True principles and uncertain details: RR tolerated varying opinions on Adam’s state

In 1898, at the end of his life, Bro Roberts wrote an article calling for tolerance on what he called uncertain details.  He specifically warned against pressing too much from our fellow believers.  In the article the prime mover behind the BASF stated the possibility of Adam dying in Eden was an uncertain detail.  This is markedly more circumspect than the demands made by some in Australia where groups take on responsibility for defining in limited terms what the BASF can mean (showing scant regard for its purpose or history) despite the scriptural evidence on Adam pre fall and the range of views in our community.  Bro Roberts article was reprinted by CC Walker in 1923 and again by John Carter in 1955.  It is reproduced below as some useful counsel by one whose work is now mis-used to push for expulsion and division:

“True Principles and Uncertain Details;


The Danger of Going Too Far in Our Demands on Fellow-Believers

IT has pleased God to save men by the belief and obedience of a system of truth briefly described as “the gospel of our salvation,” and also spoken of by Jesus and John and Paul as “the truth.” “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—Jesus. For this reason, it is necessary for believers to be particular in requiring the full recognition of this truth at the hands of one another as the basis of their mutual association, and generally, to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints,” as enjoined by Jude. Those men are to be commended who faithfully exact this recognition both at the hands of applicants for baptism and claimants for fellowship.

But there is a danger of going too far. We live in a world of extremes of all kinds. It is difficult for any length of time to maintain an equilibrium in the application of any principle on account of the disbalances of mind so prevalent in the population, and the tendency of men to drive each other into extravagant positions through the sheer friction of personal antagonisms. This is probably more manifest in the truth than in anything else, because of the obligation to make a firm stand which arises out of the truth, as it arises out of nothing else. When men differ about the truth, their differences are more unappeasable than in any other subject, because of the greatness of the interests involved and an earnestness of purpose and a depth of affection created by the truth, as by nothing else. It was not without a reason that Jesus foretold division as the result of his appearance—division so keen that “a man’s foes should be they of his own house.”

So much of division is inevitable, and while lamenting it, men of God can but submit, with as little asperity towards those who cause it as possible. But there are divisions that are uncalled for, and therefore sinful. Paul refers to such when he says: “Mark them that cause divisions among you contrary to the doctrine (the teaching on unity) that ye have learnt.” He was referring, no doubt, to the factions arising out of personal preferences, but the warning applies to all divisions that ought not to be made. There is division enough, in all conscience—division that is inevitable—division that must be, unless we are to ignore divine obligations altogether; but there are divisions that ought not to be. It is possible to go too far in our demands on fellow-believers. How far we ought to go and where to stop, is at one time or other a perplexing problem to most earnest minds. They are afraid on the one hand of compromising the truth in fellowship; and on the other, of sinning against the weaker members of the body of Christ. The only end there can be to this embarrassment is found in the discrimination between true principles and uncertain details that do not overthrow them.

There are general principles as to which there can be no compromise: but there are also unrevealed applications of these principles in detail which cannot be determined with certainty, and which every man must be allowed to judge for himself without any challenge of his right to fellowship. To insist on uniformity of opinion on those uncertain details is an excess of zeal which may be forgiven, but which meanwhile inflicts harm and distress without just cause. An exception would, of course, be naturally made in the case of the construction of a detail that would destroy the general principle involved, such as where a man professing to believe in Christ might also believe in Mahomet or Confucius—of which there are examples. This supplementary belief destroys the first belief for a true belief in Christ is a belief in his exclusive claims.

It may help discernment if we consider some examples unaffected by uncertain details…

Man’s State After Creation

General Principle.—He was a living soul or natural body of life, maintained in being by the action of the air through the lungs like us, but unlike us, a “very good” form of that mode of being, and unsubjected to death.

Uncertain Detail.—Would he have died if left alone, unchanged, in that state if he had not sinned? Who can tell? The testimony is that death came by sin: but the fact also is that, not being a spiritual body, he was presumably not immortal. Are we going to insist upon an opinion on a point like this, which no man can be certain about? We shall act unwarrantably if we do so. It is sufficient if a man believe that Adam after creation was a very good form of flesh and blood, untainted by curse. The uncertain points must be left to private judgment”[1]


[1] Robert Roberts (1898). “True Principles and Uncertain Details”  The Christadelphian, Vol 35(electronic ed.),page 182–183.

3 thoughts on “True principles and uncertain details: RR tolerated varying opinions on Adam’s state

  1. Pingback: We don’t want you to accept Evolutionary Creation | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

  2. seamus stephenson

    It would seem that this article thrives on a God of the gaps. While it is not specified, the atonement and the curse both hinge on death being the punishment that results from sin. The Bible talks about nature being given over to corruption because of it. Not a strong argument here


    1. COD Post author

      Hi Seamus. I would welcome you putting a little more detail to your comments. Yes the atonement sin and death are linked. What you mean by “the curse” is unclear, the only curse mentioned in Genesis 3 is Adam’s new exposure to weeds.

      By nature given over to corruption I guess you are referencing Romans 8. However in Romans 8 the consequence is not mortality in creation as much as being subjected to the dominion of selfish sinful men versus the dominion of the saints.



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