On Original Sin

English: Genesis : Adam and Eve, the original ...
English: Genesis : Adam and Eve, the original sin; marble relief on the left pier of the façade of the cathedral; Orvieto, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Tracy

I’m Tracy

16 thoughts on “On Original Sin”

  1. Thanks for the reference 🙂

    Perhaps original sin is a Catholic idea, which might be where I got it from. I was under the impression that we were born sinful and had to be cleansed. This is where baptism comes in. It washes away the sins. Of course this raises all sorts of problems regarding babies going to heaven which I wrestled with on my blog without much success.

    One explanation is that Jesus’ death cured us of original sin, though this means God sacrificed his son to remove something he gave us in the first place.

    1. Yes, it is definitely a catholic idea, but my theological upbringing was less than complete, so I can’t tell you if a lot of other Christian denominations don’t have it too. At the baptist church I attend, we speak of original sin. It just doesn’t mean what it means in the catholic church.

      Oh, and I doubt anyone would say that God gave us original sin. They would probably just say it was a consequence of Adam’s sin, kind of the way children inherit eye color or something. I don’t really know. I’ll look it up and see right now.

  2. So, is god not responsible for the eyecolour of every individual? The concept of an omnipotent all-knowing all-creator is such a complex thing, that when put to context, such an entity is in fact responsible for just about everything. It can not remove any responsibility from any event past or future from the alledged design of the universe.

    An engineer who designes a nuclear reactor and is responsible for creating fail safety systems is also allways partly responsible, if these safety systems do not work and the thing explodes. Correct?

    The fact that the passage says it was Adams fault underlines the fact that Paul came form the Roman pathriarchal culture, where a man was responsible for the actions of a woman relative. Yet, throughout centuries misogynes have abused this story to deprive women of any power in the Christian culture. No god has appeared to stop them ever.

    I have allways thought that the main problem about sin and death entering the world through Adam and Eves deed is that alledgedly a god had set the game for them. Even if it was a fifty/fifty chance, that they would not have sinned, why would a loving god set them and the entire resulting humanity in such a peril?

    If we all have sinned, and deserve eternal torture for that, and the only way out of that is through Jesus, then what happens to the majority of the human population on earth that are not Christians? There are a lot of good and ordinary people who are Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists, Shintoans, Atheists and what have you. It is a very evil thought that they would deserve an eternal punishment for that. Is it not?

    Even the Christians can not agree on wich particular sect has the only way through Jesus to heaven. If there is a way for those people who have not heard of Jesus to get to heaven, why should these people be exposed to the possibility that out of cultural heritage they reject him, as missionary work then does?

    To me it seems absolutely absurd that any mortal man, or woman could do within their lifetimes such evil that they deserved eternal torture as punishment. I can not imagine such evil or a person. Can you?

    1. The difference between God’s responsibility for us and an engineer’s responsibility for his design is simple. We have free will. We can make our own choices. The machines cannot. God is responsible for our choices in the sense that he made us in the first place. So, his decision to create us has to be such that it is not inherently evil and can be justified.

      Can you provide me some support for the claim that Roman culture blamed a man for the actions of a female relative? It does not seem to be this was since Paul in a later verse does blame Eve for being deceived and what he is saying here is that the resulting sin and death was Adam’s fault, not that Eve’s being deceived was Adam’s fault.

      The question of why God went on to create us anyway is not one I had thought of at length. What I do think is that since the action is not wrong in and of itself, its rightness or wrongness should be judged by its prudence. i.e. does the decision result in more good than bad? Could a better alternative have been thought up? There is an article about it, which I have only glanced at, but seems to take the issue at length. You are free to read it if you desire. http://christianthinktank.com/gutripper.html

      For your final question, I intend to just recycle an answer I gave to someone else.

      the key thing seems to be your understanding of a human being’s status as ‘good’ depending on what they do. Christianity does not teach that. It teaches that we are all sinners. We have all done things for which we deserve God’s punishment. The difference between the murderer who repents and asks God for help and the other person who has never committed murder is that the murderer repents and asks for God’s help and forgiveness. True repentance counts for a lot.

      Also, Christianity teaches that people who weren’t born to Christian parents can know about God from the world he has created and from the knowledge of his law that he has put in their minds (ala Romans 1:18 – 20). This means that a person born to non-christian parents is not condemned to not knowing God. The person can still find God is s/he truly seeks him. You should be able to see this. You have left the religion you were born into.

