Original Sin or Something Else?

As we look around us we see a world filled with pain, violence, destruction, and death. Life is never safe for we are ever at the mercy of destructive forces of nature, the onslaught of disease, and victimization by power and greed. Then we die.

Original Sin

How did we come to be in such a dire situation? For some, the answer is the fall of Adam in Genesis. The idea is that when Adam disobeyed God we all disobeyed with him. We are born with original sin, and everything wrong with the world, including animal violence, natural calamities, and death are caused by the fall of Adam.

Where Do We Get the Idea of Original Sin?

Believers have not always focused so heavily on the concept of original sin, though it is widely believed today. The first inkling is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 5,

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.

Paul is making a sustained argument about the superior power of Jesus’ work in our lives as opposed to the weaker power of our sinfulness. In passing, he compares the impact of Jesus to the impact of Adam. He is simply giving an illustration—not making a doctrinal statement. In fact, he says that, just as the many were made sinners, the many will be made righteous. It is the same many and the same all.

Paul even states that before the law of Moses sin was not charged to anyone, and the implication is that because of Jesus sin is no longer charged to us, though we are all subject to death because of Adam’s transgression.

The Church father Irenaeus was the first to elaborate on the effect of Adam’s sin on us; he was born about 90 years after the time of Jesus. But it was Augustine who, more that 200 years after that, developed a theory on the transmission of original sin from Adam to each of us.

The Real Problem with Adam

There is an additional problem with Adam: he didn’t even exist. Some may find this statement startling; others will not. Two major considerations support this assertion. The first is the growing recognition by biblical scholars and other believers that the first chapters of Genesis are not meant as descriptions of historical events, though they do provide a host of useful reflections on life. 

One of these jewels is captured in a comment by blogger Morgan Guyton,

What Adam and Eve’s choice represents allegorically is the foundation for all sin, not because of some infinite culpability on their parts, but because all sin has its origins in self-awareness.

And this brings us to the other consideration regarding Adam’s historicity. Science makes increasingly significant discoveries demonstrating that life developed gradually and that humans are late-comers. And the thing that most distinguishes humans from other living things is that we have tremendous self-awareness, which enables us to harm others for our own purposes while being fully aware of what we are doing.

Original Sin or Original Selfishness?

What we call sin is people committing offenses against one another. Whereas animals prey on other animals (and humans) for their own benefit, they do so without awareness of morality. When humans do the same thing, they do so knowing the pain and suffering they cause. Yet they do it anyway.

Why is this? I believe when humans grew beyond the animal stage we retained our self-centered sense of survival and only gradually developed a stronger moral sense. Recently, my very good friend Dick Ford shared his thoughts on what he calls original selfishness, and I think he sums up the situation well.

My conclusions about sin and evil deal with self-absorption in different kinds and degrees. We are all born as utterly selfish organisms unaware of the existence of anything in the universe except ourselves. Only through a gradual process do we learn that other people exist, care for us (or don’t), require things of us, have feelings and experience pain as we do, and have needs as we do.

In sociology we learned there are three desirable goals in life: power, prestige, and material goods. All are selfish. Not all of us outgrow the innate selfishness which is, in my opinion, what sin is. Not all of us become sympathetic or empathetic; some are indifferent to the suffering of  others; some enjoy the suffering of others.

That is how I describe evil. It is only the most fortunate of us who reach the state where we place the welfare of  another above the welfare of our self. Too many of us remain stuck at some early, immature stage of development. It is difficult, painful work to continue onward and upward toward the higher level of moral and spiritual awareness and kindness toward others that Jesus taught.

Jesus taught us to  desire the welfare of others, and he also resolves our feelings of guilt and alienation.

But what about offenses toward God? Let’s talk about that next time.

Photo Credit: Krug6 via Compfight cc
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15 Responses to Original Sin or Something Else?

  1. You are on a roll with this series! I particularly liked how you set up and delivered this transition: “There is an additional problem with Adam: he didn’t even exist.” Just perfect.

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  2. There are a few differences between how we see things, but that does not negate the value of your blog. 🙂

    What we have are two different world views–one of a God who is disinterested and un-involved with His creation–allowing it to evolve over millions of years, or a God who took care to craft the lips of Eve and the biceps of Adam.

    I see a God so enamored with his creation, much like Jesus loved the people He was with while he was on this earth. John says Jesus is the Creator–for me to believe in Jesus, I have to believe in creation..

    Just because a God has created everything to evolve does not mean he is hands off. We can say people evolved over time, or we can believe we were created in God’s image as adults. And if A and E were mature, then why can’t the Redwood trees be created mature at 2000 years old or the mountains be created mature with rocks that are billions of years old?

