5 Old Testament Reasons to Rethink “Original Sin”

I think I’ve always been a bit uneasy about the idea that God holds me responsible in some sense for something Adam did at the beginning of the Bible. I know God’s ways are not my ways, but this never made much sense.

Of course, my uneasiness doesn’t make something right or wrong. I’m just putting it out there.

Most refer to this idea as “original sin”–all humans are the objects of God’s anger from conception on. Adam’s deed of disobedience has hardwired sinfulness into us all. Not only that, but for many Christians, humans actually bear the guilt of what Adam did–which takes this to yet another level.

So, here’s my question today: Where in the Old Testament is Adam’s disobedience in the garden of Eden described as the cause of universal human sinfulness (and guilt)?

What do you think?

I never allowed myself to look at this issue too carefully, I think for fear of what I might find. But as I was writing The Evolution of Adam I didn’t have much of a choice but to man up.

Now, before I go on, let’s be clear about a few things. First, I’m asking whether the Old Testament paints Adam as the one to blame for all the misery of the human race. I’m not talking about the New Testament. Not yet.

Second, by wondering out loud about “original sin” I’m not saying “I’m OK, you’re OK, and God’s OK with it all, so let’s just get along.”

George Steinbrenner: sinner

I believe that what the Bible calls sin is real–and you don’t have to read about Hitler, Stalin, or George Steinbrenner to find examples. Each of carries around an alarming ability to harm each other in a seemingly non-stop variety of new and inventive ways.

Add to that the endless capacity we have to find ways to be miserable and harm ourselves. Few are truly at peace with themselves. The biochemical and environmental contributors to the common list of emotional struggles we face betray a deep sense of disquiet in our own hearts. We are all sinners, we have all fallen short of the mark, we fail to do what we know we should, we bear the burdens of the harm we cause to ourselves and others.

Whatever words we want to use to describe it, this self-evident reality of repeated, relentless sin remains an unalterable fact of human existence. We clearly need help.

But all I’m asking here is whether the Old Testament says that Adam is the cause of it all. I just don’t see it. Here’s why.

June Cleaver: also sinner

1. Inherited sinfulness is not one of the curses on Adam. Adam is introduced in Genesis 2, and for one chapter seems to hold it together. But then in chapter 3, Eve is outcrafted by the talking serpent, takes a bite of the forbidden fruit, and then hands it to Adam, who did likewise.

All three parties are cursed by God for doing so, and those curses have lasting consequences for the human drama.

Fair enough, but note the consequences for Adam. From now (1) growing food will be hard work, and (2) death will be a fact of life.

Note what is not said: “And a third thing, Adam. From now on all humanity will be stained by your act, born in a hopeless and helpless state of sin, thus earning my displeasure and making them all objects of my wrath.” If Genesis did say that, it would clear up a lot.

2. True obedience to God is both expected and doable. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we read that humanity under God’s condemnation for being born and helpless to do anything about it.

Yes indeed, God is terribly mad about sinful acts, especially when his people, the Israelites, do them. But–and I can’t stress this enough–implicit in all of God’s acts of wrath and punishment is the idea that the Israelites were most certainly capable of not sinning. That’s the whole point of the law: follow it and be blessed, disobey and be cursed. The choice is clear and attainable, so do the right thing (e.g., see Deuteronomy 30:11-20).

In fact, some Old Testament figures actually seem to pull it off pretty well: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. No, they weren’t “perfect” but that’s exactly the point. God seems fine with some of his people getting it basically right and using them to do some extremely important things.

3. With one exception, Adam disappears after Genesis 5. This one is related to #2. After Genesis 5, Adam wanders off the Old Testament stage until the beginning of the 9-chapter list of names in 1 Chronicles 1. And there he’s just one name along with the pages of other names. He’s not the bad guy.

Throughout the entire rest of the Old Testament story, Adam doesn’t even warrant a mention. If Adam was really the person who set the whole world on a downward sin cycle, again, I’m not sure why it’s kept such a big secret.

I don’t think saying “The consequences of Adam’s sin don’t have to mentioned because they are obvious” is a good argument–especially given #2.

4. Adam is not blamed for Cain’s act of murder. Back to Genesis. Cain killed his brother Abel. If Cain’s act is caused by a hardwired state of sinfulness due to what Adam did, mentioning it here–hinting at it–would have helped. Instead, God asks Cain, “Why are you angry?” as if it’s not obvious, and then offers Cain the same choice the law would later offer the Israelites.” You’ve got a choice, Cain. Make it a good one.” He didn’t.

And the fact that Adam already “had it in him” to disobey suggests that Cain’s choice to sin was, like his father’s, not imposed on him from elsewhere.

5. Likewise, Adam is not blamed for the flood. God wipes out all life in a flood because of the complete and thorough mess humans have made of it all. But look at vv. 6-7. There we see that this escalation of sinfulness that’s now reached it’s boiling point seems to take God by surprise.

He doesn’t say, “Well, of course, we all saw this coming, what with Adam’s disobedience in the garden and all. I just wanted it to get really bad before I acted.” Rather, he is “grieved” and “sorry” about how out of hand all this has gotten.

Remember: I am only looking at the Old Testament here. I know people will respond, “But what about Paul!?” Fair enough–but–even if Paul sees Adam as the cause of human misery and alienation from God, we still need to grapple with why the Old Testament doesn’t see it that way.

Others will respond: “But if Adam isn’t the cause of it all, we no longer have a good explanation for why people are so messed up?” Fine, but the fact that questions arise that muddle our theology doesn’t make the Old Testament magically fall into line.

Still others will respond: “But without Adam as the cause of human sinfulness, the entire gospel falls apart.” Rather, I think only a version of the gospel that needs this kind of Adam falls apart. Perhaps there are other ways (and there are).

I’m raising nothing new here–and I treat it all in a bit more detail in my book–but as far as I am concerned these are rather obvious problems to be dealt with, especially for those who claim to have the Bible form their theology.

  • Andrew

    I don’t mean to be smart-alecky, but I thought it was widely accepted (a ‘given’) that the concept of original sin is found nowhere in the OT. There is a reason such a concept is completely foreign to Jews (I’d argue such a concept was foreign to Paul as well, but that can be for another day). Is there anyone not on the fringe who claims otherwise?

    • peteenns

      The Southern Baptists and Neo-Calvinists, for starters. Having said that, I do believe I am stating the obvious for most. If the past is any indication, just watch when the comments start rolling in.

    • http://patheos.com jason greene

      Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t teach “original sin”. It is true that all sin, some more, some less, but if Adam is not a historical character “original sin” makes no sense.
      jgreene

      • peteenns

        I think that is correct, Jason–which is why some are so intense about defending an original first man.

        • http://patheos.com jason greene

          thanks. I know that it creates some difficulty with Paul and his language about Adam and our sin. Yet that opens several other channels for discussion as well. I seek to interpret the bible through a Christo centric, so if it conflicts with Jesus I tend to be dismissive of it. I do not see Jesus embracing the idea of original sin.

      • Jeff

        Jason,

        You are wrong about the Orthodox church. THey do believe in original sin. Baptism removes original sin according to the Orthodx church (Fr. Constantine Mathews page 10, book called “Eastern Orthodoxy Compared”

  • joel g

    The western Christian conception of original sin involves several elements:

    [1] Loss of original righteousness. That’s to say, we don’t find ourselves in the kind of relationship with God, with one another, and with the world for which we were created.

    [2] Concupiscence. We find ourselves with an innate tendency toward sinful acts.

    [3] Death and guilt. We are all born into the world already under a sentence of death.

    It seems that it is the solidarity in “guilt” part here that you’re questioning – as does the Christian east. I do think there are OT indications for everything but the “guilt” aspect of original sin, though one might see death itself in forensic terms.

    • peteenns

      Joel, do you see Adam as the root cause of 1 and 2 in the OT?

      • joel g

        It might be worth noting that “concupiscence” is not seen as in itself sinful by all theologians. Roman Catholic theologians, for instance, do not see concupiscence as inherently sinful or as necessitating actual sin, while Protestants theologians generally do.

        So, depending on one’s understanding of “concupiscence” (or corruption of our nature, or a tendency toward sinful acts, etc.), it may or may not be theologically proper to speak of any kind of “hardwired sinfulness” in us.

