A few posts ago, I mentioned an explanation of a biblical passage from a Christian that used a decoder ring made out of original sin. Brant of Both Saint and Cynic fame chimed in to write: “The Jews have no concept of original sin. It is an interpretation imposed on the Hebrew Bible by later Christian thinkers.”

I’ve heard this before, but this aspect of theology eluded/s me since, from what we’ve read so far in the Old Testament, the idea of communal and generational guilt is quite explicit. I’ve been struggling to understand the distinction between being held culpable for the acts of one’s great-great-grandfather and being held culpable for the acts of one’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Yes, there’s a difference, but the difference just doesn’t seem great enough to justify the emphasis that is placed on the distinction.

Brant elaborated:

I do think that the difference is qualitative as well as quantitative. The doctrine of original sin, as it is usually preached, suggests that guilt is a genetically inherited trait, that, humans are liable to God’s wrath and eternal punishment simply because they are born human. A common formulation says that the image of God in humans is utterly destroyed by Adam and Eve’s disobedience. I don’t think that any of the biblical writers would agree to that idea.

If I take his meaning correctly, the idea is that generational/communal guilt is merely guilt laid on top of one’s humanity, whereas original sin changes its nature.

In my continued attempt to understand, I took the question to Facebook where friend Alex added:

I suppose (if these musings are correct) the punishment visited by our link to Adam in Judaism is not a sin of my own whereas in Christianity I am personally to blame for Adam and Eve eating the fruit and so need to be redeemed to not be punished for it.

To take this idea a step further, generational/communal guilt is an answer to a question, whereas original sin is the question to the answer that is the crucifixion.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated in this discussion. I’m still not confident of my grasp on the distinction and, frankly, theology often tends to give me a headache, but I do feel like I understand it a lot better than I did a few days ago. So, cheers!