Peter Enns and Original Sin

Peter Enns in “5 Old Testament Reasons Why “Original Sin Doesn’t Work,” states Original Sin isn’t biblical?
Thanks for your question. I hope what follows helps you resolve any questions that you may have. My answer will have four parts: (1) Original Sin: A Brief Definition; (2) The Bible and Original Sin; (3) Jesus and Original Sin; and (4) Enns and Original Sin.

Original Sin: A Brief Definition

The term “original sin” is used to distinguish it from individual or actual sins that flow from it. Original sin came from its original root — Adam's sin, the first sin in the garden, and the fall of humanity. Since, it has been present in the life of every human being, except Christ.

Because of original sin in Adam, all of us come into the world as sinners. We are sinners at our conception. Our fallen nature is inherited from Adam, and it is the inward root of all actual or individual sin that defiles the lives of all mankind.

Particular things of interest happened in Adam’s fall, and among them is the total depravity of man’s nature. Original sin violated every part of man’s being, his entire nature, his body and soul. While none of us are as bad as we could be, this is only because of God’s common grace and not of anything in man. Man isn’t just sick, he is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1).

In the sense of original righteousness, the image of God was lost in each of us. There was the loss of communication with God through the Holy Spirit and an immediate breaking away from the source of life that resulted in spiritual death and, in time, physical death. Immediately it brought about a consciousness of personal pollution, shame, guilt and accusation. Adam was driven from the Garden. There was change in God’s blessings and immediate presence, and he was barred from the Tree of Life. In Adam, mankind inherited a curse and is worthy of God’s justified wrath and eternal death.

The Bible and Original Sin

To begin, consider what John Calvin wrote on the doctrine of original sin:
Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’ [Gal. 5:19]. [1]
Indeed, we are far greater sinners than we ever thought we were.

The Scriptures contain numerous reminders of the historic and true Christian doctrine of original sin. All of us have the works of the flesh — that is, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). With the exception of Jesus Christ, every human being is born a sinner and are by nature sinners (Rom. 3:23). This is who and what we are by our very nature. We are each “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2) and “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Unrighteous (cf. Psa. 14:2-3; Rom. 3:12) properly describes our estate as all of us from birth have “lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3) and “walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2). We are spiritually dead.

One doesn’t need to be taught to sin because it comes naturally. We don’t need books to instruct us on how to sin. Sin is like the sun — it’s always burning within us, its flames exploding both inwardly and outwardly. Wickedness is our natural bent or desire. We are born this way.

Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 58:3: The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

Proverbs 22:15: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.

Life begins at conception and, as seen above, even in the womb a person has a sin nature. It’s part of our fallen spiritual DNA. It is interesting that Esau hadn’t done any individual or actual sin in Rebecca’s womb (Rom. 9:11), but he was still “hated” (not loved less) by God even in the womb (Rom. 9:13). [2] God hates the reprobate. And while there are plenty of sermons on God loving sinners — which he does — he is also “angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). And God is angry every day with wickedness even as it exists in those in their mother’s womb (Psa. 51:5). Though an infant has done neither any good or bad (Rom. 9:11), God is justified in his anger because of original sin.

But take comfort. As the Westminster Confession states:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word (WCF 10.3).
Elect infants don’t go to heaven because they are without original sin. Though infants cannot discern good from evil (Deut. 1:39), they are not innocent; they simply have not sufficiently matured to express their sin nature in a noticeable manner (yet!). Original sin is a yoke for all (Rom. 5:12-21), but saints can be comforted because elect infants are secure in God.

Though physically alive at birth, one is born spiritually dead towards God. And this is all the result of Adam. His poisonous original sin continuously gives birth to all other personal sins. As theologian and scholar John Gill wrote:

Sin, the greatest of all folly; this is naturally in the heart of man; it is in the heart of a child, it is in him from his infancy; it is bound in his heart, it is rooted and riveted in him, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity; it is what cleaves close to him, and he has a strong affection for and desire after: the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, (Genesis 8:21). [3]

According to Job 15:14-16, man is viewed as unrighteous and, in general, corrupt. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” And Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” All of these passages describe the sinful human heart and our corrupt nature thus embracing the reality of original sin. We are not innocent beings! Jonathan Edwards once commented:

Why should man be so continually spoken of as evil, carnal, perverse, deceitful, and desperately wicked, if all men are by nature as perfectly innocent, and free from any propensity to evil, as Adam was the first moment of his creation? [4]

Sin kills. People die. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). Sin is the biblical reason for physical death. Oh yes, death may happen by any number of means, but it's ultimately all traced back to original sin and the personal sin which thrives because of it. Put simply, because of original sin, we are born to die.

