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ASK CHALCEDON ~ "Is Guilt Transferable?"

Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony,
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From an inquiry by T.B.

On page 270 of The Institutes of Biblical Law, Volume 1, R. J. Rushdoony says that we inherited a nature from Adam but not guilt. My understanding has always been that we inherited both. RJR says guilt is not transferable. But wasn't our guilt transferred to Christ on the cross and His righteousness transferred to us? (2 Corinthians 5:21). Am I misunderstanding what RJR is saying?

Mark Rushdoony's Response

Dear T. B.,

The law being discussed in the passage you refer to is Deuteronomy 24:16, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." The specific question my father was addressing is where responsibility for a transgression was to be placed, so the initial context was that of the social order, man's judicial ascription of guilt. Where man places guilt, he has placed responsibility, and liability for punishment is the logical consequence. The point of Deuteronomy 24:16 was that only the person morally responsible (guilty) was to be punished.

There is a larger, theological basis for this law, and I believe your question comes from this passage on page 270 of IBL:

"[I]n terms of this law, guilt cannot be shifted to others or passed on to the people around a man. Guilt is non-transferable; a disposition or nature can be inherited, but not guilt. Man inherits from Adam the total depravity of his nature, but his guilt before God is entirely his own, even as Adam had to bear his own guilt. This distinction between guilt and nature is fundamental to Biblical doctrine and law."

My father did not deny the reality of either our sin nature or our guilt; he only distinguished them in terms of our responsibility. We inherited our sin nature from Adam which causes us, in fact, to sin. Our sins and their guilt are, however, ours and solely ours, and we can no more transfer them to others than they can transfer theirs to us.

This does not at all depreciate the reality of sin in all of us. Because we are by nature sinners through Adam, we cannot but sin. If the first sin was to "be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:15) as self-determining little deities, we repeat that sin every time we so much as think in a way that is in conflict with the law-word of God. Each and every one our sins is ours and makes us guilty before God and deserving of punishment. So, we inherited our sin nature from Adam, but guilt comes from our sins, not Adam's or anyone else's. When the Jews at our Lord's crucifixion offered to make their descendents equally guilty, we must not take that as a legitimate act. These men were not orthodox theologians, to say the least! They had no right to say that or to transfer their guilt any more than do we. The point of that statement, I believe, was to show these Jews were not an isolated, minority group, but were, in fact, the religious leaders of the nation, and felt they not only spoke for the nation then, but for all time. That was the culmination of generations of religious apostasy.

Christ did not assume our guilt. If He had done so, there would have been no resurrection of a "guilty" man. He rose from the dead because the death penalty (the punishment for sin) He paid in our place had no legal claim on Him. Jesus assumed our sins as an innocent man, not as a guilty one. That is why 2 Corinthians 5:21 clearly states that though God "hath made him to be sin for us," Jesus, in fact, "knew no sin." Jesus bore our sins on the cross, but not our guilt. Our guilt was not transferred to Him, but it was removed by Him because the penalty was paid.

Our sins were assumed by Jesus, though innocent, and we are justified, or declared righteous by God because He paid the penalty for our sins.  Justification refers to Christ's righteousness imputed, or put to our account by a forensic (judicial) act of God, because satisfaction was made at Calvary.



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Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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