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MACRO TOPIC 1.4.3

Original Sin – Part A

Overview of the doctrine
PURPOSE: Helping Christians engage in intelligent and persuasive conversations with doubters and unbelievers
Bible creation questions

QUESTIONS

discuissed on this page

Tough questions people today are asking about original sin:

Did Jesus ever say anything about Adam or any great calamity on earth caused by any person?

What's the difference between 'original sin' and 'sin nature?'

Who started the doctrine of original sin?

Is Adam federal head of the human race?

Does everyone inherit the guilt for Adam's sin?

Under the doctrine of original sin, doesn't God give greater punishment for Adam's sin to billions of innocent people than He gives to Adam for that sin?

Can original sin be reconciled with God's love and justice?

Is Adam's sin the cause of all death?

Is burning in hell forever the punishment for sin?

How can a Christian give an intelligent and compelling biblical answer to people who think that God must be a revengeful monster if He tortures people forever with the most horrible punishment imaginable for a sin they didn't commit, even people who never even heard of Adam or Jesus?

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INTRODUCTION

What happens here

Confident Christian

The doctrine of original sin is a church tradition from the fourth century that says everyone is born guilty FOR ADAM'S SIN and that, without Jesus as Savior, everyone is going to burn in hell forever as punishment, even people who never heard about Adam or Jesus.

This doctrine portrays God as an unjust monster and is driving people from God and the Bible. It's so horrific that few Christians dare talk about it in full and raw form with unbelievers.

Many Christians don't believe that the Bible teaches this doctrine and that it's a contradiction to the basic gospel message of love, justice, and free will. For sixteen hundred years, there has been heated theological argument about it.

This page will help you arrive at a confident personal decision about what to believe regarding original sin.

Informed Christian

Nearly everyone in the western world knows about 'the fall.' Literature, music, art, and church tradition over the centuries have been so replete with this narrative and its consequences to humanity that most people never bother about investigating what the Bible says about it if anything.

The Bible clearly teaches that everyone has a sin nature and needs the Savior (Jesus) because of personal sin. But the doctrine of original sin adds to the Bible by saying that everyone is fully guilty at birth for Adam's sin and ruin of God's perfect creation.

This page lays out all relevant Bible verses and issues to help you recognize the differences between the Bible and tradition regarding inherited sin.

Interesting Christian

This topic is usually a contentious conversation stopper when Christians try to explain it to doubters and unbelievers without good preparation. It's essential to maintain an interesting and intelligent dialog without letting it turn into an argument.

This page equips you to discuss this topic thoroughly and confidently, based on scripture, 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 the 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; before 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's a 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' ... translation of Jesus' words).

This Part A examines the above points and PART B is a verse-by-verse study of scripture.

ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE

hundreds of years after Jesus

Background

The term 'original sin' does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It's 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.

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, we can read and understand these 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.

He lived 354-430 AD in Africa.

Living before the printing press, he didn't 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 compare side-by-side
  • Tens of thousands of research projects, books, commentaries and articles

Today anyone can be better equipped than Saint Augustine to study scripture. He did the best with what he had, but he had only parts of the Latin Vulgate and no vast libraries like we have today.

Now all of the world's Bible documents and commentaries we could ever need or want are instantly available without charge on the Internet!

CONCEPT OF FEDERAL HEAD

big principle in original sin

Some say Adam was our 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 humanity with binding eternal consequences for every person who would ever live.

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 for 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 the 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 though 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 of 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 catastrophic 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 there is no indication in the Bible that they ever mentioned it.

Other verses sometimes cited

Proponents of the doctrine of original sin often 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). This verse simply says that everyone has a sin nature (a consequence of free will) ... the sin nature is why we sin ... and we deserve punishment. This doesn't make a case for universal guilt for Adam's sin.

Part B is verse-by-verse study

The foundational verses used to support the doctrine of original sin are usually quoted separately and out of context. For full understanding, the verses need to be read and studied as a whole along with surrounding verses in the chapter.

See Part B of this topic for a verse-by-verse study of both Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15.

WHAT JESUS SAID

about Adam and original sin

BIBLE INTERPRETATION on this site is guided by the 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.

Concerning 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 based on church tradition rather than words of scripture.

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

Mission

Jesus said that our mission is to 'make disciples.' The doctrine of original sin is a human-made barrier to Christian faith and a hindrance to our mission. It demeans God's character, 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 with thoughts like this: '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 we should test our interpretations by what Jesus said.

A principle of interpretation

A good interpretation principle 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 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.

