Friday, September 26, 2014

Blaming Original Sin on Adam

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 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 SinOriginal Sin or Inheritance of Death?; Vladimir Moss, The New Soteriology


Margaret said...

From what I have read, Original Sin is not an Early Church, Eastern or Orthodox Christian belief about The Fall, but has its genesis in the 4th century with St. Augustine's mistranslation of Romans 5:12. In this instance, the Greek words "ef ho," do not mean "through whom", but “because.” In Eastern Christianity sin entered the world because one man sinned; not "sin entered through one man who sinned" as has been translated in the West, leading to the Western doctrine of an "original" inherited sinful nature for humanity. The error is because in Greek "ef ho" is an idiom meaning "because," and Blessed Augustine translated "ef ho" into Latin literally: "through whom." In both the Judaism of the first century, and Eastern Christianity to this day, Humanity was created good and continues to be born good, but we all have the inclination to sin, and yet the free will to choose not to sin. In the East, not only humanity, but all creation, physically deteriorates and experiences physical death because of the fall.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Margaret. The problem of translation between Greek and Latin has influenced theology in both East and West. We see this in the Nicene Creed: "of one substance with the Father" or "of one essence..."

Through disobedience, death entered, as God said, "For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." After death entered,then judgment. And the first emotion expressed by the Man and the Woman was fear. Because they feared God, they attempted to hide from their Creator.

Chris Ali said...

If the concept of original sin is due to mistranslation by Augustine then Muslims are right all along. There was no need for Jesus to die on the cross. A man could then be sinless Like all the 124,000 prophets who were sinless.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Bible present at least three portraits of Adam. One of them poses him as a person who lived in real time.

The historical Adam lived one generation before his sons Cain and Seth. That means Adam would have lived between 6,000 and 4,000 B.C. We may with certainty state that humans were sinful before that time. In Romans 6:23, Paul links sin and death. From the beginning humans have been dying. Their yearning for eternal life (immortality) has often led them to face their sinful ways. Evidence of the hope for immortality is found in the 100,000+ year practice of burial in red ochre, a symbolic blood covering. See this article:

In Genesis 2 it is the woman who first violates the command and there is a marvelous symmetry in that the Virgin Mary brings forth the Son who crushes the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). Adam fathers the sons whose ruler-priest lineages spread the Messianic hope of redemption. The Horite Hebrew settlement of Bethlehem awaited fulfillment of the Messianic hope and it was to the Bethlehem shepherds that the announcement of His incarnation was first made. This is a picture of the Divine Economia in the teaching of the Church Fathers (Greek: οικονόμια). The term refers to God's handling or management of a thing. In the same way, God has superintended the canonical Scriptures so that we may read, inwardly digest, learn and be formed by them.

St. Jerome wrote, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."