Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Born a Sinner: A Critical Investigation of the Origin of Original Sin



Born a Sinner: A Critical Investigation of the Origin of Original Sin

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“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
-         Romans 5:12

            The doctrine of original sin is an important part of Christian theology.[1]  In fact, the notion of Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross hinges on the belief that all people are born into sin and thus in need of salvation through the voluntary death of a sinless man.  According to the doctrine, when Adam (peace be upon him) disobeyed God by eating from the “Tree of Knowledge”, he brought sin into the world so that the whole human race was tainted by it and thus just as guilty as Adam was and deserving of punishment, which was death.[2]  But what is the truth of the matter?  Is “original sin” a reality or an invention of the church?  Is this concept found in the New Testament as well as the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), as Christians maintain?  Does the nature of man, from his humble beginnings as an infant through his life as an adult, demonstrate proof of his tainted origin?  We will attempt to answer these and other questions in this article.  First, we will provide an explanation of the theology of original sin as well as the common arguments given by Christians in defense of this concept.  Second, we will investigate the Bible, both the Tanakh and the New Testament, to see if this concept can be found within either of these two texts, and supplement this investigation with the views of some of the Ante-Nicene church fathers.[3]  Third, we will examine some sociological and psychological evidence from scientific studies to test whether the doctrine of original sin can be demonstrated in human nature.  Finally, we will discuss the Islamic view on sin.  With all the evidence in hand, the reader will hopefully see that the Bible provides contradictory views on the concept of sin, that Biblical evidence in favor of original sin is lacking and that a growing body of scientific evidence actually demonstrates that this doctrine is categorically false.  In other words, we will see that the concept was not taught by the prophets, including Jesus (peace be upon him), but was the invention of the church.               

What is Original Sin?

            As stated above, “original sin” refers to Adam’s disobedience of God and his subsequent fall as described in the book of Genesis in the Tanakh.[4]  But according to Christian theology, Adam’s act of disobedience allowed “sin” and “death” to enter into the world, so that every human is born with sin and deserving of death.  

            Original sin is an important doctrine in most Christian sects.  The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states that:

“[a]ll men are implicated in Adam's sin, as St. Paul affirms: "By one man's disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners": "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned."  The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men."”[5]

Similarly, the “Westminster Confession of Faith” states that:

“[t]hey [Adam and Eve] being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”[6]

It is understandable why Christians so vehemently defend this concept and have included it in their creeds, even though as we will see, the evidence for it is severely lacking.  There are indeed some passages in the New Testament which can be interpreted as teaching the theology of original sin, though the term itself is never used.[7]  This doctrine is best demonstrated in the teachings of Paul of Tarsus, especially Romans 5:12, which states:

“[t]herefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”[8]  

In addition to the epistle to the Romans, the first epistle to the Corinthians also discussed the “original sin” of Adam:

“[f]or since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”[9]

Thus, according to Paul, because of the sin of Adam, a savior was needed.  As one Catholic source puts it:

“…without original sin, there would be no need for a Savior.”[10]

Indeed, the aforementioned “Catechism of the Catholic Church” recognizes the danger of denying original sin with regards to the Christian faith.  It states that:

“[t]he Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ.”[11]

Paul clarified this point by stating that if Jesus (peace be upon him) had not been raised from the dead, then the faith of Christians would fall apart and they would still be in their sins:

“[a]nd if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”[12]

So, we can see why it is so important for Christians to demonstrate the “reality” of original sin.  The belief in Jesus’ resurrection hinges on the belief that all humans are sinful and in need of the redemptive death and resurrection of a sinless savior.  If original sin is proven false, then so is the Christian faith.

            Christians argue that the concept of original sin is found not only in the New Testament but in the Tanakh as well.  One verse that is most commonly used is Psalm 51:5, which states:

“[s]urely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Another verse that apologists typically point to is Job 14:4, which states:

“[w]ho can bring what is pure from the impure?  No one!”

According to the “Catholic News Agency” (CNA), both of these verses:

“…imply that our sinfulness is inherited from our parents, even though there is no mention of Adam's sin.”[13]

Christians also point to alleged evidence outside of the Bible in defense of original sin.  For example, the CNA states:

“[n]ow the doctrine of original sin cannot be proven by natural reason, but it is easily witnessed by its symptoms: the need for police, the collapse of great civilizations, suicide, suffering and so on. Another symptom is war. People have always and will always kill each other in mass quantity.”[14]

Thus, in the view of some Christians, the “symptoms” of original sin manifested in such things as crime, violence, lawlessness etc., serve as evidence of the original sin of humanity.[15] 

            This concept is even extended to infants and children.  Proponents of original sin argue that since even infants and children die (and since “death” came into the world through Adam’s sin) then infants and children are also sinners.[16]  One Christian source puts it rather bluntly that:

“…death only comes upon those who have sinned. Since infants die, they therefore must be sinners.”[17]

Interestingly, some Christians believe that only the “elect infants” that die are actually saved, despite being tainted by original sin.  However, those that are “not elected” are doomed and cannot be saved!  The “Westminster Confession of Faith” states this clearly (emphasis ours):

“[e]lect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved…”[18]

