I recently read a blog post in which an atheist was asking about Christianity and he said this “If it was only original sin that was removed, why did God give it to us in the first place? It’s not my fault Adam and Eve ate that apple, why would God punish the innocent?”
I realized then that I haven’t taken on original sin yet. It is one of those questions I shoved in a corner of my brain and planned to deal with later. As with most (if not all) questions, reading helps.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned —
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 5: 12 – 21
Let me say this first. Paul has got to be the most confusing Biblical writer there is. Reading his work makes my head ache. That said, when I first read this, I merely read enough to confirm that God does not punish us for the sins of someone else. That charge definitely needed to be settled. Once I had done that, I was in no rush to continue studying it. Here is what Paul does say, if you read carefully: Sin entered the world through Adam and everybody dies because everybody sinned (5: 12).
Evidently, the blame for bringing sin into the world is on Adam (not Eve, interestingly enough). But the reason that everyone dies is not just that Adam sinned, but because all have sinned. This verse obviously says nothing about our inheriting Adam’s sin. It just says that each and every one of us has sinned. That’s simple enough to understand.
There is another way in which the doctrine of original sin is presented. Not that we inherited Adam’s guilt or sin, but that somehow, when Adam sinned, we sinned too. I am no theologian, but I find that position quite unreasonable. I do not think I could have sinned when I did not exist. Another way it is said is that Adam was our representative before God and so, his sin somehow condemns us.
One issue that affects how one interprets the passage is whether you think the statement “all sinned” is applicable to babies as well. If what Paul is saying here is that Adam brought sin into the world and that we all at some point in our lives choose to commit sin, thereby becoming sinners, it would follow that there was a point in our lives at which we had committed no sin, and therefore, were not sinners. Obviously. But this would mean that if such a person were to die before they committed one sin, they would be an exception to the claim that all sinned.
However, if one starts with the assumption that by “all sinned”, Paul means even babies, then they must have sinned at some point before birth, perhaps at conception. The consequences of that view can be imagined. Babies would need to be saved somehow.
I am not as saturated in the issue as I would like to be. Just from reading the passage, all I can say is that Adam was somehow responsible for our sin, not vice versa. He brought it into the world. We all sin because of what he did. But we all sin. That means that this passage cannot be brought up against the Christian doctrine that we are deserving of God’s wrath and in need of God’s grace to be saved as it often is. “How can God punish me for the sins of Adam and Eve? It isn’t my fault”. We are responsible for our own sins. We see the right path and we see the wrong one, and we choose the wrong one. That’s sin. End of Story.
Now, I must plead. What do you think of the fact that Adam is held responsible for bringing sin into the world and not Eve? I have often heard it repeated that Christianity is anti-woman because Eve is blamed for eating the forbidden fruit and Adam is not.