This common view amongst religious people is generally known as Original Sin, inherited sin, or total hereditary depravity, meaning that every human somehow inherits the first sin committed, Adam’s sin, causing each of us to have a totally depraved, sinful human nature. We are incapable of doing any good, only evil. You’ll be relieved to know that, in the Bible, this doctrine can be found in “The Book of Opinions,”—it isn’t there!
It is truly amazing that so many professing Christians subscribe to this belief. It’s amazing for three reasons. First, because Scripture is devoid of any such teaching; second, because Scripture teaches a completely different view on the topic of the fall of mankind; and third, because Original Sin contradicts and blasphemes the very nature of our loving God. Let us examine these three points.
Scripture Does not Teach Original Sin
Because Original Sin is not taught in the Bible, in order to answer the question in the article’s title, we must consult a source other than the Bible (which is never a good idea if we simply want the truth). Consider Wikipedia’s introductory paragraph on the topic:
Original sin is the Christian doctrine that holds that humans, through the fact of birth, inherit a tainted nature in need of regeneration and a proclivity to sinful conduct. The biblical bases for the belief are generally found in Genesis 3 (the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden), in a line in psalm 51:5 (“I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”), and in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 5:12-21 (“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin.
Contrary to Wikipedia’s assertion, this is not a “Christian doctrine.” Christian doctrine is found in the New Testament and, as already stated, original sin is not. Yet, it is generally believed that, since the time of the first man, Adam, every human has been born a sinner, having inherited a “sinful nature” from his father, who inherited it from his father, etc., all the way back to Adam. Because of this, we are totally depraved, completely unable to do anything good.
A study of the history of this doctrine would point us to men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Augustine of Hippo. It is not my intent to go into details on these men and their teaching, but to stress that the doctrine has its origins in men, not the Bible. It is, however, important to recognize the extent to which Calvin took this error.
Calvin’s doctrine is summarized in five main points, known by the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints, or Once Saved, Always Saved). It is not within the scope of this article to discuss each of these; we will only be looking at the first one, Total Hereditary Depravity. Let’s consider some quotes from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion
(https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.ii.html)[all bold mine – DR].
Regarding Adam’s sin, Calvin said that he
…involved his posterity also, and plunged them in the same wretchedness. This is the hereditary corruption to which early Christian writers gave the name of Original Sin, meaning by the term the depravation of a nature formerly good and pure.
we…bring an innate corruption from the very womb.
In reference to Psalm 51:5 he said,
Surely there is no ambiguity in David’s confession, ‘I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ …there was no peculiarity in David’s case, it follows that it is only an instance of the common lot of the whole human race. All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed, come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. Nay, before we behold the light of the sun we are in God’s sight defiled and polluted. We thus see that the impurity of parents is transmitted to their children, so that all, without exception, are originally depraved. The commencement of this depravity will not be found until we ascend to the first parent of all as the fountain head. We must, therefore, hold it for certain, that, in regard to human nature, Adam was not merely a progenitor, but, as it were, a root, and that, accordingly, by his corruption, the whole human race was deservedly vitiated (298).
He drew this conclusion from a misunderstanding of Romans 5:12-19:
This is plain from the contrast which the Apostle draws between Adam and Christ, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned; even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Let’s address these claims, as well as the statement in the Wikipedia article that there are three main passages used to support this error, Genesis 3, Psalm 51:5, and Romans 5:12ff.
Genesis three records the first sin of mankind, the eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve. In it we learn of the temptation to sin, the sin itself, and the consequences for the sin. Adam was punished for his sin in eating the fruit and Eve was punished for her sin in eating the fruit. Nothing in this passage teaches that their sin (or the guilt of it) would be passed on to their children.
Psalm 51:5 has often been used by Calvinists to teach original, hereditary sin; but there are two reasons why this is a false conclusion, one involving translation, the other interpretation. First, while it does speak of some type of sin involved in and around the birth of David, the sin was not David’s, nor does it say that the sin (or the guilt thereof) was transferred to David. It says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Who sinned, David or his parents? The NIV, in what seems to have been an attempt to support Original Sin, mistranslated this as, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Notice the glaring difference regarding who committed the sin! The NIV translators would have us to believe David was claiming that he himself was the sinner, even from the time he was conceived! Recalling the definition of sin in 1 John 3:4 (“transgression of law”) we must ask, what law did David transgress? What law could any baby in the womb violate? None! Young’s Literal Translation reads, “Lo, in iniquity I have been brought forth, And in sin doth my mother conceive me.” No, David did not believe that he had sinned in the womb, and the proper translation of the text shows clearly that the “sin” belonged to his parents, not to him!