Original sin is clearly and conclusively the teaching of the Bible. Please see, “How are original sin and imputed sin different?” below.

Jesus and Original Sin

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 18 explains that original sin is composed of three things:

Quest. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?

Ans. 18. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. (Rom. 5:12, 19; 5:10-20; Eph. 2:1-3; Jas. 1:14-15; Matt. 15:19).

So, three things are illuminated for us in this catechism: (1) the guilt of Adam's first sin [which is imputed to all those descending from him by ordinary generation]; (2) the want of original righteousness; and (3) the corruption of the whole nature which is commonly called "original sin."

Jesus is not guilty of Adam’s first sin; he is the second and last man Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). Nor is Jesus in want of original righteousness; he is righteous and gives his invisible church his righteousness (Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Matt. 12:18; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). Because he doesn’t possess original sin, Jesus was and still is sinless! In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Peter says: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22; cf. 1 Pet. 1:19). John emphasizes this same fact saying: “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5; cf. Heb. 4:15; 7:26; Jas. 1:13). According to these apostles, and others, Jesus never sinned. But how can this be if everyone was born with original sin?

I believe Calvin best explains why Jesus didn’t inherit original sin:

It is childish trifling to maintain, that if Christ is free from all taint, and was begotten of the seed of Mary, by the secret operation of the Spirit, it is not therefore the seed of the woman that is impure, but only that of the man. We do not hold Christ to be free from all taint, merely because he was born of a woman unconnected with a man, but because he was sanctified by the Spirit, so that the generation was pure and spotless, such as it would have been before Adam’s fall. [5]

Because of the divine operation of Holy Spirit, Jesus didn’t inherit original sin. [6] Similar to the first Adam in the Garden becoming a living soul (Gen. 2:7), so the second and last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47) became a living soul free of original sin in Mary’s womb. As the angel of the Lord said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20).

We should also note that Jesus at least implied the doctrine of original sin in his teaching. Nowhere do we read that Jesus thought that one must be taught to sin. Throughout Scripture it is assumed — even by Jesus — that all are sinners, and with good reason. Matthew 7:11 begins with, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children …” John 9:7 states, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Clearly, Christ understood that the people to whom he was speaking were evil, depraved and wicked.

Jesus also taught, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). When did such hearts full of sin come into being? It happened at conception. As a result, Jesus maintained that all must be born again (John 3:1-8). It was Jesus who chose Paul as an apostle (Acts 9:5) — the apostle who would later write Romans 5:12-21, which is the "text of texts" on original sin?

Enns and Original Sin

Some theologians don’t begin with “the fear of the Lord” as their starting point for all Christian thought (Psa. 111:10; Prov. 1:7). Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) in his book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker, 2005) denies the inspiration of Scripture. He sees the Bible as full of contradictions. He contends that the writers of Scripture often present myth as history. When reading Enns, it is very difficult to determine what in the Old Testament (especially Genesis) is historical truth and what is not.

Later in another book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Brazos, 2012), Enns undermines the authority, accuracy, and historicity of the book of Genesis. From what I deduce, Enns believes that the Pentateuch was not written as literal history. [7] He even denies the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Enns endorses his own modified view of theistic evolution (see "What is Theistic Evolution?" below). He sees Adam as one of a number of already exiting human beings in early history that the writers of Scripture merely selected to develop their theological views. He maintains that Adam should be seen as proto-Israel. In other words, Adam’s story is not about the beginning of humanity, but about Israel’s beginnings. However, he inconsistently does believe that the apostle Paul believed in the historical Adam, yet maintains that doesn’t mean the rest of the church must today. See Footnote #7.

