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Why is Original Sin Called the “Sin of Adam”?

July 21, 2016

Adam-and-EveOriginal sin is that first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, committed when they ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1-7). And while it clearly involved both of them, Scripture and Tradition refer to it formally as the “Sin of Adam” or “Adam’s Sin,” not the “Sin of Adam and Eve.” It is also described as coming to us “through one man,” not “through a man and a woman.” Consider the following quotes from Scripture and the Catechism:

  1. Like Adam, they [Israel] have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there (Hosea 6:7).
  2. Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, … death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam (Rom 5:12, 14).
  3. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
  4. All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinner””: “sin came into the world through one man …” (CCC # 402).
  5. Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin … (CCC # 403).
  6. How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice (CCC # 404).

Again, why just Adam?

I want to propose several answers, not all of them politically correct. I am not indicating that everything I am about to say is the formal teaching of the Church; some of what I present is speculative. Hence I hope you will feel free to critique, add to, or subtract from what I have written.

1. Parallelism – St. Paul makes it clear that we are saved by Christ alone. This is because sin came through “one man” and hence we are saved by “one Man,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ are all made alive (cf Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:22). Parallelism makes it fitting that because we were saved by one Man, we were steeped in sin through one man. This argument is ultimately unsatisfying because it amounts to a kind of post hoc/propter hoc argument. We’re starting with the conclusion (that we were saved by one Man) and then developing the premise (that it is because one man sinned). But the New Testament guides and influences our understanding of the Old Testament, and it should. Hence there are two Adams, a “man-for-Man” parallelism. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

2. The Headship of Adam – Scripture teaches of the headship of the husband in marriage (cf Eph 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1; Titus 5:2; Col 3:18). When God ordained marriage, He stated that “A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two of them shall be one” (Gen 2:24). It is the man who leads the marriage and is its head. But this makes him ultimately responsible for what takes place in that marriage.

Our modern age tends to think of headship as a privilege, but Scripture speaks of it more in terms of responsibility and service (cf Mark 10:41-45; Lk 12:48). Thus, the headship of the husband brings to him the ultimate responsibility for what happens under his roof. This does not mean that his wife is necessarily without guilt, but it does mean that he must answer for what happens.

I am the head of my parish. Now if some members of my parish or staff do something wrong, the bishop does not call them; he calls me and expects me to handle the matter. I am ultimately responsible for what happens in my parish and must account for it, correct it, and accept that I share responsibility for what has happened. This may be because I failed to teach properly, or to exercise sufficient oversight or due diligence. It may not be entirely my fault, but as head, I must answer for it.

Hence original sin is called the “Sin of Adam” because he was the head of that early household and bore ultimate responsibility for what took place. Notice that when God was looking for them in the Garden after they had sinned He did not say, “Adam and Eve, where are you?” He said, Adam, where are you? (Gen 3:9) It is Adam who must render an account. Eve is not without blame, but God calls out Adam. Adam had headship and in this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

3. The “Complexity” of Original Sin – When we think of the first sin, we tend to think of it as simply the eating of a forbidden fruit. But I suggest to you that it was a little more complicated than that and involved Adam a little more than is commonly thought.

Adam had been placed in the Garden prior to Eve’s creation and had been told to work the garden and keep it (Gen 2:15). (Some translations say that he is to work in it and guard it.) After the creation of Eve, she has something of a long conversation with the devil, during which he spars with her, tempting her and ultimately causing her to fall.

Now during this time where was Adam? One would think he was far away, because the text does not indicate that he said anything. But in fact the text discloses that Adam was standing right next to her the whole time she conversed with Satan! Why this silence from Adam? One would expect Adam to say to Satan, “Why are you talking to my wife? What are you saying to her? Why are you trying to mislead her?” One would further expect Adam to dispute what Satan was saying and to defend his wife from this temptation and error. Surely Eve should not have had to answer Satan all on her own. She does well at the outset, but then weakens under his onslaught. Why does Adam not step in to protect Eve and to bolster her strength? Why does he not assist her in this struggle and defend her against this threat? Is his silence not part of the first sin? Is his omission not integral to the fall of them both?

Adam had an obligation to rebuff Satan and to guard his wife and the garden, but he remained passive. As head of the house, Adam had the primary responsibility of defending his household from all error, sin, and threat. Eve should not have had to face Satan alone. Adam was worse than useless; his silence gave strength to Satan’s arguments. Eve was not without sin, but Adam failed to assist her and to provide her the support she needed and deserved.

