Popular Christian blogger, Matthew Paul Turner, recently wrote a post entitled: “Pumpkins, Original Sin, and That Evangelical Illustration” in regards to speaking with his child’s teacher about an illustration that was presented in a school class. The account (and blog) can be found here: http://matthewpaulturner.com/2013/10/28/pumpkins-original-sin-and-that-evangelical-illustration/.
This illustration, in the spirit of the season, involved a pumpkin and God cleaning a pumpkin and scooping out all the “yucky stuff” in order to make the pumpkin new essentially. All of this as a metaphor for God spiritually saving a person and making that person a new creation in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Turner had an appropriate criticism of this goofy metaphor: “But beyond the theological issues I have with the Christian Pumpkin concept, I think tangible illustrations always fall short telling the mysteries of God. Because they are limited, too simplistic, and occasionally leave more questions than answers. For instance, if we’re going to take the pumpkin illustration literally (which is what we Christians tend to do), should we also tell the little kiddos that after God puts light inside a little pumpkin, it will start to decay, eventually wrinkling up and rotting until it’s shrunk into a hideous and disgusting clump of orangey mush on the front porch. And that, in all actuality, if God had left the pumpkin alone, it would have lived a much longer and happier life.” A compelling rebuttal and no argument from me on that point.
However, where I do have a beef, the theological issue that he has a problem with is that of original sin. Turner says: “For instance, I abhor the doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ which is the crux of this silly illustration, that we are all chockfull of dirty, nasty, slimy sin. And not only that, we were born that way. What a dreadful idea to teach anybody, let alone a child. And while Original Sin is a concept that a majority of America’s churches adhere to and teach, it’s not a biblical concept. It’s an idea that was manifested by St. Augustine and then tweaked by John Calvin and others.”
First of all, a definition: Original sin is the fallen state of humanity before God that resulted from Adam’s rebellion against God in Eden (see Genesis 3). Original sin clarifies that sin is not just an action, but a state of being before God.
Original sin is an idea that has long been a part of the Christian church across multiple denominations and spanning the annals of time. I’m unclear as to what Turner meant by “manifested by St. Augustine” but the development of this doctrine happened before this early philosopher of Hippo began writing. Irenaeus the Bishop of Lyons, in the second century was one of the first to allude to the doctrine. Church fathers such as Tertullian, Cryprian, Ambrose and later Martin Luther and John Calvin (during the protestant reformation) believed that humanity shared in Adam’s sin and that the condition of sinfulness was transferred through the human generations.
Irenaeus did not just invent this concept out of thin air either. While the Bible never has the term “original sin” inscribed within its pages, the concept is certainly taught. Turner brings up Psalm 51:5 in order to setup his rebuttal of Original Sin: “But it’s (original sin) not supported by scripture. And even when scripture does hint at the concept (the verse most often used is Psalm 51:5), the writer is pontificating about himself, not all of humanity. And too, he doesn’t tie his sin back to whatever happened in the Garden of Eden.”
In Psalm 51:5, King David speaks about the depths of his sin before God:
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Turner may have a solid point with this specific passage. Poetry often involves hyperbole and metaphoric language so rather than making a broad theological assessment, King David may have been poetically communicating the depths of his inquities before God.
However, there are many other passages in Scripture which directly talk about the concept of original sin without using the term. Turner very passionately communicates that this is not a Biblical concept. In contrast, here is the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-19 (ESV):
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all menbecause all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
In my view, this passage speaks for itself. Sin entered the world through one man and therefore sin was spread to all men and death as well. This is exactly the concept of original sin. The idea declares that humanity is fallen before God and that Adam represented, theologically, our race. There are other passages that communicate this perspective as well. Original sin is indeed a Biblical concept.
The Apostle Paul obviously didn’t write this Romans passage in a vacuum either. Being a former Pharisee and probably knowing the Torah very intimately, the fall in Genesis hints at the theme of original sin. Adam and Eve’s sin did not just affect them. The effect was upon human relationships, people’s relationship to work and to creation. Again, the curse communicated in Genesis 3:14-19 introduces the concept of fallenness and the effect was beyond Adam and Eve. This was the Israelite explanation for an imperfect, morally hazardous and difficult world.
I understand that the concept of original sin may be a difficult idea for many. Turner comments that this is a “dreadful idea to teach anybody, let alone a child”. I strongly disagree with this comment. Original sin speaks to the truth that we are all imperfect and that we battle bad desires within us as we live in this world. We may have temptations toward greed, revenge, hatred, racism, adultery, theft, ignoring the poor/oppressed and all the other negative vices that one can think about. To this point, all of us are the same and none of us is better than anybody else in the sight of God.
The Scriptures do not stop with the idea of original sin. In the same Romans passage above, Paul writes about Jesus who came to save us from sin. To restore us. To redeem us. Furthermore, all people (although we are sinful) are made in the image of God. That is also taught in Genesis and we are valuable to God as His creations. Our moral imperfections and inherited sin nature do not separate us from God’s love. That’s an idea Paul also wrote about (Romans 8:37-39).