            Finally, some Christians even believe that the sin of Adam affected animals as well.[19]  They argue this solely on the basis of Biblical evidence.[20]  For example, they appeal to Genesis 1:31, which describes God’s Creation as being “very good”.  Proponents of original sin argue that God’s creation was “very good” by “design”, which means that it was “perfect”.  As one proponent puts it:

“[t]here was no imperfection in God's original creation. Imperfection eventually entered the universe as a result of humanity's sin, not God's design. Thus, the universe as it exists today is not the same as God created it. Sin has brought into it abnormality and imperfection.”[21] 

            These proponents also claim, on the basis of scripture, that humans and animals were vegetarians before Adam’s fall.  Thus, carnivorous animals were not in fact carnivores originally.  They only became carnivores after Adam sinned and brought death into the world.[22]   

Examining the Biblical Evidence

            Having discussed the theology of original sin, as well as the alleged Biblical “evidence” for it, let us now examine the claims of the apologists.  As previously stated, there are certain Biblical verses which support the Christian position, specifically from the letters of Paul.  But what evidence is found in the rest of the New Testament?  What evidence is found in the Tanakh?  Finally, what were the views of the early church fathers?

The Tanakh -

            Let us begin by examining Psalm 51:5, which is usually presented as evidence by Christian apologists for original sin.  In the verse, the psalmist, identified as David (peace be upon him), states that he was sinful from conception.  For Christians, this is evidence that all humans are sinful by nature.  However, closer inspection of both the context of Psalm 51 as well as other verses from the Hebrew Bible, debunk this claim.  First, the immediate context of the psalm concerns a specific sin of David, not sin in general.  In the New International Version, the introduction to the psalm states (emphasis ours):

“[a] psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”[23]

So the psalm had to do with David’s remorse for his alleged adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and not his sinful “nature” in general.[24]   

Second, there have been varying interpretations of Psalm 51:5 among Jews and none affirm the belief that all human beings are born sinful.  The medieval Jewish commentator Rashi summarized some of these interpretations as follows:

“[n]ow how could I not sin when the main part of my creation was through coitus, the source of many iniquities? Another explanation: The main part of my creation is from a male and a female, both of whom are full of iniquity. There are many midrashim to this verse, but they do not fit the context of the psalm.”[25]

Thus, one interpretation is that since humans are created through the act of sexual intercourse, which is itself the source of many sinful acts (such as adultery), then it is not surprising that David would have sinned as well.[26]  Another explanation is that since children are born from a male parent and a female parent, both of whom are sinful as adults, then the children will be sinful as well.[27]  Neither of these explanations correlates with a belief in original sin. 

            Third, other verses in Psalm 51 refer to the pleas of David to God.  In these pleas, David seeks God’s forgiveness.  However, if original sin was a reality, then what hope was there for forgiveness?  Yet it is clear from the psalm that there was indeed hope that God would forgive David.  In verse 12, David begs God to:

“[r]estore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Proponents of original sin must consider how salvation could have been “restored” to David, if it had not yet been given in the first place since, according to Paul, salvation could only be received through Jesus (peace be upon him).  In his epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul stated:

“[f]or God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[28]

            Finally, in verse 7 of the psalm, David asked God to “cleanse” him with “hyssop”:

“[c]leanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

This is a reference to the purification ritual outlined in Numbers 9.[29]  According to the psalm, hyssop would cleanse David of his sin!   Thus, the internal evidence from Psalm 51 negates the decontextualized interpretation of verse 5 that Christians usually posit.  

            In addition, in their rush to link Psalm 51:5 with the concept of original sin, Christians also fail to take into account other passages from the Bible and how they describe David.   Once such passage is 2 Samuel 22:24, in which David states:

“I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin.  The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.”[30]

            Furthermore, there is abundant evidence elsewhere in the Tanakh which refutes the Christian defense of original sin.  First and foremost, the idea that children are born guilty because of the sins of their parents is contradicted by clear statements in the Tanakh.  For 
example, Ezekiel 18:20 states:

“[t]he one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”[31]

            Second, some Biblical verses clearly regard childhood as the time when evil “inclinations” first start.  One example is Genesis 8:21, which states that:

“…every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.”[32]

Thus, from a Biblical standpoint, human beings cannot be regarded as “sinful” from birth, since they are not even capable of having evil inclinations until childhood at the earliest.

            Given the lack of evidence for original sin in the Tanakh, it is no surprise that the concept is completely foreign to Judaism.  No Jewish source, whether ancient or modern, acknowledges it.  As one modern Jewish scholar puts it:

“[t]he term “original sin” is unknown to the Jewish Scriptures, and the Church’s teachings on this doctrine are antithetical to the core principles of the Torah and its prophets.”[33]

The New Testament -

            As stated above, the best Biblical evidence for original sin comes from the epistles of Paul.  But while Christians may be shocked to hear it, this is where the evidence ends!  Like the Tanakh, most of the New Testament books contain very little evidence, if any at all, to support the belief in original sin.

