The following lecture was presented at the July 2014 conference of the American Scientific Affiliation in Hamilton, Ontario.
Original Sin Revisited: An Inevitable Theological Paradigm Shift?
By Denis O. Lamoureux
"The doctrine of original sin has been a foundational belief of the Christian faith throughout most of church history. It is a complex doctrine that is intimately connected to the fall of humans as presented in Genesis 3 and later interpreted by the apostle Paul in Romans 5:12–21. The essence of the doctrine of original sin can be summarized by two basic tenets: (1) Original sin is the very first sin committed by the very first man created, whom the Bible identifies as Adam. (2) Original sin includes the notion that all humans who have ever lived descend from Adam and that the sin of Adam has been transferred through sexual reproduction to everyone as his own. Recent scientific findings in genetics have called into question the historicity of Adam, and by implication the historic doctrine of original sin. Remarkably, this discussion is even occurring within evangelical circles. For example, a landmark issue of Christianity Today in June 2011 featured a cover with a Neanderthal-looking male and the title “The Search for the Historical Adam: The State of the Debate.” The cover blurb commented, “Some scholars believe that genome science [i.e., genetics] casts doubt on the existence of the first man and first woman. Others say that the integrity of the faith requires it.” To be sure, rejecting the historicity of Adam will have resounding implications for the doctrine of original sin. If Adam did not exist, then he could never have committed the first sin. And if Adam never existed, then all of humanity did not descend from him and his sin could never have been passed on to every human being through sexual reproduction. Or to cast this problem in the form of a question: If indeed there was no Adam and as a consequence no original sin, is it inevitable that Christian theology will experience a theological paradigm shift, no different than those scientific paradigm shifts that have been seen in the history of science?
This paper unfolds in three parts. First, we will examine some of the most important documents in church history dealing with the doctrine of original sin in order to feel the weight of questioning the historicity of Adam and by implication the truthfulness of this foundational doctrine. Second, biblical passages by the apostle Paul related to original sin are presented to further intensify the gravity of this problem. Finally, I will offer one approach toward a possible solution of moving beyond the historicity of Adam and the traditional doctrine of original sin. I will assume an evolutionary creationist view of human origins as well as a nonconcordist hermeneutic of biblical passages dealing with the creation of the natural world. Furthermore, by embracing a biblically based approach to natural revelation (theology), I will attempt to cast human sinfulness within the framework of an evangelical Christian evolutionary psychology."--Denis O. Lamoureux
Dr. Lamoureaux does not explore the alternative to the Western view of original sin. The Eastern Church never speaks of sin being passed from Adam and Eve to their descendants. Instead, it is held that each person bears the guilt and shame of his or her own sin. What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt? It is not guilt that is passed on, but rather a condition, or more accurately, a disease. This disease results in corruption and death, which St. Paul also points to in I Corinthians 15:21. St. Cyril of Alexandria teaches that humanity became “diseased… through the sin of one." And if we attend to the Biblical text closely, that is the sin of Eve, by whose action of submitting her will to the will of a base creature, inverted the hierarchical order in creation, so that all of the creation is subjected to decay.
Related reading: St. John Chrysostom on Eve's Sin; Original Sin or Inheritance of Death?; Adam and Eve: The Blood and the Birther; Answers to High Schoolers' Questions about Adam and Eve; Are Adam and Eve Real?; The First Verifiably Historical Persons in Genesis; The Biblical Meaning of Eve