Monday, November 06, 2006

A Brief Defense Of the Doctrine of Original Sin From Its Modern Opposition (Part I)

Defending orthodoxy from error isn't always easyIt seems more and more in my conversations with fellow Christians on theology and the Bible I find that much of the doctrines held are not extrapolated from the Bible so much as they are reflection of cultural values. No one can really escape this, there will be to varying degrees a cultural influence in our study of God's word. However, particularly around issues of predestination, God's sovereignty, and the effects of the Fall do I see gross cultural influences in many views on these issues. These are the hot button issues within evangelicalism, and frankly many Christians get more upset when someone starts talking about Limited Atonement then when someone blasphemes Christ and uses His name interchangeably with swear words.

Here I want to address the issue of Original Sin (from here on I will refer to it as OS), not just the Original Sin of Adam but the effect today on his descendents. This is weighty and realistically an entire book alone would do this issue justice (I recommend Jonathan Edwards') however, my treatment will be brief. My question which I will attempt to answer simply is this: What Did the fall do to mankind?

Objections to OS

As I have said this is a hot issue, and there are many God loving Christians who will deny the doctrine of OS. OS in doctrine is this in a nutshell: every descendant of Adam is born fallen and corrupt in need of redemption. This really irks a lot of people, more and more it seems.

(Objection 1)It isn't fair is often a cry, why should people be punished for the sin of someone else? In fact how can a loving and just God do such a thing? This seems so contrary to His nature thus this doctrine of OS really is not true. This seems to be the backbone of the objections and is woven throughout the following.

(Objection 2)Another objection raised (this was brought up in a discussion of this very issue at the Mass Theology blog) is that sin/guilt by its very nature is not something which can be transferred. God does not put Adam's sin in a bucket and put them into the souls of his descendents. Guilt/sin by their nature are not transferable, Adam's sin and guilt stopped with Adam, his descendents are not paying for his blunder by having his sin placed upon them.

(Objection 3) The final objection I will deal with goes something like this:
1.If OS is true then that means babies are born sinful
2.If babies are born sinfull that means babies that die will go to hell.
3. God simply would not do that (This leans upon the fairness of objection 1)
4. /:. Therefore babies are not born sinful.

Objections Answered:

(Objection 1) This really is the undercurrent throughout all the objections to OS, it simply isn't fair and a just God would not do this. Well this assertion ultimately commits the fallacy of begging the question as to what is fair for God to do. It misses the mark in that it really, if I am correct, imposes a human notion of justice upon God and puts God in "time out" if He acts out of this perceived notion of justice we have (thus my cultural influence preamble). He who believes in the orthodox doctrine of OS says "the Bible teaches....(proof text)" yet the denier of OS simply says "No, that simply is out of step with the justice of God." But that is to beg the very question. If the Bible teaches that the sin of Adam effects all of his progeny and there was a curse decreed BY GOD upon mankind because of Adam's sin then obviously it is NOT out of step with God's justice.

(Objection 2) Now I honestly had not heard this objection until I dialogued with Henry M Imler at Mass theology on this issue. (Check out Mass Theology by clicking here)Now I really do respect Henry and I love their blog, however I think he strikes out bad on this. As I said I had not heard this type of objection to OS until Henry raised it, the assertion that sin/guilt are non transferable by nature therefore OS is not a tenable doctrine. As I thought about it and carried the assertion throughout you really run into many problems. The most immediate in the forefront is this: Were our sins/guilt transferred to Christ?

Logically if the one is an impossibility so is the other, if Adam's sin/guilt were not transferred to us because sin/guilt are by nature not transferable, then equally nor can our sins/guilt have been transferred to Christ because sin/guilt by nature is not transferable. This is just if we assume Henry's position. Now I have not heard anyone say this stuff but I have read it, it comes strait from Pelagius the original popular OS denier. Pelagius saw this and saw the death of Christ not as substitutionary (in our place for our sin/guilt) but rather as an example of self sacrifice to emulate. Pelagius was consistent (a consistent heretic). When I pressed Henry he (being a genuine Christian I think) did not want to abandon the substitutionary atonement, but I say he does so inconsistently.