On the other hand, those within Christianity believe that God always speaks the truth: “God is true” (John 3:33) and his words are “trustworthy and true” (Rev. 22:6), so he “will not lie” (1 Sam. 15:29), and he “never lies” (Tit. 1:2l cf. Num. 23:19) because “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). And since God is immutable, does “not change” (Mal. 3:6), and remains “the same” forever (Psa. 102:27), his Word, the Bible, is “unchangeable” as well (Heb. 6:16-18). Since he “cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13), he is eternally self-consistent and noncontradictory. Moreover, God is omniscient. In other words, “his understanding is beyond measure” (Psa. 147:5) and he “knows everything” (1 John 3:20). Thus, we affirm that God cannot and did not cause to be written in his Word anything that he merely thought may be true but in fact is only a myth. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21; cf. 2 Sam. 23:2) and “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible was written “for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4).

With this foundation, we may now look at Enns’ question in "5 Old Testament Reasons Why 'Original Sin' Doesn’t Work" [8] and expose some weaknesses and errors in his arguments. He begins by asking: “Where in Genesis or in the Old Testament as a whole is Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden described as the cause of universal human sinfulness and guilt?” He then spells out his five reasons.

1. Inherited sinfulness is not one of the curses on Adam.

All three parties are cursed by God for this act of disobedience, and those curses have lasting consequences for the human drama. Fair enough, but note the consequences for Adam: from now (1) growing food will be hard work, and (2) death will be a fact of life.

Note what is not said: “And a third thing, Adam. From now on all humanity will be stained by your act of disobedience, born in a hopeless and helpless state of sin, objects of my displeasure and wrath.” If Genesis did say that, it would clear up a lot. But it doesn’t.

Death is a pretty huge stain! It speaks volumes on God’s displeasure with sin and sinners revealing one of the undeniable results of original sin.

Please look again at Enns’ second point: “death will be a fact of life.” According to Scripture, there was no physical race before Adam and Eve (Acts 17:26). And there was no human death before the Fall. But after the fall of Adam and the introduction of original sin, people began to physically die. Paul teaches us death (Rom. 5:12, 14, 17, 21) and condemnation (Rom. 5:16, 18) are the result of original sin – as are those individual sins that flow from it. Original sin was passed on to the entire human race in the garden (Rom. 5:12-21).

While proof that this curse can be found throughout Scripture, let’s look briefly at Genesis 8:21 which states, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (cf. Gen. 6:5; Matt. 15:19). First, notice the allusion back to Genesis 3 and Adam’s curse (“curse the ground because of man” – see Gen. 3:17-19). Second, the Hebrew word for "intention" (trans. Heb., ye.tser) means form, framing, purpose, framework, pottery, graven image, man (as formed from the dust), purpose, imagination, device (intellectual framework). In context, it refers to man’s bent or his nature. Moses wrote that this bent is “evil” and that this is the case from his “youth” (trans. Heb., naur, meaning early life). And when does this teenage heart receive its depraved bent nature? At its beginning, its conception (Psa. 51:4; 58:3; Prov. 22:15). Asked another way, when does a leopard, who can’t change its spots, become a leopard and get its spots? (Jer. 13:23)? [9] At its creation, of course.

Since Adam’s original sin, all mankind (save Christ) has been conceived in sin. In accordance with the Fall, man is shaped in iniquity and is a transgressor from the womb. So, by nature he is a child of wrath and warrants the curse of the law not only upon himself, but all his offspring. As Matthew Henry states, “The flood washed away the race of wicked men, but it did not remove sin from man's nature, who being conceived and born in sin, thinks, devises, and loves wickedness, even from his youth, and that as much since the flood as before.” [10]

2. Throughout the Old Testament, pleasing God through obedience is both expected, commanded, and doable.

Yes indeed, God is terribly mad about sinful acts, especially when his people, the Israelites, do them. But—and I can’t stress this enough—implicit in all of God’s acts of wrath and punishment is the idea that the Israelites were most certainly capable of not sinning. That’s the whole point of the law: follow it and be blessed, disobey and be cursed. The choice is clear and attainable, so do the right thing. …

In fact, some Old Testament figures actually seem to pull it off pretty well: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. No, they weren’t “perfect” but that’s exactly the point. God seems fine with some of his people getting it basically right and using them for some key task. Nowhere does God say to these people, “Great effort guys, but . .. you know . . . that Adam thing. Sorry. My eternal wrath remains upon you.”

