original sin

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Adam and Eve are driven out of paradise . Fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel , early 16th century

Original sin or original sin ( Latin peccatum originale or peccatum hereditarium ) is a term in Christian theology for a state of disaster that was brought about by the fall of Adam and Eve (which has often only been understood symbolically since the Enlightenment) and to which every human being has been a descendant since then of these first parents.


The German term original sin is first used in Middle High German times from around 1225. The underlying Latin expression peccatum originale (literally 'original sin', 'original sin') encompassed both the sin of Adam and Eve as a result of their fall into sin ( lapsus Adami , peccatum primorum parentum , primum peccatum ) and the resulting original sin of mankind in general . In order to distinguish between the actively committed peccatum originale of the first parents and the peccatum originale of their children and descendants only passively acquired through descent from bodily or libidinal procreation, scholasticism since Alain de Lille differentiated between the (peccatum) original active (original sin, in active Understanding ') and (peccatum) original passive (' in passive understanding '), since Petrus von Tarantasia also between (peccatum) originale originans (' generating ') and (peccatum) originale originatum (' created '). Both distinctions have since become common property in theological literature and have been used to clarify terms even in recent times. In recent times, theological consideration has mostly not focused on the sin status of the first parents, but on that of humanity in general, so that the meaning of the term original sin has largely focused on the (passive) peccatum originale originatum , at least as a tendency .

The original state as a description of the state of Adam and Eve before the fall is the opposite of original sin; the concept of the Urstands already emerged in antiquity.

Original sin in Christianity

The term is understood differently in the Orthodox , Roman Catholic and the various evangelical traditions. Common in all Christian traditions is the teaching of the separation of man from God, conditioned by original sin. With the help of Jesus Christ , communion with God can be restored. Man alone does not have the strength for it. There are differences within the Christian denominations with regard to the type of path that must be taken to redemption ( doctrine of justification ).

Biblical basics

In the Gospels neither Jesus Christ nor the authors of the Gospels speak of Adam's fall , whose mistakes Jesus must undo. However, there are clear statements about the depravity of the world, which can be brought into harmony with the content of the later doctrine of original sin (cf. Joh 1,9–11  EU ; Joh 8,44  EU ).

The teachings of the apostle Paul

The apostle Paul develops a theology of sin and a related anthropology that can be considered the basis of the later doctrine of original sin, Rom 5.12  EU . In it Paul parallels the first man, Adam (the Hebrew word Adam simply means “man”), standing for all humanity , with the second Adam, Christ, standing for the new humanity. Just as mankind was delivered to death because of the sin of the first, it is saved from death because of the act of redemption of the second: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way he came Death to all people because ( eph 'hô ) all sinned. [...] if the many fell victim to death through the transgression of the one, then the grace of God and the gift that was brought about through the act of grace of the one man Jesus Christ have been abundantly bestowed on the many "( Rom. 5 , 12–17  EU ) The central point is emphasized again in the first letter to the Corinthians :

"For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive."

Original sin thus represents a specifically Christian dogma derived from the concept of salvation , which in Judaism has no direct doctrinal model.

Development of the history of dogma

Church fathers

The first time the Church writer Tertullian taught traducianism states that not only the body but also the soul in generating operation is mediated by the father over the seed of the child. On the other hand, the doctrine of creatianism formulated by the church father Laktanz says that the soul is newly created by God at the time of conception. Generatianism explains well the doctrine of original sin postulated later, because in this way Adam's sin is passed on to all subsequent generations. In the case of creatianism, however, it is initially not clear why the newly created soul should inherit the sin of its physical forefathers.

The church father Augustine of Hippo formulated the doctrine of original sin. He could not choose between generatianism and creatianism, because although he sympathized with creatianism, he recognized that it did not support his original sin teaching. Augustine presumably came across the doctrine of original sin because the Greek term eph 'hô from Rom 5.12  EU in the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate , was reproduced as in quo , that is: "In him (Adam) all sinned".

Augustine was probably referring to the Vetus Latina at hand:

"Per unum hominem peccatum intraverit in mundum, et per peccatum mors et ita in omnes homines pertransiit, in quo omnes peccaverunt."

- Translation: Sin came into the world through one person and death through sin and thus passed over to all people: in him all sinned.

