In a comment to a blog post, one person summed up the most typical opposition to the doctrine of original sin:

Adam’s sin only brings physical death and the inclination towards sin. We do not inherit its guilt so as to be born or conceived damned, nor can we be damned for his sin since God explicitly states “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.” (source)

It’s not really about the fact that Genesis 3 records the first time that creation disobeyed God and that God must now redeem this creation back to himself in order that justice may be served. No, people hate the idea that we’re being held responsible for the sin of this Adam dude who lived thousands of years ago, we never met, and we didn’t have a say-so in what he did.

The commenter covers two important effects of the original sin, but physical death and the inclination toward sin aren’t the only two effects of the Fall. The other effect, the effect that many deny, is imputed sin. Another commenter points out the consequences of such a belief system:

If you want to reject our Fall in Adam, you must also reject our Salvation through the Second Adam. Denying federal representation cuts both ways…you reject original sin, you reject Christ’s atonement. (source)

Let’s take a moment to look at imputed sin, then we’ll see why it is so important for the Atonement. First, we need to understand that we live in an individualist society and that the Bible was written by and to a collectivist society. Collectivist societies have a strong sense of identity with
the family unit, and the head of the family (the father) gave the entire family its reputation.

In this sort of society, the son would expect to suffer for the sins of his father.
By blood, all of us are descended from Adam. We take our ultimate family identification from him. Therefore, in a collectivist sense, we should expect to suffer the consequences of his sin. In a collectivist society, this would be the norm and no one would have the problem that some critics have today.

Adam’s sin is therefore imputed to us.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom 5:12-14, emphasis added)

Sin and death have entered the world through Adam, and have spread to all men. By both nature and choice, men are sinners. “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5:15, emphasis added). Through that one sin, many died. But there is good news:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:18-19, emphasis added)

Here the apostle is contrasting Adam’s act of disobedience with Christ’s act of obedience. Because of Adam’s disobedience, many were made sinners. But because of one act of obedience by Jesus Christ, many are justified before God and considered righteous. If you reject the first premise, then you are left with no basis for the second premise.

See also:

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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!

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[Editor’s note: this post has been thoroughly reworked due to some invigorating discussion in the comment section. Check out the refined version here.]

Original Sin Defined

The writers of the Augsburg Confession (found in the Book of Concord) defined Original Sin as the belief that “…since the fall of Adam all human beings who are propagated according to nature are born with sin, that is, without fear of God… [we] teach that this disease or original fault is truly sin, which even now damns and brings eternal death to those who are not born again through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (BOC, 39).

One Objection

Ezekiel 18:20a states, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

The word used for “soul” in this passage is the Hebrew word, nephesh. This passage leads to the objection that original sin cannot be true as I have outlined it, because it involves the son inheriting the guilt of the father.

The Question of the Soul: A Metaphysic of Original Sin

Three views of the soul are prevalent in Christianity. All of them presuppose metaphysical dualism. They are:

1) Our soul is constructed just as our physical body: Our soul is a half-and-half combination of the souls of our mother and father. One problem with this view is that it seems to treat the soul as a physical object. How exactly does a non-physical entity get combined half-and-half into a new non-physical entity. It certainly isn’t impossible, however. This view is quite popular.

2)  God specially creates each soul for each person when he/she is conceived/born/etc. Alternatively, God has already created every soul for everyone who will ever live, and puts them in a body when one is needed. The main problem with this view is that it would seem that if original sin is true (in the sense I have outlined it above), then God creates sinful souls for us.

3) Our soul is from Adam. There are no new souls for mankind, rather, we all share, in some sense, Adam’s soul.

I shall focus on 3) because it is the view I am forwarding. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God breathed the breath (nephesh) of life into Adam. I contend that this (nephesh), which is in all humanity (and has been alternatively explained as our reason, soul, life, ethical awareness, etc.) is indeed our soul. Furthermore, because this nephesh is the same as that breathed into Adam, original sin is passed on, not through the inheritance simply of our parents’ genes, but through the fact that we share one and the same nephesh with Adam.

So how does this answer the objection from Ezekiel 18:20? Initially, one may argue it seems to purge the passage of all meaning. This is not the case, however. What Ezekiel is referring to is the sin of commission. That is, it refers to a sin which requires an action. Ezekiel is telling us that the actions of the father do not condemn the actions of the son. This does not, however, preclude the original sin, through which all are condemned equally.

Source:

The Book of Concord. Augsburg Fortress. 2000.

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