Furthermore, this also begs the question as to whether sin/guilt can be transferred. The above response is merely the logical outcome if we assume the assertion. Are there any texts which teach that sin/guilt are non-transferable by nature? No. On the contrary we can see particularly with the death of Christ that indeed the sin of His people was transferred to Him.

(Objection 3) What are we to make of the third objection then? Well this of course strongly appeals to sentiment and commits the fallacy of an appeal to emotion. Saying if you believe in OS then you believe that babies that die go to hell which of course arouses disdain. This argument on a presupposed Arminian view of election. (We are elected because we selected, we are elect b/c we chose Jesus) The reason why babies going to hell is the consequent of holding to OS in these people's minds is because they presuppose that conscious choice on the part of the sinner is what saves. Thus, babies, who are we will say too immature to make that conscious choice, when they die have no hope.

Well, apart from the strong sentemental appeal there is a problem here, one for the Arminian. The problem is this question: "What about people who are too mentally immature to make the choice to accept Jesus as their lord and personal savior?" The Arminian gets around it by denying OS and/or making up things like "Age of accountability" (a doctrine that says Children all reach an age when they are now accountable for their sin, children under that age all go to heaven if they die) One problem with this "Age of accountability" stuff: This simply is not found anywhere in the Bible. Arminians just make it up to deal with this problem that arises due to their view of election.

I am sorry but I don't think just making up doctrines to protect God from looking unjust is the way to do theology. When we come to the Bible we can see that the reason why children die to begin with is because of sin.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned"--(Rom 5:12)

Here logically the reason why people die is because they are fallen sinners. If a young child dies it is because that child was a sinner, I think that's the only honest way to interpret this passage. Now I will go into texts shortly but suffice it to here to say that the only reason why people have to deal with the question of dying babies is because babies are sinful (Or OS is true).

So do I believe in hell for babies? Well, ultimately I put that in God's hands, because that is where salvation is. In my view of election salvation is not dependent upon some sort of human conscious choice, rather God sovereignly converts sinners. So in my view of election God saves babies who die and can not even say "Mom" or "Dad", because salvation is a work of God. Rather than something that occurs when we wise up and decide to apply it to ourselves.

What Did the Fall do?
(A Scriptural Defense of OS)

What DID the fall do to man?
The main thing that really gets me when I dialogue with people who reject the doctrine of OS is their utter lack of scripture to support their assertions. They are very ready to jump on the scriptures that do teach OS and do hermuenutical gymnastics with them, but when it comes to giving a text that shows that babies are born sinless they are really speechless. The question I pose to OS deniars is simply: "What DID the fall do then?"

Firstly, I want to address the notion that sin is something by its nature that is non-transferable. Again this assertion is made in order to rule out the notion that Adam's sin effects all of mankind, thus some assert sin to be something which in its very nature can not be transferred from one person to another. As I stated already if this is the case the question naturally arises "Were our sins then placed upon Christ?"

Also, on the flip side is righteousness something that is transferable, one would think that both righteousness and its negation sin would have the same metaphysical properties, thus if sin is non-transferable neither would righteousness be transferable. Well I will cite some passages on this very issue which should help clarify for us whether BIBLICALLY the assertion that sin by its very nature is not transferable has any merit.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. " (2 Cor 5:21)

I think here in this passage there is a twofold problem with the above assertion for not only is Christ made sin "For our sake" but also we are made righteous "in Him". There seems to be a clear exchange here, He bears our guilt and we receive His righteousness. Are sin/righteousness non-transferable in the Apostle's mind here?

"And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God," (Heb 10:11-12)

Here we see that the repeated sacrifices could never take away sins, put in direct contrast with the sacrifice of Christ which only needed to be done once and upon being offered He sat down for it was finished. Now the contrast appears to be between a sacrifice that can NOT take away sins and one that can and has.

