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I think I’ve always been a bit uneasy with the idea that God holds me responsible for something Adam did at the beginning of the Bible. I know God’s ways are not my ways, but this never made much sense.

Of course, my uneasiness doesn’t make something right or wrong. I’m just putting it out there.

Of course, I’m talking about “original sin”—the idea all humans are the objects of God’s anger from conception on because Adam’s deed of disobedience in the Garden of Eden has hardwired sinfulness into us all. Not only that, but for many Christians, original sin also means humans actually bear the guilt of what Adam did—which takes this to yet another level.

That seems rather alarming if true, and thus raises the question: does the Bible actually say this?: Where in Genesis or in the Old Testament as a whole is Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden described as the cause of universal human sinfulness and guilt?

For much of my adult life, my subconscious mind never allowed myself to look at this issue too carefully, I think for fear of what I might find. But several years ago, as I was writing The Evolution of Adam, I didn’t have much of a choice but to pony up.

Now, before I go on, let’s be clear about a couple of things. First, I’m only asking whether the Old Testament paints Adam as the one to blame for all the misery of the human race. I’m not talking about what the New Testament says about Adam (namely Romans 5:12-21, which is hardly the clearest passage we’ll ever read in the NT, but I digress).

Second, by wondering out loud about “original sin” I’m not saying “I’m OK, you’re OK, and God’s OK with it all, so let’s just get along.”

I believe that what the Bible calls “sin” is real—and you don’t have to read about Hitler, Stalin, or George Steinbrenner to find examples. Each of us carries around an alarming ability to harm each other in a seemingly non-stop variety of new and inventive ways.

Add to that the endless capacity we have to find ways to be miserable and harm ourselves. Few are truly at peace with themselves. The biochemical and environmental contributors to the common list of emotional struggles we face betray a deep sense of disquiet in our own hearts. We are all “sinners”—we all bear witness that things are not as they could be and we bear that burden daily.

Whatever words we want to use to describe it, this self-evident reality of repeated, relentless sin remains a consistent fact of human existence. We clearly need help. The Gospel is about what God has done through Jesus to come to our rescue.

But all I’m asking here is whether the Old Testament says that Adam is the cause of it all. It doesn’t. Not at all. Not even a hint.

1. Inherited sinfulness is not one of the curses on Adam.

Adam is introduced in Genesis 2, and for one chapter seems to hold it together. But then in chapter 3, Eve is outcrafted by the talking serpent, takes a bite of the forbidden fruit, and then hands it to Adam, who does likewise.

All three parties are cursed by God for this act of disobedience, and those curses have lasting consequences for the human drama. Fair enough, but note the consequences for Adam: from now (1) growing food will be hard work, and (2) death will be a fact of life.

Note what is not said: “And a third thing, Adam. From now on all humanity will be stained by your act of disobedience, born in a hopeless and helpless state of sin, objects of my displeasure and wrath.” If Genesis did say that, it would clear up a lot. But it doesn’t.

2. Throughout the Old Testament, pleasing God through obedience is both expected, commanded, and doable.

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.

[And don’t even bring up that one verse, Psalm 51:5. That’s not the prooftext for original sin in the Old Testament but David’s hyperbole after the Bathsheba incident.]

Yes indeed, God is terribly mad about sinful acts, especially when his people, the Israelites, do them. But—and I can’t stress this enough—implicit in all of God’s acts of wrath and punishment is the idea that the Israelites were most certainly capable of not sinning. That’s the whole point of the law: follow it and be blessed, disobey and be cursed. The choice is clear and attainable, so do the right thing.

[For example, see Deuteronomy 30:11-20: the Law God has given the Israelites isn’t far off across the ocean or way up in the heavens, but it is “very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (v. 14).]

In fact, some Old Testament figures actually seem to pull it off pretty well: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. No, they weren’t “perfect” but that’s exactly the point. God seems fine with some of his people getting it basically right and using them for some key task. Nowhere does God say to these people, “Great effort guys, but . .. you know . . . that Adam thing. Sorry. My eternal wrath remains upon you.”

3. With one exception, Adam disappears after Genesis 5.

After Genesis 5, Adam wanders off the Old Testament stage until 1 Chronicles 1:1, the beginning of the nine-chapter list of names in 1 Chronicles 1-9. Adam’s name is first (of course), but he’s just one name along with the pages of other names. He’s not the bad guy.

Throughout the entire rest of the Old Testament story, Adam doesn’t even warrant a mention. If Adam was really the person who set the whole world on a downward sin cycle, again, I’m not sure why it’s kept such a big secret.

[And no, “Adam” in Hosea 6:7 is not evidence to the contrary. There “Adam” is a place name, which the context makes perfectly clear. (See also Joshua 3:16b where “Adam” is a place name).]

Some argue “Adam’s sin and its consequences don’t have to be mentioned because they are obvious.” To be blunt, that is nonsense—especially given #2.

