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ORIGIN 1.4.3

Original sin?

Seeking answer to this question
Do we inherit Adam's sin?
(No - guilty only for our own sin)
Three-point doctrine

Meaning of original sin

As usually understood, there are three points to the doctrine of original sin; i.e., three concepts consolidated into one:

  • POINT 1 - Everyone inherits Adam's sin. From moment of birth, God holds everyone personally guilty for Adam's sin regardless of time, place, circumstance or knowledge.
  • POINT 2 - Sin is the cause of death. Adam's sin is the cause of all death on earth; prior to Adam's sin, the earth was perfect and nothing died.
  • POINT 3 - Unbelievers burn in hell forever. Adam's sin will cause everyone to burn in hell forever except those who accept Jesus as Savior, even those who have never heard of Jesus.

Some Christians believe only one or two of the three points.

Most Christians have become inoculated to the horror of this doctrine, which is repelling people from the love and justice of God rather than to the love and justice of God.

Purpose of this study

For nearly eighteen hundred years there have been theological arguments over the doctrine of original sin.

Generally speaking, what people believe about it – if they even think about it at all – is determined by what they have been taught through centuries of church tradition. There is enormous pressure on church leaders to conform to tradition and, until now, little or no reason for deviation.

Now, however, churches in the West are declining and some old traditions are falling under scrutiny of common sense and renewed investigation. People today are smarter and asking penetrating questions.

It is time to restudy and rethink some questionable doctrines to see what the Bible actually says and to have the courage to challenge traditions not objectively grounded in scripture.

The purpose of this study is to go all the way back to the original New Testament manuscripts – the same thing that theologians do – and see for ourselves what the Bible teaches (or doesn't teach) about original sin.

Where did this docrine come from?

Background

The term 'original sin' does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It is a doctrine conceived by theologians long after the deaths of Jesus, the Apostles and all New Testament writers.

The doctrine had its origin in the writings of Tertullian (160-220) and Cyprian (200-258). It was popularized by Augustine (354-430), Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564).

The people who first taught the doctrine of original sin did not have any personal interaction with Jesus or his disciples. Hundreds of years had passed, and oral transmission was no longer consistent and trustworthy, so for truth they studied the manuscripts we now call the New Testament – the exact same manuscripts we can study today.

Those theologians didn't have any advantage over us. In fact, we now have advantages over them for interpreting scripture.

Consider Staint Augustine, for example, the person most responsible for giving impetus to the doctrine of original sin (see 1.1.1). He lived 1,500 years ago in Africa. He did not have a printed Bible or study books; he lived a thousand years before the printing press. His language was Latin, and he could read only a smattering of Greek, so he read scriptures from hand-written fragments of a Latin translation of the original Greek called the Vulgate, translated by Saint Jerome in the late fourth century.

Now compare Augustine's situation to our situation today. We have the benefit of 1,500 years of collection and study of thousands of actual Greek manuscripts preceding the Vulgate ... Greek-to-English interlinear versions from the world's best linguists who have thoroughly researched word usage and meanings in Palestine at the time of Jesus ... scholarly translations into dozens of English versions (plus hundreds of other languages) which can be compared side-by-side ... and tens of thousands of research projects, books and commentaries.

Virtually all scholars agree on the exact content of the original Greek manuscripts for the book of Romans. Interpretation is the issue, not the source documents.

Today anyone can be better equipped to study scripture than Saint Augustine, who did the best he could with what he had, but he had only parts of the Latin Vulgate. Now all the documentation we need is instantly available to anyone without charge via the Internet!

