What is original sin?

by Matt Slick
12/10/2018

Original sin is known in two senses:  the Fall of Adam as the "original" sin and the hereditary fallen nature and moral corruption that is passed down from Adam to his descendants.  It is called "original" in that Adam, the first man, is the one who sinned and thus caused sin to enter the world.  Even though Eve is the one who sinned first, because Adam is the Federal Head (representative of mankind), his fall included or represented all of humanity.  Therefore, some hold that original sin includes the falling of all humanity.  Some see original sin as Adam's fallen nature being passed to his descendants.  "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," (Rom. 5:12).

  • Original sin is "The condition of sinfulness that all persons share and that is caused by the sinful origins of the race (Adam and Eve) and the fall (Gen. 3). Theologically it consists of the loss of original righteousness and the distortion of the image of God. It results in the hereditary corruption of all humanity."1
  • Original sin is "A term referring to the universal defect in human nature caused by the fall, entailing the loss of original righteousness and the distortion of the image of God."2

Some verses used to support original sin are as follows:

  • Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me."
  • Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"
  • Romans 5:12, "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 5:18, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men."
  • Ephesians 2:3, "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."
  • 1 Cor. 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive."

Original sin is not a physical corruption, but a moral and spiritual corruption with the result of death to us all.  It could be compared to the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity which states that sin has touched all parts of what a person is:  heart, mind, soul, will, thoughts, desires, etc.

There has been much debate over the nature of the sin of Adam and how it affected mankind.  Pelagius taught that Adam's sin influenced the human race only as a bad example and that all people are born in the same state as Adam was before his fall.  Augustine taught that men inherit natural corruption from Adam.3  "Medieval theologians were largely concerned with clarifying the nature and transmission of original sin."4

In modern times the idea of original sin has been questioned. in my opinion, this is because there has been an increase in Christianity of man-centered theology where our freedom of choice is elevated to a position that it probably should not hold. We have democracies and "rights" and is woven into our cultures and more so even into our churches about human sovereignty and human responsibility. The idea that Adam represented us (Federal headship) and we fell because of his sin and inherited a sinful nature and are suffering because of it is not taught as often as it used to be. In fact, it's coming under attack. Nevertheless, the above list of Scriptures is there for your examination so that you can decide for yourself if you agree or do not agree with the idea of original sin.

At the return of Christ and the resurrection of all Christians, the sin nature will be eradicated.

 

 

  • 1. McKim, Donald K.. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded (Kindle Locations 9938-9940). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
  • 2. Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
  • 3. Harrison, Everett, ed., Baker's Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960, p. 488.
  • 4. Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.