I was reading the answers to How is original sin transmitted?, when it occurred to me: isn't this contrary to scripture? Specifically:

Ezekiel 18:20

The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

How does this tie together with the idea of "inheriting" blame from The Fall?

  • 2
    Good question, by the way! Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 11:57
  • possible duplicate of How is original sin transmitted?
    – warren
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 21:48
  • 2
    @warren I think they are related, but I disagree that they are dups; "is it?" is very different to "how is it?" Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 22:32
  • 2
    @warren I think that given the fact that Marc cited the "duplicate" in his own question it should be clear he was intending to ask something different. Please be more cautious with your proposals to close questions. Marc is interested in an answer to an apparent contradiction in Scripture, which is not what Thomas' question was about at all. The answers may have overlap, but that does not make the question a duplicate.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 3:57
  • For the record, I think this is a great question. It is one I have pondered a lot myself.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 3:59

7 Answers 7


The way I understand it (and the way I've always seen it taught, whether at my Church, or in various other sermons/articles) is:

We inherit a sinful nature, meaning that we have a predilection for sin.

The evidence is pretty clear from observation. Nobody has to teach a baby how to be selfish, it's part of our nature. (Some would call it evolutionary survival instinct). We don't have to teach our children to lie, to be hurtful, etc. These traits are all natural, and as parents we spend a great deal of time teaching our children how to behave properly. Misbehaving, and actions that are considered sinful don't need to be taught, they're simply in us from birth.

This is what is inherited from Adam's original sin.

Because we are born with that sin nature, every one of us has sinned at least once in our lives, and therefore we are guilty of our own sin. This is what we are held accountable for.

One such article, as mentioned in the introduction can be found here.

There are other interpretations and disagreements on the concept of Original sin, so the way I understand it is not universal. Theopedia covers it from more angles.

  • I'm not quite sure that I'm going to call a baby's neediness as "sin". Interesting answer, though. Would anything be different if I mentioned "total depravity"? Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 12:02
  • Not necessarily for me, as I'm not a five-point Calvinist. Perhaps for others, it would. Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 12:21

It is generally a very bad idea to be basing any kind of argument on a single bible verse. The meaning of verses depends very much on the context in which they are written. You always need to be looking at the surrounding passage, and often the whole book that they are written in.

In this case the passage from Ezekiel is talking about punishment for specific sinful acts of a father and son. There is a proverb quoted at the start:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

This indicates a general practice in Israel (and elsewhere) of punishing children for specific things their parents did. The remainder of the passage is God declaring this attitude to be wrong. Just because the parent committed some horrible crime that doesn't mean the children are responsible for it.

But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things. [...] He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.

However Original Sin is different from this. It isn't that we are punished for the specific sins of our ancestors, it's that one of the effects of our ancestors' sin is to make us incapable of true righteousness. The other question is sufficient to explain this, so I won't go into more detail.

  • 1
    It sounds like you are taking the proverb to be referring to the practice of Israelis, but the proverb was an accusation against God's ways, not a description of Israel's ways. I already up-voted, but you might consider editing.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 5:15

Original Sin

Sin is essentially a rejection of (or deviation from) God (or His ways). I tend to think of the event of Adam's disobedience as the "original sin", which resulted in mankind being separated from God... as opposed to mankind possessing a particular kind of ("original") sin due to Adam's mistake - if that makes sense.

In other words: We are all born separate from God in the sense that He is not here with us in communion and fellowship with us, due to the Fall. It is in this sense that we "inherit" separation from God, which could be phrased as "inheriting sin", or "inheriting original sin" (although the latter is slightly confusing.)

In a state of separation from God it is impossible to do good (God's definition, not man's), and so every action is essentially sinful, being independent, selfish, etc.

If man dies in this state of separation, he dies eternally separated from God, which we call Hell. (This of course has to be balanced with an understanding of God's justice, but I'll let that lie for now.)

So to summarize the first part, our inheritance from Adam is separation from God - a state from which every action of ours condemns us to judgment.


The question, then, is "how is that just?" Essentially we are all headed for the judgment of God because of what Adam did, right? Actually, this would be true if that were the end of the story; if God judged solely based on "original sin". But that is not the entire story.

