The doctrine of Original Sin remains one of the perennial objections to the compatibility of Christianity and evolutionary theory. It is not long into a conversation on this topic until Romans 5:12-21 is brought up. However, parsing the differing views of original sin is not as common.
This post will look at original sin as it is understood theologically. That is, what does Adam’s sin have to do with us? Does Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:12-21 mean that all anatomically modern humans must be descended from Adam? Under the topic of original sin, there are two different points to be discussed: (1) the meaning of the phrase translated “because all sinned” and (2) how to understand the imputation of Adam’s sin.  Therefore, both of these points will be discussed in turn.
The layout of this post is as follows. In the first section, I give an overview on the history of original sin. This will allow us to orient ourselves historically and possibly open us up to perspectives we have not considered before. In the second section, we will discuss the meaning of “because all sinned” and different views on the imputation of Adam’s sin. The debate is extremely complex, so the point will not be to settle the matter. Instead, we will look at which views are compatible with mainstream science and which views are not. I will also note the views listed that either are or could be held within evangelicalism.
In the third section, in order to underscore that a number of acceptable views on original sin are compatible with mainstream science, I will discuss some evangelicals who hold views on original sin that are compatible with mainstream science. This will show that it should be acceptable to hold to both an acceptable view of original sin and the truth of original sin. The last section will then summarize the post and underscore the important points.
The History of Original Sin
This treatment will be brief, so for a fuller discussion see the essays in Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin. As we will see below, there is a multiplicity of what is meant by “because all sinned” and the imputation of Adam’s sin. So long as we keep an ambiguous meaning in mind and do not read in a particular understanding on those details, it seems safe to say that original sin was held before Augustine’s discussion.
The debate on the historical connectedness of Augustine’s conception to earlier theologians is complicated, so the safest conclusion seems to be to affirm the following two points: (1) some of Augustine’s understanding of the details about original sin are not found explicitly in all earlier understandings and (2) Augustine’s particular understanding may or may not be in line with the earlier church’s understanding of original sin. (89-96) So we should affirm diversity in early understandings of original sin. Whether this diversity should be read as contradictory or simply as a lack of fullness of a proper picture is something that cannot be decided here. Later developments on original sin clearly diverge as the Catholic Church affirms original guilt while the Orthodox Church does not.
The Lutheran Tradition
In the Lutheran tradition, there is again diversity. To give one example, Robert Kolb points out that Melanchthon’s view of original sin “added defiance of God’s law to Luther’s more exclusively relational definition.” (117) The precise way we should read this diversity is again open to question, but the fact that there is diversity even amongst close friends and thinkers like Luther and Melanchthon is noteworthy. Of course, where exactly the diversity lies is just as important as the fact that there is diversity, but this is only a historical sketch in order to orient ourselves, so those complicated details need not concern us. One last point is worth noting. Robert Kolb points out that Luther’s view of original sin was a “revolutionary redefinition” of the patristic and medieval view. (126)
The Reformed Tradition
The Reformed tradition rightly agreed on certain points: (1) “all human beings are born with a propensity to sin and invariably act out that propensity,” (2) responsibility for original sin cannot be put on God, and (3) human depravity is rooted in the fall, not creation. (145-146) Nonetheless, there was considerable diversity on a number of points. First, why are all other humans guilty by Adam’s sin? Is it due to God’s decree, biological generation, or federal headship? Second, what is the relation between the imputation of guilt and the inheritance of depravity? To quote Donald Macleod, “Is the depravity penal: a punishment for the guilt of that first sin? Or is it true that there is no guilt separate from the depravity: in other words, no one is guilty who is not also depraved?” (146) Lastly, there was debate about the origin of the soul: is it directly created by God or procreated? (146)
Thomas McCall argues that Wesley and early Methodist theologians held to a federal headship view (see below). (165) However, later developments led in different directions. One of these directions was due to different emphases. A different direction, according to McCall, was due to a switch from a theological to an anthropological emphasis. (165)
Lastly, Carl Trueman discusses original sin in modern theology. We note, once again, a wide variety of views, including contradictory views. Trueman states that one’s view of original sin “is necessarily and decisively connected to the structure of one’s theology as a whole.” (185)
This brief historical survey should orient us towards diversity of views even within common traditions. As an example, even within the Reformed tradition, there are three important debates that continue to this day. So we should not be so quick to equate our particular understanding with the only acceptable view on the topic. Instead, there is a diversity of orthodox positions on the topic, as will be discussed below. Moreover, as always, a survey of historical views on the topic should orient us towards the fact that our own position on the topic will be conditioned by the particular communities and traditions we grew up in and identify with. With these points in mind, let us turn away from history and towards interpretation and theology.
