Original Sin vs Ancestral Sin

I think it would be beneficial to discuss these 2 very different views of the sin of Adam. It will have very different consequences in many areas of Christian Theology.

Original Sin: This term was coined by Augustine of Hippo is his response to Pelagius to describe the sin of Adam. Prior to Augustine of Hippo the term Original Sin had never been used. However Augustine’s development of this doctrine in turn had profound impact on the Reformers and in particular Calvin who used it to develop his own doctrine concerning Election.

Ancestral Sin: This is the term used by the Orthodox Church to describe the sin of Adam. This ancient Tradition and the 2 other ancient traditions claim this term was used by the early Church and the Patristics. They claim the term Original Sin is uniquely Roman Catholic/Protestant in doctrine and not universal in the Church at large.

So what is the difference and the difference is profound.

  1. Original Sin is the doctrine that states Mankind is sinful in Adam (Ro 5:12). And Mankind is sinful and separate from God from conception (Ps 51:5)
  2. Ancestral Sin is the doctrine that states Mankind suffers sin because of Adam (Ro 5:12). And Mankind suffers from sin beginning at conception (Ps 51:5) and this suffering is the reality of physical death.

Proponents of Ancestral Sin claim that Augustine did not know Greek (by his own omission) and used a Latin translation of the Greek which interpreted Romans 5:12 to say Therefore, just as in whom one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. Whereas the Greek actually says Therefore, just because of one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. This misinterpretation led to the whole doctrine of original sin of Augustine that had not existed before Augustine.

I will note here that many in the West identify the Eastern Orthodox Church of Ancestral Sin as Semi-Pelagianism and it is not. The consequences of the differences are significant because of the following conclusions:

  1. Original Sin views the Sin of Adam as guilt passed on. That is man is guilty of sin from conception and this in turn logically leads to infant condemnation and baptism as requirement to remove original sin.

  2. Ancestral Sin views the Sin of Adam as disease passed on. That is man suffers from the presence of sin from conception which is primarily physical death and logically leads to actual sin separating man from God. This in turn leads to infant salvation and baptism not being required from salvation.

I believe this difference in views of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church had some influence on the Reformers seeking to join the Orthodox Church.

So what do you all think about all this. Should be an interesting discussion particularly if we can get some Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics into the discussion.
Dan

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@dan0647 I think that this is an example of non-essential doctrine about which disagreements form because of the complexity of interpretation of ancient languages and the incomprehensibility of God.

The Koine Greek of the passage cannot be nailed to one or the other of the two translations that you give. The word in question, if I understand you correctly, is dia, which is a preposition that the English Standard Version (ESV) translates quite a number of different ways despite its governing translation philosophy that attempts “to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original” (https://www.esv.org/translation/philosophy/). In this context the ESV translates it, “through,” which could mean either “because of” or “in whom.” Dia as generally applied gives a sense of agency, cause, or conveyance. We do not have a comparable English word to my knowledge. Latin probably does not either, although I know almost nothing of that language and defer to anyone who knows better.

I personally take the view that original sin and ancestral sin as you describe them both exist in the whole of Scripture. I do not think that children go to hell before the age of responsibility, whatever that is, but I also think that Scripture is unclear about this matter. Scripture is clear that God is both just and loving, and will never treat anyone unjustly or unlovingly, and I am satisfied with that.

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Thank you for opening this particular discussion, it is something I have been wrestling with in spirit for a while. My understanding is that under the new covenant we are individually responsible for our own transgressions; Jeremiah 31:29-34. Does this not mean that in Christ we are freed from what Augustine brought as Original sin, and others assert as Ancestral sin? This is also the way I read Romans 5:12. To me, Paul is not affirming the doctrine of original sin, but rather using the contrast to teach on the justification that Jesus brought us.

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I find it interesting that the idea of “original sin” is not mentioned in the OT, at least in those words. Now to be clear there was quite a bit of sinning going on but I don’t recall anyone blaming Adam. Please feel free to correct. Adam is never mentioned by name after Gen 5 the exception being 1 Chronicles 1:1 and this verse in Hosea: “But like Adam, they transgressed the covenant;” (Ho 6:7). The ‘they’ in this verse are being compared to Adam and his failure but the ‘they” are not blaming him.

In the NT Adam is mentioned in Luke and of course Paul and last Jude. Of these authors, Paul by far identifies Israel’s plight as being directly connected to Adam and his failure in the garden but for me the question, is Paul concerned with the ‘original sin’ or the consequence of sin, death. Adam is written about more outside the canon than in the canon. He is a topic in dead sea scrolls, the Apocrypha, and the pseudepigrapha. Books that generally get dismissed because they are not part of the bible that we defer to. This is a good place for a disclosure statement, I am a Southern Baptist and my Biblical understanding is/was rooted in the teaching of a very conservative church(s). I say that to emphasize the fact that I would have lined up with your 1st point but now I am so sure.

You don’t have read to deep into Genesis and you find this verse:

If you do well ⌊will I not accept you⌋? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. And its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Ge 4:7)

I cannot help but wonder how an Israelite in that day would have understood it. It certainly sounds like he would have had a role in the narrative, not only a role but responsibility. To this add the fact that ‘original sin’ was never a thing in Judaism, to my knowledge every.

Here is a link to a topic on connect that will fill in some of the blanks.

I will be interested in comments and critiques.

