The doctrine of original sin is typically credited to Augustine of Hippo (334-430), but he credits Irenaeus of Lyon, Bishop of Lyon (130-202). It’s a belief widely held between both Catholic and Protestant Christian religions. While the doctrine of original sin has taken many shapes over the centuries, it fundamentally declares that all sin is inherited from Adam, and in its truest form, all humans since Adam bear the guilt of his “original sin.”

Protestant reformers Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) adopted and carried the idea even further. They considered that the guilt of original sin completely overwhelmed an individual’s free will to choose not to sin. In the Westminster Larger Catechism it is stated as, “All mankind…sinned in him [Adam], and fell with him in that first transgression… The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin.” (Questions 25 and 26)

How might Scripture support the doctrine of original sin and its basic tenant of guilt for sin passed down from Adam to all of mankind?

T-U-L-I-P

A popularly recognized pneumatic representing the “pillars” of John Calvin’s teaching.

(aka “total inability”) Every person that is enslaved to sin as a result of the fall of man and further, is not inclined to love God. Instead, man’s nature is to reject the rule of God and serve themselves. As a result, no human has the moral capacity to choose to obey God for spiritual salvation. Their sin (“depravity”) affects every part of them (“total”). Calvin’s “total depravity” doctrine is based on his interpretation of Augustine’s definition of Original Sin.

From the beginning, God chose individuals that he would call his own. This was not based on any foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Instead, his selection is unconditional (e.g. unilateral) and based only on his mercy. He extends mercy and salvation in Christ Jesus to those chosen (the “elect”). Those not chosen are separated from him because of their sins, receiving his wrath.

(aka “particular redemption” or “definite atonement” or “particular atonement”) Because of God’s complete sovereignty over man, the sins of the elect – and only the elect – were atoned for by Jesus’ death.

(aka “efficacious grace”) God’s saving grace is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect). By his sovereignty, he overcomes any resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. After all, he has purposed this from the beginning (“Unconditional election”). Here a distinction is made with the Holy Spirit’s “outward call” (preaching of the Gospel) that goes to all (elect and non-elect). It is only this “outward call” that can be rejected by sinners, whereas the “inward call” (or “effectual call”) of the Holy Spirit’s saving grace cannot be rejected (e.g “irresistible”).

(aka “perseverance of God with the saints” and “preservation of the believing”) God’s sovereignty precludes any that have received his “inward call” to be lost.  These “elect” will definitively be saved.

How Scripture answers "Is the doctrine of original sin taught in the Bible?"

Original sin is not taught anywhere in the Bible. In fact, many passages making clear that an individual is responsible for their own sinfulness2,3,6,7,10,13. Furthermore, God speaks to the innocence of children10,11 which Jesus also confirms with His teaching8.

There are some passages1,4,5,9 used in an attempt to justify original sin. However, in each case, they instead perfectly harmonious with the rest of Scripture2,3,6,7,8,10,11,12,13 and never teaches that the guilt of Adam’s sin is passed down to all mankind:

  • David1 is lamenting the guilt he feels as a result of his own sin.
  • Paul in 1 Corinthians4 is drawing a physical comparison between Adam and Christ – Adam the first to physically die and Jesus the first to physically rise.
  • Paul in Romans5 is stating that Adam was the fist to sin and thus brought spiritual death into the world. That same thought is continued in Ephesians9 – that they are in sin and spiritually dead before putting on Christ.

All of these are actually making similar points regarding our sinful world1,4,9, the consequence of spiritual death that sin brings4,5,9, and that “in Christ”4,9 we can conquer death. They1,4,5,9 testify that Scripture interprets Scripture!

This is an interpretation from Scripture that didn’t really come around until 2-300 years after Christ. Nevertheless, its tentacles permeate throughout Catholicism and most Protestant religions today. It’s as though the adoption of the one belief spawned other beliefs, effectively “forcing” them into existence to support the original belief. Logically, we might say that “If A, then B (and C, and D, and E…).”

