In the previous segment, we talked about how Western Christianity paints a horrible picture of God by saying God ruined His entire creation and condemned every human being to spend eternity in hell just because the first two people He made ate a piece of fruit He told them not to eat.
Adam and Eve and Original Sin
That picture of God comes from Western Christianity’s doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin was developed by a man named Augustine almost 400 years after the time of Jesus. It depends, in large part, on an interpretation of an episode related in Genesis chapter 3, where Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit God told them not to eat.
If you have been exposed to Western Christianity of any stripe, you have been taught that’s the proper interpretation of the episode of Adam and Eve eating the fruit. Granted, much of Western Christianity today views the episode of Adam and Eve eating the fruit as a myth instead of something that actually happened, but even so, it has retained the general idea of original sin.
This idea of original sin is basic to Western Christianity because it outlines the problem Jesus came to solve. The idea is that Jesus came to solve some problem, and according to Western Christianity, the problem is that people sin and need a way to receive forgiveness for their sins. Jesus’ death on the cross provides the way to get forgiveness for sins. It opens the door to the possibility of getting forgiveness for sins.
Original Sin as the Starting Point of Western Christianity
What this means is that in Western Christianity, the interpretation of Jesus flows from the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin is the starting point, and Jesus is interpreted in light of that. In other words, the doctrine of original sin ultimately determines all the other beliefs of Western Christianity, including the interpretation of Jesus and what He did.
That’s why the doctrine of original sin is the fundamental doctrine of Western Christianity. It’s the starting point for everything else.
We Don’t Have to Accept the Doctrine of Original Sin
But you know, we don’t have to interpret Jesus through the doctrine of original sin. We don’t have to use the doctrine of original sin’s interpretation of Adam and Eve eating the fruit. Remember, the doctrine of original sin is not spelled out in the Bible. It’s an interpretation of some things the Bible says. It is, in the final analysis, an assumption. So we don’t have to accept it. We can interpret things differently.
Genesis 3 In a Different Light
To do that, let’s look at the episode of Adam and Eve eating the fruit. It’s found in the book of Genesis.
The first two chapters of Genesis say that God created the world and the things in the world, including human beings. When God did that, He pronounced everything good. It also says God planted a garden in Eden. This garden contained many trees that were beautiful and good for food. The Garden of Eden also contained two other trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What these trees were is not explained. They are just said to have been there.
And then God took Adam—the first human being He made—and put him in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam he could eat the fruit of every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told him that if he ate the fruit of that tree, he would die.
Then it says God made Eve, the first woman. All that happens in chapters one and two.
In chapter three there’s a new character—the serpent. We’re not told anything about the serpent except that it had become “the most crafty” of the animals. The serpent deceived the woman into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She gave some to Adam, and he ate it, too.
Then it says that immediately upon eating it, Adam and Eve realized they were naked. They were ashamed, so they made clothes for themselves out of fig leaves and hid. Then God came along. God was walking in the garden in the evening, and He was looking for Adam. God called out to Adam. Adam responded that he was hiding because he’s naked and afraid. God asked Adam if he ate the fruit. Adam said yes. Then God told Adam and Eve the consequences of them eating the fruit, and He kicked them out of the Garden of Eden. It says God He kicked them out because He feared they would also eat the fruit of the tree of life, and if the did that, they’d live forever.
That’s what happened in the first three chapters of Genesis.
God Punishes Adam and Eve?
In an earlier segment, we talked about how Western Christianity interprets this. According to Western Christianity, Adam and Eve “sinned” by eating the fruit. It was a sin because they did something God told them not to—they disobeyed God. As punishment for their disobedience, God caused a lot of bad things to happen. If you haven’t listened to the segment where we covered that, I would encourage you to go back and listen to that before you continue with this.
Western Christianity interprets all this through the doctrine of original sin and says that all the bad things that came after Adam and Eve ate the fruit were caused by God. In other words, God caused all those things as punishment for their disobedience. It was the sentence that God pronounced on them for disobeying Him.
Notice that in this interpretation, there was nothing significant about them eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil except that by eating it, they disobeyed God. There was nothing harmful about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself that caused God to tell them not to eat its fruit. It was just the tree He picked out. He picked out a tree—any tree—to test them to see if they would obey Him or not. God could just as well have pointed out any other tree and told them not to eat of it and gotten the same effect. There was nothing significant about them eating that particular fruit, it was just that they disobeyed God. All that mattered was that they did something God told them not to do.
But remember, all that’s an assumption—an interpretation. We don’t have to be chained to that, so let’s reject that and think of it differently.