4. Adam is not blamed for Cain’s act of murder.

Back to Genesis. Adam’s son Cain killed his brother Abel. Here we have the immediate follow-up story to Adam and Eve and where his great sin is committed.

If Cain’s act were caused by a hardwired state of sinfulness due to what Adam did, here is where you would mention it—at least hint at it. Instead, Cain’s act is seen as a repeat of Adam’s disobedience (there is a lot of overlap in vocabulary between chapters 3 and 4) rather than a result.

God asks Cain, “Why are you angry?” as if it’s not obvious, and then offers Cain the same choice the law would later offer the Israelites.” You’ve got a choice, Cain. Make it a good one.” He didn’t. And the fact that Adam already “had it in him” to disobey suggests that Cain’s choice to sin was, like his father’s, not imposed on him from elsewhere.

5. Likewise, Adam is not blamed for the flood.

God wipes out all life in a flood because of the complete and thorough mess humans have made of it all. But look at Genesis 6:6-7. There we see that this escalation of sinfulness, which has now reached its boiling point, seems to take God by surprise.

He doesn’t say, “Well, of course, we all saw this coming, what with Adam’s disobedience in the Garden and all. I just wanted it to get really bad before I acted.” Rather, God is “grieved” and “sorry” about how out of hand all this has gotten.

Bottom line, there is ample time in the OT to say what so many people think the Bible says but in fact never does.

I know how some will respond to all this:

“But what about Paul!?” Fair enough, in Romans 5:12-21 Paul does mention Adam’s disobedience as having a universal effect—but that effect is “death” not “inherited sinfulness.” And even if Paul sees Adam as the cause of human misery and alienation from God (which I don’t think is the best reading of Romans 5), we still need to grapple with why the Old Testament doesn’t see it that way. Paul, regardless of how he is interpreted, doesn’t make 1-5 above go away.

Others will respond: “But if Adam isn’t the cause of it all, we no longer have a good explanation for why people are so messed up?” Agreed, but that doesn’t mean we would settle for a bad answer just so we can have one. The fact that questions arise that muddle our theology doesn’t make the Old Testament magically fall into line.

[Incidentally, Jewish theology simply says that humans are “inclined” toward “evil”—aka the “evil inclination,” which is the language taken from the Flood story in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Sin is seen as a fact, but—wisely—no attempt is made to explain where this “evil inclination” came from. It does not have a cause. It is, rather, a fact of existence.]

Still others will respond: “But without Adam as the cause of human sinfulness, the entire gospel falls apart.” I disagree. Rather, I think only a version of the gospel that needs this kind of Adam falls apart. Perhaps there are other ways (and there are).

I’m raising nothing new here—and I treat it all in a bit more detail in The Evolution of Adambut as far as I am concerned these are rather obvious problems to be dealt with, especially for those who claim that the Bible forms their theology.

Want to learn more? Try this course: Jesus and the Old Testament

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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  • andrew hill says:

    Pete, I love that you wrote about this as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. And I agree with 99.9% of it. Here’s the only point I would take one step further: you said, “all three parties are cursed by God for this act of disobedience.” But Genesis 3 doesn’t actually mention Adam and/or Eve being cursed. It only mentions the serpent and the ground being cursed. Something I find interesting.

  • nicholascapri says:

    The Orthodox don’t hold to the doctrine of original sin, and this has striking consequences. The Eastern Church tends to be much more resurrection-focused, while the West tends to be more crucifixion-focused. From Tertullian to Augustine to Anselm, you can see the idea of original sin lead to Anselm’s doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, an idea largely absent in the Christian East. I think original sin is important to wrestle with because of it’s incredible consequences on Christianity and the believer’s view of self, and, more importantly, the believer’s view of God.

  • KentonS says:

    Thanks for this, Pete. I’m processing a lot of this right now. At the moment, I’m not sure which I find more comforting: the explanation of Romans 5 you linked to, or the fact that you’re two examples of sinner were George Steinbrenner and a fictional character.

    I haven’t read The Evolution of Adam, so tell me: does it go into more detail about how George Steinbrenner is a sinner? That might motivate me to pick it up and read it sooner rather than later.

  • Second W. Yang says:

    Thank you for writing this. I agree with a lot of what you shared. I also am nervous when theologians discuss the imputation of guilt. When I read Romans 5:12 I do see that “sin came into the world through one man.” How this effects us is beyond my understanding. Many will conclude that this teaches the inherited sinful nature. Yet to what degree are humans depraved?

    A lot of assumptions are made in the creation account of Adam and Eve. Were they created perfect? No, otherwise they would not have chosen to eat of the fruit. Even then there are different ways to read Genesis 3. Often times I think we bring questions to the texts that we’re not supposed. That’s how our modern minds work. That’s not an excuse to not answer the question. Was the text even intended to answer that question?