Adam sold his family (us) into slavery to sin, and now we all sin from childhood - disobeying parents, stealing, lying, hurting each other, rebelling against God, etc. Although we will not be judged for what Adam did, we will be judged for what we do, even if it is the result of our fallen state, which is the result of what Adam did! (Hang in there...!)

Of course, God couldn't leave us in this pitiful state - He is too loving and too just. As a result, God provided an opportunity to return to Him through Christ. Now it is possible for a man with a wicked father to turn to Christ and be saved from judgment, despite his father's actions.

Now we have to touch on a much more complicated topic: election. See here for a much more complete explanation, but essentially, God knows in advance who would embrace Him and who would not, and "chooses" His people based on this foreknowledge. He then intervenes and redeems those whom He has chosen.

When all is said and done, here is the picture painted by Scripture:

  • The "righteous" will be justified by their own deeds, which are of course accomplished in partnership with God. These folks only become "righteous" by the grace of God, according to His foreknowledge of their willingness to be so changed.

  • The "wicked" will be condemned by their own deeds, which are by definition deeds of independence from God. The wicked would be wicked whether they were placed in the garden prior to sin or born "fallen." In God's justice and impartiality these folks are not wicked solely because God didn't intervene; they would have rejected Him regardless of what opportunities He gave them.

So in the end a man will be justified or condemned by his own deeds alone (which are ultimately the result of his acceptance or rejection of God). That is where the passage you cited comes in. Ezekiel 18:20 is a passage about God's justice. He is correcting the impression that children suffer judgment from God because of the mistakes of their fathers, but God is clarifying that a person is only judged by their own actions.

The point of the passage is that God is just (which He is, as we have just seen). It's difficult to understand without seeing the big picture, because at first glance it looks like Adam sold us out and we're all "up a creek" so to speak. But God's justice was not thwarted by Adam's decision - ultimately He works it all out properly according to His infinite wisdom.


I grew up in a Methodist church. I don't know if the following is the official theology of the Methodist church, but it is the understanding I have from my years in that community.

Original Sin is a big phrase that has more or less import depending who one is talking to; sometimes it simply means "the first sin, committed by Eve and then Adam," and sometimes it seems to mean "the phenomenon if inherent condemnation born into every person as a result of sin entering the world." Among most of the people I've talked to and learned from, the understanding is much closer to the former. That is, 'original sin' is largely just a name for a historical event.

It is clear from the context of the Genesis account of the apple that the capacity for sin existed in mankind from minute one. It did not occur to either Adam or Eve to sin until the idea was implanted by the serpent, but no supernatural event transpired to enable Eve to do what had been forbidden.

The significance of the original sin in light of this reasoning, then, is not that it somehow caused the nature of man to change, but that it was the first time man demonstrated an element of his nature. To answer your question, if you accept this reasoning, sin is inherited the exact same way as height and eye color and male pattern baldness: we inherit it from our human parents because we are human children. The capacity for sin is innate in what we are.

  • "Apple"?... I thought it was a pear?
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 5:16
  • (-1) "Capacity for choosing" to embrace or reject God is not the same as "a sinful nature". In your view, if they had kids prior to sinning the kids would still be "fallen". Sin entered through Adam because of his sin, not because God made him with capacity to choose.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 5:19

I guess according to the new site rules, I should declare that this answer is derived from common Protestant interpretations of the King James Bible. I then extend into some programming analogies where I may lose people, these are my own attempt to convert these basic, commonly held Protestant theological ideas into a form that might make understanding easier to grasp for a certain type of person.

You're talking about two completely different things, the English translation and titles man has made up (like Original Sin) are responsible for confusing the issue. The passages you cite refer to personal sin committed by already spiritually dead people. It's spelling out that the blame for that sin lies squarely with the person who committed it. God isn't looking to throw the blame and consequences of your sin on your kids. That much is clear. Note that in this context, God is speaking to spiritually dead people. This is important, more on that following.

However, the fall of mankind (female and male human) is something else. God told Man (note Man here is not a man, but is an object composed of two nested objects, female and male, Adam and Eve) that on the day that they disobeyed God's command and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge Of Good And Evil, they would surely die. There's a double meaning here, spiritual death and physical death.

Genesis 2:15-17 KJV

15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 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.

