What's up with Original Sin?
This week’s question:
Where did all of the original sin/ you are a piece of 💩 / not worthy of God come from?
This question reminds me of a song by David Bazan, called Hard to Be.
The second verse goes like this:
Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
That all this misbehaving
Came from one enchanted tree?
When we think of Original Sin, that’s where we go, right? Adam and Eve, naked and eating forbidden fruit in paradise. The moment they took the first bite, we assume, they were ontologically transformed from the image bearers of the divine pronounced to be “very good,” and into totally depraved reprobates who could no longer have fellowship with God. This transformation didn’t just affect the first humans; it would be passed down from generation to generation, each human being born with the stain of and culpability for the Original Sin. As a result of that first sin, so it goes, humans are separated from God, who is now totally unable (or unwilling?) to have a relationship with a sinful, depraved humanity. At least that’s the way we’ve read the story since the fourth century. Original Sin as a theological category finds it’s roots in the work of Augustine, which means if we were to sit down with Paul, for example, and detail the way this doctrine has been used to debase and degrade the meaning of being human, he would have no clue what we were talking about.
Interestingly, sin, as a word or concept doesn’t appear in the Bible until Genesis 4. This usually surprises people, because we assume what happens in Genesis 3, which we’ve called The Fall, introduced sin into the story. Nope. Sin makes its debut in Genesis 4, in the story of Cain and Abel. In that story, the “original” human sin is violence. Next week, on Wednesday, look for a post here that unpacks this a bit more.
So, while Paul clearly believes that human beings participate “in Adam” (see last Friday’s question and response), it’s not for Paul something we inherit and to which we have no choice but to succumb. For Paul being “in Adam” is a metaphor for the shared struggles of humanity, and a contrast to being “in Christ,” meaning participating in the New Humanity that Christ embodied, and to which we are called.
One of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 forbids the making and worshipping of idols. Here’s the command:
Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6,CEB)
This seems like a clear reference to Original Sin, right? The consequences for sin are passed on, Exodus 20 says, from parents to their children, and even to their great-great grandchildren. Except this isn’t the last word on the subject in the biblical tradition. Notice these words from the prophet Jeremiah, speaking of a coming time of renewal for his people:
In those days, people will no longer say:
Sour grapes eaten by parents
leave a bitter taste in the mouths of their children.
Because everyone will die for their own sins:
whoever eats sour grapes
will have a bitter taste in their own mouths. (Jeremiah 31:29, CEB)
Jeremiah is arguing with and overturning a tradition he had inherited that believed the consequences of a parent’s sin would be passed down from generation to generation. Should grandchildren be held accountable for their grandparents sin? Of course not!
The good news: We aren’t born sinful, depraved wretches. We are born beloved image bearers of God.
This just barely scratches the surface, so if you’re interested in taking this conversation further check back here (or even better, subscribe!) on Wednesday for a deeper dive into the way sin is (and isn’t!) talked about in the Bible. Thanks for the great question!
If you’d like to submit a Free-for-All Friday question, you can send an email to email@example.com.