What Is Original Sin?
Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is a Christian belief in the state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 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 concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also shaped and developed the doctrine, seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians15:21-22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalms 51:5. Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Ambrosiaster considered that humanity shares in Adam’s sin, transmitted by human generation. Augustine’s formulation of original sin after 412 CE was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with concupiscence (or “hurtful desire”), affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom to do good. Before 412 CE, Augustine said that free will was weakened but not destroyed by original sin. But after 412 CE this changed to a loss of free will except to sin. Modern Augustinian Calvinism holds this later view. The Jansenist movement, which the Catholic Church declared to be heretical, also maintained that original sin destroyed freedom of will.Instead the Catholic Church declares “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.” “Weakened and diminished by Adam’s fall, free will is yet not destroyed in the race.”
History of the doctrine
The doctrine of ancestral fault (προγονικὸν ἁμάρτημα progonikon hamartema), i.e. the sins of the forefathers leading to punishment of their descendants, was presented as a tradition of immemorial antiquity in ancient Greek religion by Celsus in his True Doctrine, a polemic attacking Christianity. Celsus is quoted as attributing to “a priest of Apollo or of Zeus” the saying that “the mills of the gods grind slowly, even to children’s children, and to those who are born after them”. The idea of divine justice taking the form of collective punishment is also ubiquitous in the Hebrew Bible.
St Paul’s idea of redemption hinged upon the contrast between the sin of Adam and the death and resurrection of Jesus. “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.” “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Up till then the transgression in the Garden of Eden had not been given great significance. According to the Jesus scholar Geza Vermes:
Paul believed that Adam’s transgression in a mysterious way affected the nature of the human race. The primeval sin, a Pauline creation with no biblical or post-biblical Jewish precedent, was irreparable by ordinary human effort.
The formalized Christian doctrine of original sin was first developed in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, in his 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. However, Irenaeus did not believe that Adam’s sin was as severe as later tradition would hold, and he was not wholly clear about its consequences. While the belief that all human beings participate in Adam’s sin and share his guilt are not totally foreign concepts for Irenaeus, still his doctrine of Original Sin is rather mild compared with what would later be found in the writings of Augustine. One recurring theme in Irenaeus is his view that Adam, in his transgression, is essentially a child who merely partook of the tree ahead of his time. For Irenaeus, knowing good and evil was an integral aspect of human nature; the ‘sin’ of Adam was snatching at the fruit of the tree rather than waiting for it as a gift from God.
Other Greek Fathers would come to emphasize 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 among the leaders of the Reformation. During this period the doctrines of human depravity and the inherently sinful nature of 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.
Historian Robin Lane Fox argues that the foundation of the doctrine of original sin as accepted by the Church was ultimately based on a mistranslation of Paul the Apostle’s Epistle to the Romans (Romans 5:12–21) by Augustine, in his On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin”. However, while it is true that the Latin rendering of Rom. 5:12d ‘in quo omnes peccaverunt’ is a mistranslation, many contemporary exegetes argue that this does not show that Paul had no notion of Original Sin, especially in light of verses 18 and 19 of the same chapter. Rom. 5:12–21, it is argued, must be taken as a whole; the case for Original Sin in Paul must not rest on a single clause in v. 12.
The original sin doctrine can be found in the fourth Book of Esdras, which refers Adam being responsible for the Fall of man whose offspring inherited the disease and evil.
O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.─ 4 Esdras 7:48(118)
For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained. ─ 4 Esdras 3:21-22
For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now—and will produce until the time of threshing comes! ─ 4 Esdras 4:30
Augustine of Hippo (354–430) taught that Adam’s sin is transmitted by concupiscence, or “hurtful desire”, resulting in humanity 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. Justo Gonzalez interprets Augustine’s teaching that humans are utterly depraved in nature and grace is irresistible, results in conversion, and leads to perseverance. Although earlier Christian authors taught the elements of physical death, moral weakness, and a sin propensity within original sin, Augustine was the first to add the concept of inherited guilt (reatus) from Adam whereby an infant was eternally damned at birth. Augustine held the traditional view that free will was weakened but not destroyed by original sin until he converted in 412 CE to the Stoic view that humanity had no free will except to sin as a result of his anti-Pelagian view of infant baptism.
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. Humanity 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.
Augustine believed 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 medieval 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”.
In the works of John Cassian (c. 360 – 435), Conference XIII 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.”
