Genesis 1-3 is the key to understanding original sin, because it is the place were human sin began. In order to give an answer to what original sin is or how it impacts people today we must define sin.
Erickson defines sin as a failure to let God be God, thus putting something or someone in God’s place of supremacy.1 I believe that the Bible’s definition is a little clearer. Let us begin by looking at Genesis 1-3:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”2 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”3 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.4
The key to understanding sin is the word knowledge. The tree is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” John said, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.”5 James said, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”6
We all sin with knowledge; therefore, sin is doing what you know to be wrong and not doing what we know to be right. Human beings were created in the image of God, but we have all sinned and fall short of His glory. Our parents who were created by God in His image sinned with knowledge; therefore, we their children do likewise. The old adage, “Like father like son, like mother like daughter” applies to the situation of human sin.
God declared to man in the garden that death would result when they ate from the tree. Paul said,
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.7
All human beings die; as Critical•Care•Registered•Nurse I can assure you that this is true. I have stood over countless numbers of individuals; pushing drugs into their bodies and ponding their chest in a fruitless effort to keep them alive. It is always difficult to see a human being die!
What is Original sin? Original sin is a decision our parents made, who were created in the image of God; they knowingly made a decision to do wrong and not do what is right. How does original sin impact people today? Adam and Eve’s decision to do wrong and not do what is right resulted in two outcomes: the death of all their descendants and the propensity for all of their decedents to sin.
1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 513 & 530.
2 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible, (La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995) Genesis 1:27-28.
3 Ibid, 2:15-17.
4 Ibid, 3:6-7.
5 Ibid, 1John 3:4.
6 Ibid, James 4:17.
7 Ibid, Romans 5:12-14.