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Original Sin


I have many frustrations with institutional Christianity, but my biggest beef is the fact that so many Christians seem unable or unwilling to think outside of the theological boxes within which they’ve been raised (or saved). So many people claim to be following scripture when they’re actually following their interpretation of scripture (which may or may not hold up to scrutiny). And just because a theological theory’s been established, doesn’t give Christians an excuse to stop thinking, to stop wondering, to stop asking difficult questions.

For instance, I received a visit a few days back from a Christian who made the following claim — “Christianity teaches that sin is humanity’s natural preference, due to our self-corrupted nature.”

I know that the comment was made with good intentions. The reader saw what appeared to be a shortcoming in my thinking and gently attempted to expand my understanding. The problem with this particular attempt is that it makes a claim I know to be false. Christians have never been limited to a single line of thought on the subject. There are extremely few — if any — yes or no line items that must be checked before one can advance to heaven (do not pass go; do not collect $200).

Scripture just doesn’t tell us what to believe. That’s not what scripture does. And I’ve gone into the prose vs. poetry argument before, so I’ll cut to the chase. There is room for all kinds of thinking within Christianity. Here are just a few examples on the concept of original sin as referenced in my visitor’s claim .

1) Those who identify original sin with concupiscence: an innate tendency among humans to do evil.

2) Those who see original sin not as a positive reality but as something merely negative, namely lack of holiness.

3) Those who believe Adam’s sin influenced his character, making it impossible for him to lead a completely holy example for his own children (nature/nurture controversy).

4) Those who believe in ancestral sin as opposed to original sin, claiming that Adam’s disobedience changed the very environment in which we live, opening up opportunity for (but certainly not requiring) sin.

5) Those that believe humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception.

6) Those who reject the notion of original sin, believing only in the sins for which men and women are personally responsible.

And it doesn’t matter which of these you choose. There is plenty of room at the table.

And it doesn’t matter which of these you choose. There is plenty of room at the table.


  1. Just to add a bit, I ran across a post today that stated (accurately, I think) that the term “original sin” does not appear in the Bible and did not appear in the Christian movement until 4th century A.D. — and credited Augustine with its origins. Your post lists several of the ways Christians have thought/still think about it. The fact of several options makes your point.

    • ericmuhr

      Thanks for the contribution, Howard. Appreciate it.

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