The second reason the Calvinistic view of Psalm 51:5 is incorrect has to do with interpretation. While the verse clearly states that the sin belonged to his mother, not David, ultimately a proper understanding of the purpose and emotion of the psalm shows that neither sinned at his conception. David was using figurative language. The context of the psalm is David’s godly sorrow for his sin with Bathsheba. In his great sadness, disappointment, anger, and disgust at himself for his actions, he used strong hyperbole (exaggeration) to make his point (as he did in verse 4 when he said “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned”). He was not saying that he or his parents were sinful at his conception. Surely we all can understand and relate to David’s emotion here.
Consider a similar favorite passage of the Calvinist, Psalm 58:3: “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” The Calvinist takes this literally, ignoring the obvious figurative language. Can a newborn baby speak lies? Even if he could, notice that these go astray as soon as they are born. But Calvin said they were sinful from conception (“before we behold the light of the sun we are in God’s sight defiled and polluted”). If we take Psalm 58:3 literally, his statement is contradictory. If we take it figuratively (as we should), his statement is utterly ridiculous.
The third alleged proof text passage to consider is Romans 5:12, which states, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” This verse presents a logical progression with regard to sin, its origin, and its result. But nowhere does it say that “humans, through the fact of birth, inherit a tainted nature.” It says 1) “as by one man sin entered into the world” (i.e., Adam sinned), 2) “and death by sin” (death was the result/punishment – cf. Rom. 6:23), and 3) “and so death passed upon all men.” But how? How did death pass upon all men? Because Adam sinned? Because we inherited his “sinful nature”? No! The next five words answer the question unambiguously, “for that all have sinned!”
Another verse that has confused people on this topic is 1 Corinthians 15:22 – “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Of this verse, Calvin said, ‘Therefore, the only explanation which can be given of the expression, ‘in Adam all died,’ is, that he by sinning not only brought disaster and ruin upon himself, but also plunged our nature into like destruction…”
To be consistent in this verse, if “in Adam all die” means that we all (no exceptions/limitations) are born sinful and lost, then “even so in Christ shall all be made alive” means that we all (no exceptions/limitations) will be saved. Not only is this “universalism” view false biblically, but it would disprove “Limited Atonement” (the third tenet of Calvinism), which teaches that Christ died only for the elect, another false teaching (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2)!
In Adam all die if we follow his example and commit sin. In Christ all shall be made alive if we follow His example and obey God. Both of these come down to the decision that each human makes to either be obedient or disobedient.
Mankind is definitely sinful. As Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But every point the Bible makes regarding the sinfulness of mankind is because mankind chooses to commit sin, not because mankind inherited sin.
Scriptural Teaching on the Fall of Mankind
Contrary to the belief that man is inherently sinful and corrupt in nature to the point that he has no choice but to be sinful, let’s consider some points and passages on the topic of sin and each human’s own personal ability and responsibility to choose the right over the wrong.
Man is not responsible for or affected by Adam’s sin (or anyone else’s). Each person is responsible for his own sin.
Exodus 32:33 – “And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.”
Deuteronomy 24:16 – “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Isaiah 7:16 – “For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” The child will have a decision to refuse evil and choose good. And this decision-making ability will come a certain time after he is born.
Isaiah 59:2 – “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.” Each person is separated from God by his own sins.
Ezekiel 18:20 – “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
Ezekiel 28:15 – “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.”
Ecclesiastes 7:29 – “Behold this alone I found: God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”
John 8:24 – “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” You shall die in your sins (not Adam’s; not your parents’)!
John 8:34 – “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” “Commits” is present tense (continuous action). Whoever continues to commit sin is a slave to sin. This is about your decision to either continue sinning or to stop. It has nothing to do with the sins of Adam, our parents, or anyone else.
