Did Jesus believe in Original Sin?


I’m listening to Catholic Answers radio and someone just said that the Jews of Jesus’ time, and Jews in general, don’t hold to the doctrine of Original Sin. Did Jesus teach it or even believe it? Any biblical references?

Thank you

Jesus taught the doctrine of original sin, but it’s one of his teachings that the four gospels didn’t record Jesus directly saying (though it is recorded by Paul). That’s not surprising, the Gospel of John tells us that he could only tell part of the story and that Jesus said and did many other things that were not recorded. We also know that Jesus taught a lot about the Kingdom after his resurrection, but the details weren’t written.

Anyway, we do find the teaching of original sin still recorded in scripture.

Romans 5:12-21
*12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned[a]— 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 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 in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.** 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 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.

18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.**

1 Corinthians 15:22
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

The term original sin is applied to what Paul is writing about. It should be noted that both Catholics and Orthodox, churches with legitimate claims to Apostolic authority, believe in Original Sin, though there are some differences in understanding.

It’s my understanding that Jews don’t believe in the hereditary consequences of original sin that Christians do. This was one of the things that was revealed in Christian revelation. In a way, you could say we didn’t realize we’d lost anything (the holiness and justice we were created with) until we got it back through Christ.*

There was really different opinions back then. In one idea (found in the book of Sirach), death is something that God had decreed for all flesh (41:4); sin is the responsibility of the individual. Ben Sira had nothing but praise for Adam. In Sirach, Adam and Eve didn’t gain knowledge of good and evil by eating the fruit; it was something God had given them when they were created (17:1-12).

Wisdom of Solomon (1st century BC-1st century AD) takes a different tactic: “through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.” (2:24) Wisdom also doesn’t blame Adam; he was first man who wisdom saved and a role model. If anything, death entered the world because of his son Cain: “But when an unrighteous man departed from her in his anger, he perished because in rage he slew his brother. When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it, steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood.” (10:2-4)

Here’s the thing. Many scholars think that St. Paul was familiar with the book of Wisdom, because he seems to engage with it in the epistle to the Romans. (For example in 1:18-32.) Very often, Paul actually seems to disagree with the ideas found in Wisdom and subvert them. Paul’s view of Adam in Romans 5 is likely his expression of disagreement with Wisdom’s portrait of Adam as a man of wisdom.

In the Book of Jubilees, the effect of Adam and Eve’s eating from the tree is not so much sin; it’s that they lost the ability to communicate with animals (whereas before they ate the forbidden fruit, humans and animals were of “one speech and one language”).

For Josephus (Antiquities 1.40-51), the serpent tempted Adam because he was jealous of Adam’s good standing with God. What Adam and Eve gained from the fruit was knowledge, which was a good thing. The problem with it is that they attained this knowledge without God, which was a bad thing. The lesson of the story for Josephus is first, wisdom attained without God leads to disaster. The second is, never ever listen to a woman:“God allotted him punishment, because he weakly submitted to the counsel of his wife.” What Adam and Eve lost was not immortality, but the good life in the Greek sense. (Josephus shares one thing in common with Jubilees: it’s the idea that humans and animals in Eden could talk with each other - which apparently explains why the serpent can talk to Adam and Eve. In Josephus’ version, God punished the serpent by depriving it of speech.)

In some texts, the origin of sin and death is not traced to Adam and Eve at all, but to the time when the “sons of God” (interpreted as angels) mated with the “daughters of men,” begetting the Nephilim in Genesis 6. This is a more common interpretation, which crops up often in a number of Jewish literature from the period, most notably in the Book of the Watchers section of 1 Enoch (chapters 1-36; cf. also Jubilees 4:22; 5:1-10; 7:21; Testament of Reuben 5; Testament of Naphtali 3:5; Damascus Document 2:18-21).

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, you have all of these views represented (Adam as role model; sin and death being caused by the “sons of God” descending to earth to mate with human women; death being part of God’s design for man), and one more. In The Community Rule (which as the name implies is the rule of the Qumran sect), God is presented as creating two spirits in the beginning for humans: one of truth and light and the other of injustice and darkness. Humans have qualities or virtues from both spirits because God gave both spirits to them. Here sin is attributed not to Adam, nor Eve nor Cain nor the “sons of God,” but to God’s creation of two opposing spirits.

I think the Jews were all over the map. Heck, they didn’t even know if there was an afterlife.

