Exposing the Myth of "Original Sin"

by Jerry Shugart

Augustine Aurelius (354-430)

In his book on Adam's fall I. A. McFarland wrote that Augustine marked a "transition from a loosely conceived, broadly ecumenial doctrine of the fall to a much more tightly formulated doctine of original sin...Augustine's thought decisively redirected Christian interpretation of the fall" (I.A. McFarland, In Adam's Fall: A Meditation on the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, 32).

We will see that Augustine's theory of Original Sin was based on a basic misunderstanding of the following verses which speak of the results of Adam's eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:

"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen.3:22-24).

First, we can understand that Adam was created in a mortal body because in order for him to live for ever it was necessary for him to eat of the Tree of Life. That idea is supported by by the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:

"Man must be prevented from eating of the Tree of Life, and so obtaining another prerogative of Divinity, that of immortality. Man is created mortal." (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; http://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/genesis/3.htm).

Henry Alford wrote that "man was created subject to death" (Henry Alford, The Book of Genesis and Part of the Book of Exodus; A Revised Edition [London: John Childs and Son, 1872], 19).

Gerald Bray said that "Adam was not created as an immortal being, but in the garden of Eden he was protected against death. When he fell the protection was removed and he suffered the consequences as his nature was allowed to take its course " [emphasis added] (Gerald Bray, "Sin in Historical Theology," in Fallen: A Theology of Sin, 169).

We also know that when Adam ate of that tree his physical body did not undergo a change in his physical makeup. Albert Barnes wrote the following:

"The tree of the knowledge of good and evil effected a change, not in the physical constitution of man, but in his mental experience - in his knowledge of good and evil" (Albert Barnes, Barnes Notes on the Bible, Commentary at Gen.3:22; http://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/genesis/3.htm

There is absolutely no evidence that the physical body of Adam was changed in any way at all. He died physically because he was denied the very thing which would have allowed him to live for ever--the Tree of Life. Despite this Augustine mistakenly believed that when Adam sinned he "despoiled his body":

G.F. Wiggers quoted Augustine saying the following: "If Adam had not sinned, he would not have been despoiled of his body, but would have been clothed with immortality and incorruptibility, that what is mortal should be swallowed up of life..." De Pec. Mer. I. 2, 4." [emphasis added] (G.F. Wiggers, An Historical Presentation of Augustinism and Pelagianism From the Original Sources [Andover, MA: Gould, Newman & Saxton, 1840], 92; A Reproduction by Forgotten Books).

Augustine also said that if Adam had not sinned then "our bodies would not have been born with defects":

"Our bodies would not have been born with defects, and there would have been no human monsters, if Adam had not corrupted our nature by his sin, and that had not been punished in his posterity. Op. Imp. I. 116; II. 123; III. 95,104; V. 8. The sickly and dying nature of the human body, proceeds from the lapse of the first man. De Gen. ad Lit. XI. 32" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 97).

Augustine and the Change of the Body at the Fall

Next, let us look at the ways which Augustine says that the physical body of Adam was changed when he ate of the forbidden tree. First, he said that Adam's body became subject to death:

"By the punishment of transgression, Adam lost immortality." Op. Imp. VI. 30. "The first man sinned so grievously, that by this sin, the nature, not only of one single man but of the whole human race, was changed, and fell from the possibility of immortality to the certainty of death."" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 92).

Again, Adam was created in a mortal body and in order to live for ever it was necessary for him to eat of the Tree of Life. So the reason why he died physically was because he was denied the very thing which would allow him to live for ever, the Tree of Life.

Next, Wiggers says that "Augustine explains himself to this effect, that carnal concupiscence has its seat in the body as well as in the soul. 'The cause of fleshly lust is not in the soul alone, and still much less in the body alone. For it arises from both; from the soul, because without it no delight is felt; and from the flesh, because without this, no fleshly delight is felt,' etc. X. 12. " [emphasis added] (Ibid., 95).

According to Augustine before Adam and Eve fell they had no fleshy lust (concupiscence):

"Before the fall, and before there was any necessity of dying, concupiscence had no existence; but after the body had acquired a sickly and dying nature, (which likewise belongs to the flesh of animals), it received also, on this account, the movement by which the carnal desire originates in animals, whereby those that are born, succeed the dying.' De Gen. ad Lit. XI. 32" [emphasis added] (Ibid.).

