Topic 1.4.3
Original sin
MACRO TOPIC 1.4.3

Doctrine of Original sin

Jesus didn't teach it

PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY

remove human barrier to faith

Purpose

For sixteen hundred years there has been heated theological argument over the doctrine of original sin.

Generally speaking, what people think about this doctrine is determined by what they have been taught through centuries of tradition within their particular church grouping.

There is enormous pressure on church leaders to conform to tradition, and it takes courage to deviate, even with strong scriptural backing. Until now it has usually been adequate simply to quote teachings from a long line of church fathers.

But just quoting tradition is no longer enough in the modern world, especially when tradition conflicts with the basic gospel narrative of love, justice and free will.

The U.S. church is losing ground rapidly to Millennials and GenZs who are asking tough questions and wanting sensible answers for today. They expect intelligent and informed conversations with believers, with reasons, not just indoctrination, supported with statements they can see for themselves in the Bible.

The purpose of this study is to go directly to the original New Testament Greek manuscripts – the same as theologians do – and see what the Bible actually teaches (or doesn't teach) about original sin and learn how to discuss the topic thoroughly and confidently with people who are troubled by it.

THREE-POINT DOCTRINE

summary of beliefs

People who believe it

Here are the three points typically expressed by people who believe in the doctrine of original sin:

  • POINT 1 - Everyone inherits the guilt for 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 a perfect paradise, and nothing died.
  • POINT 3 - Unbelievers burn in hell forever. Adam's sin will cause everyone to burn in hell forever as punishment – except those who accept Jesus as Savior – even people who never even heard of Adam or Jesus.

Some Christians believe only one or two of these three points, and some (below) don't believe any of them.

People who don't believe it

Here is response to the above three points from people who don't believe in the doctrine of original sin:

  • COUNTER-POINT 1 - Everyone is guilty only for his/her own sin. Nowhere does the Bible teach that one person is guilty for the sin of another, except a questionable interpretation of a few verses from the Apostle Paul (examined in this study). Jesus and the Twelve Apostles never mentioned Adam or taught original sin.
  • COUNTER-POINT 2 - There was death on earth long before Adam sinned. Bible genealogy says Adam lived about 4000 B.C. We now have ample evidence that there was death on earth long before Adam existed. Coal, oil, limestone, dinosaurs, archaeological finds and scientific dating are examples of the evidence. Therefore, Adam's sin cannot be the cause of death. Death is not a design flaw in God's plan but rather a divine intent for everything He created to die eventually, with one exception: Eternal life offered through Jesus Christ.
  • COUNTER-POINT 3 - Unbelievers burn in hell, but not forever. Romans 5 is used as the biblical justification for burning in hell forever, but as shown in this study, that passage says nothing at all about hell, and nowhere does the Bible say that people will burn in hell FOREVER. On the contrary, Jesus said that in hell people will eventually die ('burned up' ... 'destroyed' ... 'consumed' ... 'perish' ... in Jesus' own words).

This Topic 1.4.3 examines the above points and counter-points with verse-by-verse study of scripture.

WHY IT MATTERS

hinders our mission

God's justice

Justice is a big issue throughout the world today, especially among the younger generations. It is regarded as one of the highest – perhaps the highest – of all virtues.

When doubters and unbelievers hear about original sin, they are totally repulsed. To them, there is nothing more unjust than torturing people in the most horrific way imaginable – burning them in fire forever – for something they didn't do, or even know about, and not making known any means of salvation.

It is especially onerous to be told that God places this guilt and sentence of punishment on every infant at moment of birth. Most people react by thinking consciously or subconsciously: I could never be attracted to a God like that!

Christians who believe in original sin usually respond simply by saying (1) God can do whatever He wants and (2) it's what the Bible says, so we have to accept it.

This study challenges that response:

(1) Of course God can do whatever He wants. He is Creator and Sovereign of the universe. But this is not the issue here. The ISSUE IS NOT whether or not we like the way God deals with sinners, but rather the ISSUE IS whether or not God likes the way we portray Him as a monster by stretching and adding to scripture.

(2) Not all Christians believe in original sin. Apparently Jesus didn't believe it either, or else he would have said something about it. Christians who believe it keep saying that this is what the Bible teaches (though there are only a few verses on the subject, all dubious) ... but Christians who don't believe it search the scriptures and can't find it there, not even in those few verses.

