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What Is Original Sin?

Hope Bolinger

You may have heard this term growing up in the church or heard it later if you accepted Jesus as your Savior in adulthood. Or maybe you hadn’t heard the term until now, as it isn’t often spoken much in churches, and some theologians have even pushed back against it.

Although some Christians have argued against original sin overall, this article will cover more of the differing thoughts on original sin throughout church history.

A certain event that took place in Genesis 3 served as a catalyst that would affect all of humankind from the Garden of Eden onward. This article will discuss the meaning of original sin, historical views of it, and why it ultimately matters.

What Is Original Sin?

In the beginning, mankind lived in the Garden of Eden, fellowshipping with God. But when Adam sinned (Genesis 3) this not only separated him and God, it also caused all of his offspring to have a sinful nature.

One can see this selfish, sinful nature early on in children. You don’t have to teach a child to lie. As a personal example, even at the age of six months, I would push something off of a table and point a finger at my sister when my parents entered the room.

Whether our sin is innate or imitated from those around us, we need a Savior, it seems, right from the start.

Differing Views on the Doctrine of Original Sin

There seem to be two significant splits when it comes to the doctrine of original sin. Aside from those who do not believe it to be true, we see two major divisions with this doctrine: Eastern Vs. Western thought and Arminian Vs. Calvinist thought on original sin.

Eastern Vs. Western Thought

Before the church split into Catholic and Protestant, a previous church occurred, resulting in the Eastern Church and Western Church. The concept of original sin fell into different categories for each of these.

  • The Eastern Church, for instance, saw original sin as more of an ancestral sin, humans imitating the sinful actions of their predecessors. Although they believe humans inherited the death that came from Adam’s sin in the garden, they don’t believe humans inherited the guilt from that specific sin.
  • The Western Church, on the other hand, believe humans have inherited the guilt and the death accompanied by that sin. This line of thought, perpetuated by St. Augustine, believed people had an inherent guilt from the actions committed in the Garden of Eden.

Arminian Vs. Calvinist Thought

When it comes to original sin and free will, the church has also consequently split into Arminian and Calvinist groups of thought.

  • Arminian thought, according to Got Questions, asserts humans have a sinful nature. Innately, we just sin. However, this view does not place blame on us for Adam’s sin. We’ve sinned all on our own, according to this view, and reap the consequences of that sin.
  • Calvinists, on the other hand, will argue we inherited Adam’s sin nature and guilt (see Western thought above).

Where the two also differ comes down to just how much free will humans have when determining their sinful conditions and need for a Savior. Although entire books and centuries of debate have offered reasons for the Scriptural veracity of each, this article will not attempt to do so. In either case, both views acknowledge our need for a Savior and our inability to be saved without the work of the Holy Spirit.

No matter what view you adopt, all assert the sinful nature of humans (whether innate or acquired) and the need for a Savior. Romans 3:23 states all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

From Adam’s impassivity in the garden to the sins we carry out in our daily lives, we need a Savior.

Check out Shai Linne, Christian rapper and church planter, discuss more nuance about Original Sin below.

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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 400 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Nathan Cowley