Original Sin: Thanks, Mom and Dad!

"The Rebuke of Adam and Eve," Domenichino, 1626. I'm not sure what's up with the three floating heads.

A young man wrote me yesterday to ask me what exactly the phrase “original sin” means. So:

Dear polite kid who wrote to ask me that:

Original sin is when you sin in a way that’s so unique no one’s ever sinned that way before. Hence its originality.

Har! Kid, if you don’t know my work, you might not have expected that kind of top-notch Comedy Insertion. But that’s the sort of thing you can expect here at JohnShore.com.

Wait! Come back!

No, but seriously: Do not—repeat, do not—endeavor to find a new, original way to sin. I’ve tried that, and believe me, someone always ends up having to call the police and/or an ambulance. Besides, there are no new ways to sin. Without question, every way that it’s possible for anyone to sin is a way that people have been sinning since time began.

And why have people always sinned? Why is it virtually impossible to be a human being and not sin about as often as you inhale?

Because of the real—and truly unfunny—meaning of original sin.

The term “original sin” usually refers to one of two things. The first is the original original sin—ground zero, as it were, for the whole idea of original sin. This is the actual event, recorded in the first book of the Bible (which is “The Book of Genesis”), when Adam and Eve, then blissfully living and gamboling about in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden, ruined everything by shamelessly noshing on the one fruit that God had very specifically told them to never, ever eat.

“Eat anything in the garden you want!” God (in effect) told the world’s first couple. “Anything! The only thing I’m telling you not to eat is the fruit off this one tree, right here. Everything will remain perfectly great for you guys, if you just do not eat the fruit off this tree right here.”

So, of course, that’s the fruit Adam and Eve just had to gobble down the moment they thought God wasn’t looking.

And that is when everything, for them and everybody who would ever come after them, started going straight to You Know Where.

Curse that Satan! (As you probably know, it was the silver-tongued Satan who sweet-talked Eve into taking that terrible first bite of that forbidden fruit (which is where that term comes from, by the way). We read in Genesis 3 that the Evil One was “more crafty than any of the wild animals.” Which brings up the question of how crafty animals used to be, anyway. Which makes me think of Yogi Bear. Which means it’s time to move on.)

So when people talk about “original sin” they’re often referring to what, in Christian terms, is the actual first sin ever committed by any human being, ever.

The eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the original sin.

Boom. Easy.

Usually, though, when people talk about “original sin,” they’re referring to something a lot bigger and broader than that. They’re usually referring to the effect of Adam and Eve’s first transgression against the will of God, to the indelible stain of shame and sinfulness that Christians (sometimes literally; sometimes metaphorically) believe that Adam and Eve’s original sin made the legacy of all humanity after them.

Adam and Eve’s first transgression against God precipitated this great and tragic Fall of Man. The idea there is that when, through their willful disobedience of God, Adam and Eve fell out of God’s grace, we all fell out of God’s grace. When those two got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, it meant that none of us would ever be able to return to the state of blissful, constant communion with God that our Original Parents ruined by insisting that they knew better than God about what was good for them.

And so to this day, we all struggle with the results—with the shame, greed, selfishness, meanness, nastiness, inclination to do evil, etc.—that come from those inevitable times when we, too, imagine that we know what’s better for us than God does.

Wanna see how angry God was at the audacity of Adam and Eve’s disobedience of him, at the way they so clearly demonstrated to him that, in their opinion, the endless, free bounty he’d granted them just wasn’t quite good enough?

Here, from Genesis 3, is part of His response:

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent [being Satan] deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all the livestock

and all the wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

and you will eat dust

all the days of your life. …

To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;

with pain you will give birth to children.

Your desire will be for your husband,

and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, ” … “Cursed is the ground because of you;

through painful toil you will eat of it

all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.”

So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

See? That is one righteously ticked-off landlord, executing the eviction to end all evictions.

You know how people have to go to work every single morning, just so they can eat? We have Adam and Eve to thank for that.

You know how people are inclined to often feel alienated, and lonely, and inferior, and afraid, and ashamed, and in Every Way negative about themselves and everything else in the world? We have Adam and Eve to thank for that.

You know how life can be so hard sometimes? How desperately people want to be loved? How selfish and gnarly people can so quickly become? How easily people corrupt themselves? How frail people’s resolve to do and be good usually is?

You know how the whole human race just can’t seem to ever get enough of war?

Thanks, (original) Mom and Dad!

Anyway, that’s the idea behind original sin. As I say, some Christians think the story of Adam and Eve actually happened; others understand it as a metaphor. But pretty much every Christian believes that the whole point of the figure known to history as Jesus Christ was that he sacrificed himself as a way of “delivering us from our sins”—that is, of undoing the lasting effects of the ravaging results of Adam and Eve’s original sin.

Here’s the passage of Genesis (3:1-6), which in most Bibles is titled “The Fall of Man”:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Thanks. Lemme know if I can be of any more help to you.

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  • First, I don't think you should use the term "Comedy Insertion" in a post about sin.

    Second and somewhat more seriously, it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Does that mean that in the Garden of Eden which seems like such a "good" place that they weren't familiar with the concept of good? So Yahweh didn;t want us to have any morality either good or evil… and because we did develop that moral sense by eating it, we became more complete humans with the capacity for good as well as evil. Sounds like Adam and Steve, err Eve, made the correct judgment.

