Is Saint Augustine’s exegesis of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis correct? Do a Google search: First Scandal.


No, it is not.

I found the article you are talking about using Google. He makes a bit of a simplication to conclude that there are two points in Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis 2 & 3.

1. The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve is literal fruit.

2. The eating of the fruit resulted in "Original Sin" which all subsequent humans inherit and are guilty of.

I agree with point one. There is clearly a great deal of metaphor in the story of Adam and Eve. However, I believe that the story is also literal. I believe that there was a first man and woman created in God’s image who sinned. It is possible that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is metaphorical, but I believe it was probably a literal fruit.

However, I definitely do not agree with Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin. Augustine believed that all humans inherit guilt for Adam’s sin–that we are totally depraved. He believed that we are completely unable to respond to God’s grace. He taught that since the sin of Adam, all humans are born already guilty of sin inherited genetically from our mother; all the way back to Adam. This is a very unfortunate false doctrine. Ezekiel 18 and Ezekiel 31 teaches unambiguously that in the final analysis, we are not guilty of the sin of our father or our son (or of anyone else, for that matter). God will hold us accountable for our own actions, not for the actions of others, including Adam. Revelation 20:11-15 tells us that we will be judged for the acts we committed. There is NEVER any indication in the Bible that on judgment day we will be held responsible for the sins of others. This would not be just, and God is just.

No, Augustine does not interpret the Adam and Eve story correctly. We are not totally depraved. God has given us free will. We are able to respond to God’s love. In fact, we are commanded to choose life, not death, blessings, not curses (Deuteronomy chapter 30:19-20).

Why did Augustine reach this incorrect conclusion? It is always hard to prove the motivations of others, but a couple of possibilities come to mind. One is that Augustine was trying to explain why the church performed infant baptisms. The early church did not do infant baptisms!!! However, by the third century, this was done, and by the fourth century it became common. Why baptize a baby, if the purpose of baptism was forgiveness of sins which babies have not even committed? Augustine said that infants are cured of Original Sin in baptism. Another possible reason that Augustine reached this conclusion was that he was influenced by Manichaeism and by Neoplatonism. Both the dualist Manichaean religion and the Neoplatonist philosophy taught that physical reality is evil, and that our physical bodies and desires are inherently evil. This is a deep topic and a lot more can be said about Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, but I hope this will get you started.

John Oakes

Comments are closed.