Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I
The Book of Genesis and the Problem of Original Sin
Today, I want us to look at one crucial theory of origin in the book of Genesis. We will concentrate our reflection onGenesis Chapter 3—the fall of our first parents—Adam and Eve. The account is vital to Christianity, and other Abrahamic religions as many doctrines and theologies gravitate around it, especially the theory of original sin.
The First Chapter of Genesis (precisely Genesis 1: 1-2:4) gives the first creation account. And chapter 2 (2:5-25), recounts the second creation story. However, there are some differences in the presentation of both versions. This diversity could be because the authors were more interested in the message than the way it happened.
It is only in chapter 3 that we encounter their primordial problem. The dilemma was to understand how the creation that was good in the eyes of God—And God saw that it was good—became evil. They simply wanted to know from where the evil came. That is precisely the objective of Genesis 3.
Moreover, to solve this dilemma, they deployed the account of the fall of Adam and Eve. But, of course, sometimes we ignore that the authors’ aim was not to say how it happened. Instead, they were interested in explaining how in each of us is the presence of good and evil; the possibility to choose how we wish to live. And, for thousands of years, people still believed the Genesis accounts took place. Today, we know that both the creation accounts and the fall of Adam and Eve never occurred.
The problem is if Adam and Eve did not fall—as they never existed—, then how do we explain original sin and every other theology built around it? If we push it further, then there will be an issue of how to interpret the idea of Christ saving us from the sin of Adam as Paul states it here:
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned—For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:12.19)
Since we know that evolution is the right way to understand how we come to be today, we wish to examine its status. In an allocution given by Pope Francis in 2014, he said:
“When we read in Genesis the account of creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one so that they would develop and reach their fullness.”
According to the Pope, God is at the origin of the creation, but all we have today is the fruit of evolution. “The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
As it happens, Pope Francis is not the first pope to accept evolutionary theory. In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII wrote:
“The Church does not forbid that … research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God,” (HG 36, 1950).
Also, on 22 October 1996, Pope John Paul II reiterated this in these terms:
“Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact, it is remarkable that this theory has had a progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines.”
How should we then explain all the theologies and doctrines developed around creationism or built on the fall of our first parents—that never took place? We should not take this question lightly as it affects even our understanding of why Christ died.
I wish to underline that these observations do not challenge either Christ’s death on the cross or the reason behind the concept of original sin. Christ died, I believe, because of his love for humanity. However, my conviction is that his death is not a ransom paid to God for the fall of our first parents. It is true because we now know that our first parents never sinned.
Moreover, though Paul, in his time, understood Christ’s death in relationship with the Genesis account, we now know the limit of such comprehension. The death of Christ is linked directly to his love for our freedom, safety, salvation, perseverance and deliverance from harm (salvation — Soteria). He died because he so loved our liberty that he agreed to give his life to oppose everything, including the Roman authorities, that could hold us down and captives (not free). I repeat, God did not plan his death as a sacrifice - in the light of the Abrahamic attempt of sacrificing Isaac - of his son to save humanity. His death is not a ransom but an act of pure love that completes what lacks in our human nature, for where there is love, life abounds.
What does original sin mean?
How do we reconcile our shared human frailty and fragility with our diverse educational and cultural backgrounds?
Why do you think we share a common humanity?
I will appreciate your informed opinion.