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Original Sin

by Byron R. Merrill

While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the transgression of Adam and Eve brought death into the world and made all mortals subject to temptation, suffering, and weakness, it denies that any culpability is automatically transmitted to Adam and Eve's offspring. All mortals commit sin, but they will be punished "for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression" (A of F 2).

IN OTHER FAITHS. The doctrine of original sin as taught traditionally states that, due to the Fall of Adam, infants are born tainted with actual sin, resulting in the "privation of sanctifying grace"; this dogma "does not attribute to the children of Adam any properly so-called responsibility for the act of their father," nor is it a voluntary sin "in the strict sense of the word," yet it is a "real sin" (S. Harent, "Original Sin," in Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 ed., Vol. 11, p. 315). All people, according to this doctrine, except the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, inherit an actual, existing personal guilt (see Immaculate Conception). A corollary of this belief is the doctrine of infant baptism, holding that infants are to be baptized to remove this sin because those who die without baptism remain unsanctified and forever excluded from heaven and the presence of God.

The doctrine of original sin derives from an interpretation given to the writings of Paul, particularly Romans 5:12-21, by some theologians of the second and third centuries. More than any other, Augustine in the fifth century transformed Paul's teachings on the Fall into the doctrine of original sin. His views were adopted as doctrine and formally canonized by the decrees of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. According to this view, Adam's sin is considered "original" because it arose with the "origin" of man.

Protestantism largely accepts this doctrine. John Calvin stated: "We believe that all the posterity of Adam is in bondage to original sin, which is a hereditary evil" (R. Reed, The Gospel as Taught by Calvin [Grand Rapids, Mich., 1979], p. 33). Protestant views emphasize the inherited nature of the sin, reflecting the German word for "original sin," Erbsunde (literally "inherited sin"). Rabbinic Judaism teaches of two inclinations, one evil and one good; and some Jews consider "circumcision as a means of escaping damnation" (Samuel Cohon, Essays in Jewish Theology [Cincinnati, Ohio, 1987], p. 265).

IN LDS DOCTRINE. Latter-day Saints believe that infants inherit certain effects of the Fall, but not the responsibility for any sin as a result of Adam's or Eve's transgression. From the foundation of the world, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes amends "for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam" (Mosiah 3:11). Therefore, baptism is not needed until children reach a state of accountability, generally at the age of eight years, for little children cannot sin and are innocent (see Children: Salvation of Children). They are redeemed from the beginning by the grace of Jesus Christ (D&C 29:46-47), whose Atonement cleanses them of the effects of the Fall (D&C 137:10). The Prophet Mormon wrote the following words of Christ: "Little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them" (Moro. 8:8).

In one account in the Pearl of Great Price, Adam learned that he had been forgiven for his transgression in the Garden of Eden, and that "the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children" (Moses 6:54). However, as a consequence of the Fall, evil is present in the world and all "children are conceived in sin, [and] so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good" (Moses 6:55). Begetting children in marriage is not a sin (cf. Heb. 13:4), but the propensity for sin is inherited.

No mortal person bears the burden of repenting for Adam's transgression. Nevertheless, all inherit the effects of the Fall: All leave the presence of God at birth, all are subject to physical death, and all will sin in some measure. From the moment of conception, the body inherits the seed of mortality that will eventually result in death, but only as a person becomes accountable and chooses evil over good do personal sins result in further separation from God. Thus Adam was counseled: "Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there" (Moses 5:57).

(See Interfaith Relations home page; Basic Beliefs home page; The Gospel of Jesus Christ home page; The Fall of Adam home page)


Haag, Herbert. Is Original Sin in Scripture? New York, 1969.

McConkie, Bruce R. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp. 81-104. Salt Lake City, 1985.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Original Sin

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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