What does original sin actually mean and what are its consequences?

(Randy) #3

Oh, boy. This is indeed a terrific question, and you will get a wide variety of answers–and that has a lot to do with how you view salvation. I agree with @Christy and Pete Enns that Augustine, one of the church Fathers that developed the doctrine of original sin, did so based on a faulty translation of 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”–https://peteenns.com/fall-augustine-really-screw-everything/

The faulty translation says “in him” instead of “because.” Thus, Augustine thought that Paul was saying we all have guilt from Adam because of his sin. In stead, you have to read it in context. Paul was writing to the Roman church, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews thought that they had to incorporate the Gentiles to their covenant, which required circumcision and other outward signs of Jewishness as a sign of faith. Paul agued that as we all are sinners since before even the first Jew came along, and we all are saved by faith anyway, there’s no reason to add that. As Dr Enns says, the issue of salvation wasn’t even the central theme here–circumcision was an outward sign of an inward covenant by faith (a la EP Sanders, writing about the New View on Paul, which affirmed that Jews also relied primarily on faith).

@Christy, feel free to correct me. There is much more you and others can add.

That’s not to say I don’t accept others with a different point of view. My own church believes as does Augustine, and so do most of my family (they are all YEC as well). There’s a lot more to maturity than getting all the theology right, and I learn a great deal from them.

Best wishes.

PS–if you would like good texts–"Evolution of Adam, “Inspiration and Incarnation,”: “The Bible Tells Me So,” and “Sin of Certainty” are good by Enns–the first 2 are particularly relevant. The thread on Denis Lamoureux has his own positions posted–he’s double doctorate in evolutionary biology and theology, as well as dentistry (so he researched on the development of teeth from scales, among other things). Lamoureux’s Evolutionary Creation

The Big Tent ... and Genealogical Adam!
(Anthony R. Guthry) #4

If you take the view that humans have always sinned, then god created us with a sinful nature?

(Randy) #5

Ah, I see. No, I think it’s more like Irenaeus’ view–we are made with a set of instincts for both self preservation and altruism that are good for the preservation of ourselves and the group, but also with a forebrain and higher thought that helps us learn as we grow–the relationship between us and God is like that of a father and child. It’s neither evil nor good–it’s for survival.

Lamoureux’s online free course with videos at Coursera alludes to him and other philosophers (Hicks, and so on) that clarifies it far better than I. https://www.coursera.org/learn/science-and-religion-101

(Christy Hemphill) #6

Is there a difference between being born with a sinful nature and being created with a sinful nature?


My view is God created us with the capacity to sin. Sinning or not sinning is the free will choice that we all make.

Wasn’t Adam created with the capacity to sin? He had to be able to sin before the original sin.

(Mitchell W McKain) #8

Shoot! I just reread the question and found it doesn’t ask what I thought. I thought the question was about the meaning of the word “sin.” Which I think is a much more valuable question because “original sin” isn’t even in the Bible. It is an invention of theology and a dubious one at that, especially if it somehow means anything more than simply the first sin and how this sin business all started – but the answer to that question is a little obvious.

So how about this… My answer to what “original sin” actually means is simply the first sin. And perhaps that gives me a lead into the other question which really interests me, of what is this “sin” thing we are talking about anyway?

One of the most common effective definition of “sin” I see in Christianity is that it means any disobedience to whatever God is supposedly commanding. What is wrong with that?

  1. It is WAY too convenient for the use of religion as a tool of manipulation and power. And frankly, I follow a principle that when something is particularly convenient for a particular purpose then it is all too likely that it was invented for just that purpose.
  2. If obedience is all God cares about then why create living things and free will at all. If obedience is what you want then machines are superior in every way.

