Responding to Objections to Original Sin

All people are morally flawed. Daily living confirms that brokenness sits at the center of each human being.

The Bible’s anthropology (study of humanity as it relates to God) explains the moral breakdown by revealing that all human beings are captive to the debilitating force of original sin. The Handbook of Basic Bible Texts defines “original sin” as “the sinfulness, guilt, and susceptibility to death inherited by all human beings [Christ excepted] from Adam”1  (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Proverbs 20:9; Romans 5:10–12).

While this moral calamity affects people universally, the doctrine of original sin remains controversial. Some people push back against it for various reasons. Let’s look at some objections that I have received recently on social media and my response to them.

An Objection from a Muslim

I recently had a brief discussion with a Muslim on Twitter who took issue with an earlier article I wrote, “Does Original Sin Explain the Human Condition?” Islam denies the doctrine of original sin and instead asserts that people are born morally good. So Muslims reject the Christian doctrine of the fall. The Muslim I interacted with said that original sin was a false doctrine introduced by the apostle Paul.

In my response, I asked the Muslim commenter why, if people are born good as Islam claims, he did not simply stop being selfish, envious, and lustful. This seemed to me to be a fair response given Islam’s categorical denial of humankind’s sinful nature. Unfortunately, the Muslim did not respond to my moral challenge.

An Objection from an Eastern Orthodox Christian

As I noted in my earlier article, Christendom is not in full agreement about the doctrine of original sin. For example, Eastern Orthodoxy affirms that while all people are born with a proclivity to sin (ancestral sin), they reject the idea that people bear Adam’s guilt.Eastern Christendom tends to view original sin as a Western church doctrine with close ties to St. Augustine.

On my Facebook page, an Eastern Orthodox Christian responded to the earlier article. He thought original sin was incoherent and he had two specific objections (paraphrased here):

I’m still trying to get my mind around the concept of original sin. Inherited guilt seems to me to be a logical absurdity.


1. Original sin, as described in the article, seems stronger than simply a universal proclivity to sin such as is conveyed in Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”).

2. If God actually blames or punishes people for inherited guilt, then it seems to reflect a profound character flaw in God himself.

In my response, I pointed out that theologically conservative Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism share much common ground, as is reflected in the Nicene Creed. With that in mind, here are a few points for consideration.

First, of course the central issue, at least for me, is whether original sin is a biblical teaching. Western Christendom (Catholic and Protestant) has generally concluded that the biblical data is very strong. So I invite believers of all backgrounds to study the individual biblical passages cited in my article and in my book 7 Truths That Changed the World (specifically chapters 9 and 10).

Second, the idea of a single person representing a group of people for good or bad makes sense to me as an American and as a parent. As citizens and parents we often bear the burden and sometimes the punishment of actions done by others in our country and in our family. From a biblical perspective, a case can be made that the ancient Hebrews saw themselves as a collective group before God with Adam as their federal representative. God would treat all people according to the actions of Adam as representative. Some scholars view exclusive individuality before God as less biblical and more of a modern concept.

Third, if inherited guilt is a logical contradiction, then so is inherited righteousness. Yet the apostle Paul’s central metaphor concerning salvation turns on the bookkeeping analogy (credit and debit) of Christ taking our sin and giving us his righteousness. In fact, God did punish Christ for sins he inherited from us. As Paul proclaims: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Fourth, a mere proclivity (a tendency to do something regularly; an inclination or predisposition) to sin doesn’t seem to do justice to the biblical data. In Scripture, sin is called “disobedience,” “evil,” “inequity,” “lawlessness,” “transgression,” “trespass,” “ungodliness,” “unholiness,” “unrighteousness,” and “wickedness.” Nor does “proclivity” seem to match what Jesus calls an “enslavement to sin” (John 8:34). Also, the human condition, even for the Christian, constantly shows thatno one can totally stop sinning (e.g., envy, pride, selfishness, lust: 1 John 1:8).

Fifth, in Christian redemption, God is both the offended party and the one who pays for the offense (analogous to parents who attempt to help their children even while suffering loss). This quality seems to reflect not a God of flaws but of love and grace.

