Definition of Terms:
The theological concept of ‘Original Sin‘ pertains to the inherent wounded nature inherited by all humans as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. This wounded nature gives rise to what is known as the “wounds of original sin.” These wounds symbolize the fallen state of humanity and are the root cause of human suffering and imperfections. These wounds are;
- Concupiscence: The inclination or tendency towards sin and disordered desires, as mentioned earlier.
- Ignorance: The human intellect is clouded and limited in its understanding of divine truths.
- Malice: The presence of evil and moral imperfection within human actions and intentions.
- Weakness: Human beings experience weakness and vulnerability to sin due to the fallen nature.
These wounds are not to be confused with sin itself. For example, Concupiscence is the tendency towards sin and disordered desires, which gives rise to ‘temptation’. There have been Christians who have confused Concupiscence with actual sin. Many historians have noted that the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther seemed overly concerned that any stray thought he may have had was a mortal sin (see Heiko A. Oberman’s: Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. Yale University, 1989). Luther’s neuroticism has led many modern scholars such as Erik Erikson, to diagnose him with depression, bipolar, or some other related mental illness. Luther’s plight, however, is a sympathetic one as a great many well-meaning people have found themselves stricken with guilt over perceived faults. This view is sometimes the result of misreading certain Bible verses such as Matthew 5:27-28:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
However, this verse could also be understood to be referring to someone who dwells on lustful thoughts, rather than someone who momentarily has a stray thought that they subsequently banish. It is the willful intent to give into lustful thoughts that is a sin, not the uncalled appearance of a stray thought. Sin is an intention of the will, whereas banishing the thought as soon as it occurs is an opportunity for grace. Christ Himself exemplifies this during His “Temptation in the Wilderness” where He resists the devil’s temptations by quoting scripture and reaffirming His allegiance to God (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).
Other Christians have denied Original Sin altogether, or at least that it has had a lasting effect on Christians. The fifth-century Pelagian heretics rejected the notion that all humans inherit a sinful nature from Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. They believed that individuals are born morally neutral and have the ability to choose between good and evil without being inherently predisposed to sin. Pelagians stressed the absolute free will of human beings, asserting that people can choose to do good or evil based on their own decisions and actions, and thus achieve salvation through their own moral efforts, without the need for God’s grace or intervention. Pelagianism was widely condemned as a heresy by various early Church Councils, including the Council of Carthage in 418 AD. The Catholic Church upheld the doctrine of original sin and the necessity of divine grace for salvation, as stressed by Saint Augustine, who vehemently opposed Pelagianism.
There have also been many people who misunderstand the concept of Original Sin as a punishment. They reject the notion that all of humanity should be “punished” for the actions of one man. Original sin, however, is not a punishment for other people’s sins, but a consequence of their sins. The Catechism says;
“original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’—a state and not an act” (CCC 404).
Adam’s sin caused a fundamental change in man’s relationship with God and a fundamental change in nature itself (cf. Rom. 8:19–22). Unlike personal sin, original sin is not an evil action committed by each individual, but an absence of God’s grace in our souls. The reason this absence of grace is called original sin is because it is a consequence of the very first sin humans committed. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they lost the gift of God’s grace that protected them from death and suffering. After losing this grace, they could not pass it down to their descendants because one cannot pass down something that one no longer has. Adam and Eve’s disobedience corrupted our human nature and made it possible for humans to suffer and die specifically because our nature lacks grace. As an analogy to help understand this concept, one can liken it to a person who inherited a fortune from one of their ancestors, but greedily squandered it, leaving nothing to pass on to future generations.
The Good News is Christ does not leave us penniless; “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). We lay hold of this inheritance by ceasing to be children of Adam and becoming adopted children of God and inheritors of Christ, who is the New Adam: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22)… Christ is the new Adam who leads us to new life. It is through Baptism that we enter into the Church (Col. 2:11–12), joining the Bride of Christ and becoming adopted sons and daughters of God (Matt 3:17). Thus, Baptism “removes” original sin and fills our souls with grace (Acts 22:16, 1 Pet. 3:21, Acts 2:38–39).
“Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned”
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”
“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”
“In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
1 Corinthians 15:21-22:
“For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
“And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.”
1 Peter 3:21:
“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Church Father Quotes:
“‘They had need,’ [the Shepherd] said, ‘to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life. These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the kingdom of God. For,’ he said, ‘before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he puts mortality aside and receives life. The seal, therefore, is the water [of baptism]. They go down into the water [spiritually] dead, and come out of it alive’” (The Shepherd 9:16:2).
“For the first man, disobedience resulted in his expulsion from paradise. It was not as if there were any evil in the tree of knowledge; but from disobedience man drew labor, pain, grief, and, in the end, he fell prostrate in death” (Ad Autolycus 2:25 [A.D. 181]).’
“But this man . . . is Adam, if the truth be told, the first-formed man. . . . We, however, are all from him; and as we are from him, we have inherited his title [of sin]” (Against Heresies 3:23:2 [inter A.D. 180-190]).’
“Indeed, through the first Adam we offended God by not observing his command. Through the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, and are made obedient even unto death [Rom. 8:36, 2 Cor. 5:18-19]. For we were debtors to none other except to him, whose commandment we transgressed at the beginning” (ibid., 5:16:3.)
“On account of his [Adam’s] transgression man was given over to death; and the whole human race, which was infected by his seed, was made the transmitter of condemnation” (The Testimony of the Soul 3:2 [inter A.D. 197-200]).
“‘Because by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection’ [Romans 5:17]. Here by the word ‘man,’ who consists of a body, as we have often shown already, I understand that it is a fact that Christ had a body. And if we are all made to live in Christ as we were made to die in Adam, then, as in the flesh we were made to die in Adam, so also in the flesh are we made to live in Christ” (Against Marcion 5:9:5 [inter A.D. 207-212]).
“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants [Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:15-16; Acts 2:38-39]. For the apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stain of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” [Titus 3:5] (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 244]).
“Everyone in the world falls prostrate under sin. And it is the Lord who sets up those who are cast down and who sustains all who are falling. In Adam all die, and thus the world falls prostrate and requires to be set up again, so that in Christ all may be made to live” (Homilies on Jeremiah 8:1 [post A.D. 244]).
“Anyone who would say that even infants who pass from this life without participation in the sacrament [of baptism] shall be made alive in Christ truly goes counter to the preaching of the apostle and condemns the whole Church, where there is great haste in baptizing infants because it is believed without doubt that there is no other way at all in which they can be made alive in Christ” (Letter to Jerome 166:7:21 [A.D. 415]).
“Adam, the first man, altered his course, and through sin death came into the world. . . . When Adam transgressed, sin reached out to all men” [Romans 5:12]. (Discourses Against the Arians 1:51 [inter A.D. 358-362]).
“Indeed, one man’s sin, that of Adam, had the power to bring death to the world. If by the transgression of one man, death reigned over the world, why should not life more fittingly reign by the righteousness of one man [Jesus]? If they were cast out of paradise because of the tree and the eating thereof, shall not the believers now enter more easily into paradise because of the tree of Jesus [the Cross]? If that man first formed out of the earth ushered in universal death, shall not he that formed him out of the earth bring in eternal life, since he himself is life?” [John 10:10, 14:6] (Catechetical Lectures 13:1 [A.D. 350])
Ulrich Zwingli, Protestant Reformer:
“But if an infant is to be baptized, since he cannot himself confess faith, he must have the promise which counts him within the Church. The promise is, that the Gentiles, when they have obtained the knowledge of God, and true religion, shall be just as much of the church and people of God as the Hebrews. . . .
Since, therefore, the children of the Hebrews have always been counted with the Church with their parents, and the divine promise is sure, it is clear that the children of Christians belong to the Church of Christ just as much as their parents.”
-Huldreich Zwingli, The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli, ed. William John Hinke (Philadelphia: Heidelberg Press, 1922), 2.194–95.