  • Billy LeJeune says:

    “Paul does mention Adam’s disobedience as having a universal effect—but that effect is “death” not “inherited sinfulness.””

    But isn’t the resulting mortal body a major cause of our sinfulness and itself sin since it is not the outcome God intended? It’s not just that we die; but while we live, isn’t our biology fallen and the cause of sin in our lives? We have destructive appetites and mental illnesses and such all coming from the consequence of an Adamic body.

    Regarding Adam’s kids, Adam was created in God’s image, but Seth and the others were born in fallen Adam’s image. Pre-fall humans and post-fall humans are not the same. Pre-fall humans still had the option of life.

    The OT has lots of hints about our bodies being frail and disgusting and unable to be in the presence of God. It’s pretty hard to read through Leviticus and not come away with that in God’s mind, human bodies are sinful. Do not all humans inherit the separation from God’s presence and the inability to stand before Him in this condition? It’s not that God can’t stand to be in the presence of sinful humans, it’s that sinful humans (Adam humans) are inherently unable to stand before God.

    And your #2 falls because it also says there In Deut 30 that God has to change or enable their hearts for them to be able to obey him. Are not all humans born with uncircumcised hearts? Seems like that is a major OT theme. What’s the origin of that imagery if not the fall?

    And the Paul thing is huge. He certainly went to the OT and found that as Adam was the first born of the fallen creation and the resulting mortal humanity, Jesus is the firstborn of the new creation with immortal humanity. It only works if the two represent the all.

    “Some argue “Adam’s sin and its consequences don’t have to mentioned because they are obvious.”

    YES! IT IS!

  • Kay L says:

    It seems to me like focusing our attention on the idea of original sin is asking the wrong questions. It’s putting the focus on faith as being salvific in nature and not relational. The version of story seems to go this way “I’m bad, because my ancestor was bad. I can’t help it, but God wants to cast me away into hell for it. So Jesus had to come to rid me of my badness, so now I need to accept him as my ‘personal savior’ and it will rid me of Adam’s mistake- and mine- forever.” That’s what most of us (Evangelical Christians) were taught as children, but that just doesn’t seem to be the narrative of the Bible at all. It confuses me how we got here. I think we need to collectively switch the narrative toward relation.

    If we told the story more like “Humans have a propensity toward evil, going back to the beginning of humanity, that has hindered our ability to relate to God in the way that we were created to. God has continually sought after us, and attempted time and time again to form unbreakable bonds that would allow us to come back to Him and to walk away from the binding nature of sin that He sees has continually hurt and overwhelmed us. Eventually, he actually came down to us, met us on our level, and conquered sin himself, so that we may more easily find our way to Him.” Then the very need to discuss Original Sin coming directly from Adam is just a moot point.

  • Michael MacTavish says:

    I’ve always questioned how the original sin concept would allow young children that have died to get to heaven, this makes much more sense

  • AtTheInfiniteJoel says:

    In point five you use the phrase ” amble time”

    I believe you meant “ample time”

    Amble time is when you have arrived at the appropriate season for ambling. For example, “Stop! … Amble Time!”

  • Preston Price says:

    Thank for posting this! The parts about Israel being able to keep the law really cleared up my thinking on this issue. Also, it opens up all the other possible interpretations of what Jesus’ life means, not just his crucifixion. It focuses us away from the cross as some necessary event and instead makes it possible to look at that event as a contingency of his life. I am partial to the “Jesus drawing the world to him” atonement theory, or, as Tony Jones calls it, the “magnet theory.” However one falls on this issue, I no longer need to worry about my friends and family who are not Christians. They no longer are necessarily damned because they are not Christians. Eye-opening today. Helpful to have a biblical reason/response for my intuitions.

  • John D says:

    Doesn’t sin precede death however in verse 12? It seems that death came because of sin. Does that not make sin at least as universal of an effect as death?

    Full disclosure–the idea that we are all tarnished by some ancestors sin strikes me as incredibly immoral and bizarre, and I’d far more appreciate any theology without such a concept. But I’m more interested here in the logical inconsistency of cherry-picking among Paul’s attempts to tie Christian belief to Jewish scripture.

    • Pete E. says:

      But we don’t sin BECAUSE of Adam.

      • John D says:

        Thank you. So do you mean that sin came into the world because of Adam, but the subsequent decision to sin or not is our free will? And Jesus provides salvation from that sin?

        Some more questions, what about verses 18-19:

        18 Therefore, as one trespass[b] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[c] leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

        How would you interpret the phrase “condemnation for all men”? If many were “made sinners” by Adam’s disobedience, what does this mean? Thanks again.

        • Pete E. says:

          Something like that. Though remember my view is that the Adam story is a mythological origins story.

    • Pete E. says:

      But we don’t sin BECAUSE of Adam.

