Does St. Paul Believe in Original Sin? Yeah, but so What?


  • Daniel Spencer University of St Andrews



In this article, I discuss the extent to which St. Paul’s view of the doctrine of Original Sin ought to be taken as authoritative for confessing Christians today. I begin with the observation that there are, in the main, two camps represented in the contemporary literature. On the one hand, there are those who affirm the presence of Original Sin in Rom. 5, and consequently embrace the doctrine; on the other hand, there are those who deny Original Sin any substantive anchor in the text, and as a result conclude it is not necessary to believe today. I argue that things are not so straightforward, and present what I take to be a legitimate via media between these two positions. In the first main section of the article, I argue on exegetical grounds that Rom. 5:12–21 can be rendered adequately intelligible only when we admit that something like the Augustinian view of Original Sin is present at least in nuce. This I attempt to demonstrate in conversation with Douglas Moo and C. E. B. Cranfield (plus a bonus thought from Luther). While not, of course, the full-blown Augustinian doctrine, St. Paul's mind is, I contend, much nearer to the former’s view of Original Sin than is commonly supposed. However, in the second main section I turn my attention to the question, So what? I discuss a number of theological and exegetical considerations which make it clear, I think, that St. Paul is not urging belief in Original Sin so much as he is utilizing an “intertestamental expansion” of an OT text to paint a picture about Christ and what we ought to believe about him. As such, I encourage and defend the application of a relatively mild hermeneutical principle which will allow the theologian a clear and biblically faithful way around the doctrine of Original Sin, if this is what is desired.