  • Ha, ha! I actually find it telling that Paul seems to blame Adam or at least hold him responsible (see Romans 5). So that whole thing about blaming Eve and gullible women doesn't seem to fly when you compare it to Scripture. As Romans says, "ALL have sinned and come short of God's glory." All means men and women alike. So phooey on silly churches and groups who won't allow women to have certain roles because of this whole "who done it first" thing.

  • It's not perfectly clear that Adam was there when Satan was spinning his charms about the fruit. It's worse for him if he wasn't, because it means that while it took the devil himself to seduce Eve into eating, it took only Eve's encouragement for Adam to do the same. And then, yeah, as you say, the first thing Adam did, when asked by God if he'd directly transgressed, was to blame Eve. It's clear Adam is kind of dimwitted chickenshit.

    Even the last thing Adam ever says in the Bible–"God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him."–seems pretty … dim.

    Not allowing women to have full authority in all of its churches is one of the great shames and embarrassments of modern Christianity.

  • I think it's safe to say they certainly made the inevitable one.

  • It is sort of like telling someone "whatever you do, don't think about an elephant"

  • Exactly.

  • Tim

    Hey Brian. In the most painful and serious situations, humor oftentimes escapes. When I was younger, I would sometimes respond to seeing someone with a gross deformity with stiffled, but inappropriate laughter or a bit of dark humor. A cop friend says that some of the sickest jokes originate at murder scenes…and believe me, no subject is sacred enough. It's just one of the strange ways humankind deals with discomfort and stress.

  • Oh, I replied above, but didn't say to you, John, that I enjoyed your humorous "take" on original sin. Nicely done! 🙂

  • Tim

    Y’know, for some reason reason I had always pictured that scene as being just Eve and the serpent. I can’t believe that the words “She also gave to her husband with her” had never sunk in over the 28 times I’ve read through Genesis 3. How did Adam have the balls to blame Eve for his part in original sin when God came calling? He stood right next to Eve buying into Satan’s Amway presentation, too. Balls schmalls. Adam was a nutless wonder! Ah hell, what am I pontificating about? Sin makes us all stupid. Even thinking about sinning lowers our spiritual I.Q. to that of a child rapist or a career politician.

    The Calvary Chapel movement won’t ordain women because the leadership believes that women are far more prone to gullibility than men. They think that because Eve was the first one to eat the fruit, that women in general are not as dependable to resist temptation as men. Sshhah. Obviously—Adam was only being a gentleman and allowing the lady to sin first. He was obviously right behind her.

  • Tim

    BTW, the three flying heads are God’s wingnuts. The Right Wingnut, the Left Wingnut, and the Tea Party Wingnut. It also it appears that God is flipping off Eve, Adam, and the Serpent. And what kind of clamshell is God flying? It has seating for six. MSRP?

  • Diana

    I love the painting–he captures Adam perfectly with the "what was I suppose to do?" shrug directed at Eve. Too funny!

  • I know. It's like, "Portrait of a Weenie." He even LOOKS yellow.

  • Jill

    Don't be embarrassed that it took you 28 readings to get this. It has taken everyone else quite literally thousands of years to stop blaming Eve for her transgressions. I'd say you're a quick study.

  • Jill

    This is one of my favorite stories in the bible. Probably because I'm already stuck in my original sin, so I might as well laugh at it. But the whole thing tickles my funny bone. I love that the first sin is one of thinking they know better than God. I love that it is immediately followed by the first buck-passing, which is almost like a comedy sketch. I love that they realize they are naked and try to hide. From God. I love that they are embarrassed by their own nudity and try to make clothes. From leaves. I love that God sees straight through all their weaknesses. But my very favorite part is the end. There they are, naked, ashamed, angry, homeless, stupid, hungry, abandoned and alone. And God says, "But wait! There's more!" And makes them leather clothing. In my imagination it's not really something primitive, like a buttflap for him and a shift for her, it something badass. Like, if only the Harley had been invented, they would be perfectly suited for riding off on it. Eve has fabulous hair.

    In my imagination, this tragic scene is high comedy. But when I turn to reality, and think about Adam and Eve just looking at each other and thinking, "Jerk", and then wondering where their next meal is coming from, it would be frightening. They had to figure out farming, and raising children, and they screwed up their relationship with the only guy who could tell them how. But then, God, who has just punished them severely can not help the love welling up in His heart. They are His children, though they deserve to be smited (smitten? Smote?), he can not bear to leave them so bereft. So, he makes them clothes, to cover their shame, their nakedness, to help them through that first lonely, hungry night outside the garden.

  • Jill: Excellent.

    And PLEASE tell me you'll go read this:

  • Jill

    Okay. Backwards from the bottom up. I can't believe that 'dontworryitskosher' only gave you plus one for that. Stingy. I'd have given you ten at least.

    Adam's kind of nice.

    You're right, it must be the day after. Any longer than that and Eve would no longer be convinced Adam's a genius.

    I love that Adam wants to do it again.

    Sometimes I imagine what the world would be like if Adam had said "No, thanks" after Eve ate the apple. I am convinced that men would be INSUFFERABLE. They already think they're perfect. Present company excepted. My imaginings run two directions. Either an exaggerated version of medival (SIC? that took me about four tries) times in which women are viewed as hopelessly prone to gullibility and sin, or are evil succubi ready to pounce, and men are insufferably arrogant perfectionists. Or, a more Amazonian view in which women are shrewd and intelligent, but also evil rulers over their vaguely necessary but hopelessly hapless and innocent man-slaves, subservient to all women, but happy, due to their perpetually innocent state.

    My deepest apologies for using the word insufferable in the same paragraph. I have a migraine.