Are we born with Adam’s sin? Christians have grappled with this question for over 1,500 years. In the 5th century, the debate reached unprecedented heights in the famous controversy between St. Augustine and Pelagius. From that time, the Church officially adopted the doctrine of original sin. St. Augustine was instrumental in the development of this doctrine. During the 16th century Protestant Reformation, the key leaders, notably Luther and Calvin, also adopted the doctrine of original sin. Today, this doctrine is held by several churches and denominations around the world. However, exceptions exist, for some churches do not subscribe to the doctrine of original sin.
At its core, the doctrine of original sin states that all of humanity sinned along with Adam when he disobeyed the commandment of God. The doctrine of original sin claims that all of us were united with Adam in his sin. And this sin of Adam is transmitted automatically from parents to their babies. The implication is that all babies are born sinners, not because of what they have done, but because of Adam’s sin. Another implication is that babies are born in a condemned state, and therefore under the wrath of God. If you are a parent and you believe in the doctrine of original sin, you have probably wondered at some point where your babies would go were they to pass from this world without baptism. To save babies from potentially spending eternity without God, the practice of infant baptism is strongly encouraged among those churches that believe that we are born with the sin of Adam.
In this article, my purpose is to examine the doctrine of original sin in the light of biblical revelation and to show that the Scriptures do not support the belief that Adam’s sin is transmitted to every person at birth. Adam’s sin resulted in several negative consequences for the world, but the transmission of his personal sin to us is not of them. All Scripture quotations are based on the New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise indicated.
Before we delve into the Scriptures, I would like us to ponder on the following questions:
If two Christian parents give birth, is their baby born with original sin? Remember that because the parents are baptized, they have no original sin left in them. What is the status of the baby? Is the baby still conceived with original sin, or is the baby conceived without it? And why should “all” Christian parents be advised to baptize their babies if the parents themselves are free from original sin because they are baptized? If original sin is a true biblical doctrine, shouldn’t we be focusing on baptizing babies born to non-Christians to set them free from Adam’s sin? Why focus on babies of parents who are already baptized and free from original sin? Also, if original sin is true, did it stain Jesus at birth when he took our “sinful humanity”? Did John the Baptist also possess a sin-stained nature at birth? How do we explain the fact that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” from his mother’s womb? (Luke 1:15).
I will start off by bringing to our attention what the Bible says about the consequences of Adam’s sin. Because of Adam’s sin, the following happened:
- Sin entered the world.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; emphasis mine).
Satan’s plan all along was to gain control of the world. He had been cast down from heaven. His next plan was to control the world. To do so, he had to rob Adam and Eve of their God-given authority over creation. He succeeded when he convinced them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan’s strategy for world domination was to get sin to enter the world. Adam served as the door for sin to have a presence in the world. That is what Romans 5:12 tells us, that sin entered the world through one man, Adam. The Scripture does not say that sin entered Adam’s descendants by biological or ontological transmission. It simply states that sin entered the world. At the time sin entered the world, Adam and Eve had no child. We, therefore, see that sin did not enter the world through birth. It entered the world before anyone was born.
Because sin is present in the world, Satan can use it to enslave men and women and rule over them. Satan himself is a sinner. John tells us about him in the following words, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1John 3:8; emphasis mine). Sinners, if they remain sinners and are not born again, remain under the dominion of Satan. The Devil enslaves people by getting them to sin. That is what he did to Adam and Eve; and that is what he will do to anyone who yields to him. Satan does not rule over people simply because they are born into this world. He cannot rule over babies, because babies are not slaves of sin. The “one who does what is sinful” excludes babies and little children who have no knowledge of good and evil. Satan cannot rule over anyone until the person sins.
When we sin, we engage in a spiritual transaction (for lack of a better expression), and we legally invite Satan to be our master. All we need to do is to yield to his temptation once, and he gains authority in our lives. This condition will remain until we surrender to the Lordship of Christ by becoming born again. Only then are we delivered from the kingdom of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13). Concerning slavery to sin, this is what Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34; emphasis mine). To become a slave of sin, you need to sin. No one is a slave of sin at birth. Slavery to sin is a result of our personal decision to choose evil over good. This is what the Bible consistently teaches from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The idea that all of humanity sinned together with Adam is foreign to the Bible.
