Many modern theologians who adhere to the doctrine of original sin are often proponents of the claim that Genesis is to be interpreted strictly literally (most strictly as a 7 day creation of a young earth) and never allegorically.

Original sin is the concept that mankind shares in the original sins of Adam recorded in Genesis 3. It seems then that "Adam" meaning man is supposed to be an allegory for all humankind and insofar as Adam represents all of humanity, humanity is tempted and succumbs to temptation in our own ways and in our own modern contexts and seeks to shift blame to others and hide from God thereby sinning.

Merriam-Webster's Diction defines allegory as

  1. The expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence
  2. a symbolic representation

One needn't necessarily assume the character as fictional however in order to apply and many explanations of original sin do in fact apply the text in this way (in a many very similar to double-fulfillment using something like a PaRDeS hermeneutic framework)

Under a a strictly literal interpretation however, we lose this allegorical application of Genesis. The fall is something that happened to Adam. And something that Adam did. It is not something that I as an individual did and it would thus seem that I am being held responsible for and facing the consequences for the mistakes of my ancestor, which seems unfair.

So, according to those who believe in such a strict literal interpretation in what way does mankind share in Adam's original sin and/or how do they define their interpretations as non-allegorical (also)?

  • 1
    This question might be better received if it did not implicitly assume the subject of the question is false.
    – bradimus
    Sep 27, 2017 at 23:14
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    "Many modern theologians who adhere to the doctrine of original sin are often proponents of the claim that Genesis is to be interpreted strictly literally." Catholic theologians (modern or otherwise) believe in original sin, but are not proponents of the claim that Genesis is to be interpreted strictly literally.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 27, 2017 at 23:21
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    I think most teachers of Original Sin in history believed Adam was a real person. Maybe this question backwards.
    – mi name
    Sep 28, 2017 at 0:21
  • bradimus, I'm not assuming either topic is false, merely that they are imcompatable at first glance and asking how those who hold both views harmonize the two. Ken, I am aware that not everyone holds both views, which is why I am asking from the perspective of those who old both. mi name, I am assuming this. That's why I am asking the question. How do you harmonize the two: how can you have original sin without allegory? Sep 28, 2017 at 4:56
  • 1
    I see nothing wrong with this question, as it asks for the reasoning of theologians who hold a particular matched set of views. Sep 28, 2017 at 14:02

2 Answers 2


We are only as good as our nature

The reason we have sinful inclinations, suffering etc. to begin with is due to our nature as fallen human beings. We are fallen and not 'perfect' human beings because Adam was created specially; but we are born from him, and are therefore according to his nature as we recieve it. Since the Fall corrupted human nature, it was passed onto us as it was in Adam.

We read about this in Genesis 3. Close attention must be paid to gather all that is being conveyed in this narrative. No matter how much of it you interpret as allegorical. (I don't take it to be allegorical at all).

6 And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons. 8 And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. 9 And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? 10 And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. 11 And he said to him: And who hath told thee that thou wast naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat?


To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee. 17 And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. 18 Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. 20 And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.

In defying God and doing what it was they were commanded not to do (however much of an allegory the forbidden fruit is), several things happen:

  • Their nature, clearly, is changed, inasmuch as they now recognize their being naked is shameful and feel the need to cover up and hide from God. This is both real, and yet symbolic of yet a further inner shame and realization of the gravity of sin and evil, in which they've just now taken part.

  • Women and men in mankind now recieve the punishment of toiling and being in pain. Examples relevant to the sexes are given (giving birth; working the field), but are not exclusive, due to their obviously summary nature.

  • This kind of change in nature is not something which will not be proper to their children. It is an intrinsic change in what seems to be more detectable or manifest in the corporeal component of their nature as a body-soul composite (Genesis 2:7 cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7).

You can't have taken from you what you never had

Actually, it is fair. We recieve a nature different to that which Adam and Eve originally had. A fallen human nature, to be precise. As such, we were never entitled to—just as they weren't after they sinned (or technically even when they had it: Romans 11:35; Job 41:11)—to the life of grace in which they had originally been constituted: amity with God, enjoyment thereof in general, and all its benefits.

This is the great loss of the Fall—loss for Adam and Eve, but not for us! You see, we never had it. Nor are we entitled to anything, let alone paradise. We are expected to obey the inner voice of God, in our conscience, calling us back to Him, ultimately, through Christ, who can restore us to that grace in baptism; the Church teaching that Mary was the firstfruits of that Redemption, being not freed from original sin, but consituted as a new Eve to the new Adam, Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22,45), without ever having had it—an Eve for a new creation, in which the devil doesn't decieve the woman, but is conquered through one (Genesis 3:15).

The only unfairness would be if we were entitled to and originally possessed some greater happiness, and then had it taken by violence. Except we have only been what we are: fallen human beings. Since it is not impossible to make it back to God and recieve divine life, grace, again, it is not unfair at all.

In addition, we also partake in Adam's sin in a real sense, each time we sin. To sin is to tread on the same forbidden ground that Adam did. Because any sin by definition is willful disobeying God, we commit the same kind of offense as Adam, to varying degrees, with every sin. You could say Adam's sin was to will to sin period.

Romans 5:12

Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

When Adam sinned, as it were, we were all there, sinning with him. Because our having sinned is known with God from the beginning, and ourhaving sinned is to partake in the same sin of Adam. But our personal sins are not our original sin. Original sin is our situation, of which we are nonetheless deserving. We are only held responsible for our personal sins. But original sin, of a different nature than other sin, is a deprivation of something we are not entitled to, and in which fallen nature we are expected to follow the dictates of our conscience as guided by God, to seek restoration in Christ. It's called sin because it offends God, as He wants us to be fappy and fulfilled, and because it obstructs us somewhat from pleasing Him,and because it is properly called evil: an absence of some good.