Another Possible Interpretation
What if the reason God told them not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was that God knew there was something harmful about the fruit itself? What if we say there was something intrinsically harmful about the fruit of that tree, and God knew that if they ate it, bad things would happen? In other words, what if we say that God knew the fruit of that tree was poison? That puts things in a completely different light. This idea says that God didn’t tell them not to eat that fruit just to see if they would obey Him; He told them not to eat that fruit because He knew it was poison. And going even further than that, the bad consequences that followed them eating the fruit were not God’s doing, those bad consequences just naturally followed from them ingesting the fruit. It was like taking poison.
Most Christians never even consider that idea because they take for granted that the Bible clearly says God determined and caused the consequences of eating the fruit. But it does not. If you go to where God originally told Adam not to eat the fruit, you see that God simply says if Adam eats it, he will die. God doesn’t say, “If you disobey me, I’ll cause a bunch of horrible things to happen to make you pay for your sin.” God simply says, “If you eat it, you will die.” That sounds more like God stating a fact than warning Adam He will cause all sorts of bad things to happen if Adam eats it.
So, what if the real problem was not that Adam and Eve disobeyed God but that they ate something that was poison—something that in and of itself caused bad consequences? What if there was something intrinsic about the fruit itself that would lead to bad consequences, and the reason God told them not to eat it was to protect them from the bad consequences?
Now we see the entire episode in a completely different way. God is not just picking out a tree at random and telling them not to eat from it to see if they will obey Him. He’s warning them away from something He knows will hurt them. And, the reason that all the bad things happened after they ate the fruit is not that those things were decreed by God as punishment, it’s because they were an intrinsic result of them eating that fruit. In other words, God told them not to eat the fruit because He knew it was poison, and the reason the bad things happened after they ate it is because they ate poison.
This throws the doctrine of original sin out the window. It also throws out the window the entire way Western Christianity sees our relation to God and God’s relation to us. We no longer are people whose primary identity is that we do things God doesn’t want us to do. Our primary identity is that we are people who have been poisoned by something. We are people in trouble.
Jesus as Savior, Jesus as Rescuer
This also allows us to see Jesus in a different light. Jesus no longer comes to offer the blood sacrifice God demands for sin, Jesus comes to rescue us. Jesus comes to save us from the effects of the poison.
This also paints a completely different picture of God. God is not the monster that lashes out with all kinds of horrible consequences for sin; God is the one who heroically comes to our rescue. And, we are no longer miserable sinners groveling before God. Instead, we are the ones God loves so much that He can’t bear to see us poisoned, so He comes to rescue us.
See what a completely different picture this paints of God, our relation to God, and God’s relation to us? See what a completely different kind of Christianity this is?
The Wages of Sin Is Death
Of course, most Christians reject this interpretation, because that’s not what they have been told by institutional Christianity. Institutional Christianity concentrates on one part of a verse from Romans chapter 6 which says, “The wages of sin is death.” This is held up as support for the way the doctrine of original sin interprets Adam and Eve eating the fruit.
But if you look at the entire sentence from Romans 6, and not just the beginning phrase of that sentence, you find this, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The part about “the wages of sin is death” gets quoted a lot, but how often do you hear that coupled with the last part—“but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”? Not very often.
So let’s think about the entire sentence, not just the first phrase. If you look closely at the entire sentence, you’ll notice it does not say that the wages of sin is death because God has determined it to be so. It doesn’t in any way say or imply that God determined that the wages of sin would be death. It just says that’s the way it is. It just states a fact without telling us who or what determined it would be that way.
The way this sentence is constructed indicates that God has nothing to do with it determining that the wages of sin should be death. Let’s see how. This sentence has two parts. The first part is, “For the wages of sin is death.” The second part is, “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Notice that God is connected with the second part, not the first part. God is not mentioned in the first part, the part about death. God is only mentioned in the second part, the part about life.
This verse does not state and does not in any way imply that God is responsible for the fact that the wages of sin is death. The part about the wages of sin being death doesn’t mention God at all. The part that mentions God is the part that talks about eternal life. God is connected with eternal life. God and eternal life are placed in opposition to the wages of sin being death. Is God opposed to the wages of sin being death? It certainly seems so.
All Have Sinned
Another passage often quoted in support of the doctrine of original sin is from Roman chapter 5 which says, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
This verse is enticing to the defenders of the doctrine of original sin because it does connect what is called “sin” entering the world with Adam, and it does connect death with sin. But, just like in the passage we just looked at, notice that this passage does not in any way connect this with God. It does not in any way say God caused death to enter the world by sin. It only states that’s the way it is.
