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

(Mervin Bitikofer) #61

Randy, I’ve been meaning to thank you profusely (and I now do so here) for the link to George Macdonald’s sermon that you shared five days ago in this thread. It’s not a sermon that can be read quickly – must be digested slowly, and yields increasing fruits with the increased labors of the reader. It isn’t one that is for every Christian today (tough meat for chewing) as it plunges deeply into the heart of what is held doctrinally dear by so many. Nor is it even, (dare I say!), well-aligned with the mission of Biologos here where so many well-meaning Christians are understandably eager to bring out the treasures of their household, both new and old for display in all their orthodox glory. This sermon cuts deeply into all that, however, and necessarily so. The theme it does share with Christians here is in this: the removal of unnecessary stumbling blocks that would impose themselves between any downtrodden believer and Christ himself. Indeed this sermon is one way to expose the utter poverty (and yet total necessity) of the mockers’ objection that “God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself”. All this is brought out into the light and exposed for what it is … but at a price that may be deemed too great for a great many lovers of all received traditional doctrine today.

But even apart from such challenge as that, this sermon is rich with wisdom. Here are a couple quotes I can’t resist sharing here.

No soul is saved that would not prefer hell to sin. Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; he was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins.

Having yanked the above from out of a larger text providing rich context, one could fairly capture Macdonald’s meaning above by inserting the word yet: No soul is saved yet that would not prefer…

The below longer excerpt below also reveals much of the spirit of this message:

I have no desire to change the opinion of man or woman. Let everyone for me hold what he pleases. But I would do my utmost to disable such as think correct opinion essential to salvation from laying any other burden on the shoulders of true men and women than the yoke of their Master; and such burden, if already oppressing any, I would gladly lift. Let the Lord himself teach them, I say. A man who has not the mind of Christ–and no man has the mind of Christ except him who makes it his business to obey him–cannot have correct opinions concerning him; neither, if he could, would they be of any value to him: he would be nothing the better, he would be the worse for having them. Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly; then first will there be a possibility of our thinking correctly. One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him. In teaching men, they have not taught them Christ, but taught them about Christ. More eager after credible theory than after doing the truth, they have speculated in a condition of heart in which it was impossible they should understand; they have presumed to explain a Christ whom years and years of obedience could alone have made them able to comprehend. Their teaching of him, therefore, has been repugnant to the common sense of many who had not half their privileges, but in whom, as in Nathanael, there was no guile. Such, naturally, press their theories, in general derived from them of old time, upon others, insisting on their thinking about Christ as they think, instead of urging them to go to Christ to be taught by him whatever he chooses to teach them.

[added eduit]
I should mention all this comes from Macdonald’s actual full sermon, “Justice”. Randy’s link above goes to commentary about that sermon, which is an excellent gateway toward easily finding the actual sermon itself online.

(Austin Burgard) #62

Hello! I won’t comment at length but I’d suggest reading Dr. Michael Heiser’s series on Romans 5, wherein he deals with this topic. Here’s the link to part 1!

Romans 5:12 - What It Says and What It Doesn’t Say Part 1

This is where I think I see myself landing. I hope you find this helpful!

(George Brooks) #63


Well, that’s exactly what is stated in the scenario called “Genealogical Adam”!!!

Since science is not overturned just because of the special creation of a couple 6000 years ago, the scenario allows for that occurrence. And requires the acknowledgement that a significant population of evolved hominids, Homo sapiens, was already in existence by the time Adam and Eve were created!

But assuming that is too “inconsistent” for you … does that mean you reject the notion that Jesus was resurrected? That would certainly not be consistent with the usual repercussions of death in the ancient world.

I’m confused, what exactly is you philosophical/religious stance?

(Randy) #64

I learn so much from George Macdonald. I would really like to learn more about those who originally made him tick. Thank you for your deep comments.

(Mitchell W McKain) #65

But in this statement you adding something to simply the existence of two individuals, namely the term “special creation.” Then we have to examine what that means, how they are related to us, and why you feel the need for such an event. In such details, there can be considerable conflict with science and things which are frankly even worse.

