As long as man has been we have sought to answer the question of the origin of sin, the source of moral corruption, and the root of evil. As you can imagine there are many answers to this question throughout history, but though there are many answers, we can assemble them into a few groups.
The early Church fathers were split on this. The Eastern Church (Greek theologians) came to settle on a position known as Pelagianism, which denied any connection between Adam’s sin and our own, believing all men are not polluted in Adam. The Western Church (Latin theologians) came to settle on a position known as Augustinianism, which stressed the connection between Adam’s sin and our own, believing all men to be polluted in Adam.
As history progressed the majority of the Church would come to a middle position called semi-pelagianism, where believes man to be polluted from Adam’s sin, but believes the pollution is not as depraved as the Augustinians made it seem. Though the majority of the Church embraced this middle-ground position, there was a group who rejected semi-pelagianism, the Reformers, whom we stand with today. After the Reformation period, the sinfulness of man continued to decrease in the eyes of the Church (though the Puritans held to it) so that eventually it came to disappear all together.
Within the Church now, it seems to be prevalent to believe two things: 1) Adam was the first sinner, and 2) but his sin is not the cause of the sin in mankind.
What does Scripture say about this? How did mankind receive a sinful nature? What is sin’s origin? It may seem arrogant of me to speak so bluntly but the Bible is crystal clear on this. We can say the following things:
a) The Consequence of God’s Sovereign Will
The first thing we can say about origin of sin is that the fall of man is the consequence of God’s sovereign will.
Don’t mishear me. God is holy, holy, holy (Isa. 6:3), sin cannot be in His presence (Job 34:10), He hates sin (Ps. 5:4, 11:5), He cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no man (Jam. 1:13). God is not the author of sin, yet we can say that in His sovereignty God was pleased to permit and purpose the fall of man to His own glory. We can say this because it is an implication of God’s sovereignty. Since God is sovereign over all things, since He ordains whatsoever comes to pass, and since all things work according to the counsel of His own will we must conclude that God was not surprised when the fall took place. God didn’t say oops.
To deny such a thing is to place God in subjection to another who brought about the fall against the will of God. Romans 8:20 says this, ‘For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ All creation was subjected to futility, this means subjected to the fall, BY WHO? By him who subjected it in hope. Who subjected creation to futility in hope? It surely wasn’t Adam, he didn’t disobey God’s one command with an aim toward hope. No, God subjected the creation to the fall of man, in hope, that one day He would raise it to new life, just as raises His children to new life.
Thus we believe with Jonathan Edwards, ‘It is not sin in God to will that sin be.’ Romans 5:8 teaches us this principle as well. ‘God shows His love for us (He really desired to display His love toward us) in that while we were still sinners (there had to be sin) Christ died (there had to be death) for us.’ So by permitting, allowing, and ordaining the fall of man God opened the jaws of death that would eventually slam shut on His Son at the cross. The fall prepared the world for the Son of God to enter it and die.
b) The Consequence of Man’s Wicked Choice
The second thing we can say about origin of sin is that the fall of man is the consequence of man’s wicked choice.
Scripture does hint in a few places that sin existed before the fall of man in the angelic world (John 8:44, 1 John 3:8), but the place we mainly want to go to mention the origin of sin is Adam’s transgression in Eden. The tempter, who was already fallen, came to the woman and through her to the man and lied to them about God’s command. They gave in to the temptation and committed the first sin by eating the forbidden fruit. Pollution, corruption, depravity entered Adam and Eve, and into all their descendants after them, such that through Adam, as Romans 5:12 says, ‘death spread to all men.’
This is the transmission of sin. Louis Berkhof says it like this, ‘As a result of the fall the father of the race could only pass on a depraved nature to his offspring. From that unholy source sin flows on as an impure stream to all the generations of men, polluting everyone and everything with which it comes in contact’ (Systematic Theology, 221). Romans 5:12-21 teaches this and shows that Adam was the representative head for all mankind in the fall, just as Christ is the representative head for all the elect, who through faith in Him will one day find all the consequences of reversed.
The result of the origin of sin is fivefold:
1) All men are brought into the world not only polluted in sin, but guilty from that sin before God, totally depraved, meaning not that we’re as bad as we could be but that sin effects man totally.
2) Communion with God was lost, and man entered into a condition of spiritual death.
3) Shame came to bear on the soul of man, thus Adam and Eve ‘covered’ themselves.
4) Physical death entered the world in the human and animal world, we were made from the dust and to the dust we shall all return, or as Paul says, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23).
5) Man’s residence changed from the Eden to exile.
Take caution though before you agree with me too quickly. The correct response to this isn’t, ‘Yep, I know this is true. We live in a messed up world, I see it everyday.’ No, the correct response to this is, ‘Yep, I know this is true. I see it in my own heart everyday.’ Unless you’re willing to acknowledge that this is true of you, you’ll never embrace the gospel that can save sinners.
(The above image is taken from Kevin DeYoung’s book, The Biggest Story)