For example, if all mankind not only suffers from a sin-cursed world because of the “first couple’s” sin, but also inherits the guilt of that first sin, then:

  • What do we do about Jesus, who was fully man and born of a woman, yet without sin? According to the doctrine of original sin, Jesus would be guilty of Adam’s sin. Well, not if we have a doctrine of immaculate conception, introduced around the seventh century, making Mary holy and thus pardoning her from the chain of guilt.
  • What do we do regarding infants that might die before they can be baptized, damning them to Hell? Voila, infant baptism fixes this, a practice that can’t be traced before 150BC.
  • Since the guilt of sin, as taught by this false doctrine, is passed on through human procreation, a sexual relationship in the marriage bed is frowned upon. Thus, [Catholic] Priests are forbidden to marry and the use of contraceptives is condemned by the Catholic Church.
  • Lest the Protestants get a pass on this pervasive false doctrine, John Calvin carries it forward and re-brand as “total depravity.” As a result, this doctrine manifests in many of the modern day Protestant teachings including “grace alone” and decoupling baptism’s direct effect of forgiveness of sins.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, I [David] was brought into iniquity, and in sin my mother birthed me.

A lament of David after Nathan confronted him in his sin with Bathsheba. David is tormented and repeatedly confesses his sin against God.

Scripture-block application to this question

This verse is taken completely out of context if attempting to justify the doctrine of original sin. Instead, David is lamenting and acknowledging the fact that we are all born into a world of sin.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

In verses 1-4, David repeatedly states the sin that he is confessing as his own (vs 1: “my transgressions”, vss 2-3: “my sin”, vs 4: “I sinned”).

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

God considered all the earth evil and full of violence; everyone had corrupted their ways and life itself.

After creation, mankind had come to a state “that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (vs 5) and God was sorry that He had created him (vs 6). However, Noah was one that was righteous and “walked with God” (vs 9). Subsequently, God gave Noah instructions to build the ark and “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (vs 22).

Scripture-block application to this question

Pre-flood, the earth was condemned because everyone (except Noah) had devolved in their sinfulness to a point of no return.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

It has been generations since Adam (see chapter 5), yet their condemnation is due to their own devolving into corruption.

So Moses returned to the Lord and said, Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. But the Lord said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.
So Moses came back to God confessing that the people had sinned gravely by making golden idols. He asked if God would forgive them, and that if He couldn’t, to also remove him from His book [of life]. But God said no, any individual that sins against Him is blotted out of His book.

Moses is on the mountain receiving the law (Ten Commandments) from God while the people have become impatient and built a golden calf to worship in Moses’ absence.  God promises that there will be a consequence for their sin (vs 34)  in the form of a plague (vs 35).

Scripture-block application to this question

When Moses suggests that he share the blame for the people’s sin, God answers that the guilt of an individual’s sin is borne by the individual alone. God makes this declarative statement as an eternal truth, even referencing “my book” (e.g. “book of life” Revelation 20:12).

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

As death was brought forth in a man (Adam), so too was resurrection from the dead brought forth in a man (Christ).

Paul is making a great defense for the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for the Christian’s faith.  Without Jesus being raised, their faith would be “in vain” (vs 14), they’d still be in their sins (vs 17), the dead “in Christ” would have truly perished (vs 18) and everyone else “in Christ” should be “most pitied” (vs 19).  He then shifts to highlight what will happen because He was resurrected and confirm the raising “at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vs 23).
Scripture-block application to this question

It does not apply to the teaching of original sin based on its immediate context. Instead, Paul is simply drawing a comparison with the fact that Adam was the first to physically die and Jesus was the first to physically rise (“be made alive”).

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

In the entire chapter, Paul is teaching the physical resurrection of Jesus. He died in the flesh and was raised in the flesh.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

Sin was introduced to the world through one man [Adam], and from sin came death [both physically and spiritually] which affects all men since all have sinned–sin was certainly in the world before the law [of Moses] was given, but sin is not accounted for when there is no law.

