Personal sins (acts of transgression) are not inherited. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18: 20; Deuteronomy 24: 16). Because our God is just, He does not judge a person for a transgression committed by his ancestors tens of thousands of years in the remote past in which he did not participate.
Man was created in a state of innocence and holiness capable of immortality, and was destined to be divinized by God in glory. Tempted by the devil, he wanted to be like God on his own without God. He distrusted his Creator. His first transgression consisted of abusing his freedom by disobeying God’s command. This resulted in the fall of Adam and Eve. They immediately lost the grace of their original holiness, and fell from their original state of innocence. They realized they were naked, and became afraid of God. They became mortal. Harmony with the visible creation was lost as creation became alien and hostile to them.
Orthodox authorities define the original sin as: “the sinful state of our nature with which we were born.” “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sins my mother conceived me” (Psalms 51: 5). The original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense. It is a sin “contracted” and not “committed.” It is not an act of transgression and disobedience, but a sinful state that weakens man’s ability to receive and respond to sanctifying divine grace which enters into the moral order as a permanent tendency of turning towards God. Because the free will of man is absent in the transmission of the original sin, it is erased by baptism, without the need for repentance: hence the need for infant baptism as indicated in Acts 2: 38-41; 10: 48; 16: 15, 33; 18: 8; 1 Corinthians 10: 2; etc.. Baptism sows the seeds of regeneration in the person, which require development and growth in order to produce spiritual fruits according to the soil into which it is planted, and the subsequent moral and spiritual development of the person.
Although Adam’s natural descendants did not take part in his original transgression and God will not judge them for it, they inherited his corrupted mortal substance, and his mortality, which resulted from his first transgression (Romans 5: 12; 1 Corinthians 15: 21). Uncleanness is not a personal transgression. With the exception of Jesus Christ, all humans are born with the fallen nature—a human nature wounded by Adam’s first transgression; a human nature under the dominion of sin and death; a human nature deprived of its original holiness and justice; a human nature that lost the grace of God. This biased Adam’s descendants towards committing sins. However, Jesus Christ was born free from the original sin because he was born of the Holy Spirit of the living God, not from the seed of man. The Holy Spirit prevented the transmission of corruption (Luke 1: 35; Hebrews 4: 15).
Inheriting the consequence of Adam’s first transgression (the corrupt human nature) is similar to a baby born with a venereal disease which he contracted form his mother in her womb. Although the baby is innocent, he is suffering from the consequences of his mother’s sin of irresponsible promiscuous sexual behavior. Man is not punished for the disobedience of Adam. Rather, man receives mortality from Adam’s corrupted seed. The sin-sickness deprived man of divine grace. “Therefore, just as through one-man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5: 12).
The original transgression (the fall) has caused the sinful state of our nature in which we are born. This is manifested in sinful human passion (concupiscence), inclinations and tendencies which include lust, envy, greed, pride, selfishness, dishonesty, etc. This created a barrier between humanity and the all-holy God: “But your inequities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59: 2). Man ceased to be hungry for God, and for Him alone. Yet the fall of Adam did not result in his total depravity, nor was God’s image destroyed in man, but only enfeebled. Nor did the fall destroy the freedom of man’s will, though it restricted it by the corruption of the fabric of human nature. The fall did not change the very substance of man into evil.
The doctrine of the original sin dates back to the early Church fathers (St. Cyprian (d. 258); St. Athanasius the Apostolic (d. 373); St. Cyril the Great (d. 444); etc.). St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in North Africa (351-430), developed the doctrine of the original sin in response to the heresy of Pelagius, and hypothesized that it is transmitted through the procreative sexual act. Science proved that hypothesis wrong, because test tube babies who are procreated asexually are not different in any way from persons procreated sexually. In developing this concept, Augustine might have been influenced by his Manichean ways of thinking. Humanity did not sin in the person of Adam as St. Augustine thought based on a wrong interpretation of Romans 5: 12 and 2 Corinthians 5: 15. The mode of transmission of the original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully comprehend.
An innocent baby is not born a transgressor committing personal sins, and the Lord will not judge him for the first transgression of Adam. A baby is incapable of faith, incapable of the knowledge of good and evil, incapable of personal sins (transgressions), and incapable of repentance. Whoever claims that babies sleeping peacefully in their cribs are big time sinners has to specify, based on observation, their daily acts of personal transgression that they commit. He also has to solve the problem of the inability of the baby to repent.
Augustine consigned unbaptized babies to eternal hell. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) consigned them to limbo. Christ, our loving merciful Lord, sends them to heaven (Matthew 18: 2-4; 19: 14; Mark. 10: 14; Luke. 18: 16). This is an act of divine providence. We notice that Jesus never said to a child: “your sins (transgressions) are forgiven.” In fact, He spoke highly of certain spiritual qualities they possess, which are required to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18: 3-4; Mark. 10: 15; Luke. 18: 17).
The first Eve committed the first transgression in human history, and induced her husband Adam to follow her example (Genesis 3: 6). This does not imply reducing her status to a level inferior to that of man’s. This is because the second Eve, Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, brought forth the Savior of the world by her obedience to God’s will, thereby, reversing the negative effects of the transgression of the first Eve. In addition, the Holy Bible holds Adam, not Eve, primarily responsible for the first transgression that led to the fall of the human race (Genesis 3: 17-19; Romans 5: 12-21; 1 Corinthians 15: 21-23). This is because he failed to protect Eve, his wife, from the fall.
Man is incapable of freeing himself from his own deep propensities toward evil. In order for human beings to exercise their will in obedience to God, they need help outside themselves and their own abilities. The grace of God provides this empowerment. God heals the wounded human will, and strengthens it by his Holy Spirit to both love him and obey his commandments. The fall has fatally disrupted the relationship between God and man. Redemption is movement toward restoration of this relationship. The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which the fall had taken away from us. “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many” (Romans 5: 15). St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “There is nothing to prevent human nature from being raised up to something greater, even after sin. God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.” Therefore, the apostle Paul said: “…where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5: 20).