Adam, Augustine, and the Doctrine of Original Sin (Part 1)

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mulling over writing a post specifically about Adam and the doctrine of Original Sin. As things would have it, just over the course of the past week, I happened to come across posts on this very subject from both Answers in Genesis and Peter Enns. As you will no doubt be able to guess, both contributions were different to say the least. And so, what I thought I’d do today is first give a very brief overview of both contributions, and then share some of my own thoughts as well.

Simon Turpin at Answers in Genesis
In actuality, AiG re-posted two articles, both by Simon Turpin. The first was entitled, “Original Sin: How Original Is It? Romans 5:12,” and the second was entitled, “How Do Some Among You Say There Is No Adam?: 1 Corinthians 15: Adam and the Gospel.”

In Turpin’s first article, he frames his argument along the lines of the standard AiG talking point regarding the creation/evolution debate. In short, Turpin argues that unless there was a historical Adam who “fell” from the perfect state God originally created, “this would mean that God is responsible for the suffering and evil we see in the world.” In other words, there had to be an “original” Adam, who “originally sinned” and who thus contaminated God’s “original and perfect” creation and imputed that sin and that guilt upon the rest of humanity that came after him.

And to be perfectly clear, this is what most Evangelical Christians pretty much assume: a historical Adam was originally perfect, but sinned and thus screwed things up for the rest of us.

In the making of his argument, Turpin makes it a point to spar with the works of Karl Giberson and Denis Alexander. The points by these men that Turpin addresses can be summed up as follows:

  • The doctrine of original sin wasn’t really established until Saint Augustine, and that before him, “many Christians viewed Adam simply as Everyman, the first of our species, like us in many ways, tempted by Satan as we are.”
  • People are guilty for their own sin; and that they don’t “inherit” Adam’s sin or guilt. If that were the case, then we have a problem, for…
  • How can God be truly just if you and I are punished for something Adam did, and thus for something we had nothing to do with? I mean, if you were born with a clubbed foot, it would be pretty unfair for God to punish you because He commanded you to run a 5:00 minute mile, and you were unable to.

Turpin’s answer to these three points is basically this:

  • The doctrine of original sin was taught by Church Fathers like Irenaeus, Basil, among others, as well as the Jewish people of the Second Temple period. (I don’t know about Basil, but when it comes to Irenaeus, that is simply false. Not only that, but consider II Baruch 54:19: “Adam is therefore not the cause, save only of his own soul, but each of us has been the Adam of his own soul.”)
  • We are guilty for both our own sin and Adam’s sin—Adam’s disobedience being the “primary cause” and our individual sin being the “secondary cause.” (Translation? Sure, you’re guilty because of your own sin, but it is because of Adam that you have a sin nature and thus sin in the first place. So, yes, ultimately, it’s Adam’s fault.)
  • What liberal, self-serving, individualistic rebellion! People like Giberson and Alexander simply want to call the first chapters of Genesis myth because they don’t want to face the reality of the fall, or their own guilt for their sin.

Well, I don’t think Giberson or Alexander are denying their own sin. They’re questioning whether or not the sin of a historical Adam somehow was passed on to them. Turpin might be over-stating things just a bit. But in any case, he ends by stating that the doctrine of original sin is incompatible with evolution…and I’d have to agree—but for that matter, the doctrine of original sin is incompatible with the Bible. (Don’t worry, I’ll elaborate on that in the next two posts).

He also ends by claiming that those who reject a historical Fall have a serious theodicy problem: “Sin’s origin in the world must be traceable to an earlier free choice of one of God’s creatures. Otherwise, good and evil are eternal co-principles (dualism), or God is both good and evil (monism)—that is, God is the author of sin.”

Simply put, if there was no historical Adam who fell from a state of original perfection, then God is the ultimate author of sin and evil.

In Turpin’s second article, he basically argues that the reason why some modern scholars deny a historical Adam is because they are influenced by Greek philosophy (honestly, I still don’t get that claim). Turpin also puts belief of a historical Adam on the same level of importance as the resurrection of Christ: Just as the Resurrection is central to the gospel, the idea of there being a first man, Adam, is foundational to the gospel and to the doctrines that are built upon it.”

He further claims that since the atonement “involves a blood sacrifice, which implies violence and death,” that this somehow makes no sense in a theistic-evolutionary worldview, “where violence and death have been a part of God’s process of creation over millions of years.” Thus in Turpin’s eyes, theistic evolution not only “undermines” Genesis, it also “undermines” Christ’s atoning death as well.

According to Turpin, the figure of Adam couldn’t be a “myth” because, as Turpin states, how could a mythological figure affect the human race in such a negative way?” No, Adam had to be a historical person. If he wasn’t, then we’d have to reject the idea that physical death came about by his disobedience. And if we do that, then, as Turpin states, “there really is no need for the Cross, atonement, or a new heaven and earth.”

Peter Enns’ on Why Original Sin Doesn’t Work
Peter Enns has somewhat of a different take. In his recent post, he gives five reasons why “original sin” doesn’t work. He starts by asking a basic question, “Where in the Old Testament does it actually say Adam’s disobedience is the cause of universal human sinfulness and guilt?” Given that question, here are the five reasons Enns gives as to why “original sin” doesn’t work:

  • Inherited sin is not one of the stated curses on Adam (and I’ll add, of Eve either!)
  • Throughout the Old Testament, pleasing God through obedience is expected, commanded, and doable. As Enns states, Nowhere in the Old Testament do we read that humanity is under God’s condemnation simply by being born and therefore helpless to do anything about it, and thus no actions are truly pleasing to God.”
  • With one exception, Adam is never mentioned again after Genesis 5. Translation? Adam’s sin simply is not a focus at all throughout the Old Testament.
  • Adam is not blamed for Cain’s murder of Abel. Cain is held responsible for his own sinful choice, and nowhere in Genesis 4 is there any indication that Cain had “inherited” his sin from Adam.
  • Adam is not blamed for the flood either.

Enns further points out that in traditional Jewish theology, they do not hold to this notion of “original sin” and the idea that human beings inherited their sinful nature from Adam. Instead, Jewish theology says all human beings, like Adam (not because of Adam), are “inclined toward evil” and thus have an “evil inclination.”

So, What Should We Understand About the Doctrine of Original Sin?
As you can tell, there are a lot of “moving parts” to this issue of the doctrine of original sin: the historicity of Adam, the question of a proper understanding of sin, a consideration of what the Church has taught (not to mention the traditional Jewish understanding as well), as well as the issue of theodicy, and whether or not God is responsible for sin, evil, and death.

Now, I am going to assume that as you read my summary of both Turpin’s and Enns’ comments regarding Adam and the doctrine of original sin, you had a number of reactions and questions. So did I—that’s why I’m writing this post, as well as a second one in which I tease this issue out a bit more.

One interesting point that is barely alluded to in the above articles is where the doctrine of original sin came from. Giberson correctly points out that it was Saint Augustine in the 4th century that really established the doctrine, especially in the Western Church. But why did he write about it in the first place? And for that matter, why does the Eastern Orthodox Church tend to shy away from the idea of “original sin,” and instead prefers to talk about “ancestral sin”? And what is “ancestral sin” anyway?

That’s where I’m going to take this discussion in the next post: I want to discuss a bit of the history behind the doctrine of original sin, as well as the Orthodox understanding of “ancestral sin.” Once we can see these things in a clearer light, we’ll be able to better assess the various “moving parts” to the doctrine of original sin.

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