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Essay donated by Gerald Ostroot

Transferring sin: Original sin, as
interpreted from an Evangelical viewpoint

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"All mankind was in Adam participating in his sin and bearing the resultant guilt."

That is the way that Charles C. Ryrie describes original sin in "A Synopsis of bible doctrine" included in the Ryrie Study Bible (NASB) page 1958. The Scripture reference is from Romans and is the key reference used to justify the existence of original sin.

Romans 5:12: therefore, just as sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned - (NASB)

Psalms 51:5 is also used as a proof text.

Psalms 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (NASB)

Sin is not mentioned in the first three chapters of Genesis. Original sin is not mentioned in the entire Bible. The mechanism by which original sin becomes a part of the human race has been the subject of lively debate and has caused much controversy. It has spawned some very creative efforts to explain how it happened and continues to happen. The thrust of the arguments says that we are not just the offspring of Adam, but we were also a part of Adam and participated in his sin. That interpretation is justified in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 7:9-10: One might even say that Levi himself (the ancestor of all Jewish priests, of all who received tithes) paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham.

For although Levi wasnít born yet, the seed from which he came was in Abraham when he paid tithes to Melchizedek. (Living Bible)

Because we are Adamís seed, we participate equally in his sin and become equally guilty. Original sin is shared equally among all people. In that view, original sin is not transferred to us. Rather, it is shared among us.

The same conclusion is reached by another rational. That approach says Adam and Eve were originally created immortal and only became mortal when they sinned. That sin resulted in our human nature being changed into a sin nature that has been passed along to the entire human race. Once again, it is not Adamís sin that transfers to usóit is a sin nature that we inherited from Adam.

Those are the easy answers but there is another possibility.

In spite of the controversy, all explanations agree on one pointóoriginal sin is part of the human race. 1 The fact that Adam (and Eve) sinned and started it all is not in question. 1 That conclusion has been solidly entrenched in the Christian tradition since the Council of Carthage in 418 CE. Donít misunderstand me. I did not say that original sin is biblical. I said that it is based upon the decision of an official Church Council. Whether or not it is biblical depends upon how we read the Bible.

The above biblical verses were written by Jewish writers who were very well versed in Hebrew theology. The concept of original sin was not known in their time. It did not come into the Christian church until the time of St. Augustine in the fifth century CE. It was not a part of Jewish theology and is now rejected by them. 2 Why, then, would Jewish biblical writers of the first century CE write verses supporting original sin? The answer is that those verses do not support the concept of original sin when interpreted in their theology. When read carefully, the verse from Romans says that sin entered into the world , not into Adam or into mankind. It says that Adamís actions (and Eveís) loosed sin into the world and made sin active in our lives. (Not necessarily as the person of Satan) That is the Jewish interpretation and it should be remembered when reading Paulís writings. In the verse from Psalms David says that he was conceived and born in (among or surrounded by) sin, not with sin in him. Jewish theology says that children are born pure, completely free from sin.

That the actions of this first couple did not constitute sin is clearly stated in Genesis. We can sin only because we are moral agentsówe know the difference between right and wrong. Without that knowledge we could not be guilty of sin. The animals do not sin because they are not morally responsible. They do not understand the concepts of good and evil. That was the condition of Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit. They were, like the animals, naked and unashamed.

Genesis 3:5: "For God knows that in the day you eat from it you will become like God, knowing good from evil." (NASB)

At this point they could not yet distinguish between good and evil. They did not know that disobeying God was wrong. That condition changed immediately after they ate the fruit. It was only after they ate that they became morally responsible. It was only after they ate that they could know the difference between good and evil and could become sinners. Thus their earlier disobedience was not sin. God did not label their disobedience as sin. Sin is not introduced in this third chapter of Genesis. It is introduced in the next chapter. The story of Cain and Abel is the explanation of what sin is and how it happens and what the consequences are. The basic Christian premise of original sin is not supported by this point of view. The entire question about transferring sin disappears from this event when no sin has been committed.

Iím not suggesting which view is right and which ones are faulty. None of these views support the idea that sin can be transferred. Lets go one more step and put this question in a broader context. None of the above interpretations are necessary for our salvation. That is the real issue. Letís not let these side issues divide us. We can agree to disagree. Letís not be distracted from our real purpose.

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Related essays:

  1. See Genesis 3: The snake, Adam and Eve: The "fall" or "rise" of humanity" on this website for an alternate explanation of the "sin" of Adam and Eve.
  2. "Birth and the first month of life,"Second paragraph, Judaism 101, at

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Originally posted: 2007-NOV-11
Latest update: 2007-NOV-11
Gerald Ostroot, at: [email protected]

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