      • http://apmarshall.wordpress.com Alex Marshall

        At least on the “original righteousness” point, I think Joel is onto something. I’ve seen a lot of Old Testament scholars make connections between the imagery around the temple and the imagery of the Garden of Eden or between the imagery of the prophesied new creation at the end of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the Garden of Eden. There may not be a direct mention of Adam there, but the implication seems to be that the garden was a “perfect” state and that whatever happened there ruined that perfection for the rest of history until God restores it.

        Relatedly, and this may be beyond the parameters of your question, what about Old Testament apocryphal/pseudopigraphic writings? I’m thinking, for instance, of the Enoch apocalypses, which seem to have a particular fascination with the Garden of Eden story and its consequences. Could those be taken to suggest that there is an understanding that some sort of “universal consequence” is associated with Adam’s decision in the Garden?

  • joel g

    Yes, I think so. Genesis 1-3 seem to stand as a kind of origins story, explaining why later patterns work out just the way they do.

    So, for instance, loss of original righteousness seems woven symbolically into the theme of exile, as well as geographical imagery. Everyone after Genesis 1-3 is born in exile, east of Eden. Throughout Genesis, eastward movement seems often to correlate with further movement away from God. Westward movement, back toward what is later the “land of promise” (and which is compared to the Garden of God) correlates with obedience to God (and so both Land and Temple are entered from the east, moving west). Etc. You can fill in the details I’m sure.

    Those themes, in the existing canonical and literary order of the OT, seem to have their starting point in the Adam story.

    Now, it might well be the case that the Adam story is crafted so that it is a retrojection of Israel’s later experience back onto Adam. Even so, the ancient reader seems to me invited to make that connection, to see Israel and its experience as an Adam-like experience, and the Adam story itself to serve as a sort of explanation of origins for why this pattern keeps repeating itself.

    • joel g

      That was just a hand wave in the direction of an OT account of sin’s origins.

      But even the pattern of Genesis 3-11 strikes me as containing the seeds such an account. Out of the Genesis 3, death is unleashed on the world (thus the constant refrain “and he died” in Genesis 5). And with the spread of death, we see sin itself spreading out until it reaches a point where God himself appears surprised at sin’s sheer virulence (“every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time ” in Genesis 6) and determines to do something about it.

      That certainly doesn’t mean that the narrative portrays Adam as personally to blame for the later sinful acts of individuals. Nor does it mean that human beings are born “hardwired to sin”. But it does suggest that the events of Genesis 3 are portrayed as having opened a sluice gate of tendencies in the human heart and within human community which, left on their own, only grow larger and more destructive.

      Assuming that Genesis 1-11 only reached its current form in the post-exilic era, one doesn’t have to search far to find at least the beginnings of interpretations of the narrative that do see Genesis 3 as having explanatory value for the subsequent shape of the history of humanity and the story of Israel (e.g., Sirach 25:24; Wisdom 2:23-24).

      But perhaps you mean more by “original sin” (e.g., including guilt and condemnation and not just sinful tendencies, human dysfunction, and the ubiquity of death).

    • John Schneider

      Curious: where is there affirmation of an “original righteousness” in either the Genesis story or in narratives of pre-exilic Israel? I don’t see any such thing in either place.

      • joel g

        I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but humanity seems to be portrayed as created in a condition of blessedness, innocence, dominion, etc., “crowned with glory and honor” as Psalm 8 puts it. There is a loss of that in Genesis 3.

        • peteenns

          Joel, but if Psalm 8 refers to humanity as crowned with glory and honor, can we really say that was lost in Genesis 3? The psalmist seems to assume it is operative.

  • http://russwarren.blogspot.com RVW

    Have you read John Romanides’ “Ancestral Sin”? He deals with the pre -Augustine Fathers views, which do not follow “original guilt”. Well worth the read.

    RVW

  • David

    These are all things that I’ve been noticing more and more as I’ve read the OT for the last several years: the OT doesn’t seem to care about Adam at all. Realistically, one could take out Genesis 2-3, and almost nothing seems to be lost from the larger narrative of the Pentateuch, nor the larger sweep of the Prophets and the Writings.

    I accept everything that is written here pretty heartily. I’m still pretty clueless, though, about what to do with the Adam story and how to understand his role to play/hand in the inherent state of sinfulness in all people. If Adam really is Israel, does this mean that Paul is saying, essentially, that death entered the world through Israel? If Adam really is simply the Jewish way of explaining why childbirth hurts, why there is death, and why we work the ground for food, why then does the NT assign so much authority to him? So I agree with what’s written here, but this does not make me closer to an answer.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    I think Andrew is absolutely correct regarding anyone who’s ever done any serious research/thinking on the subject.

    Andrew: Is there anyone not on the fringe who claims otherwise?
    Pete: The Southern Baptists and Neo-Calvinists, for starters.

    I could be smart alecky and say, That’s not responsive, but then I’d have to confront the fact that many of my fellow Catholics are still stuck in a quasi fundamentalist understanding of “original sin”–despite the fact that very few mainstream RC theologians buy into anything resembling the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. And if you want to get some idea of the pernicious effect that that “doctrine” has had, just review the history of controversies on freedom, nature and grace since the time Augustine. One of the great ironies of theological history is that the “reformers,” rather than addressing this problem, doubled down on it, going with Augustine. The Catholics have been backing away from it, carefully, since the Jansenist controversy (cf. Ronald Knox’s classic Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion and Leszek Kolakowski’s God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal’s Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism).

    Andrew is also totally correct that the notion of original sin is foreign both to Judaism and Paul (in fact, the famous “proof text” from Romans relies on a mistranslation of the Greek into Latin). I would go further and maintain that this doctrine was foreign to most of the church fathers until the fourth and fifth centuries, when it took hold (especially in the West with Augustine) due to heavy Platonic and gnostic influence. Anyone interested in that history can take a look at a series of three blogs I did (absolutely nothing original) in March and April of 2011.

    Interestingly, Avery Dulles, certainly one of the two or three most eminent American Catholic theologians, recounted that during the writing of the Catholic Catechism a majority of the writers wanted to revisit the entire teaching, but the then Cardinal Ratzinger vetoed the idea. Later, as Benedict XVI, Ratzinger dismissed the teaching of “limbo” as a “theological construct.” The only meaning that “limbo” had was to serve as a device to mitigate the totally depraved logical consequences of Augustine’s teaching on original sin, that tells you where Catholic official thought is right now. Too bad they haven’t been more forthright about it.

    The real question, of course, is: what has kept so many well intentioned Christians ensared by this pernicious notion? As Pete says, there’s nothing about denying “original sin” that means man is perfect.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    N. T. Wright seems to buy into this pernicious doctrine in his How God Became King, claiming that those who deny “The Fall” are “imagining that the world is a nice, safe place”:

    In today’s muddled thinking we find, on the one hand, some people who are almost ready to deny the Fall, imagining that the world is a nice, safe place and that nobody needs any “power” to look after it (hence the anarchist dream and its right-wing small-government equivalent). On the other hand, there are other people who are ready to produce a doctrine of total depravity when it comes to anyone who actually has power, so that power is automatically , ipso facto, bad. Both of these viewpoints result in suspicion of actual rulers; the first, because they’re not really needed, and the second, because they are bound to abuse their power. (170)

  • http://www.suttersaga.com Samuel Sutter

    maybe a dumb question – but who is arguing that original sin is in Hebrew Bible, and if anyone (respectable?) where do they find it?

  • http://www.suttersaga.com Samuel Sutter

    (my bad, for whatever reason I saw no comments when I looked at article, now I’m just parroting Andrew) – Pete – which SBC/Neo Calvinists?

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    An article I wrote some time ago that some might find interesting: http://www.fether.net/2007/01/01/2007-01-01-can-sin-be-inherited/

  • T.J.

    Even if the OT does not paint Adam as the cause of original sin (which is a completely valid claim based on the biblical text), there is the issue of reading the OT in light of the NT. I know that the point of this article is to just focus on the OT, but as Christians, we have no choice but to not only read the testaments individually, but in conversation with each other. If Paul, in the biblical text, says that Adam is, in some way or another, the cause of sin, and the OT witness does not say this, then I think the question for Christians is “what is it about Jesus Christ–the ‘new Adam’–that changes our conception of sin, namely original sin?”

