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.
Here are the three points typically expressed by people who believe in the doctrine of original sin:
Some Christians believe only one or two of these three points, and some (below) don't believe any of them.
Here is response to the above three points from people who don't believe in the doctrine of original sin:
This Topic 1.4.3 examines the above points and counter-points with verse-by-verse study of scripture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.