"As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." (Psa 103:12)

Is sin something transferable here? If it can be removed it would certainly seem to be the case.

"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Rom 8:3-4)

"It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (Rom 4:24-25)

"He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor 1:30)

Again in the above three passages the basics seem clear Christ died for OUR sin and we are made right in the eyes of God on the basis of HIS righteousness given to us. Now I want to get to more pertinent passages on the OS issue so I will not continue addressing the transferability of sin here. Suffice it to say that our very salvation rests on the fact that our sins were transferable by nature.

The key passages surrounding OS:

Anyone who has done any study at all into the matter of OS will know that Romans 5 is the chapter where the doctrine of OS stands or falls. I will give a brief exegetical examination of some of the passages in Romans 5 and elsewhere in Scripture.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned"-- (Rom 5:12)

There certainly appears to be a direct link between Adam's sin and death spreading to all men. Paul's logic seems as follows:
1) Death is consequence of sin.
2) All men die.
3) /:.Therefore all men are sinners.

Now, death (physically) only comes upon those tainted with sin. However, it is an obvious fact that infants do die physically, thus they must in some way be tainted with sin. The connector is Adam. Adam is the one who brought sin into the world, and upon sinning his nature was corrupted (Gen 3) and all of his descendents inherit his corruption.

"Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. " (Rom 5:14)

Now here Paul is working on the basis of law, saying that even though men did not have commands from God which they were guilty of willfully breaking like Adam death reigned. So sin is something larger then what we just do, we do not just do sin. Also Paul is beginning to connect his analogy to Christ. Just like how through Adam sin entered the world and death here comes Christ the second Adam bringing something different into the world.

"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin.

For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ."
(Rom 5:15-17)

Here the analogy comes to its peak and its clarity. I think Romans 5:15 is probably the most crucial single verse showing our connection to Adam. " Many died through one man's trespass" people are perishing for Adam's guilt/sin. To which the natural man cries: "That's NOT FAIR!"

Nevertheless, that is blatantly what Paul has just declared, people die through Adam's trespass. There is a connection between Adam's trespass and his progeny says Paul. If the OS deniars are right this analogy shouldn't be in the Bible. There is no connection between Adam's sin and me if they are correct. Paul says that there is a connection between me and Adam's sin.

Paul here displays 2 humanities 1)Those in Adam and 2)Those in Christ.
Humanity 1) is those who are connected to Adam simply by being a descendent of Adam through physical birth thus inheriting his nature, his fallen sinful nature. Those who have a fallen sinful nature (those in Adam) die physically and spiritually. Those with this fallen nature naturally are averse to the things of God (Rom 8:6-7) and really want nothing to do with God (At least on His terms) and prefer sin over God.

Humanity 2) is those who are connected to Christ by being one of His offspring through spiritual birth (John 3) thus they have a new nature being born again. These die physically but will live spiritually. Being born again is being given a nature that is not at enmity with God and desires God over the fleeting pleasures of sin.

I just wonder why the gospel and new birth are even necessary if you deny OS. Seriously, why wouldn't a moral code be sufficient if we have no natural inclination toward sinning? If everybody can know what is right and wrong and choose one or the other and we have no natural inclination toward one over the other why is regeneration needed at all or the gospel for that matter? You violated the law that's YOUR bad and everybody deals with God on this sort of playing field. That's what Pelagius suggested, grace in Pelagius' mind was Christ coming not as a redeemer but an example to imitate and be saved via imitation. Seems "FAIR" right?

Well here's where the "Fair" notion by evangelical OS deniers seems hypocritical. Evangelical OS deniers want to say that it is unfair for Adam's sin to be placed upon his descendents, yet they have no qualms whatsoever to celebrate that their sins were placed on Christ!

