The term "original sin" is unknown to the Jewish scriptures, and the church's teachings on this doctrine are antithetical to the core principles of the Torah and its prophets. Moreover, your comment that your Christian denomination teaches that water baptism is essential for the removal of sin may rattle the sensitivities of more Christians than anything I am going to say. Nevertheless, you have raised a number of important issues that must be addressed. Before answering your question, however, it is important that our website visitors understand the Christian doctrine on original sin.
According to church teachings, the mortal sin committed by our first parents in the Garden of Eden had catastrophic consequences for the human race. Most importantly, Christendom holds that these devastating effects extend far beyond the curses of painful childbirth and laborious farming conditions outlined in the third chapter of Genesis.
This well-known church doctrine posits that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, all of their descendants became infected with the stain of their transgression. Moreover, as a consequence of this first iniquity, man is hopelessly lost in a state of sin in which he has been held captive since this fall. As a result, he is powerless to follow the path of obedience and righteousness by his own free will. Rather, missionaries contend, because all are born with an innate and uncontrollable lust for sin, humanity can do nothing to merit its own salvation. In essence, man is totally depraved and true free will is far beyond his grasp. "Totally depraved" may seem to be a harsh way for a Christian doctrine to depict mankind's dire condition, yet this is precisely the term used by the church to describe man's desperate, sinful predicament. It is only through faith in Jesus, Christendom concludes, that hopeless man can be saved.
You stated in your question that the doctrine on original sin teaches that "all human beings are born with an innate tendency to disobey God." While this statement is superficially correct, it fails to convey the far-reaching scope of this church doctrine. Although Christianity does teach that the entire human race is born with an evil inclination, this tenet encompasses a far more extreme position than the one that you briefly outlined. In fact, missionaries insist that as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden, man's unquenchable desire for sin is virtually ungovernable. In Christian terms, man is not inclined toward sin but more accurately is a slave to sin. As a result, the church concludes, short of converting to Christianity, humanity can do nothing to save itself from hell.
Bear in mind, there is good reason for the church's uncompromising stand on this cherished doctrine. The founders of Christianity understood that if man can save himself from eternal damnation through his own initiative and obedience to God, the church would have very little to offer the human race. Moreover, if righteousness can be achieved through submission to the commandments outlined in the Torah, what possible benefit could Jesus' death provide for mankind? Such self-probing thoughts, however, were unimaginable to those who shaped primitive Christianity.
Despite the zealous position missionaries take as they defend this creed, the Christian doctrine on original sin is profoundly hostile to the central teachings of the Jewish scriptures. Over and over again the Torah loudly dismisses the notion that man has lost his divinely endowed capacity to freely choose good over evil, life over death. This is not a hidden or ambiguous message in the Jewish scriptures. On the contrary, it is proclaimed in virtually every teaching that Moses directs to the children of Israel.
In fact, in an extraordinary sermon delivered by Moses in the last days of his life, the prophet stands before the entire nation and condemns the notion that man's condition is utterly hopeless. Throughout this uplifting exhortation, Moses declares that it is man alone who can and must merit his own salvation. Moreover, as he unhesitatingly speaks in the name of God, the lawgiver thoroughly rejects the notion that obedience to the Almighty is "too difficult or far off" and declares to the children of Israel that righteousness has been placed within their reach.
Deuteronomy 30 isn't a quiet chapter and its verses read as though the Torah is bracing the Jewish people for the Christian doctrines that would confront them many centuries later. As the last Book of the Pentateuch draws to a close, Moses admonishes his young nation not to question their capacity to remain faithful to the mitzvoth of the Torah. Deuteronomy 30:10-14 states:
. . . if you will hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law; if you turn unto the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul; for this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you neither is it too far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, and make us hear it, that we may do it?" Neither is it beyond the sea that you should say: "Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it that we may do it?" The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
The Jewish people have drawn great comfort and encouragement from this uplifting promise. For the church, however, Moses' strong message created a theological disaster. How could the authors of the New Testament reasonably insist that man's dire condition was hopeless if the Torah unambiguously declared that man possessed an extraordinary ability to remain faithful to God? How could the church fathers possibly contend that the mitzvoth in the Torah couldn't save the Jewish people when the Creator proclaimed otherwise? How could missionaries conceivably maintain that the commandments of the Torah are too difficult when the Torah declares that they are "not far off," "not too hard," and "you may do it"?