Augustine taught: man come into the world laden with original sin. He therefore needs the grace of God for salvation. This was made possible through the incarnation , crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For this reason the apostle Paul spoke of Christ as the "new Adam". Man finds redemption through the sacrament of baptism , since the baptized is no longer subject to original sin. Therefore, infant baptism was particularly recommended for Augustine in order to wrest the underage child from the damnation that threatens him if it dies unbaptized. Nevertheless, man remains afflicted with the consequences of original sin in the mortal world, and this justifies an eternal punishment of sinners in hell .

In contrast to Augustine's doctrine of original sin is the Pelagianism represented by his British contemporary Pelagius . According to him, man is fully responsible for his own salvation . Adam's sin was not passed on to all later humans. Pelagius saw his thesis of possible sinlessness also supported by the large number of saints in the scriptures. In Pelagianism, the role of God's grace is secondary and Christ also only serves as a good example , not as a savior. Thus there is no need for infant baptism . Augustine, on the other hand, considered Pelagius' doctrine that man could, indeed must “earn” his own salvation, to be excessive. On the other hand, with a pastoral intent, he set the memory of the biblical writings , according to which man is not flawless and sinless. For Augustine, the knowledge of original sin was a protection against an unfulfillable claim to one's own perfection - and to that extent it was a relief and in no way oppressive. Pelagianism was condemned as heresy at the Council of Ephesus in 431 .

The doctrine of original sin is still central to Western Christianity, although the generatianism that supports it has been condemned several times by the Catholic Church and its binding doctrine today is creatianism, which tends to conflict with the doctrine of original sin.

Positions in the Orthodox Churches

According to the Orthodox Church , it was not Adam's sin as such, but the consequence of Adam's sin, death, that was inherited by his descendants and thus enslaved all of creation, which passed from its actually good nature into an unnatural bad state. The fear of death becomes the main cause of further sins in a "vicious circle". But people still have their free will even after the fall of man and are inwardly still capable and willing to do the good deeds that correspond to their actual, God-willed nature; however, good deeds are very difficult to do in enslaved creation. Since man could no longer come to God after the fall of man, God came to man in Christ and thus reconciled man and all of creation with himself again; The reconciled person gradually leaves the unnatural state and becomes free, his bondage to death and the world that is subjugated by it is loosened, whereby the resurrection and thus the complete overcoming of the bondage becomes possible. Good deeds are becoming more and more natural for him. It is emphasized that man has been reconciled to God and not God to man. The expression eph 'hô from Rom. 5:12 can also be understood as "therefore (that is, because of death) all sinned".

Positions of Reformation theologians from Luther to today

In the understanding of Martin Luther and most of the reformers , people have always been in a state of sin , which negatively influences their own actions from the start. Even the newborn child is sinful according to this understanding and therefore needs redemption. There is no cancellation of original sin through baptism; the Christian is justified by God ( doctrine of justification ), not made just. In Calvinism in particular, it is emphasized that human nature is already sinful in and of itself, even before any concrete act.

Positions in Catholic theology from the Council of Trent to the present day

The Council of Trent , triggered by the Reformation, finally dealt with this topic and stated in the Decretum de Peccato Originali that all people following Adam , with the exception of Mary (mother of Jesus) , are affected by original sin. However, the original sin is "completely" erased through baptism . Original sin is therefore by definition that deficiency in man that is completely overcome through baptism (or a corresponding turn to God, see baptism of desire ).

From the Catholic point of view, man draws God's displeasure through the fall of Adam , since man has lost the supernatural endowment of grace. Without grace, man cannot earn “supernatural perfection” through his good deeds. Thus, from conception onwards, he is already in the womb in the state of original sin, which leads to the fact that the human being is inclined to evil and the understanding no longer recognizes the good. The senses also no longer behave as supernatural demands. The way out of original sin is seen in Jesus Christ's death on the cross and the associated redemption .

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (KKK) it says u. a .:

“In connection with St. Paul always taught the church that the immeasurable misery that weighs on people and their tendency towards evil and death cannot be understood without the connection with Adam's sin and the fact that Adam passed on to us a sin from the we are all affected at birth and 'who is the death of the soul' [cf. K. v. Trient: DS 1512.]. Because of this certainty of faith, the Church gives baptism for the forgiveness of sins even to young children who have committed no personal sin. K. v. Trient: DS 1514]. "

- Ecclesia Catholica : Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1997) No. 403.

