The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes "that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression." (second Article of Faith).

While most other Christian churches teach a similar doctrine they also believe that each of us have been born as sinners and therefore willfully sin continually because that's our nature. It's something we can't help doing. It's as natural to us as barking is to a dog. The reason why many Christians believe this is because they say our sinful nature has been genetically transmitted to us by Adam and Eve after they openly rebelled against God while living in the garden of Eden.

Traditional Christianity teaches that, rather than being appreciative of what God had done for them, our first parents openly defied their Creator when they ate forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they wanted the knowledge that God had. For this reason most Christians view our first parents as being selfish, greedy, arrogant, and proud.

And it is because of this defiance that most Christian churches teach that God cursed not only Adam and Eve but also their offspring whereby, from the very moment of our conception, each person is born with the same tendency to be selfish, greedy, proud, ungrateful, and rebellious, just as our original parents were. That is why when Protestants read the Bible they believe it teaches that not one person is capable of pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6), because God considers all people sinners who have fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23) and that God considers even our best efforts to do good as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Most Christians believe there is not one person who does good (Romans 3:12) because all of our thoughts are continually evil (Genesis 6:5; Ecclesiates 9:3; Jeremiah 17:9).

Christians teach that the reason why all of this is true is because of what they call "original sin," which is defined, not as any action on our part, but rather as a state of being we inherited. It is an ethical deformity in our genes that prevents us from doing anything morally good. Therefore, to believe in the doctrine of original sin is to believe that mankind doesn't have the ability to obey God's commandments. And if that is true then we are forced to conclude that all of us are being punished for Adam's sin.

However, the LDS Church holds a different view. They teach that each person has the ability to choose not to sin if they so desire. If this was not so then God would not require us to keep His commandments (Ex. 15:26; Lev. 22:31; Deut. 5:10; Prov. 4:4; Matt. 19:17; John 15:10; 1 Cor. 7:19; 1 John 5:2-3).

While traditional Christianity disagrees with this view, they nonetheless believe that in the beginning Adam had the freedom to choose for himself either to obey or disobey God's commandments and they further believe that if Adam had chosen to obey God he would have remained in God's good grace. However, the Bible also tells us that each of us are subject to that same principle. Just as Adam would have stayed in God's love had he been obedient, Jesus likewise taught, "If ye [as Adam's children] keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love" (John 15:10). The position of the LDS Church is that all of us have the ability to obey God, just as Adam and Eve did. If we keep His commandments we will be blessed but if we choose not to obey God, then we too will be punished for our sins just as Adam was punished for his.

However, most Christian churches today say we aren't capable of keeping God's commandments on our own. Although they believe that man has free will, the doctrine of original sin declares this does not extend to matters of morality. It is their belief that even when man tries to do good, it is never good enough to please God because our actions are tainted by sin. Therefore, to believe in the doctrine of original sin is to believe that man has no freedom to choose to do good in a moral or spiritual sense but can only choose to do evil.

There are some Christians who argue that man does have the power to choose to obey God while also saying that we have been born in sin. In this way they seek to explain why God will punish us for our own sins rather than for what Adam and Eve did. However, these two doctrines are incompatible with one another. To believe in the doctrine of original sin is to believe that man does not have the power to keep God's commandments.

And it is this concept that forms the very foundation of the most fundamental of all Protestant beliefs which is that we are saved by grace alone as a gift from God rather than because of anything we do (Ephesians 2:8). This doctrine teaches that man is incapable of doing anything that will secure his salvation, therefore, salvation is something that God has to do for man without man doing anything in return to deserve it. As such, the doctrine of "saved by grace alone" renders meaningless the idea that man has the freedom to choose to do good or evil. That is why the concept of original sin is crucial to most Christians because it undermines and opposes the doctrine of "saved by grace alone."

On the other hand, the LDS Church's concept of salvation is based upon the idea that man must endure to the end in keeping the commandments of God. Under this doctrine, it is essential that man has the freedom to choose for himself. In this way, when he voluntarily chooses to obey God, he is blessed for his efforts, and when he voluntarily chooses to disobey God then he is punished. That is why the LDS Church teaches that man will be punished for his own sins and not because of Adam's transgression.

