The Nature of Our "Corporate" Sin

Hi, Everyone, I’ve been working this through my mind for a bit because of hearing some teaching from a highly respected pastor/teacher of the Faith. This person was teaching humanity’s corporate guilt for sin in relation to Adam’s sin. However, I am thinking that this needs to be thought out a little better–or at least better than I understood it at the time and was wondering if anyone had any thoughts to offer that may help my understanding along or change it.

My idea of what happened with Adam’s sin is that we are not corporately guilty for Adam’s sin specifically. That is guilt by association. Rather, Adam and Eve, through their actions, introduced sin into the world. That is different than saying, “Because Adam and Eve sinned, we all are responsible and guilty for that sin.” My current understanding of how sin affected humanity was that when Adam sinned, it distorted something within human nature and that is what has been passed on to his descendants like an infection, which causes all of humanity to be guilty of sin–not Adam and Eve’s specific actions. That is why we are born sinners. I am not sure if it has anything to do with this, and maybe someone who is more knowledgeable would be able to tell me, but the Scripture states this: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth” (Genesis 5:3, New International Version). It is interesting to me that the Bible would seemingly emphatically state that Adam’s son was born in his “own” image and likeness. Now, I understand that this could be an expression of “according to its kind,” but I am not sure this would be expressed about Adam had something not been altered. In Genesis 1, when God created all the other living things, everything was “according to its kind,” and yet when it came to people, God created them in His image. There is no “according to their/its kind” in relation to God’s creation of man." Now my mind analyzes everything to death, so this could be nothing, but then again, it could be something.

I guess I am trying to figure out if there are different variances of corporate sin or if I am misunderstanding something. We are corporately a sinful race, but the Bible also makes it clear that we would be judged by our own works (not someone else’s because of some corporate sin leading to guilt by association).

I hope this is clear. I am still trying to hash out what I am thinking, and the words to describe what I am thinking are not quite “there” yet. But I was wondering if anyone has any thoughts about this?

I think your own understanding that you articulated seems to best fit the general thrust of scripture.

Everyone with two mortal parents has inherited both a human nature and a sin nature. And the sin nature degrades the human nature over time. But the new nature displaces the sin nature on the inside at the moment of salvation and begins restoring our humanity until we are conformed into the image of the only perfect Man who ever lived.

I hope this helps.


Thank you, James. So…can we use humanity’s sin in relation to Adam’s sin to justify/support making an entire group of people responsible for specific sins of some individuals out of that group simply because everyone is a part of that group? Or would it be wrong to say, “Because God holds humanity corporately responsible for Adam’s sin, it is biblically justifiable to hold a group of people responsible for people’s actions within that group simply by virtue of their being a part of that group, whether they actively/passively participated in that sin or not”? I feel like that is distorting what really happened with Adam’s sin and humanity’s sinfulness–like it says that humanity is held corporately responsible for Adam’s sin by virtue of being part of the human group (his kind, relation, etc), and so it is improperly being applied. Am I wrong?

Hi, Lindsay, you posted a really interesting question. I like the way you analyzed the original sin, you are very analytical and it is really clearly stated in your first post. Thanks for your sharing.
I totally agree, as James also stated that we all inherited both a human nature as our God created and a sinful nature. However, I am not clear about your statement that “God holds humanity corporately responsible for Adam’s sin.” I think God understands that we are all affected by the sin from Adam that we have a tendency to sin. However, I believe the human nature that God created in us also gives us the moral sense. Therefore, how we act upon either the sin or the moral sense will be what God judge us upon. I believe the judgment is individual and we are each responsible for our own action. I don’t believe God condemn the entire group for the sin of a few individuals.
That’s just what I think. Hope James will have more insight on this.

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Hello @psalm151ls.

Recall Joshua’s conquest of the land of Cannan. He followed the direction from God and easily took the city of Jericho. Then, they attacked Ai the first time, and they were unsuccessful. The result leads to the low morale of the troops, and Joshua became doubtful. What is the main reason for thier defeat? Besides Joshua not consulting God for thier next move, one of them commited a sin (stealing). Joshua 7:1, “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.” God says to Joshua “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” (Joshua 7:11-12). As you can see, one man’s sin affects the entire community (in this case its the nation). It is not that one man’s sin is a sin for everyone. Is just that everyone carry the burden of the consequences of that sin. It is the same as we are all carrying the burden of the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve.