“However, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But through Revelation we know that Adam received the original holiness and righteousness not for himself alone, but for the whole of human nature. In giving in to the tempter, Adam and Eve commit a personal sin, but this sin affects human nature, which they subsequently pass on in the fallen state. K. v. Trient: DS 1511-1512.]. It is a sin that is procreatively passed on to all mankind, namely, by the transmission of a human nature that lacks original holiness and righteousness. This is why original sin is 'sin' in a figurative sense: It is a sin that one has 'witnessed' but not committed, a condition, not an act. "

- Ecclesia Catholica : Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1997) No. 404.

The modern theology tries to find a more appropriate term for the marked "original sin" issue. Here, the term "universal sin fallenness" consists in recent years, the outdated notions of how the monogenism or the personal implication of the term sin (as if it were a person committed crime) picks to both the unfree situatedness and permanent seduction of People to evil, but also to receive his need for salvation as content. Other terminological suggestions are: hereditary wounds , inherited disasters , inherited weaknesses .

Peter Knauer sees the constant fear for himself as the essence of original sin, which underlies all further wrongdoing and from which it grows.

Joseph Ratzinger does not understand original sin in the sense of a biological inheritance, but emphasizes the collective human entanglements of the past, into which every person enters through his or her birth. These restrict self-determination and provide the framework for one's own freedom: "Nobody has the opportunity to start at a perfect 'point zero' and develop what is good in complete freedom." On April 20, 2007, as Pope Benedict XVI. that the limbus puerorum does not belong to the teaching of the Church, but is an older theological theory. Roland Minnerath , the Archbishop of Dijon, explained the decision: The theologians in the Vatican came to the conclusion that small children who are not baptized and die go straight to paradise . However, the document of the International Theological Commission also states (in paragraph 41) that limbo "remains a possible theological opinion".

Positions in Quakerism

Early Quakerism believed in deliverance from original sin by turning to God and living a meritorious way of life. George Fox writes in his diary:

“Now I had entered the paradise of God past the flaming sword. All things were transformed for me and all creation had a different smell for me, about everything that words can express. I only knew of purity, innocence and righteousness because I was renewed in the image of God (Col. 3:10) through Christ, in the state in which Adam had been before the fall. "

In today's liberal Quakerism , original sin no longer has theological relevance.

Other religions


Islam has no doctrine of original sin. The Qur'an (7.19–25; 2.35–39; 20.117–124) reminds of the fall and the expulsion from paradise ( Gen 3, 1–24  EU ), but it does not take on the Pauline doctrine of original sin . In the Koran, sura 2 , verse 36, it is even explicitly mentioned that Allah has already forgiven Adam, which is why the Christian dogma of original sin is opposed to the Islamic dogma of the forgiving God. According to Islamic teaching, every single person is only held responsible for his own deeds; in court no one can help or harm another person. When a person sincerely repents of bad deeds before God and asks for forgiveness, it will be given to him.

“There is not a newborn among men who is not touched by Satan when he is born, and he begins to scream because of the touch of Satan. Only Maryam [Mary] and her son are the exception. "Abu Huraira then said" [...] and behold, I want her and her descendants to take refuge with you from the cursed Satan. (Quran 3:36). [Saheeh al-Bukhari, Chapter 54 / Hadithnr. 3431] "


Judaism does not know the concept of original sin. In Judaism , the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden is therefore not seen as the beginning of an inevitable hereditary sin. The expulsion from the Garden of Eden imposed and the further consequences show the picture of the world as it is and are understood in Judaism as measures that affect the material, but not the spiritual life of people. However, through the consumption of the forbidden fruit, the “evil urge” got into people, which has been present in every person since then and influences their actions.

The announcement that the descendants of Eve will crush the heads of the descendants of the serpent ( Gen 3:15  EU ) is taken as a statement about the danger of poisonous snakes and human fear of them (in Christianity, however, this is seen as the announcement of Jesus' victory over Satan interpreted). The Tanakh does not refer to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise in any narrative in which the people of Israel go wrong, because it is not the locality that matters, but the ability of man to overcome his "evil instinct".

