(Modern) Judaism is usually described as not subscribing to the original sin doctrine, where humanity is seen as inherently doomed per the actions of Adam and Eve. (It looks like it's a generalisation, but I've seen similar statements made elsewhere. It's not an unreasonable reading of the beginning of Genesis as far as I'm concerned, but I digress.)

Now, the Christian understanding I grew up with (somewhat evangelical in nature, prone to "pop-theology") was that we cannot save ourselves -- we cannot achieve goodness because of Adam's actions:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. (Romans 5:12-13, NRSVA).

So this is not merely about Adam's actions causing death, since "sin came into the world through one man". (Whether or not this is the correct reading of Genesis seems ambiguous, but that's irrelevant here, and I probably wouldn't be able to solve that question without drastically improving my Hebrew knowledge.) This is reinforced by the earlier statement that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

What is the historical cause of this disparity in Jewish and Christian (per my experience of Christianity) attitudes to human nature? Was this an influence of some contemporary (New Testament times) strain of Jewish thought, or perhaps it is linked to other influences ("foreign" ones, or perhaps ones that came later)? Or, to put it another way, what is the history of this doctrine in the Christian church - did the early church have similar views as modern Christians, or did the doctrine evolve over time?

Note: I'm almost certain I might have simply missed some of the context of the Epistles, but I'm asking as it seems like a more efficient way to figure this out.

  • I'm not too sure what you're asking here: why (post-second temple) Judaism believes anything is off-topic. Why Western Christianity believes in original sin is because they think it's taught (not much of a question there.) Whether there was in the NT era a strand of Judaism that accepted original sin would be a good question for Biblical Hermeneutics, but not really for this site.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 14 '15 at 10:51
  • It sounds like you are asking why Paul wrote what he did, and the standard Christian response is going to be that God inspired him. Maybe "How to Catholics/Calvinists/etc. explain Dt 30:11-14 in light of the doctrine of original sin?" would get at what you are asking while being more on topic. Sep 14 '15 at 12:06
  • 1
    @curiousdannii: I would have assumed questions about the development of theology would have been relevant here. I suppose hermeneutics could be relevant, but this struck me as less of a textual interpretation question . . . Sep 14 '15 at 15:08
  • Sure, but you need to be much clearer about what you want to know. I've read your post several times and still don't understand exactly what your question is.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 14 '15 at 15:10
  • 1
    @Zahnpatient I gave it a bit of an edit to hopefully make the intent clearer (I think this is clearer a C.SE question, not a BH.SE question.) Please re-edit if I did not capture your intent.
    – ThaddeusB
    Sep 14 '15 at 16:06

Judaism has never agreed with the concept of original sin, which is essentially a Western Christian notion, with which the Orthodox Churches also do not agree. According to the Catholic Church, there is an obligation on all Catholics to believe in original sin. Most Protestant denominations follow the Catholic lead in also teaching of original sin, although it is not as central as in the Catholic faith.

In Romans 5:12-13, Paul says that sin entered the world through the sin of one man, but does not say that all future humans share that man's guilt. Prior to Augustine, there was no formalised concept of original sin, but early Church fathers made allusions to a doctrine of an 'original sin'. Tertullian taught when a parent sinned, this physical taint of the soul was passed on to children. Tertullian's concept could eventually be interpreted as allowing Adam's great sin to be passed on from generation to generation, down to the present day. Martin Palmer says, in The Jesus Sutras, pages 175-176, that original sin was unknown as a central theme of Christian thought before the early fifth century. He says The Orthodox Church broke away from the West just in time to avoid the magnificence and the curse of St. Augustine of Hippo, who took the basic notion of original sin and built it into the destructive force it was to become. Even in the West, Pelagius argued against original sin, saying that human nature was basically good but had been corrupted and misguided by human weakness, but of course the theology of Augustine triumphed in the West.

The absence of Jewish support for the concept of original sin does not stem from some contemporary strain of Jewish thought or other influences within Judaism, but has existed from pre-Christian times. It is Christianity that has moved forward with new ideas, at least in the West.

  • I realised that my original use of contemporary could have been taken to refer to the 20th century -- sorry about that. I was mostly using it in the sense of the time of the Epistles. Nonetheless, this answer was pretty helpful. (It might raise some further questions on textual interpretation prior to Augustine for me, but that's best addressed separately.) Sep 14 '15 at 16:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.