The Evolution of Original Sin

(system) #1
The doctrine of original sin, as understood today, is the result of a long and messy conversation about difficult parts of Scripture.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Paul Bruggink) #2

Given the necessity of modifying the current form of the doctrine of original sin, what is the path by which this could actually happen? Peter Enns, Denis Lamoureux and others have taken a run at it, but this layman doesn’t see much else happening yet. I assume that it has to start with the seminaries. Is it starting to be seriously discussed?


Thank you for this Post – one I believe is at the heart of our faith and existence.

The creation story in Genesis 2-3 that includes an account of a human fall in the Garden of Eden doesn’t say anything about original sin.

With respect, I disagree completely. To me, Genesis 3:5 clearly spells out the nature of our original sin… “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God".

This is the first sin in scripture making it the Original Sin. And rather than being about a simple act of disobedience, it illustrates the very worst of all sins – the desire to be god-like, to have ‘our will be done’, etc. A quick scan of human culture shows that this sin is pandemic and has countless forms. One could argue that every form of sin is merely a variant of one kind or another of this Original Sin.

And this is consistent with evolution if it marks the point in which an animal species evolved past mere survival to the ability to grasp the concept of a Creator. But it is we humans who have chosen to go the next step bringing sin into an otherwise perfect creation.

(Henry Stoddard) #4

There are some groups of Christians that are open to discussion on this subject and others that are not. As a Southern Baptist, I say death was in the world for animals before the fall. Did not plants die that the animals ate? Human beings were the only ones who were promised the possibility of eternal life; however, they did not obtain it in the earthly paradise due to sin. Therefore, humans remained physically mortal until the present. We receive spiritually eternal life when we accept Christ; however, we are also promised a resurrection of the body in some way. There are different interpretations on just how this will occur. But we now have the promise of immortality through Christ. Will there be a resurrection for animals? The Bible does not indicate this; however, let’s say I loved my cat so much that I would not be happy without him in heaven. Perhaps God in his infinite love would let that cat live for me again. But I must say that the Old Testament seems to say no and the New Testament is silent. It is true that at the Second Coming mentioned in Revelation 19: 11-16 that Jesus is riding on a white horse. Can that be taken literally? I am not sure that it can; however, it is possible. Getting back to original sin, I believe the doctrine can stay as it is. Billy Graham, a fellow Baptist theologian who graduated with a BTh at Florida Bible Institute and a BA in Anthropology can accept a form of conservative theistic evolution, but he still takes Genesis and original sin seriously. I must agree with him. C.S. Lewis believed in a literal Adam and Eve and also that other human beings were created. It did not really change his feeling about original sin. I do like Dr. Lamoureux’s book on evolutionary creation, and I am reading it for the second time. However, I do feel he is more liberal than Billy and I are. God Bless. Charles Miller, BA, MAR PS: My MAR is the same thing as a Master of Religious Education.


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(Henry Stoddard) #6

I can see your point too.

(Myk Habets) #7

Nice post Oliver, and I can agree with you in many ways on rethinking original sin especially as it has to do with imputed guilt, something I have written on. My question goes to methodology, however, specifically how you (and others) view doctrinal development. I assume you chose the term ‘evolution’ on purpose, so you subscribe to a form of evolutionary development of doctrine. The most articulate advocates I know of this position include Newman and Jimmy Dunn. But, subscribing to an evolutionary development of doctrine commits one to several corollaries, in particular the belief that within Scripture there are multiple and mutually exclusive doctrines/theologies (truths?) and the church has every right to develop all or any of them. So what evolves often bears little to no resemblance to what was originally there (as with other uses of evolution in the sciences). So, is that what you are committing yourself to, as opposed, say, to an organic development of doctrine (Gunton et al), or some such?

(Oliver Crisp) #8

Myk, thanks for this post. The title is provocative, obviously. I think that it is indisputable that doctrine develops over time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are mutually exclusive doctrines in Scripture, does it? Suppose I think that Scripture contains a the rudiments for a doctrine of the Trinity, later explicated by the Church. Which model of the Trinity is taught in Scripture? Social? Latin? Some other? It is not clear to me that Scripture has a clear view on this because it seems to be metaphysically underdetermined in this respect. If that is right, then it is consistent with more than one doctrine of the Trinity. That is the sort of view I have in mind.