The Bible, unlike Enns, teaches that God’s commands to obey do not necessarily always imply full ability to comply. Perhaps an example would help. When a police officer stops someone and has them do a DUI/DWI field sobriety test, he might command them to say their ABCs backwards, or to stretch out their hands horizontal to their body and walk in a straight line, or touch their nose with their finger while looking upwards. However, these commands do not imply the driver's ability to do them. The officer stopped the violator suspecting the person was driving while intoxicated. The officer is not expecting a positive result from his tests! Clearly, the commands he gives aren't meant to establish the person's ability to do them, rather an inability to do them, and to establish probable cause as to the person's inability to safely drive a vehicle.

Contrary to Enns’ thinking, we should look at God’s purpose for the law as Paul explains in Galatians 3:19-22:

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

According to Scripture, “follow it and be blessed, disobey and be cursed” isn’t the reason for the law. While these are some of the results of the law, they are not its reason for being!

Briefly, from Galatians 3:19-22 we learn there are two reasons for the law. While the law couldn’t give life (Gal. 3:21), God spent well over a thousand years (from Moses to Christ) exposing the sinfulness of sin of Israel. Remember our DUI illustration above? In a manner of speaking, God conducted a lot of DUI field sobriety tests and Israel continually failed them. He continuously challenged Israel’s heart with his law laying their hearts wide open. Israel showed itself to be unceasingly intoxicated with sin. Sin abounded! Again and again in the text of the Bible, Israel is shown as loving sin in its rejection of God’s law and its widespread idolatry and pagan religious practices, etc.

The law reveals that we can’t get it right, but “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20). What does the law do? It exposes our need of Christ and his cross! (Gal. 3:22). We are totally dependent on grace alone to remove our heart of stone and give us a soft heart (Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:3, 5; 2 Cor. 3:3; 5:17).

So, God didn’t give us as set of Nike’s and say, “just do it.” Instead he gave us Jesus who “just did it.” Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! And those that got it right in the Old Testament were those who, by faith, looked toward the cross yet unseen by them (Heb. 11:1-12:2).

In addition, Enns should be reminded that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26). And since the wages of sin is death, this means sin isn’t done with us until our death or the last day! On the cross, Christ delivered us from the sentence of eternal spiritual death. However, though the cross is a completed act, there is a "now but not yet" feature to our deliverance. The saint’s deliverance consists of the salvation from penalty of sin (past justification), salvation from power of sin (present ongoing sanctification), and salvation from presence of sin (future glorification). [11] Today's living justified saint is in the ongoing sanctification stage. Sin is still hanging around and the saint still has to fight against it.

No one can undo Adam’s original sin. We are all struck by it and are stuck with it. And original sin and individual sin aren’t the same. Actual sin flows from Adam’s original sin, the sin that changed man's condition into having a sin nature. Individual sin expresses and acts out this change in thought, word and deed. We’re not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.

It is true that because of Christ, the saint doesn’t have to walk in individual sin. But this is equally true: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). So, though we have the power not to sin, we’re still occasionally going to sin this side of glory as part of ongoing sanctification. We observe this in the apostle Paul who after his salvation continued to struggle with sin (cf. Rom. 7:14-25) and ultimately thanked God for grace alone, in Christ, for his deliverance (Rom. 8:1). Even Enns admits that Old Testament figures only “pull it off pretty well” and “they weren’t perfect.”

In the Old Testament there were lots of sacrifices — the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering, etc. — because no one could get it right! And getting it almost perfect, like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, didn't satisfy God. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” Only the perfect sinless sacrifice of Christ satisfies God (Isa. 53:5-6, 10-11; Rom. 5:1; Heb. 9:26; cf. Rom. 5:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21).

3. With one exception, Adam disappears after Genesis 5.

After Genesis 5, Adam wanders off the Old Testament stage until 1 Chronicles 1:1, the beginning of the nine-chapter list of names in 1 Chronicles 1-9. Adam’s name is first (of course), but he’s just one name along with the pages of other names. He’s not the bad guy.

