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The Origin of Sin

Other essays.

The question of the origin of Sin asks what was the cause of Adam’s sin, by which the human race fell from righteousness to condemnation and contemplates the relationship of sin’s coming into the world with the will of the good and holy Creator who is sovereign over all.

The Bible’s teaching of sin starts in the garden, where Adam violated God’s prohibition from eating from the forbidden tree. There, we discover that prior to man’s fall, sin existed in the form of the tempting serpent Satan. Yet as God created all things good, including the fallen angels, we inevitably must come to grips with God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence with respect to the origin of sin. Balanced Bible teaching will show that God is not the author of sin, since in his holiness God is without any sin or evil of his own. Careful biblical reflection teaches that God willed sin in such a way that he remains morally perfect: God is never the primary but only the secondary cause in human sin. The attempt to make rational sense of sin will always run aground on the inherent irrationality of sin. Yet, at the cross of Jesus Christ, where God willed that his Son would be handed over to death by the hands of guilty sinners, we discover the best answer to questions about the origin of sin in the sovereign grace of God that glorifies him in the redemption of sinners.

What Caused Human Sin?

The question of the origin of sin holds importance because of what it tells us about both man and God. According to modern theories, man’s sin originates in his evolutionary origins. History is said to involve an ascent from savage beginnings, so that sin simply is seen as native to mankind’s nature. The effect of an evolutionary view of man is to normalize what the Bible calls sin as a simple necessity of our existence.

This modern approach to the origin of sin conflicts radically with the Bible in denying an original righteousness to Adam. Genesis 1:27 states that “God created man in his own image,” and this image implies personal holiness, righteousness, and thus freedom from the necessity of sin. Donald Macleod writes: “According to the Bible, man, as made by God, was upright. He was made in God’s image. He was absolutely sinless.” 1 Man became a sinner, however, when Adam succumbed to temptation in the garden. In this important sense, man sinned when Adam willed to sin in his heart. Having been forbidden by God to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17–18), Adam ate the fruit and fell into sin (Gen 3:6). Sin therefore did not originate in the human nature as God made it but resulted when Adam was tempted by the evil serpent through his wife. Once Adam had sinned, the entire human race fell with him, losing the original righteousness of creation in God’s image (Gen 6:4), sharing Adam’s guilt (Rom 5:12, 18), and becoming corrupted with sin so that henceforth each individual human originates as a sinner (Ps 51:5).

Although we can trace the entry of human sin to Adam’s temptation and fall, we observe that Adam’s fall was preceded by the fall of the evil angels, chief of whom is Satan, who masqueraded in the garden as the serpent. For when Adam sinned, there was already a sinful angel present in the garden. The Bible does not clearly define the manner or time when the fall of the angels took place. But Jesus says that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44; see 1Jn 3:8), which most likely refers to the beginning of the creation account. Paul warns church leaders against becoming puffed up “with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1Tim 3:16), suggesting that Satan’s originating sin was a pride which resented the creation of man in God’s image. It stands to reason that Satan tempted Adam and Eve to be “like God” (Gen. 3:5) because this same discontented rebellion occasioned his own fall.

Sin and God’s Will

This biblical data brings us to the question of God’s relationship to the origin of sin. Herman Bavinck comments: “On the basis of Scripture, it is certain that sin did not first start on earth but in heaven, at the feet of God’s throne, in his immediate presence.” 2 Does this mean that sin has its origin in God, or in God’s will?

Given the divine attributes of omniscience and omnipotence , it is inconceivable that sin as either an act or a power could have originated apart from God’s will. Some thinkers have sought to exempt God from the implications of this reality. For instance, Immanuel Kant argued that God willed sin because it was necessary to the possibility of good in the world. Just as birds can only fly because of the contrary resistance of wind, so also the pressure of sin is necessary for human moral perfection. 3 Others have argued that sin was necessary to God’s creation in order for man to exercise free will. A problem with these views is that sin is thus made normative to the human condition and may even be thought of as a kind of good. Such a view contrasts with the Bible’s insistence that sin is always “evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2Chron 29:6).

The Bible uniformly teaches God’s sovereignty over all things (Matt 10:9; Ps 33:11), which would include the origin of sin, yet Scripture explicitly denies that God is himself the source of evil. James 1:13 states that God is not the author of sin: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’” for “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” 1 John 1:5 insists, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,” so sin does not originate in God’s nature or being. Neither was anything made by God evil in any way, as Genesis 1:31 declares: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Job 34:10 states: “far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.” Moreover, the Bible explicitly states God’s hatred for sin (Ps 5:4; Luke 16:15).

Do these verses show that God merely permitted sin, without willing it? The answer must be “no,” if by permission we exclude God’s positive will. Fred G. Zaspel writes: “God’s relation to the sinful acts is not purely passive: his involvement is not that of mere allowance.” 4 We may rightly say that God willed to permit sin, yet in so doing his providential government over sin is affirmed. Theologians approach this situation by asserting that God’s role in the origin of sin involves not primary but secondary causation. It was the will of Satan that sinned in leading the rebellion of angels, just as it was the will of Adam that sinned in taking the forbidden fruit. These were ultimately according to God’s decreed will, yet Satan and man remain responsible for their sin. Zaspel explains: “all that happens, good or evil, stems from God’s positive ordering of it; but the moral quality of the deed itself is rooted in the moral character of the person who does it.” 5 At the same time, we must note a difference between God’s will of good and of evil, the former involving a positive enabling and the latter a positive permitting; Bavinck writes: “Light cannot of itself produce darkness; the darkness only arises when the light is withdrawn.” 6

While we must deny any goodness in sin itself, it remains true that God has ordained sin—indeed, God sinlessly uses sin—for the praise of his glory. Since “from him and through him and to him are all things,” then God willed sin ultimately for the display of the perfection of his attributes, so that “to him [would] be glory forever” (Rom 11:36). We may therefore go so far as to say that although sin is evil, it is good that there was sin, or else God would not have willed it.

The clearest Scripture teaching affirming both God’s will for sin and man’s responsibility of sin formed a part of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Convicting the people of Jerusalem for their sin against the Savior, Peter declared: “This Jesus . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). The sin was committed by the people who cried for Jesus’s crucifixion, by Pontius Pilate in his miscarriage of justice, by the Roman soldiers who nailed Christ to the cross, and by the priests and other religious leaders who mocked God’s Son in his torment. Yet, Peter also ascribes full sovereignty over all these wicked events to God. He inserts into that verse that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). God not only knew that his Son would be tortured, mocked, and slain, but it was according to his “definite” and eternal “plan” for history that these events took place.

The “Enigma” of Sin’s Origin

In answering questions as to the origin of sin, while we can affirm many important truths, we nonetheless stand before what Herman Bavinck called “the greatest enigma of life and the heaviest cross for the intellect to bear.” 7 When considered as an explanation for the world as we know it, sin makes perfect sense: indeed, without a doctrine of the fall of mankind, the history of the world is incomprehensible. Yet, considering the biblical data about sin itself, when we ask how beings created as wholly good by God—such as the angel Satan and the man Adam—could will to sin, all answers escape us. Attempts to rationalize the origin of sin run aground against the essential irrationality of the creature rebelling against the Creator. This irrationality afflicts not merely the originating sins of ancient history but also every sin that we commit today. When the Christian bitterly asks, “Why did I sin?” there are descriptions—because of temptation, because of remaining indwelling sin, etc.—but there are no true explanations for the origin of any sin.

It is for this reason that Christians may be grateful that the question of “Why?” when it comes to sin, having no true answer on the human side of the equation, finds satisfaction in the grace of God’s sovereign will. Romans 11:32 states: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Only in the light of the glory of God’s grace does sin begin to make sense. God has chosen to save his people as sinners through the blood of his Son as a display of sovereign mercy. Christians thus realize that because we were converted from sin that was washed through atoning blood, God is glorified in his Son. Far from minimizing the significance of our ongoing sins, Christians also realize that God is glorified now in the power that his grace provides enabling us not to sin. The enigma of sin’s origin, then, enables believers in Christ to perceive in glorious clarity God’s amazing love and mercy in his Son, “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6).