FWIW, I checked my concordance, and the name “Adam” appears in only one Gospel, Luke 3:38, in the long and tedious discussion about genealogy.

what is the Book of Jubilees?

why should a catholic or Christian place any confidence in what is found in it?

The dogma of original sin is a truth and article of faith for the Catholic Church which is the Church founded by Christ so Jesus was well aware of the Church’s doctrine on original sin as well as all the other truths of the catholic faith that the Church proposes for our belief. For Jesus is the Truth and is God with the Father and Holy Spirit and all truth comes from God.

In the gospels, Jesus revealed to us what was necessary for the beginnings of the Church and he said “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (John 16: 12-13). The apostles could take in only so much at that time the whole deposit of divine revelation. The Holy Spirit guided St Paul to elaborate on the doctrine of original sin and the Church articulated this doctrine of original sin more precisely through the centuries. Jesus could have explained to the apostles the dogma of original sin just as we understand it today (although St Paul elaborates on it and he is one of the founding apostles of the Church) in the gospels but He chose not too but left it to St Paul and the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The fullness of divine revelation would be understood better through the course of time; Jesus said to the apostles “you cannot bear it [all] now.” Jesus could have taught the apostles about Mary’s immaculate conception for He very well knew our Blessed Lady was immaculately conceived, but again, he left this to be understood by the Church guided by the Holy Spirit in the course of time. The early Church was concerned about the divinity of Christ and his two natures, namely, the divine and the human in the one person of the eternal Son of God and of articulating the dogma of the Trinity.

The Book of Jubilees is an originally Hebrew work probably written in the 2nd century BC. It claims to be a record of the biblical history of the world from the creation to Moses; in fact, the author claims that the content of the book was revealed to Moses in Mt. Sinai. (In other words, it’s a retelling of Genesis and Exodus.) The chronology given in it is based on multiples of seven; the jubilees are periods of 49 years, seven “year-weeks”, into which all of time has been divided.

What makes the book notable is that it advocates a 364-day solar calendar instead of the lunar-based calendar that most Jews had been using (and still continue to use). It seems that the author thinks that the 364-day solar calendar is the only one that accords with the way that God ordained. For him, it alone allows for a correct understanding of prophecy and alone allows one to date the festivals at their proper sacred times. Another thing the author does is to portray the OT patriarchs before Moses as already practicing the Mosaic law (which ties in with the later idea that the Torah had already existed before Moses; in fact, it already existed before God even created the world).

It was a rather popular work among Jews: it was an influential work for the Community at Qumran, often identified as Essenes (extensive fragments of the work were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and the sectarian literature seem to have made use of it; the Qumran Community even used the 364-day solar calendar). It seems that some priestly circles even used it as a point of reference, even though they disagreed with the author’s proposal for a solar calendar. It was also popular among early Christians to an extent: a number of early Church Fathers quote or allude to it. In fact, it is part of the canon of Scripture in the Ethiopian Church. (The only complete version of the Jubilees we have today is the Ethiopian version.)

why should a catholic or Christian place any confidence in what is found in it?

You don’t need to, but Jubilees - like other Jewish literature of the time - gives you an idea of the diversity of opinion among Jews of the period. That’s why if you’re studying stuff like Second Temple period Judaism, it’s pretty essential to read ‘extrabiblical’ Jewih literature.

Jesus taught that man was spiritually separated from God, “born dead” and dead in his sins, in need of being born again or born from above. He told us that man was meant for coummunion with God, that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit would dwell within as we came to believe and were baptized. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” He tells us in John 15.

Apartness/separation from God, a state of injustice in all men, is the state of Original Sin. Jeus came, when the time was ripe in human history, to rectify this situation by reconciling man with God, so that we may commune again.

I guess my thoughts on this is that if there was no original sin that affects all of humanity, then it was not necessary for Jesus to become man and “reconcile” mankind with the Father. So while Jesus may not have explicitly taught original sin, his entire mission and purpose in becoming man was directly due to original sin.

If there was no original sin for all of mankind, than all of mankind could literally “work” their way to heaven. There would be no need for Jesus to reconcile mankind with the Father. Every person could get to heaven based on their own personal merits. And based on that, it makes Jesus mission pointless. It also makes him to be a liar, “No one can come to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).

So I would have to conclude that Jesus was a strong believer in Original Sin.

You may find the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia helpful: newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm#III

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