Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?

Adam and Eve – Johann Wenzel Peter

Original sin is that first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, committed when they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1-7). While it clearly involved them both, 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 one man and one woman.” Consider the following quotes from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  • 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 sinners” “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, some of them somewhat politically incorrect. Not everything I am about to write represents formal Church teaching; some of it is speculation on my part.

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 ergo propter hoc argument by starting with the conclusion (we were saved by one Man) and then developing the premise (that it is because one man sinned). 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.”

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, A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one (Gen 2:24). The man leads the marriage and is its head, but this makes him ultimately responsible for what takes place in that marriage.

Today, we tend 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 upon him the ultimate responsibility for what happens in his household. This does not mean that his wife is necessarily without guilt, only that that he must answer for it.

I am the head of my parish. As such, if one of my parishioners or staff does something wrong, the bishop calls me and expects me to handle the matter. I am ultimately responsible for what happens in my parish and must account for it, accept shared responsibility for it, and correct it. It may be because I failed to teach properly. Perhaps I did not exercise enough oversight. 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 as head of the household he bore ultimate responsibility for what took place. When God was looking for them after they had sinned, He did not say, “Adam and Eve, where are you?” He said, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) Eve was not without blame, but God called on Adam to render an account. Adam had headship and, in this sense, the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

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

Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden prior to Eve’s creation and had been told to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15). (Some translations say that he is to work in it and guard it.)

After Eve’s creation, she has a somewhat lengthy conversation with the devil, during which he spars with her, tempting her and ultimately causing her to fall. During this time, where was Adam? One would think he wasn’t there because the text does not record him saying anything, but in fact Adam was right there the whole time! 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 her 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; it set the stage. In this sense the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?

12 Replies to “Why is Original Sin called the “Sin of Adam,” not the Sin of Adam and Eve?”

  1. I would be good to know the exegetical tradition – or traditions – about the presence or absence of Adam during the temptation of Eve. In any case, Adam’s also eating of the fruit is not a matter of indifference once Eve has eaten: he could and ought to have refrained from eating, himself. But, what would have happened if he had? Another instance in which it would be good to know the exegetical tradition – or traditions. Would there have then simply been ‘the sin of Eve’ and ‘the fall of woman’? How would a solely fallen Eve be forgiven and redeemed? Would she have been redeemed by looking faithfully to her future Savior? But where would He come from, humanly speaking – as Fully Man – by descent? Would an unfallen Adam have become procreatively one flesh with a penitent Eve? Or would a second, unfallen Wife have been provided?

  2. I believe the answer lies in the fundamental nature of marriage as ordained by God. When God gave Eve to Adam as a fit companion, He made then one flesh. They were no long only two individuals but a new spiritual entity that were made one with God as the uniting force. Satan new that he had to tempt Eve because God had commanded them to fill the earth. He had to get them to sin before they had children, otherwise their children would not inherit the post-sin fallen nature. To affect all mankind Satan had to work quickly. He tempted Eve successfully. Nothing happened. Then Eve gave the fruit to Adam and he ate, and everything happened. There was a fundamental change in their very nature. They were no longer immortal, they had to work the land, childbirth would be painful, etc. All their children would inherit their new fallen nature. Thus the sin was begun by Eve but completed, made whole, by Adam, because they were now married and shared a common divinely established bond that made them one. If Adam had not eaten, the change would not have happened. Eve would have had to be somehow reconciled to God for her disobedience, but they would both still share the preternatural gifts. She would still not know evil. They would still not know they are naked. Adam failed as the head of the marriage to keep the right order of obedience to God, to give his wife the model and guidance she needed, and all mankind has suffered the effects.

    1. That would be consistent with a Theology of the Body perspective, with its understanding of the Unity of the Two.

      As we know, “Adam” by himself is incomplete — he is missing the rib that was used to fashion the woman, who is necessarily incomplete herself. In the same way, we today are incomplete in our individuality — it is only when in communion with others that we are a complete “person.”

      With the original humanity, only when the rib is restored to the side — only when the two have acted in the communion of persons — is “man” complete. Thus, it is only when both have sinned that the complete man has sinned. When Eve partook of the fruit, the sin was still inchoate. When Adam did also, that was when the whole man had sinned — that was when the whole of the human race had sinned inasmuch as they were the whole of humanity.

      It is an interesting take on it.

  3. Both are equally guilty, and it is heresy to say otherwise, but it is Catholic doctrine that Original Sin coming to the human race is through Adam’s specific decision. Genesis says she ate and gave the fruit to her husband, who ate, and then “both of their eyes” were opened, but only after he ate. This plays into the sacrifial act of male only Jewish priesthood, Jesus as male sacrifice and high priest, Catholic male priesthood and Jesus as both sacrifice offered and male high priest etc…It is all interlinked.

    The doctrinal undermining of Original Sin and simple lack of knowledge about the topic has lead to false calls for women priests etc…

    Speculation about what might have been is also somewhat pointless. Communicating correct doctrinal details of what is believed, and why, is where we have failed. This is what needs to be addressed and our understanding deepened. Not wallowing in Marxist fake equality. Interesting, that God gives Women Mary and Men are given Jesus. Ponder that Pauline reality. That’s the place to start. Second Adam and second Eve.

