Article 2

Article 2

We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

Historical Context

In Joseph Smith's day, what did people believe about the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall of Adam? 

"The New England Primer was a textbook used by students in New England and in other English settlements in North America. It was first printed in Boston in 1690 by Benjamin Harris who had published a similar volume in London. It was used by students into the 19th century. Over five million copies of the book were sold...

"The New England Primer followed a tradition of combining the study of the alphabet with Bible reading. It introduced each alphabet letter in a religious phrase and then illustrated the phrase with a woodcut. The primer also contained a catechism of religious questions and answers. Emphasis was placed on fear of sin, God's punishment and the fact that all people would have to face death.

"Here are some examples of alphabet rhymes that teach moral values as well as reading.

A In Adam's Fall

We sinned all.

B Thy Life to Mend

This Book Attend.

C The Cat doth play

And after slay." (

"Children learned to read using The New England Primer with its theological ABCs, from A, 'In Adam's Fall We sinned all,' to Z, 'Zacheus he Did climb the Tree His Lord to see.'

"Letter U, for example, was remembered by 'Uriah's beauteous wife Made David seek his Life.' The primer was so popular, Benjamin Franklin was printing it nearly a century later." (

The phrase "In Adam's fall, we sinned all" seems to blame Adam for the sins of his posterity.  This idea would have been ingrained in the minds of New Englanders of Joseph Smith's day.  It was part of their education. The doctrine of Original Sin is more complicated than that couplet, but what is important is that religious instruction in America emphasized the guilt of all by the sin of one.

Not all the churches of the time blamed Adam for all sin. The idea became controversial.  While theologians at the time rejected "Original Sin," the common man may not have.

"'The prevailing doctrine in New England has been, that men are not guilty of Adam's sin, and that depravity is not of the substance of the soul, nor an inherent or physical quality, but is wholly voluntary, and consists in a transgression of the law, in such circumstances as constitute accountability and desert of punishment.'-Dr. Beecher's Controversy with the editor of the Christian Examiner in the Spirit of the Pilgrims, in 1828, as quoted in the Biblical Repertory." (

Doctrine of Original Sin

"Original sin is, according to a Christian theological doctrine, humanity's state of sin resulting from the Fall of Man. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a 'sin nature', to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt." (

The extremes of the Original Sin doctrine argue that man is born in sin and inherently evil, making Adam responsible for man's "total depravity" through "automatic guilt."

"Since about the fourth century, Catholic doctrine has held that because children inherit the fall from Adam they are thus born in sin. This belief is based primarily on a misinterpretation of two verses from Romans, which read: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. . . . For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Rom. 5:12, 19, italics added.)

"These verses were wrongly interpreted by Augustine and others to mean that all mankind sinned in Adam and that, therefore, children are born in original sin. This resulted in the development of the practice of infant baptism, since infants were considered legally to be sinners by inheritance." (Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible! [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990], 255)

"Martin Luther (1483-1546) asserted that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception...

It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers' wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God...

"John Calvin defined original sin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion as follows:

Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls 'works of the flesh' (Gal 5:19)." (

Consequences of the Fall

First, Adam's transgression brought death into the world.  God had a plan to remedy this, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22).  Ironically, Adam's transgression also brought life into the world.  If it weren't for the fall of Adam, none of us would have been born.  We would all be up in heaven waiting the opportunity to take upon ourselves tabernacles of flesh. The Bible doesn't teach this doctrine.  It is found only in the Book of Mormon, "If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden... And they would have had no children" (2 Ne. 2:22-23). This one simple golden nugget of truth about the Fall changes everything about the way Latter-day Saints look upon Father Adam. We were glad that Adam fell.  It gave us the opportunity to experience mortality. We don't blame him; we honor him.

Second, Adam's transgression brought sin into the world.  God had a plan to remedy this as well.  Rather than saying Adam's Fall brought sin upon us all, we should say that Adam's Fall brought the opportunity to sin upon us all.  The Fall provides an opportunity to be tested in mortality and that includes the opportunity to sin (2 Ne. 2:22-23). The Fall exposes mortals to the temptations of Satan (Moses 6:49).  The Fall gives man agency to choose right or wrong (2 Ne. 2:27). 

What does that mean for us?  Can we place the blame for our sins upon Adam's head?  Is it his fault every time we sin? Of course not!  What sort of a twisted version of justice would blame Adam for our sins?  It would be nice to blame someone else, but such a plan would destroy the justice of God, and we know that the justice of God cannot be destroyed or God would cease to be God (Alma 42:13).

F. Burton Howard

To excuse misconduct by blaming others is presumptuous at best and is fatally flawed with regard to spiritual things, for "we believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression." This not only means that we will not be punished for what Adam did in the Garden, but also that we cannot excuse our own behavior by pointing a finger to Adam or anyone else. The real danger in failing to accept responsibility for our own actions is that unless we do, we may never even enter on the strait and narrow path. Misconduct that does not require repentance may be pleasant at first, but it will not be for long. And it will never lead us to eternal life. (Conference Report, April 1991, 13)


In summary, we return to the couplet from The New England Primer, "In Adam's Fall; we sinned all." While sin came after the Fall, we cannot blame Adam for our sins.  Perhaps we should revise it to be, "Because of Adam's Fall; Satan tempts us all."  Man is not inherently evil.  He is not born in sin, but has a dual nature, being subject to forces of both good and evil.  And each individual must be responsible for how he or she responds to those forces.