Wiggers says that Augustine called this concupiscence "a disease--a wound inflicted on nature through the treacherous counsel given by the devil--a vice of nature--a deformity--an evil that comes from the depravity of our nature which is vitiated by sin.' C. Jul. III. 15,26; V. 7. Op. Imp. IV. 33; V. 20. 'No man is now born without concupiscence.' I. 72." [emphasis added] (Ibid.).

Wiggers continues, saying that according to Augustine, "The guilt of concupiscence made man guilty from his origin (originaliter hominem reum faciebat). VI. 5. Hence unbaptized children are punishable on account of concupiscence. It brings them into condemnation, though they die in childhood. Its criminality (reatus) indeed is forgiven in baptism; but itself remains, even after baptism" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 95).

John Calvin followed Augustine in thinking that Adam's body and his descendant's bodies are defiled as a result of concupisence, writing that "everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence" (John Calvin, Institutes of theChristian Religion;2:1:8).

The Devil is the Corrupter of Our Substance

Augustine wrote that "'The devil is the corrupter, not the author of our substance. By that which he has inflicted, he subjects to himself what he did not create, a righteous God giving him this power; from whose power the devil withdraws neither himself nor what is subjected to him.' VI. 19." [emphasis added] (Ibid., 122).

Even today in Christendom there are some who speculate that the devil did indeed corrupt the body of all people. Henri Blocher writes the following:

"Ephesians 2 does conjoin the 'prince of aerial authority' with wrath-deserving 'nature.' In the story of Eden, in Genesis 3, the fall did mean 'leaving it to the snake'--yielding to the occult power 'who is called the Devil and Satan, who seduces the whole inhabited earth' (Rev.12:9). I shall not enter here into the wide and disputed field of demonolgy and 'spiritual warfare', but shall 'cautiously' refer to some pastoral evidence of encroachment by evil spirits on human lineage; if confirmed, it would strengthen the case of heredity in sinfulness" [emphasis added] (Henry Blocher, Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle, 126-127).

In the same book Blocher asked, "Dare I mention genetics? Even genetics should not be ruled out of court, since the dicipline deals with one level in the complex interaction of elements. We should exclude the fantasy about a 'sin gene' or sin as a chromosomic aberration; this is far too crude, and a category error. But could there be a far more subtle disorder of the genetic formula and its expression, a disorder which could correlate to spiritual deformation? Might we imagine, for instance, that spiritual integrity could support protective or restorative mechanisms against detrimental mutations--mechanisms which were lost?" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 124).

David Smith wrote that "We may assume, then, that each infant born into the world possesses that gene, as it were, that predisposes toward sin" [emphasis added] (David L. Smith, With Willful Intent. A Theology of Sin [Weaton Bridgepoint, IL: Victor Books 1994], 369).

The Marriage Bed

What Augustine teaches about concupiscence is easily proven to be false when we examine what Paul said about the marriage bed:

"Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Heb.13:4).

The Greek word translated "undefiled" means "not defiled, unsoiled; free from that by which the nature of a thing is deformed and debased, or its force or vigor impaired" (John Henry Thayer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, 32).

According to Augustine the marriage bed is defiled because concupiscence is an evil which comes from the depravity of our nature.

The Origin of the Soul

Augustine's view is that both the body and the soul of all people are corrupted by Adam's sin and that happens by physical generation. If that is correct then we must believe that the soul comes into existence through physical generation. Wiggers asks, "How could Adam's guilt be imputed to the soul, if it in no manner originated from Adam, but was newly created by God in each instance? Indeed, by his theory of the propagation of sin by generation (peccatum ex traduce), and by which he would consequently regard physical generation as a moral evil, Augustine could scarcely think at all of the propagation of the soul otherwise than by generation." (Ibid., 281).

Wiggers speaks about the various beliefs about the creation of the soul at the time of Augustine: "The soul either exists before its union with the body (preexistentism), or it is created by God at the same time with the body (creationism or coexistentism), or it springs from physical generation (traducianism, evolution system). These are the three principal hypotheses on the origin of the soul, each of which had its advocates and its opponents before and at the time of Augustine" (Ibid., 280).

