On Original Sin
God commanded Adam, the first man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”(1)
Later, God formed Eve, the first woman.(2)
Still later, though not long after, they were tempted and defied God’s command: She took of its fruit and ate and gave some to her husband…and he ate.(3)
Original sin refers to this disobedience to God, which, traditionally understood, has universal consequence for all human beings. That is, the corruption of the relationship between the first humans and God, somehow, is transferred naturally, through birth, to all human beings. Thus, original sin, also known as birth-sin, has become a theological abbreviation for the existential human condition of alienation from God.(4)
Original sin oft is differentiated from actual sin; the former being the human state or predisposition of sinfulness and the latter pertaining to human sins or specific voluntary acts that demonstrate (are signs of) human sinfulness.
Original sin, throughout the ages, has been disputed and discredited, primarily because…
Sinfulness is not and cannot be biologically transmitted; therefore, moral disposition is not hereditary, and
The responsibility for sinfulness and sinful acts is individual (that is, relating to each person, each community, each institution, each nation in its own time) and, therefore, cannot be transferred organically from one generation to another, and
The Adam and Eve story is a story; a literary device and not literal history.(5) In a word, it didn’t happen.
Nevertheless, when I read and reflect on the Bible, I do find evidence of original sin, again, defined as our human existential state of alienation from God. For among the Bible’s many themes, whether in the Hebrew scripture story of the covenantal relationship between God and the people Israel or in the New Testament story of the relationship between God and people through Jesus Christ, that is, Christians, there is an unmistakable and proverbial bright red thread of repeated human choosing to reject the divine will and way.
In a word, Adam and Eve don’t prove the existence (the-all-too-alive-and-very-unwell state) of original sin. We do.
(1) Genesis 2.16-17
(2) Genesis 2.18, 20b-23
(3) Genesis 3.6b
(4) This alienation from God, which has manifold expressions, generally speaking, manifests itself in disordered human relationships; individual, societal, and global, e.g., dominant-subordinate and abusive relationships, cultural, ethnic, racial, and gender inequality, war and genocide.
(5) Biblical scholars oft refer to the Adam and Eve story as an etiological legend (etiology: from the Greek, aitiologia; aitia– “cause” + logia– “discourse” or “treatise”); that is, a mythic tale that seeks to explain the origin or cause of something, in this case, sinfulness.