Home » Augustine’s Concept of Original Sin and Its Connection to Infant Baptism

Augustine’s Concept of Original Sin and Its Connection to Infant Baptism

by Dr. Eitan Bar
4 minutes read

God, in His infinite wisdom, created human beings with inherent limitations. These limitations contribute to our propensity to sin and struggle in various aspects of our lives. Our finite knowledge and understanding stand in stark contrast to God’s omniscience. As a result, we often grapple with discerning right from wrong, making just judgments, and choosing the best course of action due to our restricted comprehension of the world and its intricacies.

Our emotional nature renders us vulnerable to manipulation and temptation, which may lead us to act impulsively without weighing the long-term repercussions of our decisions. Additionally, our limited physical abilities, such as fatigue, pain, and illness, can engender negative emotions toward others, causing us to make wrong choices or even engage in detrimental behaviors. These inherent limitations, coupled with the influence of our environment and personal experiences, can lead us to make mistakes and commit sins.

However, recognizing and acknowledging our limitations can also foster humility and a deepened reliance on God’s grace to guide us in our journey towards spiritual growth and transformation. The knowledge that God loves us despite our imperfections can serve as a powerful reminder that we should also love, show grace, and forgive one another. This concept is a crucial aspect of the Bible’s message about sin.

Throughout history, scholars and theologians have presented various interpretations to define ‘sin’ and ‘original sin.’ One influential perspective is that of Augustine (354–430), who believed that humans are born with a “Destination: Hell” imprinted due to the sin of Adam. Augustine sought to justify the baptism of infants by suggesting that the guilt of Adam’s original sin is passed down to all humans. He argued that because infants have no personal sin, their baptism must be based on the inherited guilt (reatus) from Adam’s first sin:

Because infants have no personal sin, Augustine deduced their baptisms for forgiveness of sin must be based upon their inherited guilt (reatus) from Adam’s first sin.[1]

Augustine’s infant baptism aims to cleanse newborns of the inherited guilt from Adam’s original sin. Augustine’s concept of original sin implies that all humans are sinners before taking their very first breath, thereby inheriting Adam’s guilt and being born with sin. Critics argue that this idea contradicts the biblical teaching that individuals are responsible for their own sins, not the sins of others:

“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent” (Ezekiel 18:20).

But of course, nowadays, much of Christianity challenge Augustine’s view. For many, ‘original sin’ simply means that since a broken world creates broken people, we have been born into a world of brokenness. The repercussion is that we are all part of a faulty world, and so we are also destined to be affected and add our own brokenness into the messy swamp of human sin. The reality of sin is proven by the fact that we live in a dying world and are slowly dying ourselves:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, commenting on this passage, explains that Adam’s sin led to condemnation and death for all humans. He served as the conduit through which sin entered humanity and then proliferated, resulting in condemnation for all. (Romans 5:12)

Commenting on Romans 5:12, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig explains:

It is in that sense that one man’s sin led to condemnation and death for all men. Adam was the floodgate through which sin came into the human race and then spread to all people, leading to condemnation for all.[2]

In this light, we are not guilty of Adam and Eve’s sins but rather of our own. If the world were perfect and everyone in it were perfect, and if we were born to perfect parents, there would be the potential for us to be perfect as well. However, the imperfections of our parents and the world at large shape our identities and decision-making, ultimately rendering us imperfect as well. Like a relentless pandemic, sin first entered the world long ago, tainting everything good and pure, and subsequently spreading to all people.

The notion that God required a “plan B” (Jesus) after “plan A” (humans) failed presupposes that human rebellion was the most significant problem. Yet, God created us with limitations, such as restricted knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, that predisposed us to sin. This suggests that the experience of sin and failure was part of God’s original plan, intended to teach us about love, grace, forgiveness, empathy, and compassion through experiencing life’s ups and downs. It is through our struggles and shortcomings that we learn the true meaning of life: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The conclusion we can draw from this is that sin is not our biggest problem; rather, it is primarily a symptom of a deeper issue: disbelief in God. Since justification comes by faith alone, the opposite of faith is not sin but disbelief. Therefore, the real problem and greatest sin of all is to have no faith and to reject the gospel, which proclaims that God loves you so much that He was willing to lay down His life for you (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16). Rejecting God as your Father means you have freely chosen to spend eternity away from Him.

By acknowledging our inherent limitations and embracing our reliance on God’s grace, we can embark on a transformative journey of spiritual growth. Recognizing that we are all flawed and that sin is an inherent part of the human condition can help us extend love, grace, and forgiveness to others. As we strive to deepen our faith and trust in God, we will be better equipped to confront the challenges of life and overcome the struggles that our limitations often present. In doing so, we can work towards becoming more compassionate, understanding, and loving individuals, reflecting the divine love that God has for each of us sinners.

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
free sample is available here.

[1] Ken Wilson, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, Pg. 48
[2]Atonement and the Death of Jesus”, YouTube, March 4, 2022.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist