I have always been troubled by the “doctrine of original sin” which has dominated western theology, both Catholic and Protestant. It has received resurgent interest lately with the “neo-reformed” movement that has influenced numerous evangelical denominations and emerging churches. I generally try not to bother myself with such heavy subject matter, but The Story of Original Sin, with only 108 pages, and written by John E. Toews, a renowned Anabaptist biblical scholar, attracted my attention. Despite the small number of pages, his biblical and historical research is thorough. Here are a few of his strongly stated conclusions:

“Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is without biblical and historical foundation… There is no basis for it in the Genesis 3 text [neither sin nor Satan appear in the story], or elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures… There is no basis for it in the New Testament and certainly not in Romans 5:12 [Augustine did not know Greek and based his mis-exegesis on Ambrosiaster’s mistranslation of this text]. Paul’s real agenda is not Adam’s sin and its consequent universal death, but Messiah Jesus’ triumph over the apocalyptic power of Sin and gift of righteousness and life for all people.”

“Augustine’s doctrine of original sin could have been declared heretical… but became dogma instead of heresy, and his teaching has been perpetuated in the western church ever since. How could a teaching which violated the major criteria for truth in the ancient church have become dogma? The truth be told, it had to do with politics… to justify the practice of infant baptism as the means of cleansing for original sin.”

In his concluding chapter he proposes a more constructive proposal based on contemporary Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, and Anabaptist confessions:

“So, how do we understand sin? Sin is enslavement to transpersonal and structural powers… that have the world in their grip… We all let ourselves be seduced by these powers or we choose to embrace these powers and their sinful ways. Each culture and each ideology gives expression to these powers in different ways, so that the Christian church must continually discern the ways in which the powers tempt and call people to choose to turn away from God, each other, and creation.”