Thus in conclusion I think original sin is a clear biblical doctrine and a coherent idea that carries great explanatory power and scope when it comes to the human condition. In my book 7 Truths That Changed the World, chapters 9 and 10 are devoted to sin and salvation.

A Call for Clarification about Original Sin

In reply to my points, the Eastern Orthodox Christian then asked for further clarification (paraphrased here): The information seems to be that we are born sinners and cannot save ourselves, and the explanation seems to be that we are born sinners that cannot save ourselves. Restating the information does not seem like a good explanation of the information. I must be missing something here.

In my reply I said to explain Christianity’s extraordinary explanatory power and scope, we need to broaden the topic to include the fuller Christian anthropology. As a student of the world’s religions and philosophical systems of belief for more than 30 years, I’m confident in saying that only historic Christianity’s anthropology seems to fit with the enigmatic human condition.
To reference Blaise Pascal in the Pensées, human beings are a strange and freakish mixture of “greatness and wretchedness.”3 The greatness comes from the imago Dei (Genesis 1:26–28). Humankind’s philosophical, scientific, aesthetic, and spiritual abilities and accomplishments place human beings in a different category. Even leading secular evolutionary scientists now note that humans are different in kind (human exceptionalism), not just in degree from all other life-forms.

The wretchedness comes from the fallen condition and extends far beyond a mere proclivity to sin, evidencing itself in a universal deep-seated inward corruption. The reality that all people are infected with sin and cannot not sin fits well with a universal fallen nature that operates something like a hereditary disease. Original sin says all human beings have inherited a fallen nature and corporate guilt through their representative ancestor, Adam. Worse still, human beings in their morally depraved condition sometimes use their giftedness to commit atrocities like slavery, the Holocaust, human trafficking, and abortion (even infanticide). Islam doesn’t believe in a fallen humanity, nor does modern Judaism. The Eastern religions don’t offer an anthropology that corresponds well to the human condition. And human beings seem both better and worse than what secular evolutionary theory would predict.

Thus I think the biblical or historic Christian anthropology best fits with the actual human condition (explains the enigma) and thus makes historic Christianity plausibly true. Moreover, the fallenness of the human condition is proved every day (confirming the abductive inference). I develop this approach in more detail in my books A World of Difference and 7 Truths That Changed the World.

Takeaway
If you also find original sin a mysterious doctrinal claim then consider Pascal’s words on both its mystery and its unique explanatory power.

“It is, however, an astonishing thing that the mystery furthest removed from our knowledge, namely, that of the transmission of sin, should be a fact without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those, who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust…. Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet, without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists and turns in this abyss, so that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man.”4

So while original sin is a mystery that some people, even some Christians, object to, it has solid biblical support and it helps explain the great enigma of human nature.

Reflections: Your Turn
How do you see original sin manifested in your life? 

Resources

Endnotes

  1. John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 56.
  2. Fr. John S. Romanides, “Original Sin According to St. Paul,” Orthodox Christian Information Center, accessed December 3, 2020, http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frjr_sin.aspx.
  3. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (New York: Penguin, 1966), 117/409.
  4. Pascal, 434.

  One thought on “Responding to Objections to Original Sin

  1. April 27, 2021 at 5:33 am

    I remember an issue of Tabletalk from many years ago. The cover featured a cute baby. The title of the issue was Total Depravity. Sinners by nature and by choice sure lines up with the biblical teaching.

  2. Darrell Gallear
    April 27, 2021 at 7:08 am

    Good answers

    • April 27, 2021 at 8:12 am

      Thanks, Darrell.

      Ken Samples

  3. Richard Dale Patton
    April 27, 2021 at 10:04 am

    I have been working on a narrative book: Christianity and Society. My view of original sin is that it leads to economic prosperity. Let me explain.

    The key to the difference between a 3rd world nation and a 1st world nation is the laws and customs of the nation. To be prosperous, a nation must believe in equality of all humans, regardless of faith or accomplishments.

