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wholesale nfl jerseys Total depravity is the first of the five points of Calvinism. Paul Washer defines total depravity as the doctrine that “fallen man is unable is to love, obey or please God.” Total depravity teaches that an unsaved man is completely incapable of loving or obeying God. It is also known as total inability.

Paul writes that without Christ we are “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:20) and “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The Bible certainly teaches that human beings are depraved – we inherit a sinful nature that tempts us to do evil. We have all committed sin and therefore stand guilty before God, deserving of death (Romans 6:23). “There are none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Without Christ, we are depraved sinners in need of a savior. But Calvinism takes this to such an extreme as to say that human beings utterly incapable of believing in, obeying, or pleasing God. By doing so, Calvinists remove free will from the equation. If we are not capable of making a free will decision to follow Christ, salvation cannot be on athe basis of free will, and must instead be on the basis of God choosing who is and is not save

Total depravity is the foundation upon which the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) stand. In Calvinism, unconditional election (the doctrine that God predetermined who will and will not be saved) and irresistible grace (the doctrine that God chooses who will be saved and man is not able to resist or exercise any choice in the matter) are only necessary because of total depravity – man is completely incapable of choosing God, therefore God must do everything for man. These views inevitably lead to the doctrine of limited atonement, the view that Christ did not die for the sins of the world (despite 1 Jon 2:2), but only the sins of the “elect,” those predetermined by God to be saved.

Remove total depravity from the picture and the whole structure of Calvinism collapses. If man is capable of choosing God, salvation does not need to be predetermined by God, and can be on the basis of our free will decision to believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-10).

Unfortunately many Protestants take the doctrine for granted and fail to examine it critically. Here are three arguments against the doctrine of total depravity.

Argument #1: Total Depravity is a New Doctrine Based on Old Gnosticism

The doctrine of total depravity developed about 500 years ago. None of the church fathers believed in it – they all strongly affirmed that man has the power to choose good or evil. Here are a few quotations from second century church fathers:

“Let some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Now, if this is not so, but all things happen by fate, then neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions.” -Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.)

We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” -Tatian (120-180 A.D.)

“There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life, because you are a free man” -Melito (2nd century)

“But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” -Ireneus (130-202 A.D.)

“I find, then, that man was constituted free by God. He was master of his own will and power…For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance.” -Tertullian (160-225 A.D.)

Calvinists rely solely on their interpretation of Paul’s writings to provide biblical support for total depravity. If Paul actually taught total depravity, why did Paul’s own disciples and those who came shortly after him strongly deny the doctrine?

There is no question that Paul teaches the depravity of fallen man. We are “dead” (guilty, deserving of death, as good as dead) in our sins. We are “slaves to sin” (it is the natural inclination of our flesh). There is no question that we have a sinful nature – the issue is whether or not it makes us completely incapable of loving God or obeying His will. All of the early church fathers agree that man has the ability within himself to obey and love God.

“The Christian church in the 2nd century AD had nothing resembling the doctrine of original sin as many post-Reformation Christians know it today. The Apostolic Fathers had little to say on the subject… Only Barnabas of the Apostolic Fathers references the Fall, and he believed that children were born sinless. The authors of this early period believed universally that children were born innocent of the sin of Adam, that people incur guilt only for their own sins, and that every person has the God-given power of free will to do good or evil…. These early Christians actually understood the original Christian message well, but many modern scholars misunderstand it due to the widespread influence of post-Reformation theology. The Apostolic Fathers believed they followed the teachings of St. Paul and the Apostles closely, as many of their writings explain. Furthermore, they had a much better prospect of correctly understanding the original Christian teaching, as they had been taught by the Apostles or by those that followed them, wrote in the same language and had a very similar culture. There is no reason to believe that the Apostolic Fathers failed to understand Christianity, and many reasons to think they preserved faithfully the doctrines of the earliest Christians.” -Andrew J. Wallace and R.D. Rusk, Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation, p. 255

The only “church father” who believed anything close to total depravity is Augustine, though he did not develop the doctrine as far as Calvin did. Augustine is responsible for introducing the idea of original sin into the church, a doctrine that did not exist in orthodox Christianity before him, though it did exist in Gnoticism.

