Question: What to Latter-day Saints believe regarding the concept of "original sin"?

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Question: What to Latter-day Saints believe regarding the concept of "original sin"?

Latter-day Saints believe that "original sin" as commonly understood in many branches of western Christianity was not a doctrine taught by the Bible, Jesus, or the apostles

The Second Article of Faith states that "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." There is a form of "original sin" in LDS theology, but it is a matter that has been resolved through the atonement of Christ:

And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world. (Moses 6:53-54, emphasis added.)

Thus, LDS theology explicitly rejects the idea that Adam's "original sin" results in a condemnation of the entire human race. Efforts to insist that all of humanity is thereby tainted, all desires are corrupted, or all infants are damned without baptism are untrue. Because of temptation and the instinctive desires of physical bodies, human beings wrestle with the desire to sin (Matthew 26:41; Mosiah 3:19), but Adam's actions in the Garden of Eden have no bearing on this.

As Wilford Woodruff taught:

What is called the original sin was atoned for through the death of Christ irrespective of any action on the part of man; also man's individual sin was atoned for by the same sacrifice, but on condition of his obedience to the Gospel plan of salvation when proclaimed in his hearing.” [1]

Concluded Elaine Pagels:

Astonishingly, Augustine’s radical views prevailed, eclipsing for future generations of Western Christians the consensus of the first three centuries of Christian tradition. [2]

Original sin is the innovation. It is a post-biblical novelty without scriptural support.

Given that the doctrine is explicitly repudiated by modern revelation, the Saints feel no need to accept it.

Clearly, any effort to exclude the Church from Christendom because they reject original sin must also exclude several hundred million Eastern Orthodox and Anabaptists. Clearly, such a standard would be nonsensical.

Original Sin in the Book of Mormon?

Critic Grant H. Palmer asserts in his book Insider's View of Mormon Origins that "[h]uman beings, according to the Book of Mormon, are evil by nature[.]"[3] Palmer asserts that the Book of Mormon's view of man is one in which man has become sensual, carnal, and devilish by cause of the Fall and that man is either a sinful degenerate or one who has put on the image of Christ--a strict binary between good and evil. Palmer asserts that the Book of Mormon's view of man as essentially evil is a far cry from Joseph's Nauvoo theology where man is seen as essentially good and with the potential to become like God. There are several problems with this theological evaluation of the Book of Mormon:

  1. To assume that a person can change at all would assume that a person has the potential to be good. Thus, being good must be a part of someone's essence. The Fall thus gives man the potential to do bad since he knows what being bad constitutes. The Book of Mormon many times assumes that being this way is one in which a person "persists" (Mosiah 16:5). Salvation is a process by which one must "come unto Christ, and be perfected in him[,]" and "search diligently in the light of Christ that [one] may know good from evil[.]" In the end a person is "saved by grace, after all [she] can do." (2 Nephi 25:23). It should be noted that "after" is not construed temporally but as a (i.e. "after all you can do, then grace intervenes") but in the sense of "even after all you can do."[4] If indeed the Book of Mormon viewed people as born intrinsically evil, then it could not issue such strong condemnations of things such as infant baptism (Moroni 8).
  2. The Book of Mormon does not see man as either one thing or the other. When it speaks of the natural man, it refers to those that are "without God" (Alma 41:11). A person that does not have God at all is in this natural state. Only a person who "yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of live, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon hum, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19)
  3. The Book of Mormon assumes in a couple of noteworthy passages that people can become deified.[5]

The foregoing severely complicates Palmer's conception of Book of Mormon anthropology.

Notes

  1. Wilford Woodruff, "Fulfillment of Ancient Prophesy," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 1:344. [Discourse given on Sept 1, 1889.]
  2. Elaine Pagels, “The Politics of Paradise: Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis 1-3 versus that of John Chrysostom,” Harvard Theological Review 78 (1985): 68.
  3. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 120.
  4. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Gift of Grace," General Conference (April 2015). Similar uses to the latter construal can be found using Google Books.
  5. 3 Nephi 28: 6-10; see also Neal Rappleye, "'With the Tongue of Angels': Angelic Speech as a Form of Deification," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 303-323.