Two Passages That Argue for Original Guilt and Sin

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 06/25/2024

In the last few years, I’ve started hearing Christians deny both original guilt (i.e., that we’re guilty of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden) and original sin (i.e., that we’ve inherited a broken nature from Adam that’s bent towards sin), so here are just two passages that say otherwise—one supporting original guilt and one supporting original sin.

1. Original guilt in Romans 5:12–14:

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.

Follow Paul’s reasoning here: How can we know we’re guilty of Adam’s sin? We know because everyone who lived between Adam and Moses died, even though they had not sinned as Adam had—i.e., they had not broken a law given to them by God that carried the death penalty. Since, Paul says, “sin is not imputed when there is no law,” yet they died because of their guilt, we can conclude that the guilt of Adam’s law-breaking had been imputed to them.

According to Paul, those born in Adam were guilty in Adam, and that is why they died even before the Law, even when not breaking a law given to them by God as Adam did.

Verse 14 (above) contains Paul’s main point here: Adam is a “type” of Jesus. In verse 17, Paul applies the same concept of imputation to what Jesus did for us:

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one [i.e., the penalty of death as a result of guilt from Adam’s sin], much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

In the same way as we were guilty in Adam, those born again in Christ can now be righteous in Christ because of his righteousness.

To respond to a possible objection, we also need to look at verses 18–19:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

While some might argue from this text that Adam’s “one transgression” resulted in condemnation merely because it led to all of his descendants sinning as a result of inheriting a fallen nature, the parallel statement made here concerning Jesus suggests something different. Just as it is Jesus’ one act of righteousness that brings justification to those who are in him, it is Adam’s one transgression that results in condemnation for those who are in him.

In other words, the many “were made sinners” because Adam’s one transgression was imputed to them, not because their inherited sinful nature resulted in their own sins. If one took the latter interpretation, the parallel statement concerning Jesus would have to mean that Jesus’ act of righteousness merely enabled us to do our own saving acts of righteousness. If one wants to preserve Jesus’ imputed righteousness in this parallel, one must also preserve Adam’s imputed guilt.

2. Original sin in 1 Corinthians 15:45–49:

So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

This passage also compares being in Adam with being in Christ: “The spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual…. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”

Our fallen spirits and bodies bear the image of Adam because, as his descendants, we are fallen in Adam until we are united to Christ through faith in him. As verse 22 says, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Everyone who bears the image of Adam is fallen, dead. Everyone in Christ will be made alive. For now, this happens bit by bit (see Romans 8), but ultimately, our bodies will be completely transformed and freed from sin. We’ll be fully redeemed when the last vestiges of our fallen spirits and bodies are recreated in the resurrection.

Just as Adam was the cause of the fallenness and death for every human being born in him, so Christ is the cause of righteousness and resurrection for every human being born again in him.

A final note as you’re exploring the arguments for and against original guilt and sin: Whatever your issues are with understanding how original guilt and sin can be just, you must always start with what the text actually says, and then you can explore how it could be so. If you begin by rejecting what doesn’t yet make sense to you, you put yourself in a dangerous position where you are now the standard rather than God and his Word. We ought to conform our minds to the truth we find in the Bible and thereby “be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Rom. 12:2), but how will the Bible ever correct your understanding of the world if you reject anything you find there that you can’t yet explain?