These two concepts of man's inherited nature are fundamentally opposite each another. As such, only one of them can be correct. Since both sides quote biblical verses to support their argument, appealing to the Bible to settle this issue is both futile and unproductive. Therefore, we must look to other means to resolve this conflict of ideas.

If what traditional Christians teach is correct then we should find ample evidence of this doctrine not only being taught in the early Christian church but also among the pre-Christian era Jews, since Christianity is based on and is an outgrowth of the Jewish faith as contained in the Old Testament. However, among the writings of traditional ancient Rabbi's, the concept of original sin is not found in Jewish theology and nowhere is it found in the all the writings of Josephus. Instead what we find is just the opposite. What the Rabbi's continually emphasized was the need for man's obedience to God and the accountability he had for his own actions, echoing the words of God to Cain, "If thou doest well shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doesn't not well, sin lieth at the door" (Genesis 4:7). The obvious implication of this statement is that man is capable of doing good and thereby being accepted by God.

In the days when Jesus walked the earth, the Pharisees had carried this concept to extremes by over emphasizing the need to keep God's commandments. While the Pharisees were only one of several different Jewish sects, they were nonetheless the most predominate and one that astutely studied God's law. They were also the religion of the masses and many of the early Jewish converts to Christianity were former Pharisees. The apostle Paul is perhaps the best known of these but he was by no means the only one.

It was the Pharisees who ran the synagogues and it was in the synagogues where Jesus preached as did Paul. In the early part of His ministry Jesus Himself seems to have been intimately associated with many Pharisees. While He condemned them for their practices, the scriptures indicate He seemed to approve of their doctrine. Concerning the Pharisees, Jesus once told His disciples "All therefore whatsoever they (the Pharisees) bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matthew 23:3). While the scriptures are silent on what the Pharisees believed about original sin, since they placed heavy emphasis on keeping the commandments, it is certain that they did not believe in such a doctrine.

It has been argued by some that the Jews understanding of the Old Testament was incomplete and that Christ came to more fully explain it. Therefore, it is said that the concept of original sin is a Christian doctrine that was unknown or misunderstood by the Jews. But, if this is true, then we should expect to see leaders of the early Christian church explaining this new concept in greater detail. In fact, it would be important that they did this as they did with other newly revealed doctrines.

For example, thousands of years prior to the birth of Jesus the Jews believed that they alone were God's chosen people and that God despised the Gentiles. Therefore, when the apostles began preaching the gospel to the Gentiles this was a new concept that the Jewish Christians had a hard time accepting. That is why the apostle Paul, in particular, spent considerable time explaining this new doctrine.

The same is true about Jesus Himself. To this day most Jews do not believe He is the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament and the same was true back in the days of the apostles. Therefore, we see the writers of the New Testament repeatedly showing how Jesus was the prophesied Messiah spoken of by the ancient prophets.

In the same way, if the concept of original sin was a change from the way the Jews once believed then the leaders of the Christian faith would have had to clarify this point of doctrine. However, nowhere in the New Testament do we find any clear teaching on this subject. Instead, what we find are a few short, obscure statements here and there that some people have interpreted as referring to original sin.

But, if their interpretation is correct then we should expect to see references to this in the writings of those who led the church after the apostles had died. However, when we look at the writing of those who lived in the second century, such as Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and others, we find no strong evidence that they believed in the concept of original sin. In fact, just the opposite seems to be true. The idea of the agency of man to choose for himself to either keep or not keep the commandments of God was a constant theme among these ancient writers. (see Ask The Apostles )

In the third century, this same theme of man's free agency can be seen in the writings of the first church theologians such as Tertullian and Origin. It wasn't until the beginning of the fifth century (around 400 AD) that a man named Augustine, who was the bishop of the city of Hippo, first introduced the term "original sin," using Romans 5:12-21as the basis for his belief. He taught that because of what Adam did in transgressing God's commandments mankind was left in a "massa peccati" or a "mess of sin." By that Augustine meant that man was in such an unholy condition that he could do nothing else but sin. And it was because of this condition that Augustine taught that man was incapable of doing anything good, including believing in God. It was his opinion that man could no more draw himself to God than an empty glass could fill itself. Therefore, he reasoned that in order for man to do what God has commanded we need His divine gift of grace, without which it is impossible for us to keep the commandments.