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    T.J. says: If Paul, in the biblical text, says that Adam is, in some way or another, the cause of sin, and the OT witness does not say this, then I think the question for Christians is “what is it about Jesus Christ–the ‘new Adam’–that changes our conception of sin, namely original sin?”

    The short answer is: Paul never does say anything like that. A couple of years ago I discussed some of these issues, starting from W. D. Davies’ seminal work Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra. Here’s a brief quote:

    Finally, Davies turns (31-35) to the classic text, Romans 5:12-21. Within the context of Romans generally, it becomes clear that, for Paul, Adam is Everyman: when Paul says that Adam sinned first and that all men also sinned, he is establishing no causal connection, as was centuries later read into this passage by Augustine (based upon an incorrect translation of 5:12). Davies provides examples of Rabbinic thought, which Paul clearly follows. “Thus in 2 Baruch 54:15-19 we read, …

  • Tony M

    Thanks Dr. Enns for another great post. I’ve been thinking the same things myself. I’ve been wrestling with this issue (among many others) for years now, coming out of a SB rearing. It’s nice to know that questions I’ve been kicking around are at least credible ones. I’m really leaning more towards an EO understanding with the emphasis being on death as the universal, not sin (or original sin).

  • Mark Edward

    I dug into ‘original sin’ last year as well, searching out all those places used as proof texts in the OT and NT… and came away ultimately rejecting it. Sin is treated as disobedience to God. It’s never treated as an inherent ‘nature’ people have. The very few places that seem to suggest this are clear uses of figurative speech (e.g. David saying he was conceived in sin in a psalm, just before saying hyssop cleanses that sin). Even where Paul talks about sin originating with Adam in Romans, he specifically says ‘all die because all have sinned’; he lays the blame on each person, and his appeal to Adam condemning ‘all’ people is strictly typological against Jesus saving ‘all’ people, i.e. you’re saved by committing yourself to Jesus (putting God first, as Jesus did), so likewise you’re condemned by committing yourself to Adam (putting the self first, as Adam did).

  • http://www.12lions.com Cameron

    Great article, thanks for doing it. I’m really interested in and looking forward to seeing if/how you take a look at the idea of original sin in the NT.

  • Nick

    I read this, and while not quite agreeing with some things (for instance, we should consider to what extent does the promulgation of the curse through Adam to his descendants also entail the passing of ‘fallenness’ through his descendants), I agree with most of this. As someone who would say ‘original sin’ is a thing, I feel like maybe this article is really creating a false dichotomy? I’ve never met anyone who held to ‘original sin’ but also rejects individual responsibility and says only Adam is responsible for everything we’ve ever done wrong, as this article seems to suggest (particularly when highlighting that the Bible doesn’t point the finger at Adam anytime anyone sins).

    The point of th
    e doctrine is to say that at the time of ‘original sin’, humanity, as children of Adam and Eve, was collectively booted out of the garden in a fallen state, suffered under the curse, and inherited Adam’s distance from God. I’ve heard it being likened to someone born on a pirate ship – their parents committed the original offence, and at that level the child is innocent of the crimes of the parents. But what happens if that child grows up on the ship, surrounded by others who have only ever known that life because they were born to their parents in it, and then become the adults on the pirate ship? Will they not follow in their parents footsteps? Most likely, yes. Are they innocent of any crimes they may commit simply because they know nothing better? No, of course not. We might have sympathy for their situation, but that doesn’t simply absolve them of all wrongdoing. If we come to a conclusion about the extent to which the curse parallels human sinfulness, that makes the picture even more vivid.

    I’d also question the validity of the above study – Muslim critiques against the divinity of Jesus tend to come as comments to the effect that Jesus does not call himself God, God does not call him God, etc etc. They become simple word studies, ignoring the fact that various functions attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are also functions that are elsewhere only attributed to God, for one. To the matter at hand, is it possible that the Bible could construct the idea of sin and fallenness being passed through the descendants of Adam, without God explicitly saying as much in the earlier chapters of Genesis? This is a question a simple keyword study is not necessarily going to solve.

  • Mel

    Yes, if anything one might say that God “causes” Cain to sin by preferring one offering over another, and thus creating discord.

    Given the way sin and death are often linked in the Bible, I’ve usually thought that Adam passing along original sin to everyone largely meant passing on a mortal nature. This seems to be what Paul is saying too in Romans 5:12. Although it isn’t what people are thinking of when they talk about their individual sins. Anyway, the origin of death has always been what troubles me about giving up the literalness of the Genesis account, not the origin of sin. I consider the evidence on evolution to be undeniable, so I basically have already given up a literal Genesis, but theologically I still feel it leaves me on shaky ground, which can get tiring and disheartening. If God created us to die, he created us with an enormous about of inbuilt misery, pain, and conflict in our world, and thus very little chance, I think, of being free from sin. Would he have created us that way? So for me it becomes a theodicy problem.

  • David

    Regarding the idea that sin can be transmitted, I am inclined to play the theological diversity card here. If you read Gen. 1-11 alongside, say, Ezekiel’s “the soul that sins, it shall die,” then there’s no good reason to read any kind of solidarity in guilt/condemnation into the Adam story. However, if you read Genesis alongside, say, the Deuteronomistic Historians condemnations of the nation of Israel because of the sins of its wicked kings, then it’s quite natural to read in (yes, it is reading in) Adams guilt transmitted to future generations. In fact, I think Ezekiel’s the bigger innovator here ; the idea that you can’t be guilty for the things you didn’t personally do, although much easier to get our arms around after the Enlightenment, on the whole is a minority voice in the OT (though not to say less important). Granted, this is nowhere near a full blown doctrine of Original Sin. But we can save that for the upcoming posts on the New Testament…

  • Jon Hughes

    Glad to see you ‘Adamed’ up, Pete!

    Even those who disagree with you should deal with the conspicuous absence of O.T. data for the doctrine of original sin.

  • gingoro

    Pete I tend to agree with your post and am not convinced about inherited guilt. However as someone who accepts common descent I think that we have an inborn tendency to do bad things just like the other primates do. With the giving of the law these bad things become sin as Paul says that without the law there is no sin.
    DaveW

    • Joe Canner

      You hit the nail on the head. Our sin did not originate from Adam’s sin, but a lot of it is in our genes. I have heard people say (and I think there is a comment later on in this thread to the same effect) that Adam’s sin resulted in a genetic mutation that has been passed down to us all. This is an interesting argument, but one with neither theological nor scientific credibility. I’m much more comfortable understanding sin in terms of our genetic propensities which originated via evolution.

  • http://www.ja-nei.blogspot.com Hallvard N. Jorgensen

    Thanks for “hosting the conversation” on this issue, Peter. I think it’s important to have an open dialogue on these matters. A couple of books that could be relevant for the wider issue of theological anthropology in the light of new knowledge in the sciences, are; “Evolution of evil”, ed. Bennett, Peters et. al. and Pannenbergs “Anthropology in theological perspective.” Also, Conor Cunninghams “Darwin’s pious idea” is really good.

  • Troy E.

    Pete – admittdly this is not directly engaging the OT text yet how would one respond to Edwards when he speaks of Adam failing to practice active obedience in the garden? In other words, if the conversation can be directed towards Adam’s failure to actively obey then one can see that motif both in Adam and then in Moses, Noah, David, Abraham which would suggest that the failure to obey could be seen as the problem stemming from Adam. So, could this be identified as the original sin?

  • Steve

    Hey Peter

    The Eastern church don’t believe that we are guilty of a sin that Adam committed. Rather they believe that we are born into a society that is corrupted by sin.

    If we are going to be honest about evolution, we will recognise that it is our animal nature that causes us to be sinful and look out for ourselves first. If we look at other species of ape, they all exhibit traits that we would call sinful if they were human. Like it or not, we simply behave the way our ancient ancestors did, but that is not the whole story!

    God calls us to overcome that animal nature within us.