Views on Original Sin
(A) The Meaning of “Because All Sinned”
Let us now look at different interpretations of this key phrase. Grant Osborne’s discussion is particularly lucid and concise, so I will quote him:
As to the first interpretation, this view is incompatible with mainstream science because part of the theory is that all anatomically modern humans are descended from Adam. While the second view is compatible with mainstream science, it is clear that it is not defensible either exegetically or theologically, so this view should not be taken. Interesting, Osborne goes on to say, “These last three views are the most likely, and it is difficult to choose among them.” (138) Since Osborne does not think the first view has much going for it, the fact that it is incompatible with mainstream science should not worry us.
The third option seems compatible with mainstream science too. As Thomas Schreiner, writes in another place, “Paul does not specifically explain how Adam’s sin led to these consequences [death, sin, and condemnation] for all. It seems most likely that he views Adam as the covenantal head for the humanity, just as Christ is the covenantal head for the new humanity.”  The fourth view says that Adam acted as humanity’s representative. Given this, the fact that Adam sinned means that humanity is held responsible for that sin too. Nothing about this view demands that all of humanity is descended from Adam. Therefore, this view is perfectly compatible with mainstream science.
Lastly, the fifth interpretation is compatible with mainstream science too. All the fifth interpretation means is that all of humanity is part of a fallen world and all of humanity goes on to sin. At most, this view would demand that Adam and Eve fell before the rest of modern humans evolved. Since this fact would be perfectly compatible with mainstream science, this interpretation of the key phrase is compatible with mainstream science too.
Stepping back then, only the first interpretation is incompatible with mainstream science. This is also one of the two views that Osborne notes is least plausible. All of the other options are interpretations that are compatible with mainstream science, although, as noted above, the second interpretation is not defensible exegetically or theologically. All of the last three views are ones that are held within evangelicalism. Therefore, there are a number of views on the proper interpretation of this phrase that are held within evangelicalism that are compatible with mainstream science. With that in mind, let us see if the same can be said about understanding the imputation of Adam’s sin.
(B) The Imputation of Adam’s Sin
Once again, Osborne’s discussion is lucid and brief, so I will quote it and then discuss the different views. 
The first view is certainly compatible with mainstream science, but it is indefensible exegetically and theologically. From what is stated about the second view, nothing demands the unity of the human race. Namely, the view does not say how it is that we are guilty, so this is open to investigation. Given that the Rea defense cited above is compatible with mainstream science, then that is one way in which this view can be shown to be compatible with mainstream science. Therefore, this view seems perfectly compatible with mainstream science.
The third view does not demand the unity of the human race either. There is no contradiction in thinking that a human being is born with a sin tendency and that the same human being is not descended from Adam. Therefore, this interpretation is compatible with mainstream science too. The fourth view teaches that we inherit corruption, which leads to our sin and therefore guilt. To state the previous point differently, there seems to be no contradiction in holding that a human being is not descended from Adam and that the same human being inherits corruption and goes on to sin. So this view seems to be compatible with mainstream science.
The fifth view as stated seems to entail the unity of the human race, thus making it incompatible with mainstream science. Here Osborne gives Jonathan Edwards as an example. Although the matter can be complex, when we look to Edwards it seems like his view does not demand the unity of the human race.  If this is correct, then Edwards’ view is compatible with mainstream science.
Although the sixth view talks about the descendants of Adam, there does not seem to be any reason why federal headship entails the unity of the human race. Here is a reason for thinking that: the natural way to read Romans 5:12-21 according to this view is to see Adam and Jesus both as federal heads; since Jesus being the federal head of believers does not mean we have to biologically descended from him, then it does not seem like we have to be biologically descended from Adam either. At most, it seems like this view might demand that Adam and Eve were the first humans, although even this point is not obvious. Either way, this view is compatible with mainstream science. The last view is incompatible with mainstream science since it teaches the unity of the human race.