            To start, let us remember that, according to Paul, no one is righteous among human beings, even though he was basing this view on a misquote of Psalm 14 (see note #31).  Ironically, Paul’s companion Luke, who Christians claim was the author of the gospel that bears his name, seemed to disagree!  In the opening chapter of the gospel, Luke mentioned the birth of John the Baptist (peace be upon him).  His parents, Zechariah (peace be upon him) and Elizabeth, had prayed for a child.  But what is of relevance to the topic of this article is how Luke described both Zechariah and Elizabeth:

“[b]oth of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.”[34]

This description directly contradicts the concept of original sin.  The reader should recall the definition of original sin, which is:

“…that sin and its guilt that we all possess in God’s eyes as a direct result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.”[35]

We can see that Luke 1:6 completely refutes this view!  Zechariah and Elizabeth were both “righteous in the sight of God”, whereas Christians maintain that all human beings are sinful and guilty “in God’s eyes”.  They cannot have it both ways.

            What is even more interesting is the description of John the Baptist (peace be upon him) himself.  Recall that Christians maintain, based on their misreading of Psalm 51:5, that human beings are sinners even in the womb and are born as sinners.  It stands to reason that this would be true of John the Baptist (peace be upon him) as well.  However, according to Luke, the infant John would be:

“…great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”[36]

Like his parents, John was also described as a righteous man “in the sight of the Lord”.  Additionally, John would be filled with the “Holy Spirit”, even though all humans were supposed to be “sinful from the time” of conception!  Why would John have been any different?  Given the evidence in the Gospel of Luke, it does not appear that Paul’s companion had the same views on original sin as the apostle did![37]

            But this is not the only place where Luke contradicts Paul.  In chapter 10 of the gospel that bears his name, Luke described the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” which stated very plainly how a person could attain salvation (i.e. “inherit eternal life”):

“[o]n one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.””[38]

This could not be any clearer.  Christians maintain that when Adam and Eve ate from the “Tree of Knowledge”, not only did sin enter the world but death as well.  In Paul’s view, the solution to this problem was the redeeming death of Jesus (peace be upon him).  Yet according to Luke, Jesus told the “expert in the law” that the way to “inherit eternal life” was to love God (i.e. to follow His commandments).[39]

            Further evidence from the gospels also refutes the theology of original sin.  The reader should recall that proponents of original sin claim that even infants and children are “sinners”.  They base this on the view that even infants and children die.  Thus, they believe via their flawed logic that infants and children must also be “sinners”.  However, this view completely contradicts the gospels.  Luke 18 states that Jesus (peace be upon him) blessed babies and children and said that the “kingdom of God” belongs to them:

“[p]eople were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.””[40]

Upon comparison of the bleak view of original sin proponents (based on the teachings of Paul) and the view of Jesus (peace be upon him) in the gospels, we can see that the two views are polar opposites.  Whereas original sin proponents regard even children as “sinners” deserving of “death”, Jesus (peace be upon him) blessed them and said that the “kingdom of God” belonged to them! 

The Ante-Nicene Fathers -          

            The writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers are frequently appealed to by Christian apologists due to their assumed authority and chronological proximity to the disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him).[41]  In this section, we will examine the writings of some of these “fathers” to see if they believed in or were familiar with the theology of original sin and its implications for human salvation. 

            As previously mentioned, it was the 4th-century church father Augustine of Hippo,[42] who was largely responsible for developing the concept of original sin, or what he called “peccatum originale”.[43]  But what were the views of those church leaders who came before him (the Ante-Nicene fathers)?  Once again, Christians may be shocked to learn that most were not at all familiar with the idea that all humans are born with the sin and guilt of Adam (peace be upon him)!         

            First, let us examine the views of Justin Martyr, the 2nd-century Christian apologist most well-known for his “Dialogue with Trypho” and “Apology”.[44]  According to Michael M. Christensen of Denver Seminary,[45] Justin Martyr did believe that human beings had “evil inclinations” by nature, but that these inclinations were not caused by Adam’s “fall” but rather from following in his example and committing their own sins.  In addition, these “evil inclinations” could be “exacerbated by evil demons”.[46]    

            Another early church leader, Theophilus of Antioch, believed that humans could attain immortality by striving for “perfection” and that this could be done “by obeying God’s commandments”.[47]  He also believed that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they were punished by being exiled from heaven and forced to dwell on earth, but nowhere did he indicate that all humans were tainted by the sins of the original human pair.[48]               

            A third church leader who clearly did not believe in original sin was Irenaeus, best known for his apologetic work “Against Heresies”.[49]  In his writings, Irenaeus claimed that Adam and Eve did bring death into the world, thereby causing suffering and pain, but he did not believe that Adam’s sin tainted the rest of humanity.  As Christensen explains:

“…Irenaeus does not attribute any inherited corruption or concupiscence of nature to Adam. Adam and Eve’s nature was not cursed, but what was cursed was the ground and the serpent.”[50]

            One church leader that agreed with Irenaeus was Clement of Alexandria, since like Irenaeus, Clement believed that humanity did not inherit any sinful nature from Adam.  He also agreed with Irenaeus and others (like Justin Martyr) that while humanity was “imperfect”, it could still strive for “perfection”.  In fact, contrary to the views of Paul, Clement believed that:

“[i]t is the nature of the human soul to move itself, especially toward virtue. Those who sin choose evil over good; they acquire a sinful nature by sinning.”[51]

