Louis Berkhof's view of Sin and Adventist Understanding

koot van wyk (DLitt et Phil; ThD)
Kyungbook National University
Sangju Campus
South Korea
Conjoint lecturer of Avondale College
18 February 2010

The relevancy of looking at sin is illustrated in a recent edition of the famous German magazine, Der Spiegel 7 (Wednesday 17 February 2010) with the topic Triumph der Sunde (Triumph of Sin). It concluded that the Devil was found by the Bible, led to the Church making a catalogue of condemning sins, but in a World of desire, lust and pleasure, sin is not taken seriously any longer (translated from the German).

The doctrine of Sin is part of the Bible and without a proper understanding about what sin is, redemption is superflous. When one understand the origin of sin and its immense results on humanity, then one can begin to understand the need for redemption and what God accomplished through Christ and in us.

Many systematic theologians begin the description of what sin is and its origin with the Fall of Adam and Eve, but that is an irresponsible approach. It stands under the danger to view sin as a mere human defect that can be solve merely in a human way by this or that therapy.

Sin originated in heaven and we speak of the rebellion in heaven to refer to the change of Lucifer, the most beautiful angel of God, into Satan, and who with his angels were cast out of heaven and allocated to a space that would become our universe.

How long after the Creation of the earth Lucifer rebelled and whether it was before or after or concurrent, we do not know precisely. We know that after this earth was created perfectly, Satan made his appearance to deceive in the form of a beautiful snake with wings and four legs, and that could speak (as parrots can speak as well).

Adam and Eve fell and great consequences came over this universe that affects us daily right now.

Two great theologians on sin was Pelagius and Augustine. Pelagius maintained that sin is the result of one's choice. It does not originate with Adam. If one's choice is good, we are good, and if one's choice is bad, so are we. He felt that we are born in a state of neutrality and the sin of Adam is only Adam's sin.

Contrasting Pelagius, the Latin fathers, Augustine and Ambrose, maintained that our sinful condition is due to Adam's sin in Paradise. By having a federal relationship the original sin of Adam was imputed to us. The sinful condition is a possession of imputation so that even if one does not do evil actions, we are still legally evil and a sinner in a federal relationship that we have with Adam, the head of humanity.

Adventist scholars like Edward Heppenstall in his book, Our High Priest, talked about sin and what it entails.


Furthermore, there are principalities and powers in high places at war with God (Eph. 6:12). That war began in heaven at the divine headquarters of the sanctuary (Rev. 12:7-9). Satan, or Lucifer, was originally one of the covering cherubs in the sanctuary. The war began there. The issues will terminate there when God's throne will be forever secure. It is for this reason that God's battle plan and movements from the sanctuary should be thoroughly studied and understood.

Sin has alienated man from God. Therefore the rescue must come from beyond us. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).


Mark what follows. It was through one man that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all men have sinned (chap. 5:12, N.E.B.).

The Bible explains the problem this way: Originally, man was created perfect and in close fellowship with his Creator, in a state of belonging to the one God who alone is the source of life. But man fell away from God. He gave allegiance to Satan, who had rebelled against God. As a result, man became alienated from the source of life. Death followed. From then on, sin and death reigned on the earth. It has involved every man and woman born into this world.

Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15, N.E.B.).

At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace (Eph. 2:12-14).


The divine plan as revealed in the Bible has three important aspects—the promise, with which the Old Testament is largely concerned; the act of redemption at the cross and its subsequent proclamation; and finally, the work of judgment.

First, the program began with an announcement of redemption that promised ultimate recovery and restoration of all that had been lost by sin and the final defeat of all those who warred against the God of heaven:

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15).

There is no possibility of a reconciliation between God and sin, or that transgression should continue forever. At-one-ment is an expression of the divine intention to destroy sin that ruptured the universe. Restoration to oneness was not consummated at the cross. The sin problem has not yet been finally resolved. The cross is the supreme act of God for man's redemption. But that is only one aspect of Christ's work toward the final at-one-ment. Reconciliation is effected by the living Christ. It is not something that happened two thousand years ago. At-one-ment is experienced only as men daily live a life of trust and dependence on Him. The ultimate redemption of all things unto Himself can never be achieved until man is won to a life of unwavering faith and obedience. It is the living Christ of the present who saves, redeems, reconciles.

The battle Christ fought while on earth was not only over individuals. Not only the sins of men were borne on the cross. The battle was a continuation of the war that began in heaven when Satan was cast out (see Revelation 12).

These words by Heppenstall illustrate to us that sin started in the Sanctuary in Heaven and sin will finally terminate there as well. The delay in the coming of Christ, is because He is still functioning in the Sanctuary in Heaven on our behalf taking care of the sin-problem.

The systematic theology of Louis Berkhof, is thus an incomplete biblical picture of sin. It is all fine to analyse the state of man and the territory of sin only in humanity, but the biblical picture is calling for a wider scope, angels were involved and above all, Lucifer who became Satan.

Sin is a problem of allegiance. When we sin, we are paying loyalty to Satan even if we do not know Satan or can say we have never met him.