So let us summarize what has been said on this matter. The first view is compatible with mainstream science, but it is not exegetically or theologically defensible, so we will set it to the side. Moreover, all of views (2)-(6) when properly understood seem to be compatible with mainstream science. This means that only view (7) is incompatible with mainstream science. Here it should be noted that (7) is a minority position. As B.B. Warfield says, “Only, we demur to what seems to us the overemphasis of the fact of ‘heredity,’ taken in the strict sense, in this connection…We do not need to defend the theory of the ‘inheritance’ of acquired qualities in order to account for it; the principle of representation is enough.” 
Of course, one might wonder how these doctrines are being derived from this passage even if it is taken in conjunction with other passages. Interestingly, Osborne says, “On the whole, it must be said that the entire debate reads too much into verse 12.”  Even if one does not agree with Osborne’s assessment, all of views (2)-(6), with (3) being somewhat hazy, are held within evangelicalism. Therefore, given that these are acceptable viewpoints to have, then that seems to entail that it should be acceptable to accept one of those viewpoints and believe mainstream science. So, believing in the imputation of Adam’s sin is not incompatible with mainstream science. Nonetheless, in order to make it explicitly clear that holding to original sin and mainstream science are compatible, we will now look at views on original sin that are held by prominent evangelicals and note that they are compatible with mainstream science.
Evangelicals and Evolution
The point in this section is not to say that every prominent evangelical holds a view on original sin that is compatible with mainstream science. To make this clear, Millard Erickson’s view seems to demand the unity of the human race, a point incompatible with mainstream science.  Nor is the point to list every prominent evangelical who holds a view on original sin compatible with mainstream science. We are simply looking at a simple in order to show that one can hold an acceptable view on original sin and also hold to mainstream science.
One final caveat is needed before moving on. A number of writers on the topics express their exposition in line with a belief in the unity of the human race. However, this does not entail that their view on original sin demands the unity of the human race.
Let me try to explain why that is. There is a difference between what is entailed by a proposition and what is deduced once that proposition is seen in light of other beliefs one holds. For instance, the belief that God created the world does not by itself mean that God did so 6,000 years ago. However, if I believe that God created the world and also believe that the world is 6,000 years old, then the belief that God created the world 6,000 years ago is entailed.
So the theological doctrine that God is the Creator does not entail that God created the world 6,000 years ago. Instead, it is only once that person combines their beliefs on God as Creator and that the world is 6,000 years old do they derive that God created the world 6,000 years ago. Nonetheless, when talking about the topic that God is the Creator, this author might express that God created the world 6,000 years ago. If one thinks the world is actually 7,000 years old, one is only denying the author’s tangential belief about the age of the world, not the author’s belief that God is the Creator.
Bringing this around to our topic at hand, a number of the writers express themselves in terms of the unity of the human race. However, I believe this expression comes about by combing their views on original sin with their further belief in the unity of the human race. The conclusion, then, is that their views on original sin do not demand the unity of the human race. The expression simply comes about because they are writing within a web of beliefs and so the phrase comes to natural fruition.
Therefore, if one denies the unity of the human race, one is not thereby denying that person’s doctrine of original sin, only that person’s belief in the unity of the human race. So going forward I will note that some of these authors express themselves in terms of the unity of the human race, but I will also note that this is not entailed by their system. This will be brief, though, so the discussion here should be kept in mind.
(B) Wayne Grudem
Wayne Grudem believes that we are held guilty because of Adam’s sin.  It might seem that Grudem’s view entails the unity of the human race since he says, “When Adam sinned, God thought of all who would descend from Adam as sinners.” (495) However, this seems to be an inference from his belief in the unity of the human race, not from his view on original sin. This seems confirmed by the fact that he goes on to say, “As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us guilty as well as Adam.” (495) So Grudem seems to hold a federal headship view, a viewpoint we noted is compatible with mainstream science. 
A few more noteworthy points about Grudem’s view are worth mentioning. First, he believes that those who do not believe that we are guilty because of Adam’s sin can still be “evangelical theologians.”(496) This is noteworthy because this means that he does not see this as a dividing line for evangelicals. Second, he rightly discusses inherited corruption, our sinful disposition due to Adam’s sin. (496-498)Nothing in his exposition seems to demand the unity of the human race since his use of “inherited” does not seem to demand a literalistic reading. Therefore, Wayne Grudem’s exposition on the topic of original sin seems compatible with mainstream science. Since Grudem’s view seems are welcome within evangelicalism, one can hold an acceptable view on original sin and believe mainstream science.