    Amazingly this was first suggested by Irenaeus in the second century, long before science had out ruled a literal Adam. The idea here is that moral perfection is a work in progress and that is why we live in a fallen world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaean_theodicy

  • pedantic pete

    I don’t think the Adam ‘story’ is about how things came to be as they are. I think it is simply a picture of how things are – that we are all the image of God fallen. It is a consequence of being self-aware AND God-aware, exerting the self over our consciousness of God’s intentions and desires. I can’t see any other way of squaring it with the overwhelming evidence for evolution.

    I think Brian McLaren makes a persuasive case in “A New Kind of Christianity” that there is not one fall in Genesis, but a series of falls – Adam, Cain, the flood and Babel – increasing complexity of human interaction (garden, agriculture, cities and civilisations) corresponding with increasing degrees of alienation from God and one another.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      But the progressive alienation still comes from the original/ initial sin described in Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve seeking to be like God, knowing good from evil. Whether or not you take Adam as historical, the message of the story of the Fall is that attempting to live independent of God, judging good and evil from a human starting point is not only wrong, it will have negative consequences. The further series of fallsi n Genesis illustrates how that independence doesn’t work out for humanity; and leads to the redemptive-historical point of Scripture: our need for a Savior.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      But the progressive alienation still comes from the original/ initial sin described in Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve seeking to be like God, knowing good from evil. Whether or not you take Adam as historical, the message of the story of the Fall is that attempting to live independent of God, judging good and evil from a human starting point is not only wrong, it will have negative consequences. The further series of falls in Genesis illustrates how that independence doesn’t work out for humanity; and leads to the redemptive-historical point of Scripture: our need for a Savior.

  • Jim

    Great questions, Peter. I’m in a tradition in which the “leaders” say the Gospel makes no sense without a literal Adam and original sin attributed to him. I loved “The Evolution of Adam” for raising the questions that had been bouncing around inside for years – well, post seminary – but never had a chance to breathe. Thanks.

  • Rick

    The question appears to be about the “how” sin is found in everyone. Going along the EO thinking on the topic, and in terms of science, can we say that everyone is not impacted by the unhealthy actions of our parents and society at large, so that we are being wired as such in the womb?

    • pedantic pete

      How about this idea which has literally only just occurred to me? What if from an evolutionary standpoint we are pre-programmed to be selfish, for our very survival? The dichotomy within each of us arises because we our complex, conscious minds have become God-aware, and we are now conscious of the need to favour another over our own self-interest. That then became the alienation we all experience as sinfulness. That could be the how and the Genesis account still, as I contended above, the what of how we are now. Discuss.

      • LarryRR

        Pre-programmed by evolution or God? And if we evolved, when did we become God-aware? It seems to me that as our brains and behavior became more complex, we created explanations for natural phenomena and those explanations created God/gods. The formation of tribes indicated we could set aside our self-interest at least some of the time. Did these early tribes experience alienation from their gods, or just fear (via lightning) and gratitude (via rain)? It may be that alienation from God came much later, as a means of control (by the tribe/society? or possibly God?). That could be the ‘why’ of Genesis and the ‘how’ of where we find ourselves now.

  • Christian

    Couple of things:

    First, let me say, I don’t know where I land on the subject.

    1) Your #1. This falls apart if “death” in your explanation is more than physical death, in my opinion. If it’s a spiritual exile, a severing of the umbilical in a way, then I think #1 falls apart.

    2) Israel in the OT (and in the NT for that matter) miss quite a bit of incredibly obvious statements in the Old Testament. All the nations of the world will be blessed through Abraham? Yet they consistently acted as if the Gentiles had no place in the kingdom. How did they interpret Daniel’s explicit prophecy of national Israel’s destruction (or Deut’s for that matter)? Substituting God’s rule for a king’s when they were under an Old Covenant where they knew the curses?

    National, Old Covenant Israel was blind, selfish, etc. But God designed it that way. I think God kept some things hidden (blind) and revealed them in the NT. The lack of OT support isn’t a big deal to me.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    I think one of the problems for Christians that Pete is exposing by eliciting these comments is that many Christians labor under a misguided understanding of what “revelation” is really all about. In particular, many of the comments make it clear that many Christians see revelation as something that happens in a book–or perhaps in one big book, The Bible. For these Christians Genesis, the Gospels, Paul, etc. are all approached in the same way. IMO, this leads to insoluble problems. Here’s something I wrote that, while it doesn’t specifically address that problem (I have done that elsewhere), does illustrate a more productive way to approach the issue of original sin that Pete raised. In doing so it presumes a different theory of revelation by, for example, making reference to Jewish but non-Scriptural currents of thought. Anyway, this is just a very brief excerpt:

    Early Christian Thought on Original Sin

    We have seen (in Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra) that in Second Temple Judaism—the period during which the Genesis Adam and Eve narrative was written—there was no sense that this narrative had to do with a “Fall” of man based on an “Original Sin.” Rather, the narrative was intended to express the experience of the human condition in all its frailty and imperfection. The Judaic concept of the origin of human sin was instead expressed through the metaphor of the evil and good impulses in man, the yetzer ha-ra and the yetzer ha tov. Man was subject to both good impulses as well as purely natural impulses that, if embraced in a turning away from God, constituted a type of self worship that defined sinfulness. Habitual yielding to this impulse involved mankind in a downward spiral of sin, as described graphically by Paul in his Letter to the Romans.

    There is no reason to believe that Jesus taught a doctrine of Original Sin. However, there is good reason to believe that the Synoptic Gospels describe Jesus’ Temptation in terms of the yetzer ha-ra. In these narratives Jesus is led into the desert to seek God and is tested by Satan (the Tester) for the metaphorical long period of time: forty days and nights. The various temptations are presented according to the standard concept of the yetzer ha-ra: they are not evils in themselves—riches, power, even basic sustenance—but they are all part of an attempt to turn Jesus from his vocation, to have him turn away from his Father and place his own personal needs and preferences first. The final temptation reflects the Judaic understanding of sin as idolatry, for Satan asks Jesus to prostrate himself in worship before him. In a sense, these temptations are less extreme forms of the temptation that Jesus underwent in the Garden of Gethsemane. In each instance Jesus passes the test, quotes Torah and remains focused on his Father’s will. In the final test in Gethsemane, faced with a horrifying death, Jesus maintains this focus, praying to his Father and placing his Father’s will ahead of his own. Like us in all things but sin, Jesus conquered the yetzer ha-ra definitively, even unto death on a cross, and so in his triumph he can sympathize with our own human frailty because he, too, was tempted.

    Jesus did preach a baptism for the remission of personal sins, for reception into Divine fellowship and for the bestowal of the Spirit. This is true of the Apostolic generation, as well, as is especially clear in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 19 for just one of numerous examples in which bestowal of the Spirit is to the fore, and there is no mention of any “original” sin). Paul, James and the Evangelists knew nothing of Original Sin, but presupposed an anthropology and a doctrine of sin which in essentials is similar to the doctrine of sin current in Second Temple Judaism. Thus, in common with the Judaism of that period, the early Christian kerygma stressed man’s freedom and personal responsibility as well as proclaiming the need for a new life “in Christ,” cooperating with God’s grace that had been made available through Jesus.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      “Paul, James and the Evangelists knew nothing of Original Sin, but presupposed an anthropology and a doctrine of sin which in essentials is similar to the doctrine of sin current in Second Temple Judaism.” Then what of Romans 7:15 ff ?:

      For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
      21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

  • http://jeremiahdiehl.com Jeremiah Diehl

    During creation God declared that all things reproduce according to their kind – it’s a physical law if the Universe. Had Adam and Eve procreated before their fall, they would have had perfect children. They however procreated after their fall, which means they could only reproduce according to their fallen state. Now everyone born has a propensity to sin. Original sin is a genetic defect that makes us much more likely to choose evil over good – it doesn’t make us robots only capable of sinning. We can still choose to do good, it’s just not our natural instinct.
    The genetic defect in us though automatically disqualified us from inheriting Gods kingdom, which is why we need a savior.

    • AJG

      During creation God declared that all things reproduce according to their kind – it’s a physical law if the Universe. Had Adam and Eve procreated before their fall, they would have had perfect children. They however procreated after their fall, which means they could only reproduce according to their fallen state. Now everyone born has a propensity to sin.

