Following is a paper I wrote on the topic of Original Sin. The podcast includes everything in the paper --and a little bit more -- and is 27 minutes in length. To listen, click on the play button below:
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What would you think of a baseball game (to borrow an American analogy) in which each player already has two strikes against him -- before he gets up to hit? No one would wish to play the game. How about a version in which you had three strikes against you -- before you have even swung the bat?
Sound unfair? Yet this is precisely what advocates of Original Sin propose: one bears Adam's sin, and his guilt, in his body at the point of conception. However, we are not here to discuss whether the doctrine of Original Sin is fair or not, but only whether it is biblical. After all, we don't always understand God's ways.
First off, we will be assessed on the basis of what we do while in our physical body (2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, even if there were such a thing as "Original Sin" (OS), it would be irrelevant to our justification. Thus the Anglo-Catholic position is unjustified. (Infant baptism, considered to erase OS, is its companion doctrine.)
The Early Church
The early church did not believe in OS. Consider this quotation from Aristeides (Apologia, c.150 AD):
And if any righteous person of their number passes away from the world, they rejoice and give thanks to God; and when a child is born to any one of them, they praise God, and again if it chance to die in its infancy, they praise God mightily, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.
It is clear from this and other historical evidence that the doctrine of OS is a later development. In fact, Augustine (354-430 AD) first formulated it as an apologetic for infant immersion, which was becoming widespread around 400 AD. It was at this time that infant baptism became an officially accepted practice, though it was not universal until the second millennium.
Furthermore, when Luther, himself an Augustinian monk, thought he had restored the apostolic church, he was in fact only taking the church back to the fifth century. Certainly this was an enormous improvement over the corrupt state of the church at the start of the sixteenth century. Yet most of the key doctrines of Luther were in fact Augustine's (false) doctrines! He did not go far enough.
Children are not "born damned"!
Romans 5:12 is the classic verse supposed to support OS, but it does not at all teach this doctrine.
(1) The verse only says sin entered the world through one man. It does not specify the way that sin came to affect, or was transmitted to, the rest of humanity.
(2) The verse explicitly states that "death came to all men, because all sinned" (see 3:23). No one is to die for any sins but his own! The word "because" (eph ho, Greek [here as well as in 2 Cor 5:4; Phil 3:12; 4:10] = in quo, Latin) was interpreted rather differently by Augustine, who read it as "in whom." The weight of scholarship is against this translation, as is the context of Paul's argument in Romans 5.
(3) Paul's argument (see 5:17), if pursued along classical Augustinian lines, results in the position that, just as all humans sinned in Adam, so all humans are saved in Christ. In other words, the whole world would be redeemed -- the 'universalist' position, which advocates of OS rarely accept! Of course, this is inconsistent with all the NT teaching on the subject. (And if one argues that man is only potentially redeemed in Christ, why not argue that man has only potentially -- not actually -- sinned in Adam?) Thus we see that Romans 5:12 has been seriously misinterpreted. The doctrine of OS reads a lot into the passage, and goes against the natural flow of Paul's argument.
Another verse held to teach OS is Psalm 51:5. But a cursory comparison of this passage with parallels in Psalms 22:9, 58:3, and 71:6 shows that it is not meant to be taken literally-unless we think wicked infants literally speak lies from the womb! The Psalms -- all of which are poetic -- teach us about human feelings (like the feeling of utter uncleanness David expresses in Psalm 51) and how to pray. The psalms are certainly not good sources for rigorous doctrinal statements.
What the Bible does teach is that there is a sinful inclination from childhood (Genesis 8:21). But infant baptism in no way removes that inclination! (Just take a look at the children of those who have undergone this infantile ritual!) We must take care to distinguish the sinful inclination from the sin itself. Moreover, Ezekiel 18:20 clearly teaches God does not hold the son accountable or guilty for the sin of the father. The principles of personal accountability and free will apply.
One curious corollary of the OS doctrine is that Christ himself somehow escaped OS, which is passed on through heredity. It was postulated that since Jesus had only one human parent, she must have been without OS, or else must not have transferred her OS to her him. Many people mistakenly confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth. Yet the doctrine of the 'Immaculate Conception' states that Mary (not Christ) was conceived without sin, with the result that she had no OS to pass on to her son Jesus.
In 1854 the Vatican extended its lofty claims about Mary. So why not claim that Saint Anne, Ann, or Anna, was also "immaculately" conceived, in order to protect the doctrine? Or why not go the whole way, pushing the regression back a step further -- and say that every human descended from Anna was preserved from the stain of OS -- or go even further and claim that all mankind was spared?
I consider that this short paper suffices to refute the OS doctrine. And if OS is refuted, then the associated doctrine of infant baptism is wholly unnecessary. No, we come to bat with no strikes against us. Of course, we all "strike out" anyway (through sin). But to begin with such a disadvantage as Original Sin states -- well, that just wouldn't be cricket!
This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2003. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.