      • Guarionex says:

        But nonetheless we sin, and that’s just the beginning of the story….

        you say:
        “Whatever words we want to use to describe it, this self-evident reality of repeated, relentless sin remains a consistent fact of human existence.”-

        then the “original sin” framework is just a way we have crafted to make sense of the self-evident reality of repeated, relentless of sin, which seems to be an inherent aspect of human life; We are just making an inference from the given script.

        By the way, you seem to argue as if you wholeheartedly believe in a historical Adam (the human)?

  • cegr76 says:

    I prefer the NRSV version of Genesis 4:7. “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The implication is that Cain has both the ability and the responsibility to conquer sin.

  • Veritas says:

    Isn’t it possible to see sin as the result of Adam because what he did was eat from the tree of the knowledge of good versus evil and see this act in light of John’s Gospel story of the man born blind 9:41

    41
    Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

    Which defines sin as acting with full knowledge of good vs evil? Which we inherit from Adam’s act. ( I know it depends on a NT reference, but that knowledge of conscience is our gift from Adam)

  • Richard Lambert says:

    If we can interpret that Genesis is mostly intended to be read as poetry, as I believe I have read implied here and other places, why bother debating it at all? Its just a story, made up in part to legitimize the sovereignty of Israel, right? Not God breathed?

  • Ashley Perks says:

    If we take the starting point of our human experience from Genesis 1, then our premise is “Original Blessing (or Good)” rather than ‘Original Sin’. So Jesus did not come to appease an angry, distant, disappointed ‘GOD’ (“substitutionary atonement”) but, as the Christ in whom all things hold together, to reconcile us all with God the Father, Son and Spirit. So, rather than us having to find our way back to God, God, in Christ, submitted to our condition (even ‘becoming sin’!) in order to re-assert the organic unity of the material and spiritual; the “sacred” and “secular”, “God” and “Humankind”,etc. We are not so much “saved from” anything as “saved to/for…” union with God and one another.

  • Pete E. says:

    Although I’m quite sympathetic to Israel’s nationalistic focus coming through in the Bible–and esp. Genesis–the Adam story doesn’t seem to me to be about legitimizing Israel’s sovereignty. I see it as more as a brief preview of Israel’s history ending in exile.

  • Pete E. says:

    Anything is possible when it comes to biblical interpretation, but my focus here is on what the OT story is about.

    • Billy LeJeune says:

      Are you focusing on OT interpretation apart from the resurrection of messiah? If so, then yea, you might have a hard time getting to Adam’s role in the sinfulness of all humanity. It’s only in the light of resurrection that Paul can contrast Adam and Christ, old creation and new creation the way he does.

      • Christ Follower says:

        Brilliant and funny. Great clean argument. My comments are a little off topic and more about our struggle today, but I think relevant. I think it’s so important to put sin in its proper place. It holds such a huge place in the evangelical community that we end up with confirmation bias. Every time we read anything or even try to celebrate anything, all roads lead to sin:

        – it’s the true nature of man
        – it’s the reason God is so angry (or sad, or distant, or pure – pick your God)
        – it’s the reason Christ was born (so we celebrate Christmas with the shadow of the Cross over the manger)
        – it’s the reason he taught
        – it’s the reason he suffered
        – it’s the reason he died
        – it’s the reason we have the Holy Spirit
        – it’s the reason for the laws, etc.

        I attended a wedding ceremony recently and we didn’t get half way through the message when the pastor had to say – “but remember…you are marrying a sinner.” (it was a very upbeat wedding) While true, how does this become one of the main points in a wedding ceremony? There are many other truths I could blurt out at a wedding about marriage, that may not be appropriate for the celebration.

        I think evangelicals are terrified that anything or any attempt to diminish or reposition sin is an attack on everything Christ and God has done in every moment in history. For example, claiming Adam was mythological is an attack on sin.

        My hunch is that it comes back to the definition of the Gospel (the Good News) and what Christ came to do? If we believe it was one thing – wipe out my sin, then I need this strong narrative of sin throughout the OT, and Adam’s act becomes the centerpiece of the OT, and I need to reinforce it at every turn. If in fact he came to show the way of unity with God, not appeasement to God, sin plays a lessor role, and Adam is just an opening act.

        Thus, your piece is very important.

      • Pete E. says:

        I hear you, Billy, but as speaking as someone who has worked in this precise area for 30 years, you’re glossing over some perennial hermeneutical difficulties.

    • Billy LeJeune says:

      Are you focusing on OT interpretation apart from the resurrection of messiah? If so, then yea, you might have a hard time getting to Adam’s role in the sinfulness of all humanity. It’s only in the light of resurrection that Paul can contrast Adam and Christ, old creation and new creation the way he does.

    • Veritas says:

      Wasn’t inherited guilt a common idea in the time of the OT?

      What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”?