However, Clement strayed from other church leaders in claiming that death did not result from the Fall of Adam and Eve.  In summarizing Clement’s views, Christensen states that:

“Clement has put the spiritual destiny of humanity in their own hands. The Fall has produced no ill-effects and human choice is inherently able to choose either good or evil. His view appears very similar to Pelagius’ one on sin.”[52]

            Unlike the church leaders discussed so far, there were others who seemed to believe that humans did inherit a sinful nature, but not necessarily in the way most contemporary Christians would accept.  One such leader was Origen, whose views can be summarized as follows:

“[h]umans are prone to sin by nature and this is because their souls are guilty of previous sins (in a previous existence), not because of any corporate sinfulness inherited from the first man, Adam.”[53]

            Perhaps the earliest church father to expound on the inherent sinfulness of humanity was Tertullian.  In his view, humanity’s nature was inherited from Adam and was “unclean” by nature.  Also, the inheritance of this sinful nature was due to a literal transmission of both the body and the soul from parents to their children.[54]  However, we can see that most of the early church fathers did not believe in the theology of original sin.  Most did believe that Adam’s sin brought death into the world but they also believed that the nature of mankind was not tainted by that sin and that each person was capable of being good.  Christensen summarizes the diverse opinions as follows (emphasis ours):

“The evidence suggests there was not a consensus [on original sin], but that there were trends related to time and geography.  Pelagius and Augustine were at opposite poles of thought with many theologians closer to Pelagius than Augustine in their conclusions about the nature and effects of humanity’s first sins.”[55]

Science and Original Sin

            As previously mentioned, in addition to alleged Biblical evidence, Christians also often point to alleged evidence in human society in defense of the doctrine of original sin.  The Biblical evidence, as we have already seen, is lacking and contradictory, so what about the “extra-biblical” evidence?  Can an investigation of sociological and psychological evidence prove that all humans are tainted by original sin and are sinful by nature?  As we will now see, the answer is no.

            Let us start with the behavior of infants and young children.  Some Christians claim (echoing the views of Augustine) that since babies cry and demand attention without any regard for their parents, it is evidence of their “sinful” nature.[56]  Of course, the reality is that babies cry not because they are “impatient” or “selfish” but because at such a young age, they are completely dependent on their parents and incapable of doing anything on their own.  Their survival depends on their parents’ care and attention.     

There is also a growing body of scientific evidence which demonstrates that toddlers exhibit a form of “altruism”.[57]  This evidence contradicts the claims of original sin proponents since altruistic behavior is essentially “selfless” behavior, which would not be expected in a being that is supposedly born with “evil inclinations”.  A 2008 study conducted by psychologist Michael Tomasello showed evidence of innate altruistic behavior in toddlers.  In a lecture given in 2008, Tanner stated that:

“[f]rom when they first begin to walk and talk and become truly cultural beings, young human children are naturally cooperative and helpful in many—though obviously not all—situations… And they do not get this from adults; it comes naturally.”[58]

Another study conducted in 2011 showed that infants as young as 15 months old were able to tell the difference between equal and unequal food distribution.  Commenting on the results of this study, the lead scientist, Professor Jessica Sommerville stated that:

“[o]ur findings show that these norms of fairness and altruism are more rapidly acquired than we thought…”[59]

Yet another study demonstrated “empathic behavior” in infants as early as 18 months of age.  In this study, infants witnessed a teddy bear suffering a simulated “accident”.  Upon witnessing the “accident”, many toddlers showed a sense of “distress and concern”.  Not only that, but many “also responded by trying to help or comfort the bear.”[60] 

             So what these and other studies show is that altruism, empathy and a general sense of fairness appear in infants at a very young age.[61]  While it is not yet clear that this is due to “nature” or “nurture”, it is part of a growing body of evidence against the concept of original sin.  Even if it was proven to be the result of “nurture”, which is entirely possible, we would have to ask how a supposedly “sinful” child, whose nature is to do “evil”, would more often than not do the exact opposite if trained to do so.[62] 

            Next, as previously mentioned, proponents of original sin also point to societal problems as evidence that man’s nature is tainted.[63]  Crime, gangs, suicide, and war are all seen as “symptoms” of original sin.  However, this reasoning is flawed because while these phenomena are definitely problems that need solutions, they are not necessarily seen in all humans and their prevalence varies in different societies.  For example, one of the most deviant crimes is rape.  It affects every nation and will probably never be completely extinguished, yet only a small percentage of humans can be categorized as “rapists” or “sex offenders”.  The same can be said of murderers.  If rape and murder were “symptoms” of original sin, then why are most people not rapists and/or murderers?  Why do most people rightly regard such acts as horrible crimes which should be punished? 
             
            Moreover, criminal behavior can be caused by environmental factors.  For example, gang activity is typically more common in poverty-stricken areas rather than more affluent areas.  Research has shown several “risk factors” that may increase the chances of a teenager joining a gang.   In addition to poverty, these risk factors include sexual or physical abuse and drug use.[64]  But if original sin was a real phenomenon, why don’t more people join violent street gangs?  Why do most people who join only do so mostly because of environmental factors rather than some “natural” tendency to do evil?

