I had a few interesting conversations this week with friends and the subject of original sin came up. So I thought it might be a good topic to discuss in light of how most Christians read the Bible.
Romans 5:12ff is the classic text for original sin. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." And then in verse 18ff, "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous."
Some observations of this text
1. ". . .death came to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED." Paul is pretty clear in associating the consequence of death with the participation in sin. We are held accountable for our choices not Adam's choices.
2. The words "Consequently, just as. . ." point us to the relationship of the two following statements. These two opposite statements are related. They are parallel. They are a comparison.
disobedience - made sinners
obedience - made righteous
You have two choices at this point. Either participation is necessary in both cases or participation is not necessary. Choice #1 if you participate in disobedience you are made a sinner like Adam. If you participate in obedience you are made righteous like Jesus.
Choice #2 Without participation in disobedience we are made sinners by Adam's "original sin". And without participation in obedience we are made righteous by Jesus' perfect life.
I lean toward choice #1. I think Scripture clearly portrays individual responsibility to pursue relationship with God. Our choices, our participation is crucial to our relationship with God. Ezekiel 18 is pretty clear (vs. 17) we do not die for the sins of our father. Check it out.
On a side note, choice #2 is intriguing, because it suggests universalism; the belief that all of humankind is saved from their sins regardless of whether they embrace Christ or not. You can wrestled with this one on your own time.
So why do most Christians accept the idea of original sin? Because we embrace our father's faith without questioning it. There is much hidden in the shadows of human history that most of us don't take the time to investigate. This particular Christian idea has its own history of which I only know part.
Jewish culture, leading up to the time of Christ was centered around community in a way that we simply don't understand. People new that they were connected to each other in a vital way that they could not ignore. The current state in an individual's life was credited to the choices of the generations that had gone before. The virtue of an individuals life was seen in the context of his or her family. The righteous often times suffered along with their unrighteous brothers and sisters, and the unrighteous were blessed along with their righteous brothers and sisters. God related to Israel as a community as much as he related to individuals.
Jewish thought saw the human heart as having a "bent" toward evil without being condemned for this "bent". In other words humans seemed to all choose evil at some point - it was inevitable. But condemned at birth - no.
Toward the end of the Jewish prophetic writings the prophets start to say some radical new things. God will write his laws on people's hearts. He will not judge individuals for the sins of family or community. Each person is free to choose whom he or she will serve.
Enter Jesus. And here I can't help but see the deal breaker for original sin. Was Jesus human? Then why does he not have "original sin". Jesus made possible the promises of the prophets by tearing down the wall separating the individual from the Holy of Holies. Personal intimacy with God was now available to all. And Pentecost saw God pouring out his Holy Spirit on everyone.
At first (for over 200 years) faith in Jesus, which came to be known as the Way was governed by the Holy Spirit as individual communities sought to live out their faith as the Holy Spirit taught them. They had the benefit of writings like the gospels and the letters that were left behind by the apostles, but there was no centralized authority governing and separating correct doctrine from heresy.
It was if God was confident in His ability to guide his church through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, this was not good enough for men. With Emperor Constantine came the joining of the kingdom of heaven with the ideas and authority of human empire. Within a hundred years Tertullian would lay out for us the doctrine of original sin and the centralized church would have the human authority to make this doctrine universal.
Questioning this doctrine excluded many from the opportunity to serve the church as recognized ministers. Questioning this doctrine caused many to be sent into exile or even put to death for their heresy. Centralized authority which ruled over personal belief crushed relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
We owe it to ourselves and to a world looking for the truth to question the faith of our fathers and live our lives of faith from our own relationship with Jesus through the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Study the Scriptures, study some church history. Why do you believe what you believe?
Just some stuff we shoud talk about.