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Assuming the doctrine of original sin is true, how exactly is original sin passed down to the rest of mankind? Was the nature of man changed? If so, what exempted Christ from sin but allowed him to remain 100% man?

Is there a genetic inheritance of some strand of sin DNA?

What does the Bible say about this? What does Church history have to say?

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It's like Cooties! –  Affable Geek Apr 30 '12 at 23:39
@AffableGeek ...so you only inherit Original Sin if you're touched by someone with it... –  Thomas Shields Apr 30 '12 at 23:41
@DoubtingThomas I think he means "only girls have it"... /flinch –  Jas 3.1 Jun 29 '12 at 3:47
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5 Answers 5

I think that the best answer here is that the Scriptures are not entirely clear on how original sin is transmitted. One thing that we do know (or believe the scriptures to teach) is:

The sin nature is passed on to us from our fathers and not our mothers

  • Sin entered the world through Adam - Romans 5:12 - not Eve who sinned first.
  • More directly taught in Heb 7:9-10
  • Christ Who did not have an earthly father did not have original sin passed to Him.

That is about all that we know (and even this view is heavily disputed.)

Other good questions: Is it genetic (I doubt it) or spiritual (much more likely)? What would happen if we used two women's DNA to clone a new person, if the new creation had a soul would it be sinless?

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And yet in Hebrew thought (and in the OT) one's status was secured by the mother. (I'll try to find a source for that.) Perhaps, then, Christ keeps with that tradition: being born of a woman, he keeps his humanity, but since his father is God, he doesn't inherit the sinfulness of man. –  Thomas Shields May 1 '12 at 0:28
I know that this is common in Judaism after Christ to think this way, but I know of no place in scripture that teaches this. Men are consistently seen as the head of their families in Scripture. –  Nathan Bunney May 1 '12 at 0:30
Head of the family, yes. But, for example, one only had to have a Jewish mother to be considered a part of the Hebrew community. I completely agree with you though and while other answers might give interesting theories this is definitely the most biblically accurate. –  Thomas Shields May 1 '12 at 0:32
That is what I was going for (biblically accurate) :-) Glad you see that. The idea of one parent bringing a child into the covenant community continues into the NT with Paul's statement in 1 Cor 7:14. –  Nathan Bunney May 1 '12 at 0:46
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One can hold that there is indeed Original Sin without assuming the nature of man changed. One might say instead, that the image of God was marred in man, like a coin covered in dross and scored with cuts. But the image remained. The nature - how man was made - did not differ, but his mode - as the Fathers say (I'm leaning heavily on Maximus the Confessor here) changed with the fall. So he operated as a beast though he was a man.

It follows therefore that reproduction - and not only physical reproduction but also parentage through fallen adoptive parents - transmits not merely the effects of previous sins on the bodies and souls of the children and parents, but also re-imprints the patterns and habits which foster the disease.

It then therefore follows, that God had to raise up righteous seed - those who were free from habitual sin and receptive to God's help - and that these, and in particular the Mother of God - could and would be able to accept the Son of God as a child and raise him.

This except gives an idea of the Orthodox position vis a vis 'sinful nature':

...Every created nature is made to live in communion with God. Human nature itself lives in communion with God. Our fall does not consist in becoming something other than human – we have yet to become truly human. Thus St. Paul says: “Man is the glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7). And St. Irenaeus says, “The glory of God is man fully alive” (Adv. Her. 4.34.5-7). Our becoming truly human would mean the restoration of our true integrity – we would live in accordance with our nature and praise the Lord without ceasing. The natures of all creation ceaselessly praise God by their very existence. Our struggle is to rejoin the song of creation with the whole of our being.


So it is not the nature that changes, but whether those hypostases - concrete individuals - live in accordance to how they were made. Original sin constitutes a departure from this way of being at the very outset of human existence that affects the lives of every descendent of Adam and Eve.

