Opinions on faith and life

Original Sin Revisited

2007-08-08

In Can Sin Be Inherited? I showed that scripture does not teach inheritable sin, inheritable righteousness, or any other inheritable spiritual qualities. But I see the assumption of it all the time, and it causes some pretty desperate theological gymnastics.

For example, in an article about what arguments creationists should not use, we see this attempt to weave inheritable sin into the Virgin Birth:

’Jesus cannot have inherited genetic material from Mary, otherwise He would have inherited original sin.’ This is not stated in Scripture and even contradicts important points. The language of the NT indicates physical descent, which must be true for Jesus to have fulfilled the prophecies that He would be a descendant of Abraham, Jacob, Judah and David. Also, ...for Jesus to have died for our sins, Jesus, the ’last Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:45), had to share in our humanity (Heb. 2:14), so must have been our relative via common descent from the first Adam as Luke 3:38 says. In fact, seven centuries before His Incarnation, the Prophet Isaiah spoke of Him as literally the ’Kinsman-Redeemer’, i.e. one who is related by blood to those he redeems (Isaiah 59:20, uses the same Hebrew word goel as used to describe Boaz in relation to Ruth). To answer the concern about original sin, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35), preventing any sin nature being transmitted...’ (emphasis mine)

While it makes a good case for Jesus’ need to have gotten genetic material from Mary, they realized the corner this painted them into regarding “original sin” and tried to cover it. But their error lies in adding to scripture an assumption about the meaning of “the Holy spirit overshadowed Mary”.

Looking at the context in Luke 1, we see first of all that the statement was made in direct response to Mary’s question about how she would become pregnant without a man. The messenger (literal meaning of “angel”) explained that the Holy Spirit would make this happen supernaturally. The Child would be holy, not because of an alleged lack of Adamic “sin nature”, but because God Himself caused this supernatural event. The messenger’s answer concludes by emphasizing the fact that this would be a miracle from God.

Not one thing is said or hinted about Mary’s “seed” being changed into something sinless. This is, in fact, a staple of Roman Catholic theology, not anything found in scripture. Remember also that in Genesis 3:15 God promised that it would be the “seed” of the woman, not the man, who would bring forth the Savior. That’s why no man could be involved in Jesus’ birth.

The inheritable sin view has to get around the fact that Mary had a human father like everyone else, so it invents this need to “sanitize” Mary’s “genetic material” to take care of that problem without adopting the RCC “immaculate conception” teaching. But we can see that a much simpler and scriptural answer (the “Occam’s Razor” principle!) is that sin is not inheritable, so there is no problem with Mary being a sinner like the rest of us, as even she herself stated in Luke 1:47 (she too needed a Savior).

We can’t just invent answers or inject assumptions into the Bible when we have a problem to solve. We must always start with what scripture actually says and only then form theories on what is not clear.


UPDATE May 2009: While Matthew’s genealogy goes back only to Abraham, Luke’s goes back to Adam. The consensus is that Matthew’s traces the line of Joseph while Luke traces the line of Mary. So only Mary’s genealogy is linked to Adam. This is significant because it shows that Jesus’ “sharing in humanity” was only through Mary, “the seed of the woman”. So Jesus, our “kinsman redeemer”, has His line reckoned not through an imaginary male “sin gene” but through the female.