    Original sin implies equality, since no one is good enough to take away your rights; everyone is a sinner. Thus original sin is the basis (one of them) for the early prosperity of Christians in Europe. The strong form is a Western Christian belief, and it was in the West, especially England and France, that the industrial revolution was strongest.

    Generally, oppressor do not believe in equality, and therefore do not believe in original sin. For example, the atheist JBS Haldane joined the communist party specifically because he did not believe in equality.

    • April 27, 2021 at 10:11 am

      Thanks, Richard.

      Interesting thesis.

      Ken Samples

  4. Kimberly
    May 8, 2021 at 6:27 am

    It was not until I fully understood and embraced original sin could I find true peace within myself. Of course, the initial realization rocked me to my core, but was also so freeing at the same time. I struggled with poor self-esteem, envy/jealousy, and anger. Once I realized that none of this would ever go away, I turned to Jesus to repent. Through His grace and mercy I have been able to move past my “self” and now focus only on living for Him. Those struggles have disappeared and now I can also better understand the other teaching of the Bible.

    • May 8, 2021 at 9:45 am

      Appreciate your comments, Kimberly.

      Thanks.

      Ken Samples

  5. Bryan Wendt
    May 10, 2021 at 10:48 am

    Even newborn babies are little savages. They scream til re-faced, ball their fists, when they don’t get all they want. You don’t have to teach them to say NO! or MINE!
    It would appear to be the universal experience of man that we are “vipers in diapers”.

    • May 10, 2021 at 11:43 am

      Thanks, Bryan.

      Ken Samples

  6. Robert Weil
    November 5, 2021 at 4:23 am

    My thoughts turn to the inheritance of genetic information, as I am teaching that in my high school science classes now. It seems to me that behavior is strongly influenced, but not completely predetermined, by one’s DNA. As a somewhat trivial example, I inherited hypoglycemia from my parents, which makes me sinfully irritable before mealtimes. Could it not be that the genetic code of Adam and Eve was altered as a result of the profound relational breach they experienced as a consequence of their choices? At least, the ways in which their genes were expressed? If so, we have inherited their sin in a literal sense.

    • November 5, 2021 at 8:51 am

      Robert:

      Original sin has affected our being which could involve influencing our genetics.

      Ken Samples

  7. January 7, 2022 at 9:11 pm

    The soul that sins shall die. The only persons who could be condemned for Adam’s sin are Adam Himself, and Jesus who died on his behalf.

    • January 8, 2022 at 8:09 pm

      Hello, Tony.

      Thanks for your comment.

      I hope you read my article.

      But if you didn’t I hope you’ll consider this paragraph in light of the comment you left:

      If inherited guilt is a logical contradiction, then so is inherited righteousness. Yet the apostle Paul’s central metaphor concerning salvation turns on the bookkeeping analogy (credit and debit) of Christ taking our sin and giving us his righteousness. In fact, God did punish Christ for sins he inherited from us. As Paul proclaims: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

      Peace in the New Year.

      Ken Samples

      • January 8, 2022 at 8:22 pm

        Ken:

        I did read the article. I’ve had great respect for you over many years, by the way. My disagreement is no indication of any lack of esteem for you.

        While there’s no doubt that we have all inherited a sinful nature from Adam, I don’t believe that we’ve inherited his guilt. I do believe it would be unjust to punish you for my sin, or me for Adam’s. I’m not morally culpable for the actions of others, but for my own… and that’s plenty. Ezekiel 18 (among other passages) seems like a strong argument for this view. God said that the one who sins is the one that shall die, that the son will not die for his father’s sin, and more.

        I’m guilty, to be sure… not because someone else sinned, or because I have a sinful nature. Adam was guilty because he disobeyed God, and I’m guilty for the same reason. All have sinned, so all deserve judgment and punishment.

        What am I missing?

      • January 8, 2022 at 9:00 pm

        Tony:

        Thanks for reading my article and considering my case for original sin.

        Thanks as well for the respectful words. I appreciate it.

        As you know the doctrine of original sin is controversial and at least one entire branch of Christendom rejects it.

        My central response to you is found in detail in my article. As I indicated I think a careful case can be made for original sin (which includes our guilt in Adam) from Scripture particularly from Romans 5 (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Proverbs 20:9; Romans 5:10–12).

        I also think Scripture indicates Adam was more than a private individual. He was humankind’s federal representative and we therefore are collectively responsible for his actions.

        I also explain in my article that I think salvation trades on our federal relationship to Adam. If it’s wrong for God to blame us for what Adam did then it’s also wrong for God to blame and punish Christ for what we did.

        Christ is the second Adam who repairs the break caused by the first Adam.

        I even think admitting we have inherited a sin nature from Adam shows our collective relationship to him.

        May I humbly invite you to read my article again and see if I have answered your specific questions and objections sufficiently.

        Peace be with you, my friend.

        Ken Samples

      • January 9, 2022 at 8:00 am

        Thanks, Ken. Have a great day!

      • Gordon Holley
        January 30, 2022 at 6:56 pm

        “God did punish Christ for sins he inherited from us”
        If you believe the atonement is about punishment for the appeasement for wrath, you are basically saying that Jesus was offered as an anathema to God (Corinthians 12:3) instead of being God himself in the flesh.
        If you can’t get the basics about Jesus killing sin with his flesh when getting himself killed, cursing sin by taking the law’s curse by hanging from a tree, and breaking the gates of hell while dead for three days,
        but you instead believe that 9 hours of pain is an infinite weregild, how can we possibly trust you to expose to us the nature of sin using Paul’s difficult (2 Peter 3:16) and very Jewish-Greek, serpentous and wandering writings and speeches?
        If you believe in penal substitutionary atonement’s pagan mathematics, how can you possibly interperet anything else Jewish?
        You believe that Jesus is God, but if you don’t believe that God is Jesus, you can’t possibly teach Paul’s works.

      • January 30, 2022 at 8:58 pm

        Gordon:

        Greetings in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

        To be candid the logic of your writing is very difficult to follow. Frankly, I’m not sure of the point you are making in your comments. But in your screed you seem to clearly think I’m untrustworthy to communicate the truth of historic Christianity.

        Here’s my response:

        1. If you haven’t read my article and are just commenting on my interaction with Tony, please go back and read my article closely.

        2. I think penal substitution in clearly one of the Bible’s metaphors of atonement, and possibly its most important. This is affirmed by classical Old Testament Judaism and most within historic magisterial Protestantism. See my book below Without a Doubt (chapter 11: “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”).

        3. The bookkeeping analogy of salvation in Scripture is clear in that Jesus Christ took our sin and suffered divine punishment on our behalf. You may not find that idea appealing but I think it is clearly biblical. So in the context of original sin, we can be held accountable for Adam’s sin like Christ was held accountable for our sin.

        4. Regarding Christology, affirming Nicene orthodoxy, I believe that Jesus was a single person with both a divine and human nature. So Jesus’s divine nature is equal to that of the Father and the Spirit. Now relating that to the atonement, the person of the God-man suffered and died on the cross. And because Jesus is both God and man he can reconcile the two through his glorious life, death, and resurrection. Again, see my book below (Chapter 9: “How Can Jesus be Both God and Man?”).

        5. You write: “You believe that Jesus is God, but … you don’t believe … God is Jesus.” Yes, of course. Jesus is God in having a divine nature. But God is not Jesus. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Spirit anointed Son of the Father.

        Sincerely in Christ.

