Jesus and Original Sin

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]

Many Bible passages include the peculiar notions of inherited guilt and punishment. For example, one standard interpretation of the Garden of Eden story is that it resulted in “original sin.” Every human being has inherited the guilt of Adam and Eve for disobeying God in Eden.

The apostle Paul thought our inherited guilt was canceled out by a vicarious sacrifice. We became guilty by being children of Adam and Eve, but we could be forgiven because of the suffering and death of Jesus. Romans 5:18-19: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

I don’t mean to oversimplify here. There are several major interpretations of the Christian doctrine of salvation through Jesus, and within each interpretation there are subtleties and sometimes profundities. My point is simply that in Biblical times many believed in inherited guilt, so for them this was a plausible interpretation of the Eden story. If we do not believe that guilt can be passed on to one’s offspring, that should influence our response to religious theories of sin and salvation.

So what do you think? Is the inherited-guilt concept entirely defunct? If not, how is it meaningful to you? And if we believe it is an obsolete idea, how should this influence our assessment of Christian theology?

Roger Christan Schriner

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3 thoughts on “Jesus and Original Sin

  1. I’m just amused by how completely atheists buy into the Christian paradigm, that the choices are Christianity and atheism. I have texts and books on hundreds of religions and some 2,700 God/ess/s, and yet the discussion is always on Biblical concepts. You say “… that in Biblical times many believed in inherited guilt,…”, and yet as near as I can tell, that’s a uniquely Christian concept. All other religions I’ve studied so far believed that man is born neutral or good, and must EARN punishment… that ideas of inherent depravity and the certainty of Hell absent a savior, and that the test is belief alone (John 3:18) are alien to the vast majority of religions.

  2. Hi Joel. It does seem as if Christianity is highly unusual in its strong emphasis on inherited guilt. Of course it gets this idea from Judaism, and the Hebrew Bible just overflows with passages about inherited guilt and guilt by association. But Judaism did not go on to emphasize these ideas, whereas Christianity made them a centerpiece.

    I don’t think we can know that atheists in general just see our choices as being Christianity or atheism. Atheists as a group are poorly studied, and people’s impressions of atheists tend to be based on the public statements of those who are quite vocal.

    I also want to say: Good for you for your extremely wide-ranging study of religions! Very impressive. I’ve studied world religions a fair amount, but I wish I had a couple more lifetimes to go into greater depth.

    Roger Christan Schriner

  3. Roger,

    For me, the idea of “inherited guilt” or “original sin” are some of the most damaging and dangerous ideas in Christianity. I don’t buy into it anymore. Doing so for far too many years has left me with several “shame-based” issues. I’m Buddhist now, and quite interested in the concept of “emptiness” – emptiness being “empty of a basic essence” (not void of existence entirely – a widespread misinterpretation of “emptiness”). If we are essentially empty and empty of essence then I am neither inherently good, bad or anything by default. Perhaps as a Buddhist, my opinion is not relevant here though.


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