Not according to what I have gathered, which is that this includes claims like this…

  1. That Adam and Eve are a special creation with no genetic relationship to the rest of the species
  2. That we or Jesus is somehow exclusively derived from these two alone.
    As I explained above in the same post you are responding to… “The only thing the evidence can tell us is that it is impossible that we all descended exclusively from only two individuals existing earlier than 150,000 +/- 50,000 years ago. And even then a special creation of such individuals is inconsistent with the fact that we have the genes for tails and other animal features unused and dormant in our DNA.”

The idea of making Jesus genetically distinct from the rest of us has even more horrific implications than a conflict with science and I want nothing to do with it.

I don’t see how a bodily resurrection to a spiritual/supernatural body rather than a physical/natural body as Paul describes in 1 Cor 15 has anything to do with either science or Adam and Eve.


So I think we agree about the use of logic…

I suppose if we worked with my presuppostions, then there would have to be at least an “Adamic population” so to speak. I’ll have to look into that mammoth thread.

Also I’ll just say that your view of substance dualism seems like a caricature. However I’m referring to hylomorphic dualism as espoused by philosophers like Edward Feser, which is different. I’d look into it, and there are plenty of free articles concerning the immateriality of the intellect on his blog.

Monism or Dualism? checking out Edward Feser and hylemorphic dualism
(Mitchell W McKain) #67

You may be willing to change your beliefs to make a proof work, but I am not. I believe in two historical individuals, Adam and Eve, taking the story in Genesis at least that seriously, and I am not going to change this to something else just so I can make a proof of it. I prefer to accept a diversity of belief on such things.

Since the words “substance dualism” is not in the post you are responding to I suspect you are reacting to your own guesses about what I think and conclusions you are jumping to rather than anything real.

Anyway the discussion of dualism is getting a bit off topic so after I look up Edward Feser I may start a new thread, because have a lot of thoughts on the issue.

(George Brooks) #68


Wow… so now you are explaining to me what Genealogical Adam really means? Shall I pass it on to the author of “Genealogical Adam”? I’m sure he would want to know what he meant is trumped by what you say “he really means”.

No genetic relationship? Well, firstly, God makes chromosomes, right? Whether he makes them in a “Poof” scenario … or he makes them by engaging Evolutionary processes … that’s one of the things he is good at. So I think we can be sure that he is including whatever genetic markers he would think are crucial or relevant.

Secondly, by evicting Adam and Eve from Eden, forcing them to mingle with the Evolved human population, “Genealogical Adam” explicitly points out that within 2000 years, all of humanity can be successfully co-opted into the Adamite lineage… where all humans alive by the time of the birth of Jesus will descend from the Universal Common Ancestral pair: Adam and Eve.

Of course, there are a few other couples that would be also be Universal ancestors, but clearly Adam outranks any other contenders: he walked with God, talked with God, and lived with him in his Garden!

Once we accept that Genesis 1 is a reference to a pre-Adamite population, then your point #2 is rather irrelevant. Genealogical Adam does not say “we all descend exclusively from only two individuals”.
Genealogical Adam only asserts: all humanity has Adam and Eve, the authors of Original Sin, as Ancestors.

I’m sure @Swamidass would appreciate it if - - even if you don’t agree with the scenario - - that you try to avoid butchering it with your own preconceptions in future discussions.

(Mitchell W McKain) #69

INCORRECT Shall I quote my own words? “Now according to what I have gathered” I phrased it this way precisely because I have had some diffculty nailing down exactly WHAT you mean by “geneological Adam” and by feeding back to you what I have understood so far presents you with the opportunity to make any needed clarifications.

What you describe is indeed no genetic relationship. And NO, God does not make chromosomes. I am 100% opposed to the design of living organism as utterly incompatible with the meaning and nature of life itself. If something is designed then it is a machine regardless of whether you use electronics or biochemistry. Living organisms are a product of self-organization, and their DNA/chromosomes are simply an information storage device used to pass down what they have learned in the hit-and-miss learning process about what works in surviving among the choices the species has made so far.

Furthermore, design and your “including whatever genetic markers he would think are crucial or relevant” is not consistent with the presence of unused genes in human DNA for tails and things found invertebrates which have been obsolete for billions of years.