            Finally, as previously mentioned, some Christians argue that original sin even affected animal life.  One of the “proofs” given to support this view is that the Bible clearly states that all animals were originally given plants for food (Genesis 1:30), and that since there are obviously animals that are strict meat-eaters, their nature must have been affected by original sin.  But as any biology student will explain, there is evidence that as long as animal life has existed, so has predation and death.[65]  The best evidence which refutes the Biblical view is that Earth is much older than just 6,000 years.[66]  Current estimates are that the Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago and that life first appeared around 3.8 billion years ago.[67]  Thus, life existed on Earth long before Adam was even created, and there is evidence that predatory animals preyed on other animals for food and were definitely not vegetarians.  This can be seen by studying fossils of animals that existed hundreds of millions of years ago.  One such fossil, dated to around 550 million years ago, shows an animal known as Cloudina that was apparently attacked by a predator which actually bored through its protective shell.[68]  Thus, there is no reason to uphold the view that Adam’s original sin brought death to humans and animals and also turned vegetarian animals into vicious carnivores.[69]

The Islamic View on Sin

            Having debunked the claims of original sin proponents using both the Bible and science, let us now discuss the Islamic view on sin.  Contrary to the views of Paul, Augustine and other proponents of original sin, Islam denies that mankind is tainted by the sin of Adam and Eve.  It also denies that death entered the world as a result of that sin.  As stated in our article “The Fall of Adam and Eve in the Bible and the Quran: Analyzing the Epic Story That Started it All”:

“…the Quran teaches that each individual is responsible for his/her own sins.”[70]

Thus, even if Adam and Eve had “sinned” (see note #77 below), their sin was their own and did not affect their progeny.  Each person is responsible for his or her own actions. 

            Furthermore, like the Tanakh (and to a lesser extent, the New Testament), the Quran emphasizes that humans can do good or evil, but that people do not turn to evil because it is in their “nature”.  This idea is best demonstrated in the concept of “fitrah”, which is defined as:

“…an inborn natural predisposition which cannot change, and which exists at birth in all human beings.”[71]

Thus, “fitrah” refers to the pure state in which all human beings are created.  They are born pure and sinless and are only turned away from this pure state by how they are raised by their parents as well as the whispers of Satan.[72]  Regarding the misguidance of one’s environment, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated:

“The mother of every person gives him birth according to his true nature.  It is subsequently his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.”[73]

Regarding the misguidance caused by Satan, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) said:

“I have created My servants as one having a natural inclination to the worship of Allah but it is Satan who turns them away from the right religion and he makes unlawful what has been declared lawful for them and he commands them to ascribe partnership with Me, although he has no justification for that.”[74]

            Further proof for the concept of “fitrah” can be found in the fact that, contrary to the “Westminster Confession of Faith” as well the false teachings of Augustine, Islam emphatically states that infants that die before reaching the age of accountability will be in Paradise.  It is stated in a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that he had a dream in which he saw the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) with many children around him.  In his dream, he was told that the children were those who had died with “al-Fitrah” (i.e. they had died before the age of accountability and in their pure state).  When he was asked whether there were children of pagans in that group, the Prophet responded that they were also included.[75]             

            Even those who died in adulthood, but did not hear the message of Islam, will not be automatically doomed to hell.  Rather, they will be tested.  As Islamic scholar Jalal Abualrub explains, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He):

“…will test Ahlu al-Fatrah, those who died without receiving Allah’s Message through any of His Prophets; those who lived and died with deficiencies such as deafness or insanity; and those who were senile when Islam came.”[76]

This is in stark contrast to the unjust theology of original sin, which confines innocent infants and those with mental deficiencies to an eternity in hell because of the sins of their ancestors and a tyrannical deity which will only be satiated with blood atonement.  Indeed, the theology of original sin is an insult to the Glorious and Merciful God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).  All praise is due to Him! 

            As far as the fall of Adam and Eve is concerned, we have discussed it in greater detail in the aforementioned article.  For the purposes of this article, it suffices for us to discuss the significance of the fall and what impact it had on all human beings. 

First, it is clear from the Quran and Ahadith that mankind’s destiny was to live on Earth for a time, regardless of whether Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree or not.[77]  Thus, mankind cannot blame Adam and Eve for being the cause of their earthly existence.  It was the will of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) from the start, as it is stated in Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:30:

“Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood, whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not."”

            Second, in keeping with our destiny to live on Earth, the Quran states that it was also ordained that we die after living out our predetermined lives:

“It is Allah Who has created you: further, He has provided for your sustenance; then He will cause you to die; and again He will give you life. Are there any of your (false) "Partners" who can do any single one of these things? Glory to Him! And high is He above the partners they attribute (to him)!”[78]

Thus, the Quran does not endorse the myth that death entered into the world only after Adam’s sin.  It was always ordained.  So long as humans (and all other living things) live on Earth, life and death will go hand in hand. 

Finally, and most importantly, the Quran states that Adam and Eve’s sin was forgiven:

“Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.”[79]

Therefore, there is no reason for that sin to remain on the shoulders of their progeny.  As Abularub states, “…a sin that was forgiven can never be inherited.”[80]  Adam’s sin was forgiven because he turned to his Lord and sincerely sought His forgiveness, and the Merciful Lord responded by forgiving him.  No blood was required, just a sincere and repentant heart.  Thus, there is no room in Islam for the false doctrine of original sin.
       
