The article is called “Traditio Deformis,” and in it Hart explains in no uncertain terms, and with his usual wit and punch, that St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) really screwed up our understanding of the story of the “fall” of Adam (Genesis 3) because he absolutely screwed up what Paul was saying about Adam in Romans 5:12-21.
This screwed up version of the Adam story via a screwed up Augustinian reading of Paul is the view usually championed in the Reformed tradition (Calvinism; and hence Hart’s title, “Deformed Tradition”) and middle-of-the-road American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.
Romans 5:12, translated properly (as in the NRSV and other translations), says: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—“
The “one man” is, of course, Adam. And Paul seems to be saying, quite clearly in fact, that death spread because all have sinned. Now what that means exactly needs some clarification, but that isn’t the issue here. The issue is that Augustine, working from a poor Latin translation of Romans 5:12, has “in him” where the Greek has “because.”
You can see the problem. Augustine’s reading is that death spread to all because all sinned in him [in Adam]. In other words, death spread to humanity because all humanity was somehow “present” in Adam’s act of disobedience. In other words, a bad reading of Romans 5:12 has led to the notion that all humans are as culpable (guilty) as Adam for what Adam did—all humanity sinned in him.
Augustine’s reading is what many Christians believe Paul actually said, and which is why Augustine’s notion of “original sin” is defended with such uncompromising vehemence as the “biblical” teaching. But neither Romans nor Genesis supports the idea.
I thought this comment on Enn’s article by a reader was very pertinent.
Hart’s greatest service in this is, I think, his pinning it on Augustine. Fruit of the poisoned tree: next year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses. Luther was of course strongly influenced by Augustine and led by direct line to modern Evangelicalism. It’s not only Calvinism that is exposed by Hart; it is the entire Evangelical paradigm.