Further Reading

  • Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology . Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1941. Berkhof provides brief and readable, yet thorough consideration of this topic.
  • Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics , Volume Three: Sin and Salvation in Christ . John Vriend, trans. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006. This is the most comprehensive and mature treatment of the topic available. The relevant section is available on-line here .
  • Bowers, Johnathan. “ Seven Things the Bible Says about Evil ,” Desiring God . October 18, 2011. This article is particularly useful in connecting answers to the question of evil to the cross of Christ.
  • Piper, John. “ God Planned Sin! ” Video sermon excerpt arguing from Scripture that the greatest of all sins, the ridiculing murder of Jesus Christ, was God’s plan that revealed God’s will in saving sinners.
  • Piper, John. “ Is God Sovereign Over Sin? ” Video sermon excerpt explaining God’s sovereign will and control over all sin.
  • Warfield, B. B. Works . 10 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003, 2:20–22.
  • ———. Selected Shorter Works . Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970, 2:310–13. Warfield provides an insightful perspective on the orthodox view of the origin of sin, especially bringing forth the massive contributions of Augustine.
  • “ What Is the Origin of Sin? ” God Questions? Brief and useful summary of the topic.

This essay is part of the Concise Theology series. All views expressed in this essay are those of the author. This essay is freely available under Creative Commons License with Attribution-ShareAlike, allowing users to share it in other mediums/formats and adapt/translate the content as long as an attribution link, indication of changes, and the same Creative Commons License applies to that material. If you are interested in translating our content or are interested in joining our community of translators,  please reach out to us .

What Is Original Sin? Meaning and Consequences of Ancestral Sin

What Is Original Sin? Meaning and Consequences of Ancestral Sin

The concept of original sin has existed in the church since its very origins. But do we have a proper sin definition that aligns with the Bible? This article will explore the definition of original sin, the consequences of ancestral sin, and how it affects us today.

What Does Original Sin Mean in Christianity?

Original sin, also described as ancestral sin, is a Christian view of the nature of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man . Original sin arose from Adam and Eve's transgression in Eden, the sin of disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Original sin can be explained as “that sin and its effects that we all possess in God’s eyes as a direct result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.”

As transcribed in the video above, Shai Linne discusses whether we are guilty of the original sin of Adam:

This is what I would say to someone who says the idea of original sin being guilty in Adam, that's unfair. Like what's up with that? There's a couple of ways I would answer that. One way would be that we all understand the idea of having a representative stand in our place, right? It's the whole reason why we have U.S. embassies. Nobody would say, "Wait a minute. I'm not over in that foreign country. It's not fair for this guy to represent me." You know what I mean? Or take it to the realm of sports. If you're on a football team and one guy commits a penalty, the whole team is going back 10 yards. You know what I'm saying? The dude who didn't commit the foul doesn't say, "Wait a second, that's unfair." Nah, you're on the same team. You know what I'm saying? 

So it's the same thing with Adam. God determined that we would all be on Adam's team, and once Adam committed the foul, then we get penalized for it. But then you have the good news, which is the flip side of that, which is that we're on Christ team. Those who trust in Christ receive his ... The points that he scored, we were on the bench. We didn't even get into the game. Christ scores the points, and then we win as a team. Nobody ever says, "Wait a second. It's not fair that Jesus Christ died in my place. What's up with that?" No, no one ever says that. 

When we start talking about fairness, we're talking about what's just and what's right. And God is just, and he'll absolutely do what's right in every case. 

Where Does the Bible Talk about Original Sin?

Scripture says that we are born sinners and that we are, by nature, sinners.

Psalm 51:5 says that we all come into the world as sinners: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”

Ephesians 2:2 declares that all people who are not in Christ are “sons of disobedience.”

Ephesians 2:3 also establishes this, stating that we are all “by nature children of wrath.” If we are all “by nature children of wrath,” it can only be because we are all by nature sinners — for God does not direct His wrath towards those who are not guilty. God did not create the human race sinful, but upright. But we fell into sin and became sinful due to the sin of Adam.

There are also verses which state that we are all sinful from the time that we are born.

Proverbs 22:15 says “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”

Genesis 8:21 declares, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Jonathan Edwards , in his classic work The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended , remarks on this verse: “The word translated youth, signifies the whole of the former part of the age of man, which commences from the beginning of life. The word in its origin has reference to the birth or beginning of existence... so that the word here translated youth comprehends not only what we in English most commonly call the time of youth, but also childhood and infancy.”

Sinfulness is frequently addressed in Scripture as something pertaining to the human race as a whole. This signifies original sin is a quality of mankind. Thus, it must be inferred that we are all born sinners since we are all human and original sin is considered as a part of humanity. 

Was Jesus Raised from the Dead?

Was Jesus Raised from the Dead?

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." - Ephesians 2:1-3

What Is Original Sin and Actual Sin?

From birth, we have original sin imputed upon us. Because of the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin, we are born with original sin and a sinful nature. Actual sin, on the other hand, happens when we actively sin from our time of birth. We could also draw a further distinction between sins of omission and commission here , but we'll link an article that discusses those two concepts in depth.

In essence, we are born with a sinful nature because of Adam. From our infancy, we have a tendency to choose selfishness and our own interests over the interests of others. The Original sin of Adam has caused every human to be born with original sin, except for Jesus, who was born of a virgin. Although we may say, "That's not fair. If I was in Adam's shoes I wouldn't have sinned." But I think we can analyze our own actions in life and understand we probably would've messed up in a similar way to what he did.

What Are the Consequences of Original Sin?

According to Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral , one of the first consequences was that they became embarrassed that they were naked and they covered themselves with fig leaves. They were no longer focused on God but were now self-centered in their bodies. Their soul was no longer in communion with God, their bodily appetites took charge, and they became ashamed because of their lack of clothing. They began the passionate earthly life that we all now participate in.

Mankind still had the image of God, but it was now “tarnished” or “dimmed.” Their bodies became subject to sickness, corruption, and death. The Garden with the tree of life was no longer accessible for them. This is the status we inherit from Adam and Eve. This is what we call “ancestral sin.” We do not obtain the blame for the bad choice that Adam made, but we inherit the consequence of his sinfulness, the change in nature he underwent. Since we are all descendants of Adam and Eve we all acquire their sinful nature that resulted from the fall.

stgeorgegreenville.org | What is the consequence of the original sin?

desiringgod.org | What Is the Biblical Evidence for Original Sin?

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St. Augustine's Doctrine of Original Sin

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2010, Augustinian Studies

This paper is an exposition of St. Augustine’s account of original sin, which I argue is composed of five somewhat independent doctrines. In brief, his view is that all human beings participated in Adam and Eve’s primal sin, and thus inherit a common guilt and a constitutional fault, as well as a penalty. Augustine is not clear about how to understand human solidarity with the first couple, and he is divided in his ideas about how sin is inherited. He is confident, however, that human solidarity with the primal sin leads to a universal penalty of mortality and weakness that, though evil, is not itself sin, as well as further sin: an inborn constitutional fault that Augustine calls carnal concupiscence (meaning “disordered love”).

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Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion pp 1659–1660 Cite as

Original Sin

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Original sin is the Christian doctrine which says that because of the sin of Adam and Eve, original innocence is lost and all subsequent human beings are born into a state of sinfulness. The doctrine states that human beings do not commit this sin but rather contract it from the Fall of Adam and Eve (CCC: 404). In other words, original sin is an inherited condition.

The doctrine of original sin was most famously formulated by North African theologian St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) following his conversion to Christianity (Augustine, Confessions 8:12). His theology was deeply influenced by Plato’s separation of the body and soul, a dualistic vision in which the pure and immutable soul is trapped in the prison house of a corruptible body. Upon his conversion to Christianity, Augustine renounced all pleasures of the flesh and, embracing the spiritual world, chose the celibate life. But he soon realized that the mind could not suppress the desires of the body and concluded from this...

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Freud, S. (1976a). Our attitude to death. In The complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, SE 14 (pp. 292–293). New York: W.W. Norton.

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Freud, S. (1976b). The complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, SE 13 (pp. 1–161). New York: W.W. Norton.

Freud, S. (1976c). The complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, SE 23 (pp. 7–137). New York: W.W. Norton.

