My View on Original Sin


I have mentioned on a blog before that of recent, my theology has embraced some (and the word must be stressed SOME) theological ideas which have it’s origins in Eastern Orthodoxy. Does this mean I will ever become Eastern Orthodox? No, it does not.  To burst a few people’s religious ideological bubbles, I will not be joining Roman Catholicism anytime soon (Sorry Jared and Darren!). My mind and philosphy is very much wired in the Protestant Reformation and proud of it. I don’t need any priest being a middle man or interpreting scripture for me personally.  Well anyway, those SOME doctrines that I have embraced from Eastern Orthodoxy would be the Christus Victor view of Atonement (I hope to have a book review about two books about the subject), it’s view of heaven and hell, it’s universal access to salvation and oh yes, the touchy one for some, the rejection of the western view of original sin. Yes, you heard it the Eastern Orthodox reject the concept of Original Sin—at least the western view. I believe, my friend Dennis Diehl has no use for it and said along the lines that it has done a lot of harm to a lot of people. I agree 100%.  Thanks to Augustine who introduced the concept back in the 4th century AD. The blogsite called TheoGeek explains in their post:

In the history of Christian theology there have been a number of major theological changes made in Western Christian theology over the course of time, often due to the use of inaccurate Latin bible translations.

The earliest of these changes chronologically was the doctrine of Original Sin. The Christian church in the second century AD had nothing remotely resembling the doctrine of original sin as we know it today. The universal view attested is that children are born innocent and that people are guilty only of their own sins. In some writers the concept that Adam’s sin damaged the likeness of God within humanity somewhat, and this is viewed as a kind of corruption of the natural order which is inherited – and this is generally taken to explain why humans die. But this is not taken to imply any inevitability to human sinfulness or any damage to free will. There is a dominating belief that through human effort and the assistance of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s example, humans can live godly lives that are upright and pleasing to God.

In the late second century, in North Africa, the writer Tertullian protested against the introduction of the practice of infant baptism there. He argued that baptism was supposed to be for the forgiveness of sins, but since infants had no sin the introduction of its use for them was wrong. The widespread thought however seemed to be that there might be some mysterious gracious blessing from God conveyed through baptism, and thus infant baptism quickly became a fairly universal custom.

In third and fourth century North African Latin Christianity, there is a clear trend present towards taking a darker view of the human condition. In the course of these centuries the theologians in this area began to take the view that humanity had been very seriously damaged by the fall, that humanity was bad, that the human will is not capable of becoming good, and that all humans are born guilty of Adam’s sin. It appears that a couple of generations after Tertullian, people had started using his same logic backwards: “We baptise infants, baptism is for forgiveness of sin, therefore infants must have sin.” Such doctrinal changes were geographically fairly confined. Greek Christian writings from during and after this period reflect an unchanged stance on the subject – eg John Chrysostom (d. 407), states explicitly that infants have no sin and that forgiveness of sin is not the motive for infant baptism.

Nor, it seems, had these innovations reached too far to the west. When a monk from England named Pelagius journeyed to Rome he was shocked by the theology he encountered there. He felt that the teachings of the North African bishop Augustine effectively denied the possibility of good moral conduct and human moral reform which Pelagius (in line with typical Christianity of earlier centuries) saw as the foundations of Christianity. Augustine had gone further than his North African predecessors and actually advocated Predestination, a doctrine that had always previously been strongly opposed by Christians. This led to an extended controversy between Pelagius and Augustine. Scholars are generally agreed that Pelagius’ viewpoints by and large were typical of previous Christian orthodoxy (especially the Greek-speaking church at the time, who couldn’t read Augustine’s writings) and Augustine’s were radically new. Nonetheless Augustine managed to use his influence to get Pelagius condemned as a heretic: “it was an injustice that made history” writes the renowned Lutheran patristics scholar Jaroslav Pelikan in his The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (pg 313).

One passage that Augustine drew heavily on in his arguments with Pelagius was Romans 5:12, which in the Latin translation (he couldn’t read Greek) said that everyone had sinned “in” Adam. Augustine used this to argue that all humanity was present “in” Adam when he sinned, and thus all are born guilty of sin. His Latin translation was extremely faulty here however, and it actually reads in the Greek that everyone dies “because” they sin or that everyone dies “because of which” they sin.

Thus the doctrine of Original Sin became standard within Latin Christianity. The Greek Christians however (who were at that time a large majority of Christendom), never read Augustine’s writings and continued to hold their traditional doctrines. To this day the Eastern Orthodox Christians continue to totally reject the Latin innovations of the doctrine of Original Sin. Unsurprisingly when we turn from history to the Bible, there isn’t much in the bible that could lend itself in support to the Latin doctrine of Original Sin. Nor did the Jewish Rabbis teach such a doctrine, and Judaism today rejects any such doctrine.

And that’s how the standard Protestant doctrine of Original Sin resulted from the introduction of infant baptism, a bad Latin translation, a conflict where influence beat orthodoxy, and a couple of centuries of doctrinal change.

Another website continues on the topic of how the Eastern Orthodox understood Original Sin:

Augustine wrote in Latin in the fourth century, but his writings were not translated into Greek until the fourteenth century. Consequently, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity never held that guilt is inherited, and began repudiating this idea once they learned of it. They teach that we inherit a corrupted or damaged human nature in which the tendency to do bad is greater, but that each person is only guilty of their own sins. By participating in the life of the church, each person’s human nature is healed and it becomes easier to do good; at the same time, the Christian becomes more acutely aware of his or her shortcomings. Eastern Orthodox theologians believe that Adam and Eve began to choose separation from God when they chose independence and took fruit for themselves, rather than allow God to continue to feed them and remain dependent on Him. The expulsion from the Garden was not a legal consequence, but to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life and immortalizing their sin. As Christians partake of the Eucharist and eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, they return to dependence on God and experience a gradual healing of the relationship between God and humanity. The ultimate goal is theosis or divinization, an even closer union with God and closer likeness to God than existed in the Garden of Eden.

To sum it up: It was a biblical interpretation of scripture by a repressed man called Augustine who was no dummy but in spite of that fact caused a lot problems than solutions and his doctrines paved the way for a mean-spirited misanthrope in the 16th century, John Calvin who came up with the doctrine of total depravity and I don’t need to tell you what other problems that were created after that.  It is time for Protestants to learn something from the Eastern Orthodox in the 21st century but I  guess I am going to have to wait for some decades for that to see that actually materialized in it’s fullness.