The most important Jewish statement about the status of the human soul is that it is a spark of God and therefore pure. But when a person sins, he pollutes his soul, but through sincere repentance and the consistent decision never to commit these sins again ( Teschuva ), he has the opportunity to make his soul clean again, because God is merciful and forgives sins. If Adam and Eve had repented of their sin, God would have forgiven them too. The sins of the ancestors do not affect the soul of man because he was not involved in them and it would be unfair to hold him responsible. However, if he continues the sins of his ancestors with an even greater intensity than they did, those sins will be imputed to him too. None of this has anything to do with the location, which is why there is no direct reference to the “Garden of Eden” in this regard. Redemption in the Christian sense is not necessary because there is no original sin. Waiting in Judaism for the Messiah has nothing to do with salvation, but is the sign of the beginning of the “coming world”, in which all Jews (from the “four ends of the earth”) will be gathered.

Philosophical, psychological and cultural studies interpretations

According to Sigmund Freud, the doctrine of original sin should be of Orphic origin; it was preserved in the Mysteries and from there found its way into the philosophical schools of ancient Greece. It finds itself in Schopenhauer's philosophy, who in The World as Will and Representation understands the world will as eternally guilty.

In his mimetic theory, René Girard considers original sin from a cultural anthropological perspective . According to Girard, people's eternal guilt is that they always try to curb their own violence by ritualising violence. By killing innocent victims and then sanctifying them, they keep the cycle of sacrifices going . According to Girard, having recognized and condemned this cycle is the main merit of the New Testament revelation.

Hoimar von Ditfurth sees in the original sin "those of our cardinal weaknesses, which the evolutionary view of today's man has also encountered: our fundamental inability, arising from our 'nature", to do what we have recognized as right ".


Web links

Wiktionary: Original Sin  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Notes and individual references

  1. Tom Kleffmann: The doctrine of original sin in a language theological horizon . Mohr Siebeck , Tübingen 1994 (= contributions to historical theology, 86), p. 29
  2. Heinrich Köster: Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte , ed. by Michael Schmaus, Volume II, Faszikel 3b, Herder, Freiburg i.Br. 1979, p. 103
  3. 1 Cor 15.22  EU
  4. ^ Alfons Fürst: Augustine's correspondence with Hieronymous . Aschendorffsche Verlagbuchhandlung, 1999, ISBN 978-3-402-08113-6 , pp. 200 ( books.google.com ).
  5. Pelagius, De natura , in Augustine: De nat. et grat. 36.42 (263)
  6. Peter Brown : Treasure in Heaven. The rise of Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-608-94849-3 , p. 529 ff.
  7. Trid. d. 30 q. 1 a. 3
  8. supernatural subordination to God see: Diekamp, ​​Katholische Dogmatik II, 1939, p. 158
  9. Desire, anger see Trid. 1, 2 q. 82 a. 3
  10. cit. according to vatican.va
  11. cit. according to vatican.va . The transmission “through reproduction” also in: Catechism of the Catholic Church. Compendium, Pattloch, Munich 2005, p. 51.
  12. http://www.origenes.de/kommentare/cig/08/kraus.pdf
  13. ^ Karl Rahner: The human being as the essence of the radical threat of guilt . In: Basic Course of Faith
  14. Hermann Stinglhammer: Introduction to Creation Theology . WBG (Scientific Book Society), Darmstadt 2011, p. 77
  15. Peter Knauer: Creed for our time . In: http://peter-knauer.de/glaubens9d.pdf
  16. cf. Joseph Ratzinger: Excursus: Structures of the Christian . In: Introduction to Christianity , dtv 4095, Munich 1971, p. 179
  17. “The papal statements during this period defended the freedom of the Catholic schools to grapple with this question. They did not set the limbo theory as a doctrine of faith. Limbo was the general Catholic doctrine until the middle of the 20th century. " International Theological Commission: The Hope of Salvation for Infants who die unbaptized (2007) p. 31 (PDF file; 298 kB)
  18. ^ Spiegel.de: Churches: Vatican abolishes limbo
  19. tagesschau.de: Pope declares "Limbo" to be obsolete ( Memento from May 9, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  20. George Fox - Notes and Letters of the First Quaker. Translation by Margrit Stühelin, published in Tübingen 1908, published by JCB Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
  21. Sura 2 ( memento of October 7, 2013 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on April 24, 2015 from koransuren.de
  22. http://islamische-datenbank.de/sahih-al-buchari?action=viewhadith&chapterno=54&min=10&show=10 queried on December 13, 2017
  23. Totem and Tabu , p. 185, quoted from: Reinach, Cultes, Mythes et Religions , II, p. 75 ff.
  24. Inside views of a conspecific , p. 419 in the DTV edition