The Impact of Adam and Eve’s Sin on Newborns
How we go about teaching young babies in our homes and churches will be influenced by what we believe about the impact of Adam and Eve’s Sin on newborns. Do babies need to be “trained” from birth to overcome the sinful nature? Is “disciplining” newborns (teaching them to deny the sinful nature) something we should do from birth? Just what impact does the sinful nature (the result of Adam and Eve’s sin) have on newborns? Is it relevant to our teaching and parenting? This article articulates what we believe about this important issue. We welcome your feedback and input on the topic through our Contact Form.
The Sinful Nature in All of Us
It is clear from Scripture as a whole that humankind exists under the curse of sin. We can see from the plot of the biblical story that our world (and humankind) has been corrupted as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. God, however, had a plan to restore creation through the “seed” of the woman (Gen. 3:15). This “seed” found its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the cross was the means by which God would someday restore all of creation (Rom. 8:18-23). In the meanwhile, all people (including newborns) and all of creation are “groaning together” while we wait for the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23). The entire biblical story is about God’s unfolding plan to restore creation (and humankind) to the way things were before Adam and Eve sinned.
The sin of Adam and Eve had a cataclysmic effect on our physical universe. This is readily seen in the natural disasters that plague our world, but also in the reality of human death, including newborns and even the unborn. This is not because new and unborn babies have sinned and somehow deserve to die. It’s because babies are conceived in and born into a broken, fallen world that still functions under the curse of sin.
But the sin of Adam and Eve also had a spiritual effect on humankind. Not only is our WORLD broken, WE are broken! The Bible makes this abundantly clear when, in the very first story following Adam and Eve’s sin, their firstborn son, Cain, killed his brother (Gen. 4). And just to remove any doubt, Genesis 5 makes it clear that while Adam was made “in the likeness of God” (v. 1), his offspring were fathered “in his likeness, according to his image” (v. 3). The early chapters of Genesis leave little doubt that sin hasn’t merely corrupted our physical world, it has permeated humankind itself to the point that “man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5).
Like it or not, sin and evil are IN us. So much so that Paul, writing to the Ephesian Church, said, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) and then added that “we too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath…” (Eph. 2:3, emphasis added). Somehow the sin of Adam and Eve changed our very “nature.” This is true of all people (Rom. 3:23).
The Sinful Nature and Newborns
But how does our sinful nature impact unborn and even newborn children? They are, as noted above, susceptible to the death and brokenness of our fallen world, but are they manifestly “sinful” from the moment of conception? Is the cry of a newborn an expression of a selfish, sinful, and depraved nature? Certainly, the earliest months of a child’s life have an enormous impact on the physical development of the child’s brain, but does a child’s sinful nature shape the brain’s physical development so the child is observably self-centered from birth?
There is always a relationship between the spiritual reality of evil and the physical world in which we live (Rom. 8:20-21). It is virtually impossible, however, to define how, when, and to what degree evil and the sinful nature might impact early brain development in a newborn.
A newborn is naturally self-centered not due to their sinful nature, but due to a mere lack of awareness. All they know is… “my belly hurts,” “I am cold,” “I am hungry,” “my diaper is wet.” They can only be self-centered because that is all they know. Therefore, we do not believe that the cry of a baby craving comfort is evidence of his or her sinful nature. A baby cries when it is hungry or wet because that’s all it is capable of doing. This is not sin or the result of a selfish, sinful nature. It is a rudimentary form of communication, no different than when mom requests a pit stop two hours into the family vacation. Babies have real needs and crying is how they communicate those needs.
We do believe that the sinful nature will become evident in the self-centered behavior of a child as he or she matures and “learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good” (Isa. 7:15). Here, too, how this sinful nature takes root and grows in a child’s heart is a mystery, but the fact that it happens is hardly disputable.
Going a Little Deeper
How the sinful nature impacts a newborn is a mystery and not something we can define in a scientific way. It is, however, an important topic for those interested in educating children. To that end, we believe it’s important to keep the following things in mind when we talk about the impact of the sinful nature on a newborn or any child from birth to roughly 1-year old.
1) We’re not talking about WHETHER the sinful nature is going to have an impact on the child at some point. We know it will sooner or later. We’re talking about HOW and WHEN this becomes a factor in the child’s education. At what point does the sinful nature become a factor in how we care for and educate newborns? That’s the question for this article.
2) However present and/or relevant the sinful nature may be in the heart of a newborn, it is not in total control of the child’s behavior or in control of what the baby learns. Even most adults (to whom Paul was writing in Ephesians) maintain the capacity to learn, reason, evaluate options, and choose good over evil. The sinful nature may give us the inclination to sin, but it doesn’t, by itself, have the ability to gain total control over us. If that’s true for adults, it would certainly be true of newborns who have yet to develop even the slightest capacity to discern good from evil or choose one over the other.
3) The baby’s physical development and growth is relevant to the conversation. At the moment of conception, the child is a single, fertilized egg cell. It then divides, and divides again many times. The cells continue to multiply and the baby begins to develop beyond a mere collection of cells. What are we to think about the impact of the sinful nature on the baby during this season of the child’s life? Whatever we might conclude about the presence and relevance of the sinful nature during pregnancy, we don’t believe the mother and other caregivers should do anything other than whatever is necessary to produce a healthy baby. We simply don’t perceive the sinful nature to be relevant to the baby’s growth during this season.
At some point in the pregnancy, the child becomes viable; able to live outside the womb. A full-term, healthy baby is not born at the moment of viability, however. It continues to grow and develop during the pregnancy. It also continues to grow and develop AFTER birth. The intellectual and social development that occurs in a baby’s life after a healthy birth is generally a matter of physical brain development, which makes it impossible to observe to the average parent or teacher. This means the baby’s physical, intellectual, moral, and social development, that begins at the moment of conception, actually continues through the first year of a child’s life and beyond.
We would contend that just as the sinful nature is not relevant to how we care for unborn children, so the sinful nature is not relevant to how we care for and teach children in roughly their first year of life. We’re not saying that children aren’t born with a sinful nature. We believe they are. We’re merely saying the sinful nature isn’t relevant to how we care for and teach newborns.
What IS Relevant to Caring For and Teaching Newborns?
Even if the sinful nature is not perceived as relevant during the first year of a child’s life, there are still important things we DO know about young children and these things ARE relevant to how we care for and teach little ones.
We know that a newborn carries the very image of God (Gen. 1:26). We know that God’s people are called to “teach” their children according to His objective Revelation (Deut. 4:9). We know that positive, loving interaction with a baby fosters healthy brain development that allows the child to attach appropriately to its caregivers and, eventually, to God. And, we know that sacrificial love (which a newborn requires) is how we act, live, walk, and BE like Jesus. These realities suggest what seems to come rather naturally to mothers and caregivers of infants; our care for and teaching of newborns should be driven and characterized by loving attention. These little ones are treasures from God, created in His image. We have a responsibility to teach them, even from the start. They need to feel loved. And, they need to BE loved by significant human beings who are a regular part of their lives.
When God places a newborn in the care of a teacher at our church or a Christian parent, He is giving the church and the parents an opportunity to shape that child’s heart and mind in a way that will never be greater. It is no exaggeration to say that the teaching that takes place with a newborn in the arms of a loving teacher or parent is the highest and most significant form of discipleship that the church will ever perform. We should do it thoughtfully. We should do it deliberately. We should do it well.
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
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