Original Sin among Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants

The main point he makes, that I am going to crib, is that original sin is not a distinctly Western Christianity concept. Rather, it is really in both major traditions of the church, Easter Orthodox too. I’ll probably need your help fleshing that out more clearly when the time comes. As you put it:

But the net result is the same – both primary traditions of the Church assume that sin is inherited by descent from Adam. Our attempts to accommodate historic Christian doctrine to modern scientific findings needs to take that into account, and to demonstrate clearly just why the Fathers were wrong about it, if we end up rejecting it.

If that is understood, it will help people understand the significance of what we are putting forward. There is not reason to say that the Fathers were wrong in light of genealogical ancestry. The fact that this arises in both Western and Easter traditions heightens the problem, and increases the value of the solution.

Yup. Eastern and Western - but also, rhetorically, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Even more rhetorically, Calvinist and Wesleyan!

As my old post suggests the problem regarding Orthodoxy is that influential 20th century strands in Orthodoxy have denied Ancestral Sin to be anything but a capitulation to “Western” Augustinianism, albeit Augustine is as much a Doctor of the Church in the East as in the West.

Hence many Evangelicals sympathetic to “Orthodoxy,” and especially ECs keen to dispense with a historical Adam, have blithely assumed that there is no Original Sin in Eastern Christianity.

You certainly can’t, and shouldn’t, get embroiled in that controversy in the kind of presentation you’re doing, so maybe simply quoting or summarising Irenaeus (the key figure before Augustine) and perhaps some of the other Orthodox authorities I quote will do much of the heavy lifting.

If you feel you need to say more and/or protect yourself from denials, it seems to me that the emphasis of Eastern “Ancestral Sin” is that of the penalty of death for Adam’s sin is inherited. The emphasis in the West’s “original Sin” is on the inheritance of the sinful nature - and as you’ll know, the Reformed claims about the imputation of Adam’s first sin are unpopular in American Evangelicalism generally, because it doesn’t seem “fair.”

It seems to me that this difference might give you good grounds for brief, but nuanced, statements to the effect that “Eastern tradition, following Irenaeus, has emphasized the inheritence of death from Adam’s sin, whereas Western, following Augustine, have emphasised the inheritence of the bias towards sin. But in both traditions, genealogical inheritence is assumed.”

Your own existing discussion of original sin can, of course, fit around that any way you like.


I’ve been patiently waiting for you to bring up this old saw.

Jon, except for Russian Orthodox writings, I have found plenty of Orthodox essays, by laymen and churchmen, that the only thing we inherit from Adam is the inevitable propensity to sin. And I’ve published key quotes from these writings (up to now, all in BioLogos). It completely opposes the denigration of humanity with this so-called Original Sin. Paul’s text on death coming from Adam can very much be interpreted that we inherited our human nature from Adam… and nothing more.

So… you are going to have cite some works to have it any other way.

George, this discussuion began by Collins citing my old article, which is almost nothing but Orthodox quotations on the inheritance of death, primarily, though I pushed the boat out by including in Irenaeus the propensity for sin as bondage.

All I’ve contributed is suggesting to Joshua how to avoid pushback on what is a small facet of his presentation.


And so, to be clear on what you mean here:

By “orthodox” you do not mean “orthodoxy”, but rather you mean texts from Eastern Orthodox traditions?

The Eastern Orthodox communions do accept the inheritance of death … by means
of inheriting the nature to inevitable transgress God’s law.

They are quite clear on this matter. But the transgressions are those made by each individual,
inheriting Adam’s fate … but not inheriting Adam’s unique sins, which are his alone.

When you comment on the Eastern Orthodox enthusiasm for contradicting Augustine,
you cannot simply waive off their reasoning for why they reject his position. They are
most earnest on the matter … and actively proclaim a theology that supports their

You may not agree with their theology… but that’s okay, because I do not agree with
Augustine’s theology.

Ahh, that is an important distinction. Factoring this in could help one avoid stepping on a theological landmine. I doubt it is the only one on this issue. Perhaps it would be best not to get into too much detail telling theologians the historical position on the transmission of original sin.