- Death entered the world.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; emphasis mine).
Sin and death go together. The former is the cause, and the latter is the effect or result. God made this clear to Adam in Genesis 2:17, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (NIV; emphasis mine). As the Bible later clarifies, especially in the New Testament, this death is spiritual death. It refers to the condition in which a person’s spirit is no longer alive to God, but has fallen under the dominion of sin. Because of the necessary connection between sin and death, when sin entered the world, so did death. Satan’s purpose for getting people to sin is to lead them to their death, so that he can rule over them. He cannot rule over people who are free from sin, and this includes innocent babies. Jesus described Satan as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44; emphasis mine). To be successful as a murderer, Satan needed to get death into the world and Adam opened the door for him. As Romans 5:12 says, death came to all, because all sinned.
Some mistakenly assume that the latter part of Romans 5:12 means that all of us sinned “inside” Adam. They should read the Bible carefully and pay attention to all the places where sin and death are mentioned together. We did not sin “inside” Adam, as if we jointly sinned (co-sinned) with him. That is not what the Scripture is teaching. Death came to all, not because we sinned “inside” Adam, but because we sinned on our own. Our personal decision to sin is what causes us to die spiritually, not Adam’s sin. With sin comes death. Adam sinned, and he died. We, too, sin, and we die. But here is the key: death would not have come to us if Adam had not opened the door for sin and death to enter our world. The principle is the same. Everyone who sins will die just as Adam sinned and died. We are guilty because of our own sins, not because of Adam’s. Paul is clear about this when he states in Romans 6:23 that, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (emphasis mine). Wages are earned for work done. Babies have not accumulated any wages for sin for which they must be condemned to spiritual death.
Another biblical evidence that people die by their own sins, not that of Adam, is found in Ephesians 2:1-3. The Apostle writes,
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath” (emphasis mine).
Contrary to what the doctrine of original sin implies, we were by nature deserving of wrath, not because we were born that way, but because we chose to become that way. That is what the Apostle is teaching here. He reminds the believers in Ephesus that before they became saved, they were dead in their transgressions and sins. He does not say they were dead in the transgression of Adam. Nowhere does the Bible teach that we were dead in the transgression of Adam. If we die spiritually, it is a result of our own sins and transgressions, not someone else’s. No one is born already deserving of wrath, judgment, and condemnation. All of us were by nature deserving of wrath, because we yielded to the Devil’s temptations and lived in disobedience. The good news is that, when we were dead in our sins, God made us “alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14; emphasis mine).
- Pain and decay entered the world.
When Adam sinned, God explained the specific consequences of his disobedience, and it did not include the automatic biological (ontological) transmission of a sin nature to all human beings. From Genesis 3:17-19, we learn that the ground was cursed because of Adam. Adam was the head of humanity. Together with Eve, he was appointed to rule over the earth. Because of him, the ground was cursed. The ground would no longer be as fruitful as originally intended. With the curse of the ground came the experience of pain. Adam used to till the ground, but this time it will be accompanied by pain. The original vitality and fruitfulness of creation was affected, and Adam would feel the impact when he tilled the ground. Early on in Genesis 3:16, we hear God telling Eve that she will experience pain in childbirth. Her husband would also rule over her. This situation was not God’s original arrangement.
In Romans 8:19-22, Paul reveals that the whole of creation waits with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed, so that creation itself would be set free from the bondage of decay. God never intended for things to decay. He is life and the giver of life. Lifelessness or lack of vigorous vitality and fruitfulness in creation is part of the price creation paid for the sin of Adam. These consequences are real and the Bible does not shy from mentioning them. However, the Bible does not contain, either directly or indirectly, a doctrine that says that Adam transmits a sin nature to every individual man or woman. This doctrine holds the opposite of what the Bible teaches.