      Or the disciples asking Jesus “who sinned that this man was born blind?”

      So, is this an idea carried along with the story, that is never really in the story? I recall you have written of this type of thing before

      • Pete E. says:

        Rather, I’d ask you to defend what these have to do with the Augustinian “doctrine” of inherited sin and guilt. Nothing at all. The issue here concerns whether later generations will be punished for their parents’ sins. See Ezek. 18, which seems to be a critique of Exod 20:5-6. The matter of being punished for the sins of previous generations was particularly acute in the exile.

        • Veritas says:

          I’m not sure we disagree. Maybe I’m missing something of a subtle difference.
          The second line in my comment above was copied from Ezel. 18, though that ref. didn’t copy with it. The same proverb is addressed by Jeremiah. Does the need for both of these writers to “correct” this idea as well as Jesus being asked about the man born blind hint at the persistence of the idea of a generation being punished for the sins of previous generations? Isn’t this idea A nuanced form of inherited guilt with Adam being the previous generation?

          • Pete E. says:

            I think you need to take inherited sin/guilt off the table to understand these. Don’t assume its relevance

        • Sharon L says:

          John 9 came to my mind as well because in that passage Jesus seems to refute the concept of inherited sin, so to me
          that’s relevant to PE’s argument even though it’s not OT. The doctrine of original sin has long been problematic for me because in my experience that doesn’t seem to be how God works, and it also doesn’t seem just. Could the doctrine be hangover from a lower level of consciousness (to put it in a Rohr-like way), but maybe it’s not what the OT perspective is really saying?

  • Bryan says:

    Great post here. Pelagius would be proud! You might add to the list that nowhere do we see the term “sin” used to describe the alleged “fall.”

  • Christ Follower says:

    Brilliant and funny. Great clean argument. My comments are a little off topic and more about our struggle today, but I think relevant. I think it’s so important to put sin in its proper place. It holds such a huge place in the evangelical community that we end up with confirmation bias. Every time we read anything or even try to celebrate anything, all roads lead to sin:

    – it’s the true nature of man
    – it’s the reason God is so angry (or sad, or distant, or pure – pick your God)
    – it’s the reason Christ was born (so we celebrate Christmas with the shadow of the Cross over the manger)
    – it’s the reason he taught
    – it’s the reason he suffered
    – it’s the reason he died
    – it’s the reason we have the Holy Spirit
    – it’s the reason for the laws, etc.

    I attended a wedding ceremony recently and we didn’t get half way through the message when the pastor had to say – “but remember…you are marrying a sinner.” (it was a very upbeat wedding) While true, how does this become one of the main points in a wedding ceremony? There are many other truths I could blurt out at a wedding about marriage, that may not be appropriate for the celebration.

    I think evangelicals are terrified that anything or any attempt to diminish or reposition sin is an attack on everything Christ and God has done in every moment in history. For example, claiming Adam was mythological is an attack on sin.

    My hunch is that it comes back to the definition of the Gospel (the Good News) and what Christ came to do? If we believe it was one thing – wipe out my sin, then I need this strong narrative of sin throughout the OT, and Adam’s act becomes the centerpiece of the OT, and I need to reinforce it at every turn. If in fact he came to show the way of unity with God, not appeasement to God, sin plays a lessor role, and Adam is just an opening act.

    Thus, your piece is very important.

  • Ken Cooper says:

    Just a few comments: I’m okay with the idea that all of us have inherited a disposition to sin (I would think there is a need for some explanation for our behaviour), but I’m uncomfortable thinking that I bear responsibility for Adam’s sin specifically.
    Without assuming universal guilt for Adam’s sin, we could reasonably assume we all share an inherited predisposition from Adam, as per Romans 11:32 “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.”

  • Jon Bectau says:

    Common now, it’s like a discussion about how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin. (Five if they’re American fairies. Seven if they’re not.) There never was an Adam nor was there ever such a thing as original sin. These people believed that the acts of the parents would pass on traits to the offspring (A liar’s children would be liars, a murderer’s kid’s would be murderous etc.) and so just as they decided there must have been a first human who was the source of all humans they decided that first human was probably also the source of all sin. Nice and tidy explanation for them; killed two birds with one myth.

    • Pete E. says:

      Who are you saying ‘common [sic] now” to? Me? If so, poke around my site and my books and you’ll see my firmly held conviction that Adam is a player in a story metaphorically representing Israel. My post is simply looking at the issue form the logic of the OT itself.

      • Occam Razor says:

        No, of course not you, Pete. You do an invaluable service and it’s a shame that your way of thinking does not prevail.

        BTW, after that service, I asked the kid preacher why Adam and Eve were ashamed, after all, God created them to be naked in the garden, or so the story goes. He didn’t know, but thought it might have had something to do with realization of sexual feelings. But why would that have been bad, after all, they were “married” right? I also tried to explain why the creation story doesn’t talk about the cross. He asked me why I attended the church. In other words, if you don’t agree, go away. Haha.

