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Original sinis, according to a Christian theological doctrine, humanity’s state of sin resulting from the Fall of Man. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.
The doctrine is not found in Judaism, its scriptural foundation is in the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle. (Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) It began to be developed by the 2nd-century Bishop of LyonIrenaeus in his controversy with the dualist Gnostics.
In the theology of the Catholic Church, original sin is regarded as the general condition of sinfulness, that is (the absence of holiness and perfect charity) into which humans are born, distinct from the actual sins that a person commits. This teaching explicitly states that “original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants”.In other words, human beings do not bear any “original guilt” from Adam’s particular sin, which is his alone. The prevailing view, also held in Eastern Orthodoxy, is that human beings bear no guilt for the sin of Adam.
Orthodoxy prefers using the term “ancestral sin”, which indicates that “original sin is hereditary. It did not remain only Adam and Eve’s. As life passes from them to all of their descendants, so does original sin “In this quotation, “original sin” is used not of the personal sin of Adam, which is his alone and is not transmitted, but in reference to the “distortion of the nature of man”, which is inherited.
An important exposition of the belief of Eastern Christians identifies original sin as physical and spiritual death, the spiritual death being the loss of “the grace of God, which quickened (the soul) with the higher and spiritual life. Others see original sin also as the cause of actual sins although, in this view, original and actual sin may be difficult to distinguish.
History of the Doctrine
The Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists mostly dealt with topics other than original sin. The doctrine of original sin was first developed in 2nd-century Bishop of Lyon Irenaeus‘s struggle against Gnosticism. Irenaeus contrasted their doctrine with the view that the Fall was a step in the wrong direction by Adam, with whom, Irenaeus believed, his descendants had some solidarity or identity. Irenaeus believed that Adam’s sin had grave consequences for humanity, that it is the source of human sinfulness, mortality and enslavement to sin, and that all human beings participate in his sin and share his guilt.
The Greek Fathers emphasized the cosmic dimension of the Fall, namely that since Adam human beings are born into a fallen world, but held fast to belief that man, though fallen, is free. They thus did not teach that human beings are deprived of free will and involved in total depravity, which is one understanding of original sin. During this period the doctrines of human depravity and the inherently sinful nature human flesh were taught by Gnostics, and orthodox Christian writers took great pains to counter them. Christian Apologists insisted that God’s future judgment of humanity implied humanity must have the ability to live righteously.
It was in the West that precise definition of the doctrine arose. Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Ambrosiaster considered that mankind shares in Adam’s sin, transmitted by human generation. Augustine of Hippo taught that Adam’s sin is transmitted by concupiscence, resulting in mankind becoming a massa damnata (mass of perdition, condemned crowd), with much enfeebled, though not destroyed, freedom of will. When Adam sinned, human nature was thenceforth transformed. Adam and Eve, via sexual reproduction, recreated human nature. Their descendants now live in sin, in the form of concupiscence, a term Augustine used in a metaphysical, not a psychological sense. Augustine insisted that concupiscence was not a being but a bad quality, the privation of good or a wound. He admitted that sexual concupiscence (libido) might have been present in the perfect human nature in paradise, and that only later it became disobedient to human will as a result of the first couple’s disobedience to God’s will in the original sin. In Augustine’s view (termed “Realism”), all of humanity was really present in Adam when he sinned, and therefore all have sinned. Original sin, according to Augustine, consists of the guilt of Adam which all humans inherit. As sinners, humans are utterly depraved in nature, lack the freedom to do good, and cannot respond to the will of God without divine grace. Grace is irresistible, results in conversion, and leads to perseverance.