THIRTEEN 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. It exactly fit His purpose, which is to have a personal love relationship with humans. Allowing sin (man's will contrary to God's will) is inevitable, otherwise free will and genuine love could not exist.
✓ 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. God's would not violate His own 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 5. Humans have 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. That notion is the same as saying that people really don't have free will at all, considering that 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 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 thus denying him eternal life, 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. Adam not blamed for murder or flood
When Cain (Adam's firstborn) murders Abel (Adam's second born) and God metes out the punishment, this is where we would expect God to link Cain's sin to Adam's original sin as a fresh example, but God says nothing about it and instead treats the son's sin as completely independent of the father's sin. Similarly, when God caused a flood to wipe out wickedness on earth, He never said it had anything to do with inheriting Adam's original sin.
✓ REASON 12. New Testament doesn't say it
Except for the three vague 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 few 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 13. Descendants' punishment not greater than Adam's
Under the doctrine of original sin, all of Adam's descendants are punished for Adam's sin to much greater degree than Adam himself was punished. Adam's punishment was expulsion from the Garden, denial of further access to eternal life, hard work and toil as a farmer, and then death. God said nothing about Adam or his descendants burning in hell forever. It's hard to imagine that a just and loving God would sentence billions of innocent people to an infinitely greater punishment than He gave to the guilty person for the same sin.
✓ REASON 14. 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, so 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.

SIN NATURE, NOT ORIGINAL SIN

big differences

Sin is rebellion against God

A clear central message throughout the entire Bible is that humans have a sin nature; i.e., everyone is born with an innate propensity for pleasing self ahead of pleasing God. That's part of being human.

We sin every time we violate God's will in order to satisfy our own will. Sin is personal rebellion against God.

Why do we sin?

Because we have a sin nature. Humans alone have the capacity for moral decisions. Satan is allowed to lure us into rebellion against God. (Satan and temptation will be studied in Topic 2.9).

Why do we have a sin nature?

Because God gives us free will. Genuine free will requires choice between possible actions, each action having unique appeals, frequently contrary to each other. If we didn't have free will, we would be puppets.

Why do we have free will?

Because God is love. God desires a personal relationship with each of us. Free will is essential for genuine love. If we didn't ever rebel, we wouldn't be independent beings capable of making moral decisions and giving and receiving love. If we didn't rebel, we would be robots.

Sin didn't come into the world as a surprise to God or the result of flawed design. From the moment God gave the first divine law to a human (Adam), God knew full well that humans would sin. This is the risk of free will and the test of love.

Don't blame Adam

Here's what the Apostle Paul says about the human condition: 'So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin in my members' (Romans 7:21-23).

The propensity to sin is so strong that it's actually a law (principle, force or power) that won't go away.

In these verses, and in the larger passage surrounding them, Paul never links or shares sin with Adam. In fact, he never mentions Adam. Paul takes full responsibility for his own sin.

Sin is not a thing like genes passed through inheritance from generation to generation. Sin is a human condition allowed by God to facilitate personal love.

Abhorrent concept to unbelievers

Unbelievers don't have a problem with the concept of just punishment for personal sin that violates the Creator's rules. A person may not believe in the Creator or in the rules, but there's nothing abhorrent in the concept of justice and punishment.

But the concept becomes abhorrent when the Creator lays the full guilt on everyone who ever lives and then pronounces the cruelest punishment imaginable (burning in hell forever) without giving most people knowledge of any means of salvation ... and when adherents of the concept pompously proclaim that this is God's love and justice.

Difference between sin nature and original sin

Sin nature means that we have an innate propensity to sin ... physical death has always been God's plan for life on earth ... death is not a mistake or design flaw ... and people are guilty and sentenced only for their own sin.

The doctrine of Original sin means that something went horribly wrong with God's creation ... Adam was able to wreck it ... God has a new plan to fix it ... but holds everyone who ever lives fully guilty for the wreckage and sentences them to the most horrible punishment conceivable.

Both views acknowledge that everyone is a sinner in need of Jesus as Savior.

No need to devise a reason for sin

The Bible says clearly and simply in many ways and places that 'ALL HAVE SINNED.' No one argues with that statement. Why stretch and add to scripture by making it say more than it actually says? Why make it convoluted, confusing, and contentious?

Saying we inherit sin and guilt from Adam is meaningless if we have enough sin and guilt of our own. Because of its obvious gross injustice, original sin a major barrier to faith for millions of people.

NEXT ►
 Original sin – Part B

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