What Is Original Sin?

Hope Bolinger

Hope Bolinger

Updated Dec 15, 2022
What Is Original Sin?
A certain event that took place in Genesis 3 served as a catalyst that would affect all of humankind from the Garden of Eden onward. Although some Christians have argued against original sin overall, this article will cover more of the differing thoughts on original sin throughout church history.

You may have heard this term growing up in the church or heard it later if you accepted Jesus as your Savior in adulthood. Or maybe you hadn’t heard the term until now, as it isn’t often spoken much in churches, and some theologians have even pushed back against it.

Although some Christians have argued against original sin overall, this article will cover more of the different thoughts on original sin throughout church history.

A certain event that took place in Genesis 3 served as a catalyst that would affect all of humankind from the Garden of Eden onward. This article will discuss the meaning of original sin, historical views of it, and why it ultimately matters.

What Is Original Sin?

In the beginning, mankind lived in the Garden of Eden, fellowshipping with God. But when Adam sinned (Genesis 3) this not only separated him and God, it also caused all of his offspring to have a sinful nature.

One can see this selfish, sinful nature early on in children. You don’t have to teach a child to lie. As a personal example, even at the age of six months, I would push something off of a table and point a finger at my sister when my parents entered the room.

Whether our sin is innate or imitated from those around us, we need a Savior, it seems, right from the start.

Differing Views on the Doctrine of Original Sin

There seem to be two significant splits when it comes to the doctrine of original sin. Aside from those who do not believe it to be true, we see two major divisions with this doctrine: Eastern Vs. Western thought and Arminian Vs. Calvinist thought on original sin.

Eastern Vs. Western Thought

Before the church split into Catholic and Protestant, a previous church occurred, resulting in the Eastern Church and Western Church. The concept of original sin fell into different categories for each of these.

  • The Eastern Church, for instance, saw original sin as more of an ancestral sin, humans imitating the sinful actions of their predecessors. Although they believe humans inherited the death that came from Adam’s sin in the garden, they don’t believe humans inherited the guilt from that specific sin.
  • The Western Church, on the other hand, believes humans have inherited the guilt and the death accompanied by that sin. This line of thought, perpetuated by St. Augustine, believed people had an inherent guilt from the actions committed in the Garden of Eden.

Arminian Vs. Calvinist Thought

When it comes to original sin and free will, the church has also consequently split into Arminian and Calvinist groups of thought.

  • Arminian thought, according to Got Questions, asserts humans have a sinful nature. Innately, we just sin. However, this view does not place blame on us for Adam’s sin. We’ve sinned all on our own, according to this view, and reap the consequences of that sin.
  • Calvinists, on the other hand, will argue we inherited Adam’s sin nature and guilt (see Western thought above).

Where the two also differ comes down to just how much free will humans have when determining their sinful conditions and need for a Savior. Although entire books and centuries of debate have offered reasons for the Scriptural veracity of each, this article will not attempt to do so. In either case, both views acknowledge our need for a Savior and our inability to be saved without the work of the Holy Spirit.

No matter what view you adopt, all assert the sinful nature of humans (whether innate or acquired) and the need for a Savior. Romans 3:23 states all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

From Adam’s impassivity in the garden to the sins we carry out in our daily lives, we need a Savior.

Bible Verses on Original Sin

Romans 5:12: "herefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."

Psalm 51:5: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."

Isaiah 59:2: "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear."

Deuteronomy 1:39: "And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it."

Psalm 14:2-3: "The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one."

Ephesians 2:1-3: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."

Romans 7:9-11: "I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me."

Original Sin's Meaning Today

Shai Linne, Christian rapper and church planter, discusses important nuance about Original Sin below.

The following is a transcript of the video above:

This is what I would say to someone who says the idea of original sin, being guilty in Adam, that's unfair. I'm like, what's up with that? There's a couple of ways I would answer that. One way would be that we all understand the idea of having a representative stand in our place. It's the whole reason why we have US embassies. Nobody would say, wait a minute, I'm not over in that foreign country. It's not fair for this guy to represent me, you know what I mean? Or take it to the realm of sports. If you're on a football team and one guy commits a penalty, the whole team is going back 10 yards. The dude who didn't commit the foul, doesn't say, wait a second. That's unfair. No, you're on the same team.

And so it's the same thing with Adam. God determined that we would all be on Adam's team. Once Adam committed the foul, then we get penalized for it. But then you have the good news, which is the flip side of that, which is that we're on Christ's team. Those who trust in Christ receive the points that he scored. We were on the bench. We didn't even get into the game. Christ scores the points, and then we win as a team. Nobody ever says, wait a second. It's not fair that Jesus Christ died in my place. What's up with that? No, no one ever says that. When we started talking about fairness, we're talking about what's just and what's right, and God is just and he'll absolutely do what's right in every case.

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Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Nathan Cowley

This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian questions important to the Christian faith. From core beliefs to what the Bible says about angels, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.

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