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ORIGIN 1.4.3

Original sin?

PART A – Background and purpose
PART B – Three-point doctrine
PART C – Study Romans 5


The term 'original sin' does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It is a doctrine conceived by theologians long after the death of Jesus, the Apostles and all New Testament writers.

The doctrine had its origin in the writings of Tertullian (160-220) and Cyprian (200-258). It was popularized by Augustine (354-430), Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564).

The people who conceived and taught the doctrine of original sin did not have any personal interaction with Jesus or his disciples. Hundreds of years had passed, and oral transmission was no longer consistent and trustworthy, so for truth they studied the manuscripts we now call the New Testament.

Those theologians didn't have any advantage over us today. In fact, we have advantages over them for discovering truth.

Consider Staint Augustine, for example, the person most responsible for giving impetus to the doctrine of original sin (see 1.1.2). He lived 1,500 years ago. He had no complete Bible or scholarly study books – it was a thousand years before the printing press! His language was Latin. He could read only a smattering of Greek, so he read scriptures from hand-written fragments of a Latin translation of the original Greek called the Vulgate, translated by Saint Jerome in the late fourth century.

Now consider us, today. We have the benefit of 1,500 years of collection and study of thousands of Greek manuscripts, compiled into almost every form imaginable ... the Greek-English interlinear versions from the best linguists ... scholarly translations into dozens of English versions (and over a thousand other languages) which can be compared side-by-side ... and tens of thousands of books and commentaries.

Today anyone can be better equipped to study scripture than Saint Augustine, who was able to study only parts of the Vulgate. And now all the documentation we need is instantly available without charge via the Internet!

Purpose of this study

For nearly eighteen hundred years there have been arguments over the doctrine of original sin.

Generally speaking, what people believe about it – if they even think about it all – is determined by what they have been taught through centuries of church tradition. There is enormous pressure on church leaders to conform to tradition and, until now, little or no reason for deviation.

Now, however, churches in the West are declining and some old traditions are falling under scrutiny of common sense and renewed investigation. People today are smarter and asking more penetrating questions.

Many church doctrines have been used to scare people into compliance in times past, but that doesn't work well anymore. A deep study of scripture reveals that the root of Christianity is love and good news, not fear and condemnation.

It is time to restudy and rethink some questionable doctrines to see what the Bible actually says and to have courage for challenging destructive traditions not firmly grounded in scripture.

The purpose of this study is to go all the way back to the original New Testament manuscripts – the same thing that theologians do – and learn first-hand, objectively, what the Bible teaches (or doesn't teach) about original sin.

Three-point doctrine


As usually understood, there are three points to the doctrine of original sin; i.e., three concepts consolidated into one doctrine:

  • POINT 1 - Everyone inherits Adam's sin. From moment of birth, God holds everyone personally guilty for Adam's sin regardless of time, place, circumstance or knowledge.
  • POINT 2 - Sin is cause of death. Adam's sin is the cause of all death on earth; prior to his sin, the earth was perfect and nothing died.
  • POINT 3 - Unbelievers burn in hell forever. Adam's sin will cause everyone to burn in hell forever except those who accept Jesus as Savior, even those who have never heard of Jesus.

Christians become inoculated to the horror of this unjust doctrine, which is repelling people from, rather than attracting people to, the love of God.

Not firmly grounded

The Bible study in Part C shows that the doctrine of original sin is not firmly grounded in scripture:

  • POINT 1 - Everyone inherits Adam's sin. Nowhere does the Bible teach that one person is guilty for another person's sin (except a flawed interpretation of Romans 5 examined below). In fact, the Bible says just the opposite: 'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (Deuteronomy 24:16) and 'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers' (Ezekiel 18:20).
  • POINT 2 - Sin is cause of death. There was death on earth before sin. Therefore, sin cannot be the cause of death (see 1.3).
  • POINT 3 - Unbelievers burn in hell forever. People who believe in original sin point to Romans 5 as the biblical justification, but Romans 5 (see Bible study below) says nothing at all about burning in hell. Furthermore, nowhere does the Bible say that people will burn in hell forever. See 3.5.1 for Bible study on death and hell.
Study Romans 5
Following is a portion of a letter of instruction written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome. Paul wrote this approximately 58 AD, about 4000 years after Adam died and 20 years after Jesus' resurrection. This portion assumes his audience has heard about Adam and makes a comparison – a juxtaposition – between Adam and Jesus.
TAP HERE FOR INTERLINEAR BIBLE, which is a word-by-word translation from the original Greek into English. Interlinear requires intense study but will bring you as close as possible to the true meaning of every verse in this passage and its context.
WORDS IN BLACK in this study are from the New International Version (NIV), a very popular and highly regarded English translation.
WORDS IN RED are comments to stimulate thinking and call attention to key statements.
Romans 5:12-21
Verse-by-verse study
This is the Bible passage used to justify the doctrine of original sin
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man,
Sin is not a thing. It is not created or made. It is a condition.
Sin is violation of God's command (law). It is disobedience. Disobedience is nothing by itself but rather is a depravation. Disobedience is lack of obedience, just as cold is lack of heat, dark is lack of light, rot is lack of health, evil is lack of good.
Therefore, the phrase 'sin entered' in this verse must mean when the condition first occurred.
The phrase 'entered the world' must mean entered the world of humanitynot the first occurrence of sin ever – because other passages in the Bible tell us that Satan and his angels sinned earlier, and Satan was already in the Garden telling lies before Adam sinned.
Because sin is not a thing – not something physical that moves – the word 'entered' must mean first appearance or first identified.
This entire Romans 5 passage speaks of 'one man' without ever naming the man, but it seems obvious from description and context that the man is Adam. Emphasis is on man, not on Adam, an emphasis on humanity, not on a person.
This verse says that sin entered the world 'through one man' – NOT because of one man. It does NOT say that sin and death began with Adam. It says only that Adam is the first person on earth who committed punishable sin.
So what did Adam do that made him the one through whom sin entered? The answer is in verses 15-20: He was the first person to commit 'the trespass'replacing God, taking God's place discussed below under those verses.
and death through sin,
This verse does NOT say that sin causes death but rather that death (end of existence, see 1.3) now 'comes through sin;' i.e., final death comes after going through judgment and punishment for a lifetime of personal sin.
There has been death ever since first life on earth, long before Adam. But, for humans, death is no longer like it was originally (like all other death in God's creation) when physical death and final death were one and the same. Before sin, that distinction was meaningless. Now death is through sin, by way of sin ... must deal with sin first.
The new order is that hell now intervenes before final death. See 3.5.1 for confirmation by Bible study on death and hell.
and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
This is the way – through judgment and punishment for sin – that final death (end of existence) eventually comes to all people, not because Adam sinned, but because ALL SINNED.
Death is – and has always been – the default condition throughout all of God's creation. Everything and everybody dies. Life-and-death is the way God designed the universe. [The only exception is that humans can get out of the default condition and have eternal life IF their sins are forgiven.]
The 'because' does not mean that sin causes death, but rather because sin blocks access to eternal life, confining people in the default condition of death.
Many Christians use this verse to assert that Adam's sin is placed on all of us individually because he is federal head of the human race and therefore (why therefore?) all of his billions of descendants are also personally guilty for his sin. This is reading into the verse something that it doesn't say.
Actually, Adam was not the first human (see 1.3) ... the Bible does NOT say that God appointed him federal head of the human race ... and other parts of the Bible say that people are personally responsible for their own sins and NOT for sins of leaders and parents. 
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given,
There was sin in the world before Adam, before God had given any commandment (law) to anyone. Adam was the first person to receive a clear and unmistakable law from God.
That law (do not eat fruit from this tree) was specifically for people in the Garden of Eden. The law never applied to anyone other than Adam and Eve because after God evicted them from the Garden he prohibited anyone from having access to the tree.
Going forward in history, the next time the Bible tells of God giving a law to anyone was approximately 2,500 years later when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments for the Israelites.
This verse seems to say that, except for the brief law applying only to Adam and Eve, there WAS SIN but NO LAW from the creation of humans until Moses.
but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
Sin is violation of God's commandment (law). By definition alone, there can be no sin without law, because there would be no law to violate. Sin and law are intrinsically linked.
This verse seems to say that an action we call sin because we have the law is not sin where there is no law.
For example, driving on the left side of the road is a crime if there is law prohibiting it, but not a crime if there is no law.
Or, perhaps, worship of multiple gods (sun god, harvest god, fertility god) is sin if God made himself known and commanded worship only to himself, but is not sin if there is no law and people worship in primitive ignorance.
Another possibility is that this verse refers to a type of sin arising from violation of God-given conscience built into every human being, sometimes called the moral law (see 1.6). The problem with that interpretation is that Adam would then not be the first sinner as stated here in Romans 5, which is a major repeated emphasis in this chapter.
The words 'charged against anyone's account' indicates that sin is individualnot universal. This is contrary to saying that guilt for Adam's sin is placed on everyone.
This verse seems to say that God does not punish unjustly and that people are not charged (held accountable and punished) for things they know nothing about.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses,
The time from Adam (4000 BC) to Moses (1500 BC) was about 2,500 years – longer than the time from Jesus to now.
'Death reigned' during that time, meaning that death – final death (see 3.5.1) – was the default condition, the way it was ... people just died, period ... no knowledge or opportunity for eternal life ... no burning in hell forever. [There may have been some exceptions – as for Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc. – but apparently this is the way it was for virtually all people during that long period of time.]
Due to his sin and punishment, Adam cut off all access to the Tree of Life, which at that time was God's only offer of eternal life. The result is that all the people who could have eaten from the Tree of Life instead died (end of existence).
Proponents of the doctrine of original sin say that this verse doesn't really mean what it says ... they twist the word 'death' in this verse to say it really means just the opposite ... that these people will live forever, burning in hell ... and thus contrived another doctrine called 'spiritual death' (see 1.4 Part C), which goes far beyond the meaning of eternal separation from God.
This Romans 5 chapter says simply that these people die, no new definitions, no special explanations. The Bible does NOT say anywhere that these people will live and burn in hell forever (see 3.5.1).
even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam,
The people who lived in the time period between Adam and Moses did not sin like Adam sinned, by breaking a command, because they had no personal encounter with God and did not receive any law from God.
So what happened to them? Based on preceding verses, apparently they lived, then died (end of existence), the normal cycle of life.
who is a pattern of the one to come.
This is a transition point in the text. The teaching now shifts into a contrast between Adam (sinner) and Jesus (Savior) and between the trespass (sin) and the gift (salvation).
Adam is a pattern (disobedient life) to be contrasted with 'the one to come' (Jesus, obedient life, God's gift). A pattern is something that distinguishes a distinct type or model.
The contrasting pattern is summarized succinctly by Paul in I Corinthians 15:22: 'For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' This is the central Christian message: Eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Savior, God's gift.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass.
Here is the first time we encounter the word 'trespass.' (Some
English versions translate this Greek word 'paraptoma' as offense, transgression and fall.) The rest of the chapter is a comparison – the contrast – between the gift (Jesus) and the trespass (Adam).
Before continuing with the study, see box below to understand the 'trespass'.
taking God's place
The story of Adam and Eve is told in Genesis 2:4 - 3:24
There were two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God said to Adam (who told Eve), 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'
Adam had a clear personal choice for either certainty of death or opportunity for eternal life.
But Satan said to Adam and Eve: 'You will not surely die ... For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'
Here we see the motivation. This was more than a minor infraction. It was revolt, rebellion! They wanted to eat the fruit so they could be like God, so they could set their own rules.
Eve ate the fruit first but Adam is regarded as the first culpable sinner. See 1.4.2 for discussion of Who sinned first?
Eating the forbidden fruit was just the outward manifestation of the inward sin against God. God looks to the heart and mind and sees the motive.
Three conditions constitute this sin:
  • Encounter with God
  • Law from God
  • Rebellion against God
The 'trespass' was that Adam wanted to become his own god and set his own rules. People ever since have wanted to be their own god, follow their own rules and/or worship other gods.
Approximately 2,500 years passed before God again gave law to someone. That was when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses for the Israelites. The first commandment was: 'You shall have no other Gods before me' (Exodus 20:3).
Another 1,500 years passed before God (Jesus) gave the Great Commandment for everyone: 'Love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength' (Mark 12:30).
God first and only has always been the fundamental commandment (law) from God.
Another word for this sin is idolatry – when self and things take the place of God.
For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,
God gave Adam free will and offered life (presumably eternal life) for choosing the Tree of Life (permitted) and death for choosing the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (forbidden).
This verse says that many died because Adam chose the forbidden tree, thus committing the trespass.
Penalty was expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden and permanent closure of the Garden. The closure denied many people the opportunity to choose eternal life and thus they all died.
At a minimum, the many that died are those in Adam's immediate family and extended families over thousands of years that could have had access to the Tree of Life and chosen eternal life if Adam had not sinned.
Thus, many died by the sin of one man. But this is not the same as saying (original sin) that many are condemned to hell by the sin of one man.
Furthermore, this verse and following verses DO NOT SAY that Adam's sin affects all (as would be the case with original sin), but only many.
how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
The contrast here is between Adam (sin nature) and Jesus (holy nature).
Jesus' holy nature saves far more people from death (gives them eternal life) than Adam's sin nature condemned people to death (denied them eternal life).
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin:
Explained in the following two phrases of this verse.
The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation,
The judgment and punishment for Adam's sin – a single sin of man – brought condemnation to many people. How? The punishment denied further access to the Tree of Life. The Garden was closed and became off-limits. Those who otherwise could have lived in the Garden and eaten from Tree of Life were condemned (restricted) because at that time there was no other way to move beyond death.
but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
The sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a single gift of God – brought justification. As in law, guilt even for one charge. Charges pile up, today in court call them counts. A pardon – as a presidential pardon – for all.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man,
Death reigned, meaning opportunity for eternal life blocked (as angel by tree of life).
Sin is the barrier to eternal life. If can't get pass the barrier, then die, no eternal life.
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Those who receive abundant provision of grace, i.e., opportunity to accept Jesus.
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people [of that time], so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
This is the primary proof-text (without the brackets) for support of the concept of original sin.
But there are three problems here:
PROBLEM 1. This verse is also the proof-text for people who believe in universal salvation. If we say that Adam gives sin to 'all people' (without qualification) then we must treat the second part of the verse the same way and say that Jesus gives eternal life to 'all people.' It is meaningless to say that everyone has both original sin (hell) and eternal life (heaven). Therefore, we know that this interpretation of 'all people' is wrong and is contrary to the main theme of the Bible.
PROBLEM 2. 'All people' includes people who lived before Adam, so how is Adam's sin placed on people who had already lived and died?
PROBLEM 3. If 'all people' is interpreted in the broadest sense without any qualification, this verse is out synch with the other surrounding verses that say 'the many.'
Three words of qualification – for all people [of that time], added in brackets to the translation above – eliminates all three problems. This clarification is justified because, in context, the passage is talking about people living in the time period between Adam and Moses (verse 18 'time of Moses to Adam' through verse 20 when 'the law was brought in').
If this version is interpreted to mean exactly what it says about one trespass (condemnation of all people) and about one righteous act (justification and life for all people), the verse becomes meaningless because the justification cancels the condemnation.
Regardless of how 'all people' is interpreted, this verse – as with the entire passage – says nothing about people burning forever in hell, usually regarded as a key component in the doctrine of original sin.
19 For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners,
Meaning of 'the many' is discussed under Verse 19.
Didn't have access to eternal life. Because they chose ... parallel with second clause.
so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Meaning of 'the many' is discussed under Verse 19.
We know that universal salvation is not taught in the Bible. Men are not saved involuntarily, automatically, and necessarily because of the obedience of Christ. Nor are they "made sinners" involuntarily, automatically, and necessarily because of the transgression of Adam. But the context of Romans 5:12-21 (and the context of the whole Bible) shows that men are "made sinners" in the same way they are "made righteous," that is, voluntarily or willingly.

Paul did not teach that men are "made sinners" involuntarily, by an act of physical force; because he would have been teaching at the same time that all men are "made righteous" involuntarily, by an act of physical force. In other words he would have been teaching that every human being upon the face of the earth is saved involuntarily and necessarily whether he believes the gospel of salvation or not!"By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Romans 5:18

It is true that Adam brought sin and death into this world by his transgression; but his sin and his death did not pass upon his descendants. The Bible (Romans 5:12) says that "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Men are sinners because they have sinned. Sin is an individual, voluntary choice. No human being can sin for another human being. Adam did not sin and could not sin for anyone but himself.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
Doesn't mean all people, otherwise universal salvation.
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Death or eternal life.
The key point of it all: 'eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.'
No mention of hell
This is the principal Bible passage used to develop the doctrine of original sin, but there is not even a hint that the penalty is burning forever in hell – the passage speaks only about DEATH.
Even if original sin, we get same punishment as Adam. Must ask what was that? Denial of eternal life. Barrier to tree of life. No access.
  • Adam did not commit the first sin, but he is the first person that rebelled against God (the 'trespass').
  • Adam's sin didn't send all to hell, but blocked eternal life for many.
  • To follow the way of Adam or the way of Jesus
  • People are not guilty of breaking God's law if they haven't been given the law.
  • Sin prevents eternal life. The only way to get eternal life is to get rid of the sin
  • Sin does not cause death but blocks access to eternal life; i.e., sin is in the way, need forgiveness through Jesus.
  • Doesn't make a single reference to burning forever in hell. Talks about death.
Sin nature
A person is guilty only for his/her own sin, resulting from individual free will
Original sin
Everyone is born personally guilty for Adam's sin