      Possibly, but what if there were no literal Adam and Eve? In that case, original sin makes no sense. I see no reason to accept a literal Adam and Eve (all the archaeological, historical and scientific evidence is against it). In that case, the doctrine of original sin falls apart.

      Consider what Pete points out about Cain. God tells Cain that sin is crouching at his door and that he must master it. Why would God tell Cain this if Cain could not possibly master sin? Was God just mocking Cain? This passage also blows apart the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity. God implies that Cain can conquer his sin. He certainly would not do so if Cain was totally depraved and incapable of living sinlessly.

      After reading much of Pete’s work (along with Kenton Sparks and Tom Wright) over the past year, I’m more convinced than ever that much of what passes for orthodox Christianity (original sin, the notion of a soul, the elect and the reprobate) has its roots in Greek philosphy and pagan Gnosticism.

      • Christian

        What if Adam and Eve weren’t the first humans, but the first of God’s covenant people? That’s what I’ve come to believe and I think that would negate everything else you wrote.

        • AJG

          The problem with that line of speculation is that gentics has demonstrated that there was never a single human pair from which all humanity descended. Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosonal Adam lived tens of thousands of years apart, so the whole story of Adam and Eve falls apart. Given modern scientific inquiry, the story of Adam and Eve is allegory. What does the allegory mean to us today? I don’t know the answer to that.

          • Christian

            I didn’t say all humanity, just all humanity chosen by God (remnant, covenantal people, the Church). And I personally don’t feel genetics is even 5% into understanding how genetics works.

          • pedantic pete

            The allegory means that we are God’s image fallen. That we are all a walking dichotomy of nobility and savagery in the same human being.

      • Christian

        I also think the more you study eastern religions, the easier this Cain stuff is to understand. You’re looking at this very black and white. God warned Cain not to sin; just because human beings have a bent towards sin doesn’t mean they sin at all times. There is also grace. There is also maturity. These things plus the “sin nature” are not paradoxical, but go hand in hand.

        • AJG

          Christian, in your opinion, what is the origin of sin? Was it the result of a single disobedient action as in the Adam and Eve account, or did God create us with a sin nature? If, as John 1:3 states, “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”, does that mean God made sin? I’d say sin is a thing, and according to the Bible, Christ created everything.

          • Christian

            Again, that’s a pretty narrow way of viewing things. Are we sure John (or the author of John) meant every thing in the known universe, even concepts? Or are we taking “thing” as something with a physical structure, i.e. physical creation? Maybe he wrote that looking at the heavens and the fields before him?

            We could also get into the “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it” discussion too, which I feel is the same argument.

          • AJG

            Again, that’s a pretty narrow way of viewing things. Are we sure John (or the author of John) meant every thing in the known universe, even concepts? Or are we taking “thing” as something with a physical structure, i.e. physical creation? Maybe he wrote that looking at the heavens and the fields before him?

            I’m not expert in Greek enough to answer that, but it seems as though the verse implies all things. If not, then where does sin come from? Is sin simply that which is not God, and if so, do humans have the ability to create that which is not God?

            I’m sorry if I’m getting a bit off topic, but to me the origin of sin is THE great mystery of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Nothing I’ve read seems to make sense. Even original sin doesn’t answer it adequately, IMO.

          • Christian

            “I’m sorry if I’m getting a bit off topic, but to me the origin of sin is THE great mystery of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Nothing I’ve read seems to make sense. Even original sin doesn’t answer it adequately, IMO.”

            I don’t know why my reply button isn’t showing up under this response.

            On your first paragraph, there’s much more to interpreting Scripture than simply knowing the entymology of a word. There’s context and audience relevance, mores, culture, place of argument, etc.

            The second paragraph…what’s the origin of the Trinity? There are many unexplainable things in this world, both in the earthly and heavenly realms. Jesus demanded faith and obedience, and not so based on a thorough understanding.

            Look at the woman of the well story. She converted her whole town with the words, “come hear about the man that told me everything about my life. Could he be the messiah?” She didn’t understand the trinity, origin of sin, genetics, how to operate an ipad, theoretical physics, etc. She and many other people portrayed in the Gospels were different. They had a different faith than we seem to have these days.

            Maybe that’s an unnecessary aside…but to your question about did God create sin…perhaps He did? Perhaps it was for the same purposes as the blind man in John…so that the works of God may be displayed.

          • AJG

            I don’t know why my reply button isn’t showing up under this response.

            I think replies only next three levels or so.

            My problem is I think too much. I despise easy answers that avoid the question and don’t really answer anything. There’s too much of that in Christianity today which is why I’m thankful for scholars like Pete and Sparks who want to tackle the big issues head on even when they risk being called heretical.

      • http://JeremiahDiehl.com Jeremiah Diehl

        Define living “a sinless life”.
        Once I have committed a sin, I can never live a sinless life. I can choose to stop sinning from that point on, but I will never be sinless. I understand original sin as being born into a state or condition as if I had already sinned. It’s a defect that I cannot change. (Of my own accord, of course this is why I believe Jesus was so important.) So even if I went my entire life without ever committing a sin against God, that I was born into this fallen body makes me a sinner and I could never live a sinless life.
        This view makes sense for me. It flows with the rest of the Bible and explains why it was necessary for God to plug Himself into a human body and die – it required a completely perfect human, free of sin (original or otherwise.) The blood from His sacrifice is what covers that original sin. No other person could ever qualify because everyone is born with a defect.

        You mentioned the possibility of Adam and Eve being an allegory. I’ve considered this possibility before but I just can’t accept it. I have chosen to believe the things that Jesus said, and He quoted from and spoke of the book of Genesis and the act of creation as if it were literal and happened just as was written. If Jesus really is who He claimed to be, then I believe He would certainly know whether it was true or not.

        • AJG

          If Jesus really is who He claimed to be, then I believe He would certainly know whether it was true or not.

          Why do you think this? Do you believe Jesus was omniscient when in human form? It’s clear he wasn’t as he asked the Father to take the cup from him as if it was a possibility. He also did not know the identity of the woman who touched his robe in a crowd. Isn’t it possible that Jesus only knew the traditional view of Adam as taught in the synagogue? I don’t think you can assume that Jesus knew if Adam was a real person. That’s reading too much into the text, I believe.

  • arty

    I actually take great comfort in the idea of Original Sin. If the world isn’t “fallen,” in some inherent (and temporary) sense, then that just makes the all the evil (both radical and banal) in the world that much more difficult to comprehend, and it makes humans look a whole lot worse, since that means that people without Original Sin somehow choose to do all of the rotten things they do. Give me Original Sin any day. I’ve never seen it as a matter of “guilt by association” with Adam, therefore, just that he and Eve were the first people to manifest rebellion against God, and presumably if it had been me, I’d have done something similar.

    • AJG

      I’ve never seen it as a matter of “guilt by association” with Adam, therefore, just that he and Eve were the first people to manifest rebellion against God, and presumably if it had been me, I’d have done something similar.

      But that’s not original sin, which states that our sin nature is inherited from Adam as a result of the Fall. What you’re espousing is that all men have a sinful nature. Period. The point of original sin is that it more or less lets God off the hook for sin. Sin and death entered into creation because of Adam’s first sin and now we all suffer with that nature because we are all descendants of Adam. If no Adam and no first sin, what is the origin of sin? If you say that sin is just inherent to humans, and if God created humans, then God created us with sinful natures.

      I personally don’t think it’s a big deal if God created humans with a sinful nature. He could have created humans without sin, but he chose not to. What is the reason for this? Perhaps there can be no true expression of love others without the ability to harm others.

      • arty

        The point isn’t that God created us with sinful natures: the point is that we were created with free will, and once Adam illuminated for the rest of us, the guilty pleasures of rebellion, that there’s no escaping knowledge that rebellion is an option. Thus, the Original “stain”, you might say, of having knowledge that we have the option to rebel. This leads me to view Adam’s Original Sin as a symbolic First. To my mind, the world is incomprehensible without it. Look at secular or quasi-religious utopian movements over the years: In every single case, you’ll find the theorists of the movement finding ways to deny Original Sin, in order to make the immanent leap to the Kingdom of Freedom, now.