Wisdom 2:23-24

For God created man [to be] incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world: And they follow him that are of his side.

Death and original sin are in the world regardless of whether we side with the devil/Adam in disobeying God. But we are shown that there is a choice, where we can yet follow God and recieve another fate than his.


We are not Adam. We are not Eve. We are not owed a nature the same as, or even similar to Adam's or Eve's. God's divine and ineffable justice is such that Adam's children recieve the same nature he had after the Fall. Their sin is still their own. Our sins is still our own. But Adam's original sin is of a different kind, and affects the very nature, because it was so fundamental: the first sin, the first privation and shutting-out of God from our lives, which are wholly dependant on Him.

  • "we also partake in Adam's sin in a real sense, each time we sin" - This is an allegorical interpretation (which isn't to say that Adam and Eve aren't also literal necessarily). The point at which Adam moves from being just Adam to representing mankind is the point at which the story also becomes an allegory. Sep 29, 2017 at 15:22
  • (To say there was implicit significance in the sin of Adam is not allegorical) Is Christ being our Head allegorical now? Isn't He really our spiritual head and leader and representative? In whom we are redeemed from sin, and from whom we inherit eternal life as opposed to the contrary? Sep 29, 2017 at 15:31
  • Miriam-Webster's dictionary defines Allegory as "the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence" - putting aside the fictional vs. literal component for a second, I fail to see how this interpretation of Adam and Eve isn't a symbolic generalization about human existence, so this doesn't really answer the Q for me. Christ isn't just symbolically our spiritual leader, he is our actual, direct, living, risen leader. Sep 29, 2017 at 15:36
  • "Christ...is our actual, direct, living, risen leader" That'smy point. St. Paul talks about "one man" bringing death into the world. God also identifies Adam as a real individual (Isaiah 43:27). That's why Christ is typified by him. That's why He is looked to as the "latter Adam". Nowhere in Scripture does it say to take the narrativeof Adam in the beginning as anything other than a literal, real, individual man, Adam. If you find it too fantastic, then you'll have trouble believing that God did all the miracles the days before in creating everything. Sep 29, 2017 at 16:14
  • Again, I'm not arguing against a literal Adam. There is a difference between being typified by Adam and being Adam. One is an allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve narrative and one is not. You can believe in both a literal Adam and and apply the creation narrative allegorically - in fact you are doing just that. Sep 29, 2017 at 16:31

In order to understand how the account in Genesis can be literal and mankind still be under the curse of Adam and Eve's original sin; we need to take a long look at that original sin.

Genesis 1:26 through 28  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Notice that when God created mankind he created man in his own image. God made man without avarice, pride or any other of the undesirable characteristics for the Kingdom of God. In other words he created man without the knowledge of good and evil. In that pristine state man would be as the animals just doing what came naturally.

Genesis 2:16 and 17  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

We need to take a long look at that command; God did not want his creation Mankind to have the knowledge of good and evil. To this point we see that mankind already had free will since God gave mankind the choice of either not eating and remaining in God's good grace, or as happened eat of the tree and introduce into mankind a choice which had devastating consequence (Death).

We will not delve into the what ifs of their actions since they are what they are. Once death had been introduced into mankind it along with the knowledge of good and evil would despoil mankind throughout successive generations.

So why does Adam and Eve's disobedience effect us? The funny thing about knowledge is that once learned it remains forever. The choice to have the knowledge of good and evil was made by Adam which is the prototype of man. That within itself is the reason that we are subject to the penalty of death. Adam was not deceived as Eve was; his was a conscious decision to accept the penalty of death.

Genesis 1:11  And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 

God had decreed that: * yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so*. we are effected because * And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind*.

Notice that everything comes from the Earth; This is significant because:

Genesis 2:7  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Since according to God's decree all things come from the Earth; whose seed is in itself, upon the earth; mankind being a part of earth along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, once combined the knowledge of good and evil with mankind all seed after that would have the knowledge of good and evil. As Genesis says and it was so.

The truly sad thing about Adam's decision is that it contaminated the Earth and spoiled God's original creation for evermore, and is the reason for:

Revelation 21:1  And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

Why ** and there was no more sea**? Because Adam also corrupted that, and the only remaining water;

 Revelation 22:1  And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

I could go on endlessly tying the woes of mankind to the Bible and especially to the fall of mankind, but this not the place for such extensive a diatribe.

Hope this helps.  

  • 1
    Interesting answer, but I think the question is asking for some sourced theology as well as scriptural examples with your explanations. according to those who believe in such a literal interpretation in what way does mankind share in Adam's original sin? The question refers succinctly to theologians. Sep 28, 2017 at 14:03
  • So, if I am reading your correctly, sin is part of the prototype of man now. So every baby born today is imperfect and sinful already knowing sin, this is not something they learn? Sep 28, 2017 at 15:50
  • @JamesShewey In a round about way you are correct. When God created the world he created the Earth pristine, every thing after that was created with its seed implanted. Each was a separate entity Man became the first hybrid by uniting the seed of man, with the seed of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Just as the seed of man must mature from seed to mature manhood so must the seed of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil mature along with the seed of mankind. That is a simplified explanation of that, and requires much more explanation.
    – BYE
    Sep 29, 2017 at 10:20

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