Augustine’s “original sin” theology is heavily influenced by Gnosticism. It is a sad irony that “original sin” theology became accepted in the western church (though not the eastern church) because it is the same doctrine taught by the Gnostics who earlier church fathers went to great lengths to counter. The Gnostics believed that our flesh is inherently evil, that we inherit total depravity from birth, and that we are sinners from birth simply because we possess depraved human flesh. They saw the spirit as good, but trapped inside a prison of evil flesh until freed by death.

Because Gnostics believed the material world to be inherently evil, they denied that Jesus Christ was truly human, possessing a real flesh and blood body, because this would mean that Christ possessed an inherently evil nature.

During the first and second centuries, Christians writers were constantly battling Gnosticism, which was condemned as a heresy. The Apostle John counters Gnosticism in his first epistle by emphasizing that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” and that anyone who denies this is “antichrist.” We would do well to heed his warning!

“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” -1 John 4:3-4

 Argument #2: Christ’s Humanity Disproves Total Depravity 

This is the biggest problem with total depravity, and one that has been pointed out by many scholars. It is sometimes called the problem of the incarnation. All orthodox Christians must affirm that Jesus Christ was fully human, otherwise he could not die for the sins of humanity (1 John 2:2) and could not be our mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

But if human beings are totally depraved by nature and sinful from birth, this means Jesus Christ was necessarily totally depraved and sinful. This is obviously not the case because scripture says Jesus Christ was sinless, or he could not be our sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Calvinists will counter this by arguing that Jesus Christ is God, and therefore, although he became human at the incarnation, he did not share in our depravity.

There are two problems with this. First, scripture says that Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV). If Jesus was made like us in every way this would include sharing in our depravity.

The second problem with this view is that Jesus was tempted. This by itself proves that Jesus had the same human nature we do, because scripture says that temptation comes from “our own desires” which originate from our human nature (James 1:14).

Scripture is clear that the temptation of Jesus was not a meaningless charade, but was real, serious temptation. Scripture says he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).

If Jesus was tempted in the exact same way we are, this by itself disproves total depravity. If we are totally depraved, the only way for Jesus to be tempted in the same way that we are tempted is if he was also totally depraved. But this is clearly not the case because Jesus never sinned. Therefore, we cannot be totally depraved.

There are only two possible alternatives to this:

  1. Jesus did sin.
  2. Jesus was not fully human and/or was not tempted in the same way we are.

Both of these alternatives contradict scripture!

The humanity of Christ proves depravity, but disproves total depravity. The temptation of Christ proves depravity (he shared in our fallen human nature, otherwise he could not have been tempted). But the sinless life of Christ disproves total depravity (he never sinned, therefore depravity cannot be total).

No matter how one looks at it, total depravity is fundamentally at odds with the humanity of Jesus Christ. This should be reason enough for us to reject it as an acceptable doctrine!

Argument #3: Total Depravity Elevates Man by Excusing His Sin

Calvinists often describe total depravity as a “low view of man, high view of God.” However, when taken to its logical conclusion, total depravity actually elevates man by excusing his sin.

As we have seen, early church fathers like Justin Martyr and Tertullian argued against total depravity because they saw it as excusing man’s sin. In their view, Jesus would soon return to “repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27). By necessity, this requires that human beings have the ability to choose good or choose evil. If we do not have this ability – if we are incapable of choosing good – then it logically follows that we cannot be justly held responsible for our evil. This is the reason why people can be found “not guilty on reasons of insanity” in the court of law. Without a meaningful free will ability to choose good or evil, one cannot be justly held responsible.

At the heart of the issue of total depravity is the question: What is sin?

The Calvinist view of sin is the same as that of the Gnostics. According to this view, sin is an invisible disease that is transmitted by birth. Human flesh totally depraved by its very nature, so everyone born in the flesh is already a sinner, even before do any actions. According to Calvinism, if a baby dies immediately after birth he goes straight to hell, even though he actually never did anything wrong in his short life!