  • Occam Razor says:

    So much of Christian theology is about concepts that people assume in the Bible because it is what has been always taught, but really aren’t there. I was at church a week ago and the kid preaching referenced the story of Adam and Eve and how it pointed to the cross, and it makes sense if you have never thought about the actual text.

  • John Draper says:

    Nice post, Pete. I agree. I don’t think Christianity flows logically out of Judaism — that is, God always considered the Old Convenant a stopgap, that the sacrifices at the temple were just a “type” of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. It’s Paul that made that connection — or at least the one who gets credit for it. It’s Paul that invented Christianity, to my way of thinking — certainly not Jesus or the 12 Disciples.

  • Robert F says:

    I accept the argumentation, but then let me go on to ask the question: What exactly is it that Jesus did for me? I’d appreciate an answer that isn’t book length, since presumably the Apostles had no such book-length answer when they went into the world to preach and disseminate the Gospel (whatever that is).

    • Pete E. says:

      Why is “original sin” necessary to answer that question? Why does the apostolic preaching never once mention it if it is such a central concept?

      • Robert F says:

        I don’t think “original sin” would be involved in answering that question. I do think, however, that it’s important for us not only to have an answer to it, but to have the same one that the Apostles had, or one that includes their answer, even if in a more developed form. As it is, I don’t think that we do have such an answer, because we are not sure what they thought Jesus did for me (or for us). “Original Sin” was a major plank in a theological framework that answered that question; now that neither the plank nor the framework are tenable any more, we need another answer that we believe to have been, or to include, the answer of the Apostles.

        In your understanding, what exactly is it that Jesus did for me? And would the Apostles have answered that question the way you do? If not, then we have a fundamental disconnect between our understanding and theirs, and that’s a big problem for Christianity as a coherent religion.

        • Pete E. says:

          I don’t think we need “another answer” but a better question.

          • Robert F says:

            Okay. What’s should that (or my) question be? Is it the same question the Apostles were answering?

            Or is there in fact no commonality about questions or answers between us and them?

          • Pete E. says:

            You want a replacement answer for the theological question “Original Sin” addressed. My point is that we do not need and answer for a question that Scripture is neither asking nor answering. We need to develop a theology (as many Christian traditions have) where “Adam caused our sinfulness” is not the hill to die on.

          • Robert F says:

            I’m not dying on that hill. I reject the doctrine of original sin, and I’m pretty confident that it played no part in the Apostolic kerygma. But it would be a good thing to know what hill I should be willing to die on, or better yet, what hill the Apostles were willing to die on. Without that, I don’t know how I should speak to or act with someone who comes to me in deep existential need, or to handle my own deep existential need. After all, there are people out there, some of them might even be us, who are already dying, literally or figuratively speaking, and in terrible need of a redeeming word that they can hang onto for dear life. What is the meaning of Jesus’ life and death for theirs? I can only think that the Apostles had a ready answer to that question when they went into the world preaching Christ; what was it? And do we?

      • Robert F says:

        I don’t think “original sin” would be involved in answering that question. I do think, however, that it’s important for us not only to have an answer to it, but to have the same one that the Apostles had, or one that includes their answer, even if in a more developed form. As it is, I don’t think that we do have such an answer, because we are not sure what they thought Jesus did for me (or for us). “Original Sin” was a major plank in a theological framework that answered that question; now that neither the plank nor the framework are tenable any more, we need another answer that we believe to have been, or to include, the answer of the Apostles.

        In your understanding, what exactly is it that Jesus did for me? And would the Apostles have answered that question the way you do? If not, then we have a fundamental disconnect between our understanding and theirs, and that’s a big problem for Christianity as a coherent religion.

  • Craig Robinson says:

    “All three parties (Serpent, Eve, Adam) are cursed by God for this act of disobedience”

    Slightly off topic, but I don’t believe this is what the passages says. The serpent was cursed and the ground was cursed. Eve and Adam were not cursed. Later Cain and Canaan are cursed. People talk about “The Curse,” but there is no such thing. In Gen 3, we have enmity between three sets of parties: 1) Serpent and Woman, 2) Serpent’s seed and Woman’s seed, 3) The Ground and Man. By cursing the Serpent, Cain (seed of serpent according to I John), and the ground, it seems to show what side of the battle God is on, and which side will ultimately win (Woman, her seed [Jesus], and Adam) and which side will ultimately lose (Serpent, his seed [Cain, Canaan, etc], and the ground) this ages long battle.

    Even if you don’t agree with this analysis, Eve and Adam were never cursed regardless of how many OT scholars say so. It isn’t in the text. A punishment is not the same as a curse.

