Was There a “Fall” or Did Augustine Really Screw Everything Up?

The discussions here on genetic entropy reminded me of an article by biblical scholar Peter Enns, who argues that the Doctrine of Original Sin (and The Fall) arose due to a mistranslation by Augustine of Romans 5:12.

Romans 5:12, when properly translated,

“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 —“ (NRSV)

As Enns notes

The issue is that Augustine, working from a poor Latin translation of Romans 5:12, has “in him” where the Greek has “because.”

That is, the poor Latin translation read

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death came through sin, and so death spread to all in him (Adam)… “

Thus, the doctrine of Original Sin and The Fall became mainstream in the Catholic Church, and Reformed and Evangelical churches (but not the Eastern Orthodox).

The causation of death for all by one man caused moral and theological issues - why should I or you have been punished because of Adam’s sin? Without Original Sin, from a moral POV, it makes more sense that everyone dies not because Adam sinned, but because everyone sins.


If The Fall and Original Sin are false doctrines, does this have any implications for the Genetic Entropy hypothesis?


Everyone does die because they do sin. Only Jesus didn’t sin and gave up his life willingly. Thankfully we do have one person that defeated death.

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You’re perhaps avoiding the topic? Or do you agree with Enns that The Fall and Original Sin are faulty doctrine?

Does your church teach original sin?

When I was growing up my Sunday school teachers taught me Original Sin.

One man through whom all die. (Adam).

One man theough whom all are saved. (Jesus).

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I can’t speak to the discussion of Genetic Entropy, but some clarity/nuance is in order on the text and doctrine at hand.

Even Enns’ article (and certainly the Christian tradition) is more nuanced than assumed here. Many (including evangelical and Reformed) theologians hold to a notion of “original sin” that doesn’t match Augustine (e.g., original sin and original guilt should not be equated). Also the preposition + pronoun eph ho translated because can also mean so that, opening up other interpretive options.


Thanks for the distinction, I have not encountered the distinction of the concept of original guilt vs original sin before.

Is it something along these lines?

If there is no such thing as Original Guilt, is there still a biblical basis for Genetic Entropy / general decay of all life?


Yes, that article does raise some of the main issues, though (as expected with a short article) there’s always more to say. On an interesting take on “so that” vs. “because” see Heiser’s study…which does lend itself perhaps to a more Eastern understanding.



Hermeneia commentary on Romans regarding ἐφʼ ὧ-

The situation is much less clear with the final clause, ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον (v. 12d), which is usually translated “because all sinned.” Many different interpretations have been proposed, reflecting the extensive discussion of “original sin” by later theologians:

—One can understand ᾧ as a masculine pronoun referring back to an implied law; to “the death”; to “one man,” Adam, who passed hereditary depravity to his descendants; to the entire preceding sentence describing the circumstances under which humans sinned.

—One can take ᾧ as neuter so that the phrase ἐφʼ ᾧ gains the conjunctive sense of “because” or “so that” and refers to the involuntary participation of humans in Adam’s sin, to their inheriting his corrupt nature, to their being imputed sinful because their representative, Adam, sinned, or to independent human actions following the example of Adam.

Progress in this debate dominated by complicated theories of original and imputed sin that arose long after Paul’s time was made by Fitzmyer, who showed that although “because” is not supported as a translation of ἐφʼ ᾧ in texts prior to the sixth century c.e., several passages appear to support the consecutive sense of “so that, with the result that.” One example that does not support Fitzmyer as well as he would like is the report by Diogenes Laertius that the philosopher Cleanthes while leading his students to a public ceremony “was exposed by the wind and seen to be without an undergarment upon which he was honored with applause by the Athenians (ἐφʼ ᾧ κρότῳ τιμηθῆναι ὑφ Ἀθηναίων)” (Vitae philos. 7.169.4-6). In Arat. 44.4.1 Plutarch says that a Sicyonian statesman fell into disrepute after lawlessly mistreating a suspect: “having tortured Aristomachus on the rack in Cenchraea, they drowned him in the sea, for which reason (ἐφʼ ᾧ) Aratus enjoyed an especially bad reputation.” Neither of Fitzmyer’s examples supports a strictly consecutive sense that implies “the sequel to Adam’s baleful influence on humanity by the ratification of his sin in the sins of all individuals.”

The more likely alternative is that ἐφʼ ὧ refers to the realm in which humans were sinning, that is, the κόσμος (“world”) that is mentioned in vv. 12 and 13. That humans are responsible for spread of sin throughout the world is clearly implied by the expression πάντες ἥμαρτον (“all sinned”), although this creates inconsistencies with the later argument of the pericope, which consistently stresses Adamic causation of later actions. Paul would then be advancing a paradoxical combination of fateful influence from Adam and individual responsibility for sins. As Käsemann observed, there is precedent for this paradox in Jewish materials such as 2 Bar. 54.15, 19: “For although Adam sinned first and has brought death upon all who were not in his own time, yet each of them who descended from him has prepared for himself the coming torment.… Adam is, therefore, not the cause, except only for himself, but each of us has become our own Adam.” While certainty about Paul’s theory is hardly possible, this line of interpretation would imply that each person in v. 12d replicates Adam’s fall because of his or her own free will. In the light of v. 12a-c, however, each is sufficiently determined by the social poison of sin that choices of evil deeds remain inevitable.