This staggering problem did not escape the keen attention of Paul. Bear in mind, the author of Romans and Galatians constructed his most consequential doctrines on the premise that man is utterly depraved and incapable of saving himself through his own obedience to God. In chapter after chapter he directs his largely gentile audiences toward the cross and away from Sinai as he repeatedly insists that man is lost without Jesus.
Yet how could Paul harmonize this wayward theology with the Jewish scriptures in which his teachings were not only unknown, but thoroughly condemned? Even with the nimble skills that Paul possessed, welding together the church's young doctrine on original sin with diametrically opposed teachings of the Jewish scriptures would not be a simple task.
Employing unparalleled literary manipulation, however, Paul manages to conceal this vexing theological problem with a swipe of his well-worn eraser. In fact, Paul's innovative approach to biblical tampering was so remarkable that it would set the standard of scriptural revisionism for future New Testament authors.
A classic example of this biblical revisionism can be found in Romans 10:8 where Paul announces to his readers that he is quoting directly from scripture as he records the words of Deuteronomy 30:14. Yet as he approaches the last portion of this verse, he carefully stops short of the Torah's vital conclusion and expunges the remaining segment of this crucial verse. In Romans 10:8 Paul writes,
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach).
Predictably, the last words of Deuteronomy 30:14, "that you may do it," were meticulously deleted by Paul. Bear in mind that he had good reason for removing this clause -- the powerful message contained in these closing words rendered all that Paul was preaching as heresy.
This stunning misquote in Romans stands out as a remarkable illustration of Paul's ability to shape scriptures in order to create the illusion that his theological message conformed to the principles of the Torah. By removing the final segment of this verse, Paul succeeded in convincing his largely gentile readers that his Christian teachings were supported by the principles of the Hebrew Bible.
But the word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach).
The question that immediately comes to mind is: How can Paul deliberately remove a vital clause from Moses' message and still expect to gain a following among the Jewish people? While considering this question, we can begin to understand why Paul attained great success among his gentile audiences and utterly failed among the Jews who were unimpressed with his contrived message.
It is for this reason that although both Paul and Matthew quoted extensively from the Jewish scriptures, they achieved a very different result. Paul was largely a minister to gentile audiences who were ignorant of the Jewish Bible (the only Bible in existence at the time). As a result, they did not possess the skills necessary to discern between genuine Judaism and Bible tampering. These illiterate masses were, as a result, vulnerable, and eagerly consumed everything that Paul taught them. In fact, throughout the New Testament it was exclusively the Jewish apostates to Christianity who challenged Paul's authority, never the gentile community.
Matthew, on the other hand, directed all of his evangelism and Bible quotes to Jewish audiences. Jewish people, however, were keenly aware of Matthew's manipulation of their Bible. As a result, the first Gospel failed to effectively reach its intended Jewish readers. It required little more than a perfunctory reading of the first few chapters in the Book of Matthew for Jewish people to determine that there was no prophecy in Isaiah that foretold that a virgin would give birth to a messiah. Likewise, the Jewish people were doubly unimpressed with Matthew's claim that the messiah was to be a resident of Nazareth, when no such prophecy existed. The people of Israel concluded that Matthew had engaged in a willful and unrestrained corruption of their sacred scriptures. Consequently, the author of the first Gospel failed in his effort to convert his targeted Jewish audiences to Christianity.
Ironically, there was no individual in history who was more responsible for the strong resistance of the Jewish people to the Christian message than Matthew. In contrast, the person most responsible for the church's unparalleled success among the gentiles was unquestionably the apostle Paul. Not surprisingly, throughout the biblical narrative, gentiles had always had a terrible time discerning chaff from wheat, truth from heresy; and the Jews were repeatedly warned never to emulate them. Tragically, some of our people missed this crucial message.
Paul, however, should have been tipped off that his teachings on original sin were misguided and that his broad-brushed characterization of humanity was erroneous. In fact, the Jewish scriptures repeatedly praised numerous men of God for their unwavering righteousness. For example, the Bible declared that men like Calev1 and King Josiah2 were faithful throughout their extraordinary lives. Moreover, because of their devotion to their Creator, Abraham and Daniel were the objects of the Almighty's warm affection as He tenderly referred to Abraham as "My friend,"3 and Daniel, "beloved."4 These extraordinary people did not merit these remarkable superlatives because they believed in Jesus or depended on a blood atonement; but rather, it was their devotion to God and unyielding obedience to His Torah that shaped their lives.