Jung, C. G. (1966). Collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 16) (2nd ed., p. 186). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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The Catholic Church. (1994). Catechism of the Catholic Church . London: Geoffrey Chapman.

Warner, R. (1963). The confessions of St. Augustine . New York: Penguin.

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Original Sin

original sin essay

Original Sin . I. Meaning; II. Principal Adversaries; III. Original Sin in Scripture ; IV. Original Sin in Tradition; V. Original Sin in face of the Objections of Human Reason ; VI. Nature of Original Sin; VII. How Voluntary .

MEANING., Original sin may be taken to mean: (I) the sin that Adam committed; (2) a consequence of this first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam . From the earliest times the latter sense of the word was more common, as may be seen by St. Augustine’s statement: “the deliberate sin of the First man is the cause of original sin” (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). It is the hereditary stain that is dealt with here. As to the sin of Adam we have not to examine the circumstances in which it was committed nor to make the exegesis of the third chapter of Genesis .

ORIGINAL SIN IN SCRIPTURE., The classical text is Rom., v, 12 sqq. In the preceding part the Apostle treats of justification by Jesus Christ , and to put in evidence the fact of His being the one Savior, he contrasts with this Divine Head of mankind the human head who caused its ruin. The question of original sin, therefore, comes in only incidentally. St. Paul supposes the idea that the faithful have of it from his oral instructions, and he speaks of it to make them understand the work of Redemption . This explains the brevity of the development and the obscurity of some verses. We shall now show what, in the text, is opposed to the three Pelagian positions:

The sin of Adam has injured the human race at least in the sense that it has introduced death—”Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men”. Here there is question of physical death. First, the literal meaning of the word ought to be presumed unless there be some reason to the contrary. Second, there is an allusion in this verse to a passage in the Book of Wisdom in which, as may be seen from the context, there is question of physical death, Wis., ii, 24: “But by the envy of the devil death came into the world”. Cf. Gen., ii, 17; iii, 3, 19; and another parallel passage in St. Paul himself, I Cor., xv, 21: “For by a man came death and by a man the resurrection of the dead”. Here there can be question only of physical death, since it is opposed to corporal resurrection, which is the subject of the whole chapter.

Adam by his fault transmitted to us not only death but also sin “for as by the disobedience of one man many [i.e., all men] were made sinners” (Rom., v, 19). How then could the Pelagians, and at a later period Zwingli, say that St. Paul speaks only of the transmission of physical death? If according to them we must read death where the Apostle wrote sin, we should also read that the disobedience of Adam has made us mortal where the Apostle writes that it has made us sinners. But the word sinner has never meant mortal, nor has sin ever meant death. Also in verse 12, which corresponds to verse 19, we see that by one man two things have been brought on all men, sin and death, the one being the consequence of the other and therefore not identical with it.

Since Adam transmits death to his children by way of generation when he begets them mortal, it is by generation also that he transmits to them sin, for the Apostle presents these two effects as produced at the same time and by the same causality. The explanation of the Pelagians differs from that of St. Paul. According to them the child who receives mortality at his birth receives sin from Adam only at a later period when he knows the sin of the first man and is inclined to imitate it. The causality of Adam as regards mortality would, therefore, be completely different from his causality as regards sin. Moreover, this supposed influence of the bad example of Adam is almost chimerical; even the faithful when they sin do not sin on account of Adam ‘s bad example, a fortiori infidels who are completely ignorant of the history of the first man. And yet all men are, by the influence of Adam , sinners and condemned (Rom., v, 18, 19). The influence of Adam cannot, therefore, be the influence of his bad example which we imitate (Augustine, “Contra Julian.”, VI, xxiv, 75).

On this account, several recent Protestants have thus modified the Pelagian explanation: “Even without being aware of it all men imitate Adam inasmuch as they merit death as the punishment of their own sins just as Adam merited it as the punishment for his sin.” This is going farther and farther from the text of St. Paul. Adam would be no more than the term of a comparison, he would no longer have any influence or causality as regards original sin or death. Moreover, the Apostle did not affirm that all men, in imitation of Adam , are mortal on account of their actual sins; since children who die before coming to the use of reason have never committed such sins; but he expressly affirms the contrary in the fourteenth verse: “But death reigned”, not only over those who imitated Adam , but “even over them also who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam .” Adam ‘s sin, therefore, is the sole cause of death for the entire human race. Moreover, we can discern no natural connection between any sin and death. In order that a determined sin entail death there is need of a positive law, but before the Law of Moses there was no positive law of God appointing death as a punishment except the law given to Adam (Gen., ii, 17). It is, therefore, his disobedience only that could have merited and brought it into the world (Rom., v, 13, 14). These Protestant writers lay much stress on the last words of the twelfth verse. We know that several of the Latin Fathers understood the words, “in whom all have sinned”, to mean, all have sinned in Adam . This interpretation would be an extra proof of the thesis of original sin, but it is not necessary. Modern exegesis, as well as the Greek Fathers, prefers to translate “and so death passed upon all men because all have sinned”. We accept this second translation which shows us death as an effect of sin. But of what sin? “The personal sins of each one”, answer our adversaries, “this is the natural sense of the words `all have sinned.’ “It would be the natural sense if the context was not absolutely opposed to it. The words “all have sinned” of the twelfth verse, which are obscure on account of their brevity, are thus developed in the nineteenth verse: “for as by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners”. There is no question here of personal sins, differing in species and number, committed by each one during his life, but of one first sin which was enough to transmit equally to all men a state of sin and the title of sinners. Similarly in the twelfth verse the words “All have sinned” must mean, “all have participated in the sin of Adam “, “all have contracted its stain”. This interpretation too removes the seeming contradiction between the twelfth verse, “all have sinned”, and the fourteenth, “who have not sinned”, for in the former there is question of original sin, in the latter of personal sin. Those who say that in both cases there is question of personal sin are unable to reconcile these two verses.

IV. ORIGINAL SIN IN TRADITION., On account of a superficial resemblance between the doctrine of original sin and the Manichaean theory of our nature being evil, the Pelagians accused the Catholics and St. Augustine of Manichaeism . For the accusation and its answer see “Contra duas epist. Pelag.”, I, II, 4; V, 10; III, IX, 25; IV, III. In our own times this charge has been reiterated by several critics and historians of dogma who have been influenced by the fact that before his conversion St. Augustine was a Manichan. They do not identify Manichaeism with the doctrine of original sin, but they say that St. Augustine, with the remains of his former Manichaean prejudices, created the doctrine of original sin unknown before his time. It is not true that the doctrine of original sin does not appear in the works of the pre-Augustinian Fathers. On the contrary, their testimony is found in special works on the subject. Nor can it be said, as Harnack maintains, that St. Augustine himself acknowledges the absence of this doctrine in the writings of the Fathers. St. Augustine invokes the testimony of eleven Fathers, Greek as well as Latin (Contra Jul., II, x, 33). Baseless also is the assertion that before St. Augustine this doctrine was unknown to the Jews and to the Christians; as we have already shown, it was taught by St. Paul. It is found in the fourth Book of Esdras a work written by a Jew in the first century after Christ and widely read by the Christians. This book represents Adam as the author of the fall of the human race (vii, 48), as having transmitted to all his posterity the permanent infirmity, the malignity, the bad seed of sin (iii, 21, 22; iv, 30). Protestants themselves admit the doctrine of original sin in this book and others of the same period (see Sanday, “The International Critical Commentary: Romans”, 134, 137; Hastings, “A Dictionary of the Bible “, I, 841). It is therefore impossible to make St. Augustine, who is of a much later date, the inventor of original sin.

That this doctrine existed in Christian tradition before St. Augustine’s time is shown by the practice of the Church in the baptism of children. The Pelagians held that baptism was given to children, not to remit their sin, but to make them better, to give them super-natural life, to make them adoptive sons of God , and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven (see St. Augustine, “De peccat. meritis”, I, xviii). The Catholics answered by citing the Nicene Creed , “ Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum”. They reproached the Pelagians with introducing two baptisms, one for adults to remit sins, the other for children with no such purpose. Catholics argued, too, from the ceremonies of baptism, which suppose the child to be under the power of evil, i.e., exorcisms, abjuration of Satan made by the sponsor in the name of the child [August, loc. cit., xxxiv, 63; Denz., n. 140 (96)].