Now that helps clarify things. Thank you. It eliminates the scientific objections, so now I have only theological objections. The principle one is this, our problem is not a genetic problem and I seriously do not like the implications of making any of this about genetics!

My explanation has a few similarities but the heritage I think is important is the memetic one not the genetic one. This removes any need for a special creation. All that is required is communication from God to Adam and then the ideas given to him by God is something that will spread to the rest of the species radically faster than genetic descent – eliminating all the issues of timing as well.

(Albert Leo) #70

Not that many on this forum will find it important, but this explanation makes the best sense to me and is the one I presented to my adult confirmation classes.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #71


So… you haven’t quite made up your mind then?

Of course, I’m just teasing here.

I don’t think we have much left to discuss. You might be just the kind of supporters many other BioLogos supporters likes to have around!

  1. You are 100% opposed to God creating any life (“as utterly incompatible with the meaning and nature of life itself”).

  2. And yet you fuss over whether there is a “genetic relationship” between creatures made in two different ways to be identical. To you a “genetic” relationship apparently can only exist if two individuals share a common ancestor.

3) This phrase is a non-sequitur and completely irrelevant:> " Furthermore, design and your “including whatever genetic markers he would think are crucial or relevant” is not consistent with the presence of unused genes in human DNA for tails and things found invertebrates which have been obsolete for billions of years."

  1. And then you spin on a dime and reject the need for a shared ancestor by saying: “…the heritage I think is important is the memetic one not the genetic one. This removes any need for a special creation.”

I’m pretty sure a memetic connection is also completely irrelevant to the issue of special creation. But as to the idea that “story telling”, “information sharing” and the like can spread Original Sin (is that what you meant to imply) - - well, even with @aleo agreeing, I have to say that this is one of the more “magical” renderings for how Original Sin spreads.

(Mitchell W McKain) #72

Incorrect! The word I used is “design.” Replacing this with “creating” is another thing entirely. I am 100% supportive of “God creating life,” but this has to be done in a way which is compatible with the nature of life, like all the examples we have in everyday life of people creating things which are alive: farmers, shepherds, teachers, and parents. But clearly what they do has nothing to do with design, instead they participate in the environment where these living things grow and learn in order to help in the process.

Correct. That is what a genetic relationship means. But that would include making copies of DNA because that is exactly what DNA does itself. But there is a more fundamental principle involved in our disagreement on this. I do not believe that ends are independent of the means. God created by evolution because it is the only way to create living things. So no I do believe in any magic of making identical copies of people appear out of thin air in violation of the laws of nature. I believe in a God who does things for a reason and that include the law of nature which He created. And do not believe in a God so inconsistent and whimsical that He breaks His own laws to suit the religious ideas of people.

Incorrect. Though you can say there is another premise here: namely that what God thinks is crucial and relevant does not include planting evidence designed to confuse and mislead us.

Correct. I see no theological need for a shared genetic ancestor having anything to do with either Jesus or Adam and Eve. Our problem is not a genetic one. That is thinking more in line with the ideas of racists and eugenics and I want nothing to do with it.

Well if you had read my first post in this thread you would understand better. While for you original sin may be some genetic defect which makes people disobey the laws you dictate comes from God, for me there is only the bad habits started by Adam, Eve and those which followed like Cain and there is nothing magical about the way those bad habits spread and infect human lives. This is fully documented and demonstrable in numerous example like cigarette smoking.

(George Brooks) #73

The point I was making was not that you opposed God making life … but it was the act of “Special Creation”, but I didn’t do a very good job of making that clear.

You reject Special Creation - - because God would have to design ANY thing he made with special creation.

And you apparently have adopted the idea that God can run a whole universe, but somehow doesn’t have any real plans with his evolutionary rules of life and speciation.

I would have more commentary to offer at this point … if you were the first I’ve encountered with these ideas. But, you are not the first. It’s not my cup of tea. And there’s not much to say that will change your views or my own.

You write: “Incorrect. Though you can say there is another premise here: namely that what God thinks is crucial and relevant does not include planting evidence designed to confuse and mislead us.”

