The doctrine of original sin deals with what scripture teaches regarding the nature of mankind and the inherited guilt received by being “in Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22) and the stain of sin itself. This is because when Adam sinned, all of humanity sinned “in him” and sin spread to all men (Romans 5:12). This act of rebellion on Adam’s part brought all of humanity under condemnation (Romans 5:16) leading to all of humanity being born dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) and by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
What Paul is laying out in the latter half of Romans 5 is what’s called Federal Headship—that God deals with the human race with representatives, or one person acting on behalf of another. God has appointed two representatives in history: Adam and Christ.
He then argues that there was death before the giving of the law of God (Romans 5:13-4). The law was still present before Moses in the sense that it was written on all men’s hearts (Romans 2:15). Despite this, the fact that the law had not yet been revealed meant that those living could not sin “according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam,” meaning, by violating what was expressly revealed in the law of God. Adam violated his one “law”—not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But his offspring had no specific law until God gave it at Sinai. Yet, death was just as prevalent then as it is now.
This is because all of humanity was “in Adam.” We’re told that Adam was a type of the one who was to come (Romans 5:14) which was the Second Adam—Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
Many object to the idea of headship being unfair because how could everyone be guilty of what one man did, not realizing it’s because of headship that believers can be seen as righteous by being transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light, with Jesus being their new representative (Colossians 1:13-14, 1 Corinthians 15:22). The Adventist Church categorically denies this which is why it makes sense that they would also reject headship.
The SDA Church often attributes the idea of original sin to Roman Catholicism—surrendering the theological contributions of people such as Augustine of Hippo to be exclusively Roman Catholic.
Gerhard Pfandl, SDA theologian, in a paper titled Some Thoughts on Original Sin, states:
The Augustinian theory of original sin, which to a large extent has become Roman Catholic doctrine, includes the idea that Adam’s guilt is inherited by every newborn. Babies, therefore, must be baptised to wash away this inherited guilt. Adventists generally deny that we inherit Adam’s guilt. The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia states: “SDAs believe that man inherited a sinful nature with a propensity to sin, and their writings either reject or fail to stress the idea that men inherit the guilt of Adam’s transgression.”Gerhard Pfandl, Some Thoughts on Original Sin, pg. 19
While most SDAs (including their theologians) would agree on this being a Roman Catholic teaching, they are still divided over the subject. One side claims man indeed inherits a disposition to sin, but not the guilt of Adam (ultimately rejecting headship). The other side rejects the belief of sin having any part of man’s nature in favor of the idea that sin is what man chooses (nothing to do with one’s nature), failing to see the two are connected. Both sides, however, affirm the idea of the age of accountability which is a 19th and 20th century theological novum posited by some as to why all children who had been unable to exercise their own unaided faith by freewill didn’t go to hell.
Ultimately, the Adventist position is that the results of sin have weakened man, but they reject the idea that man is dead in sin. This is because they don’t believe that man has an immaterial spirit which must be born again and raised to spiritual life.
The Great Controversy Worldview permeates all of Adventist thinking and biblical interpretation. In the Great Controversy, man is seen more as a strictly physical, neutral agent being pulled in two directions with Jesus and His angels fighting over the souls of every human over and against Satan and his angels—man being the final determiner in if Jesus succeeds or not. Upon making a profession of faith, a person is then empowered to make behavioral changes and obey the law of God.