Bruce R. McConkie
What is original sin? This is the false doctrine that the sin of Adam passes upon all men and that, therefore, all men-infants included-must be baptized to be saved. It is, however, a fundamental principle of true religion “that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (Articles of Faith 1:2)
Are children tainted with original sin? Absolutely not. There is no such thing as original sin as such is defined in the creeds of Christendom. Such a concept denies the efficacy of the atonement. Our revelation says: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning”-meaning that spirits started out in a state of purity and innocence in preexistence-“and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38)-meaning that all children start out their mortal probation in purity and innocence because of the atonement. Our revelations also say, “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 6:54.)
Are children conceived in sin? Since there is no such thing as original sin, as that expression is used in modern Christendom, it follows that children are not conceived in sin. They do not come into the world with any taint of impurity whatever. (“The Salvation of Little Children,” Ensign, Apr. 1977, 4)
The doctrine of Original Sin derives from an interpretation given to the writings of Paul, particularly Romans 5:12-21, by some theologians of the second and third centuries. More than any other, Augustine in the fifth century transformed Paul’s teachings on the Fall into the doctrine of Original Sin. His views were adopted as doctrine and formally canonized by the decrees of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. According to this view, Adam’s sin is considered “original” because it arose with the “origin” of man.
Protestantism largely accepts this doctrine. John Calvin stated: “We believe that all the posterity of Adam is in bondage to Original Sin, which is a hereditary evil” (R. Reed, The Gospel as Taught by Calvin [Grand Rapids, Mich., 1979], p. 33). Protestant views emphasize the inherited nature of the sin, reflecting the German word for “Original Sin,” Erbsunde (literally “inherited sin”). Rabbinic Judaism teaches of two inclinations, one evil and one good; and some Jews consider “circumcision as a means of escaping damnation” (Samuel Cohon, Essays in Jewish Theology [Cincinnati, Ohio, 1987], p. 265).
Theologians have argued for centuries over the dark implications of such a damning doctrine. Some of the more ardent proponents have placed much of man’s misery at the feet of Adam and the Fall. All of this misery could be blamed, they argue, at the feet of Father Adam.
“Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ; moreover, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration; and because unclean, it is actively sinful, and suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame. ” Tertullian, On the Soul, 40(A.D. 208),in Ante Nicene Fathers, III:220
“Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning…through those who by their disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till life’s term.” Gregory of Nyssa, The Beatitudes, 6 (ante A.D. 394),in ECD, 351.