Colossians 2:13– “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”
Are children born sinners?
Matthew 18:6 – “Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” How could Christ say this about sinful children?
Matthew 19:14-15 – “Suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Romans 9:11 (speaking of Jacob and Esau–v.14) – “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth….”
Deuteronomy 1:39 (regarding the punishment of the Israelites in the wilderness) – “Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.” If they had no knowledge between good and evil, how could they have been sinful? Does God condemn anyone, let alone children, for disobeying a law He has not given to them or that they are not yet capable of understanding? And if these children were sinful, why the distinction between their sinlessness and the parents’ sinfulness? Why did these “sinful” children get to inherit the promised land, while their sinful parents died? They were not sinful because they “had no knowledge between good and evil!” Remember, 1 John 3:4 says sin is the transgression of God’s law. If one still says that this baby is sinful (is held responsible for his parents’ sins, etc.), then how can he be forgiven?
Babies cannot meet God’s requirements for salvation.
Man must do something to save himself (Acts 2:40, Phil. 2:12, John 8:24, Luke 13:3, Matt. 10:32-33, Acts 2:38), and babies cannot follow these commands to save themselves.
Therefore, babies cannot be saved (if they’re sinful). This makes God a liar; He does not want all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).
What about all the babies who have died before they reached the age where they were able to react properly to the message of the gospel? Are they in torment right now (cf. Luke 16:23)? The Calvinist may not want to answer this, but we can. The answer is, absolutely not! Babies are not sinners or God would have made a way for them to be saved. Notice how the plan of salvation is in total opposition to inherited sin and infant baptism.
Original Sin Contradicts and Blasphemes the Very Nature of Our Loving God
It is impossible to inherit a sin. God defines sin as a violation of His law (1 John 3:4 – “sin is the transgression of the law”). How can I inherit the sin of my father, or his father, or Adam? Can I eat the fruit Adam ate? If my father was a murderer, does that make me one?
The real question is, can I inherit the guilt of the sin committed by my father, grandfather, or Adam? Earlier the question was presented, What law could any baby in the womb violate? Obviously none. But can that baby somehow be considered guilty, held responsible in some way for the sins of his father, or Adam? While common sense says no, Original Sin says yes! Yet, while only God can forgive someone’s sins, only God can assign the blame of sin to someone. The false doctrine of inherited sin accuses God of assigning the blame for one person’s sin to another person, even an innocent baby in the womb! What kind of “god” would do such a thing?
How does the Bible answer the question, “Can I inherit the guilt of someone else’s sin?” As clear as Deity can make it, Ezekiel 18:20 says,
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
Not that this verse could be made any clearer than it already is, but please read the entire chapter as well. In doing so, you will find God, in essence, defending Himself against the views of His people on this topic. He says (v. 29), “Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?” The ways of the Original Sin adherent are just as unequal. How can a loving God, who did everything in His power to provide a way for each individual person to be forgiven of his own sins and to go to Heaven, hold us guilty and condemn us for the sins of someone else?
For Bible believers, the question is forever settled: He does not! You are not, cannot, and will not be held responsible for another’s sins. You did not inherit the sin (or guilt of sin) of another human being – not your father, Adam, or anyone else. You were not a sinner as soon as you were conceived or born. You were in no way tainted by the sin of your parents. Nor did you inherit a sinful nature, something you can blame for the sins you now commit as an adult. When you became old enough to know right from wrong (Deut. 1:39; Isa. 7:16), you then made your own choices whether to obey God’s word or not, and this you still do. Certainly you were and are influenced by others (parents, friends, etc.); but sin is always your choice. And you are guilty for your own sin, and only your own sin.
Calvinism not only misses the mark on the source of sin, but also on the solution for sin. While Calvinism says that salvation is all God’s doing, and you either are or are not saved (depending on the whether or not God chose to “elect” you, based in no way on your actions, good or bad), the Bible says otherwise. Acts 10:34-35 says “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” Every human being has the choice to obey the gospel by believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16), repenting of his sins (Acts 17:30), confessing Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), being baptized for the purpose of having his sins forgiven and washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and being raised from that watery grave to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4), committed to Him and His Word unto death (Rev. 2:10). We implore every reader to humbly obey this gospel plan of salvation.