There is another question like this on the CSE but seems to be answered with the Catholic view in mind. As a Calvinist, I have become quite confused or I am just not properly understanding the difference in my studies. In other words I have been unable to grasp or get the whole concept of the differences of original sin and my sin nature.

My problem doesn't lie with original sin but how and when my sin nature fits. It would seem that if I am a sinner at conception and I am bent towards sin or totally depraved from the beginning what is my sin nature? Is there a difference?

I would like a reformed/Calvinist answers in simple terms that may give me a basic understanding.

I appreciate your time and consideration

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    Miss piper, I would put this in an answer, but for the simplicity (not of your struggle); it is the fact that they are the same. Rom 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned...” The struggle to understand this is real. It may be, that if you share some of your research into this subject (what you have studied, some particular verses you wrestle with) and refine this question to a narrower point, you will attract a more satisfactory viewpoint. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 8:39
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    I think they're essentially synonymous.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 13:25
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    @Abstractioniseverything. John Piper explains original sin and then jumps on imputed sin. Rc Sproul explains it as original and personal sin but for the life of me I can't see the difference. When I read the Catholic view they implied there actually is a difference and I questioned myself in the inability to understand the concept of any side of the two. When Adam fell, didn't his fall inpute to all because he was our representative or federal head? Why the different termonologies? I feel I'm missing something here. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 14:02
  • @curiousdannii, I have too until now Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


The sin nature is an aspect of the doctrine of "original sin," but not the entire story.

Louis Berkhof's highly regarded Systematic Theology introduces the topic of Original Sin by calling it simply "the sinful state and condition in which men are born."

The Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 25, identifies three key components of original sin:

  • The guilt of Adam's sin
  • The lack of inherent righteousness
  • The corruption of man's nature

The first of these isn't normally part of what we consider to be the "sin nature." Berkhof calls this original guilt, and distinguishes it from original pollution. The former expresses the state of mankind in relation to the law – guilty:

The guilt of Adam's sin, committed by him as the federal head of the human race, is imputed to all his descendants.

The latter, original pollution, includes the concepts of total depravity and total inability, which typically come to mind when considering the "sin nature." These refer to the inherent corruption of of man's nature, a lack of anything spiritually good in man, an inability to act in a way that meets the requirements of God's law, and an inability to come to love God on one's own.

So the simple answer to your question is that Original Sin is a broader term that includes the idea of the "sin nature," but it also includes the concept of "original guilt." Thus they are not synonyms.

As an aside, sometimes the word "original" can be confusing and lead to incorrect assumptions that it exclusively refers to the sin of Adam and Eve. Berkhof explains:

This sin is called "original sin," (1) because it is derived from the original root of the human race; (2) because it is present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth, and therefore cannot be regarded as the result of imitation; and (3) because it is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of man. (2.2.4)

Thus the word "original" here should not be exclusively understood as referring to the first sin in history, but also to the "original" state of post-fall individuals before they have committed any actual sins.

  • Louis Berkhofs description of original sin by Augustine is certainly what I have understood in the past and still regard as truth. I will take the time to go back and read all of his comments and get all of this settled in my mind. He brought many more question to mind but for now I would like to do a thorough study to come to a complete understanding of the differences. Your answer has given me a in depth place to look and study. You are most appreciated. I hate to take the accepted answer away from Lesley but I must. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 18:08
  • I remember someone saying that "guilt" meant something different when the Westminster Standards were written - I must ask a question about that, because original guilt would be completely shocking if true.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 21:12
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    I'm glad that Nathaniel answered and I think his answer is vastly superior to my simple offering. It's always good to learn something new. Peace.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 18:00

Original sin is Adam’s sin of disobedience against God. The sin nature is what all humans have inherited from Adam.

The Calvinistic view of sin is that Adam’s sin has resulted not only in our having a sin nature, but also in our incurring guilt before God for which we deserve punishment. Being conceived with original sin upon us (Psalm 51:5) results in our inheriting a sin nature so wicked that Jeremiah 17:9 describes the human heart as “deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Not only was Adam found guilty because he sinned, but his guilt and his punishment (death) belongs to us as well (Romans 5:12, 19). The Calvinistic view sees humanity as entirely unable to overcome sin without the power of the Holy Spirit, which convicts people of their sin and enables them to turn in repentance to God. More information here: https://www.gotquestions.org/original-sin.html

The sin nature is that aspect in humanity that makes us rebellious against God. We are all born with a sinful nature which we inherited from Adam. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people” (Romans 5:12). Every one of us was affected by Adam’s sin; there are no exceptions. “One trespass resulted in condemnation for all people” (verse 18). We are all sinners, and we all share the same condemnation, because we are all children of Adam.

We are born once into Adam’s family and are sinners by nature. When we are born again, we are born into God’s family and are given the nature of Christ. We praise the Lord that “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God —children born not of natural descent . . . but born of God” (John 1:12–13). https://www.gotquestions.org/born-sinners.html

The sin nature is universal in humanity. All of us have a sinful nature, and it affects every part of us. This is the doctrine of total depravity. The apostle John comes straight to the point: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Every person born of Adam inherits his sin nature; but when we are born again in Christ, we inherit a new nature: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). https://www.gotquestions.org/sin-nature.html

The Reformed doctrine of sin and salvation is described in some detail in this article: https://www.gotquestions.org/reformed-theology.html

In summary, “original sin” refers to the sin of Adam when he disobeyed God and, as a direct consequence, every human since then has inherited this “sin nature.”

  • yes this is exactly what I know to be truth. Not sure why or how I got twisted on this except I read and tried to reason with some other views. I still don't understand the different termonologies being used when Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 14:15
  • Original sin and our personal sin is one big package inherited by Adam. You can't have one with out the other. Your quotes from Calvin has me back on track. Thank you for your time Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 14:40
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    "Original sin" is definitely not just a reference to Adam's sin in Reformed theology. Relying on gotquestions.org for Calvinistic theology isn't a good idea. Ligonier Ministries or even an online edition of Berkhof's Systematic Theology is much more reliable, since they're actually Calvinists. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 16:14
  • The OP asked for answers "in simple terms that give a basic understanding". That's why I went to Got Questions - it explains complex theological issues that lay persons can understand.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 16:21
  • Actually though, does gotquestions actually say anywhere that Calvinists believe that original sin "is Adam’s sin of disobedience against God"? The first sentence of your first quote is a much more accurate definition of Calvinism's original sin than what you say. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 16:48

When the peoples of earth do not understand the third chapter of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve, and the sin that was forbidden for each and every one of us we cannot understand God, goodness, holiness, or the rest of the Bible.

Departing from God and following the ways of Satan is established in Genesis and revisited throughout every story in scripture. In the Garden there are only two powers available for man to serve. And today, as it has been since Eden, there are only two powers – God or Satan. This truth is restated in the story of Noah and those in the flood – the population of the earth divided into two groups. If Adam and Eve were placed in the story of Noah, they would not be in the Ark with righteous Noah. Adam and Eve would be in the water. Their sin was sexual for it was a sexually perverse generation in the water at that time and so it is today. Then the land was filled with violence as our land is today. Check out the author article about Original Sin. Hope this will also help. Thanks.

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