• by Nathan Jennings

The Sin of Original Sin


Of the 3 Abrahamic religions, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, only 1 holds to a belief in the doctrine of 'original sin'. That is; that all are guilty of and all suffer the consequence of the sin of Adam.

Of course the one that believes this is my faith tradition: the Christian tradition. It's important to note that within that, only those of western Christianity hold to it. The 350 million Christians in the eastern tradition don't hold to the doctrine. In ancient traditional Orthodoxy, while humanity may suffer the consequence of that sin (death), its guilt was not attributed or passed down to anyone.

Metaphors and misunderstandings

I personally see the story of the sin of Adam as a metaphor (not a literal event), for a coming of age that happens to all people. I certainly agree that we all see through a glass darkly and make mistakes. But to be blamed and labeled as "guilty" for something completely out our control is not only not biblical, but is unlike the God we see revealed in Jesus in the scriptures - to hold something like that against anyone. This doctrine can be traced back to Saint Augustine in the 4th century, who didn't know Greek very well. When translating Paul's writing in Romans 5:12 he mistranslated the line, “so death spread to all because all have sinned―“. The way Augustine translated it was “so death spread to all and in him, all have sinned―“

At first glance it seems like no big deal, but the way it was and is now interpreted by much of the western church (Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Protestants) is that all future humans sin and are guilty because all were somehow present in Adam. But that is not how the text reads. The story isn't that all were in Adam, but that LIKE Adam, all sin. In other words, no one is guilty or totally depraved because of the sin of Adam. This view of original sin not only wrongfully accuses mankind of some inherent guilt that just isn't true, but also negates the biblical truth of humanity's original blessing and goodness.

In Genesis 1 we see the first thing God did was bless humanity (Genesis 1:28) and say it was very good (vs. 31). The word “good” there means pleasurable. We are God's good pleasure, not some guilty depraved worm with no value. We are inherently good.

The Jewish tradition

Adam and Eve and the whole creation myth is just about void in any of the biblical conversation of the entire Hebrew Bible (old testament). The Jewish faith has never had a belief in original sin and saw the story as a metaphor for life. One Jewish midrash compares what Christians call “the fall”, to humans becoming teenagers and growing into adulthood. To the faith of our ancestors it is a foreign idea that humans are born flawed with a “sin nature” and not made in the image of the Divine. We are born with a human nature. Humans aren't naturally sinful. Being human is having the propensity to do good and to do evil. That does not mean we have a sin nature, but that we are human. And in the christian tradition, God thought humans were good enough to become one. The doctrine of original sin changes the major ancient Christian belief that Jesus defeated death. The original focus of the Cross and the resurrection isn't the forgiveness of sin, but that Jesus defeated death. Sin was a part of that, as sin leads to death.

The East and the West

The western Christian tradition focuses on the forgiveness of sin and the east focuses on the defeat of death. To the east, sin is disconnection and leads to death, therefore death is the thing to be defeated. This is why the western church seems to be a sin management system and a list of do’s and dont's instead of a celebration of God's defeat of death and humanity's inclusion in that - through Christ. The doctrine of original sin is ridiculous when trying to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the Christian message - that they are loved by God. People don't need to be told they are screw ups and have a sin nature, but that they are human with human natures and since they are human, they are loved by God. And this is displayed through Christ‘s life, death, and resurrection. We all sin, which is really just missing the mark or not hitting the target of our true selves or realizing our original goodness. Our true nature though, is that we are image bearers of the Divine.

We are very good, and as Brennan Manning has said, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

Nathan is a Husband, Father and aspiring Jesus follower. Nathan was raised Mormon, turned agnostic, to fundamentalist evangelical, to a sojourner following grace wherever it leads. Nathan says, "We live in a pluristic world and to be able to transcend former assertions and still include those in different places without passing judgment is something I aspire to do everyday. I love writing about theology, the Divine and the universal question "why"." Nathan's hope is to continue the conversation of being human - using the language of the faith tradition he knows and loves. He currently resides in Texas, U.S.A. See all previous articles by Nathan Jennings

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