It is surprising to see that when John Stott discussed the cross of Christ and specifically the gravity of sin in his book, The Cross of Christ (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1986 and 1989): 89, he listed a number of Greek words dealing with sin: hamartia which means to miss the target, adikia which means unrighteousness, pornea which deals with vicious evil, parabasis which deal with tresspass, anomia which is concerned with lawlessness. But, he defined sin in his own words as a "godless selfcenteredness of sin" (Stott 1986/89: 90). What we miss in Stott's description of atonement and sin is in essence the backdrop of sin in Heaven by Lucifer. As Heppenstall indicate in Revelation 12 we have evidence that sin started in Heaven with Satan being cast out. The whole plan of salvation cannot be properly understood without this proper understanding of the backdrop of all events. In fact, philosophers have wondered whether the backdrop is the real event and we are just an experiment or whether we are the real event and the backdrop is just a decoration.

Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled: Whatever became of Sin? (Hawthorn Books, 1973). Stott refers to the book and Menninger complains that in modern society sins became crimes and all other wrong deeds became sickness. His main complaint is that what was in the domain of the church has transferred to the domain of policemen and punishments has turned in to treatments. Reductionism is the attitude of a sinner that his society or genes need to be blamed for his actions, not himself (Stott 1986/89: 93). Too easily people hang on to collective responsibility to transfer the blame (mens rea) of their actions from the person to society (Stott 1986/89: 91). Against determinism, Stott cited the work of Malcolm Jeeves, R. J. Berry, David Atkinson, Free to be Different (1984) where they said: "We are not automata, able to do nothing but react mechanically to our genes, our environment, or even God's grace. We are personal beings created by God for himself . . . Moreover, what God has given us is not to be regarded as a static endowment. Our character can be refined. Our behavior can change. Our convictions can mature. Our gifts can be cultivated . . . We are indeed free to be different" (Stott 1986/89: 94).

One of the most dangerous developments in modern society is the humanitarian theory of punishment. C. S. Lewis talked about it in a remarkable essay "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" in Churchmen Speak, editor Philip E. Hughes (1966): 39-44. There are in these days "swinging door" jails in which murderers are brought in, sentenced for maximum but then on therapy, treatment and conversion claims reduced and set free after three years. Concerning this set-up of justice, Lewis said:

"when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a 'case'" (Lewis as cited in Stott 1986/89: 102).

Many of the ideas of Stott is pleasant to read since he is also endorsing the same sources that Edward Heppenstall used for his concepts of atonement, rigtheousness, sin, sanctification, perfection and so forth: James Denney (1902, 1906) and P. T. Forsyth (1909, 1910, 1916). Heppenstall preceded Stott so one has to say he used these concepts first. Since 1971 when Heppenstall retired and Hans LaRondelle took precedence on these matters, also he continued to use these sources with great wisdom and care. That does not graduate John Stott now automatically as correct in his views in toto, but, what it does, it helps us to appreciate the topic almost like an SDA except that he did not understand the Rebellion in Heaven Motif and secondly, he did not understand the book of Hebrews properly with the Sanctuary Truth of the Atonement (connected to the book of Leviticus). Without these two important systems of biblical doctrine, a proper view of atonement and sin is not complete (apology to Stott). The same can be said with the view of Louis Berkhof.

Psalm 51:5

"Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me"

What Pelagius would have said about this verse is that it is only the environment of sin not sin itself attached to the baby. Augustine and Ambrose will claim that it actual sin that is in the form of original sin in the baby that is why they try to claim infant baptism to free the baby of this eternal death chain. The Bible nowhere expects us to practice infant baptism to free the baby from original sin.

Circumcision was not administered to babies to remove original sin since it was a healthy consideration for Jewish boys to do. It may have been a sign of the covenant of Abraham with God but since Ezechiel states that everyone is responsible for their own lives. Thus, until the boy is old enough to make a decision, he is not responsible for his own destiny.

In Adventist views as collected in his dissertation by Eric Webster (1984), a doctoral on Christology, the human body is not divine. The body is corrupt. Flesh is corrupt in the sense that it can get sick and die. Man is born with evil propensities and a carnal desire. Of course, babies are mostly regarded innocent and responsibility is added by Adventists only when they reach a maturity age or age of accepting their own mens rea for their own acts. Baptism usually is following the example of Jesus, at a mature age when the person can make a choice for Christ and His salvation. Jesus was born exactly like we are but without the evil propensity. He had the nature of body that Adam had before the fall but the results of the body that we have after the fall. Jesus basically proved to the universe that the Law of God can be kept if Adam had chosen to do so. When the sinner accepted Christ the evil propensity is made passive and the Holy Spirit is the medium through which Christ lives in us to help us conquer all evil thoughts and desires and actions. Normally when a person is converted it is accepted that the actions of evil will not be repeated any longer but there may still be passive thoughts and memories that tempt the person daily. Thus, a total devotion to Christ needs to take place daily. Tapped into Christ the sinners fight and struggle against his/her individual memory, guilt, thoughts, desires and so on. In Adventism there is no such doctrine that one should sin more that grace can be more abundant. That is unbiblical. The Bible view of sin solution is both instantaneous but also for a life time struggle. Justification is one time but justification is available daily as well. Sanctification is instantaneous accompanying justification daily but it is a work of a life time and will only reach completion at glorification at the Second Advent. The bible does not support fatalism or incompetency. With Christ you can jump over a wall. There is victory with Christ. That is the biblical message. There is hope in a constant striving and in a God Who is in character very understanding. The closer the sinner moves to Christ the more the sinner becomes aware of his or her weaknesses. But, Christ understands and works with each individual the way that is best. Each one's joke is measured by the length of our shoulders and will not be heavier than our power to cope with it. The secret is a constant tapping in with Christ.

louis berkhof view of sin.jpg