Throughout the entire rest of the Old Testament story, Adam doesn’t even warrant a mention. If Adam was really the person who set the whole world on a downward sin cycle, again, I’m not sure why it’s kept such a big secret.

First, let's look at Acts 17:26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” "One man” refers to Adam. From the “one man,” Adam, came “every nation of mankind” upon “all the face of the earth.” So, Adam is seen on the biblical stage throughout the Old and New Testaments, and Adam’s original sin is not missing. It’s right there front and center! And “every nation” came from Adam! The historical Adam wasn’t selected from among many others; he was the very first! I suggest, unlike Dr. Enns, we shouldn’t devote ourselves “to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations” (1 Tim. 1:4, 7; cf. 2 Tim. 2:23; 4:4; Tit. 3:9).

Consider also 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44, which is an abbreviated genealogy of a "Hall of Sinners" — people who made up part of the Old Testament visible church. Biblical scholars understand that word order is important in translation and understanding a text, so of course the list begins with the first sinner, Adam himself. If my math is correct, there are 886 male names, 25 female names, and 25 names for nations or people groups. That’s a whole lot of sinners and a horde of sins to demonstrate the ongoing effects of original and individual sin. And it all began with Adam, the original sinner!

In 1 Chronicles 1:4 Noah is mentioned. Sin elevated to such a point in Noah’s time that God destroyed the world (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). Noah became drunk after the flood (Gen. 9:21) and Ham (1 Chron. 1:4) did a despicable thing (Gen. 9:22-25). 1 Chronicles 2-3 makes reference to David who was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the deception and murder of her husband Uriah. There is a focus in the text on Levi (1 Chron. 6:1) and the priests (1 Chron. 6:10). What did the Levites do? They gave offerings and sacrifices for sin — which began in Adam’s time (Gen. 3:21; 4:3-4). We are familiar with Saul (1 Chron. 8:33) who was a sinful man (1 Sam. 13:13-14). Sin is a very long chain and has many links with a web of multiple interconnecting reciprocities, all going back to the original sin in the garden.

Indeed, everyone in the Chronicles list was a sinner because of Adam’s original sin and their own sin! Adam’s name might not be mentioned on every page of the Bible, but the effects of his original sin are observed in every life since his fall and reveals our need of Christ (Gal. 3:19-22).

4. Adam is not blamed for Cain’s act of murder.

If Cain’s act were caused by a hardwired state of sinfulness due to what Adam did, here is where you would mention it—at least hint at it. Instead, Cain’s act is seen as a repeat of Adam’s disobedience (there is a lot of overlap in vocabulary between chapters 3 and 4) rather than a result.

Suppose we ask Dr. Enns how his article made it onto the internet. We’d no doubt get back a reply something like, "I used a keyboard, computer and internet connection." We could then say, "But Dr. Enns, you didn’t state this in your article. If your article were caused by a hardwired state of a keyboard, computer and internet connection, here is where you would mention it—at least hint at it." Even Dr. Peter Enns doesn’t always state the obvious!

What was Eve’s reaction to the birth of Cain? She said, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen. 4:1, compare Seth’s birth in Gen. 4:25). What was she thinking? Remember, God had promised that the seed of “the woman” would crush the head of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. Eve thought the promise was going to be fulfilled immediately. While she was a few centuries early, she plainly understood the ongoing effect of her husband’s original sin. So, while God doesn’t need to state the obvious in Genesis 4, he does imply the doctrine of original sin.

We also see in Genesis 4 that Cain and Abel display a result of Adam’s original sin. This is very clear because Genesis 3 ends with God’s sacrifice for the first couple’s sin (Gen. 3:21; cf. 1 Pet. 1:19-20; cf. John 1:29), and Genesis 4 begins with the recognition of sin (both original and individual) which resulted in Cain and Abel’s sacrifices (Gen. 4:3-4). Actual sin flows from original sin. Cain and Abel are seen as sacrificing for actual sins, which implies the reality of original sin.