Opposition to Augustine’s ideas about original sin arose rapidly, voiced particularly by the Pelagians. After a long and bitter struggle the general principles of Augustine’s teaching were confirmed within Western Christianity by many councils, especially the Second Council of Orange in 529. Some of the followers of Augustine identified original sin with concupiscence in the psychological sense, but this identification was challenged by the 11th-century Saint Anselm of Canterbury, who defined original sin as “privation of the righteousness that every man ought to possess”, thus separating it from concupiscence. In the 12th century the identification of original sin with concupiscence was supported by Peter Lombard and others, but was rejected by the leading theologians in the next century, chief of whom was Thomas Aquinas. He distinguished the supernatural gifts of Adam before the Fall from what was merely natural, and said that it was the former that were lost, privileges that enabled man to keep his inferior powers in submission to reason and directed to his supernatural end. Even after the fall, man thus kept his natural abilities of reason, will and passions. Rigorous Augustine-inspired views persisted among the Franciscans, though the most prominent Franciscan theologians, such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, eliminated the element of concupiscence.
ReformersMartin Luther and John Calvin equated original sin with concupiscence, affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom.
The Council of Trent, while not pronouncing on points disputed among Catholic theologians, condemned the teaching that in baptism the whole of what belongs to the essence of sin is not taken away, but is only cancelled or not imputed, and declared the concupiscence that remains after baptism not truly and properly “sin” in the baptized, but only to be called sin in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin.
In 1567, soon after the close of the Council of Trent, Pope Pius V went beyond Trent by sanctioning Aquinas’s distinction between nature and supernature in Adam’s state before the Fall, condemned the identification of original sin with concupiscence, and approved the view that the unbaptized could have right use of will.
From about the 18th century, belief about original sin has tended to become softened, but has persisted in some form as in Immanuel Kant‘s idea of “radical evil”.
Augustine believed that the only definitive destinations of souls are heaven and hell. He concluded that unbaptized infants go to hell as a consequence of original sin. The Latin Church Fathers who followed Augustine adopted his position, which became a point of reference for Latin theologians in the Middle Ages. In the later mediaeval period, some theologians continued to hold Augustine’s view, others held that unbaptized infants suffered no pain at all: unaware of being deprived of the beatific vision, they enjoyed a state of natural, not supernatural happiness. Starting around 1300, unbaptized infants were often said to inhabit the “limbo of infants“.The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261 declares: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.” But the theory of Limbo, while it “never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium … remains … a possible theological hypothesis”.
Augustine’s formulation of original sin was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and also, within Roman Catholicism, in the Jansenist movement, but this movement was declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church.
Like other traditional church doctrines, original sin has been denied or reinterpreted by various modern Christian denominations (such as the Unity Church) and theologians (such as Matthew Fox). Under such different views, Augustine’s example of newborn babies would suffer the temptation to sin from their nature, but would not bear any guilt because of not actually committing sins of their own.
There are wide-ranging disagreements among Christian groups as to the exact understanding of the doctrine about a state of sinfulness or absence of holiness affecting all humans, even children, with some Christian groups denying it altogether.
The scriptural basis for the doctrine is found in two New Testament books by Paul the Apostle, Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22, in which he identifies Adam as the one man through whom death came into the world.
By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all humans. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”. As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called “concupiscence”).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that in “yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state … original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” — a state and not an act” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 404). This “state of deprivation of the original holiness and justice … transmitted to the descendants of Adam along with human nature” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 76) involves no personal responsibility or personal guilt on their part (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405). Personal responsibility and guilt were Adam’s, who because of his sin, was unable to pass on to his descendants a human nature with the holiness with which it would otherwise have been endowed, in this way implicating them in his sin. The doctrine of original sin thus does not impute the sin of the father to his children, but merely states that they inherit from him a “human nature deprived of original holiness and justice”, which is “transmitted by propagation to all mankind” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 404).
Though Adam’s sinful act is not the responsibility of his descendants, the state of human nature that has resulted from that sinful act has consequences that plague them: “Human nature, without being entirely corrupted, has been harmed in its natural powers, is subject to ignorance, suffering and the power of death, and has a tendency to sin. This tendency is called concupiscence” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 77), but is distinct from original sin itself, since it remains even when original sin is remitted. In Catholic theology, the meaning attached to the word “concupiscence” is the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the ‘flesh’ against the ‘spirit’ Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offence, inclines man to commit sins” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2515).
The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is that Mary was conceived free from original sin: “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” The doctrine sees her as an exception to the general rule that human beings are not immune from the reality of original sin.