V. ORIGINAL SIN IN FACE OF THE OBJECTIONS OF REASON. We do not pretend to prove the existence of original sin by arguments from reason only. St. Thomas makes use of a philosophical proof which proves the existence rather of some kind of decadence than of sin, and he considers his proof as probable only, satis probabiliter probari potest (Contra Gent., IV, lii). Many Protestants and Jansenists and some Catholics hold the doctrine of original sin to be necessary in philosophy, and the only means of solving the problem of the existence of evil. This is exaggerated and impossible to prove. It suffices to show that human reason has no serious objection against this doctrine which is founded on Revelation . The objections of Rationalists usually spring from a false concept of our dogma. They attack either the transmission of a sin or the idea of an injury inflicted on his race by the first man, of a decadence of the human race. Here we shall answer only the second category of objections, the others will be considered under a later head (VII).

The law of progress is opposed to the hypothesis of a decadence. Yes, if the progress was necessarily continuous, but history proves the contrary. The line representing progress has its ups and downs, there are periods of decadence and of retrogression, and such was the period, Revelation tells us, that followed the first sin. The human race, however, began to rise again little by little, for neither intelligence nor free will had been destroyed by original sin and, consequently, there still remained the possibility of material progress, whilst in the spiritual order God did not abandon man, to whom He had promised redemption. This theory of decadence has no connection with our Revelation . The Bible , on the contrary, shows us even spiritual progress in the people it treats of; the vocation of Abraham , the law of Moses , the mission of the Prophets, the coming of the Messias , a revelation which becomes clearer and clearer, ending in the Gospel, its diffusion amongst all nations, its fruits of holiness, and the progress of the Church .

It is unjust, says another objection, that from the sin of one man should result the decadence of the whole human race. This would have weight if we took this decadence in the same sense that Luther took it, i.e. human reason incapable of understanding even moral truths, free will destroyed, the very substance of man changed into evil. But according to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right, the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, the vision of God in the next life. The Creator, whose gifts were not due to the human race, had the right to bestow them on such conditions as He wished and to make their conservation depend on the fidelity of the head of the family. A prince can confer a hereditary dignity on condition that the recipient remains loyal, and that, in case of his rebelling, this dignity shall be taken from him and, in consequence, from his descendants. It is not, however, intelligible that the prince, on account of a fault committed by a father, should order the hands and feet of all the descendants of the guilty man to be cut off immediately after their birth. This comparison represents the doctrine of Luther which we in no way defend. The doctrine of the Church supposes no sensible or afflictive punishment in the next world for children who die with nothing but original sin on their souls, but only the privation of the sight of God [Denz., n. 1526 (1389)].

VI. NATURE OF’ ORIGINAL SIN., This is a difficult point and many systems have been invented to explain it: it will suffice to give the theological explanation now commonly received. Original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace in consequence of the sin of Adam . This solution, which is that of St. Thomas, goes back to St. Anselm and even to the traditions of the early Church , as we see by the declaration of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529): 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 [Denz., n. 175 (145)]. As death is the privation of the principle of life, the death of the soul is the privation of sanctifying grace which according to all theologians is the principle of supernatural life. Therefore, if original sin is “the death of the soul”, it is the privation of sanctifying grace.

The Council of Trent , although it did not make this solution obligatory by a definition, regarded it with favor and authorized its use (cf. Pallavicini, “Istoria del Concilio di Trento”, vii-ix). Original sin is described not only as the death of the soul (Sess. V, can. ii), but as a “privation of justice that each child contracts at its conception” (Sess. VI, cap. iii). But the council calls “justice” what we call sanctifying grace (Sess. VI), and as each child should have had personally his own justice so now after the fall he suffers his own privation of justice. We may add an argument based on the principle of St. Augustine already cited, “the deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin”. This principle is developed by St. Anselm: “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” (De conceptu virginals, xxvi). In a child original sin is distinct from the fault of Adam , it is one of its effects. But which of these effects is it? We shall examine the several effects of Adam ‘s fault and reject those which cannot be original sin:

Death and Suffering. These are purely physical evils and cannot be called sin. Moreover St. Paul, and after him the councils, regarded death and original sin as two distinct things transmitted by Adam .

Concupiscence . This rebellion of the lower appetite transmitted to us by Adam is an occasion of sin and in that sense comes nearer to moral evil. However, the occasion of a fault is not necessarily a fault, and 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 absence of sanctifying grace in the newborn 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 (loc. cit., can. ii). If he has lost it for us we were to have received it from him at our birth with the other prerogatives of our race. Therefore the absence of sanctifying grace in a child is a real privation, it is the want of something that should have been in him according to the Divine plan. If this favor is not merely something physical but is something in the moral order, if it is holiness, its privation may be called a sin. But sanctifying grace is holiness and is so called by the Council of Trent , because holiness consists in union with God , and grace unites us intimately with God . Moral goodness consists in this that our action is according to the moral law, but grace is a deification, as the Fathers say, a perfect conformity with God who is the first rule of all morality. (See Grace .) Sanctifying grace therefore enters into the moral order, not as an act that passes but as a permanent tendency which exists even when the subject who possesses it does not act; it is a turning towards God , conversio ad Deum. Consequently the privation of this grace, even without any other act, would be a stain, a moral deformity, a turning away from God , aversio a Deo, and this character is not found in any other effect of the fault of Adam . This privation, therefore, is the hereditary stain.

VII. How VOLUNTARY. There can be no sin that is not voluntary, the learned and the ignorant admit this evident truth”, writes St. Augustine (De vera relig., xiv, 27). The Church has condemned the opposite solution given by Baius [prop. xlvi, xlvii, in Denz., n. 1046 (926)]. Original sin is not an act but, as already explained, a state, a permanent privation, and this can be voluntary indirectly just as a drunken man is deprived of his reason and incapable of using his liberty, yet it is by his free fault that he is in this state and hence his drunkenness, his privation of reason is voluntary and can be imputed to him. But how can original sin be even indirectly voluntary for a child that has never used its personal free will? Certain Protestants hold that the child on coming to the use of reason will consent to its original sin; but in reality no one ever thought of giving this consent. Besides, even before the use of reason, sin is already in the soul, according to the data of Tradition regarding the baptism of children and the sin contracted by generation. Some theosophists and spiritists admit the preexistence of souls that have sinned in a former life which they now forget; but apart from the absurdity of this metempsychosis, it contradicts the doctrine of original sin, it substitutes a number of particular sins for the one sin of a common father transmitting sin and death to all (cf. Rom., v, 12 sqq.). The whole Christian religion, says St. Augustine, may be summed up in the intervention of two men, the one to ruin us, the other to save us (De pecc. orig., xxiv). The right solution is to be sought in the free will of Adam in his sin, and this free will was ours: “we were all in Adam “, says St. Ambrose, cited by St. Augustine (Opus imperf., IV, civ). St. Basil attributes to us the act of the first man: “Because we did not fast (when Adam ate the forbid-den fruit) we have been turned out of the garden of Paradise” (Horn. i de jejun., iv). Earlier still is the testimony of St. Irenaeus; “In the person of the first Adam we offend God , disobeying His precept” (Haeres., V, xvi, 3).

St. Thomas thus explains this moral unity of our will with the will of Adam . “An individual can be considered either as an individual or as part of a whole, a member of a society. Considered in the second way an act can be his although he has not done it himself, nor has it been done by his free will but by the rest of the society or by its head, the nation being considered as doing what the prince does. For a society is considered as a single man of whom the individuals are the different members (St. Paul, I Cor., xii). Thus the multitude of men who receive their human nature from Adam is to be considered as a single community or rather as a single body. If the man, whose privation of original justice is due to Adam , is considered as a private person, this privation is not his `fault’, for a fault is essentially voluntary. If, however, we consider him as a member of the family of Adam , as if all men were only one man, then his privation partakes of the nature of sin on account of its voluntary origin, which is the actual sin of Adam ” (De Maio, iv, 1). It is this law of solidarity, admitted by common sentiment, which attributes to children a part of the shame resulting from the father’s crime. It is not a personal crime, objected the Pelagians. “No”, answered St. Augustine, “but it is paternal crime” (Op. imperf., I, cxlviii). Being a distinct person I am not strictly responsible for the crime of another, the act is not mine. Yet, as a member of the human family, I am supposed to have acted with its head who represented it with regard to the conservation or the loss of grace. I am, therefore, responsible for my privation of grace, taking responsibility in the largest sense of the word. This, however, is enough to make the state of privation of grace in a certain degree voluntary, and, therefore, “without absurdity it may be said to be voluntary” (St. Augustine, “Retract.”, I, xiii).

