Original Sin

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Daniel Wee
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Original Sin

Post by Daniel Wee »

A question was asked about what I thought about the idea of original sin and I thought that maybe it might be good to approach this systematically, starting with a definition:-

Definition of Original Sin

Unsurprisingly, there are several variations of this doctrine but most of them would have some or all of the following basic idea:-

1. When Adam sinned, all his descendants (that would be all of us) inherited death
2. but not just death, our human nature also became corrupted by sin - fallen nature
3. leaving man incapable of moral goodness - total depravity

In this way, we are all tainted by Adam's "original sin" in that we suffer both death, as well as "total depravity. "This idea that our will became corrupt or tainted is technically known as "mediate imputation." Both these concepts are central to Calvinism and are not shared by Arminians.

The Westminster's longer cathechism defines original sin in this way:-
Original sin is the corruption of man's nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to evil, and that continually.

The biblical support for these two ideas (fallen nature, and total depravity) are often drawn from:-
1. Gen 6:5, 8:21, Job 15:14,15, Ps 51:5, Jer 17:9, Isa 64:6
2. Rom 3:23, 8:7,8, 1Cor 2:14, Eph 2:1-3

There are also other similar verses. It is useful to notice that none (not even one) of these verses actually demonstrate where the bible teaches that:-
1. man's nature became "fallen"
2. and it was a direct consequence of Adam's sin

There is little argument that man has the capability and propensity to sin (known as "concupiscence"). What is sorely missing is biblical support for the basic premise itself. All the arguments that I have seen on this account have been extremely flimsy at best, and conjectures for the most part. We might want to ask, so how did this idea of "original sin" come about?

Origins of (the theory of) Original Sin

The originator of this idea is usually attributed to Augustine. Attributions to Irenaeus of Lyon is usually misplaced since he did not hold to the kind of theory put forth by Augustine. For this reason, it is probably better to focus on the Augustinian conception of this idea, its' causes and evolution.

It should be pointed out, at this point, that while many Christians think that original sin is a central tenet of Christian faith - this is not actually the case (unless you are a Calvinist.) There is considerable diversity of views on this matter and Augustine's earliest forms of the idea is almost universally rejected today.

Because the basic arguments against the Augustinian conception of original sin have been written about so widely, I have included some useful links that provide the gist of the arguments. My personal position with respect to this can be summarized as follows:-

1. The federal theory to explain Romans 5
2. The full free-will (no special corruption of nature) of man (Arminian, somewhat semi-Pelagian)


http://www.reformedreflections.ca/artic ... 6)%20.html
http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=eUV ... us&f=false
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_ ... iginal_sin
http://oca.org/questions/teaching/st.-a ... iginal-sin
Augustine & Pelagius.pdf
Historical detail of the Augustine-Pelagius clash which concretized the ideas on original sin.
(101.98 KiB) Downloaded 5962 times
Background info on Augustine and circumstances around his development of the idea of original sin.
(133.57 KiB) Downloaded 5962 times
Daniel Wee
Site Admin
Posts: 2449
Joined: Wed 25 Feb 25 2009 8:00 pm

Re: Original Sin

Post by Daniel Wee »

Romans 5:12

When we look at Paul's words in Romans 5:12 - what we find is the federal imputation problem where sin entered the world through Adam, and with death as the consequence. This we can affirm because the bible is plain on this count. What is absent is how human nature was tainted as a result of what Adam did.

If the assertion that in Adam, all human nature was corrupted - how do we explain that Jesus did not inherit this corrupt nature? In a word, there is no consistency in that argument because it cannot be thus explained. Furthermore, Augustine's original contention was that this corrupt nature was transmitted in the act of sexual procreation - through semen. This was his way of explaining how Jesus was exempt from the corruption of this nature. Yet this assertion is pure speculation with no biblical basis at all. If anything, it has been argued that Augustine developed his ideas from non-Christian sources. Does coming to faith in Christ somehow reverse the genetic effects of this so-called sin-nature? The more you examine this idea, the more untenable it will become.

So while we affirm that Adam (and actually Eve) was the first to sin - and if you like, you can call that the "original sin" - I would not conjecture from there the idea of a corrupt human nature, primarily due to the lack of any sound biblical support for it. What does affect all of us is the federal impact - we all suffer the consequence - death. Our nature, however, is not ontologically different from that of Adam's. We can argue that circumstances have impacted the clarity of our moral discernment but this is not the result of some genetic corruption, nor of some ontologically tainted sin-nature. Clearly this does not reduce the impact of sin as Adam himself had no difficulty sinning even without the postulated sin-nature. In this, I assert that we have the full capability for good moral decisions, and as a result are held responsible for good moral decisions. This is exactly what we find in the bible - that we are continually exhorted to make those good decisions, and that we are responsible for our decisions.
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