I do think it is important to stress that none of us are challenging the doctrine of original sin itself. The question is the method by which sin and true death is transmitted given that there was a population of humans outside the garden. The research of Dr. Swamidass suggests that inheritance is not ruled out as a mechanism so long as the appropriate events are at least 6,000 years ago. Those are the facts. What is made of them regarding the question of transmission should be up to the theologians to decide after taking a fresh look at the text in view of a population outside the garden.



Whoah there cowboy. I reject the doctrine. I just don’t require rejection of the doctrine.
But I do reject statements that say it is a requirement.

But by having a de novo Adam & Eve, I get to sidestep the issue, and allow each person’s inclination to include Original Sin or not, as his denomination or personal belief requires.

Naturally, insisting on Original Sin would be awkward in my viewpoint. While pointing out that @swamidass’ scenario’s fully accommodate it would certainly be a true statement, and acceptable to me.


I do concur with the wording of yours that I quote immediately above… with or without the bracketed word “individual” that I inserted.


@gbrooks9 no one is requiring you to accept it. However, it is legitimate to say that “a doctrine of original sin is required within traditional theology.” Such a statement, if it were correct, would only be clarifying that you do not hold to traditional theology.

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Unitarian Univeralists are a merged denomination… coming from two very old New England protestant groups.

We reject Hell as a punishment for humans. We see Jesus as a human adopted by God as his son.

The original Pilgrim church in Plymouth plantation became Universalist in the 1800’s … along with hundreds of other New England churches.

Over time, the two denominations kept bumping into each other at gatherings seeking greater perfection of American society … and a joke was born:

“We merged because Unitarians thought God was too loving to send mankind to hell, and Universalists thought humans were too lovable for God to want to.”

I have a strong interest in interpreting the New Testament with a historical perspective that the primitive Christiain church might have been distinctly “Binitarian” before the doctrine of the Trinity became mainstream in the 300’s CE.

Which is to say that UU do not hold to traditional doctrine, for better or for worse.


I accept the statement as you write it above… with the key qualifier being “within traditional theology”.

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But I am rather protective of the Eastern Orthodox communions… who do not adhere to specific parts of traditional Roman doctrine - - namely, Original Sin.

Except @jongarvey makes an excellent case that they do. Have you read his article yet?


What, then, has the Eastern Church rejected about original sin? Here my reading, as an outsider to Eastern Orthodoxy, suggests that all is not as it is often portrayed. An article by Orthodox writer Vladimir Moss, unfortunately no longer online, argues strongly that the tendency in Orthodoxy to deny the transmission of sin down the generations is a recent change initiated primarily by publications of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky (1926) and Fr. John Romanides’ (1957), who argued that Orthodoxy had fallen into its own bondage to the Augustian tradition by accepting his erroneous translation of Romans 5.12. Moss, as a traditionalist, disputes their modern translation of this verse, their conclusion and their re-writing of history, and says that their teaching itself is not Orthodox (remember the high regard given to tradition in Orthodoxy – one can draw such conclusions in a way impossible within Protestantism).

@swamidass (and @jongarvey ):

The article, and especially the section you quote, is as I have described.


One: “Vladimir Moss was born Anthony Moss in London on April 4, 1949 into the family of a British diplomat.” Later in the biography, you see that he affiliates closely with the Russian Orthodox community. The Russian communion is the ONE exception I have been able to identify on a “modified” position regarding Augustinian doctrine.

Two: Though he is not a priest or bishop, he accurately represents the Russian Orthodox view.

Three: His position that the rest of the Orthodox Communion only recently rejected Augustine’s view of Original Sin is, well, I don’t know how else to say it but to say: “amusing”.

Mainstream Orthodox metaphysics has rejected the Augustinian concept for generations and for centuries. They reject it to such an extent, they have even developed their own robust view of the traditions by which families should seek infant baptism (cultural reasons, traditional reasons, familial reasons and for psychological reasons - - but not for metaphysical reasons).

George are you a Unitarian in the sense of “No Trinity” or a Universalist Unitarian which is something very different?