(Oliver Crisp) #9

Eddie (and Tom),

Thanks for this. You’re right. I’m saying that there isn’t a clear doctrine of original sin embedded in the Genesis narrative. There is sin alright, and there is a serious breach with God. But that isn’t the same as a doctrine of original sin.

(Myk Habets) #10

I totally get that and I agree, of course. But mine was a more technical question. In theological methodology, holding to an evolutionary development of doctrine carries a certain definition and set of commitments, and I was questioning your use of the term. From your reply it seems you used this for rhetorical purposes and not with any analytical clarity. I have two issues with that, 1) it’s not very analytical, and 2) it seems that often in the religious-science genre religious terms are used in caricatured ways (and it probably goes the other way too, scientific ideas are caricatured in religion). I had hoped we could do better in the theology and science dialogue. But as to your reply, yes I am with you totally.

(Mike Ciprian Manea) #11

Hi. Sorry to intrude. Just came across this doing a Google search for ‘original sin’ and felt that I should add some thoughts.

First, I am never one to discourage wheels from turning. I like to see people wrestling with difficult questions.

None the less, I tend to get uneasy when foundational principles like Sola Scriptura are placed in jeopardy. If we need to reexamine the doctrine of original sin from Scripture, by all means. But let’s not do it out of a necessity to harmonize with secular science. We should let the Scripture speak for itself. And, if it turns out to disagree with factual reality, we are better off abandoning the Scripture altogether than molding it into something it is not.

Second, the doctrine of Original Sin is not just based on Genesis 3 but surfaces throughout the Bible. A popular example being David with his claim that ‘in sin’ his mother conceived him. Moreover, it is based in human experience as well: are babies born with a bent towards good, evil or neither?

Finally, regarding evolution, while I fully agree that Christians can no longer ignore this branch of science, I would argue that it is premature for us to reevaluate our theology just yet. There is still a major element missing that should be addressed before we make a decision either way: we need to first develop and test out an alternative scientific model that can look into the possibility of Supernatural Interference using Methodological Naturalism. I explain more about this here:

(GJDS) #12

This article is, I would say, fairly typical of the fairly sloppy approach to central teachings of the Christian faith. The central teachings is to repent from sin, to seek forgiveness, and to receive forgiveness through Christ. The result is a renewal of the person and a beginning of a life in Christ. If you seek a doctrinal position, it is that all have sinned and are required to repent. Even this includes Grace, as it is through grace that anyone may be called to repent.

This article turns these sublime teachings into a juvenile discussion of what people may think on origins and also appears to equate Christianity with a particular view of the actions of Adam and Eve. If this is central to the Christian faith (and this remark should not be misrepresented as trivialising Genesis), than Christ would have preached something along the lines of ‘do not do what Adam did …’ or something along those lines.

Paul is showing that the old man (typified by Adam) is removed and replaced by the new man, Christ. I think if we reflect on the renewal and the creation of the new man (and ultimately all of humanity), we may eventually place the matters that excite such comment (Adam and Eve) into context - and such reflection should help us all obtain a deeper understanding of the teachings of Christianity.

It is worth noting the Church formalised matters through creeds and doctrinal articulations mainly because every nit-wit would promote himself as a teacher of Christianity - only those who are called to preach and teach should do so. Orthodoxy is not something that is placed in a fridge, to be taken out to please some prattle. The rest of us may discuss and debate, but for a purpose - as Paul states, to edify the congregation and glorify God.

(Oliver Crisp) #13

Dear Mike (if I may), thanks for your reply. I agree that the notion of sin recurs in Scripture. That is undeniable, I think. But that is not the same as the doctrine of original sin. My point had to do with the latter, not the former.

(Oliver Crisp) #14

Dear GJDS, thanks for your response. “All have sinned and are required to repent,” you say. I’m not sure anything in my article denies that. But, in any case, that isn’t sufficient to generate a doctrine of original sin. I’m not sure why you think that if a doctrine is central to the Christian faith Christ would preach about it unequivocally. That can’t be true since Christ didn’t preach unequivocally about the doctrine of the Trinity of of his own incarnation, yet we think these are central and defining Christian beliefs. I’m glad to read that you think we will eventually see greater light concerning the matter of human origins and Adam and Eve in particular, even if you don’t spell that out. Finally, the Church didn’t formalize doctrine to deal with “every nitwit” who “would promote himself as a teacher of Christianity” but to defend the apostolic faith against dangerous misunderstandings of the faith, which is a slightly different point I think.