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Hi, @eymyao, thanks for your response! I am glad that you think it was stating clearly. I felt incredibly clumsy with my words in attempting to put to words what I am trying to work through in my mind.

You’re right that that’s incorrect. That isn’t what I was stating I believed. Sorry for the misunderstanding :slight_smile: I was bumbling around trying to find the words to put to this. What you bring up here is what I was questioning :slight_smile:. I do not think the pastor/teacher to which I referred meant it this way, but at the same time, I was wondering if that what was perhaps being suggested by how it was being applied. I know I do not have it posted here. I am trying to get around posting it and try to just focus on the clarification of the nature of the corporate sin in our situation with Adam and Eve, if that makes sense. Then, naturally, of course, that warrants looking at corporate responsibility for sin in other places in the Bible, which, I think takes on a bit of a different nature (bearing naturally passed consequences from sin vs. active discipline/judgment for sin). Thank you for your input and the encouragement! It is greatly appreciated!

Hi, @acarlylefr808, thank you so very much for responding! And, yes it is so true that we all bear the consequences of Adam’s and Eve’s sin. I’m not really talking about simply bearing the consequences or the natural fallout of their sin, though. That’s a little different than what I am meaning, and I will try to explain in a minute.

In the instance with Joshua and Israel, God punished them corporately in light of the specific covenant he had with them (see that the text specifically states this referring to transgressing the covenant). In the covenant, it specifically stated corporate blessing or curses/punishment would be dealt for the people’s actions. We are not under that same covenant, and when I stand before the Lord, I will not be judged for someone else’s specific, say, sexist sins towards men in the name of feminism by virtue of my being a woman. Nor does God punish me for those things. I think saying that we corporately bear the consequences for Adam’s and Eve’s sin is different than actually corporately being punished/disciplined for their sin. We are disciplined for our own, which is one of the natural consequences of their sin. However, while closely related, those are two different things (bearing consequences and actually being punished or condemned for some action or choice). Am I making sense? Or am I just chasing my tail, ha?

I know we see God judging different nations in the Old Testament, too, which tells me that God does deal with sin corporately. I guess I am just unsure as to where and how to apply that properly, because I think that we could really apply that in faulty ways…Any thoughts?

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The subject of our sin nature actually has 2 different views and I would recommend that you read on both views to help you establish your understanding. I describe the 2 views below. The two views are The Western Church view which is the Augustinian View or Original Sin View and the Eastern Church View which is the Ancestral Sin View.

Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions generally hold to the Original Sin View particularly within Reform Theology. However within the the Non-Reform Protestant Traditions the Eastern Ancestral Sin view is becoming more popular.

The Eastern Traditions (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental, and Apostolic Church of the East) hold the Ancestral Sin view. This view was the universal view of the Christian Church until 400AD when Augustin presented the Original Sin view in his stand against Pelagius. Also this Ancestral Sin View is held within the Orthodox Jewish Tradition as well.

Original Sin View: All persons after Adam are conceived corrupt and separate from God. All persons are fully guilty of the sin of Adam and thus cannot enter into God’s presence in heaven without repentance. The main issue of this position is that it condemns all children and those incapable of repentance to eternal separation from God. It is this fact that led to the incorporation of infant baptism as a necessity.

Ancestral Sin View: All persons are corrupted by the sin of Adam, but are not responsible for the sin of Adam. The Adamic corruption of persons is likened to a disease that results in sin being committed as soon as the state of reason is reached (sometimes called the age of reason). Until this time all persons are innocent of sin and in communion with God. Baptism is viewed as a healing act from the tendency to sin. The main issue with this position is that it became the basis for Pelagius to erroneously state that persons have the capacity to avoid sinning through the correct exercise of free will. This fact has led to the disparaging claim that the Ancestral Sin View is in fact Semi-Pelagianism which it is not.

There is much written describing the Augustinian View, but writings from the Roman Catholic Church or writings of Calvin give the best description. The Ancestral View is best described in writings of the Eastern Orthodox Church and can be googled under Ancestral Sin.

Hope this helps.

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