Original Sin – A Primary Issue

Posted: September 23, 2010 by sabepashubbo in Doctrines, Original Sin
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m going to take a slightly different approach than J.W. on this one. One thing I’ve been learning/thinking about while going through a Systematic Theology class at our church is that everything must be viewed through the lens of its relevance to the truth of Christianity. There are three levels of this, and they are as follows:

1)   Primary issues – essential beliefs to Christianity (e.g. Jesus is God, any issue dealing with salvation)
2)   Secondary issues – not essential to the truth of Christianity, but still very important (e.g. inerrancy of Scripture)
3)   Tertiary issues – more dogmatic things (e.g. views on the Rapture, Calvinism vs. Arminianism)

Where does original sin fall? I would consider it a primary issue, because if salvation is a primary issue, it doesn’t become an issue at all unless there is something that we need salvation from.

Now Christians generally agree that man is born inherently sinful. No arguments there. Paul further refers to original sin as “the sin of Adam.” (Romans 5:12). This of course begs the question why sin entered the world with Adam, since it was Eve that ate the fruit first. Part of me likes to think that Adam first sinned by not assuming the responsibility that God had entrusted to him by giving him Eve. He was falling down on the job; he wasn’t being the king, warrior, mentor or friend that God had called him to be (see Stu Weber’s Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart for this reference).

So Adam gave us a sin nature, it seems. J.W. appears to be on the right track here. We can’t have been given our sin nature from God, because God doesn’t have sin in His nature to give. It is something that makes man different from God; Norm Geisler calls this distinction “potentiality.” God has pure Actuality, and it is this He can give us and does give us in things like morality, love, wisdom, etc. But He cannot give what He does not have in His nature, which is sin.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we all possess a piece of Adam’s soul. But we do inherit the nature of his potentiality, and it is this that makes us sinful, and therefore finite in nature and also in understanding. It’s this sin that blocks our view of God’s Actuality, because we are separate beings from God due to this sin. We can understand what God is like, but not who He is in a perfect sense. I can dive more deeply into this in the comments section if anyone would like, but it seems to me that this would be a good stopping point for digestion and reflection.

Ultimately it all points to the need for a Savior, and thankfully our Father loves us enough to send us His Son to die once for all original sin we possess. Amen!


The preceding post is the property of Christian Diversity (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

  1. Adam,
    Precisely how does one inherit the nature of another’s “potentiality?” I’m a wee bit confused here. You go on to say that “it is this that makes us sinful.” If we do not inherit another’s nature but only the nature’s potential, how exactly is potentiality of a nature transferred from one human to another?

    • sabepashubbo says:

      Hi Paul,

      I guess I wasn’t clear enough in the post. I do feel like we inherit parts of our nature. Genetics tells us that much, clearly. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to make the leap to the idea that our soul is from Adam. I feel like there might be a 4th option out there; perhaps God created all of our souls from the outset, since he lives in an eternal and infinite space. This would preclude the “God makes sinful souls” argument, since our souls are not created on a timeline for God (i.e. God makes our souls only right before we’re born, so sin has already happened).

      This is sort of the distinction I was trying to make when discussing potentiality. Think of potentiality not as potential in the common sense of the word, but as the quality that makes us finite. It’s the aspect of our nature that separates us as beings from God. Sin is quite possibly the biggest factor that separates us from God, for in a sense it created the finitude by allowing death to enter the world. If we inherit this potentiality, we inherit the sin. I guess that’s the difference between inheriting the sin nature and inheriting the soul.

      Good question! Thanks for asking.

      • Disciple says:

        Interesting thoughts. Here’s my contribution…Man was apparently created with immortality but he was still finite. Man was still created whereas God is the Creator and is Uncreated. Man was still finite in being whereas God is Infinite and is Being and the Source of Being. We inherit human nature from our human parents and the line extends back to the beginning. Our human nature was damaged, wounded, changed when Adam failed his test and lost the gifts he had from his beginning. We inherit this changed nature. We don’t inherit the actual personal sin, we inherit human nature which is in a state of Original Sin until we receive Baptism into the Body of Christ, life in Christ, becoming new creations in Christ.

  2. J.W. Wartick says:

    First, thank you for your interesting post which focuses us directly on the importance of this doctrine.

    One question I do have is why you do think that original sin is a tier 1, if you agree that, as you wrote, “…[original sin] doesn’t become an issue at all unless there is something that we need salvation from… Now Christians generally agree that man is born inherently sinful…”

    For if Christians do agree (generally) that man is born sinful, then it seems that we would need salvation from the sins we would commit due to our sinfulness. It seems that even Christians who don’t believe in a strong view of original sin could therefore avoid an objection that they don’t need salvation.

    What are your thoughts?

    • sabepashubbo says:

      Hi J.W.,

      I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. Are you asking why original sin has to be a primary issue because it doesn’t directly related to our salvation? This sentence isn’t clear to me in its meaning: It seems that even Christians who don’t believe in a strong view of original sin could therefore avoid an objection that they don’t need salvation.