Aside from the arrogance of man to have the gall to stand before God almighty and declare His decrees to be unfair we can see the absurdity of their charges. It isn't fair of God when Adam's is transferred to his descendents yet it is quite alright on God's behalf when Christ is the recipient of our sins. Not only is this arrogant but it is an inconsistent charge.

It would be consistent if the OS deniers rejected the evangelical faith and became like Pelagius and saw the law to be sufficient to save and Christ's work not as a sin bearer but example to imitate. Pelagius was at least a consistent heretic, not only did he deny that we are connected to Adam via OS but also he denied that our sins were imputed to Christ.

To conclude, based upon Romans 5 we really have 2 options (I don't think this is a false dilemma) there really are 2 options if we are going to be consistent logically.
That is a highly illogical objection
1)We can deny that humanity has any connection with Adam and his sin and that we are born neutral to sin (On the basis of God being "Fair" or that sin is nontransferrable by nature), but on the same token we would need to deny an evangelical view of Christ's work as well. Christ could not have born our sins (If sin is non transferable) nor would it have been "Fair" for God to have punished Him for our sins. Either way it would simply be inconsistent with Romans 5 to deny OS but affirm substitutionary atonement.
(**the latter "NOT FAIR!" view is actually growing in popularity particularly among Emergent authors who declare the substitutionary atonement view to be "Divine Child Abuse"**)

2)Or we can affirm both like Paul. We are born sinners who by nature are at enmity with God, we are not neutral observers, our will is a lackey to our nature which is corrupt. We need a new nature, a righteousness and our sin to be absolved. Christ gives us these. Christ is our sin bearer, our righteousness, and He bestows grace via regeneration that men might have a new nature, one that is not at enmity with God.

In the next post on this topic I will further address precisely the effects of the fall on humanity, in this post I have mainly been defending the position that the fall did have an effect on us. I have touched on some effects already but I realize this deserves a greater treatment than I have given it here.


Tim said...

Very weighty topic, Bob. I found it interesting. I am hopeful that since you are separating doctrine from modernity that you will join us in the postmodern efforts to return our faith back to the ancient, scriptural foundation! ;)

Before I pose one other nuance into this discussion, I wanted to point out that "age of accountability" was not invented by the Arminians. It is very much ancient Jewish in its origins. From what I've learned, it comes from the Oral tradition of the Talmud, recorded in the Mishnah around 200 AD, but also from support in the Hebrew scriptures.

While the specific ages of 12 and 13 for Bat and Bar Mitzvahs was set early on in the Oral Tradition, scriptural support for this comes from Deuteronmy 1 with Moses describing God's declaration on who will enter the Promised Land. Specifically, Deut. 1:39 - And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.

Another example of God mentioning an "age of accountability" is Isaiah 7 where the prophet in Isaiah is prophecying a sign of a virgin giving birth to a son called Immanuel. It's more than just the Messianic prophecy the church traditionally extracts from this context. It's a very specific prophecy for Israel at that point in time, in which an "age of accountability" is used as the time-frame indicator in this prophecy:

15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

How this all fits into the larger discussion of us choosing God vs. God choosing us and Original Sin is not something I care to get into. I just wanted to give you some credible information to help your thinking and discussion on the age of accountability since you are taking this on.

As for the nuance that I promised, what about those that do not take the Adam & Eve narrative literally, given the second broader creation story of people? The argument is similar to those that would say Job is a narrative that may or may not represent actual events, but both are oral narratives meant to describe the origins of people and specifically the relationship of God with created people.

Honestly, I think this places the entire scriptures on a more consistent plane that people are created by God with an opportunity to respond to His constant call for an intimate relationship with Them. (I use Them in this moment to be consistent with Genesis "Let us make man in our image..." and the Trinity.) We are given a choice to respond totally to God's relationship, and when (not IF as the Adam and Eve narrative indicates) we choose our own way, God Himself makes efforts to save us from complete separation from God out of the same love in which God choose to create us in the first place (i.e. for the glory of God, as a reflection of God's own image).

