Christian Doctrines

Original Sin and the Metaphysics of the Soul

Original Sin Defined

The writers of the Augsburg Confession (found in the Book of Concord) defined Original Sin as the belief that “…since the fall of Adam all human beings who are propagated according to nature are born with sin, that is, without fear of God… [we] teach that this disease or original fault is truly sin, which even now damns and brings eternal death to those who are not born again through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (BOC, 39).

One Objection

Ezekiel 18:20a states, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

The word used for “soul” in this passage is the Hebrew word, nephesh. This passage leads to the objection that original sin cannot be true as I have outlined it, because it involves the son inheriting the guilt of the father.

The Question of the Soul: A Metaphysic of Original Sin

Three views of the soul are prevalent in Christianity. All of them presuppose metaphysical dualism. They are:

1) Our soul is constructed just as our physical body: Our soul is a half-and-half combination of the souls of our mother and father.

2)  God specially creates each soul for each person when he/she is conceived/born/etc. Alternatively, God has already created every soul for everyone who will ever live, and puts them in a body when one is needed. The main problem with this view is that it would seem that if original sin is true (in the sense I have outlined it above), then God creates sinful souls for us.

3) Our soul is from Adam. There are no new souls for mankind, rather, we all share, in some sense, Adam’s soul.

I tend to favor 1) (now, anyway). But I favor a version of 1) which is not so much a half-and-half combination of souls, but a union of the totality of the souls we inherit. I originally wrote this post for my new site, but an insightful commentator lead me to heavily edit my views here. Just as we become one in the union of sex, so do our souls become one when we conceive a child.

What this means, then, is that the soul we inherit from our ancestors includes the inheritance of the guilt of sin. I must note the distinction here between sins which require action and those that do not. I have been pondering this idea for some time–is it possible to have sins for which we are guilty that we don’t commit? The answer I lean toward is “No”, but that doesn’t preclude original sin. The reason is that through the soul, we have literally participated in the original sin of Adam. When we are told that we have the “Old Adam” in us, this should be taken in a more literal sense than it often is.

We are told by Paul that there is a natural and spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). These are both the inheritance of our ancestors. In a literal sense, then, there is the “old self” (Romans 6:6) and the Old Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) which, from birth, enslave us to sin (Romans 6:6). Metaphysically I think this means that our soul has literally participated in, and is therefore held accountable for, the original sin. Original sin is a substantive entity–it corrupts our very nature. This is no mere inclination to sin, but a bondage to sin and a separation from God. It only makes sense to me on a metaphysical level to argue that this sin is inherited through our soul, which, like our body, maintains the union with Adam himself.

So how does this answer the objection from Ezekiel 18:20? Initially, one may argue it seems to purge the passage of all meaning. This is not the case, however. What Ezekiel is referring to is the sin of commission. That is, it refers to a sin which requires an action. Ezekiel is telling us that the actions of the father do not condemn the actions of the son. This does not, however, preclude the original sin in the metaphysical sense in which I have outlined it, because we have each participated in the action which causes original sin.

One final note is required, however. This is again a modification of my original thoughts due to enlightening discussion with my good friend’s comments. We must remember that this stain of sin, this original sin, has passed away for those who have faith in Christ. For, though the passages I quoted above discuss the nature of our original guilt, they immediately turn to salvation which is through Christ. Our New Adam replaces the Old (1 Corinthians 14:42-57), and our enslavement to sin is no more (Romans 6:6-14). Our original guilt, received through our sharing in the action of Adam, and our shared spirit with him, is no more.


The Book of Concord. Augsburg Fortress. 2000.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


2 thoughts on “Original Sin and the Metaphysics of the Soul

  1. I thought the soul was beautifully intact, and it is a place of love

    Posted by sandy de Mello | June 7, 2012, 11:34 PM


  1. Pingback: Original Sin and the Metaphysics of the Soul « Christian Diversity–Mere Christians - September 27, 2010

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