The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Quote of the day: John Locke on the punishment for sin


Quote of the day, from John Locke:

Death then entered, and showed his face, which before was shut out, and not known. So St. Paul, Rom. v. 19, “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” i.e. a state of death and mortality : and, 1 Cor. xv. 22, “In Adam all die;” i.e. by reason of his transgression, all men are mortal, and come to die.

This is so clear in these cited places, and so much the current of the New Testament, that nobody can deny, but that the doctrine of the gospel is, that death came on all men by Adam’s sin; only they differ about the signification of the word death: for some will have it to be a state of guilt, wherein not only he, but all his posterity was so involved, that every one descended of him deserved endless torment, in hell-fire. I shall say nothing more here, how far, in the apprehensions of men, this consists with the justice and goodness of God, having mentioned it above: but it seems a strange way of understanding a law, which requires the plainest and directest words, that by death should be meant eternal life in misery. Could any one be supposed, by a law, that says, “For felony thou shalt die;” not that he should lose his life; but be kept alive in perpetual, exquisite torments? And would any one think himself fairly dealt with, that was so used?

John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures in the Works of John Locke (1824 edition, volume 6, p. 4.),

I part ways with Locke when he says that Adam’s sin did not involve the whole human race. Perhaps disturbing to some readers, I think that “Adam” in the story of Eden actually represented the whole human race but I won’t delve into that now (although for what it is worth, I think that this understanding removes the rationale for some of the crasser theories of the “transmission” of sin from Adam to us).

Locke’s comments on the actual punishment for sin, however, seem to me to be not only true, but to be obviously so. If only such common sense prevailed among my evangelical brothers and sisters!

Glenn Peoples


Catalyst Books


Enemies in High Places?


  1. Joey

    Adam being representative of all mankind?

    I’m all for not buying crass theories about the transmission of sin…but you know now you kinda have to make a blogpost or podcast or something! 😉

  2. I read Glenn as saying that the character “Adam” in the story of the garden of Eden represents the whole human race.

  3. Although I think fairly highly of a theology federal headship, that’s not really what I meant here. Matt has it right: I actually meant to express the view that Adam was a portrait of humanity, he “represented” humanity as a synechdoche.

  4. Joey

    That’s what I thought…I guess I just worded it poorly.

    So, when will something about this be available for us Beretta fans? 😉 lol

  5. Likewise, would it be considered fair for one man, a mass murderer, to receive the same capital punishment as one guilty of jay-walking.

    Still, I don’t hold to hell-fire myself so this is pretty redundant.

  6. Jason, well that’s a completely different issue really. This issue that Locke is identifying is about exegesis. Essentially the question here is over the best way to read straight forward language in Scripture.

    The issue you raise is over our own personal assessment of what counts as fair. However, within the context of the issue you raise, the situation you describe might sound unfair initially – until you realise that you yourself do in fact say that the jaywalker gets capital punishment as well. The only claim you’re making is that they obviously deserve a different kind of capital punishment. Once this is realised, much of the plausibility of the objection evaporates, since the kind of sceptic who would raise the objection over a jaywalker getting the death penalty would almost certainly think that the jaywalker should not get the death penalty at all.

    Here it may be helpful to think of people’s sin being their own actions. Choosing to cut oneself off from God, the source of all life, has the same consequences regardless of the nastiness of the person who does it.

  7. Well if the issue is exegesis, it seems that the man was created outside the garden, and always was mortal. He was brought into the garden to the presence of God. The garden was a sanctuary in the world, where God was. The sanctuary concept continues in the form of the tabernacle and the temple and the church. Now the promise was his death in the day he sinned, so what kind of death did he suffer that day? That day he lost fellowship with God and lost his place in the sanctuary. The prophets predicted the restoration to the garden, in the new heaven and the new earth, but even in the new heaven and the new earth, there would be spiritual life but physical death (Is 65:20). The New Testament also spoke of the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem, and the new garden in Rev 21-22, as a sanctuary where God is with man, but the sinful remain outside the sanctuary, and the nations still need healing outside the sanctuary. The ‘no more death’, to be consistent with Is 65:20, should be more realistically considered something for those in the city, rather than those outside, and refer to the type of life, spiritual life, that is in the city, rather than the absence of physical death.

    As for the concept of punishment in the bible, it seems that punishment is merely a metaphor. The reality is that God makes the world and his law and actions are seen in the way he made the world. What makes sin sin, is not the legal technicality that God has commanded and imposed otherwise, rather it is the harm inherent in the sin and that harms the sinner and/or others. The ‘punishment’ of sin is God allowing the sinner to drink his own sin (Deut 32:32-35, Rev 18:3,6). The love that fulfills the law is do no *harm* to a neighbour (Rom 13:8-10). This means it is redundant to ask the question as to the form of God’s imposition of punishment. If we understand correctly the nature of sin and the nature of the results of sin, we do not need to ask such questions about whether any particular judgement or punishment is just. The judgement itself is metaphorical (John 3:17-21, 5:45, 12:47-48, 12:33-37). In the same way that the men of Nineveh rose from the dead and judged Jerusalem in the first century (Mat 12:41), God judges sin: metaphorically.

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