Cassian did not accept the idea of total depravity, on which Martin Luther was to insist. He taught that human nature is fallen or depraved, but not totally. Augustine Casiday states that, at the same time, Cassian “baldly asserts that God’s grace, not human free will, is responsible for ‘everything which pertains to salvation’ – even faith”. Cassian pointed 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, but in Cassian’s view, according to Casiday, 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”.
Opposition to Augustine’s ideas about original sin, which he had developed in reaction to Pelagianism, arose rapidly. After a long and bitter struggle several councils, especially the Second Council of Orange in 529, confirmed the general principles of Augustine’s teaching within Western Christianity. However, while the western Church condemned Pelagius, it did not endorse Augustine entirely and, while Augustine’s authority was accepted, he was interpreted in the light of writers such as Cassian. Some of the followers of Augustine identified original sin with concupiscence in the psychological sense, but Saint Anselm of Canterbury challenged this identification in the 11th-century, defining 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, most notably by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas 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 and identified original sin with the loss of sanctifying grace.
Eastern Orthodox theology has questioned Western Christianity’s ideas on original sin from the outset and does not promote the idea of inherited guilt.
The Protestant Reformation
Martin Luther (1483–1546) 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.
Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) developed a systematic theology of Augustinian Protestantism by interpretation of Augustine of Hippo’s notion of original sin. 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.
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent (1545–1563), 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. The Catholic Encyclopedia refers: “Whilst original sin is effaced by baptism concupiscence still remains in the person baptized; therefore original sin and concupiscence cannot be one and the same thing, as was held by the early Protestants (see Council of Trent, Sess. V, can. v).”.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
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”).
St. Anselm refers: “the sin of Adam was one thing but the sin of children at their birth is quite another, the former was the cause, the latter is the effect” In a child original sin is distinct from the fault of Adam, it is one of its effects. The effects of Adam’s sin according to the Catholic Encyclopedia are:
- Death and Suffering: “One man has transmitted to the whole human race not only the death of the body, which is the punishment of sin, but even sin itself, which is the death of the soul.”
- Concupiscence or Inclination to sin. Baptism erases original sin but the inclination to sin remains.
- The absence of sanctifying grace in the new-born child is also an effect of the first sin, for Adam, having received holiness and justice from God, lost it not only for himself but also for us. Baptism confers original sanctifying grace, lost through the Adam’s sin, thus eliminating original sin and any personal sin.
The Catholic Church teaches that every human person born on this earth is made in the image of God. Within man “is both the powerful surge toward the good because we are made in the image of God, and the darker impulses toward evil because of the effects of Original Sin”. Furthermore, it explicitly denies that we inherit guilt from anyone, maintaining that instead we inherit our fallen nature. In this it differs from the Calvinist position that each person actually inherits Adam’s guilt, and teaches instead 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”. “In other words, human beings do not bear any ‘original guilt’ from Adam and Eve’s particular sin.”
The Church has always held baptism to be for the remission of sins including the original sin, 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 is remitted for them could only be original sin. Baptism confers original sanctifying grace which erases original sin and any actual personal sin. 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.
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”.
In the theology of the Catholic Church, original sin is the absence of original holiness and justice into which humans are born, distinct from the actual sins that a person commits. The absence of sanctifying grace or holiness in the new-born child is an effect of the first sin, for Adam, having received holiness and justice from God, lost it not only for himself but also for us.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. The Catholic Church teaches: “By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free.”
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.
For the Catholic doctrine, Jesus Christ also was born without the original sin, by virtue of the fact that He is God and was incarnated by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin, this statement opens to the fourth marian dogma of the Assumption of Mary to Heaven in body and soul, according to the uncheangeable dogmatic definition publicly proclaimed by pope Pius XII. The Assumption to Heaven in body and soul was made possible by Mary’s being lived without the original sin, while other persons need to wait the final resurrection of the flesh in order to get the sanctification of the whole human being, including the forgiveness of their birth singularly inherited original sin.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, stated in the Summa theologiae (question 31, art. 1) the original sin springs from Adam to the whole humanity materially and not only seminally, meaning that, either in the case of the Mary’s pregnancy by the Holy Spirit and the virgin birth of Jesus -even in absence of a marital embrace together with St Joseph-, however it would have been unavoidable the transmission of the original sin from the Blessed Virgin Mary to the body of her divine son. On one hand, God can’t change His substance nor be stained anytime by any kind of sin, and contemporary Jesus Christ was true man and true God before his virgin birth, since the conception intendend as the first instance of time of His incarnation and Mary’s pregnancy; on the other hand, God can’t deny, neither for Himself and His incarnation, the universal law of the inhertance of the original sin, established by Him at the time of the fall of man. Referring to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “the soul at the moment of union with the body was prevented by the infusion of grace from contracting” the original sin, so that there was “no preventive grace needed” for any original sin of Jesus which “contracted neither debt nor stain”, as He is not redeemed, but the Redeemer.
