The early Church fathers did not have much to say about the origin of sin, but soon the idea that sin originated in the voluntary transgression of Adam became the prevailing view. This doctrine perhaps became accepted because of the need to combat the theory of Gnosticism. By the third and fourth centuries, there began a spread in the belief concerning the origin of sin between the eastern or Greek church and the Roman church. The Eastern church followed the doctrine of Pelagianism, which denied that there was any connection between the sin of Adam and the sins of men. The Roman church turned toward Augustine who stressed that we are both guilty and polluted in Adam. The doctrine of Augustine holds that Adam could — and did — sin for all mankind because of the unity of the human race. Adam is the spiritual parent of all mankind and acted for all of mankind when sinning. Therefore, all men are born of polluted parents and inherit the sinful nature from Adam. The reformers of the middle ages did not change this doctrine, but accepted it and transmitted it to the Reformed churches.
While sin must have entered the word because of God’s eternal decree, for nothing has happened that was not in accordance with His decree, sin cannot be said to be authored by God. The Bible says that sin entered the world through the transgression of Adam and began with a perfectly voluntary act on the part of man. There is another explanation of the origin of sin called the “Evolutionary origin of sin.” Naturally, a theory of evolution cannot hold to the historical story of the fall of man. There are many theologians who have accepted fully, or with reservations, the evolutionary account of the beginning of man. One evolutionary account of the beginning of sin is that the impulses, desires and qualities, which man inherited from the animal ancestor, cannot be called sin because the animal had no sin, but they constitute the material of sin. This material of sin does not become actual sins until the moral consciousness awakens in man. This holds that man gradually became an ethical being and regards man’s will as the only cause of sin. This theory of the origin of sin is contrary to the beliefs of the various reformed churches, and one must accept one doctrine or the other.
Closely following the question of the origin of sin is the question of transmission of sin. We find the same difference in opinion regarding the transmission of sin as we did in the origin of sin. That is, Augustine and Pelagius are on opposing sides. The Augustinian theory is that because Adam was the father of mankind, he sinned, and since every man existed in Adam, genetically speaking, Adam sinned for every man. Therefore, every man is born sinful, and sin is passed from generation to generation. Pelagius did not agree with this, and held that the imputation of Adam’s sin to anyone but himself would be in conflict with divine justness. Both Luther and Calvin, the fathers of the reformation, hold to the Augustinian theory. If Adam did not sin for all mankind, then Pelagians must go further to explain the universality of sin in the world. A doctrine which has found its way into New England theology and is called New School theology explains the evil that is in the world as being from the animal inheritance, which is not in itself sinful, but becomes sinful through man’s knowledge of sin. In this thought, we have some left handed support from Paul who stated that some sins were sins of the conscious only. That is to say, some acts are sinful or not sinful depending on the light one has received. The New School theology teaches that man is born with an inherent tendency to sin and because of that, his moral preference is invariably wrong. This tendency to sin cannot be called sin because sin always consists exclusively in conscious and intentional transgression.