        • AJG

          The point isn’t that God created us with sinful natures: the point is that we were created with free will

          I’d say the jury is out on the existence of free will. I doubt it actually exists at all. It seems like we have free will, but the idea itself doesn’t make any sense. What is the source of a free decision? After the fact, it seems as if we could have chosen otherwise, but could we really? If all our thoughts are a collection of electrochemical impulses which are influenced by prior causes, then how can we explain free will? Even if you reject that line of argument and say that God is the source of our will, how is our will free in any sense if God is the source?

          This is the classic free will vs. determinism debate, but given what we know today about the brain, the notion of free will seems to be losing handily.

          • Christian

            I don’t think there’s free will in regards to salvation, but how do you explain the expectation of God for His people to make wise choices and avoid sin? Why the need for God to harden hearts? Why the passages that describe God’s mind changing? I believe in a free will and sovereignty model. Both exist in harmony with one another.

          • arty

            Propose what “we know” about free will if you want, but I’m not going to debate the existence/non-existence of free will in the comments to a blog post. I take free will to exist a priori, and and so we part company.

            Go, and sin inevitably.

          • AJG

            I can’t answer those questions. If I could, I’d secure a place in the pantheon of the great philosophers. Current scientific inquiry seems to imply that our brain makes a decision fractions of a second before we are even aware that we are making a decision. Our consciousness (whatever THAT is), seems to act more as a gatekeeper than a source from which decisions arise. The model is probably better described as free won’t than free will.

          • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

            Free will, as a pure trait, can only exist within God. This is essential to an understanding of God as something greater than the greatest thing we can think of (a paraphrase of Anselm). There are no limitations in God; He can anything He pleases: He created the universe; He does miracles, etc. Free will is an essential element to the omnipotence of God.

            Created in the image of God, humans reflect Him. So they reflect God with “free will,” but could not be God, in the sense of possessing free will as it exists within God. So there will be an image of true free will in human nature, but simultaneously, clear distinctions from true free will, because human beings are not God. We have free will; and we don’t.

            The creation story of Adam and Eve also tells us that they are dependent upon God and under His authority as their Creator God. The story of the Fall then notes how they used their “free will” to disobey God, attempting to have knowledge of good and evil independent of God. The judgment of God upon Adam and Eve included further restriction of their free will, but not an annihilation of it.
            “If all our thoughts are a collection of electrochemical impulses which are influenced by prior causes”, presumes a uniformity of natural causes within a closed system of nature/creation excludes the either the possibility or the significance of a Creator God as described above and begs the question of free will. Of course there cannot be free will, if all our thoughts “are a collection of electrochemical impulses which are influenced by prior cause.” What we know about the brain does not exclude the concept of free will, unless you begin with the presumption that “mind” is merely an extension of evolved electrochemical impulses; if humanity is merely body without a soul. But if we are a “psychosomatic” unity of body (soma) and soul (psyche), made to image the Creator God, free will in a limited, “imaged” sense can exist and still have relevance and significance for humanity; even a fallen humanity.

  • http://www.conversationinfaith.wordpress.com Nancy

    I’ll admit I haven’t read every comment here in great detail, so perhaps this has already been mentioned. I would suggest that original sin might be better understood, not as the first sin or originating sin but rather as the sin that is common, shared among all of us. The root or cause of all our other sins, in my tradition, commonly thought of as idolatry. All sin is ultimately idolatry and that is what we have in the “fall” story. Humans trusting someone/something in the place of God. Of course, I don’t think Adam was an individual person. I think those early stories are about the human condition, what it means to be human, our potential and the way we, each of us, fall away from God.

    • Christian

      Maybe…but I see it as this, working backward.

      In the NT, it says we are being reconcilled. Which means, we must have been the opposite, separated or fractured.

      So I think that’s what Adam’s trangressing of the covenant did, it fractured humanity, separating Adam’s line from God. Jesus’ death and return reconciles us to Him. The Bible also says we were brought forth in iniquity. We were born fractured because all of humanity was fractured. Something broken cannot bring forth something perfect. Which is why God conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb; He was not the product of falled creatures.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Great post and discussion. So far I’ve only scanned the comments, but I think there is a view not yet represented. In short, it comes from the orthodox evangelical view that we cannot, on our own, be good enough to reach God (that would be pelagianism). Thus, supernatural intervention is necessary. We are often afraid to go very far into supernatural explanations, but Scripture is not.

    “Whatever words we want to use to describe it, this self-evident reality of repeated, relentless sin remains an unalterable fact of human existence. We clearly need help.”

    We sure do! And it really does seem we humans are not capable of providing the kind of help that is needed. This brings up two questions, both with supernatural answers (at least from our limited vantage point). The problem (sin) begins with spiritual beings rebelling against God – and this rebellion not only directly affects us, we are ultimately defenceless against it. The solution (redemption) is also supernatural and comes directly from Christ via the Holy Spirit (who is also grace and love). It seems that many Christians are reluctant to accept these supernatural realities, or, at least, to accept both of them. Their clear presentation in Scripture does not seem to matter to many. It’s just too ….. unscientific. It must be explained away.

    Our understandable attachment to the world we can more or less understand and sometimes manage, the world of energy and matter, presents a high hurdle that works against our acceptance of anything supernatural. We wave our hands and say ‘spiritual’ but that has become a useless word because of its many meanings. It seems that much of Christian theology has to do a better job of adding Spirit (as in Holy Spirit) to the equation – the familiar equation energymatter has to become (at least tentatively) Spiritenergymatter. Even though we know practically nothing about the mechanism by which Spirit affects matter and energy, we are told of the results of such interactions in Scripture (most importantly in the Incarnation and Resurrection), and we can see the results in our own lives and the lives of others.

    A strong trinitarian approach that places the Holy Spirit right up there with the Father and the Son is absolutely essential. On the Reformed front, something along the lines of T.F. Torrance’s thinking accomplishes this, as far as I can determine. A good place to begin is “How To Read T. F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian and Scientific Theology” by Elmer M. Colyer (2001). The chapter on Torrance’s understanding of the Holy Spirit is worth the price of the book. Amos Yong is moving over similar terrain from a starting point in Pentecostal experience. His (2012) “Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace” is a great beginning.

    Future fruitful conversation between Science and Theology will necessarily include this dimension of Spirit-energy-matter. These conversations have begun, and with a strong trinitarian, Spirit-filled faith, we can welcome them with great hope.

  • James

    Humorous how Pete lays down the gauntlet and we all run it. His main point is well taken. We don’t get original sin from the OT and in a very nuanced sense from the NT. We need good NT scholars (not just Augustine, Calvin and disciples) to lay bare Paul’s rhetorical and pedagogical methods in proving to folk of his day that Gentiles are no longer out (if they ever were) but in, full voting members in the family of God–and that membership looks different than most Jews thought. I think N. T. Wright does this best, but there are others.

    • AJG

      Humorous how Pete lays down the gauntlet and we all run it.

      Are you saying Pete’s trolling all of us? :)

      • James

        provoking yes, trolling no.

  • Kenny chmiel

    The genesis narrative presupposes the idea of ‘OS’ or something quite close. ‘In the day you eat from the tree you will die’ and the rest of the OT narrative/s is this being played out. Are there clear verses that say ‘original sin’ is caught like this, I don’t think the text works this way. Great mind down through the centuries have tried to understand the implications of what the death in these texts mean, have they got everything right according to the mind of God, hardly, but are they in the game, I think so. Man’s models are always tentative.

    • Christian

      Wouldn’t you think the “death” is the opposite of the “life” Christ gives us? If we determine what the life is, we understand the death, which I think rules out physical death, at least as a big part of it.

    • Christian

      I think “death” in Genesis 1 has to be the opposite of the “life” Christ gives us. Look and what Jesus and Paul said about “life” and that will show you what was missing before Christ. And I think that rules out physical death, at least as the primary effect (perhaps a distant secondary effect).

      • Christian

        Heh, guess it didn’t eat my original comment.