If the Bible compels a belief that God tortures the innocent, then we would have to accept it. However, that belief comes almost entirely from human tradition, not from clear teaching of scripture, which is the point of this study.

At least once in a lifetime, every Christian should carefully study this important theological issue personally, not believing or disbelieving based what one's church tradition says, but based instead on what the Bible says as understood from personal study.

Christian mission

Our mission from Jesus is to 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28:18), but statistics show that the church (body of believers) is now failing miserably in America.

The church is contentious and squabbling over unessential points of doctrine while losing disciples at an alarming rate. The generational gap is huge and growing.

This site shows the many ways that Christians are making the Bible say things it doesn't really say, with the result that the Bible is losing credibility and Christians are being marginalized for blindly believing whatever they're told.

We should be talking to family, friends, associates and neighbors enthusiastically about the things Jesus talked about. Instead, church add-on doctrines have put us in positions impossible to defend.

Without good answers, most Christians get pummeled in spiritual conversations, so most just keep quite. Sadly, most Christians are unable to articulate the gospel in a way that ordinary people can understand or desire.

The purpose of this site is to broaden understanding of scripture to the point that a Christian becomes willing – especially in conversations with unbelievers – to explain spiritual topics with informed interpretations that are not turn-offs and conversation stoppers ... for example, to explain that not all Christians believe in the doctrine of original sin and that a person does not have to embrace it to become a Christian.

ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE

hundreds of years after Jesus

Background

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

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. 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 use for this study.

Today, we can read and understand those manuscripts even better than they could in their time.

Trace to Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine is the person most responsible for popularizing the doctrine of original sin. He is discussed on this site in Today we know more.

Tap for information about Augustine and Bible study methods

He lived 354-430 AD in Africa. Living before the printing press, he did not have a printed Bible or study books. His language was Latin, but he could read only a smattering of Greek, so he read scriptures from hand-written fragments of a Latin translation of the Greek called the Vulgate, translated by Saint Jerome in the late fourth century.

Now consider all the advantages we have today that Augustine didn't have:

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, commentaries and articles

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

Today anyone can be better equipped to study scripture than Saint Augustine. He did the best 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!

CONCEPT OF FEDERAL HEAD

the big principle in original sin

Adam is said to be federal head

Proponents of the doctrine of original sin say that Adam was 'federal head' of the entire human race, the representative who made decisions on behalf of all mankind with binding eternal consequences for every human on earth.

But nowhere does the Bible say that God appointed Adam to be federal head of the human race.

Furthermore, nowhere does the Bible say that people are ever individually guilty before God the the sins of their fathers or leaders, even though they may suffer bad worldly consequences because of those sins.

'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (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' (Ezekiel 18:20).

The Bible teaches that people will stand before God at judgment for their own sin, not for sin of their fathers.

FOUNDATIONAL VERSES

used to support doctrine of original sin

Monstrous doctrine from three verses

The usual understanding of the doctrine of original sin is that everyone is born personally guilty for Adam's sin and that everyone (except a small minority of mankind that accepts Jesus as Savior) will burn in hell forever as punishment, even if they never heard of Adam or Jesus.

Christians talk about original sin as through it is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Not so. It rests primarily upon the following three verses pulled and stretched from a broader context of free will, love and justice ... and the imperative for individual choice.
'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.' (Romans 5:12)
'Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.' (Romans 5:18)
 'For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.' (I Corinthians 15:21-22)
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, but these three are the primary verses upon which the doctrine of original sin was built – a very small biblical footing for such a monstrous doctrine!

Even with these verses out of context from the rest of scripture – read them again! – one has to strain to try to make them say that everyone is guilty for Adam's sin. It's a huge stretch, and it's adding to scripture.

If Adam caused such a horrific change to everything on earth, we would expect that the Bible would contain more than three oblique references to such a catastrophe event affecting the life and destiny of every person. And we would expect that Jesus and the Apostles would have said something about it, but they never mentioned it.