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You’ll have to follow the split made by @swamidass to find my answer. His split has some deadends… here is the specific link to my answer:


I don’t want to get in a text-war with George on this. As I said to you, it’s easy to find Greek references to ancestral sin as referring to the inheritance of death, even in contrast to Augustine’s view, such as this.

George himself speaks of the inheritance of a tendency to sin, which is enough for your purposes, and all I have seen possibly implied in Irenaeus. Genealogy from Adam undoubtedly bears on the Orthodox view of human sin and/or death.

It is interesting how universally the name of Romanides comes up in support of the stark contrast between East and West on original sin (even in the linked article), but forget all that - yet consider the Orthodox baptismal formula, based on the Nicene Creed, in relation to their univeral practice of infant baptism: “We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.”

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@jongarvey ( and @swamidass ):

In keeping with your good nature and a desire not to go to war, I offer the texts below as a “corrective” for the misunderstandings you have about the non-Russian branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church. For example,
your quote about Baptism is one of those things which, when Westerners get the full discussion about Baptism,
can only shake one’s head gently and wonder “I didn’t know anyone could look at it like that.” Baptism for the Orthodox has a very different context than for the Western denominations. It is for the “Remission of Sins”, but this sentence is not construed in the way Western Christians do; it “remits” sins, without implying that infants yet have sin.

As for the definition of Original Sin, the Eastern Orthodox use two definitions, much like you have discussed two kinds of Original Sin: it can refer to the original sins of Adam & Eve, or it can refer to the flawed nature of humanity which was delivered to us by being human. Since the Eastern Orthodox are quite insistent that God has made each of us, they do not accept that God intentionally made us with sin that we didn’t incur ourselves!

I’m sure you and others will find it a little “odd” compared to what you are used to… but I’m hoping that these pages (with links that go to more pages) will do the trick! Onward in Peace.


The pages below are from the link to the Orthodox Christian Resource Center, which I believe is based out of Chicago:

[ Part 1 of 2: Be sure to click on the image to maximize the font size ! ]

[ Part 2 of 2: Be sure to click on the image to maximize the font size ! ]

So that there is some searchable text on these pages, I provide the text that is highlighted on the pages (in the post above) with yellow boxes.

[From Part 1 of 2 Parts]

ie in short:

We Only inherited Adam’s punishment—Mortality(death).
We dont inherit sin, only Adam’s deficiency(death)
“Original Sin is understood differently by the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church denies that a sin committed by someone else (in this case, Adam) can be somehow “transmitted” to the rest of humanity.
Adam’s personal sin of rebellion against God was his alone to atone for.

The non-Orthodox teach that Original Sin is the Personal sin and guilt of Adam transmitted from him to all mankind. The Church does not agree with this teaching. Original sin is the “sinful state” of our nature with which we are born. Because of the fall, human nature is disposed toward sinfulness: human nature is corrupt and that which we refer to as man, is really less than man: human nature has been weakened, therefore, the ability to resist every temptation (without the special Graces of God) has been taken away.

The Church teaches that when man fell he did not receive Adam’s sin and guilt – but his punishment, which is corrupt human nature…
He also lost physical immortality. And since the bond between the individual soul and God was broken, there occurred an eternal separation between God and man.”

[From Part 2 of 2 Parts]

The doctrine of original sin is false: it slanders and libels the character of God, it shocks man’s god-given consciousness of justice, and it flies in the face of the plainest teachings of God’s holy Word.
The doctrine of original sin is not a Bible doctrine. It is a grotesque myth that contradicts the Bible on almost every page.

But notice what Jesus said: “to such as these [referring to the infants and children who had been brought to him by their mothers] belongs the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord did not require them to make a conscious decision.
He says that they are precisely the kind of people who can come to him and receive the kingdom.

So on what basis, Fundamentalists should be asked, can infants and young children be excluded from the sacrament of baptism? If Jesus said “let them come unto me,” who are we to say “no,” and withhold baptism from them?

This is why we Orthodox Christians believe in Baptising Infants and in giving the Holy Communion(Qurbana) to them.