Those views come straight out of Gnosticism. It was the Gnostics who believed that flesh is inherently evil and totally depraved. David, on the other hand says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

God doesn’t make garbage. He doesn’t make depraved, demented beings who are incapable of loving Him. Why would He?

God only makes perfect things. God created us to be perfect, 100% valuable, 100% worthy of love. We are not born sinners. We choose to be sinners through our actions. We become guilty and deserving of death because we choose to be.

How sad and humbling is this truth! Every person who has ever come of age – with the exception of Jesus – has chosen sin. “There are none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).

The biblical view of sin is that sin is action. Sin is not a curse that spreads from one person to another against their will. Sin is not a disease we inherited against our will – if it were, we couldn’t be held responsible for it, we would be victims rather than perpetuators. The biblical view places the blame for sin on us, not on God. The Calvinist view teaches that God makes people evil with no ability to do good, and then punishes them for being that way!

I’m not denying that we inherit from Adam a sinful nature that desires sinful things. But the sinful nature is not the same as sin itself. Our sinful nature tempts us to sin, but we also have the free will ability to choose to resist that nature.

Sin is defined in scripture as a violation of God’s commandments. It has everything to do with free will. Paul writes that the Law reveals to us what sin is (Romans 7:7). The Law defines sin in terms of free will actions: “Thou shalt… thou shalt not…” We are “dead in trespasses and sins” for the simple reason that we’ve committed trespasses and sins. We’ve chosen sinful actions. As a result, we stand completely guilty before God, dead in sin, in desperate need of a savior.

We have to be careful about any theology that begins in response to another theology, because there is always a tendency to swing the pendulum to the complete opposite extreme. Luther developed a theology of salvation “by faith alone” in response to works-based theology, but took it to such an extreme that works played no role at all and he even wanted to remove the Book of James from the Bible.

Calvinism is a response to Pelagianism, a doctrine that emphasizes man’s ability to be righteous. John Calvin saw Pelagianism as infecting the Catholic church, and he considered it a man centered theology. Many of his criticisms were good, but he swung the pendulum to such an extreme as to say that salvation is entirely predetermined and carried out by God, and man does nothing because he is totally depraved and unable.

While I respect Calvinism’s desire to magnify God and humble man, when Calvinism is taken to its logical conclusion it actually backfires and ends up doing the opposite.

The biblical view of depravity is indeed a low view of man – we freely choose sin, so we have no one to blame but ourselves. But total depravity actually elevates man by taking the blame off of him. Saying, as Paul Washer does, that “fallen man is unable to love, obey or please God” takes the blame off of man and places it on the one who made man! The early church fathers recognized this, which is why they argued that man is not totally depraved and does have the ability to choose righteousness.

Instead of humbling me, the doctrine of total depravity causes me relief because it means my sins are not really my fault – God never gave me the ability to do otherwise. But the biblical view of depravity humbles me to the point of anguish. God created me to be perfect, but by my own free will I chose sin. I am to blame. How humbling is this truth!

Consider the opposite of total depravity. What if we are not totally incapable, but totally capable? Consider the implications. What if we are, in fact, 100% capable of total holiness and righteousness? This means that every man is able to live a perfectly sinless life if he simply chooses to… yet no one has ever done so (save Jesus)!

I think this is a much lower view of man, because it means we are literally without excuse. We have the ability to be sinless. We choose from our free will not to be.

I can’t pass the buck and say “I was totally depraved, it was my nature to sin, I was incapable of doing otherwise, God had to rescue me from my depraved state.” I can’t play the victim. That excuse doesn’t work if total depravity is false.

If total depravity is false, every person who ever lived had the ability to be perfectly sinless, yet out of literally billions of people, not even one person ever chose it, save Jesus. How humbling is that! How perfectly that fits with Romans 3!

Christ dying to save totally depraved people who are incapable of holiness demonstrates more pity than love. How much more love and grace did Christ demonstrate by dying to save people who had every ability to be perfect, but chose not to be? How much less do those people deserve God’s grace?