The Church has always held baptism to be “for the remission of sins”, and, as mentioned in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 403, infants too have traditionally been baptized, though not guilty of any actual personal sin. The sin that through baptism was remitted for them could only be original sin, with which they were connected by the very fact of being a human.
The first comprehensive theological explanation of this practice of baptizing infants, guilty of no actual personal sin, was given by Saint Augustine of Hippo, not all of whose ideas on original sin have been adopted by the Catholic Church. Indeed the Church has condemned the interpretation of some of his ideas by certain leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Augustine articulated his explanation in reaction to Pelagianism, which insisted that humans have of themselves, without the necessary help of God’s grace, the ability to lead a morally good life, and thus denied both the importance of baptism and the teaching that God is the giver of all that is good. Pelagius claimed that the influence of Adam on other humans was merely that of bad example. Augustine held that the effects of Adam’s sin are transmitted to his descendants not by example but by the very fact of generation from that ancestor. A wounded nature comes to the soul and body of the new person from his/her parents, who experience libido (or concupiscence). Augustine’s view was that human procreation was the way the transmission was being effected. He did not blame, however, the sexual passion itself, but the spiritual concupiscence present in human nature, soul and body, even after baptismal regeneration. Christian parents transmit their wounded nature to children, because they give them birth, not the “re-birth”. Augustine used Ciceronian Stoic concept of passions, to interpret St. Paul’s doctrine of universal sin and redemption. In that view, also sexual desire itself as well as other bodily passions were consequence of the original sin, in which pure affections were wounded by vice and became disobedient to human reason and will. As long as they carry a threat to the dominion of reason over the soul they constitute moral evil, but since they do not presuppose consent, one cannot call them sins. Mankind will be liberated from passions, and pure affections will be restored only when all sin has been washed away and ended, that is in the resurrection of the dead.
Eastern Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy which together make up Eastern Christianity, acknowledge that the introduction of ancestral sin into the human race affected the subsequent environment for mankind (see also traducianism), but never accepted Augustine of Hippo’s notions of original sin and hereditary guilt. The act of Adam is not the responsibility of all humanity, but the consequences of that act changed the reality of this present age of the cosmos. The Greek Fathers emphasized the metaphysical dimension of the Fall of Man, whereby Adam’s descendants are born into a fallen world, but at the same time held fast to belief that, in spite of that, man remains free. Instead of accepting the Lutheran interpretation of Augustine‘s teaching, Orthodox Churches accept the teaching of John Cassian, which, like the that of the Latin Church and the Council of Trent, rejects the doctrine of Total Depravity, by teaching that human nature is “fallen”, that is, depraved, but not totally.
For the Eastern Orthodox the act of Adam is not the responsibility of all humanity, but the consequences of that act changed the reality of this present age of the cosmos. The Greek Fathers emphasized the metaphysical dimension of the Fall of Man, whereby Adam’s descendants are born into a fallen world, but at the same time held fast to belief that, in spite of that, man remains with free will. The Catholic Church teaches: “By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free.” Orthodox Churches accept the teaching of John Cassian, who, according to Orthodox theologian Augustine Casiday, “baldly asserts that God’s grace, not human free will, is responsible for ‘everything which pertains to salvation’ – even faith.”
Cassian endeavoredin his thirteenth[not in citation given] chapter of Conferences section eleven[not in citation given] to demonstrate from Biblical examples that God frequentlyawaits the good impulses of the natural will, before coming to its assistance with His supernatural grace. While the grace often preceded the will, as in the case of Matthew and Peter, he said, on the other hand the will frequentlypreceded the grace, as in the case of Zacchæus and the Good Thief on the Cross. Cassian points out that people still have moral freedom and one has the option to choose to follow God. Colm Luibhéid says that, according to Cassian, there are cases where the soul makes the first little turn, while Augustine Casiday says that, in Cassian’s view, any sparks of goodwill that may exist, not directly caused by God, are totally inadequate and only direct divine intervention ensures spiritual progress. And Lauren Pristas says that “for Cassian, salvation is, from beginning to end, the effect of God’s grace.”