Tap here to see how we can study scripture better than Saint Augustine
Study Romans 5
Following is a portion of a letter of instruction written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome, as recorded in the Bible in the 5th chapter of Romans.
Paul wrote this approximately 58 AD, about 3900 years after Adam died (per biblical genealogy) and about 20 years after Jesus' resurrection. Paul assumes his audience has heard about Adam and makes a comparison – a juxtaposition – between Adam and Jesus.
TAP HERE FOR INTERLINEAR BIBLE, which brings up the word-by-word translation of Romans 5 from original Greek into English. For each word, it also shows the exact part of speech and reference number in Strong's Lexicon. Interlinear requires intense study but is as close as possible to the context and true meaning of the original Greek document.
TAP HERE FOR NIV BIBLE, which brings up Romans 5 in the New International Version, a very popular and highly regarded English translation, set side-by-side with other English translations. The WORDS IN BLACK below are from the NIV.
WORDS IN RED are comments to stimulate thinking and call attention to key statements.
Romans 5:12-21
Verse-by-verse study
This is the scripture used to justify the doctrine of original sin
BEGIN STUDY
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man,
Sin is not a thing. It is not created or made. It is a condition.
Sin is violation of God's command (law). It is disobedience. Disobedience is nothing by itself but is rather a depravation. Disobedience is lack of obedience, just as cold is lack of heat, dark is lack of light, rot is lack of health, evil is lack of good.
Because sin is not a thing – not something physical that moves – the word 'entered' seems to mean first appearance or first identified.
Therefore, the phrase 'sin entered' in this verse seems to mean when the condition first occurred.
The phrase 'entered the world' must mean entered the world of humanitynot the first occurrence of sin ever – because other passages in the Bible say that Satan and his angels (demons) sinned earlier. Satan was already in the Garden telling lies before Adam sinned.
This entire Romans 5 passage speaks of 'one man' without ever naming him, but it seems obvious from description and context that the man is Adam. Emphasis is on man, not on Adam; emphasis on humanity, not on a person.
This verse says that sin entered the world 'through one man' – NOT because of one man. It does NOT say that sin and death began with Adam. It says only that Adam was the first person on earth who was a culpable sinner.
So what did Adam do that made him the first sinner? The answer is in verses 15-20: He was the first person to commit 'the trespass'replacing God; with full knowledge, trying to take God's place discussed in panel below.
But why not Eve? She ate forbidden fruit first. For answer, see 1.4.2 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14.
and death through sin,
There was death on earth before Adam sinned (see 1.3C).
This verse does NOT say that sin causes death but rather that death (end of existence, see 1.3) now comes 'through sin;' i.e., final death comes after going through judgment and punishment for a lifetime of personal sin.
For humans, death is no longer like it was originally – like all other death in God's creation – when physical death and final death were one and the same. Before sin, that distinction was meaningless. Now death is through sin, by way of sin ... must deal with sin first.
The new order is that hell now intervenes before final death. See 3.5.1 for confirmation by Bible study on death and hell.
and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
This is the way – through judgment and punishment for sin – that final death (end of existence) eventually comes to all people, not because Adam sinned, but because ALL SINNED.
The big point here is that 'all sinned.' If everyone has sinned, then it is meaningless to contrive a theory about inheriting guilt from another person.
Death is – and always has been – the default condition throughout all of God's creation. Everything and everybody dies. Life-and-death is the way God designed the universe. [The only exception is that some people (see 1.7) can get out of the default condition and have eternal life IF their sins are forgiven.]
The 'because' does not mean that sin causes death but rather that sin blocks access to eternal life, confining people to the original default condition, which is death.
Many Christians use this verse to assert that the guilt for Adam's sin is placed on everyone individually because he is federal head of the human race and therefore (why therefore?) all of his billions of descendants are also guilty. This is reading into the verse something that it doesn't say or even imply.
Actually, Adam was NOT the first human (see 1.3) ... the Bible does NOT say that God appointed him federal head of the human race ... and statements in other parts of the Bible say that people are NOT guilty for sins of leaders and parents, only for their own sins.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given,
'Law' = The first law God ever gave to man (to Adam: do not eat forbidden fruit). Alternatively, it could refer only to the Law of Moses (Ten Commandments).
There was sin in the world before Adam, before God had given any commandment (law) to anyone. What kind of sin was that? Why weren't those people the first sinners? See last part of this verse; then see 1.5 for discussion of conscience.
Adam was the first person ever to receive a clear and unmistakable law directly from God. Adam was the first culpable sinner.
God's first law was specifically for people in the Garden of Eden. The law never applied to anyone other than Adam and Eve because, after God evicted them from the Garden, he prohibited anyone from having access to the Tree of Life (eternal life).
The next time God gave a law to anyone was approximately 2,500 years later when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments for the Israelites.