(C) John Murray
Second, let us turn to John Murray’s exposition in The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. He notes, “We must insist on the involvement of posterity in Adam’s sin in a way that will place this involvement in the category of sin and yet maintain that it was Adam’s trespass in a manner that is not ours.” (86) Further, he says, “And perhaps the most relevant way of stating the case by way of parallel is that posterity came to have property in Adam’s disobedience with the result that their judicial status is that belonging to the disobedience in which they have property.” (87)
The use of “involvement” in the first quote, “posterity” in the second quote, and his further use of “solidarity” could be taken as meaning that his view demands the unity of the human race.
However, as discussed above, I think this is simply his way of expressing himself, not a part of his system as a whole. Consider the following:
Given that “representative solidarity” is used with regards to both Christ and Adam, Murray seems to align himself with federal headship view discussed above. Since Christ as our representative does not mean we are all descended from Christ, so it does not seem that Adam as our representative needs to demand that we are all descended from Adam.
Murray goes on to list a number of these, so let us look at them briefly to see if he says anything further that might entail a conflict with mainstream science. First, he says, “The members of posterity cannot be conceived of as existing when Adam trespassed.” (90) This seems to be a clear denial of the only view on the imputation of Adam’s sin that we noted is in conflict with mainstream science, the natural headship view. Second, “All the members of the race come to exist actually by the act or process of generation; this is the divinely constituted means whereby God’s foreordained design comes to effect in the course of history.” (90) While one might read this as entailing the unity of the human race, that does not seem like the point that is being communicated here. For in explaining his meaning he goes on to say, “For the truth is that each person never exists as other than sinful. He is eternally contemplated by God as sinful by reason of the solidarity with Adam, and, whenever the person comes to be actually he comes to be as sinful.” (90; emphasis original) So the point simply seems to be that people come into existence through reproduction and that they are actually sinful from that moment. Therefore, this does not demand the unity of the human race.
Third, the sin of Adam is imputed from the start of our existence. (91) Fourth, we are reckoned as having actually sinned in Adam. (91) Finally, fifth, Adam’s sin was transgression of God’s law. (91) Murray’s discussion is in order to prove the following point, “In other words, the imputation of Adam’s sin carries with it, not merely as consequence but as implicate, the depravity with which all the members of the race begins their existence as distinct individuals. The imputation is not thus conceived of as something causally antecedent to the depravity but as that which includes depravity as an element.” (92) A further statement seems to confirm that Murray rejects the natural headship view, “Thus the relation of natural generation to depravity is that by the former we begin to be and having begun to be we are necessarily sinful by reason of our involvement in Adam’s sin.” (92-93)
Given this discussion, John Murray’s view on original sin seems to be perfectly compatible with mainstream science. Therefore, since his view is an acceptable one (as it is since his discussion is often widely praised), then one can hold to an acceptable view on original sin and believe that the doctrine is compatible with mainstream science.
(C) John Stott
Stott notes that Paul is concerned with the entrance of evil in the world of humanity, not the entrance of evil in general.  He takes the reference to “death” to include both physical and spiritual death. (150) Stott then identifies his take as the federal headship view, “All died because all sinned in and through Adam, the representative or federal head of the human race.” (152; emphasis original) Interestingly, he goes on to espouse a view that is compatible with Adam’s original sin affecting humans that are not descended from him. (164-166) So John Stott’s views are perfectly compatible with mainstream science.
(D) Thomas Schreiner
Thomas Schreiner’s interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 was discussed above, so I will recount the relevant details. He reads verse 12 as saying “that all people sin and die because Adam introduced sin and death into the world. Sin and death as evil powers, as twin towers, rule over all people by virtue of Adam’s sin.”  Schreiner identifies himself as holding to the covenant head view of the imputation of Adam’s sin. (273) Moreover, he holds that this passage teaches that “all enter the world condemned and dead because of Adam’s sin.” (273)
So Schreiner’s view of original sin is perfectly compatible with mainstream science. So since Schreiner is one of the premier evangelical New Testament scholars, then one can hold to an acceptable view of original sin that does not contradict mainstream science. So it is hard to see how holding to both of them would be unacceptable.