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interesting. I'd say man's nature has changed, and since my question was partially based on this assumption, this doesn't completely answer my question, but this is an interesting alternative perspective. +1 –  Thomas Shields May 1 '12 at 2:40
The orthodox do hold to original sin, but do not hold that it means man's nature changed. That would indicate that man is essentially different, which itself would make the Mother of God or Christ not human as we are human. –  RiverC May 1 '12 at 2:44
Not necessarily. Adam was a human both before and after the fall, and Christ is the second Adam. So Christ could still be human but without the changed, sinful nature of men after Adam. –  Thomas Shields May 1 '12 at 3:12
It is a problem of the perennially incorrect and sloppy usage of the word 'nature' by Western thinkers. If the nature of something changes, it ceases to be what it was before. This is what the nature is. A nature may be capable of operating in different modes - nearly every created thing is adaptable in some way - but this adaptation does not constitute a change in nature. It is also possible that you'd have to argue that fallen men have two natures, the human nature and the fallen nature. This is convolution. –  RiverC May 2 '12 at 14:30
You've just sparked an idea for another question (both here and for my theology friends) –  Thomas Shields May 2 '12 at 14:32
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What is original sin?

"Original sin", in Catholic theology, refers to the natural state of deprivation of grace. So man, by nature, is deprived of the state of grace.

Because grace is no longer "natural", it can be obtained only through supernatural means - through God. So even though a man and woman may both be in the state of grace and give birth to a baby, that baby does not inherit their spiritual state, but only their nature.

Therefore, the baby, by nature, is deprived of grace. This is how original sin is transmitted.

Recommended reading: Catechism of Catholic Church on Original Sin

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+1, very interesting angle on it. I would normally say "references references!" but I think the catechism and the fact that this is more of an alternative angle rather than a minority viewpoint both cover it. –  Thomas Shields May 3 '12 at 2:52
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As to the question of "how exactly is original sin passed down to the rest of mankind", it seems believable that: 1) it is transmitted both through father and mother, because both became sinful. 2) it is transmitted both by spirit and body 3) no one knows the exact way of transmission. Why? Because the exact opposite way of restoring is also not known "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (Jn 3.8). We only can see the consequences, but not the process itself. The second question: "If so, what exempted Christ from sin but allowed him to remain 100% man". Fathers of Church, namely Cyrill of Alexsandria, say that from the moment of incarnation, Jesus' body became incorruptible through the power of Almighty God who wished to be a human. This is a large topic and there is lot of literature on this. If necessary, I can cite some of them.

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Welcome to C.SE! This is a better first answer, although, if you can cite some of this literature, it would be great! –  Affable Geek Sep 19 '13 at 16:37
You can look two "Letters to Succensus" by Cyrill of Alexsandria. amazon.com/St-Cyril-Alexandria-Letters-Fathers/dp/0813215137 , pp. 353 and forth. Here this topic is answered in clear and concise way. –  Sargis Sep 19 '13 at 16:57
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If original sin is transmitted only through our fathers then the only answer I find is that it is through blood. We don't have the blood of our mothers and the ovum doesn't have that ability, it is through the sperm fertilising the egg that has the ability to produce blood.

Furthermore the blood of the mother and the blood no not mix although there are occasions that it will happen. So Jesus was sinless he didn't have a drop of Adams blood in his veins

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Surely there is far more opportunity for the blood of the mother to mix with the unborn child's than that of the father. Are you able to adduce any references for this theory? –  Andrew Leach Sep 18 '13 at 14:50
Welcome to C.SE! When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. As it stands, this is an interesting theory (and if you were to make explicit the idea that Jesus had no original sin, bc Joseph wasn't involved, it would help), but just as an FYI, typically what we are looking for is historically promulgated theories, not new ones. This is a good answer, but not a great one, for that reason only. –  Affable Geek Sep 18 '13 at 14:58
Hi there Williams’ Practice of Obstetrics, Third Edition, page 133. Here I quote, "The fetal blood in the vessels of the chorionic villae AT NO TIME GAINS ACCESS TO THE MATERNAL BLOOD in the intervillous space, BEING SEPARATED FROM ONE ANOTHER by the double layer of chorionic epithelium." And from page 136 of the same recognized textbook I quote, "Normally there is no communication between the fetal blood and the maternal blood." –  Linford Sep 18 '13 at 15:47
How about mitochondrial DNA being transmitted mostly via the egg (which contains so much more genetic material than the other gamete, the sperm)? The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell which digest nutrients and provide energy in the form of ATP. But don't let science get in the way of a "good" theory :) –  justbelieve Sep 18 '13 at 19:41
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