By being fully human and living a sinless life, Jesus puts us all to shame. He had the same human nature we have, yet he never sinned. He proves through his sinless life that we are truly without excuse.

Now that is a high view of God, and low view of man!

T down. ULIP to go.

Coming next week: Free will and predestination. Why the Calvinist doctrine of “unconditional election” is wrong.

44 Responses to “Three Arguments Against Total Depravity”

  1. on 06 Feb 2014 at 4:33 pmJas

    Matt
    Excellent !

  2. on 15 Feb 2014 at 10:11 amBrian

    I’ve seen this acronym as a better way to describe Calvinism:

    M eticulous Providence
    U nconditional Election
    P articular Redemption
    P erseverance of the Saints
    E ffectual Grace
    T otal Depravity

    MUPPET

  3. on 15 Feb 2014 at 4:52 pmJas

    My biggest issue with All commentary on this subject is I have never seen one author that didn’t claim to be one of the elect. Every view is twisted to the behavior of the author first then completed without jeopardizing their inclusion . I would love to be one of the elect but the Word of God says I am not. I will accept that Jesus’ perfection made peace between God and man allowing us to be released from the grave so we can be judged whether we are worthy of receiving eternal life in the presence of God which is universal Grace. I also Glorify God by acknowledging his plan to bring about the one and accept his elect before Jesus through eternal promises made to them that carried out that plan. Even though the plan was achieved, the promises were eternal yet very conditional on acceptance,obedience and faith in the faithfulness of the One True God that made the promises

  4. on 07 Mar 2014 at 6:48 pmSarah

    Thanks for this insightful article, Matt. Looking forward to your take on “ULIP” !

    For anyone interested in learning more about where earliest church fathers stood on the issue of Free Will, I recommend the documentary “Beyond Augustine” by Jesse Morrell. It runs about 1 hr & is very well done.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhLF-llpFX0

  5. on 07 Mar 2014 at 9:59 pmJas

    Sarah
    Yes that was very well researched.
    But every false belief is born out of necessity to excuse oneself of their behavior. Just look at just how easy it is to be a professed christian but none walk the line like Jesus.
    Instead they say he was born without sin nature or was actually God so us not having that advantaged could not be perfect . Jesus was just teasing us when he said we should be perfect and sin no more.

  6. on 11 Apr 2014 at 12:36 pmMatt Elton

    My article on unconditional election (predestination) is up. I apologize for the delay.

    http://lhim.org/blog/2014/04/11/a-free-will-perspective-on-romans-9-and-predestination/

  7. on 17 Aug 2014 at 6:19 pmRebekah

    Really quickly, point#2 stands on shaky ground since it’s not what Calvinists (or more properly termed, Reformed Christians) believe.
    Jesus was the son of a woman (Genesis 3 predicts this), there was no man involved. Depravity is inherited through the man, which is why Jesus needed to be born of a virgin. There was no human man involved, therefore no passing on of sinful nature.

    Point#3 is also shaky. Every Reformed theologians (and Reformed Christians if they understand what they believe!) will say that every human being is responsible for his actions. No Reformed Christian will ever say that sinful nature is an excuse for sin.

  8. on 17 Aug 2014 at 10:18 pmMatt Elton

    Rebekah, how would you explain Hebrews 2:17, that Jesus was made like his brothers “in every respect”? Which one of Jesus’ brothers had no sinful nature?

    It seems to me that Jesus must have shared in our depravity, otherwise we would not have a high priest who experientially knows our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

    This is not to say that Jesus ever sinned. Although Jesus experienced every temptation to sin, he always resisted and lived a perfectly sinless and holy life. Having a sinful nature does not automatically make one sinful. Rather the sinful nature is what gives us the temptation is sin. Because this temptation can always be resisted (1 Corinthians 10:13) we are completely without excuse when we sin. The fact that temptation can always be resisted suggests that depravity is not total.

