We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam

Fear, pain, guilt, shame…

Misery, insecurity, conflict, alienation…

Greed, hate, exploitation, violence…Death.

This is the world we live in. It has been this way in all times and all places. It is our human condition. Sometimes it is somewhat bearable; other times it is severe beyond measure.

How did we get this way? Some tell us it is because of Adam.

They say when the world was young everything was perfect, life was easy, and conflict and death did not exist. But Adam, they say, destroyed perfection with a single act of disobedience, and since then the world is broken, evil abounds, and death is a constant threat to all of us. Not only that, but we face an even worse prospect in that most of us will burn eternally in hell.

All because of what Adam did—once upon a time, because his ‘sin’ is transmitted to all of us in a form called ‘original sin’. We now have a sinful nature. We are all guilty of Adam’s sin, and that is why burning hell is prepared for us if we don’t discover the secret of avoiding it.

Why would they think this?

Battle of Borodino Aleksandr-averyanov-the-podvig-of-general Kostenetsky-undated

The Battle of Borodino by Aleksandr Averyanov

Adam and Paul

ADAM

This dread and depressing scenario is based on two major passages from the Bible. The first is the story of the Garden of Eden. As we discussed last time, the story of Eden is a sage reflection on the human condition using fanciful storytelling; it is quite good, actually. But it is not historical, and in my opinion it wasn’t intended to be taken that way.

But many misread the story as literal and conclude that it is historical: Adam and Eve had a perfect world and lost it due to disobedience. This is a widespread interpretation, but there is nothing in the story to suggest transmission of ‘original sin’ from Adam to his descendants. In fact, Ezekiel 18 suggests that, ‘The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.’

PAUL

The second foundation of the idea of original sin comes from Paul. Romans 5 reads:

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!

Paul is talking about Adam and Jesus. But notice that the contrast here is not between original sin and salvation but between death and life. In the story of Eden, death was the consequence for Adam’s disobedience; in contrast, Jesus brings us eternal life: For the quality of our current lives and also in our resurrection.

Jesus conquers death.

Paul continues:

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.

Many believers say this proves the existence of original sin inherited from Adam. But others say, ‘Not so fast!’

What Is Paul Talking About

In these chapters, Paul makes 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. I believe he is simply giving an illustration—not making a doctrinal statement. Making it a doctrinal statement goes beyond Paul’s intent.

Notice that he says that, just as the many were made sinners, the many will be made righteous. It is the same many. Paul speaks of condemnation for all and justification and life for all; it is the same all. Pressing his illustration too hard leads to universalism.

But in this same chapter Paul says:

Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.

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.

Now some will challenge my opinion that Paul is only making an illustration, but it does not matter. Even if Paul did think Adam was historical it doesn’t mean he was. Like every writer in the Bible, Paul wrote from the limitations of his time, culture, and comprehension. Even though I think Paul had tremendous insight and we would be at a tremendous loss without him—he was not inerrant.

If you believe Paul was inerrant and that these passages teach original sin, then questioning this understanding might lead to considerable discomfort. It certainly did for me; as a literalist and an inerrantist, it was dealing with this very passage that plunged me into more than a year of terrible anguish and mourning the loss of God—until I found Jesus as the foundation of all my belief instead of an inerrant Bible—or an inerrant Paul.

If you are interested in my crisis and its resolution, you can read it at Grieving the Loss of God.

What Other Explanation Can there be for Our Tendency to Sin?

The essence of what we call ‘sin’ is not breaking God’s rules (that is Law–legalism); it is the way we treat each other causing pain, alienation, and all the other words mentioned at the beginning of this article.

There is no doubt that we are messed up, that we are inclined to hurt each other in small ways, serious ways, and sometimes extreme ways. If this is not due to the sin of Adam, then what reasonable explanation can there be for our condition? We will talk about that next time.

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails

Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?