We have seen that a number of prominent evangelicals espouse views on original sin that are compatible with mainstream science. Wayne Grudem, the writer of the massive selling Systematic Theology, espouses a view that is compatible with mainstream science. Since his view is acceptable, one can hold to original sin and mainstream science.
John Murray’s discussion on the topic in The Imputation of Adam’s Sin is justly famous. He discusses the matter in extensive detail with historical, exegetical, and theological sensitivity. While no view on the topic is universally accepted, it is difficult to find a proponent and view that is more highly regarded than Murray’s discussion. Therefore, the fact that his view is compatible with mainstream science is especially noteworthy.
John Stott was one of the most famous evangelical pastor-scholars. He espouses a view that is compatible with mainstream science. Moreover, he was acutely aware of these discussions, so he even discusses original sin affecting humans that are not descended from Adam. Therefore, one can hold to mainstream science and be an evangelical on this matter.
Finally, we looked at Thomas Schreiner’s view on the topic. His view has a number of similarities with Murray’s, so it is unsurprising to find his view compatible with mainstream science. Hence, one of the most highly regarded New Testament scholars in the Southern Baptist Convention holds a view on original sin that is compatible with mainstream science. Since Schreiner’s view is clearly acceptable, one can hold to an acceptable view on original sin and consistently believe in mainstream science.
The conclusion of this survey is that we can look at particular proponents and see that their views on original sin are compatible with mainstream science. Therefore, holding to an acceptable view of original sin can be done with integrity while also believing in mainstream science. This point is no longer only theory; it is shown to be true in light of particular examples. So it seems hard to deny the conclusion that someone can coherently believe in original sin and mainstream science in a way that should be welcome.
Personally, I am not sure about the best interpretation of eph hō or the proper understanding of the imputation of Adam’s sin. The whole debate is obviously very complex, and my disposition is to research a topic in-depth before holding very firm views on it. Nonetheless, my goal is not to find a position that is compatible with mainstream science, but one that is faithful to the biblical witness. Even though I have no firm view on the topic, there are still a number of points that should be emphasized from this survey.
We have noted the diversity of opinion on the topic down through the centuries. This allowed us to orient ourselves to the discussion at hand. Diversity of views does not mean that we should not be confident about our own interpretations, but when that diversity is espoused by a plethora of orthodox Christians, it should give us pause about being overly dogmatic about our own position on the debate.
The next section talked about different views on understanding “because all sinned” and the imputation of Adam’s sin. The point there was to note the diversity of viewpoints and then evaluate which ones were compatible and which ones were incompatible with mainstream science. As we noted, only the Augustinian view on both points was incompatible with mainstream science. This was because that view demands the unity of the human race. However, we noted that the other views do not demand such a view and that they are compatible with the other parts of mainstream science too. Therefore, a diversity of acceptable positions on the interpretation of that enigmatic phrase and understanding of the imputation of Adam’s sin are compatible with mainstream science. Since those views are acceptable within evangelicalism, it is therefore consistent to hold to an acceptable view on original sin and also to mainstream science. Therefore, having such views seem like they should be acceptable too.
However, it is easy to agree with the idea in theory and still sense a disconnect. Therefore, we looked at a number of reputable evangelical scholars who hold positions on original sin that are compatible with mainstream science. So, once again, this means that holding to original sin and mainstream science are compatible. The conclusion of this post, then, should be that original sin cannot be used to show a conflict between Scripture and mainstream science. Given that, it seems that those who hold to original sin and mainstream science should be welcomed. The important question though, is this: do you agree with that assessment?
Notes For a philosophical defense of original sin that is compatible with mainstream science, see “The Metaphysics of Original Sin” by Rea in Persons: Human and Divine.
 Osborne, Romans , 137-138; citations of Romans commentaries and articles omitted. The references all predate 2010. So, Schreiner’s Romans commentary refers to his first edition, not his newest second edition. Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 538.
 See the footnote spanning Osborne, Romans, 138-139. Guelzo, “After Edwards.”
 The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, volume 10, 140.
 See the footnote on Osborne, Romans, 139.
 Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 209. Grudem, Systematic, 494.
 This also seems confirmed by response 3 he gives at the bottom of 495.
 Stott, Romans, 150.
 Schreiner, Romans (1st edition), 273.