Proponents of the doctrine of original sin also cite these additional verses for support, but notice that they do NOT mention Adam or any catastophic event:

  • Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me' (Psalm 51:5). This verse simply says that King David was born into a sinful world and that his mother, like everyone, was a sinner.
  • 'Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies' (Psalm 58:3). This verse simply says that people have free will and a sin nature, which become evident at a very early age (obviously not at birth because newborn babies don't spread lies).
  • 'Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath' (Ephesians 2:3). The verse simply says that everyone has a sinful nature (consequence of free will) ... the sinful nature is why we sin ... and we deserve punishment. This doesn't make a case for universal guilt for Adam's sin.

DEEP BIBLE STUDY

Romans 5:12-21

Time to read and think

Most Christians give mental assent to the doctrine of original sin because it's what they have been taught, but few have ever studied it for themselves directly from the Bible or prepared themselves to discuss it to others.

This may be a good time to do a personal study, or at least a good time to start.

All the verses quoted on this site are from the New International Version (NIV) version of the Bible.

To facilitate deeper study, you can go to a site which shows how each verse is translated in 29 different English versions of the Bible, displayed in parallel comparisons with each other on a single page.

To go really deep, for the most thorough method of Bible study, you can go to a site which shows the Greek-to-English Interlinear translation of the original text. There you will find precise English words for each Greek word-character, together with an explanation of each word-character, plus links to other portions of scripture where that same word-character is used.

A deep study will show objectively what the Bible actually says (or doesn't say) about original sin.

Romans 5:12-21
Verse-by-verse study
This is the primary scripture used to justify the doctrine of original sin
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, which is nothing by itself but is rather a depravation of obedience. Disobedience is lack of obedience, just as cold is lack of heat, dark is lack of light, rot is lack of health and evil is lack of good.
Because sin is not a thing – not something that literally moves – the word 'entered' in this context obviously means first appearance or first identified.
Therefore, the phrase 'sin entered' in this verse should be understood to mean when the condition first occurred.
The phrase 'entered the world' obviously means the world of humanitynot the first occurrence of sin ever – because the next verse and other passages say that Satan and his angels (demons) had already sinned. Satan was already in the Garden telling lies before Adam sinned.
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 one man. It says only that this man was the first human to sin, the first to violate God's law.
The word 'through' in this phrase is the English translation of the Greek word δι’ (pronounced dee-ah') found in the original Bible manuscripts. It is a preposition and means, literally, across to the other side, back-and-forth to go all the way through, successfully across.
Here are examples of how this same word δι’ (through) is used elsewhere in the New Testament: 'Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath' (Matthew 12:1); 'when an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest' (Matthew 12:43); 'This was written to fulfill what was written through the prophet Isaiah' (Matthew 8:17). None of these verses even imply any causation. 'Through' is not the same as 'because.'
This entire Romans 5 passage speaks of 'one man' without ever naming him, but it seems obvious from the context that the man is Adam. Emphasis is on man, not on Adam; emphasis on humanity, not on a person.
The following verse, verse 13, says that sin was in the world BEFORE the first law (don't eat this fruit) was given to Adam.
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.
and death through sin,
The word 'through' in this phrase is the English translation of the Greek word διὰ (a slight variation of the same word defined in the previous phrase) found in the original Bible manuscripts. The technical linguistic definition of this word is: A primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; through.
Examples of this same word διὰ used elsewhere in the New Testament: 'Enter through the narrow gate' (Matthew 7:13); 'it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of the needle' (Matthew 19:24); 'We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22). These verses are about route, not about cause. 'Through' is not the same as 'because.'
There was death on earth long before Adam sinned, ever since creation. Death is not God's design flaw. God knew exactly what He was doing when he created a universe of constant change and humans with free will. See Bible study here on topic of sin and death.
This verse does NOT say that sin CAUSES death but rather that death (final end of existence) now comes 'through sin;' i.e., final death now comes through resurrection, judgment and punishment. It's not like simple death to all other living creatures. Since God began giving law, people will pass to final eternal death (in hell) through (at end of) dealing with their personal sin.
For humans, death is no longer like it was originally – and still is for all the rest of God's creation – when physical death and final death were one and the same. Before sin, that distinction was meaningless. Now there's a new route: death is through sin, by way of sin ... must deal with sin first.
-------- DEEPER STUDY --------
The four words 'and death through sin' are not clear and need to be understood from more than quick surface reading, especially when those four words are the foundation for the doctrine of original sin.
Deeper study is provided by other Bible studies on this site. For example:
✦ SIN BEFORE ADAM. There was sin in the world BEFORE Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Satan was already in the Garden telling lies and tempting Adam and Eve, and Eve had already eaten the fruit. (See Topic 1.4)
✦ DEATH BEFORE ADAM. God placed Adam in the Garden 'to work it and take care of it.' That would have been unnecessary unless the birth-aging-death cycle was already operating. (See Topic 1.3.2)
✦ MAN DIDN'T RUIN EVERYTHING. If God is omniscient and omnipotent, it is blasphemous to say that God created a world so flawed that one man could ruin it by causing things to start dying. God knew exactly what would happen, and He intentionally designed life and death into the world. Continuous life and reproduction without death and decay would result in overcrowding and suffocation. (See Topic 1.3.2)
✦ SCIENCE. Bible genealogies say that Adam lived approximately BC 4000 (see Topic 1.3.3). Science, the accumulated knowledge of God's world, has proved beyond doubt that there has been death in the world for considerably more than 6,000 years (see Topic 1.2), and a concocted theory of 'apparent age' cannot change it (see Topic 1.2.3).
and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
This is the way – through resurrection, judgment and hell – that final death (end of existence) eventually comes to all people (without salvation), not because Adam sinned, but because ALL SINNED.
The big point here is that 'all sinned.' If everyone has sinned, it is meaningless to contrive a theory (original sin) about inheriting our 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 (Adam was first) receive an offer from God that, if accepted, can get them out of the default condition and into eternal life. (Everyone reading this page has this offer!)
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, just as Adam's sin blocked him from the Tree of Life.
Sin is not the cause of death but is the reason why life can't get past death without Jesus.
Many Christians use this verse to assert that the guilt for Adam's sin is placed on everyone individually because he is federal head (who says?) of the human race and therefore (why therefore?) all of his billions of descendants are also guilty. As discussed in section above on federal head, this is reading into the verse something that it doesn't say or even imply.
Actually, Adam probably was NOT the first human on earth (see Bible study here on people before Adam) ... the Bible does NOT say that God appointed him federal head of the human race ... and the Bible states clearly elsewhere that people are NOT guilty for the sins of others, only for their own sins.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given,
This passage is speaking about Adam and his violation of God's law. In this context, 'the law' refers to the law (do not eat the forbidden fruit) given to Adam.
Some people think that 'the law' means the Ten Commandments given at a much later time. This passage, however, is all about Adam and his violation of the law given to him. We should not arbitrarily change the person, time and subject to another person, time and subject. This passage is clearly about Adam, not about Moses.
Furthermore, the next part of this verse says that 'sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law.' Sin WAS charged against Adam's account, so therefore the law referenced here had to PRECEDE the law given to Moses.
This verse says that there was sin in the world BEFORE Adam, before God had given any commandment (law) to anyone. What kind of sin was that? Who were the sinners? This raises a different subject too lengthy to discuss here, but it doesn't matter, because the next part of the verse says that such sin is 'not charged to anyone's account.'
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, not for the whole world. The first 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).
As far as we know from the Bible, the next time God gave any commandment (law) to any group of people was approximately 2,500 years later when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments, only for the Israelites.
This verse seems to say that, except for the brief law applying only to Adam and Eve and their offspring while living in the Garden, 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 ancient population statistics).
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 culpable sin without law because there would be no law to violate. Sin and law are intrinsically linked.
This verse seems to say that any volitional 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 in the United States is a violation if there is law prohibiting it, but not a violation 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 corporate. 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 hold people accountable 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 apparently means that death (final death, no resurrection or punishment) was the default condition, the way it was ... people just died, period ... no knowledge or opportunity for eternal life ... no resurrection, no judgment, no heaven or hell. [There may have been some notable exceptions, as for Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, but apparently this is the way it was – death reigned, death was normative – for virtually all people during that time.]
The time from Adam (about 4000 BC) to Moses (about 1500 BC) was about 2,500 years – longer than the time from Jesus to now! God did not offer eternal life to anyone during that time.
Because of Adam's sin, God cut off all access to the Tree of Life during that time. Genesis 3:22 indicates 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.'
even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam,
Proponents of the doctrine of original sin (every person is born guilty for Adam's sin) say that the word 'death' really means just the opposite: life forever, in hell. They have contrived an accommodation doctrine called 'spiritual death' (not really death, see Bible study here on spiritual death) and a doctrine of unimaginable unjust torture (see Bible study here on burning in hell forever), which go far beyond the simple concept of eternal separation from God (death).
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 on earth.
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: human, disobedient) and Jesus is a pattern (a particular kind of life: divine, obedient).
The contrasting patterns are 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.
15a But the gift is not like the trespass.
This is the first use of the word 'trespass' in this chapter, and it is used frequently to end of the chapter.
The word 'trespass' is the English translation of the Greek word παράπτωμα, which literally means to fall away after being close beside. Some English versions translate this Greek word as offense, transgression, fall, debts and sin. Some, like the NIV version, use these English words interchangeably for this same Greek word παράπτωμα, e.g., 'Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors' (Matthew 6:12) and 'the gift is not like the trespass' (Romans 5:15).
'The trespass'
means taking God's place
This is an explanation of the term 'trespass' as used in verses 15-20, referring back to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:4-3:24. 'The trespass' is Adam's sin, which is much more than just eating forbidden fruit.
There were two trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. See Bible study here on Garden of Eden.
God said to Adam, '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.'
God gave Adam a clear personal choice: either certain death or opportunity for eternal life. And Adam told Eve about the commandment.
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.'
We don't know how much time elapsed between the time Satan said this and the time the actual sin was committed. We can assume it was enough time – perhaps days, weeks or maybe even months – for Adam to process the situation and set his motivation.
We know the essence of the sin was not eating forbidden fruit, otherwise Eve would be named as the first sinner. The essence was a willful rebellion in Adam's heart and mind occurring BEFORE eating the fruit handed to him by Eve, who had eaten first.
Here we see the motivation. This was more than a minor infraction. It was revolt, rebellion! Adam wanted to eat the fruit so he could be like God, so he could set his own rules.
People ever since have been making decisions 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 all Israelites. The first commandment was: 'You shall have no other Gods before me' (Exodus 20:3).
Another 1,500 years passed before God (Jesus) made it crystal clear for everyone: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.' (Matthew 32:37-38).
God first and only has always been the fundamental commandment (law) from God; violation is 'the trespass.'
Another word for this sin is idolatry – when a person puts self and/or things in the place of God.
This is more than just ordinary sin; it is rebellion against God, wanting to be one's own God. It is still the critical sin for people today.
15b For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,
VERSE 15 IS CONTRAST #1 (trespass vs. gift):
'The many' in this verse are all those in Adam's immediate family and extended families over several thousand years who could have had the opportunity for eternal life if punishment for Adam's sin had not denied them access to the Tree of Life.
Linguistic technical: The Greek word πολλοὶ translated 'the many' in this phrase is an adjective referring to the verb ('died') which is in the past tense, so it means a large but indefinite number of people who had died already, not people in the future. Therefore, it does not mean all mankind. This verse does NOT say that ALL PEOPLE die because of Adam's sin.  
God gave Adam free will and offered him eternal life from the Tree of Life, but said he would get only death from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Penalty for the trespass was expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden and permanent closure of the Garden. This penalty denied 'the many' the opportunity to choose eternal life from the Tree of Life, and thus they all died, no possibility of eternal life.
This verse says that the many died because of Adam's sin, but this is NOT the same as saying (original sin) that they and ALL PEOPLE THEREAFTER are condemned to burn in hell forever because of Adam's sin. That goes far beyond what the verse actually says. The verse says simply that they 'died' (end of existence, the default condition for life on earth).
15c 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!
Paul contrasts Adams 'trespass' with God's 'gift.' Adam's trespass is death (end of existence); God's gift is eternal life (no end to existence).
Adam's sin denied eternal life to many people, but God's gift (Jesus) gives eternal life to a far greater number of people ('much more') all over the world. The gift 'overflows' – or as other translations say, abounds, exceeds and showers – so that the effect of Jesus on the world is so 'much more' than the effect of Adam.
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! In fact, so incomparable that, in scripture, Jesus and the New Testament writers (other than a few references by Paul) never even mention Adam. In the big picture, Adam has little effect – it's all about Jesus!
The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation,
VERSE 16 IS CONTRAST #2 (condemnation vs. justification):
The judgment and punishment for Adam's trespass – one sinbrought condemnation to many people. The judgment closed the Garden and denied further access to the Tree of Life. Those who otherwise 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; i.e., brought huge numbers of trespassers with huge numbers of trespasses into a forgiven and eternal relationship with God.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man,
VERSE 17 IS CONTRAST #3 (death vs. life):
For those generations of Adam's family denied eternal life because of Adam's sin, death reigned (was normative). The people just died, the default condition of life on earth. There was no alternative. Eternal life was not available to them because God did not offer them any means to eternal life.
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 much larger scale ('how much more'), Jesus is the way through the barrier of personal sin, the roadblock to eternal life. Jesus – God's free undeserved gift – is the way to escape the default condition of death (end of existence). 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],
VERSE 18 IS 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,' 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. There were people on earth before Adam (see Bible study here on people before Adam). So if the broadest interpretation of 'all people' is used, then this would have to include the people who lived before Adam. But verse 13 says sin is not charged against those people. It's an unwarranted stretch to say that Adam's sin is placed retroactively on people who have already lived and died or that Jesus died as a substitute for people who were not guilty of sin. 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,' a limited number meaning less than all. 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').
We know that the 'righteous act' of Jesus did not automatically bring eternal 'life for all people,' so in parallel interpretation, we can confidently say that the 'trespass' did not automatically bring 'condemnation for all people.'
19 For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made [to remain as] sinners,
VERSE 19 IS CONTRAST #5 (disobedience vs. obedience):
Many people who lived between Adam and Moses (2,500 years) – the time period in which this verse is set – did not have opportunity for eternal life because of Adam's sin, and thus 'the many' remain as sinners because 'all sinned' (verse 12).
Verse 12 is confirmed by Romans 3:23 ('all have sinned') and many other passages in scripture. People become sinners individually, their own sin. Brackets have been added to the text above for clarification to indicate that, without a means of salvation, people cannot get out of the sinner's condition.
The phrase 'were made sinners' does not mean that people would be without sin if Adam had not sinned because Verse 12 tells us that we have made ourselves sinners. Therefore, a clarification (brackets above) is to say that 'the many were made to remain as sinners;' i.e., because of Adam's sin, they were denied the means of salvation which could have saved them from their sinful condition.
This verse and preceding verses say that Adam's disobedience affected 'the many,' unlike the doctrine of original sin which says it affected '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. It is by personal choice. That is a main theme throughout the Bible.
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): Ten Commandments to Moses for the Israelites and the teachings of Jesus for everyone.
First of the Ten Commandments is: 'You shall have no other Gods before me' (Exodus 20:3). Violation of this commandment is 'the trespass.'
Jesus said: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment' (Matthew 22:37-38). Violation of this commandment is 'the trespass.'
This commandment – one God only – has been given to a rapidly growing world population, so of course the incidence of the trespass (taking God's place) has increased. But God's grace increased 'all the more' by world-wide knowledge of 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 (end of existence after judgment and punishment). Now everyone can have 'eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.'

