Why is the First Sin called the "Sin of Adam" not the "Sin of Adam and Eve?"

Original Sin as you (hopefully) know is that first sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they ate the forbidden fruit  of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1-7). It is clearly a sin that involved both of them. And yet, both in Scripture and Tradition when this sin is referred to formally by name it is called the “Sin of Adam” or “Adam’s Sin.” It is also described  as coming to us “through one man”  not “through Adam and Eve” or “through a man and a woman.” Consider the following quotes from Scripture and then from 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 sinners”: “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”.293 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)

Why just Adam? Now, to be sure, both Scripture and the Catechism describe the Sin as involving both Adam and Eve, but neither formally refer to it as the “Sin of Adam and Eve” but only, the “Sin of Adam” or “Adam’s Sin.” Sin comes to us through Adam. Why is this?

I want to propose several answers, not all of them politically correct. Now in doing this I am not hereby 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 it and add to what I have written as well as subtract. Here are a few “explanations” as to why it seems fitting that Original Sin is referred to formally as the “Sin of Adam.”

 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).  So parallelism makes it fitting that since one Man saved us, hence we were steeped in sin through one man. Now this argument is ultimately unsatisfying since is amounts to a kind of post hoc, propter hoc sort of argument. We’re really back-loading the whole thing here by starting with a conclusion (we are saved by one Man) and then developing the premise (one man, sinned). But, it is a true fact that 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. And 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). Hence it is the man who leads the marriage and is its head. But this makes him finally responsible for  takes place in that marriage.

Now our modern age tends to think of headship in terms of 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 a final responsibility for what happens under his roof. This does not mean his wife is without guilt, any more than Eve was without guilt. But headship does mean that the head has to answer for what happens.

I am the head of my parish. Now if some members of my parish or a staff member 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 perhaps I failed to exercise oversight or due diligence. It may not be all my fault, but as head, I have to answer for it.

Hence Original Sin is called the “Sin of Adam” since he was the head of that early household and was finally responsible for what took place. In this regard, 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 want to suggest to you that the first sin was a little more complicated than that and thus involves Adam a little more we commonly think.

Adam had been placed in the Garden and, even prior to Eve’s creation, been told to work the garden and keep it (Gen 2:15). Some translations say he is to work in and guard it. After the creation of Eve and at the moment of temptation we see that Eve has something of a long conversation with the devil wherein he spars with her to cause her to be tempted and ultimately to fall.

Now during this time where is Adam? He would seem to be far off since nothing is said by him. But the text quite remarkably discloses that he was standing right next to her the whole time she converses with Satan! (Gen 3:6). Why this silence from Adam? One would expect Adam to say to Satan, “Why are you speaking with my wife?….What are you saying to her?……Why are you trying to mislead her….?” One would further expect Adam to retort what Satan was saying and defend his wife from this temptation and error. Surely Eve should not have had to answer the Devil all on her own. She does well to begin but then grows weak under the onslaught. Why does Adam not step in to protect and augment his wife’s strength? Why does he not assist her in this struggle and help defend 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 guard his wife and the garden. But he is passive. As head of the house he has the first responsibility to defend his household from all error, sin and threat. Eve should not have had to face the devil and answer him alone. He was worse than useless, his silence gave strength to Satan’s arguments. Eve is not without sin but Adam has failed miserably to assist Eve and provide the support she needs and deserves.

Now, dear reader, permit my flourishes here. After all I am a preacher at heart and preachers love hyperbole. I admit some excess in my cross-examination but also stand by its basic point which is that the first sin involved more than eating the fruit. That was its culmination. But complicit silence from Adam was integral to the fall as well. It set the stage for the first sin. In this sense too,  the first sin is fittingly called the “Sin of Adam.”

Well, enough said by me. Have at it. Add other points. Distinguish what I have already set forth or wholly reject it if you wish. But ponder with me why, when original sin is called by name, it is called, “the Sin of Adam?”