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July 27, 2018

What does "original sin" mean?

Curious Christian Blog, at

The word "original" in the phrase original sin is ambiguous. It seems to a lot of people when they hear this, that original sin must mean how sin originated; like where sin came from in the first place. The doctrine is not about that. It is not about where sin originated in the first place. Original sin has to do with how the bias toward sinfulness is passed on to, or originates in, each individual person subsequent to Adam or after Adam and his sin. So it doesn't have to do with the origination of sin.

So how did sin originate with Satan? Honestly, there is not a full decisive answer to that question. God made a good world; all there is is good, so how do you end up with evil from what is entirely universally good? This is a tough issue. It is one of the advantages if want to think of it that way, of the Manichaean dualism that Augustine came out of; at least there you have good and evil as eternal realities. You don't have to try to explain evil coming out of good. It is just that evil is and good is. But if you hold a Christian view where only good exists, how do you get evil? Augustine has some help on that question. He had to really face it head-on because of Manichaeism in his day.

There are certain elements to what happened in the Fall and surrounding that. The whole situation with God creating the world as he did and human beings falling from their state of innocence and holiness need to be considered in this doctrine.

Humanity was created good. In Genesis 1:31 where God looked at all he had made, and this was after the creation of the woman and the man in God's image; God looked at all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

In Genesis 1:31, God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

So we cannot answer the question, "How do we become sinners?" by saying that God made us sinners or that he made Adam a sinner. No, he didn't; he made them good; all of it was good.

Adam and his one sin is the fountainhead for all human sin. This is clear biblically. This is made extremely clear by Paul in Romans 5. It is obvious that he wants to make the point that it is one sin that brought this devastation to all of humanity because he keeps repeating it.

  • Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." His emphasis in Romans 15:12 is that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world.
  • Romans 5:15a says, "But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died."
  • Romans 5:16a says, "The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation,"
  • Romans 5:17a says, "For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one,"
  • Romans 5:18a says, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men,"
  • And finally, Romans 5:19a says, "For as through the one man's disobedience."

He is obviously contrasting Adam and Christ; that is clear. But he is also making this point that one sin brought sin, condemnation, and death to everyone who is in Adam, all subsequent human beings. This is one thing that we have to account for in this doctrine of original. Adam and his one sin is the fountainhead of all sins.

Nowhere in the Scriptures are we allowed to think that because Adam did this and we are all in him, and his one sin brought condemnation to all of us, then we are off the hook. We are not permitted to think this way. Rather we are held accountable for our own sin. Paul, in particular, is the one who most explicitly lays the blame of sin's origin on Adam, but he refuses to invoke Adam's sin as an excuse for his or anyone else's sin. Think of how Romans begins.

Romans 1:18 ff. says, "The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."

This is the very same Paul, who a few chapters later, is going to tell us that in one sin, all of this condemnation and judgment and death comes to all of humanity. Romans 1 and Romans 5 are written by the same guy, the same author, understanding that we have to hold together this dual truth that we are all sinners in Adam and we are guilty individually and personally for sin.

Both Old and New Testaments affirm the fact that all humans since Adam and Eve, Christ excepted, have been sinful in nature and have been subject to the penalty of sin, namely death. For example Paul, in Romans 3:10-18, strings together all of these Old Testament teachings indicating that everyone has sinned.

So sin is universal in its scope and brings with it the judgment of death. What makes it difficult, in my judgment, to deal with this doctrine of original sin is really the fact that everybody is implicated, nobody is off the hook; it is universal… Why is it that you and I are responsible if Adam is the one who did it? How do we make sense of this? How is it that we get implicated in what Adam did? How does this work that that is true? Furthermore, how can this be just and right? How can this come about from a God that creates only good? God is good; his ways are right, so how can this be just? It is one of the knottiest problems in theology. It rivals several others in terms of wrestling with complex passages, issues, and moral problems and trying to come to terms with it.

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