So I don’t think this definition works. If that is all this word means, then a tool for controlling people is all I see in the words of the Bible and I would then have no interest in Christianity. And yet Paul’s struggle as described in Romans 7: 13-25 resonates deeply with me nevertheless, and that suggests to me that there is a better definition of the word “sin” to be found. Perhaps it is my upbringing by a couple of psychology majors but the meaning which jumps out at me as lighting up the book with much more meaning is this: bad habits. Even when we know they are wrong, even when we know they are killing us, we keep on doing them anyway. Bad or self-destructive habits, not only of action but also in our way of thinking is indeed a poison which can explain so much that is wrong with the world.

And the thing about bad habits is once they start then it becomes very difficult to stop and get rid of them. Not only as an individual but the whole civilization, because they very much tend to spread like disease. Thus the consequence of the original bad habits started by Adam and Eve is that with such a beginning they began to spread and as a result man became a self-destructive species. And by the way when you look for evidence of “original sin” in the Bible this is exactly the sort of thing you will find, like 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”

(Anthony R. Guthry) #9

Humans (as a collective) could only be held fully responsible for our sins if we were also responsible for our sinful nature (as a collective).

(Mitchell W McKain) #10

Indeed. And as bad habits, which we fall into because at some point we choose to do them, they are indeed something we are fully responsible for. I am not buying into the evil nature within us stuff. Are children born evil? Really? Some say yes because they are completely selfish. I say that is what they need to be and should be. Growing up is the only responsibility an infant has and the only the responsibility they can handle. Now as they learn and gain powers like the power of speech and the power to walk then with those powers come other responsibilities. Then there is a competition between gaining more power in the world and learning to have some regard for the well being of other people. Evil results when the former outstrips the latter and we pursue our desires without regard for the well being of others.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

I, as a Catholic ‘do’ believe in original sin, unlike most here. I will say that original sin means we have a natural inclination to do evil, not that we can have evil thoughts, the original humans did have evil thoughts, but they were balanced out by good.

(Randy) #12

I like this article from Christianity Today by Julia Becker, a mother who observes that infants cry because they need care including food and comfort, not because of original sin (an erroneous idea some pastors cite as evidence for O.S.). In contrast, the silent halls of ill equipped orphanages demonstrate the sad truth that if infants learn they don’t get attention from crying, they stop and withdraw.

As we grow, mistakes become a part of life. “There are times, I believe, when my heavenly Father watches me make bad choices. And in those times, I need to repent before him. But other times I am simply needy, for him or for others. In those times, instead of falsely chastising myself for selfishness, Jesus invites me to offer my burden to him and receive his comfort. And then there are times when I simply make a mistake. It might be more sinful for me to think that I ought to have already learned everything there is to learn rather than admitting my weakness, my need, my ignorance, and trusting God to guide me into wisdom as I grow up in faith.”

(Christy Hemphill) #13

I don’t agree. Some people are born especially predisposed to addiction. They aren’t responsible for that. They are responsible for spending their whole paycheck on heroin. Some people are born with bodies that create unusually high levels of testosterone. Not their fault. But if they beat their spouse or go out and sexually assault someone or take a baseball bat to their neighbor’s car, that’s on them. All of us are predisposed toward certain behaviors because of things we had no control over; biology, personality, socialization. We are still responsible for our choices.

(Christy Hemphill) #14

I understand sin to be willfully choosing self-rule over God’s rule, and a “sinful nature” to mean this propensity is innate, not just learned. We have to overcome it by learning, specifically learning who God is and how we are intended to relate to him. I don’t think everyone who says “people are born sinful” means “evil” or even some kind of “total depravity.”

A.Suarez's Treatment on a Pope's Formulation for Original Sin's Transmission!
(Jay Johnson) #15

I think there are individual and corporate aspects to sin, just as there are individual and corporate aspects to salvation.

“Evil is not to be traced back to the individual,” Reinhold Niebuhr said, “but to the collective behavior of humanity.”

(Randy) #16

Wow, that’s very deep. However, when comes back to responsibility, I wonder if we even really understand all the evil we commit. I think God looks at the basis of that. Some crowd mentality seems to be based on instinctive need for group safety, and only a few people can think past that.

