Original 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:
- Like Adam, they [Israel] have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there (Hosea 6:7).
- 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).
- For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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