The tree of course contained the knowledge of Good and Evil, blessing and calamity, something mankind did not possess and therefore as children, were innocent. Taking from this fruit not only was a sin because they disobeyed a direct command from God, but it also fundamentally changed the composition of humanity. God is a programmer, you're a programmer and so I am, so I'm going to use some programming pseudo talk to illustrate these points.

Mankind before taking the fruit and inheriting its properties Genesis 2:25 KJV:

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

And After Genesis 3:10-11:

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

Clearly now, mankind was aware of all the perversion that can be made out of nakedness, they were self conscious, etc. Completely different than 5 minutes ago. Man has been rewritten and inherited a class God never purposed them to inherit, and lost the inheritance they once held from God, as this inheritance was commanded to change to death the very moment that they inherited this other, forbidden class.

Mankind now exists in a state separated from God, something that cannot be simply reversed. God already commanded that they would get death (both spiritual and physical), so irrevocably, this is what they're going to get. The class that made man compatible with God is dead, the destructor has run, there's no turning back. God doesn't even recognize these objects has His own anymore, as the typeof == assert fails.

Genesis 3:15 KJV

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Right here God is illustrating that mankind is now a child of Satan, because man obeyed Satan rather than God, inherited this new structure and they are both now derived from a common type. When God says "her seed", he's referring to Christ, not human beings. This is another meaning here, it's the first Prophecy of the coming Christ, because it's Christ who will give a new nature compatible with God's. The other meaning of course is that if her seed is Christ, then who is his [satan] seed? This perverted form of humanity. More on that later, but Jesus confirms this while on Earth.

John 8:44 KJV Jesus Says:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.

When speaking to the public. This is the difference between the so called "Original Sin" and already spiritually dead people sinning and not having the consequences put on their children. This same difference is the precise reason for the need for Christ. Humanity and every single clone of it since this fall has been composed of this broken, incompatible design and needs to derive a new Nature from a type compatible with God.

Trying to stay on topic, in the meantime, spiritually dead (meaning they're dead to God, no spiritual life is in them, incompatible with God) are still capable (actually more capable) of sinning. God in His mercy gave the Law as a system by which mankind could battle against this new nature, and though no man (except Christ to come) could ever truly fulfill this Law and be counted Righteous in his own right, God made provision for man to have righteousness imputed upon them and the judgement for their sins to be withheld or transferred. People who spurned this show of mercy were of course to come under total judgement and inherit the full measure of the consequences of their sin. This is what the passages you reference speak of, that the perpetrators get it, not the children.

Despite all of this mercy, mankind still had this inherited nature of death that simply could not be reconciled with God's own nature. They are opposites, one representing all that God is against. When the destructor on manObject->MortalCoil is called, there's nowhere in God's domain to store what it contains, since all of His collection's Add<T> methods have the where T SpirituallyAlive, plus a bunch of other runtime checks against properties like HasSin.

Mankind needs to inherit SpirituallyAlive from a new source, and have HasSin flipped. God wants that, wants to afford every opportunity for that to happen. People only look at the parts where God is dealing out Judgement in the Bible, and decide God is mean. If you look at the whole picture, as I've touched on a bit, there's actually a lot of mercy. A lot. Being that God is merciful, judgement isn't going to be dolled out to kids just for who their parents are. Even God booting Adam and Eve out into the suffering of the world was actually mercy, because:

Genesis 3:22-23 KJV

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

as you can see in 22, there was a second element man could stretch forth his hand and take from, the Tree of Life. Notice How God doesn't even finish the sentence, because inheriting this object after having inherited the knowledge of evil, forcing their state to spiritual death, MortalCoil would have been promoted to a static constant member, locking man in this fallen state eternally, irreconcilable to God. This would have been an unspeakable tragedy.

  • To meet present site guidelines, this answer should state what group or denomination of Christians it represents. As currently stands, it is a "truth" answer, and We can't handle the truth. Granted, the original question was asked before current site guidelines were in place. But new answers still must meet site guidelines. Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 15:40
  • @LeeWoofenden After glancing over the examples of good vs bad in the link you put, I'm not sure how I should modify my answer. Beyond saying I'm Protestant, I'm not sure how to classify my interpretation of the Bible. I don't subscribe to any other such titles, even Protestant is simply to indicate being non-Catholic.
    – user20766
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 17:12
  • If "Protestant" is the narrowest scoping you're able to do, that would provide at least some scoping, even if rather broad. Protestantism represents a little over a third of Christianity as a whole. See: Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population (scroll down to the "Major Christian Traditions" chart). The main point is that Christianity.SE is not about individual perspectives or opinions, but about what groups of Christians believe. Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 17:30

It doesn't tie at all. We are not guilty of original sin. We inherit effects of original sin, but not the blame for it.