      In summary,
      1. There are no good people. we are all sinners.
      2. Those who confess their sins, turn from them and accept Jesus’ sacrifice are the saved ones. This is true for everyone.

      The problem here is not that some good people go to hell because of their religion and some bad people go to heaven. The problem is that there are no good people and we are all headed for hell. And those who accept God’s offer of salvation meet him.

      As for the issue of hell. Hell is about more than just punishment. It is also about the removal from the community of those who hurt and wish to continue hurting God and others. Unless those people are willing to change and repent at some point, they cannot be let into the community. For this reason, there has to be provision for them to stay wherever they are put forever. Do you have any reason to think they would change?

      I do not know what goes on in hell, unfortunately because I don’t have a theological position on the issue yet. I’m still learning. So I can’t give you an answer on the ‘torture’ issue. But there’s an overview of different Christian teachings on hell here with commentary on whether they are “more good than bad” http://christianthinktank.com/gr5part2.html

      This is obviously a rushed response, but I hope you find it helpful.

      1. Thank you for the links you provided. I will look them up with better time.

        Do you think then, that if the engineer of the power plant would have included independend agents, like software that calculates possibilities and makes choises of the risks in the security of the plant, it would diminsh the responsibility of the engineer for the possible catastrophy at the plant? Sorry, I do not see how our free will in any way lessens the responsibility of an entity that has the perfect foresight for all the choises each and everyone of us makes. You see, the responsibility of the engineer is much less than that of a god, since she/he can only predict so much, but since an omniscient god knew it all before making any moves, and setting every and each atom in the universe to the inevitable course to certain kind of destiny. Do you see the problem?

        You have obviously mistaken me for someone else. I was not born into any religion. I am an atheist in the third generation from both sides. Christianity is the main religion in the culture in wich I live, but it is not taken too seriously by most people who are adherents of it here in Finland. Only few of the very old grannies even go to service. Most people who belong to that club know very little about it. I see no gods anywhere, though I find it an intriguing cultural phenomenon that so many people find so many different gods from their surroundings even when they are never in any contact with those. Of course, most of us would not know the difference, if we were in contact with a god, or our own subconcious.

        Yes, I know how the Christians think about sin, but I do not understand the justification for it. The opinions of theologians are unimportant for the rest of us, if a god is supposed to talk to us straight from the scriptures. Why should the word of a god need explanation? If it does, it has certainly been interpreted in so many ways, that a person still has to choose on ones own accord wich of the interpretations is correct. That is where our cultural backround steps in and causes us to make certain kind of choises. A person from certain kind of Islamic culture is prone to make conclusions about god according to that culture. Would a benevolent god let that person end up in eternal torment. And people do make sincere choises that are mutually exclusive conclusions about gods. Gods are very elusive indeed. Some theologians say that the concept of Hell is just an absense of a god, but the Bible clearly states, that it is a lake of fire and a place of eternal agony and torment. Nobody has been there and come back to tell us if that is indeed so, but a lot of people still take the story at face value. I guess that really requires faith.

        I find it appalling that anyone should think that anyone is deserving of eternal pain, let alone all of us. Even the idea that we get to live after death for an eternity, but are eternally divided according to what we found plausible in the short spans of our lifetime is horrible. These are totally unethical ideal.

        My mom surely is not deserving of any eternal pain, is yours? What if your mother came from a culture where she was not teached what the Christians teach about sin? I am sorry if this seems too personal. It is not meant as a troll, but rather as a rethorical question for you to contemplate, the fact that most people in this world are ordinary everyday mothers, fathers and children who do not share your religious understanding for sin or the redemption.

        I have experienced some difficulty in replying you. For some reason my browser does not show a reply button on your comment sections. Perhaps the trouble is with my machine, if not, and it is with your blog, I trust you are propably able to repair it.

      2. After 3 replies, the ‘reply’ button is removed for some reason. I could find the reply button on my last comment, though. I don’t know if there’s a way to fix it besides switching to a different theme.

        I will respond to the rest of your comment in time.

      3. Software is different from humans. It is determinate. When I write code, I can go through it with a pencil and tell you exactly what it will do. If it doesn’t do as it should, I have made an error. This is because it does not have the freedom to choose and do as it wishes. If I write a program to print “The brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”, as long as I write the code correctly, it will do it. It won’t tell me “I don’t want to” (unless I tell it to). The way humans work, on the other hand, is that God has given us information on what is right and what is wrong, but what we do is up to us. Engineers and God just can’t be compared in that way.
        I know you weren’t born into any religion. That was a cut & paste from an explanation I gave someone else and I didn’t notice that till it was too late.

