part of the what is truth? series

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 original sin taught in the Bible?"

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

The few passages1,4,5,9 plucked to justify this doctrine are instead perfectly harmonious with the rest of Scripture and simply don’t teach 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.

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 have inherited the guilt of sin from the first man, then what do we do about Jesus, who was fully man and born of a woman, yet without sin? Was Jesus guilty of Adam’s sin? Well, not if we have a doctrine of immaculate conception that pardons Mary from the chain of guilt. This further leads to justification for, and current practices of, things such as infant baptism and shunning sexual relations in marriage for any reasons other than procreation.
  • The idea of original sin was also carried forward by John Calvin and re-branded “total depravity.” As a result, this doctrine manifests in many of the Protestant teachings of today including “grace alone” and decoupling baptism’s direct effect of forgiveness of sins.

the answer above is built on and footnoted with the following scripture-blocks

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