I am interpreting from the above that the masculine ᾧ is the doctrine of original sin/guilt, such that Adam’s sin/guilt leads to death for us all,

while the neuter ᾧ is Adam giving us an inheritance of a corrupt sinful nature

while the third, says we are all our own Adams.

Is that a reasonable summary?

Nb I haven’t read your Heiser’s study link, it looks to be quite in depth. I might read it later.

Also, do you have any thoughts regarding Heiser’s Unseen Realm on the Divine Council?

I suppose you would agree with Heiser that the Divine Council of Psalm 82 was not other gods, and not a backdrop of polytheism from which YHWH was one of the 70 sons of El?


I think you have the main concluding options right, but not necessarily all the exegetical distinctions. Notice that each option actually has many sub-options (e.g., #1 actually has 3 options). (Augustine’s faulty Latin base was misinterpreting the preposition eph more than the pronoun ho.)

I’m quite a Heiser fan overall. Heiser does see other gods in Psalm 82 (and elsewhere), but understands g-o-d differently than in popular usage (so, yes, not polytheistic in the classic sense).


Yes, my church does teach original sin. I do want salvation and life to extend to me, so why would I have a problem with death extending to me? I already know I’m decaying and dying. I do place my hope for life in Jesus. I see Adam so much as my representative that I wrote a poem as if I was there, but then I was also there at the cross. See the bottom of this post.

I have no idea how to understand sin and death in a different philosophical framework, so yeah in the philosophy of science that I have, GE makes a lot of sense to me.

I suppose I do not understand the distinction you’re making.

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I read part 1, 2 and 13 of your Heiser link.

Is Heiser (in part 1) espousing a view that animals died before The Fall (but humans didn’t)?

It seems a rather unusual and even more anthropocentric position than one might deem reasonable.

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Yes, my church does teach original sin. I do want salvation and life to extend to me, so why would I have a problem with death extending to me? I already know I’m decaying and dying. I do place my hope for life in Jesus. I see Adam so much as my representative that I wrote a poem as if I was there, but then I was also there at the cross. See the bottom of this post.

So @deuteroKJ’s Heiser link has a few objections.

Original sin / original guilt means that humans
have been imputed original sin / guilt and all humans are all doomed to die. Which would necessarily include Jesus, since Christians argue Jesus as being 100% human

My question, to start the ball rolling, is simple: If ALL humans since Adam inherited Adam’s guilt (however that happens), then why does Jesus get off the hook? He is 100% human in biblical theology. His genealogy goes straight back to Adam (see Luke 3:23-38; esp. v. 38). Now, I know what the standard answers are. “Oh, Jesus was God, so he didn’t have original sin.” This avoids the question; it doesn’t answer it: he’s was also 100% human. To deny that is deny the incarnation It wouldn’t be a real or actual incarnation then). How about “He was virgin born, and we all know that sin is transmitted through the male-after all, Jesus is compared to Adam in Romans 5, not Eve.” Also evasive and poorly thought-through. I would hope it’s clear that all women are also sinners and have original sin. Mary was a woman, and she was the mother of Jesus. There is also no verse in the Bible that says sin is transmitted through only males. Another problem – so, if we cloned a woman and implanted that clone in another woman, would it be sinless since there was no male father? Of course not – to be human is to be under the curse of Adam. But this is a modern illustration of the same logic as theologians use to get Jesus off the hook (i.e., to stiff arm Romans 5:12 when it comes to Jesus). The problem is straightforward: we either assume the full humanity of Jesus or we don’t. The full humanity of Jesus–laid out so clearly and repeatedly in the New Testament–isn’t what’s causing the original sin problem with him; it’s the way we understand original sin and misuse Romans 5:12.

How do you get Jesus off the imputed guilt/sin train of Original Sin/Guilt?

In addition, why was Enoch spared, or Elijah from imputed guilt and death penalty?

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I get that. @swamidass’ GAE model helps here in trying to circumscribe what “human” might be in view in the text. IMO you’re tapping into the work with which theologians (who take the science seriously) need to continue to wrestle.


3 posts were split to a new topic: Salvation by Natural Instead of Supernatural Means

My podcast with Heiser comes out right after OT Christmas! He responded positively to the GAE at AAR.

Is there a good summary of the main points of GAE anywhere? Before buying a book I usually like to see if the argument(s) are worthwhile exploring in further depth.

Or does one really need to buy the book to understand GAE?

For those who are not Christian, is there any particular scientific reason to go along with GAE?

Otherwise both non-Christians and Christians may simply see the GAE as a post-hoc rationalisation of science with A&E.

For example, the existence of a Cohen Modal Haplotype in Ashkenazic and Sephardic Cohanim has been used by Richard Elliot Friedman to support his hypothesis of an Exodus of a group of Levites into Canaan;

And the tabernacle-like temple-shrine at Timna along with its bronze Nehushtan and pottery there in support of the Kenite Hypothesis


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Romans 5:12 could even be said to have originated in the Gospels where Jesus says no man can cast a stone at the woman because all have sinned. Jesus didn’t say that everyone is sinful because Adam and Eve ate fruit from the wrong tree, but that all have sinned. No mention of Adam and Eve anywhere. This has always made me question the concept of Original Sin as it is often portrayed in modern evangelical circles.

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The earliest and many would argue the most reliable manuscripts of John do not have the pericope adulterae, and those that do have it have it in a variety of places in the gospel of John.

Its different language used also makes scholars reject the pericope adulterae as an addition to a gospel that did not originally have it


The Catholic Church teaches the doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin, so they must be true.