“Original Sin” is a belief that sin and its guilt are something we all possess in God’s eyes as a direct result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this belief, not only was Adam found guilty because he sinned, but his guilt and his punishment (death) belong to us as well, before we were even born.
Some Reformed theological belief systems, such as Calvinism, claim that because of Original Sin, every human being is totally and completely depraved. Reformed theology also states that because of this inherited “sin nature,” people are completely incapable of doing any good action. In some belief systems, Original Sin is the reason why Jesus had to die.
But is this what Scripture says? Not really. No. Not at all. So why do Christians believe it?
Original Sin in the Old Testament
Let’s start right off by clarifying that sin is real and very serious. This website exists in order to highlight some very real sin that the Church commits that brings death and destruction to millions of people. The consequences of sin cannot be understated. We are all sinners in need of a savior. The Gospel is about what God has done through Jesus to come to our rescue.
The theory of “Original Sin” has widespread implications. The idea that the sin of one man has doomed the entire human race is a pretty big deal. This concept should be something that is talked about all throughout Scripture. The only thing is, it isn’t. There isn’t even a hint of something that could be related to the concept of Original Sin in the Old Testament. Nothing. It isn’t there.
Given how important this concept is to those who believe in it, you’d think that God would have communicated something about it at least once over the course of thousands of years. Instead, silence. It isn’t until Paul says something in his letter to the Romans that there could be something interpreted as “Original Sin.” But we’ll get to that later. First, let’s go through the Old Testament in search of the idea of original sin.
Adam and Eve come into the story in the second chapter of Genesis, and for a whole chapter, things seem to be going okay. Then in chapter 3, a character called “the serpent” is introduced that tricks Eve into eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the one thing God told them not to do. Eve tells Adam to eat the fruit too, and then all three of them get cursed by God.
The curses are as follows:
For the serpent: it will now be below livestock, have to eat dirt, and have to crawl around on its belly (Genesis 3:14).
For Eve: childbirth will be very painful, and her husband will now rule over her (Genesis 3:16).
For Adam: growing food will be hard work, and eventually, he will die (Genesis 3:17-19).
Adam gets two curses. Notice that God doesn’t say, “Oh, one more curse, Adam. Because of you, all humanity will be born into sin and be objects of my displeasure and wrath.” He doesn’t say that. Instead, Adam and Eve get exiles out of the Garden of Eden, and “the Fall” story ends there.
The Legacy of Adam
The next major sin to follow is committed by their son Cain when he kills his brother. If Original Sin was in the author’s view, you’d think it would be mentioned as at least part of the reason for Able’s murder, but no (Genesis 4:1-15). Fast forward to the Flood and there is still no mention of Adam’s sin and its effects on humankind (Genesis 6:6-7). God tells Noah that the Flood was because of all the violence that people were committing, not Original Sin (Genesis 6:13). None of these sins are linked back to Adam and Eve.
With the theological concept of Original Sin, Adam is a pretty important central figure, but interestingly, after Genesis 5, Adam isn’t really mentioned again. It isn’t until 1 Chronicles where his name pops up again, but it is merely because it is listed in a genealogy. Adam doesn’t even warrant a mention throughout the entire rest of the Old Testament story. Think about it, if Adam was really the cause for all of humanity’s downfall, it is certainly strange that he is never mentioned again in the entire Old Testament.
One concept surrounding the Original Sin belief is that there is no way to please God because of our “sin-nature” from Adam. Though this may sound familiar and you may have been taught it, this belief is entirely made up. We can’t read about this anywhere in the Old Testament. Instead, the entire concept of the Law of the ancient Israelites was that you could please God. That is really the Law’s entire point: follow it and be blessed, disobey and be cursed. We see there are figures who please God, such as Moses, David, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Sure, they weren’t perfect, but God never mentions that they are doomed anyway because of Adam.
Where Does Original Sin Come From?
So by now, you might be wondering, where does the concept of Original Sin come from if it is completely absent from the Hebrew Bible? It comes from one man’s interpretation of one verse in the entire New Testament. That man’s name is Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) and the verse is Romans 5:12.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
Augustine was reading this verse in Romans in his Latin Bible and unfortunately for him, and all of us today, that translation had an error. You’ll notice that Paul never says that everyone has a “sin nature” because of Adam. Paul is only saying that everyone sins and so everyone dies. In your Bible, it reads, “death spread to all because all have sinned.” Unfortunately, in Augustine’s Bible, it read, “death spread to all, in him all have sinned.” The Greek word for “because” (ἐφʼᾧ) was mistranslated into Latin as “in him,” so Augustine thought Paul was saying that all of humanity was somehow present in Adam’s sin. So this doctrine of “original sin” that claims that because of Adam every human is born a sinner and deserves death because of it, was born out of a translation error.
This error permeated itself throughout Catholic theology and then Reformed theology, eventually touching almost every form of the Protestant theology we have today. Even though our Bibles today don’t have the same error that Augustine’s had, it is so deeply ingrained into our Christian culture that it is often defended with uncompromising vehemence as “biblical” teaching. It is worthy to note that both ancient and modern Jews do not believe in anything like Original Sin. “Original Sin” isn’t a Biblical teaching and it isn’t necessary.
