In the book Isn’t Religion Weird? Quotations for Atheists by Dave Lane, an anonymous quote reads: “Why does God punish us with suffering throughout life and an eternity in hell afterwards? Because we are born evil and depraved! But why are we born evil and depraved? Because God makes us that way. So God makes us a certain way and then punishes us for being that way!”
From childhood, I was taught to believe that the sin nature (original sin) is passed down from the father (since Adam) and that this is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin. In other words, Jesus did not have a sin nature because he did not have a physical/earthly father. This view equates having a sin nature with being a sinner, in that being born with a sin nature means we are born sinful or born sinners. Psalm 51:5 is often used as support: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (NKJV).
This verse has been interpreted as David claiming to have been born sinful, but closer inspection shows that this is not what the text says. In the second phrase, “in sin my mother conceived me” obviously has nothing to do with David personally, the sin (whatever it may be) clearly belongs to his mother (and most likely his father, since she couldn’t conceive a child on her own). The first phrase, “I was brought forth in iniquity” does not say David was born full of iniquity. A very literal interpretation seems to imply that David was conceived and birthed before wedlock took place between his parents. A more metaphorical interpretation, as the poetic Psalms often take, could simply be that David was lamenting that he was born into a sinful world, suffering from the consequences of Adam’s sin. Either way, the verse in no way says that David claimed to be born a sinner.
With this in mind, the concept of original sin being passed down as a sin nature that is equated with sin itself does not really have scriptural support.
Original sin (committed by Adam) brought death to the world (Romans 5:12), and all of us, and even nature itself (Romans 8:22), suffers the consequences of Adam’s sin. But like a baby, nature is innocent of sin. One does not need to have been part of a particular sin to suffer its consequences (as in the case of victims of drunk drivers).
I’ve heard countless ministers mention original sin as just cause for God sending a person to hell, spouting from the pulpit that “none of us are righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). But was the apostle Paul really including babies in this verse?
Since many Christians believe that babies are born sinners (and since breathing/existing/crying is not a sin, then it can only be assumed they believe babies are at that point only guilty of Adam’s sin), and since most also believe God is love and would not send a baby to hell, they also believe in the “age of accountability.” In this way, all sinful babies (guilty of Adam’s sin) and young children (possibly also guilty of their own sin) who die too young to repent/seek Jesus are not sent to hell. They are not held accountable for Adam’s sin, and are even excused/forgiven of their own sins, without believing in Jesus.
In other words, they were found innocent.
To take this a step farther, if all “sinless/innocent” people (babies, stillborns, and most likely the majority of very young children, people with Down syndrome, etc.) will not go to hell because of Adam’s sin, then who is going to hell only for Adam’s sin? What sinful people are being judged/going to hell only because of Adam’s sin and not their own?
The idea of being judged and found guilty of original sin implies that God is saying, “Well, I want to send as many people to hell as I can, so if there is a person who manages not to sin his whole life, I can rest easy that I can send him to hell for Adam’s sin.” Obviously that’s ridiculous, but like the unknown atheist in the opening quote, that is what the nonbelieving world hears when Christians speak of being born evil: “God makes us a certain way and then punishes us for being that way!”
If we consider then, that possessing a sin nature does not make us a sinner, merely that it makes us a descendant of Adam, we see that a sin nature is not sin itself, but a tendency towards sin. In other words, because of Adam’s sin, we now all have a sin nature, but a sin nature doesn’t equal instant wickedness at birth (or conception). The Bible tells us that we all sin, so we all eventually fall prey to that tendency. Thus, if babies are born innocent, with a propensity for evil, then it’s not about an “age of accountability” that a person enters into for life after committing his first “real” sin, it’s more about leaving the “age of innocence” forever behind after he commits that first sin.
Some might argue that possessing a sin nature means a person no longer has the ability to not sin as Adam once did (assuming the person lived long enough to leave the “age of innocence”), and that Jesus was born of a virgin so that he, like Adam, possessed the ability to not sin when tempted, and where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. But that still reverts back to the genetic idea that God creates us the way we are and then punishes us for it. Since there are no scriptures that connect the virgin birth to sin or sin nature, Jesus’ miraculous entrance into the world could simply have been to fulfill such prophecies as Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14. Caution should be exercised when adding genetic implications to the virgin birth, and should never be done so dogmatically, as without scriptural support it falls into the realm of speculation.