This verse seems to say that, except for the brief law applying only to Adam and Eve, there WAS SIN in the world but NO LAW until time of Moses.
Even when God gave the Ten Commandments, the Law was known and applicable only to the Israelites, a nation that accounted for less than 6% of the world's population at that time (see 1.4A).
but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
Sin is violation of God's commandment (law). There can be no sin without law because there would be no law to violate. Sin and law are intrinsically linked.
This verse seems to say that an action we call sin because we have the law is not sin when and where there is no law.
Modern analogy: Driving on the left side of the road is a crime if there is law prohibiting it, but not a crime if there is no law.
Or back then: Worship of multiple gods (sun god, harvest god, fertility god) is sin if God has made himself known and commanded worship only to himself, but is not sin if there is no law and people worship in primitive ignorance.
The words 'charged against anyone's account' is a way of saying that sin is individual and situationalnot universal. This is contrary to the concept of original sin, contrary to saying that guilt for Adam's sin is placed on everyone.
This verse seems to say that God does NOT punish unjustly and that people are NOT held accountable and punished for things they know nothing about. Unlike the doctrine of origin sin, this is consistent with other portions of scripture which describe God's character as just and loving.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses,
'Death reigned' during that time, meaning that death – final death (see 3.5.1) – was the default condition, the way it was ... people just died, period ... no knowledge or opportunity for eternal life ... no burning in hell forever. [There may have been some exceptions – as for Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc. – but apparently this is the way it was – death reigned, death was normative – for virtually all people during that time.]
The time from Adam (4000 BC) to Moses (1500 BC) was about 2,500 years – longer than the time from Jesus to now.
Because of Adam's sin, God cut off all access to the Tree of Life. Genesis 3:22 says that the Tree of Life was then God's only offer of eternal life. The result is that people of that time died (end of existence) without knowing about or being able to choose eternal life. In verses 15-19 those people are called 'the many.'
Proponents of the doctrine of original sin say that this verse doesn't really mean what it says ... they say the word 'death' really means life ... they say those people will live forever, burning in hell ... and they have contrived an accommodation doctrine called 'spiritual death' (see 1.4C), a concept (burning in hell forever) which goes far beyond eternal separation from God (death).
For people who lived between Adam and Moses (approximately 4000BC to 1500 BC), this Romans 5 chapter says simply that those people die. The Bible does NOT say anywhere that those people will live and burn in hell forever (see 3.5.1).
even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam,
The people who lived between Adam and Moses did not sin like Adam sinned – by breaking a direct command from God – because they had no personal encounter with God and no law from God.
So what happened to them? Based on preceding verses, they lived, then died (end of existence), the normal cycle of life.
who is a pattern of the one to come.
THIS IS A TRANSITION POINT (from sin-and-death to Adam-vs-Jesus):
The teaching now shifts into a series of five contrasts between Adam (sinner) and Jesus (Savior).
In the remaining verses of this chapter, Adam is a pattern – a particular kind of life (disobedient) – contrasted with 'the one to come' (Jesus, obedient life, God's gift).
The contrasting pattern is summarized succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:22: 'For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' This is the central Christian message: Eternal life through Jesus Christ, God's gift, our Savior.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass.
This is the first use of the word 'trespass.' (Some English versions translate this Greek word 'paraptoma' as offense, transgression and fall.)
Before continuing with the study, see panel below for better understanding of 'the trespass'.
ADAM'S SIN
'the trespass'
taking God's place
The story of Adam and Eve is told in Genesis 2:4 - 3:24
There were two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God said to Adam (who told Eve), 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'
Adam had a clear personal choice: either certain death or opportunity for eternal life.
But Satan said to Adam and Eve: 'You will not surely die ... For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'
Here we see the motivation. This was more than a minor infraction. It was revolt, rebellion! They wanted to eat the fruit so they could be like God, so they could set their own rules.
Eating the forbidden fruit was just the outward manifestation of rebellion against God. God looks to the heart and mind and sees the motive.
Three conditions constitute this sin ('the trespass'):
  • Encounter with God
  • Known law from God
  • Rebellion against God
'The trespass' was that Adam wanted to become his own god and set his own rules. People ever since have wanted to be their own god and/or worship other gods.
Approximately 2,500 years passed before God again gave another law, the Ten Commandments, to Moses for the Israelites. The first commandment was: 'You shall have no other Gods before me' (Exodus 20:3).
Another 1,500 years passed before God (Jesus) gave the Great Commandment for everyone: 'Love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength' (Mark 12:30).
God first and only has always been the fundamental commandment (law) from God; to violate it is 'the trespass.'
Another word for this sin is idolatry – when an individual puts self and things in the place of God.
CONTINUE STUDY
For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,
CONTRAST 1 (trespass vs. gift):
