The Doctrine of Original Sin: Part 1
Christianity is known for the doctrine of original sin, the idea that Adam’s sin in Eden had a damning effect on every human being thereafter. Many Christians do not realize that the subject is controversial within Christianity. This is because the doctrine as traditionally articulated affects Jesus (he was a descendant of Adam) and gets us into the murky waters of the eternal destiny of the unborn, the aborted, and those whose mental impairments mean they can never accept the gospel. There is a way to navigate all these issues by viewing Adam’s sin in a specific way—a way that is defensible from close study of the biblical text. But this perspective is not the mainstream understanding of original sin with which most Christians are familiar.
Romans 5:12 - The Starting Point for the Doctrine of Original Sin
The key verse for the doctrine of original sin is Romans 5:12. That verse is an excellent example of whether we are going to get our theology from the text or import it into the text.
Let's start with the verse in a couple English versions and in Greek:
(ESV): Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
(NIV): Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
(NRSV): Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
(NKJV): Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.
(NASB): 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.
Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ διʼ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος, καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν, ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον·
All of these translations create a connection between Adam’s original sin and everyone born afterward. But there are subtle differences that arise from different decisions made by translators. As we proceed, you may want to reference these translations. And if you know Greek, we’ll be saying something about the Greek text in what follows.
Let’s start with the way Romans 5:12 gets abused in interpretation.
Romans 5:12 – The Doctrine of Original Sin is not about Fossils
Romans 5:12 is commonly used by strict young-earth creationists (24-hour day, six solar days for creation) to argue that there can be no fossils before the fall. Here's a representative quotation with my highlighting:
According to Genesis, God created a picture of perfection. Death didn't come on the scene until man sinned. Genesis 3:15 and Romans 5:12 explain how death came after man sinned. I Corinthians 15 declares sin is rebellion against God and that it results in death. Physical death came as an effect of sin. Before sin, there was no death-not even in the animal world according to Genesis. Both man and animal were vegetarians. [1. Dennis Gordon Lindsay, Foundations for Creationism (Dallas: Christ for the Nations, 1998, c1990).]
Do you see the problem with this idea in the plain text of Romans 5:12? The text says "through one man... death spread to all men (humanity)." The text says absolutely nothing about animals. Whatever happened at the Fall resulted in a transition from (apparent) immortality to mortality for humankind. Animal life and fossils have to be read into the text for the purpose of promoting a specific view of creationism and the fossil record. Nothing is said of any other life than humankind in Romans 5:12, so we should not infer anything about it. The verse cannot be used to justify the idea that animal life (and of course plant life) could not and did not die before the Fall. To argue anything in that regard from this verse is to insert it into the verse.
Keep reading for more flawed thinking about Romans 5:12 and the original sin of Adam.
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