Thus the principal difficulties of nonbelievers against the transmission of sin are answered. “Free will is essentially incommunicable.” Physically, yes; morally, no; the will of the father being considered as that of his children. “It is unjust to make us responsible for an act committed before our birth.” Strictly responsible, yes; responsible in a wide sense of the word, no; the crime of a father brands his yet unborn children with shame, and entails upon them a share of his own responsibility. “Your dogma makes us strictly responsible for the fault of Adam .” That is a misconception of our doctrine. Our dogma does not attribute to the children of Adam any properly so-called responsibility for the act of their father, nor do we say that original sin is voluntary in the strict sense of the word. It is true that, considered as “a moral deformity”, “a separation from God “, as “the death of the soul”, original sin is a real sin which deprives the soul of sanctifying grace. It has the same claim to be a sin as has habitual sin, which is the state in which an adult is placed by a grave and personal fault, the “stain” which St. Thomas defines as “the privation of grace” (I-II, Q. cix. a. 7; III, Q. lxxxvii, a. 2, ad 3um), and it is from this point of view that baptism, putting an end to the privation of grace, “takes away all that is really and properly sin”, for concupiscence which remains “is not really and properly sin”, although its transmission was equally voluntary ( Council of Trent , Sess. V, can. v.). Considered precisely as voluntary, original sin is only the shadow of sin properly so-called. According to St. Thomas (In II Sent., dist. xxv, Q. i, a. 2, ad 2um), it is not called “sin” in the same sense, but only in an analogous sense.

Several theologians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, neglecting the importance of the privation of grace in the explanation of original sin, and explaining it only by the participation we are supposed to have in the act of Adam , exaggerate this participation. They exaggerate the idea of voluntary in original sin, thinking that it is the only way to explain how it is a sin properly so called. Their opinion, differing from that of St. Thomas, gave rise to uncalled-for and insoluble difficulties. At present it is altogether abandoned.

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Essays in Analytic Theology: Volume 2

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Essays in Analytic Theology: Volume 2

1 The Metaphysics of Original Sin

  • Published: November 2020
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This chapter argues that there is no straightforward conflict between the doctrine of original sin (construed as including the doctrine of original guilt) and the following thesis, which is taken to be the primary source of philosophical objection to that doctrine: (MR) A person P is morally responsible for the obtaining of a state of affairs S only if S obtains (or obtained) and P could have prevented S from obtaining. After surveying a variety of different construals of the doctrine of original sin, the chapter shows that the main source of tension with MR is the further assumption that no human being who was born after the commission of first sin could have done anything to prevent that first sin; and no human being who is born corrupt could have done anything to prevent her own corruption. The chapter then discusses different ways in which this assumption might be resisted.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Short Story — Analysis of O’Connor’s The River Through Augustine’s Concept of The Original Sin


Analysis of O'connor's The River Through Augustine's Concept of The Original Sin

  • Categories: Augustine Short Story

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Published: Jul 17, 2018

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Sample Essay on Augustine View of Original Sin

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The history of Christian doctrine on Original sin is long and diverse. It has varied biblical, theological, and scientific approaches. Original sin remains important teaching and especially in Catholicism. It is intimately related to baptism and therefore an important topic of discussion. Catholic theology justification of Infant baptism is founded on original sin. Augustine as a great theologian and a patriarch of Christianity makes a remarkable contribution to the theological. Understanding the origin of sin .

Augustine in his Confessions teaches “Peccatum Originalis” original sin is inherited by all human beings from the first man, Adam, and communicated from parent to child. God did not make sin; sin is humanity’s responsibility. Original sin is the condition that inclines human beings to selfishness and disobedience, even when they may want to act otherwise. Original sin is evident in the tantrums and is unreasonable, a baby may display murderous jealousy of his own brother at the breast (Augustine). A man arrives in this world inclined to sin, He explains why in his youth he fancied luxuries and glorified flesh. We are carried away by custom to our own undoing and it is hard to struggle against the stream. It was not the takings that attracted me but the raid itself, and yet to do it by myself would have been no fun and I should not have done it. This was the friendship of a most unfriendly sort, bewitching my mind in an inexplicable way. For the sake of a laugh, a little sport, I was glad to do harm and anxious to damage another; and that without the thought of profit for me or retaliation for injuries received! And all because we are ashamed to hold back when others say ‘Come on! Let’s do it! (Augustine).

Through his teaching, Augustine paints a human nature that is evil in making and deprived of human acts. The belief that we arrive in this world predisposed to wrongdoing and that this world is a vale of tears because we made it that and, somehow, couldn’t have made it anything else (Jacobs). This kind of reasoning deprives the human act of one of the essential qualities required to constitute a moral act. Human acts are necessarily controlled by the will. Voluntariness is a formal essential quality of a human act. Augustine’s theory of the original sin can be utilized by those who commit atrocities against their fellow human being to deny moral culpability. After analyzing Augustine’s teaching on original sin through the lens of essential qualities of a moral act, that is knowledge and freedom. The theory is deprived of acknowledgment of the human person as an individual of rational nature and responsible being.  Instead of using the mind to seek, love, and honor the truth, Augustine uses his intelligence to rationalize evil through philosophies of determinism (Kalpakgian). This makes me different from Augustine.

The human person is endowed with the ability to learn from the surrounding. The brain gathers information from all types of sources to make decisions, moment to moment. It gathers information, computes, makes a decision, and then you get the sensation of conscious experience. Consciousness takes time; it arrives after the work is done. The conscious mind has the power to control many so-called involuntary actions (Gazzaniga). Knowledge and freedom are intrinsically in human nature and therefore not predestined.

Works Cited

  Augustine,  St. Augustine’s Confessions . Dublin: Printed by E. Bate for C. Connor, opposite the Blind Quay, near Essex-Gate, 1746. Print.

Gazzaniga, Michael S.  Who’s In Charge? New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Jacobs, Alan.  Original Sin . New York: Harper One, 2008. Print.

  Kalpakgian, Mitchell.  The Virtues We Need Again . Chestnut Ridge, NY: Crossroad Pub. Co., 2012. Print.

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Original Sin

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The Development of  “the Doctrine of Original Sin” is a great topic in modern theology. Original sin is the doctrine that relates human nature’s moral and ethical degradation to the disobedience of God by the first humans. The Bible states is very clear that first transgression of God’s by man happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and as a result,  theology explains this as the ‘’Fall of humanity’. The doctrine of original sin still holds firm that every human conceived into the world is a victim of the fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves unless rescued by God.

There are diverse opinions among several Christian groups as to the literal understanding of the concept. While some agree to the doctrine, other Christians have completely dismissed it., Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam acknowledges that the introduction of sin into the human race has had influence to subsequent generations, but fails to acknowledge any inherited guilt or necessary corruption of man’s nature. However, G. K. Chesterton once noted that “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology that can be proved,” (Orthodoxy, chap. 2).He saw ‘’original sin’’ as the one the Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable and validated by 3500 years of human history. It was to a great extent through Augustine’s arguments against the Pelagians that the doctrine of “original sin” was formalized into Christian orthodoxy (Hampton, 2007). In this paper, we will have a depth analysis of the development of sin and different perceptions that relate to this topic.

