Saturday, November 08, 2008

Did Christians read the doctrine of original sin into the Hebrew Bible?

This piece, by atheist Austin Cline, suggests that this is so. Is he correct?

The Eastern Orthodox do not seem to have the sort of doctrine of original sin that is prevalent in the West, coming down from Augustine.


Gordon Knight said...

Original Sin is an Augustinian invention.

SteveK said...

My understanding is that original sin is a spiritual condition, a spiritual defect if you will, that is inherited much like a genetic defect. Don't ask me how a spiritual condition gets passed on to the next spiritual being because I don't know. Adam and Eve got the ball rolling and we've been in that condition ever since. I don't see the NT authors making this up because it fits what was already there.

Ilíon said...

Of course, in truth, Original Sin is not an Augustinian invention. The doctrine is right there in the NT, even if the term is not, and the doctrine is more than implied implied in the OT -- "There is none righteous. No, not one" and so on.

Moreover, all people at all times in all cultures have known that there is something wrong fundamentally and radically with us. That is, *everyone* recognizes "Original Sin" regardless of whether they have such a term or have developed any philosophical/metaphysical speculations about it.

There is something wrong with us all, there is something broken about us all, there is something about us all in need of repair. And we are unable ourselves to effect the repair; all our efforts but make it worse (as history constantly shows us).

Ilíon said...

The doctrine of Original Sin isn't about the act of Adam; it is about the flaw in our nature.

Gordon Knight said...


I agree its obvious that we are flawed. But I took the doctrine to be stronger (including the notion of inheritance of sin from Adam)

If origina sin just meant that we are morally imperfect, bound to make moral mistakes.. I don' think anyone would disagree.

Ilíon said...

Many people deny that we are morally flawed ... even as they admit it with one side of their mouth (or, at least, admit that *other people* are flawed), they deny with the other side of their mouth that they, themselves, are morally flawed, and consequently helpless to repair themselves.

There is a fairly recent thread here where one can see that being played out.

Ilíon said...

What can be stonger than claiming that we are morally flawed, that the flaw in in our very natures?

We inherit our sinful natures from Adam; yes that is part of the doctrine of Original Sin (and also, is explicitly stated in the NT, and seems to be implied in the OT). The doctrine is about our natures, inherited from out father; it is not about his sinful act, nor ours.

The Christian claim is not that we are sinners because we commit sins. Rather, it is that we commit sins because we are sinners -- that is, even the newborn infant is a sinner.

Ron said...

I believe in Original Sin though I think Augustine went too far with it, as he did in other matters as well. I don't think infants are sinners automatically because of what Adam did. They are sinners because they, along with all of humanity, share the sinful nature that descended from Adam. Original Sin affects all of us, not because of Adam, but because of ourselves and our own natures. Thus, we are primarily the ones to blame, not Adam.

ST said...

Here's an interesting quote that may bear on the subject:

It is wrong to bring children up in an atmosphere solely of family and fraternal affection, without enlightening them that beyond the safe walls of home there lives a world of Godless, dishonorable, and amoral men, and that these men are in the majority. For when an innocent youth must inevitably encounter the world of men he suffers a wound from which he will never recover, and a sickness of heart which will permanently sicken his soul. Better at once, even from the cradle, to teach your son that man is intrinsically evil and that he is a destroyer and a liar and a latent murderer, and that your son must be armed against his brother lest he die in body or in spirit! The Jews are quite correct when they declare that man is desperately wicked from his birth and evil from his youth. Possessing this knowledge, your son can then say to himself, 'With the help of God I shall be kinder than my brother, and shall strive for virtue. Is is my duty to aspire above my human nature.'

Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Letter to Terentia," cited in Taylor Caldwell, A Pillar of Iron (New York: Fawcette World Library, 1965), p. 64.

Caldwell's biography is historical fiction, but she claims that the quotes are from actual documents. She footnotes this one as indicated. Cicero wrote many letters to his wife, Terentia, and I haven't been able, yet, to track done where this appears, but if it is accurate, then the concept of original sin (at least some idea of it) appears to have been present before the Christians appeared on the scene.

For some other quotes of interest on this score, see my post here, and the follow-up, here.