The Fallout of Original Sin
Believing in the tradition of Original Sin has led to several unbiblical ideas over the centuries. If someone believes that Adam and Eve’s original sin was somehow arbitrarily transmitted to all, from Cain and Able all the way to you and your family, it affects all sorts of other beliefs. Take, for instance, the Catholic/Presbyterian concept that a baby must be baptized. Infant baptism comes out of the belief of Original Sin because they believe that babies must be freed from the “inherited” guilt and penalty for the supposed original sin of Adam.
The Catholic idea of the “immaculate conception” (the belief that Mary was born of a virgin as well) also comes from believing in Original Sin. The idea is that Mary had to be free from “inherited sin” from the moment of her conception or else Jesus had to have been born with inherited guilt and transgression. While many Christians today reject this false belief, they don’t seem to understand the problem with the false belief that caused it.
As the father of this false theology, Augustine said, “Without God’s irresistible gift of faith, no man could perform any good, whether in thought, will, affection, or action.” Augustine’s theology, which is the origin of Reformed theology today, denies the overwhelming evidence in the Scriptures that humankind possesses a free-will, and that everyone is individually responsible for their own actions. Other extreme and fatalistic doctrines related to Original Sin began being spread by Augustine as well. If we fast-forward to the sixteenth century, at the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther brought Augustine’s theology into the Protestant Church. While there certainly faith traditions that deny the doctrine of Original Sin, it continues to be popularly accepted within mainline Protestantism.
The Reformation movement that ushered much of the Church out of the Roman state has brought with it a great many good things, but Original Sin isn’t one of them. The false doctrine of Original Sin has been instrumental in the construction of a Reformed theology that says God hates all human beings because of their inherited sin-nature. But if people are born with a sinful nature, who is to blame? Surely not the sinner, for they had no choice in the manner in which they were born. Just like someone born with blue eyes, they had no choice. But who is responsible for our nature? Who is our creator? Who gave us life and breath? To say that humans are born with a sin-nature is to say that God is the cause of sin. If this was true then it would be cruel and unjust to condemn people for the nature with which they were born. That God would be a monstrous tyrant. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. God offers us a choice.
Right before Cain committed the first killing in the Bible, God warns him about sin, saying, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7). It is quite clear that God did not consider Cain as being “born in sin,” and incapable of living right. Instead, God insists that it was possible for Cain to “ruler over” sin. But Cain decided, out of his own free will, to not heed God’s warning and kill his brother.
The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
Augustine taught, based on a mistranslation, and now Reformed preachers teach, based on Augustine, that because of Adam’s sin everyone is guilty of “original sin.” They teach a misguided falsehood that humankind is born with a corrupt nature, sinful, totally depraved, unable to do good or righteousness and believe in God. This, of course, is an apostasy. Scripture says that anyone who believes in Jesus has everlasting life (John 3:16), that in anyone is thirsty, to come and drink of him (John 7:37), to come to Jesus and he will give you rest (Matthew 11:28), that anyone who hears his voice and opens the door will dwell with him (Revelation 3:20). The god of Calvinism says that since a person has no free will due to their sin-nature, they cannot accept Christ’s invitation on their own. This is a tragic, misguided heresy—based on a single man’s interpretation based on a single mistranslated verse.
Sin and Death Defeated
The mistaken concept of “Original Sin” makes sin a misfortune and a calamity rather than a crime. It puts all humanity in an unfortunate circumstance that ultimately can’t be held responsible, rather than actual conscious trespassers of God’s will. “Original Sin” excuses the sinner because no one can escape sin or choose otherwise. Ultimately, “Original Sin” makes God responsible for all sin. “Original Sin” has birthed many false doctrines; the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception,” the doctrine of infant baptism, the doctrine of a natural inability to repent, the doctrines of arbitrary election and reprobation, and the doctrine of a natural inability to obey God. “Original Sin” is ridiculous, absurd, and unreasonable.
Sin obviously has disastrous effects on our world but you did not inherit a sin-nature. You are made in the image of God and have the potential to carry out God’s will. Yes, apart from Jesus we have an inclination towards sin. But from Genesis to the book of Revelation, the Bible clearly teaches that all people have free will and that everyone is morally responsible or accountable before God for their sins (1 John 3:4). No scripture shows that sin is inherited, or that anyone is born in sin.
Adam was the first to sin but he chose to do so without inheriting a “sin-nature,” just like us. Adam believed a lie about God and about reality that came externally from the serpent. The evil spiritual principalities and powers at work in the Garden of Eden are still at work today, spreading lies that lead to sin, but on the cross, Jesus has disarmed them. It is because of Jesus that we can resist and rule over sin, just like God told Cain he could. Satan’s systems of evil are being revealed more and more with every passing day. The great deceiver is being undone. Sin is being cast out. Empires are falling. Love and Truth are winning.
Everyone will be judged based on their actions, not the action of Adam (2 Corinthians 5:10). Each of us “will give an account of ourselves to God” and he “will repay each person according to what they have done” (Romans 2:6, 14:12). Adam has nothing to do with it. The Bible does not teach the false doctrine of “Original Sin.”