A few years ago, I wrote an essay against the doctrine of original sin. Since then, my position has been refined a little, or at the very least I can describe my objections to the doctrine better. What follows is a revision of the original post.
One of the most common beliefs in the church today is that people are born sinners. Popularized by Augustine, it quickly became the dominant position of the church, a trend which continues today largely thanks to the efforts of John Calvin. His fingerprints remain on the teaching today in the form of the T in the TULIP acronym, “Total Depravity.”
The problem with this teaching’s popularity is that it is very wrong.
First, let us begin with some of the passages used to support the original sin doctrine. You will discover that these are “mystery passages” that only support original sin if original sin is assumed from the outset and read into the verse. I want to get one of the easier ones out of the way first. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is one of the verses advocates of this doctrine use. This is one of their weaker passages, as a plain reading of the verse says simply, “Everyone has sinned.” It makes no comment how often they sin or when they began to sin. The weakness here is in the “plain reading” I gave above. Who is “everyone”? Is it all without exception, or are there some exceptions to “all”? At least one exception comes to mind, as it well should. Jesus is part of all, yet He did not sin (see Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was made in all things like His people. He was born with the same flesh anyone else has, with the same desires and weaknesses that come with it.
But if there is one exception, might there be others? I answer this question later.
Another popular passage is in Psalm 51, verse 5 to be exact. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The psalmist is the passive subject in this verse. He was shapen in iniquity, it was not a choice he made. He was conceived in sin; he did not conceive himself. There is a sinner in this passage, but it is the mother. Context matters. In Psalm 51, David is confessing his sin to God. He traces history of sin all the way back to his conception, saying that even from that instant he has been in a world saturated by sin, and this has always been true.
A third passage is Romans 5:12 (and 18): “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” and “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” This is another of those “mystery passages” because the concept of being born a sinner or born with a sinful nature is nowhere in these verses. Sin entered the world because one person sinned. Because he sinned, he died. Furthermore, those who follow his example in sin also die. “death passed to all men because all have sinned.” Now, it is possible to take your understanding of this verse too far. Everything on this earth dies, whether or not it has a moral character. Animals die, plants die, insects die. Things run down. So physical death cannot be seen as immediate evidence of individual sin. As for the second verse, Calvinists and other original sin proponents ALWAYS take this verse ONLY as far as it suits their purposes and NEVER take the verse as a whole to the conclusion their logic demands. Paul gives two options for men:
- By the offense of one, judgment comes to all men
- By the righteousness of one, the free gift comes to all men
Note that both judgment to condemnation and the free gift come to all men. Unless one wishes to hold to both inherited sin and universal salvation, there is a problem. Let us therefore approach the answer from reverse. We know from the Scriptures that not all will receive the free gift (there are some who will be cast into hell). Whether or not they receive the gift ends up being their choice (I’m not going to go far into free will versus determinism here.) The gift is offered to all, but not all will take it. Likewise, whether or not a person receives judgment depends on the choices they make, not the circumstances they are born into or whatever they happen to inherit.
Let us proceed to examine some passages of Scripture that do not support the original sin doctrine. The first comes from Romans 7:7-9. “What shall we say then? Isthe law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
This passage is fascinating because it unequivocally states that the speaker was alive before sin came into his life, and when sin came to life in him, he died. This must be a spiritual understanding of life and death because very rarely has someone come back to life from physical death, and the life-and-death illustration would not work if taken physically.
The passage does not say, “I thought I was alive even though I was sinning” or anything of the sort. To conclude this, as some do, is to read into the verse. There was no sin at the time (there was no law), so he was spiritually alive. This is in direct contradiction to what the original sin proponents would have us believe.
Another passage comes from Ecclesiastes. Now, this book is dangerous to use (as are Job, Psalms, and Proverbs) because of the “genre” they are in, but this passage is hard to get around. It is chapter 7, verse 29. “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”
See that? God has made man upright. God does not create sinners, but they make themselves that way. Even though just a few verses prior the author said there was not a just one on earth who did not sin, he still acknowledged the truth that God makes man upright. He is not responsible for their sinning; it is their choice.
Another reason not to believe in original sin is because it slanders God.
The Psalmist said God formed him in his mother’s womb (Ps. 139: 13). And since there is nothing that makes him special from any other man, it can be reasonably concluded that all people are created by God—this miracle begins at conception. If people are born sinners, what other choice do we have than to say that God created us sinners? It was God who made the decision for us to be that way. This means God creates people to be sinners because of something their ancestors did, and then blames them for being sinners. More on that in a moment.
Also, Genesis says we were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). God does not sin. He can be tempted (Deut. 6:16), but He cannot sin, as it goes against His nature. The original sin advocate is therefore forced to accept these two beliefs: “God created man in His image” and “Man is born a sinner.” These do not go together. For if man is created in God’s image, and man is created a sinner, then God is a sinner. As stated, this is unbiblical. The more correct belief is this: “Man is born with the capacity to be tempted, and it is man’s choice whether or not he will sin.”
The doctrine of original sin also makes God a tyrant. If people are born sinners, and they are naturally inclined to sin, what right does God have to condemn them for the way He created them? He has none. So advocates of original sin have to come up with a way to decorate their cruel god with acts of love, saying that God, in His sovereignty, can act however He wishes. This is true, but as God is also just, and condemnation of one who cannot help his actions is unjust, that claim falls flat.
Original sin advocates also say that Adam was a figurehead for the entire human race, and since he sinned, we are all born sinners because of that and depending on whom you ask also share in his guilt. (There are competing theories all saying more or less the same thing.) What does the Bible say, though? It certainly never says Adam was the federal head or moral representative for all his descendants. Ezekiel 18: 20 says, “The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” In other words, we are all responsible for our own sin. Adam’s sin was Adam’s sin, not his descendants’. What Adam did, however, was open up the way for all to be tempted.
But infants do not sin. Those who have no knowledge of right or wrong cannot sin. They must be taught right and wrong, and before that time, they are innocent. It is when they are able to make a moral choice (“This is right and I will do it” or “This is wrong but I will do it”) that they are held accountable.
See, moral agents have never needed any “help” to sin. Satan and his followers sinned just fine without one. Adam and Eve also pulled it off. So why invent a concept explaining sin when the Bible is clear enough about it? According to the Scriptures, sin comes into being because people follow after their own desires and want to sin, not because of circumstances beyond their control. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14,15) People are deceived by sin because it is so appealing at first, and soon they desire to sin. (Proverbs 21:10, Psalm 52:3).
Keep to the Scriptures instead of coming up with an excuse that belongs in a fairy tale.