The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Original sin

Essentially, Original sin is the doctrine, shared in one form or another by most Christian churches, that the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden changed or damaged human nature, such that all human beings since then are innately predisposed to sin, and are powerless to overcome this predisposition without divine intervention. There are wide-ranging disagreements among Christian groups as to the exact understanding of this doctrine, and some Christian groups deny it altogether.


Original sin in Judaism

Classical Biblical and Orthodox Judaism view

The concept of original sin is probably derived from the episode in the Book of Genesis and is known as the Chet HaRishon (in Hebrew) (the "First Sin of Adam and Eve). According to the account in Genesis 1-3, Adam and Eve lived in a state of intimate fellowship with God, and enjoyed a perfect harmony with one another and with nature. They were, however, forbidden by God to eat of the fruit of "the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil."

God first warns Adam:

God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and watch it. God gave the man a commandment, saying, 'You may definitely eat from every tree of the garden. But from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, do not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you will definitely die'. (Genesis 2:15-17) [1]

The serpent persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey this commandment and they felt newly-shamed by their nakedness:

The serpent was the most cunning of all the wild beasts that God had made. [The serpent] asked the woman, 'Did God really say that you may not eat from any of the trees of the garden?' The woman replied to the serpent, 'We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden. But of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God said, 'Do not eat it, and do not [even] touch it, or else you will die.' The serpent said to the woman, 'You will certainly not die! Really, God knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and desirable to the eyes, and that the tree was attractive as a means to gain intelligence. She took some of its fruit and ate [it]. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate [it]. The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7) [2]

God is shocked and outraged by what they did and curses the serpent:

God called to the man, and He said, 'Where are you [trying to hide]?' 'I heard Your voice in the garden,' replied [the man], 'and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.' [God] asked, 'Who told you that you are naked? Did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?' The man replied, 'The woman that you gave to be with me - she gave me what I ate from the tree.' God said to the woman, 'What is this that you have done?' The woman replied, 'The serpent seduced me and I ate [it].' God said to the serpent, 'Because you did this, cursed are you more than all the livestock and all the wild beasts. On your belly you shall crawl, and dust you shall eat, all the days of your life. I will plant hatred between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike you in the head, and you will strike him in the heel. (Genesis 3:9-15) [3]

This led to several dire consequences, including the loss of intimate fellowship with God, man's susceptibility to physical death, a distortion of the relationship between the man and the woman, and the loss of man's harmonious relationship with nature. God curses both Adam (representing "Mankind") and Eve (representing "Womankind") and by implication their future descendants and expels them from the Garden of Eden:

To the woman He said, 'I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy. It will be with anguish that you will give birth to children. Your passion will be to your husband, and he will dominate you.' To Adam He said, 'You listened to your wife, and ate from the tree regarding which I specifically gave you orders, saying, 'Do not eat from it.' The ground will therefore be cursed because of you. You will derive food from it with anguish all the days of your life. It will bring forth thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread. Finally you will return to the ground, for it was from [the ground] that you were taken. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.' The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life. God made leather garments for Adam and his wife and He clothed them. God said, 'Man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hand and also taking from the Tree of Life. He [can] eat it and live forever!' God banished [man] from the Garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove away the man, and stationed the cherubim at the east of Eden, along with the revolving sword blade, to guard the path of the Tree of Life. (Genesis 3:16-24) [4]

All these consequences changed the world and were 'inherited' by Adam and Eve's descendents. However, people are not sinful by default, but all of history is a struggle to bring humanity back to the level Adam and Eve were on before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Growing into the role God planned for humanity required leaving Eden as an atonement for that act of disobeying God's command. The sin of Adam and Eve was the disobeying of God's command not to eat of the fruit.

It is important to note that according to this tradition, Adam and Eve should have lived forever had they not sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. When God warned Adam that he would die should he (Adam) eat from the Tree "God gave the man a commandment, saying, 'You may definitely eat from every tree of the garden. But from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, do not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you will definitely die'" (Genesis 2:16-17) [5] the first "casualty" of this curse was their son Cain who mudered Abel:

God said to Cain, 'Why are you so furious? Why are you depressed? If you do good, will there not be special privilege? And if you do not do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it.' Cain said [something] to his brother Abel. Then, when they happened to be in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. God asked Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?' 'I do not know,' replied [Cain]. 'Am I my brother's keeper?' God said, 'What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is screaming to Me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground that opened its mouth to take your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer give you of its strength. You will be restless and isolated in the world. (Genesis 4:7-12) [6]

Jewish tradition views the serpent as evil incarnate, probably the Satan ("accuser" in Hebrew).