Further proof that the Bible does not support the doctrine of original sin concerns the nature and work of Christ, the last Adam. The Bible speaks of the first Adam as a type or figure of Christ. And it refers to Christ as the last Adam: ‘“The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Christ], a life-giving spirit.” In all, the Bible identifies three individuals who are called “Adam,” namely the first man (Adam), the first woman (Eve), and Christ the risen Lord (Gen 5:1-2; 1Cor 15:45). God called the first man and the first woman by the name Adam. The name Eve was not given by God; it was given to the woman by her husband (Gen 3:20). When Jesus came into the world, he joined the first humanity of which the first Adam was the head:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb 2:14-15; emphasis mine).
Christ was born into the humanity of the first Adam and lived like all humans do, except he did not sin (Heb 4:15). Coming into the world, his purpose – among other things – was to end the first humanity headed by the first Adam and usher in the new humanity headed by himself, the last Adam. He accomplished this, first, by the sacrifice of his life through which he atoned for the sins of the whole world: past, present and future sins (Is 53:1-12; Heb 1:4; 9:26-28; 1John 2:1-2). At his death, Christ paid the full penalty of the totality of our sins, thereby concluding the era of the old humanity. The era of the first Adam came to an end, and the era of the last Adam was beginning. When he rose from the dead, Christ appeared as a new man, the firstborn from the dead (Rev 1:8) and as the head of the new creation (2Cor 5:17). In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes,
“For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (2:14-16; emphasis mine).
Christ has successfully created in himself one new humanity. We have been living in the era of the last Adam since the resurrection of Christ. We should note also that the first Adam and the last Adam do not co-exist, just as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant do not exist side by side. One gives way to another. The first Adam had his time. It ended from the time the last Adam appeared as the risen Lord. The fact that not all people believe in Christ does not affect the status of Christ as the last Adam. And the fact that people still sin does not change the fact that the era of the first Adam has ended. On the Cross, Jesus bore the sins of every man and every woman, including the sins of Adam and Eve. Whatever sins Adam committed were atoned for and stopped at the Cross. Even if we assume that the doctrine of original sin is true and that Adam’s sin was being transmitted to us, at the Cross, Adam was stopped so that he had nothing to continue transmitting from that point.
The Bible is clear about what took place at the Cross and its implications:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14; emphasis mine).
The reign of the last Adam begun where the reign of the first Adam ended. The Cross is, therefore, the dividing line between the era of the first Adam and that of the last Adam. Everyone born after the resurrection of Christ is born into the era of the last Adam. Whether people believe in Christ or not, the Bible says that Christ has completed propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). No sin escaped the Cross, including the sin of Adam. At the Cross, Jesus atoned for and put an end to the sin of Adam. Adam is no longer a problem. For Adam to transmit any sin to us he must necessarily pass through Christ the last Adam. The question then is, what sin of Adam escaped the Cross and came down to us? God nailed the sins of every man and every woman to the Cross of Christ. If any sin escaped the Cross, then we are doomed and God has lied to us. But the joyful truth is that no sin escaped the Cross of Christ. Adam’s era does not extend beyond the Cross.
Any doctrine that suggests that Adam’s sin is actively being transmitted through birth is a direct attack on the work of Christ. The doctrine of original sin mocks the Cross and the resurrection. Yes, Adam sinned and landed the world in a lot of serious troubles. But we have exaggerated the extent of Adam’s reach and given him too much credit, thereby underestimating the power of the Cross. The biblical truth is that Adam’s sin pales in comparison to the glory and power of the Cross. Whatever sinful influence Adam had, it ended at the Cross. When Christ died on the Cross, the Father closed the chapter on the story of the old humanity headed by Adam. The time has come to direct our attention to the glory and power of the last Adam. The time has come to stop associating babies with the sin, guilt, and condemnation of the first Adam. We are not born with the sin of Adam. Let us confidently say with the Psalmist,
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps 139:13-14; emphasis mine).
God bless you!