Paul is arguing for the “obedience of faith” (phrase used as bookends to his letter – 1:5 and 16:26) throughout this letter to the Romans. In the immediate context, he is speaking to the reconciliation that Christ brings and why it’s needed (because of a fallen world due to sin).

Scripture-block application to this question

It doesn’t given its context. Adam’s sin introduced sin into the world for all man, and death as a result (for all man). All are dead in their sin “because all sinned”. To say that “sin came into the world through one man” does not logically necessitate the transference and guilt of Adam’s sin to all descendants.

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Therefore repent (e.g. turn) in order that your sins are removed completely, so that you may be refreshed being in God’s presence.  This will prepare you for His sending of Jesus Christ after heaven has recieved Him and the restoration of all things occurs as God promised through the prophets of old.

A sermon from Peter to the crowd gathered in Solomon’s portico.

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter makes it clear that individual repentance is required for that individual’s (“your”) sins to be removed.

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

The soul (individual) that sins will die (spiritually). Punishment or guilt for sin is not passed from one generation to the next.

Ezekiel is speaking God’s words and throughout the entire chapter illustrates the point of individual responsibility and accountability before God. He further illustrates the point with an example covering three generations – father, son, and grandson. In vs 2, God says their proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” will no longer be spoken. Apparently, it was a well known expression and philosophy during Ezekiel’s time.

Scripture-block application to this question

Guilt for sin is not passed down from generation to generation.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
He called a child to Him and said that unless people repent and become like children, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’ response to the disciples after asking Him who was the greatest in the kingdom.  His point is that they become humble and innocent as children, going on to warn them not to cause “one of these little ones who believe in me to sin” (vs 6).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus is teaching us to be innocent like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
At one time you were dead in the sinful walk you led, following the way of the world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience.  We all were at one time like them, living according to the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the flesh, having a nature like children of wrath like the rest of mankind.

After reminding the Ephesians of their past lives in sin, Paul expounds on the great gift they received in Christ – being made “alive together in Christ” (vs 5). He further qualifies the saving grace as received “through faith” (vs 8). Finally, he says it wasn’t a result of their works (vs 9) but that “good works” are the result (vs 10).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul, in making the point of the grace and salvation that they have received in Christ, reminds them of the sin and darkness they were once a part of without Christ. They were “following” one course, living based on “passions” and fleshly “desires” with a disposition and “nature” toward sin (e.g. “wrath”).

You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.
You were innocent in your actions from birth until you began to walk in unrighteousness.
God, through Ezekiel, is pronouncing judgment upon the leader of Tyre.
Scripture-block application to this question

The king of Tyre was innocent from birth until he began to sin.

And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
When God smelled the pleasing aroma, He said in His heart that He would never again curse the ground and destroy all the living because of man since he was inclined to do evil from his youth.  Instead, while the earth existed, its normal cycles of crops, seasons, and days would not cease.
During the first 2,000 years of the world’s existence (Genesis 1-11), God has just destroyed all of mankind due to their wickedness and saved Noah and his family through the flood.
Scripture-block application to this question

God states man’s intent to sin “from his youth” which is not an intent from his birth.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

God has just destroyed the earth in a flood but makes this covenant based on Noah’s righteousness and nature/desire to do good and obey God.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering.

God told Moses to tell the people of Israel that if anyone sins unknowingly regarding any of His commands and it is the priest that has led the people in it, then he shall sacrifice a bull from the herd that is without blemish as a sin offering to the Lord.

Moses is receiving the law from God. This book probably only covers about ten days of time and stresses God’s holiness and the people becoming “holy as He is holy.”

Scripture-block application to this question

It doesn’t, since the priest is “bringing guilt on the people” here because the priest himself has sinned, and as their spiritual leader, has led the people to also sin.

Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

Fathers will not be punished because of their child’s sin, nor shall a child be put to death for their father’s sin.

Moses is re-telling the law to the people before entering into the promised land.

Scripture-block application to this question

Punishment (e.g. guilt) for sin isn’t inherited if each person was “put to death for his own sin” under the Old Law.

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