Do We Inherit the Guilt of Adam's Sin?
The doctrine of original sin states that all of us are born sinners. Our parents
pass along the guilt of Adam and Eve's original transgression to us, their
children, even as they received the same from their parents, and so on, back to
the fall of man in the garden.
John Calvin said, "Again, I ask: whence does it happen that Adam's fall
irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in
eternal death unless because it so pleased God?" He concluded by saying, "The
decree is dreadful, I confess." (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,
Vol. 2, page 955).
One human written religious creed, the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, says,
"They (Adam and Eve - J.Q.) being the root, and, by God's appointment... the
guilt of sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity,
descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin..."
Let us consider this teaching in light of what the Scriptures actually say. If
the Bible teaches it, then it is true. If not, then it is false. It matters not
how widespread the teaching is, who believes it, or what the creed books written
by men say.
Is the Guilt of Sin Inherited?
"The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the
punishment of the father's iniquity; nor will the father bear the punishment for
the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and
the wickedness of the wicked will be on himself." (Ezekiel 18:20; cf. vss.
19-32). Though there are many passages that contradict the doctrine of original
sin, I can think of none that do it stronger than these verses in Ezekiel. The
Lord has said, "Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according
to his conduct," (Ezekiel 18:30). Any doctrine that says we are judged by the
conduct of our ancestors, including Adam's, is clearly wrong.
While we are here, compare Calvin's statement quoted earlier with the following
God: "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies." (vs. 32).
Calvin: "...so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal
death unless because it so pleased God?"
Many other passages also show the impossibility of transferring the guilt of sin
(Jeremiah 31:27-30; Deuteronomy 24:16; Galatians 6:5).
The Definition of Sin
"Everyone who practices sin practices lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness." (1 John
3:4). Sin is an act of unrighteousness. It is something we do. It is an act that
is lawless, or contrary to God's law. The Bible never refers to sin as something
that we are born with. It is never defined in God's word as a natural weakness
or an inherited trait.
For example, the Lord commands, "Thou shall not commit murder." I am not a
murderer unless I commit an act that violates that command.
While it is true that all of Adam's descendants pay the consequences of Adam's
sin (i.e., we live in a cursed world; we suffer physical death, etc.) that is
not the same thing as being guilty of Adam's sin. A child of a drunkard may
suffer the consequences of his parent's misbehavior, but this does not mean the
child himself is guilty of drunkenness.
The Consequences of the Fall
"Then to Adam He said, 'Because you ... have eaten from the tree about which I
commanded you, saying, "You shall not eat from it..."'" (Genesis 3:17; see
context: vss. 14-24). One reads in vain for the idea of original sin in the
account of man's fall as related in the Bible. Genesis records many consequences
resulting from the first transgression. There is pain in childbirth, the ground
is cursed, and physical death (the body returning to dust) is decreed. But
nothing at all about children inheriting the guilt of Adam's sin.
What About This?
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me."
(Psalm 51:5). Some take David's words to mean that he was born a sinner, but
that is not what he said. He said that his mother brought him forth in sin. He
was born into a sinful world. So are we and our children. The lure of sin
effects us as we grow up. It is all around us from birth.
Some also point to another Psalm (Psalm 58:3), but it, too, says the wicked "go
astray" not "born astray". In their hearts they "work unrighteousness" and
"weigh out violence" (vs. 2). It is from birth that evil influences begin to
work on the innocent one, working estrangement from God.
"Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you are converted and become like
children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3). This
certainly does not sound like Jesus looked upon children as being totally
depraved in sin. This is such a different view of children from how Calvin saw
We do inherit things from our parents, but those things do not include sin. We
inherit our physical traits from our earthly parents. We inherit our spiritual
traits from God. He is therefore called "the Father of spirits" in a passage
plainly discussing the spirits of human beings (Hebrews 12:9). Paul refers to us
as being "the offspring of God" (Acts 17:28,29). Who dares say our spirit is
already tainted by sin at birth.
This unbiblical doctrine brought yet another dilemma that had to be dealt with.
How does one explain how Jesus, the sinless One, was born without inheriting
Adam's sin through Mary? Catholicism devised the doctrine of the "immaculate
conception" of Mary. She was born without sin, and had none to pass on to Jesus.
But, where, pray tell, is that in the Bible? Instead, it says that He became
"flesh and blood" as we are because He "had to be made like His brethren in all
things" This does not involve inheriting sin, He is without sin (Hebrews
A final point to be made is one of accountability. God does not demand of us or
hold us accountable for that which we cannot help. Jesus, for example, said, "If
you were blind, you would have no sin" (John 10:41). Jesus is talking about
being unable to comprehend right and wrong. Infants have no sin because God does
not hold them accountable. Paul referred to this early stage in his life as well
. He was spiritually "alive" but then "when sin became alive" he died (Romans
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 6.6; June 1999