  4. Msgr Pope’s point that it was Adam’s sin is also a point Scott Hahn makes. Dr Hahn mentions that Adam’s sin was committed before he ate of the fruit. It goes to what Msgr stated. Adam was charged with the tilling and keeping of the Garden. It was Adam who God told that the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil was forbidden. He is the one to instruct Eve of the forbidden fruit. Thus, Adam neglected to protect Eve from the devil’s temptation. Now, Eve on the other hand didn’t turn to her husband and ask for help. Shame on her, a bit of pride showed forth. That first sin needs to be studied carefully as a man and woman approach marriage. It is a great foreshadowing of problems to come if one fails to be true to the Creator’s loving care.

  5. Scripture says Eve gave the fruit to Adam, “who was with her” and thus fully aware of the whole thing.

    I have wondered if he wanted to eat the fruit himself, but was afraid to “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” So he kept silent, because Eve was his poison taste tester. She didn’t die, so….

    He did not protect the Garden, and he did not protect his wife.

  6. Therese, with kind respect I will have to disagree on two points. One, temptation is not sin. The act brought a direct consequence of both eyes opening. Secondly, Genesis 3 tells us Eve knew full well the strictures about the tree of good and evil and she quotes them to the Serpent when asked. Adam or God had already instructed Eve. She knew, and was deceived. Adam certainly should not have conceded, but his fatalism of going down with his wife, suggests not realising other options, or perhaps there was none? Maybe Jesus supplied what he could not? It’s a difficult call in any case. Somehow I think pondering Jesus and Mary still holds the answer to how things could and should have been done.

  7. Wanting to share by bit as well , to the wisdom and ponderings in the good article and comments , also in gratitude for the prayers and blessings of who ever too , including you , dear Rev.Msgr .- just realized too 🙂 that your first name ‘Charles’ to also mean, a ’tiller ‘ of the soil – the bit of wisdom picked up from the book on deliverance by Rev.Fr Charles Schmidt , of same first name,( as well as beloved St.John Paul 11 .)
    He mentions how, during a time of burn out in his life , he realized that instead of working ‘for ‘ the Lord, it has to be with Him .

    That tilling of the soil – would it be that Adam , walking with The Lord , in the ‘ breezy time of the day ‘ , thought that it was a bit beneath him – may be an idea projected onto him , by the watching , cunning agent .
    Those in deliverance mentions how rectories and such are also special targets for the enemy .
    Thus , loss of fidelity, in small matters , lead to loss of graces , for holiness in larger matters – ( that is from the treasure chest of wisdom , in bite size pieces , from the Diary of St.Faustina .)

    Such a pattern , in the Lord’s beloved son David as well – after the war
    victories , he thought it was time to be in ‘rest ‘ , not of holiness but for the flesh ; little did he know that the enemy was lurking at the widow, in the form of a pagan woman , tempted to have her bath , at that very moment .

    In our times , it is not even one such window , but many and may be millions
    of such agents too – T.V, ads on the roads ..books ..

    Adam, if he also showed a bit of disdain for the earth , his remedy meted out by The Father , to till the soil also makes sense and in our times too, that disdain through pollution of the earth and Holy Father’s reminder , for respect at all levels for the environment as well , even may be as a means of helping , in true attitudes of cherishing womanhood / motherhood as well , which could help to be the antidote for the major evils under focus now , thus to do away with the envy effects .
    The culture , engaged in means of remedying pollution in just ways – God would know how same could serve to bring employment to many .

    St.Joseph , the Patron of laborers ,to help to restore dignity of labor, invoked
    more in our times again, under the guidance of the Holy Father .

    Our Lord Himself who spent 30 years ! , in humble, hidden family life and those endearing words in the Novena to St.Joseph , about his role at the work shop in Nazareth , guiding the hands of the creator , whose hands put the stars in place ! – may his prayers and presence esp. bless the hands and hearts of all our Father figures as well , to help well, in all the tilling needed , to put back in place , all that need to be !

  8. All inherit Original Sin but it is passed on to children through the seed of the father. Hence, it is referred to as the sin of Adam.

  9. This take seems incorrect. Firstly, it implies that Adam bears the greater guilt for the fall when in reality Eve’s guilt is greater as evidenced by comparing their punishments (cf. ST II-II, Q. 163, A. 4, https://aquinas.cc/76/78/~3939). Secondly, it is more parsimonious and fundamental to ground the explanation in the relative perfection between Adam and Eve. This argument would help to put Gen. 5:2 on a solid metaphysical basis, which (as Joe rightfully points out) shows through divine revelation that the proper name for humanity is Adam (“man”): “masculum et feminam creavit eos et benedixit illis et vocavit nomen eorum Adam in die qua creati sunt”.

    While arguments from modern theology could be employed (e.g., ToB), they usually lack rigor and consistency when compared to scholasticism.

  10. Msgr,
    What is the meaning and significance of Eve not being named until after Original Sin ? It was only after the fall that Adam has dominion over her.

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