(David Heddle) #17

The Reformed (and Augustinian) view is that God created Adam with the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. Adam chose to sin. An incorrect view of Original Sin is that we are born with Adam’s sin in our debit column. That would make God unjust. It is actually much more dire than being charged with Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin corrupted his very being, and we inherited that corrupt nature.

As a result of the fall man (in his unsaved state) lost the ability not to sin. Everything we do, from the time of conception (Ps 51:5) is done in rebellion to God. All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags–as Isaiah wrote. Or as the apostle wrote, No one is righteous, not no one.

The Reformed (I’m one of them) see a silver lining in Original Sin (or by its other name Total Depravity). In fact it becomes a comforting doctrine. Namely that either Christ does it all, i.e. it is all by grace, or we all are lost, because nobody has anything of merit to contribute to their own salvation. The only thing we contribute to our own salvation is our sin.

(Jay Johnson) #18

Your mention made me look up one of my favorite essays, Soren Kierkegaard’s “The Crowd is Untruth.” I can’t help but paste a few selections here, since they are so pertinent to our present situation. The only change required is to translate “internet” whenever Kierkegaard says “press”.

"A crowd in its very concept is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction. … For every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd, and so flees in cowardice from being an individual …, such a man contributes his share of cowardice to “the cowardice,” which is: the crowd….

"The crowd is untruth. There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd. Let someone, some individual human being, certainly, approach such a person, what does he care about him; that is much too small a thing; he proudly sends him away; there must be at least a hundred. And if there are thousands, then he bends before the crowd, he bows and scrapes; what untruth! No, when there is an individual human being, then one should express the truth by respecting what it is to be a human being; and if perhaps, as one cruelly says, it was a poor, needy human being, then especially should one invite him into the best room, and if one has several voices, he should use the kindest and friendliest; that is the truth. When on the other hand it was an assembly of thousands or more, and “the truth” became the object of balloting, then especially one should godfearingly - if one prefers not to repeat in silence the Our Father: deliver us from evil - one should godfearingly express, that a crowd, as the court of last resort, ethically and religiously, is the untruth, whereas it is eternally true, that everyone can be the one. This is the truth.

"The crowd is untruth. Therefore was Christ crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd, because he would not in any way let a crowd help him, because he in this respect absolutely pushed away, would not found a party, or allow balloting, but would be what he was, the truth, which relates itself to the single individual….

"For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions. But no witness for the truth - alas, and every human being, you and I, should be one - dares have dealings with a crowd. The witness for the truth - who naturally will have nothing to do with politics, and to the utmost of his ability is careful not to be confused with a politician - the godfearing work of the witness to the truth is to have dealings with all, if possible, but always individually, to talk with each privately, on the streets and lanes - to split up the crowd, or to talk to it, not to form a crowd, but so that one or another individual might go home from the assembly and become a single individual. “A crowd,” on the other hand, when it is treated as the court of last resort in relation to “the truth,” its judgment as the judgment, is detested by the witness to the truth …