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It is my understanding that the Old Testament and the Jews understood very well that sin entered the world with the sin of Adam. However they viewed that the continuing curse of Adam was the presence of physical death and all mankind inherited this curse. However they also did not believe that anyone was forever separated from God due to Adam’s sin. They believed that only through their own personal sin could this happen and God provided sacrifice at the Temple to deal with their personal sin. However as Paul points out until the Law arrived through Moses there was no sin against the Law and no sacrifice to deal with that sin. Sin did exist prior to the Law but it centered around Man being created in the Image of God (Gen 9:6) and having a conscience. In fact by the time Noah arrived God decided to remove all mankind from the face of the earth except for the family of Noah. We really do not know much about the relationship of Man and God prior to the Flood except that Enoch walked with God and so evidently there were those who lived a life pleasing to God. Enoch was the Great Grandfather of Noah. But we also know by the accounts of the line of Noah that his Father (Lamech) and Grandfather (Methuselah) both died in the flood and so were in some way not pleasing to God.

I only bring this out to demonstrate that the Jewish view of the sin of Adam was very different in its impact than that of Augustine and Calvin. Paul in Romans 5-7 is fairly precise in his presentation concerning the Law, Sin, and their consequences to Man, but he never corrects the Jewish view in which he was very well trained except in the understanding that salvation is obtained by the Law. This doctrine is passed to the early Church and is held to by the ancient traditions of Orthodox, Oriental, and Church of the East. They refer to it as Ancestral Sin. Only the Roman Catholic Church of the ancient traditions holds a different view which is Original Sin as introduced by Augustine. It is often lost that Augustine was responding to Pelagius who was advocating that Man only separated from God by his Free Will and Man had the capability to never sin. This Original Sin doctrine was fully accepted by Calvin and to some lesser extent by the rest of the Reformers. I admit that the issue of Ancestral Sin vs Original Sin is somewhat a peripheral issue, BUT the doctrine of Original Sin has caused much suffering and to some extent led to the excesses of The Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation. The table below highlights the similarities and differences between the 2 doctrines.

Ancestral Sin (Orthodox View) Original Sin (Roman Catholic View)
Ancestral Sin occurs at Conception Original Sin occurs at Conception
The Curse of Adam is Physical Death & the inevitability of Actual Sin The Curse of Adam is total Separation from God and Man is totally sinful
Actual Sin separates Man from God through Actual Sin Man is separated from God from conception
There is an Age of Accountability where Actual Sin is not present There is no Age of Accountability. Actual Sin is irrelevant before Salvation.
Salvation comes by Grace of God in direct Devine Intervention Salvation comes by Grace of God in direct Devine Intervention
Baptism is not necessary for Salvation but removes The Curse Baptism is necessary for Salvation by removing the Curse.

It can be easily seen that Reformed Theology has principally adopted the Roman Catholic view. However most of the Reformers and the Protestant Traditions have attempted to reconcile the two doctrines. This in turn has led to a large muddle of inconsistency. Obviously I fall wholeheartedly into the camp of Ancestral Sin Doctrine with some good old Protestant modifications concerning Baptism.

Dan

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Hi Dan @dan0647. An interesting question. I confess that I am not trained in all the theology of Origitnal Sin vs. Ancestral Sin, but I’ve thought about your question and have some ideas.
When I think of the concept of Original Sin, I think of Adam, our earthly father. When he decided to disobey the command of the Lord, Scripture says death was the consequence. He died two deaths: spiritual and physical (Gen.3:22). Those deaths became part of his “DNA”, so to speak, which was in his blood. They were passed on to us. Ephesian 2:1 reminds us that we have come alive, having once been dead in our trespasses and sin. No one can deny that physical death is inevitable. So, Adam’s sin was passed on to us. His carnality became ours. It is only through Christ that we are freed from that. So, as the Scripture says, by one’s man’s disobedience came condemnation. Yet, by one man’s obedience we are made righteous" (Rom. 5:19).

When I think of Ancestral Sin, I think of the word “blame”. We are blaming Adam for the sin, evil, and suffering, that we now share. The problem I have with this concept is that it appears to release us from our responsibility of sin in our lives. It’s just as Adam blamed God for giving him Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither wanted to accept responsibility. Jesus’s death on the cross wasn’t to release us just from what Adam did. In reality, it was to release us from what we have done and do today.
To me, Original Sin shows us our responsibility in nailing Jesus to the cross. What Adam and Eve did was passed onto us so that we bear that guilt just as much as they did.

I belong to a denomination that doesn’t baptize infants. So, my viewpoint is that God is not unjust when it comes to children. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a tree containing moral values. The Hebrew word for “knowledge” here is one of “knowing with a moral quality”.
Until a child reaches that point of discernment where he understands what is right and wrong in the moral sense, he cannot be held accountable for his actions. As a small child, he might perceive right from wrong, but he doesn’t understand the moral implications of his actions until he is older. When he starts willfully disobeying, he begins to enter that realm of accountability. Jesus corrected the disciples when they wanted to keep the children from Him, thinking, as the culture of the day did, that children were to be seen and not heard. Jesus said, “Allow the children to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:14). From this verse, we can see that there is a degree of innocence that God recognizes in little children that will not keep them from heaven. But because they are of Adam’s seed, they still contain the death of sin that they must one day submit to the cross.

So, as Brendan @blbossard, indicated, Original Sin and Ancestral Sin are doctrines that approach the realm of semantics that divide believers needlessly (Titus 3:9). It is enough to know that man is sinful from birth and is in need of salvation through Jesus Christ.
I hope this helps answer your question.

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