Thus the first sin involved more than merely eating the fruit; that was its culmination. Adam’s complicit silence was integral to the fall as well. It set the stage for the first sin. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

Well, that’s enough from me. Have at it. Add other points. Distinguish what I have set forth or wholly reject it if you wish. But ponder with me why original sin is called “the Sin of Adam

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Comments (14)

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  1. Todd says:

    I believe a big part of the answer lies in what you preached about on July 20th. Our most primal fear is Death, a decreasing, or to be ‘diminished.’ I think there was at least an implied threat present in the garden. If you do this (disobey God) you won’t die! And yet if you don’t you will have to deal with the Serpent before you – you may well die right here, right now!

    As a husband & a father we are called to lead, protect, and provide for our families, our children. Priests are ‘fathers,’ (spiritual children ie; parishioners) and husbands – married to the Bride of Christ, the Church. Could Adam be any different? Was he not tasked with protecting his bride – Eve? God set it up so that the man is the spiritual head of his household. That is God’s design, we should not mess with it. And yet the devil mocks God by turning everything upside down. Patriarchy becomes matriarchy.

    Here’s the punchline; What Adam was called to do was to be willing to DIE to protect his bride. Catholicism is not pacifist – we fight! When we are brought to an hour where that is no longer possible and all we have left is a choice we had better pray that we be given the grace to say; Long live the King Jesus Christ! Praise be to Jesus Christ Son of the living God! Or; I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first!

    I think it was Mother Teresa who said that God does not need our success only our fidelity.

    Ephesians 5: 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

    How are we to love our wives? As Christ loved the Church and gave – Himself – up – for – her! As that spiritual head you have legitimate rights (leading, protecting, providing) and more importantly legitimate responsibilities (sometimes that bill comes due – pray that you and I are given the grace to pay it).

    Husbands, fathers, Priests, men of the West! We are called to lead those we proclaim to love. Talk is cheap. We’ll find out how much we ‘love’ when a price must be paid. Jesus is the Way and He shows us – He leads us in that Way, and by His truth and grace we might master sin. Recall what God said to Cain: ‘And if you do not do well sin is couching (ambush) at the door; its (evil) desire is for you, but you must master it.’ The way to master sin – is to Die. Dying to self, dying to ego, die to human respect or honor as a false god, die to wealth as a false idol, die to power, die to pleasure. It is a paradox but Truth Himself – Jesus tells us; (John 12) 24* Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25* He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

    It is only Truth that sets men free – and it is Sanctifying Grace (share in God’s own Life) that keeps men free.

  2. Repent and Believe the Gospel! says:

    “And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it.” – Genesis 2:15

    “He that keepeth the fig tree, shall eat the fruit thereof: and he that is the keeper of his master, shall be glorified.” – Proverbs 27:18

    “GLORIFIED” in what way?

    Glorified with Divine Life! Adam and Eve ate from The Tree of Life before Original Sin:

    X is needed for Y to occur.
    Y occurred.
    Therefore, X is the cause of Y.

    The syllogism below reveals that Adam and Eve did eat from the Tree of Life before Original Sin (before they lost Divine Life):

    The Tree of Life that (X) brought forth the fruit of everlasting life (Y).

    Adam and Eve (before Original Sin) did not experience death (according to Jewish and Christian Traditions) for they had everlasting life (Y).

    Therefore, the Tree of Life (X) was the cause of Adam’s and Eve’s everlasting life/Divine Life (Y) before Original Sin.

    I could even explain to you what The Tree of Life is but nobody cares. And nobody wants to help!

    We could be converting people with this theology, but nobody cares. Oh well.

  3. Bruce says:

    Read this article this morning then went out with my wife to TJMAXX and Stop and Shop for groceries. I had a lot of time to think.
    Eve was lead astray by Satan’s scandal. Before Eve was in the Garden, maybe Adam became familiar with Satan’s temptations. He may have been jealous of his old buddy’s attention Satan gave to Eve and remained silent.

  4. Israel B says:

    Where is this reference verse on which you base “But in fact the text discloses that Adam was standing right next to her the whole time she conversed with Satan!” ???

  5. Doran Hunter says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,

    I think you make a strong case for your view, but I am curious about something off-topic here, and I’d be very interested in your view of it.

    The Catechism as well scripture and most of tradition are pretty unanimous in holding that original sin infected humanity through the sin of Adam, who is treated as an actual person, not as a symbol for the human race in its entirety or some other obscure notion. At the same time, evolution is supposed to be consistent with Catholic doctrine.

    Putting these two views together, we get something like what is proposed in the so-called “Flynn-Kemp hypothesis,” God is supposed to have infused a soul into the first anatomically modern human being, who then “fell” as described in doctrine and scripture.