'The many' = Those in Adam's immediate family and extended families over thousands of years who could have had the opportunity for eternal life (Tree of Life) if punishment for Adam's sin had not denied them access.
(Linguistic technical: The Greek word for 'the many' in this phrase is an adjective referring to the verb which is in the past tense, so it means a large but indefinite number of people who have died already, not people in the future.)
God gave Adam free will and offered life (presumably eternal life) if he chose the Tree of Life (permitted) but death if he chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (forbidden).
This verse says that many died because Adam chose the forbidden tree, thus committing the trespass.
Penalty was expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden and permanent closure of the Garden. This denied 'the many' the opportunity to choose eternal life and thus they all died, no eternal life.
This verse says that many died by the sin of one man, but this is NOT the same as saying (original sin) that they and all people thereafter are condemned to burn in hell forever. That goes far beyond what the verse actually says.
how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
Adam's sin denied eternal life to many people (they just died), but Jesus' offer of eternal life is now made available to a far greater number of people all over the world. The vast majority people who have ever lived were born after Jesus.
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin:
The magnitude and effect of God's gift relative to Adam's sin is incomparable!
The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation,
CONTRAST 2 (condemnation vs. justification):
The judgment and punishment for Adam's trespass – one sinbrought condemnation to many people. Who? How? The judgment closed the Garden and denied further access to the Tree of Life. Those who otherwise could have lived in the Garden and/or extended area and could have eaten from the Tree of Life were instead condemned to death (denied eternal life) because at that time there was no other way to move beyond ordinary death, no other way (yet) for eternal life.
but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
The sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the gift brought justification for many trespasses (trespassers); i.e., brought large numbers of people into a good relationship with God.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man,
CONTRAST 3 (death vs. life):
For those people, the opportunity for eternal life was blocked, so death reigned (was normative).
Sin is the barrier to eternal life. If a person cannot move past the barrier, then death is the default condition.
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Now on a larger scale, Jesus is the way through the barrier. Those who receive God's gift (Jesus) will reign in life (have eternal life).
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people [of that time],
CONTRAST 4 (one sin vs. one righteous act):
This verse is the primary proof-text (without the brackets, explained below) used to support of the belief that, because of Adam's sin, everyone without Jesus as Savior will burn in hell forever (original sin).
so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people [now].
THERE ARE THREE PROBLEMS with using this verse to support the doctrine of original sin:
PROBLEM 1. This verse is also the proof-text used by people who believe in universal salvation. If we say that Adam gives sin to 'all people' (without qualification) then we must treat the second part of the verse the same way and say that Jesus gives eternal life to 'all people.' It is contradictory and meaningless to say that everyone has both original sin (hell) and eternal life (heaven); they cancel each other. Therefore, the broadest interpretation of 'all people' (no qualification) must be incorrect and is contrary to the main theme of the Bible.
PROBLEM 2. 'All people' in the broadest interpretation (no qualification) includes people who lived before Adam. It is an unwarranted stretch to say that Adam's sin is placed retroactively on people who had already lived and died. Therefore the broadest interpretation must be incorrect.
PROBLEM 3. If 'all people' is interpreted to mean everyone, without any qualification, this verse is out synch with the surrounding verses which say 'the many.' Therefore the broadest interpretation must be incorrect.
Three words of qualification – for all people [of that time], added in brackets to the translation above – eliminates all three problems. This clarification is justified because, in context, the passage is referring to people who lived in the time period between Adam and Moses (verse 18 'time of Moses to Adam' through verse 20 when 'the law was brought in').
Regardless of how 'all people' is interpreted this verse – and throughout the entire passage – this says nothing about people burning in hell forever, a concept usually regarded as a component of original sin.
19 For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made [to remain as] sinners,
CONTRAST 5 (disobedience vs. obedience):
People who lived between Adam and Moses (2,500 years) did not have opportunity for eternal life because of Adam's sin, and thus 'the many' remain as sinners ('all sinned') and die.
Verse 12 says 'all sinned.' This is confirmed by Romans 3:23 ('all have sinned') and many other portions of scripture. People become sinners individually, their own sin. Brackets added to the text above provide clarification to show that without a means of salvation, people cannot get out of the sinner's condition.
This verse and preceding verses say that Adam's disobedience affected 'the many,' unlike the doctrine of original sin which says 'all.'
so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
THIS IS A TRANSITION POINT (from past to present):