In his Conference XIII, Cassian, who is not here speaking in his own name, recounts how the wise monk Chaeremon, of whom he is writing responded to puzzlement caused by his own statement that “man even though he strive with all his might for a good result, yet cannot become master of what is good unless he has acquired it simply by the gift of Divine bounty and not by the efforts of his own toil” (chapter 1).
In chapter 11, Cassian presents Chaeremon as speaking of the cases of Paul the persecutor and Matthew the publican as difficulties for those who say “the beginning of free will is in our own power”, and the cases of Zaccheus and the good thief on the cross as difficulties for those who say “the beginning of our free will is always due to the inspiration of the grace of God”, and as concluding: “These two then; viz., the grace of God and free will seem opposed to each other, but really are in harmony, and we gather from the system of goodness that we ought to have both alike, lest if we withdraw one of them from man, we may seem to have broken the rule of the Church’s faith: for when God sees us inclined to will what is good, He meets, guides, and strengthens us: for ‘At the voice of thy cry, as soon as He shall hear, He will answer thee’; and: ‘Call upon Me’, He says, ‘in the day of tribulation and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me’. And again, if He finds that we are unwilling or have grown cold, He stirs our hearts with salutary exhortations, by which a good will is either renewed or formed in us.”
An interpretation of Augustine of Hippo‘s notion of original sin was strongly affirmed by the Protestant Reformer John Calvin. Calvin believed that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception. This inherently sinful nature (the basis for the Calvinistic doctrine of “total depravity“) results in a complete alienation from God and the total inability of humans to achieve reconciliation with God based on their own abilities. Not only do individuals inherit a sinful nature due to Adam’s fall, but since he was the federal head and representative of the human race, all whom he represented inherit the guilt of his sin by imputation. Redemption by Jesus Christ is the only remedy.
John Calvin defined original sin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion as follows:
Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it–such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings–he accordingly calls “fruits of sin” (Gal 5:19-21), although they are also commonly called “sins” in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.
The Methodist Church, founded by John Wesley, upholds Article VII in the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church:
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.
Here is a direct comment on original sin by Wesley. ““The Scripture does not, that I remember, anywhere say, in express words, that the sin of Adam is imputed to his children; or, that the sins of believers are imputed to Christ; or, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers: but the true meaning of these expressions is sufficiently found in several places of Scripture.” “Yet since these express words and phrases, of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us, of our sins to Christ, and of Christ’s righteousness to us, are not plainly written in Scripture we should not impose it on every Christian, to use these very expressions. Let everyone take his liberty, either of confining himself to strictly Scriptural language, or manifesting his sense of these plain Scriptural doctrines, in words and phrases of his own.”
One thing we should all agree on is that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and are in need of a Savior. I personally feel that the only Scriptural definition of sin is; sin is the willful transgression of a known commandment of God.”
Wesley also stated that strictly speaking, nothing is sin but a willful transgression of a known commandment of God.
Before Calvin developed a systematic theology of Augustinian Protestantism, Martin Luther asserted that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception. The second article in Lutheranism‘s Augsburg Confession presents its doctrine of original sin in summary form:
It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Rejected in this connection are the Pelagians and others who deny that original sin is sin, for they hold that natural man is made righteous by his own powers, thus disparaging the sufferings and merit of Christ.
Luther, however, also agreed with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (that Mary was conceived free from original sin) by saying:
[Mary] is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her.
The original formularies of the Church of England also continue in the Reformation understanding of Original Sin. In the Thirty-Nine Articles, Article IX “Of Original or Birth-sin” states:
Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, Φρονεμα σαρκος, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.
However, more recent doctrinal statements (e.g. the 1938 report Doctrine in the Church of England) permit a greater variety of understandings of this doctrine. The 1938 report summarizes:
Man is by nature capable of communion with God, and only through such communion can he become what he was created to be. “Original sin” stands for the fact that from a time apparently prior to any responsible act of choice man is lacking in this communion, and if left to his own resources and to the influence of his natural environment cannot attain to his destiny as a child of God.