Reform and Conservative Judaism's views

The more modern liberal branches of Jews such as Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism sees no "evil" other than the evil actions of human beings so they disagree with Christian traditions that identify the serpent with Satan. Eve's only transgression was that she disobeyed God's order. It is also clear from the Hebrew that Adam was with her the entire time and at no time stopped her. Therefore, it is incorrect to blame Eve alone. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and had to live ordinary, human lives. In other words, they had to "leave home" and grow up and live as responsible human beings. If they had never eaten from the forbidden tree, they would have never discovered their capacity to act with free will in the world. And according to the Jewish tradition, God doesn't want human beings who have no choice but to always choose to do what is good and right. When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden, they were like robots, without free will. Therefore, it was actually a blessing to have been expelled! Adam and Eve were the first humans to act on their free will--and this is ultimately what God wanted!

Original sin in The New Testament

The New Testament teaching on original sin is briefly summarized by the Apostle Paul, who wrote: "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned." (Rom 5:12 NRSV).

The experience of original sin, and the spiritual pain it produces in the one who wishes to please God, is dramatically summed up by Paul in the following verses: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:15-24)

The solution to this dilemma is stated by Paul in these terms: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4)

Though the New Testament doctrine of original sin is most clearly expressed by Paul, it is also implicit in the teachings of Jesus: for example in such words as: "And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." (Mark 10:18) and "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5).

Original Sin in Catholicism

Scholastic theologians believed that original sin is passed through each generation of human being, because it affects the physical and material nature of man. These theologians teach that the soul is infused by God into the fertilized egg, which "stains" (macula) the soul. The teaching of the Immaculate Conception states that this staining was prevented in the conception of Jesus by Mary.

Original Sin in Eastern Orthodoxy

The Orthodox Church's teaching on Original Sin agrees strongly with the view presented above as being "Old Testament". In addition, the Church teaches that the specific act of the Original Sin is not the responsibility of all humanity. Instead, the consequences of that act exist and plague the world. Original Sin creates an environment within which it is simply not possible without direct Divine intervention for a human being to avoid some sort of actual committed sin some time in his or her life. In essence, it is a type of combined "spiritual environmental pollution" and "spiritual illness".

The Orthodox Church rejects the very common Western concept that Original Sin is some sort of inherited guilt. People are not presumed to bear personal responsibility for the acts of Adam.

Original Sin in the Unification Church

Genesis 2:17 is a key Bible verse for discussions about the fall of man.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (KJV)

Even though Adam and Eve are described as eating the fruit, they did not "die" immediately (in the physical sense). According to the Unification Church interpretation, they "died" in a spiritual sense: their relationship with God was cut off.

According to Unification Theology, Adam and Eve sinned by having a sexual relationship before they had reached perfection. The "fruit of knowledge" was a symbol of Eve's sexual love, which could be either good (if centered on God) or evil (if not). Eve was initially tempted into sin by the Archangel Lucifer, who seduced her. The reason Adam and Eve hid their "lower parts" after the Original Sin is similar to the reason a child having swiped cookies might hide their hands ("I have concealed by transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom." -- Job 31:33)

Original Sin in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS Church) teaches no doctrine known as "Original Sin." They do however, teach a doctrine known as the Fall of Adam, which is that the actions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden brought about spiritual and physical death. Latter-day Saints believe that separation from God (spiritual death) was an intended part of the plan of God. The main objective of the plan being that mankind should be tested (see Abraham). Because separation from God was necessary, Latter-day Saints see the transgression of Adam and Eve as a great and necessary sacrifice, rather than a "mistake". Adam and Eve were cast out of God's presence, and suffered physical pain and death after committing the transgression. Their choice to enter that fallen state willingly meant that the God's "Plan of Happiness" could proceed as intended, and was inline with his will.

The Second Article of Faith states: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression." Thus, Latter-day Saints generally reject the notion of original sin in favor of the doctrine of the Fall, as explained. Furthermore, they hold that there is nothing inherently wrong with human bodies or spirits. They see the separation from God, combined with the temptations of Satan as the cause of mankind's inclination to sin. Additionally, they do not belive in "infant baptism" (see Moroni 8 ) because they believe that children are still innocent until the "age of accountability" and is therfore a mockery. Additionally, all children who die before reaching that age will be returned to God's presence.

Mormons do not believe that the transgression in Eden was of a sexual nature - nor that it could have been as God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the Earth. This implies that sexual relations between our progenitors were sanctioned by Him, and that they were de facto married by God in Eden. Likewise, Eve is not blamed for being the first to partake of the fruit, but rather celebrate her wisdom in recognizing that her descendents would have to be born, live, and make righteous choices on Earth, learn to repent through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and pass through death, in order to eventually be fully redeemed and return to live with God again. Taken from the idea that it is better to pass through the sorrow of this life, in order to know the Good from the Evil, rather than to exist in a perpetual state of innocence and stagnant ignorance. (see 2nd Nephi 2:11 )

See also

External link

  • Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Cosmic Fall

Last updated: 05-01-2005 16:18:47