Universal salvation is not taught in the Bible. People are not made righteous involuntarily, automatically and necessarily because of the obedience of Jesus. Nor are people made sinners involuntarily, automatically and necessarily because of the disobedience of Adam. The wording is parallel, so what we say of the one we must say of the other – neither hell nor heaven are forced upon anyone by an act of another.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
God has since brought in new commandments (law): The Ten Commandments to Moses for the Israelites and the teachings of Jesus for everyone.
First of the Ten Commandments was: 'You shall have no other Gods before me' (Exodus 20:3).
Jesus said the most important commandment is: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength' (Mark 12:30). Violation of this commandment is 'the trespass.'
This commandment is given to a rapidly growing world-wide population, so it is inevitable that the incidence of trespass [taking God's place] increased. But God's grace increased all the more by His offer of salvation to everyone through Jesus.
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The key point of it all: We are no longer constrained to death; now everyone can have 'eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.'
No mention of hell
Speaks only about death
Romans 5 is the principal Bible passage used to justify the doctrine of original sin. However, there is not even a hint about burning in hell – the passage speaks only about DEATH.
EVEN IF we were guilty of Adam's sin, we then would need to ask: What is Adam's punishment? Answer: Denial of eternal life (banishment from the Garden and no access to the Tree of Life). So our punishment, too, would be denial of eternal life, which is death.
People burning in hell forever is not even implied. It is an unwarranted stretch of the text.
See 3.5.1 for Bible study on death and hell
Provocative questions
Stimulate re-thinking
  • The Bible says clearly in many places that ALL have sinned. So why the need for a doctrine that places Adam's sin on everyone in order to show that everyone needs a Savior?
  • Most people think this doctrine is extremely cruel and unjust. It drives people away from the gospel. Why would God want us to interpret this chapter in the worst possible way?
  • All other parts of the Bible say that individuals are not responsible for the sins of leaders and parents. Why interpret this chapter in way that contradicts other portions of scripture?
  • Theologians tend to make things complicated. Why not interpret 'death' simply as DEATH like the Bible says?
  • This chapter says nothing about hell. It says only that, because of Adam's sin, some people ('the many') will die. With what rationalization do people conclude that to 'DIE' means just the opposite (to LIVE, in hell, burning forever)?
  • This doctrine says that we are born with the full guilt of Adam's sin and bound for eternity in hell. Then what good is free will? Why does the Bible teach choices in the way we live?
  • Most people just believe what they have been told about original sin through church tradition without ever questioning it. How many people actually open the Bible and examine this doctrine themselves?
  • This doctrine emerged about 400 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is based on manuscripts and scholarship that were not as good then as we have today (see 1.1.1). Why are people so reluctant to alter old beliefs when they get better information?
  • This doctrine means that millions of people – probably about 100 billion – are condemned to eternal torment for something they did not do, and most were not offered a means of salvation known and understood by them. Can anyone even imagine anything more cruel and unjust than that?
  • This doctrine is completely contrary to the actions of a loving and just God. Why interpret this chapter in a way that impuns God's character?
Source of sin
Sin is from our free will
Sin is not a thing created or a disease transmitted. It is a condition resulting from choice.
Sin is nothing by itself; it is the absence of something. Just as dark is the absence of light, cold is the absence of heat, and rot is the absence of heath, sin is the absence of good. It is depravation of a quality.
WHAT JESUS SAID. Sin was the main point of Jesus' ministry, but nowhere in scripture does Jesus teach that our sin nature is the result of Adam eating forbidden fruit. Jesus said sin is not the result of original sin but of free will: 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin' (John 15:22-23).
See 1.6 for discussion of free will
SUMMARY
  • Adam did not commit the first sin, but he is the first person who rebelled against God ('the trespass').
  • Adam's sin does not condemn everyone to hell, but his sin blocked many from eternal life (people living from Adam to Moses)
  • People are not guilty for breaking God's law if they have not been given the law.
  • Sin does not cause death, but sin blocks access to eternal life; i.e., sin is in the way, need forgiveness through Jesus.
  • Romans 5 does not make a single reference to burning forever in hell; it just talks about death.
  • Jesus never taught that our sinfulness is from Adam but rather that it is the result of our own free will.

Doctrine not grounded

The Bible study in Part C, summarized here, shows that NONE of the three points in the doctrine of original sin is objectively grounded in scripture:

  • POINT 1 - Everyone inherits Adam's sin. Nowhere does the Bible teach that one person is guilty for the sin of another (except a possible interpretation of Romans 5 examined below). In fact, the Bible says just the opposite: 'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (Deuteronomy 24:16) and 'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers' (Ezekiel 18:20).
  • POINT 2 - Sin is the cause of death. There was death on earth long before sin on earth. Therefore, sin cannot be the cause of death (see 1.3).
  • POINT 3 - Unbelievers burn in hell forever. Romans 5 is used as the biblical justification for this doctrine, but the chapter (see Bible study below) says nothing at all about hell, and nowhere does the Bible say that people will burn in hell forever. See 3.5.1 for Bible study on death and hell.