The New Church (Emanuel Swedenborg)
The New Church interprets the first 11 chapters of Genesis in a symbolic manner, and does not view Adam as an individual person but instead sees Adam as a symbolic representation of the “Most Ancient Church”, which had a more direct contact with heaven than all the successive churches that succeeded it. So although there is no “Original Sin” derived from an individual man named Adam, there is hereditary evil derived from parents. Swedenborg stated: “But as to hereditary evil, the case is this. Everyone who commits actual sin thereby induces on himself a nature, and the evil from it is implanted in his children, and becomes hereditary. It thus descends from every parent, from the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and their ancestors in succession, and is thus multiplied and augmented in each descending posterity, remaining with each person, and being increased in each by his actual sins, and never being dissipated so as to become harmless except in those who are being regenerated by the Lord. Every attentive observer may see evidence of this truth in the fact that the evil inclinations of parents remain visibly in their children, so that one family, and even an entire race, may be thereby distinguished from every other.”
Hereditary evil cannot be completely abolished, but it can tempered when someone reforms his own life. “There are evils in man which must be dispersed while he is being regenerated, that is, which must be loosened and attempered by goods; for no actual and hereditary evil in man can be so dispersed as to be abolished. It still remains implanted; and can only be so far loosened and attempered by goods from the Lord that it does not injure, and does not appear, which is an arcanum hitherto unknown. Actual evils are those which are loosened and attempered, and not hereditary evils; which also is a thing unknown.” “It is to be observed that in the other life no one undergoes any punishment and torture on account of his hereditary evil, but only on account of the actual evils which he himself has committed.”
Seventh-day Adventists have not held to or been comfortable with the Augustinian/Calvinistic understanding of original sin, taught in terms of original guilt, but hold more to what could be termed the “total depravity” tradition. According to Augustine and Calvin, mankind inherits not only Adam’s depraved nature but also the actual guilt of his transgression, and Adventist look more toward the Wesleyan model.
Early Adventists Pioneers (such as George Storrs and Uriah Smith) tended to de-emphasise the morally corrupt nature inherited from Adam, while stressing the importance of actual, personal sins committed by the individual. They thought of the “sinful nature” in terms of physical mortality rather than moral depravity. Traditionally, Adventists look at sin in terms of willful transgressions, and that Christ triumphed over sin. Adventism believe that Christ is both our Substitute and our Example. They base their belief on texts such as “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4)
The authoritative Adventist position is outlined by reference to publicly available theological positions available on the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s official website on theological doctrine, the Biblical Research Institute. One such article commenting on original sin can be found here.
Clarifications and rejection of the doctrine of original sin
The Orthodox Church in America makes clear the distinction between “fallen nature” and “fallen man” and this is affirmed in the early teaching of the Church whose role it is to act as the catalyst that leads to true or inner redemption. Every human person born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. Furthermore, they explicitly deny that we inherit guilt from anyone, maintaining that instead we inherit our fallen nature. In this they differ from the Augustinian position common in the West (i.e. Calvinism/Protestantism), though rejected by Catholicism, that each person is actually inherits Adam’s guilt. “The West… understands that humanity is… ‘guilty’ of the sin of Adam and Eve…. In the Orthodox Christian understanding, while humanity does bear the consequences of the original, or first, sin, humanity does not bear the personal guilt associated with this sin. Adam and Eve are guilty of their willful action; we bear the consequences, chief of which is death.” What is here attributed to “the West” may hold for some strands of Protestantism, but is expressly excluded in the teaching of the Catholic Church, which holds that “original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants … but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man”.
Restoration Movement (Stone-Campbell)
Most Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement Churches, such as the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ, reject the notion of original sin, believing only in the sins for which men and women are personally responsible. Such churches do not object to the idea that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by introducing disobedience. Disobedience influenced further generations in much the same way other ideas spread, thus making sin likely in any individual above “The Age of Accountability.”
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Ezekiel, God’s people are rebuked for suggesting that the children would die/suffer for their father’s sins:
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge‘? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.