Conclusion

              In this article, we have discussed the Christian doctrine of original sin and analyzed the common arguments made by proponents in favor of it.  Based on this discussion, we can see unmistakable evidence that the doctrine of original sin, while clearly supported by the writings of Paul, is contradicted by the Tanakh, the gospels and the writings of the Ante-Nicene church fathers.  In addition, we have seen evidence from scientific studies to conclude that, far from being born with an “evil” nature, mankind actually is born with innate tendencies to be altruistic.  Finally, we have seen that Islamic teachings also wholeheartedly reject the flawed concept of original sin, and are in agreement with the scientific evidence.  The best-case scenario for proponents of original sin is that they can find some support in the Pauline epistles, but no support from almost every other source.  The logical conclusion must therefore be that “original sin”, as originally proposed by Paul and further developed by the likes of Tertullian and Augustine, is a false concept that runs contrary to reason and that no reasonable person could ever possibly believe in it.
And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] According to the Christian website “GotQuestions”, original sin can be defined as:

“…that sin and its guilt that we all possess in God’s eyes as a direct result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden” (https://www.gotquestions.org/original-sin.html).

[2] This is the Calvinist concept, which the above website claims “is most consistent with biblical teaching”. 

[3] As we will see, while the well-known church father Augustine is largely responsible for the development of the theology of original sin, the Ante-Nicene fathers did not seem to be familiar with this concept.

[4] We have previously discussed the creation and fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3 here: http://quranandbible.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-fall-of-adam-and-eve-in-bible-and.html

[7] As the late Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown explained, the term “original sin”:

“…is not technically biblical but reflects more the articulation of St. Augustine and other early Church Fathers” (Raymond E. Brown, 101 Questions and Answers on the Bible (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 35).

In an earlier book, Brown stated that it was primarily the Church Fathers Ambrose and Augustine who helped develop “the theology of original sin” (Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), p. 41).

[8] All translations of the Bible are from the New International Version (NIV).

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

[12] 1 Corinthians 15:17.

But as previously mentioned, the Biblical evidence for the concept of original sin is weak at best, and in fact, there are contradictions even within the New Testament!

[14] Ibid.

[15] As we will see, this reasoning is not only logically flawed, but contradicts a growing body of scientific evidence.

[16] Augustine stated that since infants exhibit selfishness, impatience and impoliteness, they can be called “sinners” (http://colintemple.com/2012/01/infants-reprehensible-augustine/).


With regard to who the “elect infants” actually are, Pastor Tim Challies explains that:

“… believing parents can have assurance where unbelieving parents can not” (https://www.challies.com/resources/what-happens-to-children-who-die/).

[20] As we will see, the scientific evidence contradicts this view, which explains why Christians base their claims entirely on the Bible!

[22] While the appeal to original sin is erroneous, as we will see, Christians who argue that all animals were originally vegetarians do find support in the Bible.  Genesis 1:30 states this clearly:

“[a]nd to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.””

[24] As discussed in a different article, Muslims do not believe that the prophet David (peace be upon him) committed adultery: http://quranandbible.blogspot.com/2014/04/david-in-bible-and-quran.html

[26] The book of Job seems to imply the impurity of sexual intercourse and childbirth.  For example, Job 14:1 states that:

“[m]ortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble.”

Second, Job 15:14 states:

“[w]hat are mortals, that they could be pure, or those born of woman, that they could be righteous?”

Third, Job 25:4 states:

“[h]ow then can a mortal be righteous before God?  How can one born of woman be pure?”

In the commentary on Job 14:1, “The Jewish Study Bible” notes that:

“[s]ome commentators read this as a reference to the impurity of childbirth” (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 1522.)

In the commentary on Job 15:14, “The Jewish Study Bible” explains that:

“[b]oth Job and his friend [Bildad] agree that people are worthless.  They disagree, however, concerning the implications of this premise: For the friend, it means that people are fundamentally sinners, while for Job it suggests that God needs to give people more leeway in judging them” (Ibid., p. 1525).

Hence, there is no mention of the inherent sinfulness of mankind due to Adam’s sin, but rather to mankind’s “impurity” due to natural childbirth. 

Another reason the book of Job does not support the Christian contention is that it makes a clear distinction between sinners and non-sinners.  Job 9:22 states clearly that there are two camps of humans, those who are “blameless” and those who are “wicked”:

“[i]t is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’”

Christians who appeal to the book of Job in their attempts to defend the concept of original sin fail to realize that the above verses are part of a dialogue between Job and his friends.  The context of Job 9:22 shows that Job considered himself to be “blameless”, or as “The Jewish Study Bible” puts it:

“…Job continually argues that his suffering is undeserved” (Ibid., p. 1504).

And according to Job 42:7, God agreed with him:

“After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

In the commentary, “The Jewish Study Bible” states that:

“Job’s friends repeatedly offended God by intimating that Job somehow brought his suffering upon himself” (Ibid., p. 1561).

Hence, Job was truly “blameless”.  But how could this be if, like every other human being, he had inherited Adam’s sin and guilt?  How could Job be “blameless” and yet Paul insisted that no one was “righteous” (see note #31)?  Christians simply cannot have it both ways.  