I really don’t have any idea how you get to this particular issue. I am, in essence, an Evolutionist, who allows God a few days to specially create a man and a woman, so that Original Sin can be formulated as preferred in the traditions of the Western Church. Since there is no “evidence” for Adam and Eve, there is no confusion or misleading.

As for confusion . . . somewhere you missed the post where I pointed out that as a Unitarian Universalist, I do not personally embrace Original Sin as a theological principle. But I can see a way for Creationists to have the confidence of their beliefs in exchange for them supporting evolutionary principles in accord with the preponderance of natural evidence that confirms Evolution.

However, apparently you affirm Original Sin? You compare it to “information on bad habits” (like cigarette smoking). This doesn’t sound like original sin… so are you re-defining original sin? Or just the method for having it?

Do infants, who don’t understand words and language, acquire Original Sin anyway? Or do you in fact reject Original Sin… and are just sort of playing around with a replacement idea?

(Mitchell W McKain) #74


Incorrect. I believe in a God who chooses love and freedom over power and control. He doesn’t run the universe. He created the universe as the conditions for the self-organizing process of life. He has plans according to what is important to HIM – things like love and goodness, and not according to the superficialities which have often been important to people such as their shape, race, color, sex, social class, cultural conventions and religious trappings. So no… I don’t think God planned any of these and they do NOT have any stamp of divine endorsement. When Genesis says God created man in his own image I don’t think it means any of these things, but that our infinite potentiality is the mirror of his infinite actuality and because of this He can have an eternal parent-child relationship with us where there is no end to what He can give to us and no end to what we can receive from Him.

While I am an Evolutionist who sees no need whatsover for any special creation. I go with the Eastern Orthodox on the issue of original sin.

Correct. Your position on a great number of things has been anything but clear to me. I am by contrast Trinitarian and non-Universalist. I reject the common Western position on several doctrinal issues. But such things are just a matter of subjective belief and opinion – agreeing to disagree on such things is fine with me. Creationism, however, is not reasonable because it does not agree with the objective evidence. I am not interested in any compromise regarding this. But I think you are overly optimistic to think that people can accept the theory of evolution without any fundamental alteration of beliefs which they think are important.

Did you read my first post in this thread? I will affirm some statements of original sin and not others so it entirely depends on what you think this term refers to. Do I believe something happened with Adam and Eve which severed our relationship with God and enslaved us to the bad habits we call sin? Yes. Do I believe that some sort of guilt or culpability is inherited via genetic descent? No. Do I believe that we are born with some nature which makes us sin or to do evil? No. Do I believe that an infant is born a sinner? No. Do I believe that anyone can say they are without sin? No. Does this seem contradictory to you? It is not for the simple reason that infants cannot speak. By the time we can speak we are not without sin, because the bad habits are given to us in a memetic inheritance via bad examples and human communication which includes self-destructive habits of both thought and behavior.

Like I said before… I don’t buy packages. I think things through myself and make my own decisions according to what makes sense to me. So far… this seems to fit within the spectrum I see for worldwide Christianity. And if it did not, I would not hesitate to conclude that I am not Christian by such a measure. Truth is not a team sport for me.

(George Brooks) #75


Even the Eastern Orthodox believe we are born with a nature that inevitably leads us to our own sins.

And most everyone on the side of Evolution can see life incarnated as flesh (Latin fans, sorry for the redundancy) is a flawed form of life.

(Mitchell W McKain) #76

Its not that simple. Unlike the western churches the Eastern Orthodox is not as focused on doctrine so they tend to leave a lot more things up in the air. Thus the details tend to vary a bit upon who does the explaining. The one clear difference between EO and RC is that the EO believes that we only get the consequences of Adam and Eves sin and not any guilt. Or more specifically the consequence is more of a perpetuating illness rather than being culpable for the sin of Adam and Eve. So far we are in agreement. But yes many will describe this as a corruption and diminishment of a divine nature within us. My reaction to this is that such is ok as a metaphor, but I am not buying into any literal divine nature like the Gnostics which can be corrupted. But my view is not so very far off. Instead, it is a memetic inheritance directly from God which has been corrupted – communicated from parents to children in the child rearing process: bad examples and wrong thinking.