Augustine’s perception

Augustine was instrumental in contribution to the development of the concept of original sin. The work of Augustine was based on a challenging stand from philosophers to Christianity. Philosophers have for a long time questioned the logic of how Christians would live in a sinful world if God was good (Wheeler, 2003). It was difficult for the philosophers to connect the idea of how descendants of a holy creature would end up with a sinful nature. Based on this argument, Augustine borrowed a lot from these philosophers to give his opinion on the origin of sin among the Christians. Augustine used the philosophers’ ideas to reinterpret the Bible and give his stand on the origin of sin. According to Augustine, the case of Adam and Eve is a good description of the fall of humanity from grace. Adam was trapped to sin by Eve and, as a result, they were punished by God (Dailey, 1966). Consequently, the human race was born in a sinful world and the sinful nature has continued since then. The work of Augustine has been claimed to be responsible for the idea of innate sin and guilt (Wheeler, 2003).

It is, however, prudent noting that Augustine did not devise a new concept of the origin sin. But instead, he used the scriptures from the New Testament to ascertain his claim of a new doctrine. His work was a continuation of different church fathers that existed from the second century onwards. Some of the fathers who contributed to this doctrine included; Origen, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Nevertheless, it is wise noting that Irenaeus never used any scripture in his definition while Origen used the interpretation from the book of Genesis to give his definition and concluded that human sin at will. Tertullian’s version is believed to be based on the Stoic philosophy.

Augustine is also believed to have used patchy parts of the New Testament to emphasize on his version of the origin of sin. Most of the letters that St. Paul wrote to different churches were his main chapters in the Bible that supported his view on the origin of sin. The letter of Paul to the Romans, for instance, is said to be one of the references that Augustine use to explain the origin of sin and guilt. It is, however, believed that his lack of knowledge in The Greek language made it difficult for him to get the righty translations of the Bible (Hampton, 2007). This is accused of being the reason he misunderstood some of the teachings that Paul taught the Roman church.

Augustine described that sin to human nature was brought to the world through Adam. According to Augustine’s understanding of the book of Roman, “Therefore . . . Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned”(Romans5:12). Augustine explains that sin was spread to other generations biologically from Adam to his descendants. He asserts that that sin is passed biologically through sex, and he hastily concludes that sexual act itself is a sin. This is however not the case since Paul in the later verses from the same book has a different opinion. “Just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous”(Roman5:19). From this scripture, Augustine’s interpretation is nullified since sexual relations were honorable and good to the Jewish society. It was therefore not correct for Augustine to conclude sexual act was a sin. Criminalizing of sexual acts by Augustine was a result of philosophical works from the different philosophers of the time (Dailey, 1966). Most philosophers were of the idea that sexual relations were physical, and anything not spiritual is, therefore, evil.

To support his argument, Augustine argues that Jesus was not born through normal biological concept. He is of the opinion that Jesus was immaculately conceived and thus he was free from sin. Augustine argued that Jesus was the son of God but through Mary, who had a human father, was also subject to the sinful nature. He argues that theologians had to find a way of separating Jesus from the sinful nature by proclaiming Mary as sinless.  Augustine stand was criticized by several theologians especially based on the innocent children who died at tender ages (Wheeler, 2003). It is wrong to deny such children the chance to eternal life as a result of their father’s sins.

The Augustine’s doctrine was contradictory to the Paul’s teachings to the many churches that he wrote his epistles. For instance, the stand on sex is very different from Paul and Augustine. According to Paul, sexual relations, especially among the married people, is not evil at all. The Bible in the book of Genesis describes sex as a part of physical pro- creation that God ordered the first man to continue (Gen: 1:31). The sexual acts are also defined holy in the book of Hebrew and other several epistles. Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians, urges the married couples not to defraud their partners conjugal rights (Hampton, 2007). It is, therefore, wise noting that Augustine’s point of view on the matter is not supported by either the new or the Old Testaments.  It will, therefore, be worth concluding that the doctrine of the origin of sin as stipulated by Augustine is a total contradiction of the scripture. Augustine’s misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Bible were overshadowed by dualism and prism that made him conclude that all physical aspects were evil and only what is spiritual qualifies to be sinless.

Origin of Sin and the Scripture

The book of Genesis chapter three is the main chapter that explains the genesis of a fall of humanity. In this chapter, the Bible explains a story of Adam and Eve as it happened in the Garden of Eden. It explains how Eve was convinced to eat fruit from the ‘’tree of knowledge of good and evil’’ (Wheeler, 2003). Eve later convinced Adam to eat fruit from the same tree, and this marked the beginning of sin in the world. The sinful nature was spread to subsequent generations and Adam and Eve are said to be the couple that brought about the sinful nature of the world.

The myth of Adam and Eve is a story that is well known to all Christians. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we understand exactly what transpired to conclude that Adam sinned. From this story, it is clear that there are necessary conditions that one must go against for one to be classified a sinner. Adam and Eve were against the command of God whose authority and right to command is supreme. The couples decided to eat fruit from a tree that God had commanded them not to eat. It is, therefore, worth concluding that a sinner is a person who goes against the command of God consciously (Dailey, 1966). So Adam sinned by agreeing to eat the forbidden fruit with clarity that it was against the will of God. Consequently, any Christian who goes against the will of God is considered a sinner.

Christians should not take literally the sin committed by Adam when he ate from the forbidden tree. Instead, most theologians have argued that this is a symbolic way to express the God’s command (Hampton, 2007). It is, however, worth thinking why God would test the obedience of his people. Adam was splendidly endowed and favored by God, and there it was essential that he make some sacrifices to show his love to God and creator. After the transgression, the relationship and intimacy that existed before came to abrupt end.

It is, however, imperative noting that the Catholics understanding of these scriptures is different from the Protestants understanding. Though they acknowledge that the readings in Genesis chapter three are not a historical account, they also believe that it is based on a historical event (Wheeler, 2003). On the other hand, the liberal Christian interpretation is of the belief that the story in Genesis three is a myth. Although it is a myth, liberal Christians are also aware that the myth had some spiritual significance. Some of these Christians believe that the events are fictitious and they never actually happened.

The different interpretation of these scriptures has resulted in the different understandings and conclusions. For instance, some argue that the story tells of the rise and not the fall of humanity. Proponents of this argument portray God as having created Adam and Eve as proto-humans. They argue that the first couple was not fully humans since they lacked the moral sense. By ordering man not to eat the forbidden fruit, God deceived man and made the difference between man and other animals. The man had to understand the concept of right or wrong while other animals had the liberty to walk all over the garden at will (Hampton, 2007).  It is a rise in humanity because they explored and developed the moral sense that was initially a concept only known to the gods. At the end of the story, Adam, and Eve advance from animal-like status with no moral sense into full humanity. In essence, the snake helped the first parents in developing their humanity.

In contrast, there is another set of Christians who believe that the story of Eve and Adam was the fall of humanity. It is argued that Adam, as translated to Hebrew, explains the collective concept of mankind. They refer to this story as a myth with some truths in it.  Before Adam and Eve were deceived to sin, they had access to food, happiness, and immunity to death. Although he was naked, his nakedness did not cause him any shame (Dailey, 1966). Proponents of the proposition that Adam and Eve indicate the beginning of fall in humanity also compare the snake to Satan. It is, therefore, the obligation of Christians to avoid the devil at all cost to ensure that they have an intact relationship with the creator. After eating the fruit, the mankind was from there onwards subject to death, hunger and other tribulations. As a result of sin, harmony between God and mankind is broken.

Also, the story of Adam and Eve is a symbolic narrative that explains the existence of the evil one in the life of a human. Proponents of this story as the origin of sin blame the man for his sinful nature. It is man’s actions that separated God from his people and forced Him to change the good plans he had for the mankind. It is believed this origin sin is spread to subsequent generations in the fallen human state. In essence, original sin is said to be contracted rather than being committed It is, therefore, essential concluding that original sin is not an act, but rather it is a state (Hampton, 2007). All the generations that are descendants of Adam and Eve, therefore, find themselves in a sinful state. Christians are therefore said to inherit sin and guilt from the first parents.

It is also worth noting that there are also other parts of the scripture that did not agree with the story as the origin of fall in humanity.   Authors of wisdom books were against the Yahwist philosophy that mankind sufferings and death was a result of the sinful nature of the forefathers. For instance, death was not a consequence of sin but instead it was a fact of man’s existence the prophets were convinced of a new era that would be free from cries, sufferings  distress and impulse, and the human race would not be subjects of premature deaths. From the Book of Isaiah, the Bible talks about a new earth and a new heaven where all the past things would not be remembered. The prophet prophesies of moments when there will be no cries and distress and moments when children would die only after reaching maturity age (Isaiah 65:17-20).