Soon after the Second Vatican Council, biblical theologian Herbert Haag raised the question: Is original sin in Scripture?According to his exegesis, Genesis 2:25 would indicate that Adam and Eve were created from the beginning naked of the divine grace, an originary grace that, then, they would never have had and even less would have lost due to the subsequent events narrated. On the other hand, while supporting a continuity in the Bible about the absence of preternatural gifts (Latin: dona praeternaturalia) with regard to the ophitic event, Haag never makes any reference to the discontinuity of the loss of access to the tree of life.
The Lutheran Churches teach that original sin “is a root and fountain-head of all actual sins.” The stain of original sin is removed through the sacrament of baptism.
The Eastern Orthodox version of original sin is the view that sin originates with the Devil, “for the devil sins from the beginning (1 John iii. 8)”. They acknowledge that the introduction of ancestral sin into the human race affected the subsequent environment for humanity. However, they never accepted Augustine of Hippo’s notions of original sin and hereditary guilt.
Orthodox Churches accept the teachings of John Cassian, as do Catholic Churches eastern and western, in rejecting the doctrine of total depravity, by teaching that human nature is “fallen”, that is, depraved, but not totally. Augustine Casiday states that Cassian “baldly asserts that God’s grace, not human free will, is responsible for ‘everything which pertains to salvation’ – even faith”. 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. Lauren Pristas says that “for Cassian, salvation is, from beginning to end, the effect of God’s grace”.[
Eastern Orthodoxy accepts the doctrine of ancestral sin: “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.” “As from an infected source there naturally flows an infected stream, so from a father infected with sin, and consequently mortal, there naturally proceeds a posterity infected like him with sin, and like him mortal.”
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. In the Orthodox Christian understanding, they explicitly deny that humanity inherited guilt from anyone. Rather, they maintain that we inherit our fallen nature. 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.”
The view of the Eastern Orthodox Church varies on whether Mary is free of all actual sin or concupiscence. Some Patristic sources imply that she was cleansed from sin at the Annunciation, while the liturgical references are unanimous that she is all-holy from the time of her conception.
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 Methodist Church upholds Article VII in the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the United 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.
Methodist theology teaches that a believer is made free from original sin when he/she is entirely sanctified:
We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by grace through faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.
Seventh-day Adventists believe that humans are inherently sinful due to the fall of Adam, but they do not totally accept 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. Seventh-day Adventists have historically preached a doctrine of inherited weakness, but not a doctrine of inherited guilt. According to Augustine and Calvin, humanity inherits not only Adam’s depraved nature but also the actual guilt of his transgression, and Adventists look more toward the Wesleyan model.
In part, the Adventist position on original sin reads:
The nature of the penalty for original sin, i.e., Adam’s sin, is to be seen as literal, physical, temporal, or actual death – the opposite of life, i.e., the cessation of being. By no stretch of the scriptural facts can death be spiritualised as depravity. God did not punish Adam by making him a sinner. That was Adam’s own doing. All die the first death because of Adam’s sin regardless of their moral character – children included.
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.
Though believing in the concept of inherited sin from Adam, there is no dogmatic Adventist position on original sin.
According to the theology of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, all humans are born sinners, because of inheriting sin, corruption, and death from Adam. They teach that Adam was originally created perfect and sinless, but with free will; that the Devil, who was originally a perfect angel, but later developed feelings of pride and self-importance, seduced Eve, and then through her, persuaded Adam to disobey God, and to obey the Devil instead, rebelling against God’s sovereignty, thereby making themselves sinners, and because of that, transmitting a sinful nature to all of their future offspring. Instead of destroying the Devil right away, as well as destroying the disobedient couple, God decided to test the loyalty of the rest of humankind, and to prove that man cannot be independent of God successfully, that man is lost without God’s laws and standards, and can never bring peace to the earth, and that Satan was a deceiver, murderer, and liar.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all men possess “inherited sin” from the “one man” Adam and they teach that verses such as Romans 5:12-22, Psalm 51:5, Job 14:4, and 1st Corinthians 15:22 show that man is born corrupt, and dies because of inherited sin and imperfection, that inherited sin is the reason and cause for sickness and suffering, made worse by the Devil’s wicked influence. They believe Jesus is the “second Adam”, being the sinless Son of God and the Messiah, and that he came to undo Adamic sin; and that salvation and everlasting life can only be obtained through faith and obedience to the second Adam. They believe that “sin” is “missing the mark” of God’s standard of perfection, and that everyone is born a sinner, due to being the offspring of sinner Adam.
