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Original Sin in the Bible

A Christian Creation and Imposition on the Jewish Scriptures

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The first mention of the concept of Original Sin is found, not in Genesis, where the fatal event was supposed to happen, but in the fifth chapter of Romans, written by Paul. According to Paul, humanity was cursed because Adam sinned when he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As Paul puts it:

    Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned
    (Rom. 5:12).
    ...or as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive
    (1 Cor. 15:22).
    (Also note Rom. 5:17-19).

Despite these clear claims on the part of Paul, where are we to find the basis for them in Genesis? In that text, God pronounces all sorts of condemnations and curses upon Adam, Eve and the nefarious Serpent - working for their food, pain in childbirth, being stepped on, etc. Here is the relevant passage for reference:

    The Lord God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” To the woman he said, I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to the man he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
    (Genesis 3:14-19)

At no point do we see anything that might qualify as a curse of “Original Sin” to be handed down to all of Adam’s descendants. Sure, their lives are supposed to become much more difficult than what they had heretofore experienced; but where in all of that is the “Sin” being passed along?

Even more importantly, where is there any indication that this sin must be “redeemed” eventually by Jesus? Christianity is anxious to portray itself as the logical and theological progeny of Judaism, but if Christianity simply invents a concept and tacks it on to Jewish stories, it’s hard to see how that goal is accomplished.

The rest of the Old Testament is of no help to Christian theology in this area: from this point in Genesis all of the way through the ending of Malachi, there isn’t the slightest hint of there being any sort of Original Sin inherited by all humans through Adam. There are plenty of stories of God getting angry at humanity in general and at the Jews in particular, thus offering many opportunities for God to point out how everyone is “sinful” because of Adam. Yet we read nothing about that.

Furthermore, there is nothing about how everyone who isn’t “right” with God will go to hell and be tormented - another staple of Christian theology closely connected to Original Sin, since it is this sin which automatically condemns us. You’d think that God would have had enough heart to mention something this important, right?

Instead, God’s punishments are all physical and temporal in nature: they apply here and now, not in the hereafter. Not even Jesus is quoted as having been concerned with Adam and Original Sin. By all appearances, Paul’s interpretation is not really warranted by the actual story — a problem, since if this interpretation is not right, the whole Christian scheme of salvation falls apart.

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