Doctrines on the Original Sin

On Tuesday, November 11, 2003 Troy W. wrote:

Ed, I was wondering if you can steer me to any critical resources on the history of the Doctrine of Original Sin. You know, how and why it came about. What its cultural context was, etc. Know any good books?

(I am currently in serious counseling post-walking away in 1999. It still sux and I am still suffering severe anxiety about it all. I was a trainee Pentecostal minister here in Australia.)

Do you know of any support groups or contacts here in Australia? I am in Brisbane (Bible-belt).

Anyway, I will stop annoying you,


“Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”
-Bertrand Russell

Original sin: General and theological observations

On Tuesday, November 11, 2003, Ed Babinski wrote:

Dear Troy,

Hope youʼre doing O.K. Hereʼs my response on “original sin,” since you raised the question below. As you can imagine, I have lots to say.

Doctrines on Original Sin

General Observations

Personally, I have no problem with “original sin” understood in a colloquial (non-fundamentalist) fashion. I mean even evolutionists teach that man is not a “tame” animal, and we still defend our mental territory with intellectual claws, just as his ancestors jealously defended their physical territory with clubs and spears. We make mistakes, we donʼt communicate very well with one another, we all have personal individual hopes and fears and joys as well as shared ones. These compete with one another and cause us all difficulties in life. Though on the other hand we are also social creatures and most of us recognize how joys shared are doubled while sorrows shared are halved —- and all without the benefits (or threats) of religion.

My own studies of the teachings of “original sin loving” Christians like Augustine, Luther and Calvin have convinced me that they were hardly worthy of emulation. And the craziness and severity of their teachings, teachings they sought to fully justify based on the Bible and claiming that the Holy Spirit lead them into truth, should in no way be confused with the truth. Sheesh! Augustine taught that unbaptized infants were “in the devilʼs power” and going straight to hell if they died before being baptized. He hated the idea of any place other than hell for dead unbaptized infants. But then Augustine even taught the world would be best off if everybody stopped procreating, because it would hasten Christʼs return. Augustine also argued in favor of persecuting any church that wanted to be free of the existing church-state hierarchy, any free churches, like the Donatists. Luther hated every one but those who agreed with him, he hated Catholics, hated other Protestant Reformerʼs ideas, declared such teachings worthy of hell, hated Anabaptist Protestants, Jews, witches, and finally stooped to having everyone in Saxony forced to attend church and learn Lutherʼs catechism, having the churches in Saxony examined, and any who didnʼt teach Lutheranism were run out of the country or worse — if they kept coming back. Calvin did the same thing in Geneva, everyone forced to give up Catholicism, forced to attend church (or be fined a dayʼs wage or worse), heretics and witches forced to recant, be exiled or worse, and in fact, if you disagreed with Calvin on any matter concerning the Bible you were considered suspect and exiled, or worse. If you doubted his theory of predestination, if you doubted his ideas of the Lordʼs supper, if you doubted his interpretation of Jesusʼ “descent into hell,” if you doubted that the Song of Solomon was primarily about Christʼs love for “the church,” etc. Calvin and Luther taught and argued vehemently that it was the duty of civil magistrates to enforce Christian beliefs, and people should keep every idle word, idle thought, and doubt to themselves. A 13 year old girl was beaten in public for saying she wanted to become a Catholic. There was no organ music allowed in Calvinʼs Geneva, no singing in harmony, no secular songs allowed. There were a few religious plays and then even they were forbidden. So were many secular books. Geneva was turned into a huge printing press for Calvinʼs works to spread them throughout southern France and spread his particular brand of Protestantism there.

Original Sin In The Bible

Theologically and biblically speaking, Jews donʼt believe in “original sin” staining the souls of every child born. They interpret Genesis 1 and 2 as simply the tale of the expulsion from the garden. After that biblical episode it is simply up to people to choose between good and evil, i.e., now that we “know” them. “Choose this day...” as it says in the Old Testament.