The Book of Mormon, a text sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explains that the opportunity to live here in a world where we can learn good and bad is a gift from God, and not a punishment for Adam’s and Eve’s choice. As the Church’s founder Joseph Smith taught, humans had an essentially godlike nature, and were not only holy in a premortal state, but had the potential to progress eternally to become like God. He wrote as one of his church’s Articles of Faith, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Overtime Latter-day Saints took this creed as a rejection of the doctrine of original sin and any notion of inherited sinfulness. Thus, while modern members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will agree that the fall of Adam brought consequences to the world, including the possibility of sin, they generally reject the idea that any culpability is automatically transmitted to Adam and Eve’s offspring. Children under the age of eight are regarded as free of all sin and therefore do not require baptism. Children who die prior to age eight are believed to be saved in the highest degree of heaven.
In Swedenborgianism, exegesis of the first 11 chapters of Genesis from The First Church, has a view that Adam is not an individual person. Rather, he is a symbolic representation of the “Most Ancient Church”, having a more direct contact with heaven than all other successive churches. Swedenborg’s view of original sin is referred to as hereditary evil, which passes from generation to generation. It cannot be completely abolished by an individual man, but can be tempered when someone reforms their own life, and are thus held accountable only for their own sins.
Most Quakers (also known as the Religious Society of Friends), including the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, believe in the doctrine of Inward light, a doctrine which states that there is “that of God in everyone”. This has led to a common belief among many liberal and universalist Quakers affiliated with the Friends General Conference and Britain Yearly Meeting, based on the ideas of Quaker Rufus Jones among others, that rather than being burdened by original sin, human beings are inherently good, and the doctrine of universal reconciliation, that is, that all people will eventually be saved and reconciled with God.
However, this rejection of the doctrine of original sin or the necessity of salvation is not something that most conservative or evangelical Quakers affiliated with Friends United Meeting or Evangelical Friends Church International tend to agree with. Although the more conservative and evangelical Quakers also believe in the doctrine of inward light, they interpret it in a manner consistent with the doctrine of original sin, namely, that people may or may not listen to the voice of God within them and be saved, and people who do not listen will not be saved.
The doctrine of “inherited sin” is not found in most of mainstream Judaism. Although some in Orthodox Judaism place blame on Adam and Eve for overall corruption of the world, and though there were some Jewish teachers in Babylon who believed that mortality was a punishment brought upon humanity on account of Adam’s sin, that is not the dominant view in most of Judaism today. Modern Judaism generally teaches that humans are born sin-free and untainted, and choose to sin later and bring suffering to themselves.
Jewish theologians are divided in regard to the cause of what is called “original sin”. Others teach that it was due to Adam’s yielding to temptation in eating of the forbidden fruit and has been inherited by his descendants; the majority of chazalic opinions, however, do not hold Adam responsible for the sins of humanity, teaching that, in Genesis 8:21 and 6:5-8, God recognized that Adam did not willfully sin. However, Adam is recognized by some as having brought death into the world by his disobedience. Because of his sin, his descendants will live a mortal life, which will end in death of their bodies. According to book Legends of the Jews, in Judgement Day, Adam will disavow any complaints of all men who accuse him as the cause of death of every human on earth. Instead, Adam will reproach their mortality because of their sins.
The concept of inherited sin does not exist in Islam. Islam teaches that Adam and Eve sinned, but then sought forgiveness and thus were forgiven by God. Quotes from the Qur’an:
But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, “Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.” Then Adam received from his Lord [some] words, and He accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.
— Surah al-Baqara:36–37
They said: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves souls. If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.
— Surah al-Aʻrāf:23
Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, so he went astray. Then his Lord chose him, and turned to him with forgiveness, and gave him guidance.
— Surah Ṭā Hāʼ:121–122
The Qur’an further says about individual responsibility:
That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another. And that man can have nothing but what he does (of good and bad). And that his deeds will be seen, Then he will be recompensed with a full and the best [fair] recompense.
— Surah an-Najm:38–41
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia