Monday, September 6, 2021

The Fall

A principal teaching of orthodox Christianity is that human beings have the stain of “original sin” within them. “Original sin is the Christian doctrine that humans inherit a tainted nature and proclivity to sin through the fact of birth.”1 The belief that human beings are born with a proclivity to sin is not found in the Bible. It is a belief that began to emerge in the third century and was given its classic statement by Augustin of Hippo and from him it passed into orthodox Christian theology. Even the word “Sin,” as it appears in English is a religious term used by church folk to describe unacceptable behavior in human beings from a religious perspective and has been defined as follows: “In a religious context sin is a transgression against divine law. Each culture has its own interpretation of what it means to commit a sin. While sins are generally considered actions, any thought, word, or act considered immoral, selfish, shameful, harmful, or alienating might be termed sinful.”2 In the secular world the term “sin” is not used to describe unacceptable behavior. In society at large formal deviant, lawbreaker, or criminal would be terms corresponding to the term sin in a religious context, because the unacceptable behavior is a breaking of the laws of the land. We also use other terms to describe the breaking of social mores, such as informal deviance, improper behavior, or social faux pas in a social context. Social mores are different in different social contexts. Only in religious contexts is sin an appropriate word for describing human behavior.

            Christians who believe that human beings have a penchant for committing sin usually trace the origin of this human inclination to commit sin to the second of the two creation myths in the Bible (Gen 2:4b-2:24), and the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (3:1-24). This account (called the Yahwistic account) focuses on man’s rebellion against God and its outcome. The Priestly account of creation (Gen 1:1-2:4a) focuses on the creation of the heavens and the earth. The rationale that human beings are stained with original sin is a product of how one reads the Bible, and the argument proceeds on the basis of ideas that Christians have about the Bible. It is not an argument made by the writers of the biblical texts themselves.

Here is one way of explaining the rationale that ties original sin to the story about the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden:

Since God made man good the tendency to sin which forms part of his inheritance must be traced back to the disobedience of the first couple in paradise, from whom all are descended. Intercourse, conception, and birth rendered individuals unclean in matters of cult [in ancient Israel, Lev 12:1f; 15:16-18], but were not regarded as sinful in themselves or able to produce the tendency to sin. We are all doing penance for the sin of our first parents by suffering and dying, since “through a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all must die [Sirach 25:24]…through the envy of the devil death has come into the world [Wis 2:24]; easily and logically then we arrive at the conclusion that the sin in paradise is imputed to all men as guilt and is the reason why we carry in ourselves the inclination to evil.3

It is clear from Heinisch’s first sentence his entire rationale is based on his belief system that somehow the creation myth is a historical account of how things actually were, rather than “a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people.”4 It serves the Yahwist as a myth of origins of the ancient Israelite people explaining why it is that men must earn their living by the sweat of their brow tilling the soil (Gen 3:17-20) and women must suffer pain in childbearing and be submissive to their husbands (Gen 3:16). Heinish’s rationale is not mandated by the text in Genesis; that is to say, original sin is not an idea contained in the text. The passages in Genesis do not use either the word sin or the term original sin. The story becomes about original sin in Heinish’s mind.

In the Yahwist’s scheme the story deals with the deeper question of why man and woman, God’s creatures, refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of their Creator, with the result that history is a tragic story of banishment from the life for which they were intended.5

Human beings are more complex and diverse than is allowed by the belief that they deliberately sin against divine law because it is built into the genome system inherited from the mythical characters Adam and Eve.

None of us are perfect, but some of us are worse than others.

How do you see it?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University sin

3Paul Heinish, Theology of the Old Testament (trans. William G. Heidt; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1955), 254. References to original sin are not usually found in the subject index to critical Old Testament commentaries.

4Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1990), s.v., myth.

5B. W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (3rd ed.; Prentice-Hall, 1975), 211.


  1. Charlie,
    I see the Christian concept of “original sin” and the use of the Eden fable, though established by Augustine, as tied to Romans 1 -8, esp. ch.5). Obviously it is neither scientifically nor historically sound but it can also be potential harmful, undercutting an individual’s potential to self-actualize and transcend (from Maslow’s hierarchy) by setting up a “self-fulfilling prophecy” in which the individual is taught human nature is congenitally “sinful,” thus subtly influenced the way one is expected, or “sinfully.” (That is one of several objections I have.)
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

  2. If the human body is so tainted and inherently evil, why did God choose to be manifested in human form? Just asking.


    1. Hi Marcia,
      Welcome back! Good question. That Jesus was God in human form was not an early Christian belief. The early Christians kept a healthy distance between Jesus and God. That belief gradually emerged particularly with the belief in the Trinity as Christians protected their faith from charges of polytheism. That is to say, from a reading of the NT it appears that they could have had three divine figures: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. That Jesus was God in human form today is almost a standard orthodox belief.