—Ezek. 18:1-4, TNIV
The Lord then gives examples of a good father with a bad son, of a good son with a bad father, etc. and states:
“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?‘ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
—Ezek. 18:19-20, TNIV
God concludes: “house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to your own ways … Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek. 18:30-31, TNIV).
Some Restoration movement churches and individuals believe that Adam’s sin made us depraved (that is, with a tendency towards sin) without making us guilty of Adam’s sin. Some also believe that man is predisposed towards sin, but though every person sins, they are not guilty on account of any sin nature. Most, however, simply believe that Adam and Eve sinned as a result of their making a wrong free-will choice when they were tempted by the serpent and as a result brought “the knowledge of good and evil” upon themselves and all people after them, and that although man still retains his free-will it is this “knowledge of good and evil” that makes it difficult for him to live without committing sin. In keeping with the point contained in the passage of Ezekiel cited above, the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden belongs to them alone.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons, or LDS more specifically) do not believe in the concept of original sin as it is generally used in Christianity. The early blessing of God to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish” (Gen 1:28) is connected to the later command of God to Adam and Eve to not partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). Therefore these two aspects of the creation account are taught as to be obligatory yet apparently contradictory commands of God. The disobedience of Eve and Adam, therefore, becomes not quite the cause for humanity’s perpetual ancestral or original sin condition (were it not for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ), per se, but a “fall forward.” The Fall was a separation from living communion with God, yet was a necessary transgression intended by God so that humankind may come to be and experience joy:
22. And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. 23. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. 24. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. 25. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:22-25)
10. And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. 11. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 5:10-11)
Furthermore, Latter-day Saints believe that everyone will be punished for their own individual sins and not for any transgression of Adam or Eve. Neither do Mormons believe that children come into the world with any guilt because Jesus Christ atoned for any “original guilt,” and the sins of parents cannot be answered upon the heads of their children. Moses 6:53-54 in the Pearl of Great Price reads:
53. And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. 54. Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.
Mormons also hold that little children are incapable of committing sin and, as such, have no need of baptism until age eight when they can begin to learn to discern right from wrong and are thus capable of sin and can be held accountable. Moroni 8:8-9 in the Book of Mormon reads:
8. Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me. 9. And after this manner did the Holy Ghost Manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.
Little children who die before reaching the age of accountability (even though they are unbaptized) are automatic heirs of salvation and are saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Furthermore those who die “without the law” are under no condemnation nor accountability:
22. For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing— 23. But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works. 24. Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law. (Book of Mormon, Moroni 8:22-24)
It is interpreted that those who are incapable of understanding right from wrong, such as mentally handicapped persons, are also saved under the atonement of Jesus Christ without baptism. Any adults who die without a knowledge of God’s commands (Law) do need baptism, which they can receive in the spiritual realm by accepting the Latter-day Saint vicarious practice of Baptism for the Dead.
Relation to hypothetical extraterrestrials
In an interview entitled “Aliens Are My Brother”, granted to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Father José Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, stated: “In my opinion this possibility (of life on other planets) exists”; “intelligent beings, created by God may exist in outer space” and “some aliens could even be free from original sin” concluding “there could be (other beings) who remained in full friendship with their creator”.And on 5 March 2009, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, another astronomer working at the Vatican Observatory, told the BBC, in relation to the search for Earth-like worlds about to be embarked upon by the Kepler Space telescope, that “we Jesuits are actively involved in the search for Earth-like planets. The idea that there could be other intelligent creatures made by God in a relationship with God is not contrary to traditional Judeo-Christian thought. The Bible has many references to, or descriptions of, non-human intelligent beings; after all, that’s what angels are. Our cousins on other planets may even have their own salvation story – including other examples of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. We are open to whatever the Universe has for us.”
With regard to the attribution to “the Vatican” of similar statements by individuals working for the Holy See, official spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, also a Jesuit, published on 21 February 2009 a declaration that they must not be mistaken for statements of the Holy See— they are only statements of this individual Jesuit priest.