        I do not know why you think my concept of sin and salvation comes from theologians. I do not think we should blindly accept the worse of theologians. If I did, I would believe a lot of contradictory things because theologians disagree. The Bible does teach about sin and salvation. It teaches that we are all sinners, choosing the wrong thing instead of the right when we know the difference between them, that we cannot save ourselves and God saves us.

        “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” – Romans 3: 22b – 24

        “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
        Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5; 6 – 11

        Now, to respond to specific points:
        One of your points is that God is responsible for our actions because he knows what we will do. Even if this is true (and I say ‘if’ because I have a slight problem with the second clause), his responsibility does not change ours. Since we have information on what is right and what is wrong and we can choose between them, we are responsible if we choose to do the right thing. God is only responsible in that he chose to create beings who could go wrong as I have previously said and his action needs to be judged by its prudence. Do you see the pattern? People are held responsible for any actions they commit if they can do differently and can know which choices are right and which are wrong.

        Another thing you said is that people read the Bible and draw conclusions based on their culture. Firstly, this is not determinate. There is no rule that says if someone was born in a certain culture, their belief will line up with that of their culture. I have believed and do believe certain things about which I was taught differently and which those around me believe because I have information about what is true and what is not. The country I come from has 0% of atheists (for practical purposes) in its population but my brother doubts God’s existence despite the culture. People think for themselves. So, if people have all the information they need, and the ability to think, absent any factors constraining them, how they respond to the information is their choice.

        That leads us to your other point which is that some people do not have this information. You ask what I would think if my mother was not taught the Christian concept of right and wrong. It is not as if this concept is an extremely complicated one. No one taught it to me. (Sunday school lessons were sadly inadequate) I had it figured out before I even read it in the Bible.
        Step 1: Some things are right and some things are wrong.
        Step 2: People who do wrong things should be punished, as a deterrent to prevent others from doing the same, as a statement about what the community thinks of those actions, as an attempt to convince the perpetrator of the wrongness of his action and his need to change, etc.
        Step 3: One’s status as a wrongdoer and the need for punishment does not depend on one’s previously right actions. If I were arrested and convicted of murder, the judge would be immoral to let me go because I have previously donated money to charities that help babies, donated blood, volunteered at a food bank and saved a person from drowning. Despite all those things, I would still be a murderer. The judge’s action, would also fail to achieve the things that justice is meant to.

        That’s about all you need and no one needs to teach it to you. It’s pretty obvious. And you do not need anything special to figure it out. You just need the ability to think. Yes, perhaps some people think differently, but like the gangster who believes it is okay to kill someone who double-crosses him, or the man who thinks it is okay to rape a girl who dresses provocatively, this does not exonerate them.

        And there is little need to worry even if some people do not know what is right and wrong by no fault of theirs. According to Paul, you are not counted responsible for your actions if you have no information that they are wrong.

        “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.” Romans 5:13

        “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” Romans 2: 12 – 15

        “Even the idea that we get to live after death for an eternity, but are eternally divided according to what we found plausible in the short spans of our lifetime is horrible.”

        You’re doing it again. Like I have previously said, people are not sent to hell just because of what they believe. They are sent there based on what they have done and what they have proven themselves to be (people unwilling to choose the right thing instead of the wrong one). It is leaving them in a place where they can continue to hurt others for no good reason that is immoral.
        As for your other problems with hell, my theological knowledge is not much better than it was when I last replied. I hope you find the time to read the articles I sent you and that they help.

        Now, I have some questions for you. You don’t need to respond of course, but I would appreciate it.
        1. How do you think your family’s stance has affected your beliefs about God?
        2. When did you first come to the conclusion that God exists and why?
        3. How would you respond to the criticism that you only believe as you do because your parents taught it to you?

        This is a very long response. It deserves a post of its own. I don’t think I have the strength to do it every day so I hope you understand what I have said because I intend my next reply (if there is one) to be very much shorter.