While Augustine believed that man did have the will to act on his own, he felt that such freedom only extended to earthly matters. However, when it came to making moral decisions, Augustine taught that because of man's inherited sinful condition he was not capable of performing anything good of a spiritual nature. Augustine believed that man's only moral freedom was to do evil. He further taught that it was only by God working on the soul of man that man could have the true freedom to do good. As a result of this doctrine, Augustine argued that is was because of man's tainted nature that he was completely and entirely dependent on God for salvation because there was nothing man could do to help save himself. That is why the doctrine of original sin, as taught by Augustine, denies that man has any free agency to do good.

Martin Luther, who is considered to be the father of the Reformation, was an Augustine monk. As such, his view of salvation was greatly influenced by this fifth century bishop of Hippo. In the second article of Luther's Augsburg Confession he wrote: "It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mother's womb and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God."

John Calvin, one of the early pioneers of the Reformation movement, quoted from the writings of Augustine more than from any other theologian. In his Westminster Confession of Faith he summarizes his doctrine of original sin as: "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto." Calvin referred to this condition as man's "total depravity."

John Wesley, who founded the Methodist church, in Article VII of his Book of Discipline expressed his belief that "Original sin standeth not in following [the deeds] of Adam but it is the corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness and of his own nature inclined to evil and that continually."

Thus, we see that the teachings of Augustine had a profound influence on what Protestants came to believe about man and salvation.

While not all of today's Christians churches completely agree with everything Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Wesley taught, they nonetheless accept the basic premise of their doctrine. Therefore, what we see today is many variations of this theme being taught by many different denominations. However, today's Christian ministers say that their belief in original sin is not based on what Augustine taught but on what the Bible says. But the Bible was Augustine's source for his doctrine, as was it the source for Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. Yet, this was the same source used by the early church leaders of the first four centuries who never taught such a doctrine, while the Old Testament scriptures is what the ancient Rabbi's relied upon for their beliefs. What this clearly illustrates is how the scriptures can easily be interpreted in many differ ways.

But, if the Bible does teach the doctrine of original sin, then it presents us with some problems in reconciling other biblical teachings.

It is acknowledged by all Christians that God is perfect, and, if that is so, then everything He does is perfect. Christians cite Psalm 51:5 which reads, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" as evidence that we are born in sin from the time of our conception and then cite 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 to show that man's sinful nature came about, not because of anything God did but because of what one man did. But in order to maintain such a belief a person has to accept that life results from nothing more than the biological union of a man and a woman without any interference from God.

However, the scriptures also declare that it is God who has made us and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3; Malachi 2:10). It is God who breathed into us the breath of life (Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4) and at death that spirit God gave us will return to Him (Eccl. 12:7). It is God's hand that has made and fashioned us (Psalm 119:73; Jeremiah 1:5) and that He has made all the delicate parts of our inner body and knit them together in our mother's womb (Psalm 129:13).

If we are to believe the Bible, then we have to believe that God made us. Therefore, if we believe in the doctrine of original sin we are forced to believe that a perfectly righteous God deliberately made us imperfect with a sinful nature and that He's going to punish us for the way we behave even though we have no other choice but to behave wickedly.

The Bible also tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that He loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son into the world, not to condemn us, but to save us (John 3:16-17). As parents we understand this principle very well. When a baby is born we love them even though they are completely incapable of controlling themselves. When a baby makes a smelly mess parents don't condemn the child but instead loving cleans up after them. However, according to the doctrine of original sin, we have to believe that even though God loves us enough to sacrifice His only Son, yet when we make a smelly mess of our life because we are incapable of controlling ourselves we are going to be condemned by this same loving God because of our works (Revelation 20:12) even though it is no more our fault when we sin than it is the fault of a baby when they make a mess in their diaper.