  • If I borrow from this answer : "You are a filthy. You drink down iniquity like it was water. Spitting your filthy language at every passer by. You stink of iniquity like one who has just soiled himself. You are nothing." - whether you call it "blame" or "effects", surely the impact is the same? Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 12:06
  • These passages don't blame anybody for original sin. Only for their personal deeds.
    – zefciu
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 13:17
  • +1 for correctness, although I wanted to elaborate, so I answered also... :)
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 5:11

This sinful nature is not necessarily handed down 'organically' but as we are all born under the same curse, as a punishment under Law, all men are born under the same 'cursed sinful nature'.

The doctrine of original sin is one of the central doctrines of the Bible that says Adam’s guilt was imputed to all mankind, so that all men are born under the curse of God's offended Law, unto a sinful nature. Under this doctrine we are sinners because we have been judged guilty by God's offended Law before birth. The sinful nature is therefore passed down legally under God's holy justice.

This depravity under the exposure of that curse is a total one, so that man before conversion to Christ is unable to commit a righteous act. This was the common faith of the reformers during the Protestant reformation. One of the most compelling books on the subject is entitled GREAT CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN, by Jonathan Edwards.

Although this doctrine directly conflicts with the verse mentioned, it is very easy to resolve this fake contradiction under this most esteemed doctrine. The answer is that this verse applies to all people, except Adam or Christ.  Generally it is not fair for God to impute the works of one, upon another, unless it relates to national sins and his government of the world. National judgments often hurt the innocent as well as the guilty. For example when Israel went into captivity, prophets also were dragged into Babylon.

However on a personal level this verse applies and can be seen in the first two children of Adam. Cain was a murderer but Abel, even though He was born in sin, was saved by faith and righteous. 

In the case of Adam and Christ, they are federal heads of all humanity.  There are only two of them and never will there be more. In some ways it does not seem fair.  I never asked to be born a sinner and yet I was. I was guilty of sin and cursed before I was born, otherwise I would not have been born with a propensity to sin.  All men have this propensity as a matter of fact, as all have sinned.   Also, It also does not seem fair that after living a wicked life for so many years, God would declare I am perfectly righteous and have never sinned because he imputed Christ's righteousness on me. In both cases the curse and grace do not seem fair to me, but I guess with both in hand it is fair.

This is Bible 101 and you can find these answers and more from the Apostle Paul directly. Paul makes it so clear that there is no need to doubt any of it:

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)

Notice: the reason why the Laws of Moses were added is so that people would sin more. The Law was not meant for people to live better but to smash self-righteousness.

But back to the subject. A strong confident and rejoicing view in Paul's doctrine of original sin is necessary to begin to understand the world. Without deep faith in this doctrine I do not see how one can even begin to understand himself.

If I ever doubt original sin, which I don't because of my own sin, I just watch the news for a few minutes and my faith is restored ;) In reality all I need  to do is just sense my own motives at home, work and play and am fully pursuaded that I sin every day, every hour and every second. Of course I do because I have never loved God with all my heart and the Law requires that I do so perfectly. If a commited Christian like myself is still so evil, what can we say about people like me, before I repented and believed in Christ!

That is original sin. It is liberating because it makes you rely on grace alone apart from works. I love the doctrine and any who preach it.

  • Thank you for an intersting answer (+1). Personally, though, I find the "if I didn't have God, I would be more evil" philosophy is very negative. If you genuinely believe that, it makes me quite worried about you <g> Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 19:30
  • @MarcGravell It depends on which definition we are using for "evil" - if we use the Scriptural definition (deviation from God / God's perfect, loving ways), then not having God would be "bad" / "evil" / "sin" by definition, and walking in His ways would be impossible, leading to every action being "independent" / "deviate" / "sinful". In other words, if God is good, and He is the enabler of good, and we don't have him, then of course we would be in a "bad" / "evil" / "negative" place.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 20:38
  • @Jas3.1 if we use that definition, then the statement in question is a tautology, and is also redundant [sic :p]. Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 20:51

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