Why did anger arise within Cain (Gen. 4:5-7) in a “very good” world (Gen. 1:31)? How was murder even a thought in the mind of Cain? It's because the effects of Adam’s fall already existed in Genesis 3 and continued into Genesis 4. Cain received his heart of sin at his birth, and Jesus would explain that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

Genesis 4 isn’t “a repeat of Adam’s disobedience” as Enns maintains. Rather, Genesis 4 Cain had actual sin as a result of Adam’s original sin in the garden. It demonstrates man’s new fallen nature because of this sin. Infected with original sin, Cain, as his own person, was responsible for his own individual sins. So, Adam wasn’t responsible for the sins of his son Cain. And throughout history each and every person is responsible for their own individual sins (Jas. 1:14-15).

5. Likewise, Adam is not blamed for the flood.

God wipes out all life in a flood because of the complete and thorough mess humans have made of it all. But look at Genesis 6:6-7. There we see that this escalation of sinfulness, which has now reached its boiling point, seems to take God by surprise. …

He doesn’t say, “Well, of course, we all saw this coming, what with Adam’s disobedience in the Garden and all. I just wanted it to get really bad before I acted.” Rather, God is “grieved” and “sorry” about how out of hand all this has gotten.

In Genesis 6:5 we read: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Notice that the text says that every intention — not just some of their intentions — of the thoughts of man’s heart were continually evil. Every intention of man was evil because man's intentions didn’t and couldn’t bring forth glory to God (Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 10:31). Note the word “continually.” This speaks of man’s constant, ongoing, sinful nature after the Fall! Clearly, original sin and the actual sin that flows from it were present at the time of the Noah and the flood in avalanche form.

The earth, the waters, the animals, and Adam and Eve and all their posterity all suffered as a result the Fall. And we still suffer. Paul tells us: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22). We obtain a brief glimpse of this fact at the time of Noah and the Flood, where the earth, the waters, the animals, and all humanity (save Noah and his family) were lost in the flood waters as well. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23). The waters that flooded the world at the time of Noah were made at creation. Original sin is stamped all over this picture.

The all-knowing God isn’t ever caught off-guard. He is actually patient with sinners (Rom. 2:4), including those of Noah’s day (1 Pet. 3:19-20). Adam’s original sin inspired a rebellion of individual sins that had snowballed and reached a peak in Noah’s day. With a population of somewhere between 750,000 and 4 million at the time, think of all the infants who died though they had no actual sin. Like an earthly judge who is grieved to pass out a death sentence, man’s depravity deeply grieved God because his holiness mandated punishment. Original sin was present in each and every person in that day just as it is today. Likewise, another "sin peak" is coming and will be judged (cf. Matt. 24:37).

Again, referring to Acts 17:26 which states, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,” the phrase “from one man” refers to Adam. “Every nation” includes those in Noah’s time. Consider also how just as Levi was in the loins of Abraham when he paid tithes to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:9-10), so all mankind was within the loins of Adam when he lost it all. [12] Adam’s original sin was present at the Flood, and it is in all of us today!

In Conclusion

We have two Testaments but we have one Word! The Holy Spirit inspired all of Scripture. And like many other doctrines — the Trinity, Messiah’s identity, the last days, etc. — the doctrine of original sin is more clearly defined in the New Testament.

To do justice to any biblical topic, we do well to search all the Scripture for the truth, indeed the whole truth. When we add both Testaments to our reading plan, we'll discover numerous reasons why original sin is biblical (Matt. 15:18-19; Mark 7:20-23; John 3:6; Acts 17:26; Rom. 3:10-18, 23; 5:12-21; 7:23; 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; 15:21-22, 45-49; Eph. 2:1-3; 5:8; Jas. 1:14-15, et. al.).

Of course, reading by itself isn’t enough. We must also be born again so we can believe and understand Scripture, it's truth (Prov. 30:5), inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 2:21), inerrancy (Psa. 12:6), and infallibility (Psa. 19:7; 111:7) as a sure word of testimony (2 Pet. 1:19) and worthy of all acceptance (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8). And as opposed to writing books, obtaining tenure, being unique in our so-called interpretations and satisfying man’s curiosities, we need to “be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, [workers] who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NKJV). Otherwise, we may become like those who twist, turn and torture the text according to their own “thoughts and ways” (Isa. 55:8-9), “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7), thus becoming “insane” with our “great learning” (Acts 26:24), more “ignorant and unstable,” and wandering from Scripture to our “own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Job 15:14: “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?”