    2. Charlie,
      I was thinking about Marcia’s post and “manifestation” and it reminded me of something I read from the second century.... The manifestation as a “newness. It was a “mystery,” a newness that came from a star in heaven, in which the sun, moon and stars gathered round in chorus (or dance) (χορὸς??). “... God was manifest as man (Θεοῡ ἁνϑρωπίνωσ ϕανερουμένου) for the ‘newness of eternal life...” according to Ignatius to the Ephesians 19. Not that it adds to early beliefs, just thought it interesting.
      Dennis Dean Carpenter
      Dahlonega, Ga.

    3. Hi Dennis
      Thanks for calling this my attention. I was unaware of it.

  3. My comments are not addressed to any particular individual but to the group as a whole.

    "Christians who believe that human beings have a penchant for committing sin usually trace the origin of this human inclination to commit sin to the second of the two creation myths in the Bible (Gen 2:4b-2:24), and the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (3:1-24)." And what Christians would those be? Early Christians, late Christians, modern Christians? What percentage of said Christians solely base their beliefs about original sin on the "old" testament? I don't know who the author is referring to in this sentence.

    The belief in original sin comes from a vast variety of sources, old and new testament. It's impossible to narrow it down to a couple of scriptures. How can Romans 5:12 be left out of the discussion:

    "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned—"

    It is unclear what "Christians" the author is talking about in this article. We have no idea what early Christians may have believed about original sin. But we certainly know what modern Christians believe which leads me to my next question:

    I don't know the exact percentage, but a vast, vast majority of Christians believe we inherently contain a soul (which must be "saved.") In conjunction with Marica's question about vessels, from whom do we get this so-called soul that is in dire need of saving? Does it come from God? Does it come from our parents? How does it get "put" into us- is it at conception? If so, why would God instill a pristine soul into a tainted sinful fleshly human embryo that is born a sinner? Why would he do that? And if our soul comes from the parents- well explain that phenomenon to me. Does that make them God-like? How can that work?

    These are all modern day beliefs and teachings, whether or not the early Christians thought about such things- I have no idea. If this is merely a discussion about what the early Christians were taught, then establish that parameter at the outset. I certainly can't offer any insight into their practices or doctrines or beliefs. But I do know what modern Christians believe about original sin- and not single Christian I know has ever given one thought to where the soul comes from or how it gets instilled into a sinful fleshly human body. Who put it there- and how? If it was God- why would he put a brand new soul into tainted human flesh, incapable of being righteous at all? Romans 3:10

    Elizabeth Holmes
    St. Louis MO

  4. Hi Charlie,

    My thoughts are that humans are humans. Our nature has not changed - we have neither fallen or risen as a species. There is no evidence of heaven or hell, of soul or spiritual body except what are hopes and feelings long for. Life does provide opportunities for individuals to rise above or fall below the behavioral mean. I interpret Jesus' threat de-escalation behavior as being above the behavioral mean.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  5. Why do Christians trace anything, including a proclivity to sin, to Genesis? Christians did not write the text of that scripture. Christians were not alive when it was written and no one knows when they became aware that Genesis existed... Does anyone know when Christians stole the book of Genesis from Torah observant Jews? It was not written in Greek.

    It's clearly obvious that the way in which Jewish people interpret the first book of the Pentateuch is irrelevant and unnecessary. The above article is written as if Jewish people don't even exist or matter or have any consideration whatsoever in this discussion of Original Sin. Genesis may just as well have been written by Augustine instead of a Jew as far as the author of this blog is concerned. Let's examine the original content and the original interpretation without the stench of Christian orthodoxy:

    "Jews do not believe in the doctrine of original sin. This is a Christian belief based on Paul's statement, "Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). The doctrine was fully developed by the church father, Augustine of Hippo (354-430).

    According to this doctrine, hereditary sinfulness is inescapably transmitted to human beings by their parents, starting with Adam and Eve. It is alleged that only acceptance of Jesus as savior from sin can redeem a person from sin. All those who do not accept Jesus as their savior from sin are condemned to eternal suffering in hell.

    Whether man is a sinner by nature or not is immaterial. Judaism teaches the biblical way to repentance and reconciliation with God. Sincere repentance in which the sinner pledges to rectify his sinful ways and lead a righteous life is one means that is open at all times to all of humanity (Jonah 3:5-10, Daniel 4:27). God counsels Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do good [that is, change your ways], will it not be lifted up [that is, you will be forgiven]. But if you do not do good, sin rests at the door; and it desires you, but you may rule over it" (Genesis 4:6-7). God informs Cain that repentance and subsequent forgiveness are always open to him."

    There is no connection between the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin and the book of Genesis, despite the insistence Christian teachers who raped and stole this scripture from their supposed Jewish forefathers. Very disheartening to see that Christians today behave as if Genesis was written explicitly for them and them alone. Elizabeth

  6. Hi Elizabeth,

    Do you have some thoughts about what role the temple cult played, if any, in how the Jewish people interpreted the first book of the Pentateuch and the concept of sin.

    Gene Stecher

    1. What temple cult are you referring to? Perhaps you could contact Rabbi Michael Skobac or Rabbi Tovia Singer, their contact info is made available to the public. They are accustomed to those kinds of inquiries.

      If you have any insights about Jewish temple cults and their views on Genesis, let us know how you obtained an interest in them and why it's important to you. Elizabeth