The doctrine of original sin also teaches that because of man's inherent sinful nature he doesn't even have the desire to seek after God and be reconciled to Him. His natural tendency is to rebel against God and everything God stands for, just as Adam did. What Augustine taught and what many Christians today believe is that unless God puts the desire into the heart of man, he will always remain in this state of defiance towards his Creator. But, unless God puts that desire into the heart of every man, woman, and child, then He is being selective concerning whom He's willing to save and whom He wants to condemn.

What most Christians believe in this regard is that God has NOT put that desire in every person. It is common to hear people give testimony of how they were once a lost sinner whose life was out of control until one day when God touched their heart and converted them to Christ. While that is a wonderful experience, it strongly implies that God doesn't do this with everyone. Instead, such testimony tends to confirm that this happens only to certain selected people.

Yet the scriptures state that God seeks to save all men everywhere and that He "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). If that is so, then that contradicts the doctrine of original sin which states we can't come to God unless God comes to us first. Since God doesn't come to everyone then the result of the doctrine of original sin is that God is indeed willing that some should perish while decreeing that only certain, selected individuals should come to repentance.

The Bible defines sin as "the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:9) and, in this case, the law is what contains the commandments of God. A commandment is nothing more than God's stated will for man. It sets forth what God wants man to do. Therefore, sin is opposition to the will of God. It occurs when a person sets their will against that of God's. It is a willful refusal to obey God.

According to the doctrine of original sin, Adam and Eve knew what God had told them but then deliberately set their will against His and intentionally defied their Creator and Provider, then lied about what they had done when caught. However, the scriptures indicate that they were innocent in the beginning and did not possess the knowledge of good and evil. If that is so, then it was not possible for them to willfully sin. While they did indeed violate God's commandment, they did so in innocence. In fact, the scriptures specifically state they had to be tricked (beguiled) into disobedience. To say that they deliberately set their will against God's in an act of intentional rebellion is to say they already possessed the knowledge of good and evil before they ate of its fruit.

But, according to the Bible, they came to understand the difference between doing good and being evil only after they ate that fruit. Therefore, they had to have sinned in ignorance since they did not know evil. However, if we possess an evil nature that only allows us to resist the will of God, then it can't be said that we are willfully violating God's commandments. According to the doctrine of original sin, we violate God's law naturally without any conscious thought. And even when we consciously try to do what God wants, the doctrine of original sin says we can't do it, no matter how hard we try. If that is true, then it cannot be said that we are freely sinning. Instead, we're being coerced or beguiled to sin by our inherited evil nature.

Furthermore, the reason why parents discipline their children is to correct bad behavior. If God created us and loves each of us so much that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for our sins, then the purpose of God's punishment must be to cause us to turn from our sinful ways and follow correct behavior. But, according to what most Christians believe, God's purpose in punishing the wicked is not to rehabilitate them but to inflict eternal, vindictive retribution. However, this is inconsistent with the idea of a loving God.

This idea of God's punishment is made worse when we consider that Christ was ordained to be the Savior of the world before the earth was ever created (2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Peter 1:20). From the very beginning of creation God not only knew that Adam and Eve would disobey Him but He also knew that all of their children would be born incapable of doing anything else but sin. Yet before the foundation of the earth God still prepared a place of everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41) to punish mankind for doing something they couldn't help but do. That is the only conclusion we can come to if we accept the premise of original sin.

However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that while both physical and spiritual death has indeed come upon all mankind because of what Adam did, yet they also teach that we are nonetheless "free to act for ourselves-to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life" (2 Nephi 10:23). And because we are free to choose to do good or evil, God will either bless or punish us according to our choices. But that punishment is not for the purpose of condemning us but to help us learn to choose good over evil. That is what the principle of repentance is all about.

They further teach that God not only knew Adam would fall and that his children would be subject to sin, but that this was necessary for our spiritual growth. For "if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

"But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. [Therefore] Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man." That is why men "are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi 2:22-27).

When viewed in this light we eliminate all of the problems with the scriptures that we encounter when we believe in the doctrine of original sin.

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