I realize this is not the same apologetic approach that you are taking with the other examples, but again, I think this is consistent with the entire Biblical narrative, and more importantly, the nature of God.

Bob said...

Hey Tim, always nice to hear from you.
You said:
"Before I pose one other nuance into this discussion, I wanted to point out that "age of accountability" was not invented by the Arminians. It is very much ancient Jewish in its origins. From what I've learned, it comes from the Oral tradition of the Talmud, recorded in the Mishnah around 200 AD, but also from support in the Hebrew scriptures."

You are right, I should have added that part of the argument for AOA, but I don't think it can be supported from scripture. I assume from the text you cited that "not yet know good or bad" is the heart of the alledged support for AOA. This might be taken as a counter scripture to the notion that we are born sinful but hardly can be used to say that therefore there is a cut off age at which God starts to judge youth. That notion must be imported into the text.

Isaiah 7:15-16 reads:

"He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted."

Again the concept that there is an age where God will now begin to judge young people is not here. That concept simply is not in the bible. Now what we do see in these passages is that there seems to be a point when younger people become more mentally competent to be able to discern between right and wrong.

This in no way implies that they are not accountable for the wrong done when they were mentally incompetent. Just like the Gentiles in Romans who perished without the law, there is no reason Biblically to jump to the conclusion that because someone does not know right from wrong that they are not accountable for the wrong which they have done in ignorence.

People jump to the conclusion very hastily, that God can not hold us into account if we are not able to choose right from wrong. Peter states:

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance," (1 Pet 1:14)

Now the Gentiles were ignorent, does that mean that they are therfore not accountable to God for the evil done in ignorence? Scripture says they will be held accountable before God. Now I don't think it matter about age in this situation ignorence is ignorence no matter what the age. Which is actually why many deal with the "What about the unreached who die without the gospel?" question the same way as they deal with AOA.

Major problem: Doesn't that undermine missions?

Now the last issue you bring up is one I really haven't given much thought to: treating Genesis as purely a narrative.

Well I think if you do that your going to have bigger hangups than whether Adam's sin effects us today. The reality is that throughout the Bible Genesis is treated not as a narrative but as actual events that occured in time and space. So I think your notion of a narrative far from reaching a consitancy in a scriptural outlook actually runs into numerous problems here is some:

1)The genealogies of the Bible certainly treat Adam as though he was a person in real time and space.

2)Christ Himself refers to Genesis as an actual historical account and Adam was an actual historical person who existed in time and space, saying:

" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'?" (Mt 19:4-5)

3)Romans 5 treats Adam as a historical person whom we are connected to through lineage.

4) And in numerous other places Adam is reffered to as a real person:

" Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit." (1 Cor 15:45)

" For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." (1 Tim 2:13-14)

"It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones,"
(Jude 14)

The NT references to Adam certainly treat him as a literal person who literally sinned against God and whose sin effects us today because he is the first man, not just a narratorial man.

Thanks for bringing this stuff up though.

Tim said...

Hey Bob,

I'm glad to comment. I totally agree that there is not scriptural support for a specific age of accountability. From what I understand from my previous encounters with Jewish tradition (including being part of a Bar Mitzvah of a friend's brother), is that the specific age is used for custom, but the key in reality is that God decides when that age of accountability is based on God's judgment of when the child knows right from wrong. You can also see an example of Mary and Joseph following this very Oral Tradition in taking Jesus to the Temple at 13. But there are lots and lots of things from the Oral Tradition that did not make it into our canon.

Honestly, I don't think this has to add to or detract from your argument of whether we are immediately born into original sin. But what the narrative (both the Oral Tradition and scriptures) tell me is that God has ways of judging that only known to Him and gives Him glory.

You could treat this similar to those arguing about when people are saved by God through their faith. For those that believe that we play no real part in the salvation of others, God's glory is revealed as God reveals it. For those that think we can play an integral part of "saving others for God", again, it's God's glory revealed as God reveals it in the events that lead up to a person leading someone else to Christ.