    • Pete E. says:

      That’s a bit nitpicky, Craig. And calm down. Sheesh. For the record I was using “curse” as a general descriptor for curse and punishment

      • Craig Robinson says:

        It wasn’t personal. Directed at all Genesis commentators. I don’t believe it is nit picky. I think it is very important point to the story the writer is telling. I understand that everyone uses it as a general descriptor. I think this is a mistake for all of us. In doing so, we miss the writers objective in my opinion. The writer is making a differentiation on who/what is cursed and who/what is not.

        Some would consider your reading in Romans nit picky. It is all in the eye of the beholder. We need to read all the texts carefully. But again, I understand that it was an off topic point.

      • Craig Robinson says:

        Or to put it another way:

        Historically, people believe Gen 3 teaches original sin. You say it doesn’t and that people should read the text more closely.
        Historically, people believe Gen 3 teaches “The Curse.” I say it doesn’t and that people should read the text more closely.

      • PaulK says:

        I thought Craig makes a really interesting point and one that actually seems to support your point, Pete.

  • Craig Robinson says:

    “All three parties (Serpent, Eve, Adam) are cursed by God for this act of disobedience”

    Slightly off topic, but I don’t believe this is what the passages says. The serpent was cursed and the ground was cursed. Eve and Adam were not cursed. Later Cain and Canaan are cursed. People talk about “The Curse,” but there is no such thing. In Gen 3, we have enmity between three sets of parties: 1) Serpent and Woman, 2) Serpent’s seed and Woman’s seed, 3) The Ground and Man. By cursing the Serpent, Cain (seed of serpent according to I John), and the ground, it seems to show what side of the battle God is on, and which side will ultimately win (Woman, her seed [Jesus], and Adam) and which side will ultimately lose (Serpent, his seed [Cain, Canaan, etc], and the ground) this ages long battle.

    Even if you don’t agree with this analysis, Eve and Adam were never cursed regardless of how many OT scholars say so. It isn’t in the text. A punishment is not the same as a curse.

  • Edvard Meling says:

    Great post. I was wondering about what you said about Paul mentioning Adam’s disobedience as having universal effect when it came to death, and not inherited sinfulness. However, is that spiritual or physical death? Just wondering because of what is says in Gen 3:22

    Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”.

    I get your point about Adam being mythical, and I believe so to, but if death was already part of the creation before “the fall”, then how can it then be a consequence of Adam’s disobedience? Now, spiritual death I can understand, but the same time that also seems a bit far fetched since there seemed to be many that were spiritually connected to God throughout the Old Testament.

    Maybe I am reading to much into what is not there, but often the argument for death being a result of Adam’s disobedience has led people to claim that those that are LGBT are a result of the fall…. It seems as a large leap anyhow, but it is still the driving force being a lot of discrimination and hate towards LGBT folks from many people that claim to be Christian, and that are using “the fall” as an argument for it.

    • Pete E. says:

      Thanks, Edvard. For what it’s worth, in my book The Evolution of Adam, I read the end of chapter three–indeed the entire Adam story–as a metaphor for Israel’s story of exile, which is precisely how Adam “dies” at the end of the chapter, by being driven out of the Garden as the Israelites are later driven out of the Land.

      • Edvard Meling says:

        Thanks for the answer Pete. I’ve just started reading that book actually. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Just a follow up question, do you think Paul read the Adam story as a metaphor as well? Let me guess, you’ve answered that in the book right? 🙂
        Mvh
        Edvard Meling

      • PaulK says:

        Really interesting idea, Pete. What do you think the point of the metaphor is? Why would the author write it?

    • Stuart Blessman says:

      When man gained Original Sin he became like God. Lol, I like that twist.

      So really, Adam and Eve (in the narrative) weren’t really human until after “The Fall”. They were just animals.

      The Fall put humans on one sense of equality with God, because of the ability to know good vs evil. God didn’t create us with that sense. Which makes the whole span of human history (per some) to get back to a state of…less than human, and also less than divine.

  • But Psalm 51:5, though

    😉

  • Jason Wall says:

    Hey, Pete. I haven’t read all the other comments, but here is something I have learned that I hope is helpful to you as it has been to me. Sorry if you are aware of any of this already, but here goes! When Adam and Eve were created they were made in God’s image and likeness and God breathed His Spirit into them. God gave them an identity (to be like Him) and a destiny (to have dominion over the earth). When they disobeyed God, they didn’t just disobey Him but trusted in Satan and what he had tempted them with: the fruit that would make them “like God.” (But the thing is, they already were like God, right?) Satan wasn’t after making them only disobey God, he was after their destiny and the authority to have dominion over the earth. When that trusted Satan, they gave him that authority. Not only that, they also exchanged their God-nature for Satan’s nature… which makes sense if you look at the world. Each person who was born after Adam was born with that same sin nature. Hence, God sends Jesus. Not just to die for our sin (which, yes, I believe Adam and Eve were responsible for), but to restore humanities lost identity/nature and dominion! To be the people who He always intended them to be: Filled with His Spirit to be His representatives to the world and reveal His nature. We could only be those people once Jesus restored our God-nature bc Holy Spirit can’t dwell in a vessel that has any other nature. Anyway, I know that doesn’t give you any verses from the OT to answer your question, but that explanation has been revolutionary in my own thinking and walk with Jesus as I discover what it truly means to be human and fulfill my destiny as a true human. Hope that was helpful. 🙂

