal nature, and not that they are automatically, as soon as they are born to be viewed as “guilty” of presumptuous or “original” sin. If all men are to be considered “sinners” from birth as a result of the sin of our first parents, then we will have to say that God is not only unfair but that He also changes. The Bible, on the other hand, tells us that God Himself declares, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6).  The following Bible verses show that everyone is responsible for their own souls and therefore no one can inflict their guilt nor impart their righteousness unto others. Note:

“Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.” Eze. 14:20.

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Eze. 18:20

(b) Statement#2—We were made sinners by birth; we are made righteous by the new birth. {July 15, 1897 E. J. Waggoner, PTUK 434.4}

My Understanding: Again, the explanation given to Statement#1 (above) still holds true. Not until deliberate or presumptuous sin is committed does God consider men to be “sinners” and holds them accountable or guilty of transgressing His law. As a result, new born babies cannot be accused of being “sinners by birth”. Parents are responsible for their children until they become accountable for their own actions. Hence, when speaking about the resurrection, Inspiration declares, “As the little infants come forth immortal from their dusty beds, they immediately wing their way to their mother’s arms.”—2 SM 260. Note that if these infants were “sinners by birth” or guilty of transgression, they would not be allowed to join their parents in receiving the gift of eternal life since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). All the redeemed, young and old, are made righteous through the new birth because the carnal nature, which they possess from their natural birth, “is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Rom. 8:7). It can therefore be said that in the sight of God it is unjust to accuse, condemn, punish, or judge as guilty, someone who is genuinely ignorant of right from wrong. Hence, like those innocent children who died before they came to know God’s will, but who will be given the privilege of rejoining their believing parents at the end of time, the Spirit of Prophecy tells us that God’s mercy will also be extended to the slaves who never had the privilege of knowing the truth but died in ignorance. Speaking about them Inspiration declares: “God cannot take to heaven the slave who has been kept in ignorance and degradation, knowing nothing of God or the Bible, fearing nothing but his master’s lash, and holding a lower position than the brutes. But He does the best thing for him that a compassionate God can do. He permits him to be as if he had not been. . . .” EW 276. Obviously God does not view them as guilty “sinners,” but as “innocent” victims who lacked a knowledge of His holy will; hence they are not judged with fire from God “out of heaven” (Rev. 20:9) as is the punishment of all guilty sinners.

(c) Statement#3—Through no fault of our own, but “by one man’s disobedience,” through the sin of our first father Adam, we are all born sinners. {November 23, 1899 E. J. Waggoner, PTUK 746.8}

My Understanding: While it is true that as a result of Adam’s sin we are all born with a sinful or carnal nature, it certainly is not true that we are born sinners in the sense that we are “guilty of sin” from birth. No one can be justly accused of being guilty of something that they are totally unaware of; the very word “innocence” (which is often used in the context of infants) bears this out. Inspiration tells us that when our first parents yielded to temptation and sinned they were placed “in a state of conscious guilt” (TA 61:3). In other words, their sin experience resulted in “conscious guilt” as a result of their deliberate act of “transgression of the law” of God (1 John 3:4). This we actually saw was perfectly illustrated in the reaction of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden when they heard the voice of God calling them after they had sinned. Obviously, they ran and hid after covering themselves with fig leaves because of their guilt. Therefore, no new born baby or infant can be accused of being “in a state of conscious guilt” for something that they are totally unaware of. Even the world declares that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. Hence, the concept of original sin does not even line up with the world’s concept of justice, how much more for God’s. It is my personal belief that since it is so easy for others to misunderstand the concept of sin in relation to childbirth, it is best to say that, as a result of Adam’s sin we are all born with a sinful or carnal nature versus “we are all born sinners.”