For some reason the doctrine of original sin is problematic. It (along with the notion that the Godhead defies mathematics, by being both three and one) is one of the most often rejected Christian ideas. It is also apparently one of the drivers of the “Adam and Eve have to be actual people else the whole of Christian faith fails” movement (among both gleeful atheists and raging fundamentalists alike). Two of my NZ-based blogging companions (Otagosh and ξἐνος) have responded to Peter Enns book The Evolution of Adam I have not read the book and so make no claim to be responding to Enns.
But, let’s step back and ask a few questions about “original sin”. If we preface the term by the indefinite article it seems evident to me that there is no such thing as “an original sin”. Granted someone somewhere can claim the “honour” of having been the first laptop thief. Laptop theft was not a possible crime until the moment when luggables evolved into laptops. But was his sin “original”, not a bit of it! Theft of various objects for motives very like his have been committed since before the dawn of history. Indeed many sins can be seen in animals. One of our sheep (one of the bigger and bossier, not the biggest, but perhaps the bossiest) has an addiction to the sweet fruity aroma and taste of “Sheep Nuts”. When we go into the paddock with a box she will butt and heave her sisters out of the way to ensure she gets more. She will even pretend to run off causing a mini-stampede, so that she can then “bravely” be the first to return and gain an extra share. So where on the “Great Chain of Being” does greed “originate”. It is not original to humans, and probably not to mammals…
So, there is no such thing as an “original” sin. On the other hand, sin is inherent in all of us. That sheep is not uniquely sinful while her sisters are virtuous, and that cute nine day old baby at the wedding on Saturday (though deserving the accolades of “what a GOOD baby”) is actually a selfish monster, just like you and I were, and still are when we forget our learned goodness!
But if there are no original sins, just adaptations of existing ones, equally none of us lives a pure and sinless life until one dreadful day we commit our first sin, we are inclined to sin from the start. Nothing is more selfish than a baby!
So does this mean that Paul’s whole theological edifice comes tumbling down? By no means, we are sinful (by nature inclined to sin and in fact sinners)1 we need to be freed from the power of this, and from its consequences.
- Just like “Adam” whether he was an actual person or a personification of human origins – and incidentally while we are on the subject does the fact that Paul does not here mention Eve mean that she is not also responsible for our sinful gene, is it somehow attached to the Y chromosome. In that case are all women sinless as Eve? ;) [↩]