DEEP BIBLE STUDY

I Corinthians 15

I Corinthians 15:21-22, 26, 45-48
Verse-by-verse study
This is additional scripture used to justify the doctrine of original sin and should be read together with Romans 5
Like Romans 5 above, I Corinthians 15 is a contrast between a human man (Adam) and a divine man (Jesus).
In Romans 5 we learned that humanity can bring only death, but divinity can bring eternal life.
21a For since death came through a man,
Death as we now experience it came 'through' the human man, Adam, the first sinner. We understand the meaning of 'through' from study of Romans 5:12-21 above.
Before Adam, death was simply dying like every other living thing. But ever since God gave 'law' to humans, death takes a new route. Humans now must first deal with sin – resurrection, judgment and hell – before final death.
21b the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
Resurrection (dealing with our sin after physical death) comes through the divine man, Jesus Christ.
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.
This is a stark contrast between humanity ('as in Adam') and divinity ('so in Christ'). We get death from Adam. We get eternal life from Jesus Christ.
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The default condition of life on earth has always been death. Nothing on earth has ever been immortal, not even Adam. Death is the fate of being human, with only one exception: eternal life through Christ.
Death is the enemy of eternal life. The only way to have eternal life – i.e., the only way to defeat death – is through Christ.
45 So it is written, The first Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
Where was it written? 'And the Lord God formed man [Hebrew hā·’ā·ḏām, mankind] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being' (Genesis 2:7).
This is a reminder that even physical life is from God, the life-giver.
Obviously, Jesus was not the 'last' man on earth because other men have lived after him. Likewise, Adam was not the 'first' man on earth for reasons given in Bible study here on people before Adam about the people mentioned in verse 13 in the above Romans 5 study.
First and last refer to the two men in this comparison, not the first and last humans on earth.
46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.
Natural life (physical life) came first (when God created mankind), and after that (time of Adam) God introduced spiritual life. Adam was the first human with spiritual life and accountability.
47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.
The first man in this comparison (Adam) was human. The second man (Jesus) is divine.
48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.
All people are like Adam, earthly humans destined to death, except for people who have Jesus as Savior, destined for heaven.
None of these verses say that we inherit the guilt for Adam's sin.

WHAT DID JESUS SAY?

about Adam and original sin

BIBLE INTERPRETATION on this site is guided by last words of Jesus to his disciples:
'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.' (Matthew 28:18)

Authority

All authority is from Jesus (verse above). Not church, not tradition, not Saint Augustine, not even Apostle Paul.

When we must choose between two or more possible interpretations, we should always choose the interpretation most in accord with what Jesus said.

With regard to Adam and original sin, what did Jesus say? Nothing. Complete silence. Nothing there, so nothing to talk about. There is no record of Jesus ever even mentioning Adam's name. Jesus talked only about our own choices and our own sins.

Original sin is a concept developed by theologians hundreds of years after Jesus and is defended now primarily on the basis of church tradition rather than words of scripture.

We should not add to Jesus' teachings, especially when the add-on is contradictory.

Mission

Jesus said that our mission is to 'make disciples.' The doctrine of original sin is a man-made barrier to Christian faith and a hindrance to our mission. It demeans the character of God, causing doubters and unbelievers to see God as cruel and vindictive rather than loving and just.

Statements by Jesus

Not only did Jesus say nothing about the doctrine of original sin, he made statements that contradict the doctrine:

The closest thing Jesus said on the subject of inherited sin is in John 9:1-3: 'As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Neither this man nor his parents, said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'

In John 3:18 Jesus said, 'Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.' By this statement – 'whoever does not believe' – Jesus is saying that people are not condemned at birth but are condemned by personal volition.

John 5:24, Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.' By this statement – 'will not be condemned' (future tense) – Jesus is saying that people are not condemned at birth but are condemned for not believing his words.

John 15:22 Jesus said, 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.' By this statement – 'would not be guilty of sin' (conditional) – Jesus is saying that people are not condemned at birth but are condemned by their own sin.

Church traditions

Protestant and Catholic branches of Christianity and hundreds of sub-branches within them all base their beliefs on the same original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, and each branch has excellent scholarship regarding how those words were used and understood at the time and place of the people to whom they were written.

All Christian traditions are in essential agreement on the basics: There is one God, sovereign creator of heaven and earth. God is a Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and we can have a personal relationship with Him. Man is a sinner in need of a Savior (Jesus), who died as a sacrifice for our sins. We should love God and others, and live a life of service in accordance with the Bible. After death, there will be resurrection and judgment. Some people will be saved and go to heaven, and others will go to hell.

But on details and subordinate issues – like original sin – there are major differences in interpretation of the original texts. Each religious group has its own seminaries which teach its own views, adding and expanding over the centuries on what the original manuscripts actually say.

Even though the United States is known as a Christian country, the general population today hardly knows what to believe because so much of the Bible has become convoluted, contradictory, and even repulsive. Increasingly, people are becoming agnostic: 'I don't know what to believe, and I don't think anyone can really know.'

Christians have contributed greatly to this problem by claiming that the Bible says more than it actually says. We should not add to scripture, and our interpretations should be tested against what Jesus said.

