"Original" Sin

The "doctrine of original sin" came from Augustine, who believed that sin passes from parent to child just like any other inherited characteristic. That Augustine came to this conclusion has been explained by a translation error in the Bible he used:

Augustine's Latin text of Rom. 5:12 read in quo, which means "in whom." Hence to Augustine it meant "in Adam." The entire human race fell in the sin of Adam and all are therefore born into the world as unregenerate lost sinners. The Greek text reads which means "because of." As such it connects the fall of Adam with the sinful state of the race but does not specify the nature of the connection.1

There is, of course, something that happened with the events of Gen. 3 that had the result that we are all guilty of sin. The world became "fallen." Because of that fallenness, we who are born into the world sin. The theological issue here, however, is in explaining the mechanism of that process. Augustine thought that sin was transmitted biologically--that because Adam sinned, sin was transmitted to all of his descendants through genes. Remember comedian Flip Wilson famous line, "The Devil made me do it"? Wilson was expressing Augustine's doctrine of "original sin."

It is far more biblical to describe sin is a learned behavior. We do not inherit a "sin gene" from our parents. Rather, we learn to sin because the world is utterly fallen and completely permeated with sin.

Therefore, we cannot blame our ancestors, but only ourselves, for our being sinners. We fully deserve destruction because we have no one to blame but ourselves. The fact that we all sin (1 John 1:8-10) is because we have all chosen the path of sin (Rom 3:10ff).

It is for this reason that we need to exercise care when attempting to justify behaviors and ethics of a relational nature (e.g., "nuclear families," slavery, political structures) by seeking examples in biblical texts after Gen. 3. Our only example of right relationships (be they human-to-human or human-to-God) is in Gen. 1-2, before the fallenness took place.


1 Bernard Ramm, Offense To Reason: A Theology of Sin (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 50. Return