Why do people suffer for a sin Adam and Eve committed long ago? This is known as “original sin,” and there are some interesting theories theologians have come up with on how this happens. So, get your “thinking divinely” mind-set geared up for this one!
Original sin can be answered by determining the origin of our souls. Original sin has two commonly held components: humankind is guilty for the sin of their first parents, and humankind inherited a corrupted nature, since they are sexual reproductions of their first parents. 1
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Rom. 5:12); “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18); and “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). David also wrote in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”.
What exactly is this sinful nature that we inherit? It is the tendency to sin involving our free will and violates God’s divine law. There are several theories that provide intriguing answers how this could occur within the human soul.
One theory is called “Traducianism,” and it solves the problem of original sin by stating that human souls are formed in a process, similar in effect but not in mechanics, to the way our bodies are formed biologically from our parents’ DNA. This is not to equate Traducianism with a physical process, but a spiritual one, since moral corruption is a ‘spiritual’ problem.
This actual process is a mystery, but this theory infers that there is an interconnectedness between body and soul that may suggest our DNA helps determine certain aspects of our souls. If this is the case, the process by which the soul develops may be inextricably intertwined with how the body is developed.
We are created in the image of God, and perhaps that includes the capability to reproduce some kind of “soul gene.” It could be that souls derived from souls are like bodies derived from bodies.Philosopher, JP Moreland
However, the “Creationist” theory states that God creates each soul at the moment of conception. If this is true, then this infers each soul is corrupt from that very moment, so God must be creating corrupt souls. Due to God’s nature, He cannot create anything corrupt. God does not intervene to make us corrupt; He intervenes to recreate us as uncorrupted (see James 1:13). It also is not credible to argue that every human soul is created perfect and in the very instant of its creation chooses to turn away from its creator before it has any conscience understanding. Why would God create a perfect soul only to have it immediately corrupted by Adam’s sin once it enters the womb, with the potential for damnation?
“Something is being passed on that is spiritually dead—spiritually corrupt. That isn’t just a traducian notion. All orthodox Christians believe this (in some fashion),” stated Dr. Clay Jones, Biola University professor.
To further understand this concept, Professor of Philosophy at Biola, J.P. Moreland, explains it: “Traducianism is patterned after the ancient Aristotelian doctrine of substantial change in which two things come together, have the potential to form an entirely new substance in conjunction with each other, and they cease to exist as the new substance comes into existence. Each sperm and each egg has ‘soulish’ potentialities to form a new ensouled body when they come together. So, it isn’t the soul of the father and mother that’s relevant but the potentialities of egg and sperm.” 2
The “Federal Headship” theory also tries to explain how we inherit a sinful nature. God chose a representative in Adam who failed. Could we have done any better? Given that counterfactual, all of us would likewise fail in the same circumstances. This is similar, for example, to political leaders who get citizens into war without individual votes on the matter, or how parents can drag their children into all kinds of terrible exposure to alcohol, drugs or even sexual abuse—the children become victims of their circumstances. Federal Headship states that the guilt for Adam’s sin is counted as if it were the sin of future generations.
Lastly, the “Natural/Seminal Generation” theory says that we are naturally related to Adam by being seminally present in Adam when he sinned. All of humankind was in “Adam’s loins” when he rebelled, and since we were really present at his sin, we also are therefore guilty of his sin. Proponents of this view point to Hebrews 7:9–10: “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” Being ontologically present rendered Adam’s sin as chargeable to us.
Overall, what we do know is that the existence of original sin is real— just read today’s news headlines to see the effect of sin, or live long enough to know you have sinned, too. The best (of those I’ve listed here) theory to explain it seems to be Traducianism since this doesn’t make God the creator of corruption, and explains the propagation of the soul. It doesn’t claim to have any knowledge as to the mechanics of how this actually transpires, but it teaches that we inherit our souls from our parents, and because their spiritual natures were sinful, ours will be, too.
1. Eastern Orthodox Christians prefer “ancestral sin” to “original sin” and believe that Adam’s descendants inherited Adam’s corrupted nature, which inclines them to sin, but they are not guilty for Adam’s sin.
2. J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul; Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics, (Illinois, IVP Academic, 2000), 304-5.