It is also worth noting that there were those who believed that there was no life after death. According to them, death was the final journey that separated man from sin and one would only die at an early age as a punishment for his sins or those of the ancestors. Consequently long life and prosperity were rewarded for good virtues. There is recognition of a relationship that exists between wickedness, prosperity, and death. The book of Psalms explains how the righteous will possess land and delight in the abundance of prosperity (Psalms 37:10).It is, however, prudent noting that the books of wisdom differed on the connotation from the book of Genesis that all human race are descendants, and Adam and consequently are sinners. Instead, they talk of the deceitful heart is the one that leads one to sin (Wheeler, 2003). Additionally, the books of wisdom did not view death as a consequence of sin but rather it was the work of the evil one.

Origin of Sin and Church Traditions

As aforementioned, the origin of sin is a topic that is well documented in both new and old testaments of the scripture. It is, however, prudent noting that the concept is as old as before the fourth century. Augustine’s doctrine on the origin of sin was fixed in the fifth century and was based on the work of church fathers that existed in the previous centuries (Hampton, 2007). Also, it is imperative to note that original sin was not introduced in the church tradition prior the Church Council of Carthage and Orange that happened during 418 A.D and 529A.D respectively.

The development of ‘’the doctrine of original sin’’ was to great extent the work of Clement of Alexandria. In his work, he proposed that sin and guilt were inherited from Adam. Nevertheless, he was of the opinion that this inheritance was a bad example but the sin was not. On the other hand, Irenaeus’s interpretation of Adam’s sin as narrated in the book of Genesis chapter three as simply disobedience and not as the beginning of a fall in humanity (Dailey, 1966).  He was of the opinion that sin was inevitable in a material world, and the only remedy to this problem was to liberate human from the material world. Though he used the story of Adam in his theology of redemption, Irenaeus did not agree that Adam had anything to do with the sinful human nature.

Other fathers who made a significant contribution to this doctrine are Justin Martyr, who is a good example of Christian apologists. In his works, he suggested that infant baptism was essential for Christians. According to Justin, infants are born with wayward inclinations and from sinful parents. He, however, asserts that Adam’s sin was just a description of a personal sin and believed that sin originated from free will. Justin argues that Adam was only weak to resist the evil one, but he still had the freedom to make choices (Wheeler, 2003). The only remedy to stop sinful nature to mankind is only through divine intervention.  Justin explained the origin of evil, which seduce humankind to sin, through a demonology.

Tertullian, however, contradicted with Justin and was very much against infant baptism. Although he acknowledged that Adam sinned, he saw no point of infant baptism since Adam’s sins were not in any way comparable to the infants (Hampton, 2007). Sin due to Adam did not guarantee forgiveness through baptism. Nevertheless, Origen was of the opinion that baptism was paramount to remove the stain of original sin. He emphasizes the importance of removing the original sin that should be washed off with water and spirit. His work was supported by the scripture from the book of Genesis and also the Psalms. ‘’Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me’’ (Psalms 51:5). From this scripture, Origen was convinced that original sin was real, and it was essential to cleanse it through infant baptism (Dailey, 1966).

The issue baptism among the infants was introduced as early as during the 3rd century in the early church. This concept was cemented on the fact that infants were born with original sin; this original sin required forgiveness, and that the Adam’s sin was physically transmitted through sexual intercourse as supported by the book of Psalms chapter 5. The early church was in agreement that we are all a sinful generation from Adam and out of this sin mankind was bound to die (Wheeler, 2003).

The Current Church and Original Sin

The current church also acknowledges the concept of original sin and how it is related to Adam and Eve as outlined in Genesis chapter three. Nevertheless, the current church argues that Jesus Christ redeemed his people from the original sin as it is stipulated in the New Testament. ‘’ where sin abounded, grace did more abound’ (Romans 5:20). Nevertheless, the modern church is also involved infant baptism to ensure that they are separated from the sinful nature of their parents. The issue of the holy trinity is also evident in the current church and is also related to the issue of original sin. The communion brings us closer to God thus giving an opportunity to reconcile and then our sins can be forgiven. In essence, baptism and Holy Trinity can be understood to restore the grace that is deprived of us by the original sin.

In conclusion, it is evident that the issue of original sin has been a thorny issue amongst scholars and other religious people. It is, however, imperative noting that this concept is based on the sanctifying grace comes from supernatural powers. The absence of supernatural being and the sanctifying grace makes the whole myth absurd and irrelevant. It is also prudent noting that different Christians have to contradict believes regarding the original sin (Dailey, 1966). For instance, the Catholics and Protestants have varied opinions regarding the concept as illustrated from the book of Genesis chapter three.

Nevertheless, it is wise concluding that the whole issue of the doctrine of the original sin is a valuable element of the Christian life. Humankind is deprived of grace and is subject to death simply because of the original sin. It is the wish of every person to live happily free of death and cries of distress (Hampton, 2007). To return to those days, humankind must reform and improve his relationship with God. Both the traditional church and the modern church have been categorical as far as the issue of original sins is concerned. It is imperative noting that Adam and Eve form the basis upon which both the traditional and the modern church base their argument on this sensitive matter.  It is in light of this doctrine that the modern church and Christians get the full meaning of what it means by sanctifying grace that is essential to Christian life.

Dailey, R. (1966). Book Review: Man and Sin: A Theological View. Theological Studies , 27 (3), 464-466. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/004056396602700316

Hampton, S. (2007). Simon Episcopius’ doctrine of original sin. By Mark A. Ellis. (American University Studies. Theology and Religion. Ser. vii, 240.) Pp. xi+215. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. £36.80. 0 8204 8109 2; 0740 0446. The Journal Of Ecclesiastical History , 58 (04). http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s0022046907001807

Wheeler, R. (2003). “Friends to Your Souls”: Jonathan Edwards’ Indian Pastorate and the Doctrine of Original Sin. Church History , 72 (04), 736. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s0009640700097365

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Guest Essay

Something Other Than Originalism Explains This Supreme Court

A photograph of the empty hearing room of the Supreme Court.

By Marc O. De Girolami

Mr. De Girolami is a law professor at the Catholic University of America. He is writing a book about traditionalism in constitutional law.

It is a sign of the polarizing nature of the current Supreme Court that even knowledgeable critics of its opinions make diametrically opposed arguments.

This week, for example, the former Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, in a new book, “Reading the Constitution,” chides the current court’s approach to the law, which he says fixates on the text of the Constitution and attaches too much significance to the meanings of its provisions at the time they were ratified. If only, Justice Breyer urges, justices would soften this “originalist” approach and take into account how “our values as a society evolve over time” — including by respecting the “longstanding practice” of the court and other organs of government.

Justice Breyer’s criticism follows on the heels of that of another judge, Kevin Newsom of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. In a talk last month at Harvard Law School, Judge Newsom made the opposite argument: He criticized the Supreme Court, when considering matters such as handgun regulation and abortion rights, for being insufficiently faithful to originalism and overly attuned to social practices that occurred or continued after constitutional ratification. Such traditions, he warned, “have no demonstrable connection to the original, written text.”

The current Supreme Court is the object of considerable controversy and confusion. To understand its decisions properly, especially over the past three or four years, the key is to realize that each critic is half right. Justice Breyer is right that the Constitution should be interpreted, in part, in light of practices that persisted after its ratification, but wrong to think that the current court is not doing this. Judge Newsom is right that the current court is doing this, but wrong to think that it should not be.

This court is conventionally thought of as originalist. But it is often more usefully and accurately understood as what I call “ traditionalist ”: In areas of jurisprudence as various as abortion, gun rights, free speech, religious freedom and the right to confront witnesses at trial, the court — led in this respect by Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh — has indicated time and again that the meaning and law of the Constitution is often to be determined as much by enduring political and cultural practices as by the original meaning of its words.

The fact that the Supreme Court seems to be finding its way toward an open embrace of traditionalism should be broadly celebrated. To be sure, the court’s traditionalism has played a role in many decisions that have been popular with political conservatives, such as the Dobbs ruling in 2022 that overturned Roe v. Wade. But it is not a crudely partisan method. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama nominee, has used it in a decision for the court — and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump nominee, has expressed some skepticism about it.