Wiggers then says the following about Augustine's belief about this subject:

" Hence he says (De Anima et ejus Origine, I. 13), "We ask, why the soul is condemned to receive original sin, if the soul is not derived from that one soul which sinned in the first father of the human race?" In this sense, he declared before, (De Gen. ad Lit. X. 23): I should regard the reasons for both opinions (creationism and traducianism), as equal, if infant baptism did not give the preponderance to the opinion, that souls are begotten by the parents. Comp. 11. He however allows that the propagation of souls by generation, cannot be proved from the Bible. De Pec. Mer. III. 10; De An. et ejus Orig. I. 18; Ep. 194. But he also shows (Ep. 19), that creationism can no more be proved from the Bible" (Ibid., 282).

It was the baptism of infants in the early church which decided the issue for Augustine and we will discuss that in our next section. however, Augustine realized that his theory was totally dependent on the idea that souls come into existence through physical generation. That is because if a soul is created by God and that same soul is corrupted then that can only mean that God is responsible for making the souls of people corrupt. And Augustine correctly understood that all of the things which God makes is good.

Now let us look at the following verses to see if Augustine was correct when he said that the Scriptures do not reveal that God makes souls.

"For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made" (Isa.47:16).

Someone could object, saying that the LORD makes souls in the same way that He makes people's bodies, by physical generation. So according this view humans make themselves. However, the following words of God contradicts that idea:

""Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture" (Ps.100:3).

It could be said that people do indeed make themselves when it comes to their bodies through physical generation but God's words in this verse demonstrates that the LORD is speaking specifically about making people's souls. With this in mind then we can understand that the following verses are also speaking about God making the soul:

"Thy hands have made me and fashioned me" (Ps.119:73).

"The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life" (Job.33:4).

"But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isa.64:4).

Infant Baptism and the Early Church

Peter Sanlon wrote that "Augustine saw in infant baptism evidence that Christians instinctively grasped that infants needed salvation from a sinfulness that had to be original sin--it being obvious that babies could commit no actual sins" (Peter Sanlon, "Original Sin in Patristic Theology," in Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin, 93).

Infant baptism was indeed practiced in the early church and we will now examine how that happened. Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote that "the rulers of the Church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class...The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church" (John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine [Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, Sixth Edition], 372-373)

Newman failed to mention that the early church also adopted the rite of water baptism as practiced in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The chief shrine of this mystery religion was at Eleusis, a city close to Athens. Edwin Hatch points out the changes which took place in the rite of water baptism not long after the Apostolic age had ended :

"The first point is the change of name.."

"(a) So early as the time of Justin Martyr we find a name given to baptism which comes straight from the Greek mysteries - the name 'enlightenment.' It came to be the constant technical term.

"(b) The name 'seal,' which also came from the mysteries and from some forms of foreign cult, was used partly of those who had passed the test and who were 'consignati,' as Tertullian calls them, partly of those who were actually sealed upon the forehead in sign of a new ownership.

"(c) The term 'musterion' is applied to baptism, and with it comes a whole series of technical terms unknown to the Apostolic Church, but well known to the mysteries, and explicable only through ideas and usages peculiar to them." (Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Uses Upon the Christian Church [London: Williams and Norgate, 1897], 295-96).

Sir Robert Anderson wrote that "The early corrupters of Christianity transferred to their new religion a rite with which their old religion had made them familiar, and this they described by the term which Holy Scripture provided. Nor was it confined to the Eleusinian mysteries. In 'Prescott's Conquest of Mexico' a description is given of the rite in use in that country when the Spaniards landed on its shores. The priestess midwife sprinkled water on the head of the infant, and then, after exorcising the unclean spirit (as does the Roman priest), she used these words: 'He now liveth anew and is born anew; now he is purified and cleansed.' And in his work on Buddhism Sir Monier Williams describes' a similar rite practised in Tibet and Mongolia. The child is baptized on the third or tenth day after birth. 'The priest consecrates the water, while candles and incense are burning. He then dips the child three times, blesses it, and gives it a name. It was not from Greece that these superstitious rites were derived. All had a common origin, and that origin is to be sought in the mysteries of ancient Babylon" (Sir Robert Anderson, The Church or the Bible? 125-26).

