Analyses of the doctrine of original sin in terms of inherited guilt hold that we are guilty of Adam’s sin and so that we can justly be punished for it. They tend to fall into three categories: theories that speak in terms of guilt by identification, those that speak in terms of guilt by participation, and those that speak in terms of guilt by association.

Guilt by Identification

The first way to defend the idea that each of us inherits Adam’s guilt is in terms of guilt by identification, by arguing that we are in some sense identical with Adam. Historically, this line of argument has been defended with reference to traducianism, the view that a child’s soul is part of his or her father’s soul. If traducianism is correct, then each of us has a soul that was complicit in the Fall. We are responsible for Adam’s sin because we were a part of him when he committed it.

Guilt by Participation

A slightly weaker, but related, approach speaks in terms of guilt by participation, appealing to the idea of seminal identity. On this view, although we are not fragments of Adam in the traducianist sense, every human was ‘in Adam‘ at the time of his sin, present in his loins. We therefore participated in Adam’s sin, according to this theory, and can justly be held accountable for it.

Guilt by Association

Finally, and, many have thought, somewhat more plausibly, original sin might be explained in terms of representation, in terms of guilt by association. Adam, it has been suggested, was a representative of mankind, who, in choosing to sin, chose to align all mankind against God. An analogy has been drawn between Adam aligning mankind against God and a government aligning its citizens against those of another country through a declaration of war. In sinning, on this view, Adam acted for all of us, declaring war on God, and so now we all bear the guilt for his sin.