Original Sin Is an Interpretation Based on Assumptions
So, from the two most quoted Bible verses that we are told support the doctrine of original sin, we see that to get the doctrine of original sin, you have to make the assumption that it is God who causes the consequences.
But you also have to make another assumption. You have to also make the assumption that “sin” means disobeying God, that sin means doing something God says not to do. Nowhere does the Bible define sin as doing something God says not to do. That is an assumption people make.
And so we’ve seen two big assumptions behind the doctrine of original sin. We do not have to go along with those assumptions. Instead of saying that “sin” means disobeying God, we can say sin means something else. Perhaps sin is some sort of condition that resulted from Adam eating the fruit, some sort of predicament Adam got into by eating the fruit. And perhaps it was not God who caused that consequence. Perhaps it was an intrinsic result of him eating the fruit. Perhaps it was something about the fruit itself that caused human beings to be in a different state than they were in previously.
Let’s Start With Jesus, Not Original Sin
In other words, perhaps there was some other spiritual power at work than God, and it was that other spiritual power that was the cause of the bad consequences that came about. God knew about this other power and knew it had laid some sort of trap in the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the hope of ensnaring human beings. That’s why God warned Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit. When they ate it, it wasn’t God who caused the bad consequences, it was this other spiritual power. When God saw that this other spiritual power had poisoned human beings, God immediately went to work to rescue human beings. That’s what happened in Jesus.
It’s a completely different interpretation than the doctrine of original sin, but it’s an interpretation that fits with what we saw in the Gospels about Jesus opposing the forces of evil. Also, in this way, we are not interpreting the Gospels through the lens of a particular interpretation of Genesis chapter three, we are interpreting Genesis chapter three through the lens of the Gospels. Instead of trying to fit Jesus in with our interpretation of Genesis chapter three, we are fitting our interpretation of Genesis chapter three with what the Gospels tell us about Jesus. In other words, we are using Jesus as the starting point. Rather than starting with Genesis chapter three and then trying to fit what the Gospels tell us about Jesus in with that, we are starting with what the Gospels tell us about Jesus.
If the central figure of Christianity is Jesus, isn’t that where we should start—with Jesus?
But Doesn’t God Control Everything?
This idea is completely foreign, though, to most Christians today. The reason is simple—Christians have been told that God controls everything. That belief is what stands in the way of accepting this interpretation. If God controls everything, then if God didn’t want these bad consequences to follow from Adam and Eve eating the fruit, He would simply have decreed that they not happen. If God didn’t want that other spiritual power to have laid a trap for Adam and Eve in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He would simply have not let the trap be laid.
If God controls everything, how could there be a spiritual power opposing God if God didn’t want it to be there?
The belief that God controls everything is a belief that gets repeated, and that people claim to accept, and that reinforces the horrible picture of God that comes from Western Christianity’s doctrine of original sin. But what kind of picture of God does it paint to say that God controls everything?
Think of the horrible things that happen to small children. Small children get murdered. Their bodies get mutilated, and their heads get chopped off. If God controls everything, He must be in control of that, too. So, He either causes it to happen or allows it to happen. What kind of God either causes or allows things like that to happen? Yet if God controls everything, He does.
What kind of God is that? The same kind of God that ruins His entire creation and sentences all of humanity to eternal torments in hell because the first two people He made ate a piece of fruit He told them not to eat.
Do people really agree with the picture of God Western Christianity paints? Or do they on the surface say they agree with it but deep down in their hearts know God’s not like that?
Don’t Base Your Beliefs on Assumptions
We’ve seen today that picture of God is not the only picture we can get from Scripture. We’ve seen today how that picture of God depends on certain assumptions and interpretations that we do not have to accept. We can approach Scripture differently, so that we can start over with Christianity.
We have spent two segments looking at Scripture. But yet Scripture itself is questioned by many today. One of the things we looked at today is the first three chapters of the book of Genesis, and those chapters are one of the things from the Bible that today seem so outlandish and so beyond reason. Everyone knows science has proven that God didn’t create the world as Genesis says happened. I mean, the very idea of Adam and Eve seems ridiculous today.
So how in the world can we base our beliefs on Scripture when it’s so outlandish? In the next segment, we’ll consider that question.
This is a series. Starting over again with Christianity is something that will involve time. It’s not something you can do in an instant. It’s not a daily devotional, good-thought-for-the-day, feel-good type of thing. There’s plenty of that already out there, if that’s what you’re looking for. But I would suspect that if you’re here, you’ve either been through all that and found it lacking or you already know that’s not what you’re looking for. If you’re here, my guess is you’re looking for something deeper. Something deeper is going to take time—it’s going to be a process.