The Laver of Regeneration

The early church adopted the practice of infant baptism from pagan religions but that practice was accepted based on a misunderstand of what Augustine called "the laver of regeneration":

Wiggers quotes Augustine saying the following: "As children," says he (De Pec. Mer. I. 19), "are subject to no sins of their own life, the hereditary disease in them is heated by his grace who makes them well by the laver of regeneration." [emphasis added] (G.F.Wiggers, An Historical Presentation of Augustinism and Pelagianism, 70).

Augustine's words about the laver of regeneration are in regard to what is written at Titus 3:5 but in order to understand what Paul is saying there it is necessary to find the meaning of the Greek word loutron as used in the verse:

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing (loutron) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

When we look at the following verse where the same Greek word loutron is used we see that it is associated with the touching of a corpse:

"He that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again, what availeth his washing (loutron)?" (Ecclesiasticus 34:25; LXX).

The reference to the touching of a dead body provides the clue by which we can understand the meaning of the Greek word loutron:

"Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him" (Num.19:13).

This verse is in reference to the sin-offering of the red heifer (v.2) and the water which was poured over the ashes of that sin-offering served as a purification for sin:

"And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin" (v. 9).

So we can understand that at Titus 3:5 Paul employed a "type" to illustrate his salvation experience of being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Sir Robert Anderson says the following about Ecclesiasticus 34:25: "The reference is to one of the principal ordinances of the mosaic ritual--a type, moreover, which fills a large place in New Testament doctrine--especially in Hebrews--namely, the great sin-offering with 'the water of purification (Numb. XIX)...the 'loutron' is, strictly speaking, not the washing, but the vessel which contains the water" (Sir Robert Anderson, The Bible or the Church?" [London: Pickering & Inglis, Second Edition],225).

In " type" the Jews received the benefit of purification by the water and Christians receive it by the gospel of Christ and that is exactly what Paul is referring to in the following verse:

"That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing (loutron) of water by the word" (Eph.5:26).

Christians are purified by the word of God, specifically the gospel. So we can understand that when the Lord Jesus said the following to Nicodemus he was using "water" typically, a type which refers to the water of purification:

"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Jn.3:3-5).

Being "born of water and of the spirit" is the same thing as being "born again" and Peter made it plain that happens upon believing the gospel:

"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God...And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet.1:23,25).

Besides that, we do know that the gospel comes in the power of holy spirit:

"For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in holy spirit, and in much assurance" (1 Thess.1:5).

Besides that, we know that the "baptism for the remission of sins" was only for those who already believed and were already saved, as witnessed by the following exchange between Philip and the eunuch:

"And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:36-37).

Before the eunuch was baptized with water he was already "born of God" because he believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God:

"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 Jn.5:1,4-5).

The Baptism For the Remission of Sins

The Scriptures speak of two different ways that sins are forgiven (taken away) and one way is in regard to salvation and the other way is in regard to being in fellowship with the Lord. First, the following is in regard to salvation:

"To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:39).

The following verses speak of a forgiveness of sins for those who already believe:

"If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:...If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn.1:6,8-9).

The baptism of repentance was in regard to confessing sins:

"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand...Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mt.3:1-2,5-6).

According to David R. Anderson the ministry in regard to "repentance" was in regard to "fellowship": "We are suggesting that John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter had dual ministries. One was to call the nation of Israel back into fellowship with Yahweh. The covenant relationship had long since been established. The nation of Israel did not need a new relationship with God. But they were sorely lacking in fellowship...John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter were all trying to persuade Israel to repentance and turning that would bring them back to a refreshing fellowship with God... Now as a nation they needed to repent and turn (Acts 3:19) in order to have fellowship with God" [emphasis added] (Robert R. Anderson, "The National Repentance of Israel," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1998, Volume 11:21).

Therefore, we can understand that the following words of Peter were in regard to "fellowship" and not salvation":

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit--the gift of being able to speak in unknown languages:

""...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines" (1 Cor.12:3-4, 8-11).

That is exactly what was going on the day believers were batized with water (Acts 2:14).

From all of this we can understand that the baptism for the repentance of sins was not for salvation but instead it was to bring the nation of Israel back into fellowhip with the Lord.

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