(Oliver Crisp) #15

Myk, I think my article gives some reason to think doctrine does evolve. I’m not sure why that suggest to you that I’m trading in caricatures. However, the title was obviously supposed to be somewhat provocative–hopefully in a good way. I’m not clear why suggesting doctrine evolves over time commits me to a particular view of that evolution such as the views of Newman or Dunn. Perhaps this is a topic we could usefully pick up on another occasion.

(Mike Ciprian Manea) #16

Yes, it is Original Sin that I was referring to as well. When David says that he was conceived in sin, he is implying more than just a choice to sin. And, using it in the context of repentance, he is implying that this hereditary inclination has affected him in his ability to choose the right.

Even the passage mentioned by someone above about how ‘all have sinned and come short…’ implies something deeper. If it wasn’t for something like original sin then we would expect at least a few people among the billions who managed not to commit any sin. There are passages all through the Scripture that point in this direction.

I do agree however that the doctrine of original sin needs revisiting. Not so much to accommodate science (the only philosophy that would harmonize with science is one that excludes God altogether). But more because in its current format, it makes defending God’s benevolence difficult. Why would God on the one hand be so hard on sin and yet create us with an irresistible bent towards it?

(Tony | Ie Day Ideas ) #17

Can we not view ‘original sin’ as the systemic wired tendency of a conscious moral being to choose to put itself, or its group, above anyone else or any other group. And to by default to also block out any input to the contrary, that God wants to give it.

Animals and plants are not moral conscious beings, but every single part of the living world is in permanent competition both within species, and between species (within the ecological niche they occupy) to maximise benefit for the individual and the species. That is how the living world has always operated, has to operate.

But plants and animals are not making moral choices. When humans became aware of themselves, their choices, and God (whether over a long period of time, or suddenly), they carried over, indeed leveraged, this inbuilt hard-wired tendency of all organisms to self at every level. And having this new potential as conscious reasoning beings, found not only the capacity to connect with God, but also to connect with with any other spiritual power. Whose voice more readily seemed to chime with their pre-existing instincts and priorities. So things went from bad to worse.

(Albert Leo) #18

Good question! One answer: After almost four billion years of creating new, more complex forms of life through evolution via natural selection, the primate brain of Homo sapiens had the potential to become ‘programmed’ into Mind and to discern the difference between right and wrong. The first humans (Adam&Eve?) could then strive to overcome the selfish nature that their genes tended to promote (now called Sin) and exhibit the compassion and altruism that their Creator preferred. In this sense, they could strive to become, in a sense, images of their Creator.
Al Leo

(GJDS) #19

Hi Oliver,

Perhaps I need to articulate matters in some detail for clarity:

(1) there is no distinct doctrine of original sin - that phrase is part of the overall teaching of Christianity, which includes sin as breaking Gods commandments, and also showing intent to go against God’s will. So although “all have sinned” is scripture, it also includes, for Christian belief, that we repent of such sin. To isolate a notion of “original sin” and declare it a distinct doctrine, is wrong. I understand much is discussed in the notion of how sin began amongst us, and why God would allow it, but such discussions must be done in the overall context of the Christian faith.

(2) doctrine in general, is articulation by the Church, and is based on Apostolic authority/ teachings, and subsequently, based on scripture. Your example of discussing the trinity, almost sounds like it is an “added-on”, or an afterthought, to scripture - this is wrong. The Gospels are filled with teachings of what formally became known as the Trinity, eg. “you have seen me, you have seen the Father” is often stated by Christ. Christ as the Word that created, and was with God, and is, is an enormously revealing statement in the Gospel by John.

The formalisation by the Church was done to defend the faith against heretics and pagans who sought to destroy apostolic teachings - this is far from misunderstandings, and goes to the very survival of Christianity.

Thus I again point out that your provocative treatment of ‘putting doctrine on ice’ is an inappropriate outlook, and your treatment of “original sin” as a distinct topic, can lead to error.

(Mike Ciprian Manea) #20

I think if you take a look at my previous comment you’d realize that I would probably take that option only as a last resort.