Aside from pointing out the historical elements, I don't honestly put much stock in my opinion of this either way. God can save people as it gives Him glory whenever and however God does. And it is up to God to decide what and when He holds account. But my faith calls me to follow Jesus who said and lived that loving God completely and loving others is truly following Him.

As for the Genesis and biblical narratives, let me be more specific that I recognize the Bible as a narrative as a whole. Just because I say narrative does not mean I don't think things literally happened. But reading it as a narrative requires one to look at the entire scriptures within the context of the entire scriptures: stories, details, and actions of God's infinite love for us to redeem us to Himself for His glory.

As for Genesis itself, I would fall into the camp that Genesis 1-11 is certainly oral tradition and possibly mythological in nature. That doesn't mean the events didn't happen, but they are indeed stories that explained humanity from the beginning of time to the time when Moses started writing things down. The adam story is literally about "the man." Given that there were other "adams" and women created by God, I can accept that the Garden story is a oral story passed down to explain our human condition of sinfulness. Could it have happened literally? Sure. Does it have to have happened literally for my faith to remain founded? No, not at all. Why? Because the Bible is full of stories clearly indicating the human condition of sinfulness and God's glory through works of redemption. And that same story continues today with God continuing to redeem.

Tim said...


I had something else come to me about this "age of accountability" issue that I thought I should investigate and report to you for your thought. Let's put aside an age requirement for the time being and think about the issue of the AOA as a point of accountability.

Now let's think about the Fall in the Garden. What was it about the Fall that required God to hold Adam and Eve accountable? It wasn't the temptation of the snake, it wasn't the touching of the tree, it wasn't even the act of eating a fruit, for they ate fruit all the time. It was specifically the point at which they now had knowledge of good and evil.

I quoted for you two verses that have been used as support for an AOA, and I decide to look more closely at the verses, specifically the words they use for good and bad, or good and evil. Each of those two verses state a point in which children have knowledge of good and bad/evil. I wondered if the Hebrew words are the same in all three instances. And indeed they are!

The Hebrew for good is towb {tobe} and evil is ra` {rah}, and are words 02896 and 07451 respectively if you want to look it up in a concordance.

Now, I again will say that I don't believe there is a specific age that can be used for this accountability, but it seems pretty clear that the Hebrews believed God held them accountable for their sins at the point at which one had knowledge of good and evil, founded in the example of Adam and Eve, continued with the allowance of only unaccountable children into the Promised Land, and the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah. The same knowledge of good and evil that was used to hold Adam and Eve accountable is the same used in judgment of children.

I don't know that this changes the foundational ideas behind original sin, but I think this does show a precedent for the idea of an age/point of accountability. I think that both ideas can reside together, especially since God is the only judge of accountability for our sinfulness.

I figured I should add this research since you were planning to have a part 2 for this topic.


J.C. Thibodaux said...

"The problem is this question: "What about people who are too mentally immature to make the choice to accept Jesus as their lord and personal savior?" The Arminian gets around it by denying OS and/or making up things like "Age of accountability" (a doctrine that says Children all reach an age when they are now accountable for their sin, children under that age all go to heaven if they die) One problem with this "Age of accountability" stuff: This simply is not found anywhere in the Bible. Arminians just make it up to deal with this problem that arises due to their view of election."

Actually, the scriptures speak very clearly on the matter,

What shall we say then? [Is] the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin [was] dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which [was ordained] to life, I found [to be] unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew [me].
Romans 7:7-11

We are all born with a sin nature, but sin is not imputed where there is no law. Romans 2 (speaking of Gentiles specifically) states that where the law is not present, one's conscience makes him a law unto himself. The reason that the very young or incompetent are not held accountable is that they have no understanding of God's law or even conscience. Hence the concept of an age of accountability (i.e. when the person reaches understanding of sin) is quite biblically based. Paul was spiritually alive before the law, but with the law came the knowledge of sin.

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:20

J.C. Thibodaux