Job's unique loyalty to God stands as a permanent enigma to Christian theology as well. Here was a man who was severely tested by Satan and endured unimaginable personal tragedies, yet despite these afflictions, Job remains the model of the righteous servant of God. While in Christian theology Job's personal spiritual triumph is a theological impossibility, in Jewish terms it stands out as the embodiment of God's salvation program for mankind. Job didn't rely on Jesus to save him and he certainly did not turn to the cross for his redemption; rather, it was his unswerving obedience to God that made his life a lesson for all of humanity.
Paul's unfounded doctrine on original sin sullies the exemplary legacies of these and many other great men of God. Moreover, Christians must ponder whether it is an insult to the Creator to label all of God's human creation depraved.
Quite unwittingly, Luke committed a striking theological blunder that severely undermined Paul's teachings on original sin. In the first chapter of Luke, the evangelist seeks to portray Elizabeth, who is the cousin of Mary, and her husband Zechariah as the virtuous parents of John the Baptist. Yet in his zeal to characterize the baptizer's mother and father as saints, Luke unwittingly writes, "Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly." (Luke 1:6)
The question that immediately comes to mind is how can missionaries possibly harmonize Paul's insistence that all humanity is depraved when Luke insists that Elizabeth and Zechariah were to be regarded as "blameless"? This is a stunning gaffe for Luke to make when it was he who eagerly promoted Paul in his Book of Acts. Doesn't Luke's assertion that this couple observed "all the Lord's commandments" fly in the face of Paul's central teaching that no one is capable of keeping the mitzvoth of the Torah? Is it not a fact that Christianity teaches that this task is impossible?
Paul never lived to read the Book of Luke, yet throughout his epistles Paul sidesteps any statement in the Jewish scriptures that could undermine his teaching on original sin. For example, immediately after the sin of Adam and Eve is narrated, the Torah declares that man can master his passionate lust for sin. In Genesis 4:6-7, God turns to Cain and warns him,
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? If, though, you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you shall master over it.
For Christian architects like Paul, Augustine, and Calvin, this declaration of man's capacity to restrain and govern his lust for sin is nothing short of heresy. Moreover, the fact that the Torah places these assuring words immediately following the sin in the Garden of Eden5 is profoundly troubling for the church. How can depraved humanity control its iniquity when the Book of Romans repeatedly insists that man can do nothing to release himself from sin's powerful grip? Yet notice that there is nothing in the Eden narrative that could be construed as support for Paul's teaching on humanity's dire condition. On the contrary, in just these two inspiring verses, the Torah dispels forever the church's teachings on original sin.
There is one final point that must be addressed regarding a passing statement you made in your question. I was somewhat puzzled by your comment that your brand of Christianity teaches that "water baptism is required for the removal of this sin." It is not uncommon for Christians to relate some personal tidbit about their religious beliefs somewhere in the course of their question. What was so surprising about your comment, however, is that your church has simply replaced one commandment with another. On the one hand, your church teaches that the commandments explicitly ordained by the Torah are to be abandoned by believing Christians. Yet in the very same breath, your church then introduces this brand new commandment declaring that its parishioners must undergo a water baptism to be saved. It would seem more logical that if you were going to contemplate observing commandments, you might as well devote your loyalty to those mitzvoth ordained by God rather than those introduced by your pastor and deacons.
The notion that man is saved by being washed in water or forgiven through human blood is unknown to the Jewish scriptures. The Almighty does, however, clearly lay out His sovereign plan for His covenant people when he declares, "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil." (Deuteronomy 30:15) What is this "life" and "good" of which the Torah speaks? Missionaries insist that the Jewish nation must convert to Christianity and believe in a crucified messiah in order to be saved. The Torah, however, disagrees. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the Almighty unambiguously declares that the children of Israel are to draw near to Him with intense love and faithfully keep His commandments. This is the desire of the Creator. Moses beseeches the children of Israel,
I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Deuteronomy 30:16)
Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, remained intensely loyal to God's commandments and, as a result, the Torah regards our first patriarch as the paradigm of faithfulness.
I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands, and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws. (Genesis 26:4-5)
The Almighty did not give us desires that we cannot govern or commandments that we could not keep. The Torah was not delivered to angels, it was given to the children of Israel long after our first ancestors transgressed in the Garden of Eden.
In Jewish terms, sin is not a person, it's an event, and that event happened yesterday. In chapter after chapter, the prophets of Israel beseech those who lost their way to turn back to the Merciful One because today is a new day.
Best wishes for a happy Purim.
Very sincerely yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer