Alice C. Linsley
The term “original sin” was unknown in both the Eastern and Western Church until Augustine (c. 354-430). Prior to this, theologians used different terminology when speaking of the fall and its effects. The phrase the Greek Fathers used to describe the tragedy in the Garden was “ancestral sin”- from the biblical term amartema – which refers to an individual sin for which the individual is morally responsible. Original sin, on the other hand, holds all humans morally responsible for the sin of Adam and Eve.
The word amartia (also a biblical term) means “missing the mark” and refers to the common condition of all humans. The Eastern Greek-speaking Church, unlike Western Latin-speaking, never speaks of guilt as being passed from Adam and Eve to their offspring. It regards this idea as contrary to God’s justice. Each individual is responsible for their own actions and can't be made to bear moral responsibility for another's intentional sin.
The early Church Fathers also recognized the possibility that Adam and Eve may be archetypes (in the Platonic sense) rather than historical persons. They are symbols of how men and women succumb to temptation when they desire the things of creation more than fellowship with the Creator. (The book of Genesis does permit the interpretation of Adam and Eve as archetypes. See this essay.)
Within Christianity the earliest idea of moral guilt involves the individual person, not the whole human race. God’s just nature means that each bears the guilt of his or her own sin. So what has humanity inherited from our ancestors? According to the early Church Fathers and 1 Corinthians 15:21: we inherited mortality or death, because our nature has become diseased and disease leads to death. So it is not that moral guilt or sin is passed on; it is that a condition or disease is passed on.
What do you think?