  3. Mike says:

    You wrote: “We can’t have been given our sin nature from God, because God doesn’t have sin in His nature to give. It is something that makes man different from God; Norm Geisler calls this distinction “potentiality.” ”

    You then go on to explain that God has “pure Actuality”, and not potentiality. I think you are close, but that your chosen wording is unfortunate. I believe that God’s primary feature is righteousness, which in God is pure justice. For us, we are not just and can never be in this life. However, if we believe God as Abram did in Genesis 15:6, then God accounts it to us as righteousness. And so our potentiality is the potential to believe… yet righteousness is not a true potentiality, because we are merely accounted righteousness (which is our salvation, by faith, apart from obedience, which is our works). Only God is truly righteous. We don’t even have the potential for it really, hence he “accounts” it to us “as” righteousness.

    Now, by framing your argument as you did as a “potentiality”, your logic assumes that God has “potentiality” to give. As I have shown above, we has not even given us the potentiality to be righteous, or else he imparted it upon Abram, instead of merely accounting it to him.

    Another “potentiality” is the potential for distance from the Father, which manifests in us when we sin. Had you chosen that approach, then I would have pointed at Jesus as one who could potentially sin, though He did not. Note that such “potentiality” became an “actuality” within the Son. When Jesus was completely separated from the Father upon the Cross (i.e., when He became our sin), what one could “potentiality” became Christ’s Actuality, as it was the ultimate love for us, as you define actuality. So, because potential to sin (which you refer to directly) and potential to love God (which you do not refer to directly) are flip sides of the same thing, it would seem that you were merely referring to the sin aspect of it, while Christ manifested the love aspect of it. Christ’s potentiality was therefore the potentiality to distance Himself from the Father, which is our potentiality as well.

    Our potentiality therefore is from God, which agrees with your premise that we only have what God has to give, but that contradicts your premise that God has no potentiality, only Actuality.

    I do not believe that you got any of your underlying truths are wrong, but your “potentiality” argument would seem to be the wrong way to frame it.

    • sabepashubbo says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the response. I think you ran with the “potential” part of “potentiality” a little much. See the above response I gave to Paul for how to think about the word “potentiality.” I didn’t coin it; I’m only using the terminology put forth by Geisler.

      It’s what allows God to give us pieces of His nature (love, morality, a sense of justice, etc.) without us having perfect understanding or execution of these qualities. If we were able to possess these qualities perfectly, we would be the same being as God. Since we are not, we must understand what we possess that makes us different from God. That is how I am using the term “potentiality,” not in the sense of what we have the potential to do and where it comes from.

      I get these terms from Geisler’s “Systematic Theology, vol. 1.” If you get a chance to pick it up, it’s worth it, believe me. The distinction at play here is discussed more in-depth in the chapter involving the language precondition.

  4. J.W. Wartick says:


    My point is that I’m not sure what the argument is for making original sin a tier 1 belief (i.e. an essential doctrine). It seems as though your argument hinges on the idea that we need to be culpable for something in order to need salvation, yet you also asserted that almost all Christians agree we are sinful. Why, then, does original sin rank as essential? I’m not disagreeing with your thesis (though I would not rank original sin above inerrancy in a list of important doctrines), rather, I’m not sure why you are holding that original sin is essential.

    • sabepashubbo says:

      Gotcha. Here’s my thinking:

      A primary belief is something that you absolutely must believe to be true in order to be a Christian in the real sense of the Word. For instance, to deny that Jesus is also God is to be lacking an essential belief, God’s existence is an essential belief, etc. That we have salvation through the price Jesus paid when He died on the cross is also an essential belief, because it is this act that the whole of Christianity is predicated on. Jesus’ death would mean absolutely nothing if there was nothing He was saving us from, so the belief that man is sinful is also a primary issue.

      Now when I consider original sin in this sense, I am saying that as part of potentiality all human that have ever lived (save Christ) have a sin nature, which I would equate to the idea that we are all prone to sin because we have inherited this aspect of our nature from those before us (Adam, our parents, etc.). So what I consider the primary issue is that man has a sin nature, which perhaps I have been a bit too hasty in equating with original sin. If you think the two are separate, then I would consider original sin a tertiary issue. It all depends on your interpretation of what original sin actually means, either through historical documents or Biblical texts.

      I hope that clears up the issue and lets you know where I stand on primary vs. secondary vs. tertiary as it relates to original sin. Thanks for helping me think on this a little bit! 🙂

      • J.W. Wartick says:


        You cleared it up marvelously. I think the confusion was in that there was no definition of original sin within the post, so I was operating my own definition, which is different from your own, which I take to be a predisposition to sin… am I correct in that assumption? If I am correct, than I would agree that sin is certainly a central Christian doctrine.

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