Regardless… I have already said I do not buy into packages and that includes the Eastern orthodox. I do apparently agree with them on a number of things, but there is more that I don’t agree with.

This is nonsensical through and through. Life is about growth and learning. Thus the phrase “flawed form of life” is completely meaningless. The flaw in mankind are the bad habits which destroy our free will and our ability to learn so that we spiral into self-destruction.

(Randy) #77

It really, really affected my understanding, too. Though @Christy has said she likes Scot McKnight’s discussions in the Blue Parakeet, (I bought it and plan on reading it) and I tried to grasp his understanding of it in “Adam and the Genome”–I know it’s interesting and more complicated than I had thought. The use of the OT in the NT in Second Temple Judaism is pretty broad, and does help us understand how Paul saw Romans. I’d like to see a thread on this and the New View on Paul sometime (by E P Sanders). Pete Enns writes about that a lot on his website, too, I know. I’m afraid I like his snarky humor; he usually laughs at himself, too.

(Albert Leo) #78

George, this sort of distorts my view. I see Original Sin as the results of refusing God’s Gift of Conscience–the freedom to make moral choices. That is, the ability to Sin is intrinsic to all humankind. There is no need to postulate a ‘spreading mechanism’–other than the ability of parents to verbally pass on to their kids the reality of the gift of God-given conscience–the fact that they have the freedom to choose to become a morally responsible creature–the freedom to try to become ‘in God’s image.’

IMHO, the term ‘Original Sin’ has mislead Christians since it was first coined. When examined carefully, it implies an incompetent God. From your posts, I gather that Universalists have avoided this mistake.
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #79

I have highlighted sections in your last post that I have some disagreement with, and I wondered if any made sense to you.

  1. I do not believe that A&E behaved any differently than what God had expected; i.e., I do not believe any relationship was severed when they did not fully embrace the gift of conscience that he offered.
  2. I, too, do not believe we are born with a nature that makes us sin (i.e. act immorally ), but I do believe that without God’s redemptive efforts, as evidenced by Jesus’ life, we would not accept his gift of conscience and strive to become moral creatures.
  3. I do not believe that the worst of bad habits are communicated to us by others. Like other parents, I have observed that each of our three kids went thru the “terrible twos” when they realized they were individual beings who desired everything in sight: “mine, mine, mine”. No one had to teach them that. As mature adults, we tried to be responsible for imparting to them the advantages of living morally, of treating others with empathy and love, of being Image Bearers.

In striving to live as true Christians, we still must admit to many failures. However, we need not unnecessarily take on a guilt complex of "human communication which includes self-destructive habits of both thought and behavior" Some bad habits (smoking, excessive drinking) and bad attitudes (racial and gender bigotry) are sometimes passed on without a conscious effort, and these are the hardest to identify and uproot.

Don’t get me wrong–I truly enjoy your thoughtful posts and hope you continue with them.
Al Leo

(Mitchell W McKain) #80

I do not believe that this is what the story about. No I cannot say it makes sense. The gift of consciousness is not something you can either ask for or refuse. You can only decide what to do with it. However there is the challenge of life to learn from your mistakes and that is what A&E basically refused with their excuses and blaming.

I do believe that A&E behaved differently than what God would have hoped – just as any parent hopes that their children will be guided by commandments that warn of dire consequences. What I do not believe is that the relationship between God and man was broken by a mistake or mere disobedience. Children and all living things learn by making mistakes. There is only one thing which can break or rather severely interfere in a parent-child relationship and that is if the presence of the parent in the child’s life becomes harmful to them. And that is what I think happened.

Yes, I believe in the gospel of salvation by the grace of God. And this does not mean magic, but simply that only God can see what it will take to turn us around and leave our sins.

Oh, I agree absolutely. There are not only the bad habits we imitate but there are also those we invent quite on our own. We see this very thing demonstrated in the Biblical narrative. Cain was not following the example of A&E when he killed his brother. On the other hand, it does seem to be a nature of bad habits that they tend to multiply, each one making the next a bit easier to fall into.