[1] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Phil: Westminster, 1975), 2.1.8.

[2] In context, the word “hate” in Romans 9:13 doesn’t mean “loved less.” Since this passage is from Malachi we must begin there to understand Paul’s point. In Malachi 1:2-3, God is defending his love for Israel by reminding them of the definite distinction he made way back when Jacob and Esau were yet in Rebecca’s womb. In context, God isn’t saying I loved Esau less. What does he say of Esau and his seed? “…They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord” (Mal. 1:4). This is total rejection, ultimate condemnation. And this declaration was made while Esau was yet in the womb!

Later, it is written of Esau that “no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Heb. 12:16-17). God, the Potter, designed Esau for his own purposes (Rom. 9:14-23). As John states, the reprobate are “condemned already” (John 3:18; cf. Prov. 16:4; Matt. 25:41; Rom 9:11, 22; 1 Pet. 2:7-8; 2 Pet. 2:3; Jude 1:4).

[3] Gill, John. “Proverbs 22:15.” John Gill's Exposition of the Bible. Kindle.

[4] Edwards, Jonathan. “The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume 1, p. 188.

[5] Inst. 2.13.4.

[6] There are different views on how original sin is applied to each generation. Some maintain that is through the agency of the Holy Spirit as Calvin did. Others say it is seminally, through the male and not the female. Though female circumcision existed in OT times, some in this later group use the Bible’s mandatory male circumcision in the OT to strengthen their case. How did Jesus avoid original sin?

[7] Other OT authors believe the truths presented in Genesis (i.e. Neh. 9:6; Psa. 102:25; Isa. 44:24). Luke established that Jesus descended from the historical Adam (Luke 3:38). Matthew traces Jesus genealogy back to Abraham and David (Matt 1:1), which Luke traces back to the Adam (Luke 3:31, 34, 38). Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6, bases his explanation of marriage on the text of Genesis 1-2 thus viewing Genesis as authoritative and true. Jude 1:14 states, “Enoch, the seventh from Adam” revealing that he acknowledges that Adam was a historical person. Add to this the numerous NT texts that support God’s creation in ordinary days (such as, Mark 10:6-9; 13:19-20; Acts 3:21; 4:24; 14:15-17; 17:24-31; Rom. 1:18-25; 8:19-23; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Heb. 1:10; 4:3-4; 9:25-26; 11:3-4; Jas. 3:9; 2 Pet. 3:3-8; Rev. 4:11; 14:6-7; 21:1-5; 22:2-3.20, etc.). So, there is overwhelming evidence that Genesis is not myth, but literal history. Please see “What About Hebrews 11:3?” below.

[8] Enns, Peter. “5 Old Testament Reasons Why 'Original Sin' Doesn’t Work.” ( Last accessed 3 Sept. 2020.

[9] Leopards are born with a dull grey coat with barely visible spots that slowly develop as the cub matures. We can view the barely visible spots as original sin and their later more defined development as personal or actual sin.

[10] Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Concise). Genesis 8:21. ( Last Accessed 4 Sept. 2020.

[11] Three distinct facets of salvation:


Salvation from penalty of sin (1 Thess. 1:10; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:9-10; Matt.1:21). It is done in the past and only once (Rom. 5:1; Heb. 12:23; Rom. 4:1-13; 8:32-34; Phil. 3:9). It is imputed (legally credited) from outside (Rom. 4:6-8, 11, 22-24) and is God’s work for us (Rom. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:24).


Salvation from power of sin (2 Tim. 4:18; Phil. 1:6; Rom. 6:18; 2 Cor. 7:1). This is continuous (progressive) (Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13; 3:21; Rom. 6:1-14, 18; 8:1-16; 2 Tim. 4:18; Col. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:22). It is imparted from within by the Holy Spirit and the Word, etc. (Phil. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2). It is God’s work in us.


Salvation from presence of sin (Rom. 8:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-2) It deals with the future (Rom. 8:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-2). It is created and given in heaven by God (2 Cor. 5:1-2; Rom. 8:21-23). It is God’s work to us.

[12] See The Doctrine of Predestination in Twelve Bullet Points

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What About Hebrews 11:3?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).