"The crowd is untruth. And I could weep, in every case I can learn to long for the eternal, whenever I think about our age’s misery, even compared with the ancient world’s greatest misery, in that the daily press and anonymity make our age even more insane with help from “the public,” which is really an abstraction, which makes a claim to be the court of last resort in relation to “the truth”; for assemblies which make this claim surely do not take place. That an anonymous person, with help from the press, day in and day out can speak however he pleases (even with respect to the intellectual, the ethical, the religious), things which he perhaps did not in the least have the courage to say personally in a particular situation; every time he opens up his gullet - one cannot call it a mouth - he can all at once address himself to thousands upon thousands; he can get ten thousand times ten thousand to repeat after him - and no one has to answer for it; in ancient times the relatively unrepentant crowd was the almighty, but now there is the absolutely unrepentant thing: No One, an anonymous person: the Author, an anonymous person: the Public, sometimes even anonymous subscribers, therefore: No One. No One! God in heaven, such states even call themselves Christian states. One cannot say that, again with the help of the press, “the truth” can overcome the lie and the error. O, you who say this, ask yourself: Do you dare to claim that human beings, in a crowd, are just as quick to reach for truth, which is not always palatable, as for untruth, which is always deliciously prepared, when in addition this must be combined with an admission that one has let oneself be deceived! Or do you dare to claim that “the truth” is just as quick to let itself be understood as is untruth, which requires no previous knowledge, no schooling, no discipline, no abstinence, no self-denial, no honest self-concern, no patient labor! No, “the truth,” which detests this untruth, the only goal of which is to desire its increase, is not so quick on its feet. Firstly, it cannot work through the fantastical, which is the untruth; its communicator is only a single individual. And its communication relates itself once again to the single individual; for in this view of life the single individual is precisely the truth. The truth can neither be communicated nor be received without being as it were before the eyes of God, nor without God’s help, nor without God being involved as the middle term, since he is the truth. It can therefore only be communicated by and received by “the single individual,” which, for that matter, every single human being who lives could be: this is the determination of the truth in contrast to the abstract, the fantastical, impersonal, “the crowd” - “the public,” which excludes God as the middle term (for the personal God cannot be the middle term in an impersonal relation), and also thereby the truth, for God is the truth and its middle term.

"And to honor every individual human being, unconditionally every human being, that is the truth and fear of God and love of “the neighbor”; but ethico-religiously viewed, to recognize “the crowd” as the court of last resort in relation to “the truth,” that is to deny God and cannot possibly be to love “the neighbor.” And “the neighbor” is the absolutely true expression for human equality; if everyone in truth loved the neighbor as himself, then would perfect human equality be unconditionally attained; every one who in truth loves the neighbor, expresses unconditional human equality; every one who is really aware (even if he admits, like I, that his effort is weak and imperfect) that the task is to love the neighbor, he is also aware of what human equality is. But never have I read in the Holy Scriptures this command: You shall love the crowd; even less: You shall, ethico-religiously, recognize in the crowd the court of last resort in relation to “the truth.” It is clear that to love the neighbor is self-denial, that to love the crowd or to act as if one loved it, to make it the court of last resort for “the truth,” that is the way to truly gain power, the way to all sorts of temporal and worldly advantage - yet it is untruth; for the crowd is untruth….

“A crowd is indeed made up of single individuals; it must therefore be in everyone’s power to become what he is, a single individual; no one is prevented from being a single individual, no one, unless he prevents himself by becoming many. To become a crowd, to gather a crowd around oneself, is on the contrary to distinguish life from life; even the most well-meaning one who talks about that, can easily offend a single individual. But it is the crowd which has power, influence, reputation, and domination - this is the distinction of life from life, which tyrannically overlooks the single individual as the weak and powerless one, in a temporal-worldly way overlooks the eternal truth: the single individual.”

(Randy) #19

Thank you. Very penetrating way in which we should affirm individuality as well, as a service to God in serving our neighbor.

(George Brooks) #20


You are very close to being a good Catholic.

But your quote above is currently more closely similar to the term “Ancestral Sin” which Eastern Orthodox communions frequently invoke as their alternative to Original Sin.


This would have to be as the result of something that God has done. He did create Adam in a different state after all. At the very least He changed the process by which we are all knitted together in our mother’s womb. So this makes God responsible for our sins if we lack the ability to not sin.

As they like to say, that is a false dichotomy. The other option is we are lost when we do not accept the grace that is freely given. The grace is not offered because of anything we have done which is a very good thing indeed.

(David Heddle) #22

In this view (with which, of course, many disagree) Adam was punished in that his DNA (perhaps literally) was corrupted and passed to his descendants. Adam is responsible for his sin and the consequences, not God.

I fail to see a false dichotomy. Perhaps you can explain further.