The concept of â€œOriginal Sinâ€ has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy yet is being challenged and redefinedÂ by many in the Church today. Even conservatives are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current form of understanding.
Perhaps John Calvin defines Original Sin most concisely as â€œThe deprivation of a nature formerly good and pure.â€ More specifically, from a Reformed Evangelical perspective, it refers to the fall of humanity from its original state of innocence and purity to a state of corruption andÂ guilt (distinguished later).Â Â It is the cause of manâ€™s translation from a state of unbroken communion before God to one of spiritual death and condemnation.
The term â€œOriginal Sinâ€ is not found in Scripture; Saint Augustine coined it in the 4th century. The primary passage used to defend the doctrine of Original Sin is Romans 5:12-21. Most specifically, Romans 5:12 gives us the most explicit reference to this concept: â€œTherefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.â€ The â€œone manâ€ is Adam. The â€œall menâ€ is all of Adamâ€™s posterityâ€”the entire human race.
J.I. Packer clears up a possible misconception and further defines Original Sin:
The assertion of original sin means not that sin belongs to human nature as God made it (God made mankind upright, Ecclesiastes 7:29), nor that sin is involved in the processes of reproduction and birth (the uncleanness connected with menstruation, semen, and childbirth in Leviticus 12 and 15 was typical and ceremonial only, not moral and real), but that . . . sinfulness marks everyone from birth . . . it derives to us in a real . . . mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God.
This concept is not only hard to understand, but it is also quite disturbing. From perspective of traditional Evangelicalism from the time of Augustine, the west has believed that humanity isÂ condemned for Adam’s sin. To state that we are condemned for the sin of another is not only offensive and unfair, but in the mind of most it is also ludicrous. It is because of this that Pascal wrote the following:
Without doubt, nothing is more shocking to our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has implicated in its guilt men so far from the original sin that they seem incapable of sharing it. This flow of guilt does not seem merely impossible to us, but indeed most unjust. What could be more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than the eternal damnation of a child, incapable of will, for an act in which he seems to have so little part that it was actually committed 6,000 years before he existed? Certainly nothing jolts us more rudely than this doctrine . . .
It certainly does seem unfair for us to be blamed for the sin of another. My little niece used to commit various misdemeanors such as messing up the living room. She would find solace in her younger brother, who was not yet able to speak and defend himself. She would blame him for the mess that she had made, which, of course, was not right. Unfortunately, she got away with it many times before her parents caught on. Because of this, her brother was punished for crimes he did not commit. Is it the same with Adam and humanity? Are we being punished for a sin that we had nothing to do with?
Death, Paul says, is passed down to us from Adam. But there is more to it than that. As Bob Pyne puts it, â€œWe have no problem affirming that all people die, but what did Paul mean when he linked death to sin?â€ Furthermore, physical death is not the only consequence of Adamâ€™s sin that we inherit. Romans 5:18 states that the transgression of Adam resulted in our condemnation. So then, we are not only destined to die because of Adamâ€™s sin, but we are also condemned to eternal death.
Was the sin of Adam transferred to us? If so, how? Are we condemned for the sin of another? Are Pascalâ€™s concerns valid?
In the next few blogs, we will attempt to answer these questions. First, we will look at how the Church through the centuries has dealt with this issue. Second, we will take a closer look at the passage in question and attempt to narrow our interpretive options. Finally, we will make a synthesis by taking into account the possible interpretations along with the theological implications of each.