*****

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34 Responses to We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam

  1. Pingback: What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin? | Jesus Without Baggage

  2. Pingback: Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Pingback: “If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!” | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Pingback: Are Sins Primarily Sins against God or against Other People? | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. Pingback: Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18? | Jesus Without Baggage

  6. Pingback: Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross? | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Pingback: How Penal Substitutionary Atonement Fails | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us? | Jesus Without Baggage

  9. Pingback: The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’ | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much! | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Pingback: The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Pingback: Addressing Sin in the Old Testament | Jesus Without Baggage

  13. Pingback: What is Sin but Pain and Alienation? | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. Pingback: The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV) | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Chas says:

    Tim, I found your opening list: fear, pain, guilt, shame, misery, insecurity, conflict, alienation, greed, hate, exploitation, violence, death – very negative, because we also experience their opposites. We all see these negative things in the news, but the media rarely reports these, since good news is no news, because enjoying these things is so common. There are many millions of people experiencing these positives and enjoying them. My question is: is our world view actually too negative?
    Having written that, it is fairly clear to me that many of us have a negative view, because we have suffered from the effects of destruction in the world. While few of us have suffered from the effect of external sources of destruction, such as tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, almost all have been affected by ‘inherited’ destruction, that is from the effects on us of things done to us by other people during our childhood. In many cases, the perpetrator did these things in part because they were done to them during their childhood. It is in that way that ‘sin’ passes from one generation to another and that ‘sin’ is ‘visited on the children to the third and fourth generation.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good point, Chas. There are both positive and negative aspects of like–it’s not all glum and forlorn. But some people call the negative aspects ‘sin’ and blame them on Adam; they don’t attribute to him the positive aspects of life.

      I really like your conclusion: “In many cases, the perpetrator did these things in part because they were done to them during their childhood. It is in that way that ‘sin’ passes from one generation to another and that ‘sin’ is ‘visited on the children to the third and fourth generation.’”

      Well said!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam - Jesus is Lord

  17. sheila0405 says:

    Pete Enns does a good job with this topic in his book “The Evolution of Adam”. It’s rather scholarly, but we’ll worth the effort.

    Like

  18. consultgtf says:

    My Bible, Old testament never says that you are born sinner or you carry your parents sin!

    If this true then it will not be only one sin it will Crores of sin from ALL YOUR PARENTS and GRAND PARENTS…great grandparents…

    Then we need Jesus’s not Jesus alone to die for all our sins.

    Like

  19. Pingback: Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness? | Jesus Without Baggage

  20. michaeleeast says:

    Well said Tim.
    The myth of Adam and Eve is one explanation.
    There are others.
    Fear rules us.
    We live in dark times.
    Seek the light of God.
    And we will see.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, my personal belief about ‘sin’ is that it is the result of the ignorant actions of human beings with free will. It is usually inspired by fear. Suffering caused by nature is the result of the autonomic state of nature itself. Neither are the will of God. Neither are they the result of inherent evil. Evil in the world is caused by people choosing evil over good. Usually as a result of being told that God is angry and judgmental (a false image).
    We move from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, until the light of God leads us to enlightenment. And enlightenment is all about Love. We leave our fear behind and enter into Love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “We move from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, until the light of God leads us to enlightenment. And enlightenment is all about Love. We leave our fear behind and enter into Love.” An excellent observation!

      Michael, I agree that fear is a powerful factor in our alienation from others and in our negative behaviors toward them, but I think there are other strong factors as well–such as the desire for power and domination. I don’t think it is easy to boil down ‘sinful’ behaviors to one cause. I don’t think Adam is the cause or that fear is the one cause, nor power.

      But if anyone can discover a single over-riding factor please let me know!

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, the desire for power and domination is a strong factor, but I wonder if that is caused by emotional damage that they suffered during their childhood, which made them feel, in some (possibly unconscious way) weak, or dominated, and so they respond by behaving as they do.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I think you are correct that emotional damage is an important part of our bad behaviors toward other people. Another factor is genetics.

          Like

          • Chas says:

            Tim, I agree about genetics being a factor. I had hesitated to bring it up, since it would be easy for these to be misunderstood, but there seem to be weaknesses, or vulnerabilities, running in family lines. These appear to be different from the ‘environmental’ factors that result from the actions of adults, or other children, causing damage to children.

            Like

  22. Pingback: Who Does God Refuse to Forgive? | Jesus Without Baggage

  23. Pingback: Are Our Sins Gone as though They Never Happened?–Not Really! | Jesus Without Baggage

  24. Pingback: First mention of a solution against death 1 To divine, serpent, opposition, satan and adversary – Messiah For All

  25. Pingback: Why ‘Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin’ is Opposite to Jesus’ Teaching | Jesus Without Baggage

  26. John moses says:

    If the word can be reduced to human reasoning n fables we must beware if we not doing disservice to the word.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      John, this is true. But if, on the other hand, the Bible is written by a large group of individuals based on their understandings of God, rather than being God’s very word, then we do God a great disservice in treating their writings as inerrant.

      Like

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