Other Biblical figures who are also described as “blameless” are Noah (Genesis 6:9), and David (2 Samuel 22:24).  Abraham (peace be upon him) was also told to be “blameless” before God (Genesis 17:1).  How could this be so if they were also tainted by original sin?

[27] In other words, this could be referring to the influence of the environment on how children will behave as adults.  This is similar to the Islamic view, as we will see later.

[28] 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

[29] The Jewish Study Bible, op. cit., p. 1339.

[30] See also Psalm 18:23.

[31] It should be noted that the verse clearly differentiates between the “righteous” and the “wicked”.  This is in stark contrast to Paul’s claim that no one is righteous (Romans 3:11).  Incidentally, Paul was quoting Psalm 14:3, but that verse is also decontextualized, since it refers not to mankind in general but to sinners specifically.  In addition, verse 3 states that people became corrupt, which implies that they were not corrupt before:

“All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one”.

Moreover, verses 5-6 of the same psalm refer to “righteous” people:

“…for God is present in the company of the righteous.  You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.”

Thus, Psalm 14 cannot be used as evidence for original sin.

[32] Christians may point to the commentary of Rashi and claim that the verse actually refers to the time of birth and not simply one’s childhood.  Rashi’s commentary states that:

“…from the time that he [the embryo] shakes himself to emerge from his mother’s womb, the evil inclination is placed in him” (http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8172#showrashi=true).

But even if this interpretation was correct, Rashi explained that the “inclination is placed” in the child.  This implies that it was not there by itself, which would have to be the case if original sin was a reality!

Regardless, the Hebrew phrase usually translated as “from his childhood/youth” contains the word “naur”, which refers to:

“…the state (juvenility) or the persons (young people) -- childhood, youth” (http://biblehub.com/strongs/hebrew/5271.htm).

So, it actually does refer to a post-infancy period. 

Moreover, Isaiah 7:15 declared that “Immanuel” (the child Christians erroneously claim was Jesus) would be able to discern between right and wrong by the time he was able to eat “curds and honey”.  This could not possibly refer to his infancy.  Thus, the age at which Immanuel would be able to discern between right and wrong and have the possibility of “evil inclinations” could only be at a period after infancy.         
 
[34] Luke 1:6. 

Thus, they were just like Noah, Abraham, Job and David (peace be upon them all).

[36] Luke 1:15.

[37] Of course, it is possible that the author of the Gospel of “Luke” was not Luke at all.

[38] Luke 10:25-28.  Compare this to what is written in the other New Testament book that is usually attributed to Luke, the book of Acts.  In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were asked by their jailer what he must do to be “saved”.  Paul and Silas’ response to the jailer is a far cry from that of Jesus to the “expert in the law”:

“The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household”” (Acts 16:29-31).

[39] The usual Christian response to this can be seen in the various commentaries of Christian scholars.  For example,  “Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible” states:

“Our Lord intimates by this, that, according to the tenor of the law, eternal life was not to be had without a complete and perfect performance of the duties of love to God, and to the neighbour, contained in these words; and this he suggests, in order to convict him of the impossibility of obtaining life by the works of the law, since such a performance cannot be made by man” (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/luke/10.htm).

In other words, according to the Christians, Jesus (peace be upon him) was saying that eternal life could indeed be attained by following God’s commandments, but that it was impossible.  Yet this contradicts the Tanakh, which states clearly that it was possible to attain salvation by following the commands of God.  In Deuteronomy 30, Moses (peace be upon him) explained to the Israelites that obeying God’s commands was not difficult or impossible:

“[n]ow what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

In the view of Rabbi Tovia Singer, the meaning is very clear.  He states that:

“…in an extraordinary sermon delivered by Moses in the last days of his life, the prophet stands before the entire nation and condemns the notion that man’s condition is utterly hopeless. Throughout this uplifting exhortation, Moses declared that it is man alone who can and must merit his own salvation. Moreover, as he unhesitatingly speaks in the name of God, the lawgiver excoriates the notion that obedience to the Almighty is “too difficult or far off.” According [sic], he declared to the children of Israel that righteousness has been placed within their reach” (https://outreachjudaism.org/original-sin/).

It would appear that if Jesus (peace be upon him) was actually saying what the Christians claim, then he was contradicting Moses (peace be upon him)!

[40] Luke 18:15-17.  See also Mark 10:13-16 and Matthew 19:13-15.

[41] In reality, the alleged link between these church leaders and the disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him) is based more on hearsay rather than hard evidence.  For example, it is claimed that Polycarp was a disciple of John, but the evidence for this is lacking.  Polycarp even failed to mention his master in his letters to Christian churches.  If John was truly Polycarp’s teacher, wouldn’t it make sense to appeal to his authority? 

[43] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 580.

Augustine’s belief in original sin had obvious implications for human salvation.  So extreme were his views that even newborn infants were ineligible for salvation and were in “need of grace” because they shared the “common origin of the human race”.  In his view, infants that were not baptized would be consigned to “perdition” (https://bjorkbloggen.com/2014/04/01/quotes-from-the-old-church-fathers-where-they-deny-original-sin-sinful-nature/).

