Original Sin: A Biblical and Contemporary Model – an Excerpt from Introducing Christian Doctrine

The following is an excerpt from Millard Erickson’s Introducing Christian Doctrine, 3rd Edition.


The key passage for constructing a biblical and contemporary model of original sin is Romans 5:12–19. Paul is arguing that death is the consequence of sin. Verse 12 is particularly determinative:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”

Cover ArtWhatever the exact meaning of these words is, Paul certainly is saying that death originated in the human race because of Adam’s sin. He is also saying that death is universal and the cause of this is the universal sin of humankind.

Later, however, he says that the cause of the death of all is the sin of the one man, Adam—”many died by the trespass of the one man” (v. 15); “by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man” (v. 17).

….The final clause in verse 12 tells us that we were involved in some way in Adam’s sin; it was in some sense also our sin. But what is meant by this?

On the one hand, it may be understood in terms of federal headship—Adam acted on behalf of all persons. There was a sort of contract between God and Adam as our representative, so that what Adam did binds us. On the other hand, our involvement in Adam’s sin might better be understood in terms of natural headship.

The position adopted in this volume is that the entirety of our human nature, both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, has been received from our parents and more distant ancestors by way of descent from the first pair of humans. On that basis, we were actually present within Adam, so that we all sinned in his act. There is no injustice, then, to our condemnation and death as a result of original sin.

©2015 by Millard J. Erickson and L. Arnold Hustad. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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  1. Owen Vigeon says:

    As all creatures on earth die when their time coms, are we to presume the first member of every species under the son sinned and so died. Ridiculous.
    We humans are animals . We all have a natural span of life and die. Paul was
    pre-scientific and got these things wrong surely ! In a similar way in I Corinthians his basic knowledge of scientific biology/botany makes a nonsense of his theology.