On the Doctrine of Original Sin: Why we fell with Adam

Adam original sin

One of the more novel notions of Christian doctrine — at least from the world’s perspective — is this notion of original sin. Namely, that human beings are born apart from God. And, that they are born apart from God on the basis of an earlier act in which we weren’t present. 

Christian doctrine supposes that Adam, the first man, was brought into a covenant with God at the point of his creation; and that by coming into covenant with the triune God, Adam was given a share of divine life, becoming a son of God. Author Scott Hahn says that on the seventh day of creation, God made a “covenant with mankind. [And in doing so,] God took Adam and Eve into his own family. God made them his children” (Love Comes First, 55). And so God created mankind, but he did not simply create humanity: God transcended the Creator/creature relationship, and condescended into a Father/son relationship. And so Adam was elevated into God’s family by virtue of this covenant.

However, as is explicit in the Genesis text, Adam’s sonship was conditioned upon confirmed obedience to God. And as long as Adam was obedient, Hahn says, “the Father would raise up His son, Adam, to be a father himself, a father who would in turn raise up many children of God” (ibid, 56). In other words, as Adam confirmed himself in sonship, he would in turn generate progeny who, by virtue of Adam’s own sonship, would be divine sons. And thus, all of mankind would share in divine life as God’s family in Adam (cf. Rom 5:12-21).

However, we find that Adam did not continue and confirm himself in obedience, but instead “violated the covenant… [And] in breaking the covenant, he separated himself and all his offspring from God’s family… Adam chose instead to live outside the family as a slave” (ibid, 57).

As a result of sin, Adam broke this covenant with God, and tore himself from the divine sonship which he had. Thus, this participation that Adam had in God’s life was stolen from him — or better put, he ripped himself from that life, and from God’s family. And not just himself, but his entire progeny. Because of Adam, all of humanity — all of Adam’s descendants —  would be born apart from God’s life; would be born under covenant curses; would be born in brokenness and sinfulness.

This is why we may say that every person is born in original sin: in as much as we originate from Adam, we are left devoid of divine life and righteousness. We are a broken and marred species, for we are born apart from our divine destiny; apart from God himself. In other words, we have fallen from grace. And we are left lifeless and sinful, in the greater context of a broken covenant.

Karl Adams says this of mankind wholeness in original sin:

Adam, the first man, called to share by grace in the divine life, represented in God’s eyes the whole of mankind. Adam’s fall was the fall of mankind. Detached from its original supernatural goal, mankind then, like some planet detached from its sun, revolved only in crazy gyration round itself…

[M]ankind must not be regarded as a mass of homogeneous beings successively emerging and passing away, nor merely as a sum of men bound together by unity of generation, as being descendants of one original parent, but as one single man. So closely are men assimilated to one another in their natural being, in body and in mind, so profoundly are they interlocked in thinking, willing, feeling, and acting, so solitary is their life, their virtue and their sin, that they are considered in the divine plan of redemption only as a whole, only as a unity, only as one man. This one man is not the individual man, but the whole man, the totality of the innumerable expressions of that humanity which is reproduced in countless individuals.

In other words, mankind as one unit was torn — or rather tore himself — away from this divine elevation granted by God. And as a result, each individual as a part of the whole, is said to be born in sin, apart from God’s covenant friendship, and in need of salvation and restoration.

While this might seem unfair, what we must affirm is that mankind is one. We are a kind, a species, a creation, born together through progeny. And as the one goes, so goes the whole. This is the meaning behind original sin. We inherit our parents’ state — and thus we are in solidarity with them.

And consequently, this is the purpose behind the incarnation: In the incarnation, Christ was not simply visiting mankind. Rather, Christ was uniting fallen humanity and God back together again. This is the deepest meaning of Christ as the God-man. In himself, as the God-man, Jesus was becoming a new humanity; a new Adam in whom God and mankind were once again at-one (hence, the meaning of atonement: “at-one-ment”).

And so, in the incarnation, Jesus united this broken humanity to back God. Karl Adams explains,

The whole man came once more into being, permanently united with God, and so effectively united that for mankind as a whole the grace of redemption can no more be lost, although the individual man can withdraw himself from this whole. Therefore Christ, as the God-man, is the new humanity, the new beginning, the whole man in the full meaning of the phrase.

Whence it follows clearly that the Church was already, in the mystery of the Incarnation, established as an organic community. The “many,” the sum total of all who are redeemed in Christ, are in their inner relationship to one another, in their interrelation and correlation, in their organic communion, objectively and finally the Body of Christ, for this Body is redeemed humanity, the “reconciled world”.

In other words, the church is a new mankind in Christ. Why? Because Christ took upon himself this fallen humanity, died in its place — thus taking the covenant curses — and raised it back to glory (view this post for more info on atonement/resurrection). And so, in Christ, we are dead to sin, and raised to a new state of being — back to divine sonship.  

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