    The way I see it, God is either eternal and all powerful and exactly like Jesus and able to create on a whim much like Jesus produced bread and fish for a meal, or He is non-existent. Of course all of this is simply up for debate between evolution and creation, what I really wish to challenge is the idea of sin.

    Sin. Most view it as the breaking of an arbitrary rule. God says, “Don’t eat.” They did, End of story. But maybe what we thought was sin is not exactly how we see it.

    Perhaps sin is simply separation or a broken relationship with God. If this is so, then maybe we have looked at it the wrong way. What if we are all still hiding in the bushes while God is calling us in love to say come out and hang out with me–I love you.

    What if there really is a devil and he has lied to us and caused us to distrust God? What if our reality is not real at all, but we are stranded in a place without vision and knowledge because we have believed those lies?

    What if the external behaviors we describe as sin are really symptoms of our true fatal condition of being separated from our loving first Parent? What if Jesus was right when He said to know God is eternal life? What do we do with all those sins now?

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    • Hi Cherilyn,

      I believe the Father IS enamored with us and not disinterested and uninvolved, but I don’t think the Genesis creation accounts are meant to be understood as historical descriptions.

      The part of your comment I really like is: “Perhaps sin is simply separation or a broken relationship with God. If this is so, then maybe we have looked at it the wrong way. What if we are all still hiding in the bushes while God is calling us in love to say come out and hang out with me–I love you.”

      I think you are right on target! On my blog, I call this ‘alienation’. It is our feeling of alienation from God, but it is not God who feels this way; it is us–just as you described.

      You end with the question: “What do we do with all those sins now?” I think it is a very good question. What do you think the answer is?

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      • I believe what most Christians call sin is a symptom of what you are calling alienation. If we see the Genesis account as somewhat historical (and I do see it as a poem with many details missing), but if we see the A and E event at the tree as historical, then separation from God–choosing the snake’s advice over God’s advice is what caused us to experience fear and shame and start to blame each other and God and the devil. It’s all in the poem anyway.

        John says Jesus appeared to destroy the devil’s work. I think He came to win us back to trust with God. Another interesting point is the poem shows no anger on God’s part when they disobeyed. He was still loving, but out of their own safety he made them leave the garden–it says so they would not be immortal sinners. There would now be a limit to their lives.And lifespans became drastically shorter after the flood. I once saw a movie with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn called “Death Becomes Her.”.If you have seen it, you will know what I mean when I say God by making them leave the garden and the tree of eternal life was for their own safety.

        Hmmmn…

        1. They were sent from the garden because God said they could not be sinners and reach out and take from the tree of life.

        2. Jesus in his prayer to the Father (John 17) says, “This is eternal life to know the Father and the one He sent.”

        These look like book ends to me. 🙂

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  3. Pingback: What is Sin? | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Great work. A number of differences of opinion, if you don’t mind.

    Macroevolution is not proven science. There’s no credible fossil evidence showing transitory evolution between species. No half fish, half giraffe, for instance. For what Darwinians are claiming, there should be massive examples of macroevolution in the fossil record. The record simply doesn’t show that what they are saying is true. Evidences for evolution are in changes within species (e.g. horses), but that’s not objectionable Scripturally. Scientists make a leap in claiming that they can justify macroevolution through evidences of microevolution.

    Jesus affirms the Creation story in a number of instances. “Haven’t you read,” (Jesus) replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…” (Mat 19:4) He says that the generation He’s chastising will be responsible for the blood of all the prophets, “from the blood of Abel” (Luke 11:51). Jesus claims that Abel is a real person (so he must’ve come from a real Eve). He chastises His hearers for not believing the writings of Moses: “But since you do not believe what (Moses) wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:47.

    Your premise that macroevolution is proven science forces you to conclusions on the gradual evolutionary development of human morality. But if you would question the premise, then you could see beyond it and realize that morality is an outcome of the image of God implanted within us.

    Many scientists are now questioning Darwinian evolution. I would suggest reading “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution” by Michael Behe for starters. Enjoyed reading your post!

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  5. I think the idea of original sin is a bit of a misnomer. It does not mean that we are charged with sin because Adam sinned, but rather that we are now born with a sinful nature bent on sinning. The issue is not the charge of sin but the slavery to sin into which we are born. Even from an anecdotal position we can see this in every new born child. No one has to teach a child to sin, the knowledge is already in them, we need to teach them to live righteously. To me, this is the real meaning of original sin.

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  6. michaeleeast says:

    Original sin is an explanation for why do we suffer and die.
    There are other explanations obviously.
    If there is no original sin then neither did Jesus die to atone for our sin.
    Selfishness is a much more realistic reason for our suffering.
    Humans make mistakes in ignorance and fear.
    But Jesus leads us back to God through love
    and our fear and alienation leaves us.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Adam and Eve vs. Adam and Steve | Jesus Without Baggage

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