        Ken Samples

      • Gordon Holley
        February 1, 2022 at 11:46 am

        If God isn’t Jesus, how can Jesus be God?
        Is Mary the Christotokos, or the Theotokos? You can’t call yourself a Chalcedonian Christian if you do not believe that Mary truly gave birth to God, and that God did not truly turn Mary into his mother.
        If Jesus is the Spirit-Anointed Son, and God is the Son, how is God not Jesus? I am sure that your immediate reaction to “Is God the Father?” would be “Yes.” but, If God is not also Jesus, who is the Son, when what is he? A third of the Father? This can’t be so. You can’t divide infinity by three. All of God must be Jesus, just as All of God is the Father, and All of God is the Spirit. ‘Number’ infinity can do that, and no other.
        Jesus has a divine and human nature. That’s a given. But why do you believe that Jesus has divine and human natureS instead of A divine and human natur? Do you believe that there is overlap between the divine and human? Is perhaps there some part of Jesus’ humanity that is eclipsed by his divinity? If so, how could he be our High Priest? It would be Impossible. If any part of Godhood were abke to collide with any part of manhood, the Bible would be logically false. Jesus’ dual nature cannot be dismissed as a paradox if the Bible is to be credible.
        God the Son is a person, and Jesus Christ is a person. If God were not Jesus, then Jesus Christ the Son of God, you would have to conclude, even if unconsciously, is two persons!
        If you are indeed not a Nestorian, you have to deny the duality of Jesus in your core, not just your creedal statements. What you just said to me is compromising Jesus’ Godhood, and God’s manhood, because you assume that there is a collision between them.
        When two puzzle pieces fit together, you are not blending them, nor compromising them. If Jesus is to have two natures, be fully God, fully man, infinitely God, perfectly man, there cannot be any overlap between man and God. God has become a man, and is a man eternally. The cross is worthless unless this were true.

        As for sacrifice, you need to remember that the “commandments” in semitic thought are nothing like the Japethite idea of “commandment.” For us, it is an imposed burden of duty. For the Israelites, the sacrifice was a privilege. God gave them the privilege of the sabbath (gentiles aren’t even supposed to keep it.) God gave them the privilege of circumcision; the privilege of Torah; the privilege of the temple; the privilege of the sacrificial system, because they wanted one, and needed one for God to make sense. He did not introduce anything new. He de-paganized their Egyptian cultural feasts. In the end, however, God was tired of indulging their religious needs to burn things. “I require mercy, not sacrifice.” That’s why church tithes go to charity, not a firepit. God would have used other means to show the atonement if the Israelites’ hearts weren’t hardened to theIr culture’s taste for burning animal flesh. All of it was another way for God to condescend to us.
        Sacrifice as anathema was never even the point of it all. The scapegoat took their sins away, not lighting mutton on fire. It isn’t about appeasement of God’s wrath. Such appeasement would be a license to sin, which much of the church takes Jesus’ sacrifice to be for. Substitution means you can sin all you want as long as the sacrifice covers it. God doesn’t think like that.

      • February 1, 2022 at 2:56 pm

        Gordon:

        Greetings in Jesus’s name.

        I treated you graciously and respectfully in my previous interaction. Yet I now must be candid with you and tell you directly that both of your comments strike me as little more than ungracious and doctrinally dismissive rants.

        Here’s my brief and final theological response to you.

        1. As I clearly explained in my previous post but I’ll do so again, according to the Council of Chalcedonian (AD 451) Jesus Christ is a single person with both a divine and human nature. So Jesus is God but God is not Jesus in the sense that the Son shares his divine nature fully and equally with both the Father and the Spirit. To say God is Jesus fails to spell out the critical Trinitarian context. Since Jesus is the Spirit anointed Son of the Father you cannot have Jesus without the Trinity. If I were you I wouldn’t use the confusing expression “God is Jesus.”

        2. A further element of the Chalcedonian Creed which I fully accept is that the two natures are in union in the singe person of Christ (the hypostatic union) and that the two natures do not mix or mingle. So the human does not drag down the deity and the divine does not divinize the humanity. I’m no Nestorian and nothing I have written comes remotely close to that heretical position.

        3. Your thoughts about sacrifice and what God did and did not intend to convey is little more than your personal opinion. Jesus Christ’s atoning work was penal and substitutionary in nature. Here’s just a few select passages in support of this critical biblical doctrine (Isa. 53:4-5; Mark 10:45; John 10:14-18; Romans 3:25; 5:10; Galatians 3:13; Ephesian 2:15-16; 5;2; Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:24; 1 John 2:2; Revelation 5:9).

        I address the Trinity and the Incarnation in my most recent book (see below).

        I’ve been generous in allowing you to post two lengthy comments. But this will have to be the end of our discussion because I need to get back to my book writing.

        Sincerely in Christ,

        Ken Samples

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