Traditionalism may not be partisan, but it is political: It reflects a belief — one with no obvious party valence — that our government should strive to understand and foster the common life of most Americans. The Supreme Court has relied on traditionalism to good effect for many decades, though the justices have seldom explicitly acknowledged this. Traditionalism should be favored by all who believe that our legal system ought to be democratically responsive, concretely minded (rather than abstractly minded) and respectful of the shared values of Americans over time and throughout the country.

To get a better sense of what traditionalism is, it is useful to compare it with the two dominant approaches to constitutional interpretation in adjudication: originalism and what is often called “living constitutionalism.”

Sometimes the Constitution’s words are not clear and their application to a particular issue is also unclear. Consider the line “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” from the First Amendment. Judges face choices about how to determine what exactly Congress (and today, by extension, the states) is being forbidden from doing.

One option is to discern the meaning that those words would have had at the time of their adoption, using ratification-era dictionaries, contemporary documents by learned authorities, databases of usage, other linguistic and legal sources and perhaps activities closely confined to the founding period. That is originalism.

Another option is to understand those words by recourse to a high ideal or abstraction. For example, a judge might take that passage of the First Amendment to reflect a principle of separation of church and state and then apply that principle in light of the judge’s moral views or perceptions of contemporary moral standards in the case at hand. That is living constitutionalism.

Traditionalism offers a third option. Here, one would look at specific political and cultural practices — the activities of the organs of government and of individuals and groups across the country over long periods of time — to help determine constitutional meaning and law. For example, one might observe that the practice of legislative prayer (prayer that opens legislative assemblies) was pervasive long before and at the time of the First Amendment’s ratification, and that it continued for centuries afterward. For that reason, one would conclude that legislative prayer is unlikely to violate the prohibition against an “establishment of religion.”

The intuition is straightforward: It would be odd to think that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits legislative prayer if legislative prayer was widely practiced before, during and for centuries after ratification. Were we supposed to put a stop to a practice many showed no sign of wanting to stop, and indeed, that a great many people were eager to continue and did continue? Sometimes, yes, moral reflection or changed circumstance prompts a re-evaluation of our practices. But in general, we do what we mean and we mean what we do, and constitutional law takes its shape accordingly.

In its 2021-2022 term, traditionalism was the Supreme Court’s preferred method in a number of high-profile cases. Consider New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, a 2022 decision that concerned a New York law that strictly limited the carrying of guns outside the home. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, held that New York’s requirement to demonstrate a “special need for self-protection” before the state would issue a handgun permit for self-defense outside the home violated the Second Amendment.

The “historical tradition” of handgun regulation, Justice Thomas argued, established the limits of the right to keep and bear arms. He noted that the practices of regulation “from before, during and even after the founding” of the United States indicated “no such tradition in the historical materials,” which suggested that a long, unbroken line of tradition, stretching from medieval England to early 20th century America, was at odds with New York’s law. The opinion granted the existence of scattered 19th-century regulations akin to New York’s, but argued that these were dwarfed by the dearth of analogous traditions of gun regulation over time and across state and local communities.

One can see a similar traditionalist approach in Dobbs, where Justice Alito, writing for the court, examined the government practices of abortion regulation before, during and after ratification of the 14th Amendment, concluding that there is no constitutional right to abortion in part because there is “an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion” that persisted “from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.”

Likewise, in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court decided in 2022 that a public school football coach who prayed on the field after games was not in violation of the Establishment Clause by holding, in an opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, that this was not analogous to prayer practices long considered Establishment Clause violations. And in the unanimously decided case Houston Community College System v. Wilson, the court in 2022 held that “long settled and established practice” determined that elected bodies do not violate their members’ freedom of speech when they censure one of their members.

For some critics, the invocation of “tradition” sets off alarm bells. After all, our country looks very different today, demographically and otherwise, than it did hundreds of years ago, when political power was held by relatively few and denied to others for illegitimate reasons. These critics ask how well traditionalism deals with the contemporary realities of American democracy.

The answer to this legitimate question is: Compared to what? Consider again originalism and living constitutionalism. These approaches, different as they are from each other, are both suited to elite actors working at the nerve centers of legal and political power. Both depend on the preferences and findings of the legal professional class. Originalism privileges the centuries-old writings of illustrious figures of the founding or Reconstruction era as determined by today’s most brilliant legal historians and theorists. Living constitutionalism privileges the high ideals of today’s most prominent academics and judges.

Traditionalism, by contrast, looks to the ordinary practices of the American people across time and throughout the country. In democracies, people obey the law because they believe it is legitimate, and the law acquires legitimacy when the people believe they have had a hand, direct or indirect, in shaping it. True, the practices of “the people” may be repudiated or upended — no political tradition is perfect — but while they endure, their origin in popular sovereignty is a presumptive reason to preserve them.

Tradition, in the law and elsewhere, illuminates a basic fact of human life: We admire and want to unite ourselves with ways of being and of doing that have endured for centuries before we were born and that we hope will endure long after we are gone. At its core, this is what constitutional traditionalism is about: a desire for excellence, understood as human achievement over many generations and in many areas of life, that serves the common good of our society.

Not all traditions are worthy of preservation. Some are rightly jettisoned as the illegitimate vestiges of days gone by. But many, and perhaps most, deserve our solicitude and need a concerted defense.

Traditions can be fragile things. To the extent that a revitalized practice of constitutional interpretation is possible, it will depend on determining the content of the Constitution with an eye to their sustenance and restoration.

Marc O. De Girolami ( @MarcODeGirolami ) is a law professor at the Catholic University of America, where he is a co-director of the Center for Law and the Human Person.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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    1. Theories of Original Sin. I will begin by providing a brief sketch of the various lines along which the central claims of DOS (i.e. S1 and S2) have been fleshed out. 7 The purpose of doing so is to help make it clear where on the landscape of possible views the views developed in Sections 2 and 3 will fall.

  17. The Original Sin in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: [Essay

    In Hawthorne's intricately woven tale The Scarlet Letter, his characters create a parallel theme with the Biblical story of Original Sin. By examining the characters and their interactions and insights about each other, one can examine the symbolic parallels with the Garden of Eden.

  18. Augustine's teachings on human nature

    Augustine claims that there is a human nature which is corrupted by original sin. Augustine's theory was born from his contemplating the origin of sin. By observing himself and others, he thought humans had a natural predisposition to sin, which for him raised the question of where that came from, since it would seem to contradict God's ...

  19. Analysis of O'Connor's The River Through Augustine's Concept of The

    Original sin in the story is most evidently found in the Ashfields' household. The smell of dead cigarette butts, the emptiness of meaningless artwork, and the negative effects of alcohol plague their home with evidence of a sinful lifestyle.

  20. Original Sin Essays: Examples, Topics, & Outlines

    Original Sin and Human Nature. PAGES 3 WORDS 949. Augustine derived from Plato, a perspective that the human self exists as a thinking immaterial soul. Plato stood firm in believing that after dying, the souls with the greatest love for the forms would rise and ponder over eternal truths. This to Plato was a kind of heaven, existing beyond time ...

  21. Sample Essay on Augustine View of Original Sin

    The history of Christian doctrine on Original sin is long and diverse. It has varied biblical, theological, and scientific approaches. Original sin remains important teaching and especially in Catholicism. It is intimately related to baptism and therefore an important topic of discussion. Catholic theology justification of Infant baptism is founded on original sin. Augustine as

  22. Original Sin

    Original sin is the doctrine that relates human nature's moral and ethical degradation to the disobedience of God by the first humans. The Bible states is very clear that first transgression of God's by man happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and as a result, theology explains this as the ''Fall of humanity'.

  23. Original sin

    Original sin. The Catholic Church teaches that all humans are born with original sin as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. This means that all humans are born with the urge to sin and disobey ...

  24. Something Other Than Originalism Explains This Supreme Court

    Mr. De Girolami is a law professor at the Catholic University of America. He is writing a book about traditionalism in constitutional law. It is a sign of the polarizing nature of the current ...