Also, in the Old Testament, the prophets and the priests can be seen duking it out as to whether or not animal sacrifices are necessary to obtain forgiveness for sins. The prophets thought a repentant heart and good works were the most pleasing offerings to God, and that was the basis of obtaining Godʼs forgiveness. While the priests thought it had more to do with spilling the blood of animals (as many ancient cultures believed, back then).

I found several Jewish works helpful in understanding “sin.” Copies of their pages are in my files at home. If you want, I can send you the citations of the books and the pages, or even copy them and mail them to you. They helped me understand the differences between Christians and Jews more fully.

It has also been pointed by church historians of doctrine that Augustine made too much of something Paul wrote about how in Adam “all men sinned.” Augustine actually went further than Paul, misinterpreting and stretching the meaning of Paul. Augustine is the one who firmly put the idea of “original sin” into the cornerstone of the building of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant Christendom —- though the Orthodox Church (the eastern half of the Christianized Roman Empire) has itʼs own unique understandings of “sin and salvation” and is actually more interested in lifting man upward to become more like God rather than blaming humanity for being so low.

Hereʼs a few book titles I found while searching on the web. Iʼve read parts of the first one and found parts of it interesting and informative.

AUTHOR: Tennant, Frederick Robert, 1866-1957
TITLE: The sources of the doctrines of the fall and original sin, by F. R. Tennant

These I havenʼt read or skimmed, they just happened to be listed here in the library at Furman.

AUTHOR: Binion, Rudolph, 1927-
TITLE: After Christianity : Christian survivals in post-Christian culture / Rudolph Binion [includes a little history on the history of the concept of original sin]

AUTHOR: Smith, H. Shelton (Hilrie Shelton), 1893-
TITLE: Changing conceptions of original sin; a study in American theology since 1750

AMAZON.COM recommended this title:

Original Sin: Origins, Developments, Contemporary Meanings by Tatha Wiley

Editorial Reviews

Gerard Sloyan, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Temple University and Visiting Professor of Religion at the Catholic University of America A splendid, deeply researched work.

Lisa Sowle Cahill, Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College
In a clear and methodical manner Tatha Wiley explores the many dimensions of the conflicting yet fundamental concept of original sin. She explores the Christian origins, patristic developments and medieval interpretations of original sin, then traces the emergence of the idea of original sin, the questions the idea answered, and the development of original sin as a Christian doctrine in the early centuries of Christianity. Finally, she brings the discussion to the present with the modern scientific, historical, and philosophical challenges posed to the doctrine along with contemporary reinterpretations of it. This book is valuable reading for theologians, university and seminary graduate students, and nonprofessionals who may be intrigued by this subject.
Reviewer: John D. Cornwell from Corydon, Indiana United States
Maintaining a firm foundation of Faith today is arduous. Contemporary knowledge and the rigors of disciplined logic render literalism untenable. Tatha Wileyʼs “Original Sin” was outstanding and repeatedly insightful. I found her exposition and explanation of the evolving concept of Original sin to be highly readable and understandable. Being a child of the (early!) twentieth century I have always had a problem with biblical literalism. Ms. Wileyʼs book gave me a great basis for understanding a very real concept of Original sin without having to check my brains at the door. Echoing a prior reviewer, my copy of “Original Sin” is copiously and rather wantonly highlighted in Technicolor.
Reviewer: William L. Forst from Florissant, MO USA
I find Tatha Wileyʼs book very interesting. An attractive book for me is underlined, full of notes. This I have done with ‘Original Sin’. It is rare book, for me, on a subject that I normally would not read. First she writes clearly and readable. She uses history — She shows beautifully the difference between classical or metaphysical theology and the contemporary theology that uses anthropology, history, and sciences. The classical with Genesis 3 upholds woman as being subordinate to man not equal. Source of sin is man and many more classical idea. The new understanding of original sin does not come with birth, but some how is a breaking of a relationship with God and with humans. At any rate, I found the book very interesting. The world today needs a different manner on looking at evil - we need a way in which war can be avoided. How is it possible to justify violence to human beings, terrorism, war is terrorism, through original sin? But ‘holy men’ are doing it every night on the news.

All for now,
Best, Ed Babinski

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