What is “original sin”?
What is the difference in views between Orthodoxy and the western churches?
Original sin (προπατορική αμαρτία in Greek means ancestral sin) is a term used in western churches that is different from what the Church originally taught as ancestral sin. It is a doctrine that comes from the time of Saint Augustine. He was defending the Church against the teaching of Pelagius. Augustine taught that all humanity sinned with Adam. That is, his sin became our personal sin. The consequence is that guilt replaces death as the ancestral inheritance.
It is pointed out that Augustine used a poor translation
of Romans 5:12. ἐφ᾿ ᾧ (ef Jw) which means because of was translated
as in whom. Sinned in Adam is quite different than sinned because
of Adam. The correct interpretation teaches that Adam’s sin carried
death to all creation, and that although our sin is evidence to
this death, it is not Adam’s specific transgression that we have
In the Orthodox view, guilt can only result from an act which one has committed. We can’t sin for another person. We believe that we need a savior to overcome death and our separation from God, to be forgiven our own transgressions, but not to be forgiven for Adam’s transgression. For Adam, sin came first then death. We inherit death from Adam and our sin follows.
Death is a significant burden for us to carry. Our lives are dominated by the fear of death and our struggle to survive. In this struggle we tend to become self-centered. As a result we can be separated from God. Our salvation involves a transformation from this fearful autonomous state. For eternal life we must be in communion with God and one another.
Augustine in his debate with Pelagius developed the position that only grace is able to save. The Church had always taught that it was both a matter of grace and personal effort or synergia as it was termed. This position of the early Church was abandoned in the west. A concept of legalistic justice was then applied to western theology which led to further differences between east and west and the notion of a wrathful God in the west rather than the loving God of Orthodoxy.