    Human beings are thought to have emerged from one-hundred thousand to two-hundred thousand years ago in Africa from more primitive ape-like ancestors. “Adam” comes to be when God infuses a rational soul into what had been a mere anmal. What I don’t get is the picture of what is supposed to follow this. This “Adam” lives in a group of non-humans (his parents are non-humans of course) somewhere in East Africa, not in a paradisal Garden, and in a world where death and suffering had been part of life for hundreds of millions of years. What then is the setting of the story of the Fall? What was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? The creators the Flynn-Kemp hypothesis hold that the children of Adam bred with non-humans (as they would have to in this scenario). Does any of this make sense? Is there a way to reconcile evolution and doctrine in a way that is both plausible and avoids obscurantism (e.g., “It’s all symbolic.”).

    I’d appreciate your insights. ‘

    –Doran

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Catholics are able to hold only a mitigated form of evolution. That God may have allowed creation to emerge in stages is fine. But we hold that God directly created Adam and Eve and from them, all of us descend. This is known as monogensim. Most secular evolutionists hold for a polygenism. I have written more on this topic on this blog. If you put polygenism in the search bar you will find it.

  6. Mark says:

    Father Charles, do you happen to know if this logical progression, connecting Adam’s silence to his culpability, appears in the Church Fathers or elsewhere in Tradition? Or is it a rather new development? It’s something I never heard before a few years ago, but it seems to be a theologically sound thought.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I’m not sure if the Fathers develop this. But the conclusion that he was silent seems to flow from the text wherein he is with her but is not recorded as saying anything. Some will say Adam had no experience with threat and so his culpability is less. My point here however is to show that Original Sin is more complex than the mere eating of fruit. There are things that lead up to it including entertaining temptations, and remaining silent in the face of error. The Catechism says that Adam let is trust in his creator die in his heart and this led him to abuse his freedom. so there are layers or stages to the sin

  7. Mark says:

    Don’t some of the Fathers teach that if only Eve had sinned, God would have just made Adam a new wife, but not vice versa?

  8. TaylorKH says:

    Good teaching points. Thank you. In particular, 2 and 3 point to the husband’s role for keeping marital conjugal relations moral.

  9. Charles Tolle says:

    Thank you for another excellent post. The section on male headship reflects my own thoughts. Regarding the scriptural citations, one may also consider I Corinthians 11:3. I like and understand your analogies between husband –wife and pastor-staff. I have always found it instructive that God goes to Adam first for an explanation. To me, this confirms that there was an unfallen version of male headship as well as the fallen version we see in Geneses 3:16. Thank you for pointing out that Adam failed to exercise it by not defending his wife against Satan.

    My reflections go just a bit further. I mean that he also failed to protect her from herself. His silence is most obvious when she offered him the forbidden fruit and he takes it. No objection, no comment at all. Determining motive is something historians spend much time on and we should be reluctant to jump to conclusions. In this case however, one can’t help but notice the similarity to many modern males who seek to please their wife without reference to God or personal responsibility. I can just imagine Adam thinking “happy wife, happy life”. The first fallen thing he did was to stop putting God first in allowing his wife to lead him. Ahab would later do likewise with Jezebel. (I Kings 1:1-29)

    Satan observed that Eve shared his undo pride (arrogance) in wanting to be like God. Later our Blessed Mother Mary would provide the proper example of humility toward God. Eve wanted to be a Goddess but became a slave. In the original Greek of Luke 1:38 Mary calls herself doule or slave. In Revelation 12, she is shown to be the Queen of Heaven, the mother of the King of the new Israel which is the church.

    Both our lord Jesus and Saint Joseph provide examples of proper male conduct. Jesus says yes to God and no to Satan from the temptation in the desert to the cross. Saint Joseph displays the true version of headship in Matthew 2:13-14 in leading the Holy Family to Egypt. The much greater saint, our Blessed Mother, lovingly followed a man lead by God and under His grace. In Ephesians 5 and I Peter 3, Husbands are called to this type of headship in spite of their own weakness inherited from Adam. No Christian leadership is possible without grace provided by Jesus the new Adam. Please forgive the length of this but thank you once again Monsignor for creating the urge for a layman to pour forth on things too sublime for him.

  10. Rob says:

    Nothing to add here. Good analysis and food for thought

  11. Nick from Detroit says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope. Very informative.
    I’ve also heard Dr. Scott Hahn explain that the Hebrew for “serpent” did not conger up images of a snake to the ancients. It was more like a dragon or leviathan (maybe an alligator?,) therefore, Adam might have been silent because he feared for his life. His sin would have been first, since he did not trust fully in God along with not guarding Eden from the serpent.
    God Bless!

  12. Eric says:

    Did I make a mistake somewhere Monsignor? Am I in error in my interpretation of the events of Genesis? If a soul is in error don’t you as a priest have an obligation to correct that error, rather than just deleting that comment with no response? This is all very curious.

    Or maybe you had another reason…