    • Joe

      Sometimes when judging the ‘truth’ of a doctrine, we need to take into account the fruit that a doctrine bears. The doctrine of original sin has led western Christianity down an incredibly long and futile diverted path. Generally, this doctrine results in a Gnostic-type human/world-hating attitude (or at least viewing them as less worthy than so-called spiritual reality. Also, it has resulted in Christian institutions that can (and often do) be manipulative: One priest or religious leader holds the key to your relationship with God. Christianity has become so focused on ‘sin management’ that it has forgotten that the Gospel doesn’t have this as its central focus. The Kingdom of God is, ultimately, about the divine quality of life into which we are invited.

      • Christian

        You can do that with any view of any doctrine. Man can exaggerate, over-simply and pervert anything.

        • Joe

          Maybe so, Christian, but fear and shame are two of the most powerful forces we as human beings feel. The doctrines of original sin and of hell are especially well-suited for exploiting others (whether done intentionally or not). Perhaps the doctrine of God’s lovingkindness can be abused (?), though I don’t think the damage inflicted would be comparable. Jesus, in effect, was accused of exaggerating the notion of divine grace. He was labeled a glutton, and one who eats with sinners. To the religious folk, he was licentious, but their opinion didn’t win the day, ultimately.

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  • Bryan

    David Carr states that nowhere in the creation story do we find the word “sin”. However, citing Deuteronomy 30:11-20 causes me to pause and wonder, “If a curse is the opposite of a blessing, are we stretching it a bit by conflating “curse” with “sin” or is it justified to assume that when one is cursed, it is for purposes pertaining to sin?

  • AHH

    Dr. Enns,

    This is slightly off topic, but I know that one of the things you have said with regard to “Adam” is that, rather than being a story of the origin of sin passed down through generations (I agree with you that this concept is not expressed in the OT), Adam is instead at least in part a symbol for the disobedience (and subsequent exile) of Israel.

    But that leaves me wondering about one thing. Don’t most OT scholars say that the garden story (in contrast to Genesis 1) is pre-exilic? Is your position that Genesis 2-3 was written later than the pre-exilic date others assign the material? Or that a post-exilic editor took an existing garden/tree story and added elements like the exile from the garden to make it symbolize Israel?

  • Bob Demyanovich

    Much of this discussion departs from the scripture to consider a straw man similar to “Q material”. The challenge is to be as God. Innocence admires the apple naïve to the accusation that God lies; at least this is the preferred rendition for those who find rebellion and offense distasteful. To the larger question, is God the true creator or is it any being?

    Further revelation of the effects of sin is first introduced by the spiritual perception of Adam, male and female in the first 2 verses of chapter 5. God, Who addresses people according to what they are, refers to the male and female as Adam. This glimpse of the spiritual conception of the physical repeats the generalized view of that which we humans within creation see with more detail. The second post sin question asked of Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” is insightful of Adam and Eve’s pre sin focus, evidence of a more spiritual focus of a different mind. Creation of the Earth is completed in the first chapter, but then more detail follows in the second for our benefit who, without spirit cannot know as spirit does. Adam and Eve were unnamed for a while but became more who after the forbidden indulgence. Creation does not end with the generation of Adam and Eve. The manner of being, methods and customs, including even the physical world were and still are under construction. Human being is self confined in the narrowed focus of detail. The physical coalesces around thought. This is an instance of how human is in the image of God, thought generates physical and spiritual occurrence. Creation is to be continued by human being in the image of God.

  • CarolJean

    This line of reasoning leads me to wonder why we should believe in the doctrine of the Trinity since it is not explicit in the OT.

    • Nick Gotts

      It’s not in the NT either. Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr clearly didn’t believe in it. It’s a fourth-century invention, and a remarkably silly one.

  • http://worldthatgodimagines.blogspot.com/ Bobby Nemeth

    F. R. Tennant in his book from the early 1900′s traces out this same line of thinking. He traces the the Origins of the Doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin from the Old Testament through the Post Exilic Literature, through the New Testament, into the Apostolic period, through that all the way up to Augustine. This line of thinking really is not Jewish from my reading of his book

  • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

    Add this excerpt from Cornelius Van Til to the discussion on original sin:

    Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God. But when we have said that the surroundings of man are really completely personalized, we have also established the representational principle. We have not only established the possibility of the representational principle, but its necessity and actuality as well. All of man’s acts must be representational of the acts of God. Even the persons of the Trinity are mutually representational of one another. They are exhaustively representational of one another. Because man is a creature he must in his thinking, his feeling and his willing be analogically representative of God. There is no other way open for him. He could, in the nature of the case, think nothing at all unless he thought God’s thoughts after him, and this is analogical, representational thinking. Thus man’s thought is representative of God’s thought, but not exhaustively reproductive.
    The biblical doctrine of original sin is based upon this purely biblical and therefore purely theistic concept of representation. Since the whole being of God, if we may in all reverence say so, is built upon the representational plan, it was impossible for God to create except upon the representational plan. This pertains first to every individual human being, but it pertains just as well with respect to the race as a whole. If there was to be a personal relationship between finite persons—and none other is conceivable—there would have to be representational relationship. Every act of every finite person affects every act of every other finite person that comes after him by virtue of the one general plan of God with respect to the whole of creation. Hence, it could not be otherwise than that the acts of Adam should affect, representationally, every human being that should come after him.
    To reject the doctrine of original sin may therefore be characterized as a concession to the anti-biblical idea that the acts of human personalities are surrounded by a universe over which God has no complete control, i.e., an impersonal universe. (Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge)

    • Daniel

      Van Til is quite clearly doing something beyond straight exegesis here. As much as he likes to throw around the terms “biblical” and “unbiblical,” he’s imposing an external system upon the text. His reading of the Fall is idiosyncratic to say the least — foreign to both the OT and NT.
      Original sin is absent from the OT text(s). Paul’s interpretative choices, 100s of years later, don’t change that. The NT routinely makes new interpretative moves. But that doesn’t mean that the “new meaning” was objectively present in the text all along.

      • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

        Pete’s question was where in the Old Testament was Adam’s disobedience described as the cause of universal human sinfulness and guilt. The simple answer is it isn’t there. It will be hinted at; pointed to in some passages. But you won’t find a fully articulated doctrine of original sin in just the Old Testament. If you attempt to limit your conclusion on the legitimacy of the doctrine to just the Old Testament, you would then reject the doctrine. But this doesn’t weaken its legitimacy. At most, it weakens the arguments of individuals who try to fit the complete doctrine into the Old Testament. Pete’s question raises that issue, but the silence of the Old Testament doesn’t undermine the doctrine. It also seems to me that if someone were to reject the doctrine of original sin simply because it isn’t found within the Old Testament, then they are failing to read Scripture from within a redemptive-historical or biblical theological framework. The redemptive story of the Bible, Old and New Testament leads to Christ. Why would humanity need a Savior, if we hadn’t all sinned in Adam? Christian theology presents Christ as something more than an exemplar of how to live a holy life before God.

        Perhaps I could have given a better Van Til quote on original sin, or quoted more from the section this was taken from. But I thought what I did give captured why God holds us responsible for something Adam did at the beginning of the Bible: Adam sinned as the representative head of humanity. Sharing the created human nature with Adam and Eve, every human being would have done as Adam and Eve did in the circumstances of the Fall. We have to look beyond the Old Testament into the New Testament to see this. If we try to understand Genesis 3 only through the Old Testament we won’t be able to comprehend the significance of Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

        If I understood correctly what you were saying about Van Til’s view of the Fall being idiosyncratic, then I think you would have to say that Paul in Romans 5:12 was being idiosyncratic. Paul seems to regard Adam representationally in the way Van Til meant.

  • Sarah

    Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    And in sin my mother conceived me.

    Does this mean we are born “in sin”?

    • http://www.makewrite.demon.co.uk Veronica Zundel

      I don’t think this means we are born in sin – just that we were born to sinners.

      • David

        Well, if you were part of a sinner (and as a developing person in your mother’s womb you would be) then it seems like you would be participating in that sin. What about Job 15 (esp v15)?

  • Jim S.

    Peter, thanks for the post. I have a question that I have been pondering for a while: if one takes Adam to be a literal person, and garden to be a real place on this earth, then what did life and existence look like outside the garden? If the garden was in a “perfect” state, then what was the rest of the world like, and why was it so bad, apparently, for Adam & Eve to have been cast out?

