Original Sin – The Beginner’s Theological Vocabularium

Original Sin

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”—Romans 5:12

The doctrine of Original Sin means different things to different people. It, however, in essence refers to the consequence, among all people, that began with Adam’s sin. Below, I will try to outline the various groups, and their corresponding view of Original Sin.

  • Pelegianism: Believes that Adam’s sin does not affect us at all, except as an example of sin. It does not hold to any form of Original Sin.
  • Arminianism and Calvinism: Believe the sin of Adam created a sin nature in all people. This sin nature inevitably causes acts of sin, which then makes us a sinner.
  • Hyper-Calvinism: Turns Original Sin into Imputed Sin, which says that each man (and woman) are born a sinner. This has numerous scriptural as well a logical problems.

Much of the confusion revolves around words that have more than one meaning, as well as verses taken out of context. Take for example this quote from John Calvin’s Institutes for Christian Religion

Original sin, then, may be defined a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh.

The phrase, “hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature”, implies a propensity to sin, rather than an automatic condemnation of sin at the moment of birth. But then he adds, “which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God,” so we have to ask was Calvin implying infants who die go to hell, or was he simply saying that our mere propensity to sin is offensive to God? Nowhere in Calvin’s Institutes does he explicitly say infants go to hell. The most oft use quote, “Although we must recollect that God would never have suffered any infants to be destroyed, except those which He had already reprobated and condemned to eternal death.” [From Calvin’s Harmony of the Law, a commentary on  Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and  Deuteronomy] was addressing the deaths of infants in the cities the Children of Israel were asked to destroy, not a commentary on salvation.

The passage in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” is used falsely to claim infants are born already guilty of sin (and yes, even John Calvin made this mistake in using this passage to bolster claims of original depravity [the propensity to sin]) but the passage in context shows that David, as he often did, was using a spiritual gift of empathy, to speak from someone else’s perspective (in this case, his recently deceased infant son) He did the same in Psalm 22, where he is very clearly seeing the crucifixion from Jesus’ eyes. The sin in verse 5, is his and Bathsheba’s, as mourned by the child they conceived.  

In Romans 5:13 we see Paul noting, “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” That either means that no one born before the law would go to hell (which we know is not true, and Paul affirms that in the verses following verse 13) or that those ignorant of the law (i.g. infants) are not yet guilty of sin.

We have a sin nature which we are born with, but are not sinners until we sin, being aware (the age of accountability) that it is wrong. One could argue, legitimately, that a dog is a vegetarian with a carnivorous nature from birth until it eats it’s first mouthful of meat.