What is original sin?

Today, as I was teaching my Sunday School class on today’s lesson from Luke 3:14-17 and 21-22 on Jesus’ baptism, which led to our own baptism, and eventually onto the elusive topic of original sin. Many Christians do not seem to really understand what original sin really is and have never really moved beyond our Sunday School understanding of “Sin”. Many have a rather naive understanding of original sin, i.e., Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became corrupted by their sinful fleshly desire to be like God. However, it goes much deeper than this contemporary view that has been made popular by the cartoon image of Adam eating the apple. Our view on sin ought to be deepened and expanded. I was a little surprised the kids in the class were able to grasp the concept of concupiscence or original sin. But I really shouldn’t be so surprised because kids have much intellectual capacity than we generally give them credit for. In the Sunday school classes of our churches, we ought to draw deeper from the wealth of the Reformers like Luther and Calvin, and also Augustine. That is why I appreciate seminary education and the opportunity to put it to use in my congregation. Perhaps I will talk a little about original sin here on this blog.

The Reformers, Luther and Calvin, saw one’s guilt of original sin being washed away after baptism; however the immaterial element and essence of sin still remains. This immaterial element may be seen as concupiscence. Simply put, concupiscence is the “leftover” base human desires that cannot be erased, which can be witnessed in our natural inclinations of the flesh. It remains indelibly marked as part of our human nature. After baptism and spiritual regeneration, this inner inclination toward evil is still seen as sin; it never disappears (until the day of full redemption). Sin will pop up sooner or later…no matter how hard we may try to hide it. (Unfortunately, many of us try to hide it and work hard at hiding it too). Luther agreed with Augustine that in baptism, our “Sin” (in the singular) and “sins” (in the plural) are forgiven but this immaterial element of sin still remains within us, which explains why we still continue to commit sin. Luther described the person in sin as being “curved in on oneself.” An existential theologian, Paul Tillich, described concupiscence in a creative way. Tillich says that humans have removed one’s center from the divine center, and has made oneself the center of oneself and the world. This creates a void, which makes one seek for abundance, and the temptation is to seek for unlimited abundance. This desire is called concupiscence.

2 thoughts on “What is original sin?

  1. Hi Tom, thanks for your interest in this topic and your cell#. I hope my explanation helps. If it doesn’t, we can talk.

    For Catholics and Protestants alike, we believe that we are all born with sin because it is transmitted by propagation to all humankind. Original sin is “contracted” and not “committed”. It is a state and not necessarily an act. One way to think of it is to see it as a disease that is contracted from birth or from the womb. The sin of Adam became the sin of all his descendants, the human race. It is a sin that leads to the death of the soul. Original sin can also be seen as a deprivation of original holiness and righteousness. Adam once had original holiness before he committed the first sin.

    The difference is that the Catholic view does not view one’s human nature as being totally corrupted. Beneath all the sin, there is still at least a small part within one’s nature that has not been corrupted but has retained some goodness.

    The Protestant view is that original sin has totally and thoroughly perverted one’s human nature and has destroyed one’s freedom to not sin. One’s tendency to sin would be incredibly great if it were not for God’s grace. Humans are “curved in towards oneself”, and are so self-centered and selfish that one cannot help but sin.


  2. This is very interesting, I came across the word while reading Dantes Inferno and I like your explanation, however, I read about the distinction that Catholics and Protestants make regarding this state of human nature. Please explain more if you can
    Have a very blessed evening
    Tom Murphy 201-321-3031 cell


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