A principle of interpretation

A principle of good interpretation is to remember that scripture – like the portion of the letter studied here from the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome – was intended to be read to gatherings of ordinary people, not to be debated and stretched by theologians. The recipients were mostly new Christians, coming either from an upbringing in a Jewish synagog or in a pagan temple.

If those people would not be able to recognize an alleged concept within the words being read to them, it probably isn't the concept intended, especially if there is no special effort to explain it.

TWELVE REASONS

for not believing doctrine of original sin

✓ REASON 1. Jesus didn't teach it
The section above shows that Jesus didn't teach the doctrine of original sin. Jesus didn't even mention it, or anything like it. In fact, he spoke against it. That is reason enough, but there are more reasons:
✓ REASON 2. God always knew everyone would sin
'God saw all he had made, and it was very good' (Genesis 1:31). It is blasphemous to say that God didn't know what he was doing, couldn't foresee the future, and that one man could foul God's master plan. God knew full well what would happen when he gave humans free will, a risk essential for genuine love. No person can wreck God's marvelous creation. God was pleased with his design.
✓ REASON 3. God's love and justice
It is difficult to conceive of anything more unloving and unjust than to condemn billions of people – perhaps a hundred billion or more – to eternal torment for something they did not do or even know about ... especially new-born babies and those to whom he did not offer a means of salvation. That notion is as far from love and justice as anything anyone could possibly imagine and is contrary to God's character.
✓ REASON 4. Human free will
Responsibility and punishment for personal choices – the exercise of our individual free will as taught extensively throughout scripture – become meaningless if everyone is born with maximum guilt and subject to maximum penalty. In fact, this notion is the same as saying that people really don't have free will, since most people have died without knowing about God's offer of salvation through Jesus and thus didn't have any choice in the matter.
✓ REASON 5. God's will
'He [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance' (2 Peter 2:9). God would not violate his own will by designing life so that everyone is doomed to perish from the moment of birth.
✓ REASON 6. Adam not our representative
Many Christians argue that Adam was the first person and thus the representative of the human race, so all of his descendants must also bear the guilt for his sin. Actually, Adam was probably not the first human (see Bible study here on people before Adam), and nowhere does the Bible say that God appointed him to be federal head of the human race.Furthermore, nowhere does the Bible say that people are individually guilty before God for the sins
✓ REASON 7. Confession not possible
'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness' (I John 1:9). A theme throughout scripture is that confession is a necessary prerequisite for removing the penalty for guilt. It is impossible for people to confess original sin because they didn't commit the sin.
✓ REASON 8. Father's guilt never inherited
'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (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' (Ezekiel 18:20). The Bible teaches that people will stand before God at judgment for their own sin, not for sin of their fathers.
✓ REASON 9. Old Testament doesn't say it
If Adam's sin were the cause of death and eternal damnation for all people, we would expect the Old Testament to speak frequently about Adam and his monumental sin, but Adam is never mentioned again after Genesis 5 (except in a long list with scores of other names in I Chronicles 1). The Old Testament stresses consequences for our own sins without ever even a hint that the guilt of one person is inherited by another.
✓ REASON 10. Not God's curse on Adam
Besides expelling him from the Garden, God placed a curse on Adam for his sin. The curse was that Adam would have to work in painful toil – 'by the sweat of your brow' (Genesis 3:17-19) – in soil with 'thorns and thistles' to grow food for the rest of his life. The curse was NOT that his guilt would be passed to all future generations; a curse of that horrific magnitude certainly would have been mentioned.
✓ REASON 11. New Testament doesn't say it
Except for the few statements by the Apostle Paul examined on this page, the New Testament says nothing about original sin. Jesus and the twelve apostles said nothing about original sin. All other Bible writers were silent about original sin. And, as shown here, it takes a very big stretch to turn Paul's words into the the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine comes from theologians in the third and fourth centuries, long after Jesus and the early church.
✓ REASON 12. Drives people away from God
It does a Christian no harm to believe in original sin. Whether it's our own sin or Adam's sin, all sin is covered by Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross when we accept Jesus as Savior, and inherited sin becomes a moot issue from our standpoint. But from the standpoint of unbelievers, the doctrine of original sin does great harm, driving people away from God by defaming Him and portraying Him as an unjust vindictive monster rather than as a loving father.
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