      4. The main problem with the concept of Hell seems to be however, that most people end up there. If what you say about a person, who does not understand right or wrong, is not sent to Hell is true, then sociopaths end up in Heaven. The system is totally senseless and unethical, if everybody is bound to brake the rules, and is deserving of eternal punishment, but only those with the cultural indoctrination to ask forgiveness from the correct god are saved from that forever pain and a lake of fire. If people are saved from that fate by not knowing and still doing the right thing in their lives, then buddhism and taoism should be preached and not christianity, because evangelism sets good people in terrible risk of ending up in hell just for disbelief they might experience because of their cultural backround.

        The claim that everybody is bound to brake the rules and is deserving of Hell transmits the responsiblity back to the “drawing board”. It is an unethical and crooked system. To wich alledgedly there is only one responsible party. If our design is so flawed that we simply can not do right, then the it is the designer who is responsible not individual personas. This is all hypothetical to me, but still I do not see why people want to believe it, because wanting is the one thing that compels you to believe in this story, or is it fear?

        My replies to your questions three, in short: 1. Very much. We actively discussed different sociological pheonomenons of human society at home when I was growing up. 2. I have never come to the conclusion, that any gods exist, and frankly I wonder why would you think I ever have? 3. I was raised to think critically about a great many things religions among them. When I was a kid my dad sent me to the religion classes, though I could have passed those because I have never been a member of any church (in my country kids are taught Lutheran Christianity in schools). He told me that I should learn to understand how the religious people think and decide myself if I believe in any gods.

        Most people assimilate religious truths of their own culture. Only a very small fraction of people turn away from their respective cultural faith. Yet, if Christianity is true, this means that most people in the world will not be “saved through Jesus” from Hell. But how can anyone deserve Hell? Eternal punishment, pain and torture as described in the Bible? It is an unethical claim that anyone should deserve an eternity in pain, and it stinks of demagougery. An obvious claim made simply to controll the masses.

      5. “This is all hypothetical to me, but still I do not see why people want to believe it, because wanting is the one thing that compels you to believe in this story, or is it fear?”

        I think you’ve answered your own question. If people would not want to believe it then if they believe it, it is not because they want to. Or that they don’t even believe what you think they do. Usually it’s a bad idea to psychoanalyze people you’ve never met.

        “The claim that everybody is bound to brake the rules and is deserving of Hell transmits the responsiblity back to the “drawing board”.’

        Except that there was only one thing in the original design responsible for this – that the creatures have free will. Free will is different from a randomizing software. Free will involves the ability to look at two different choices think about them, and pick whichever pleases you. This means that the creation can consistently pick the wrong option. a randomizing software is… well… random.

      6. Yes, but in my opinion, people should not choose to believe what “pleases” them, but what compels them as the actual truth. This is why I am an atheist.

        What is random for humans, is in what culture they are born into. Even though there are some exeptions, that is what defines what most of the people on earth find plausible about the supernatural. So, what they come to believe about gods is actually quite random. Gods do not make any appearances to insure us about wich one of them infact exists, but they demand blind faith. All of them. Hence none of them exists.

      7. Why do you think the culture into which people are born is random? You seem to accept that if God exists, he is in charge of the happenings in the world. Christianity does not teach that the culture into which people are born is random but that God does in fact plan the place and time for the birth of each person so that they are in the place best suited for them. Given that, he could, hypothetically speaking, place those who he knows would not serve him regardless in places where they have less information about him because the amount of information they have would make no difference to their salvation. Hypothetically speaking. Would there be anything wrong with that?

        22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
        23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
        24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
        25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
        26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
        27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
        28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
        29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
        30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
        31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” – Acts 17:22-31

      8. So, eventually there is no free will, because your god as the omniscient entity has actually “programmed” every persons destiny to be exactly what they end up being in the end anyway, by placing them in cultures where they are born, because that is how they would turn out anyway. So that most are hellbound even before they were born, because a god in this omniscient capacity knew it all along, from the dawn of time, but has decided not to do anything else about it, exept starting one particular myth among other myths (others wich are started by men) for those people to be saved who would be saved anyway. Because that is how this entity set their atoms and destiny even before they were born. That is exactly the paradox I was referring to before.
        Hypothetically speaking, someone who sets all the atoms in the universe, is responsible for everything. But to be honest I think that is just typically human attempt to personify nature around us. That happens in all cultures, but their conclusions on what this or that divinity wants from us humans differs very much when those estimations of the gods will are set as arbitrary divine commands from authority, and they differ very little from each other when they are representing the most obvious ethical conclusions, like treat others as good as you would want them to treat yourself.

      9. To prevent a misunderstanding, note that I do not actually think that you do not believe in God merely because of your parents or culture.

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