Of course, most contemporary Christians would probably disagree with Augustine and would rightly find the idea that unbaptized infants will be denied entry into heaven to be unjust.  However, it would appear that their rejection of Augustine’s views is due more to their unease about infants going to hell rather than any firm teaching in their scriptures.  Indeed, since most Christians assume the truth of original sin, they must ask themselves why infants would be exempted from Adam’s curse.  Augustine’s views may not be as popular in modern times, but one cannot blame him for coming to that conclusion given his firm faith in original sin.  It is the natural conclusion to make if all humans inherited Adam’s sin, which is why the concept is completely and utterly unjust. 


On a bizarre note, Justin Martyr also believed that humans “…were considered worthy to become gods, and to have the capability of becoming Sons of the Most High”! 

[47] Ibid. 

Note that Theophilus seemed to believe that salvation could be attained by good works rather than grace.  Thus, man’s righteousness could bring salvation.  In this regard, Theophilus seemed to disagree with Paul who believed that no human being could be considered “righteous” and could only attain salvation by grace.
 
[48] But like Justin Martyr, Theophilus also had the bizarre belief that humans could strive for “perfection” and become “gods”!
           
[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

Pelagius was the main opponent of Augustine.  It was mainly in response to Pelagius that Augustine developed the theology of original sin (Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, op. cit., p. 580).

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid. 

The doctrine which holds that the soul is transmitted from parents to children is called “traducianism” (https://www.gotquestions.org/traducianism.html).

It is interesting that two of the most important doctrines in Christianity, the trinity and original sin, seem to have been at least partly developed by Tertullian, a theologian who eventually became a “heretic” when he converted to Montanism.

[57] Altruism is a biological term that is defined as “a behavior that reduces an animal’s individual fitness but increases the fitness of other individuals in the population” (Jane B. Reece et al., Campbell Biology, Tenth Edition (Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2014), p. 1151).  In other words, altruism is a fancy word for “selflessness” (Ibid., p. G-2).  

Altruistic behavior is also seen in animals, though we tend to think that animal behavior is usually selfish.  An example of altruistic behavior in animals can be seen in the Belding’s ground squirrel.  The natural predators of these magnificent animals include coyotes and hawks.  When one squirrel sees a predator approaching its group, it will warn the group of the impending danger by giving out a high-pitched call.  However, by doing so, the individual squirrel increases the chances of being detected and killed by the predator.  Thus, the end result could very well result in the death of the individual but the survival of the group as a whole (Ibid., p. 1151).


The above video shows an experiment conducted at Yale University which illustrates the sense of fairness and empathy that many infants show. 

[62] This does not mean that infants only exhibit selfless behavior.  On the contrary, it is likely that both “selfless” and “selfish” behaviors are “hardwired” (in others word, they are “innate”).  As one source puts it:

“Both compassion and fear are genetically hardwired to ensure the survival of the baby and it’s “in-group”. Beyond this, humans learn by nurture, not nature, how to extend their compassion to those outside their group, or likewise how to extend their “hate” to strangers outside their group” (http://factmyth.com/factoids/humans-are-born-selfish-not-compassionate/).

So when proponents of original sin point to “selfish” behavior in infants and claim that it proves they are tainted by original sin, it reflects their own ignorance of human psychology and development.

[63] The CNA states:

“[n]ow the doctrine of original sin cannot be proven by natural reason, but it is easily witnessed by its symptoms: the need for police, the collapse of great civilizations, suicide, suffering and so on. Another symptom is war. People have always and will always kill each other in mass quantity” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/apologetics/salvation/original-sin/).

[65] Indeed, if living things did not die, our planet would have become overpopulated and left with no resources very quickly, long before humans would have become the dominant lifeforms.

[66] It is clear from Biblical passages that the authors of the Bible believed that Earth was created only 6,000 years ago.  This topic was discussed in a previous article:


[67] Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth, Edited by Angeles Gavira Guerrero and Peter Frances (New York: DK Publishing, 2012), p. 16.

[68] Reece, et al., Campbell Biology, op. cit., p. 671.

A picture of this fossil can also be seen here:


[69] It would be silly to say that Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the most ferocious predators in the history of life on Earth, was originally a vegetarian!


Notice that this concept seems to have support in the scientific studies mentioned above.  Rather than being born with a corrupted and sinful nature, we find that mankind actually has a natural tendency to be good.  

[72] The role of demons for the sinfulness of mankind was also recognized by Justin Martyr, as shown above.

[73] Sahih Muslim, 33:6429.

[74] Sahih Muslim, 40:6853.

[75] Sahih Bukhari, 9:87:171.

[76] Jalal Abualrub, 50 Righteous and Humane Concepts Brought by Muhammad, The Prophet of Mercy (Madinah Publishers and Distributers, 2007), p. 37.

[77] Abualrub, op. cit., p. 40.

As for their “sin” of eating from the tree, they did not do so out of deliberate rebellion against God’s command.  It was more of a lapse in judgement.  This can be seen in the fact that Adam and Eve did not eat from the tree until Satan made them false promises.  They were misled by Satan.

[78] Surah Ar-Rum, 30:40 (Yusuf Ali Translation).

[79] Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:37.

[80] Ibid., p. 39.

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