  • http://www.makewrite.demon.co.uk Veronica Zundel

    Haven’t got time to read all the comments so someone may have said this already. You say ‘All three parties are cursed by God’. This is not true. I’d like to point out that neither Adam nor Eve are cursed in Genesis 3. The ground and the serpent are cursed, but the humans are simply told what the consequences of their actions will be. Their fate is consequently not a punishment in any way, just a consequence of their choosing sin. This is very important and I am surprised you haven’t noticed it!

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  • David

    Wow-this discussion reminds me of my Freshman religion classes. Everyone either (1)trying to sound smart by quoting other people instead of primary sources (in this case the bible) or (2) trying to be politically correct (oh, we can’t be created sinful, that just isn’t fair)

    If you’re going to be a Christian (or Jew, since this discussion is supposed to be limited to the OT/TANAK) then you should accept the teachings of your holy scripture. If you’re not going to accept their teachings (ie; this is a latter development, this isn’t true, this part was rewritten inorder to satisfy the winners) then don’t try to argue that OS exists or doesn’t.

    Straight up scripture shows that original sin exists and that man (and woman) are in a state of sin from their birth (remember, Jewish culture in the OT saw your birthday as your date of conception-not your coming out of momma day). Job 15, Psalm 51 (not to mention Job 14 or 25)

    My suggestion to all of you that are tricking yourselves into thinking that the OT either (1) doesn’t teach OS or (2) man (or woman) can attain righteousness on their own in the OT do two things. (1) Read scripture FULLY, not just verses here or there AND (2) get a good old catechism and read about original sin (Luther, a Catholic one, Westmister, any one of them!). Then, come back, and have an intelligent conversation grounded in Biblical theology.

  • LarryRR

    Though I’m a little late to the party, this has been a great conversation! Another way to look at this is perhaps is that Lucifer committed the Original Sin, then Eve sinned, then Adam, and here we all are now, an unbroken chain of sinners. I do find it very interesting however that Adam and Eve apparently had no interest in either the Tree of Life, a cure for something that didn’t exist, or the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, two more things that had no meaning at this point. It was ‘almost’ perfect. And it might have stayed that way except for that pesky Free Will.
    And this is where I get confused. If Free Will is a prerequisite for love, in that the angels could only glorify God if it were an option, and many exercised that option not to glorify God, what made God think it was such a good idea to instill it within His next creation? Had it not already blown up (and as God, did He have no knowledge that that was going to happen, and happen repeatedly?).
    Or perhaps that’s what God wanted to happen all along. There was love and companionship within the Trinity, but it wasn’t enough. There was love, companionship, and now worship after the angels were created, but it still wasn’t enough. The only way to shake things up was to create Free Will. And it worked. God got the drama he ‘needed’. But even that wasn’t enough.
    With the creation of the universe and man, He got a do-over, or got to make a sequel, if you will. And that WAS enough! A beautiful paradise containing a diversity of life and grateful subjects living in harmony and fellowship with God. But even that got old. Whether Adam & Eve simply weren’t smart enough or motivated enough or whether they were just being good, obedient children, is unknown, but neither one seemed to have any desire to eat from either Tree. An external catalyst, it would seem, was necessary to shake things up once more. Eve’s naivete was exploited, then Adam’s, and the drama at last, returned. And did it ever. From that moment on, the Bible – and human history – becomes a bloodbath. It’s a heck of story though, whether you believe it or not. It sets up sin, separation, and redemption, but more importantly, it sets up God. Had Eve never sinned, salvation would have been unnecessary. And, essentially, so would God. I realize it’s impossible for God to sin, but once he started creating, He sure stacked the deck for everyone else.

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  • Paul

    Funny how these ideas surface only recently. I think it arrogance in the extreme to think that no one in all of the pre ceding church history was smart enough to ‘see’ these issues. Or perhaps it has more to do with the author’s reputation idol in wanting to be accepted by modern academia?

  • Sean

    If we really want to look at the “Original Sin”, we should be looking at the fall of Lucifer! Lucifer was also one of God’s created beings who allowed pride to overcome his obedience to God (the first, in fact). Adam’s (and Eve’s) sin was to engage in a conversation with Satan and allow his pride to enter his life. Pride is a thing of the devil, God has nothing to do with pride. Next, Satan tempted them in the garden just as we are tempted today, and we all make similar decisions to that of Adam…to sin. So for us to try to blame Adam for the world’s sin would not be accurate, Satan is the one to blame. The fault of giving in to temptation is upon each and every one of us as individuals every day.

  • Keith Fredrickson

    Dr. Enns,

    With regard to your words “the Israelites were most certainly capable of not sinning,” I wish to pose a question.

    In interpreting the essence of the 10th Commandment as “Thou shalt not lust” in Romans 7:7, did Paul impose on the commandment a meaning that it did not originally possess? Did he make the commandment stricter than it actually was in its original context?

    Regards,
    Keith Fredrickson

  • Robert Austin

    This is quiet an old post, and I’m not sure if anybody has presented this concept (I don’t care to read through all 100 comments :-)

    I equate the concept of “original sin” with the fact that Adam and Eve at of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (or as I make it more modern and say “knowledge of Right and Wrong” … with that said, was is a parents first priority in raising their children right (after providing them with their basic needs of food, shelter and companionship), it’s to teach them right from wrong.

    God wanted us to rely completely upon Him, totally and completely, as opposed to having to resort to consulting a rule book. A rule book by the way that keeps getting modified. The first set of rules was pretty simple, they had 10 commandments, and we couldn’t even follow those.

    Anyways, the mere *knowledge* is what I consider to be “original sin”, and since we can not in any way, shape or form today raise a person without knowing right from wrong, then we are all inflicted with “original sin”.

  • Ricky Williams

    I too have been questioning the idea of original sin, but it’s more about the ideas surrounding original sin, such as total depravity. The Apostle Paul addresses righteousness. Righteousness is obedience to the Law. In the Garden, the fruit of the tree of knowledge was eaten. Therefore, humans are under the Law through knowledge of it. That means the unborn, babies, and many children have no sin – they have no knowledge of it and cannot be judged. We learn to sin when we first lust according to James.

    Babies are not born good. Good is a term God uses to describe perfect creation (Genesis 1:31) and righteous (Matthew 9:17). It is most correct to say babies have done no good or evil so that the purpose of God according to election might stand. That equality is maintained (Ezekiel 18:29) and salvation offered to all.

    The called are not necessarily the saved. The Jewish people are called, but are not necessarily saved. (Romans 9:24) God calls every man – He is possessive of all souls. (Ezekiel 18:4)

    We don’t obtain salvation from our will, but because God willed salvation to every man. Reaching out to take the gift of salvation is not directly an action of human will, but a reaction to what is already free.

    Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, he became righteousness for those not able to fulfill the Law….those who have knowledge of the Law and have faith in Jesus and those who are not under the Law through no knowledge of it.

    Human nature is grasping sin that already exists in the world. We do not grasp it in the womb or as babies or as many children, because those humans do not lust.

    Furthermore, God is not the author of sin. We also know we were fearfully and wonderfully made. So, God does not fashion sinners in the womb. The only Adam curse we inherit is death/working the ground. Even the flesh must die to be saved. In addition, we know the flesh is not defined by spiritual death, because Jesus had flesh. Flesh is a lustful heart. We all become sinners. We do not bear the guilt of Adam’s sin and we’re certainly not made sinful.

    Psalms 51:5
    Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

    Let’s dissect this verse, since it often remains the stumbling block of many. According to the first clause, David is shaped in iniquity, but we know God is not the author of sin. We also know we were fearfully and wonderfully made – God does the shaping. So, what does David mean? He is describing the moral state of the world. Iniquity is a force we must learn to rule over Gen 4:7. Babies are born without iniquity according to God in Ezekiel 18.
    The second clause is a little more difficult to understand. It says “in sin did my mother conceive.” It does not say “in my sin did my mother conceive.”
    Who had knowledge of the Law at David’s birth?…only his mother.
    Thus, David was born of a sinful mother.
    -
    If you has just committed adultery with Bathsheba, wouldn’t you also express all your sin in such repenting language? He was looking for all possible iniquity and at this point in his life, his mother’s sin even repulsed him. He knew his imperfection was deep.


    So, the propensity to sin is inherited, not the sin itself.


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