  • James Rice says:

    In regards to your statement: Some argue “Adam’s sin and its consequences don’t have to mentioned because they are obvious.” When people use that logic it makes me crazy! It’s a blatant example of “I think this about God. It’s ‘obvious’. I can’t find any reference to it in scripture, but it is so clear to me, it must be true.”

  • keroc2124 says:

    The Catholic understanding of Original Sin is more a privation of grace, rather than an imputation of guilt. Adam and Eve forfeited the inheritance of the divine life in their souls, and thus could not bequeath the inheritance to their progeny, and so humanity is not so much guilty of the sin of Adam and Eve as suffering from a lack of the gift of the divine life – without which we are spiritually dead. It is in this spiritual deadness that we commit personal sin, rendering us guilty of the either God’s law or the natural law, as Paul describes in Romans 1.

    Your points here would be perfectly compatible with this understanding of Original Sin.

  • Oana Popa says:

    Oh, if only we could understand these things…The way I can best explain this to me( bevause I really need an answer) is that we sin
    simply because we can and because that’s what we want. I also believe that if we wouldn’t have been created with the ability to sin, we wouln’t also be able to love, to have a personality, to laugh and to enjoy life. When we read the bible we see that people have always rejected God, no matter how close He was to them, no matter how clear He spoke to them, no matter how far He went looking for them. This whole thing with sinning..yeah..we suffered some from it but the hardest part was on God’s side, because He would still have to take care of people, to make sure the sun is up for them in morning, to let them benefit from everything He created, to let their hearts feel love and joy, and all of these, day by day, minute by minute, knowing they wouldn’t answer back with the same love. Man still had women to enjoy, women still had en that lived them, they could still enjoy the taste of food, the beauty of their children innocence(yeah, i believe children are innocent)…and so much more…you name it. It’s like a woman would benefit of everything a lovely husband could give, day by day, but she wouldn’t acctually be married; just a secret lover making sure she gets everything she needs. You get the point. Only a loving and selfless God could have crated us with the ability of rejectung Him. If He were a tyrant and aome egocentric God, He would have created us robots in some way, making sure we would obey Him and bring Him glory. Only a God of love would lrt himself subject to such shame and pain we have brought Him, the moment we wanted to detrhone Him and make ourselves kings of the univers.
    And as about Adam…what if he’s both real and mythical? Let me explain: What if Adam was for real the first human, created by God, but in the very same way, the story was a story that represented humankind itself? What if it is the way God loves humanity and how humanity abuses the free will that was given and chooses to live on its own? Or what if…”because trough one man sin entered the world” means that there’s no need for more than one man, because maybe if there was a posibility of living freely and forever but without God, we would all take that road. Maybe that’s why Adam actually means human or humanity, or man. Maybe this is what we can say after reading these verses( )and see the real connection between us and Adam: Gen 1:26,Gen 1:27; Gen 2:7; Ps 103:4, ecless 12:7; Isa 64:8 1st Corinth15:47-49; Job 33:4: Iov 33:6; Job 10:8-9; Isa 2:22.

  • Ken Williams says:

    I assume the Garden of Eden story is about the birth of consciousness. (Kant wrote on this). The standard interpretation of disobedience and defiance of a Divine command doesn’t hold up logically, nor is it supported by the language used when Yahweh issues his warning. Like small children, Adam and Eve cannot be held responsible for their actions prior to having their eyes opened and awareness (consciousness) come to them. After that, they are burdened with the responsibility and the consequence that comes with awareness: judgment, shame and death now touches them, life becomes
    toilsome and fearful. The Fall is the loss of innocence and unity. But where does Original Sin come in? The language and structure of the story is quite clear despite the centuries of alternate interpretation and focus. With the birth of consciousness, Yahweh appears to each in turn and poses the same question, a test of their new awareness. In economical and brilliant prose, we see it staring plainly at us. With consciousness comes freedom, and with freedom, responsibility. The question (it seems gently posed) is, “what have you done?” Both answer in the same way: they shirk (shrink from)
    responsibility and blame the other. Without hesitation, Adam blames Eve (and Yahweh too, for providing Eve in the first place!) and Eve blames the serpent. This is the ‘sin’ that permeates human nature to this day. The standard interpretation’s stress on the sin of disobedience seems to have been a useful tool for centuries of social control by the few over the many.

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