    To say that depravity is only inherited through the man is speculation. The Bible does not specifically teach this. The Bible says that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12). However, I do not think this is meant to be taken so literally as to mean that the sinful nature is inherited only through men and not women. When the Bible talks about “man” it is usually referring to human beings in general including both men and women. Although the “one man” in this passage is a reference to Adam, Paul could have just as easily focused on Eve as the one through whom sin entered the world. Adam and Eve are both equally responsible for the first sin (one could argue that Eve is more responsible because she sinned first). Paul is focusing on the man in this passage only because he is making a comparison between Adam and Christ.

    When Adam and Eve sinned, the whole earth became cursed, including plant life, the animal kingdom, and humanity itself. This curse is not specific to one gender, every human inherits the sinful nature across the board. Even if scientists were able to create human life in a laboratory with no father and no mother whatsoever, it will presumably still have a sinful nature, because this nature is what it means to be human. This is why point #2 is so important – Jesus could not have shared in our humanity unless he also shared in our depravity. The two are tied together.

    On point #3, I understand that Reformed Christians believe human beings are responsible for their actions. What I don’t understand, however, is how this is logically possible without free will. Reformed Christians preach two logically incompatible ideas: That people are incapable of not sinning, and that people are responsible for their sins.

    Reformed Christians hold a compatabilist view, which means people can still be held responsible for their actions even though they were not capable of doing otherwise. This is incompatible with our justice system, and in my view, it seems to defy common sense. I have not heard a good Reformed explanation of why human beings are responsible for our sin if we are not capable of acting outside our depravity. Why would God create totally depraved beings, then punish them for being that way? Does that reflect the justice of God?

    In my view, God created human beings to have free choice between good and evil, and although our sinful nature tempts us to choose evil, we are never forced to choose evil, and we are always capable of choosing good. For this reason alone we are completely without excuse when we sin, and God is absolutely just to punish the wicked.

  9. on 20 Aug 2014 at 9:48 pmRay

    It seems to me that man apart from God is totally depraved, and that in himself there is no good thing. The only way he can get to Jesus is if God will draw him, and no one will come to the Father except through Christ.

    So how can a man who is in total depravity be held responsible for his actions? I suppose a man who is completely apart from God, we likely would not hold accountable, for within himself, apart from God there is nothing good. He would be unto us like one who is severely mentally retarded and unable to communicate by any means to us.

    How could we help someone like that? We likely wouldn’t even try to talk to someone like that, but if we did, and then we noticed that he is apparently unable to understand what is going on, we would likely just let him be.

    His only hope would be if, in his depravity, God was somewhere around. Then he would have some hope.

  10. on 23 Oct 2014 at 7:04 pmSam

    Your assertion that Jesus had to “share our fallen nature otherwise He could not have been tempted”, is erroneous. Adam and Eve did not have fallen nature but were tempted.

    I do agree with much of what you wrote.

  11. on 23 Oct 2014 at 7:16 pmMatt Elton

    Hi Sam, that particular sentence you quoted was a poor choice of words on my part. I agree that Jesus did not have to share in our fallen nature in order to be tempted. Scripture even speaks about God being tempted (although God cannot be tempted to do evil).

    In the context of the rest of the article, what I’m asserting is that Jesus could not be tempted “as we are” (Hebrews 4:15) unless he completely shared our nature. Scripture is clear that Jesus was not merely tempted in the generic sense, but he literally experienced temptation in the same way we do. We have high priest who “knows our weaknesses” through firsthand experience. This doesn’t seem possible unless he completely shared our human condition.

  12. on 18 Dec 2014 at 9:09 pmJesse

    Very good article. I’m curious what a calvanist would say to the book of Job saying that Job was a perfect and upright man. The word for perfect means morally and ethically perfect. Also says Noah was perfect in his generation. This is before the in dwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  13. on 11 Jan 2015 at 12:50 pmMac

    This is an awesome article. As someone who has grown up in the Reformed church and has taken the Calvinist view as the lens with which we view life and faith, it has been exceedingly hard to challenge these presuppositions in my mind. This article was very informative.

    Matt, do you by chance have citations on those quotes at the beginning? I am especially interested in reading more around the Justin Martyr quote you gave. That such an early and influential Christian would say something so counter Total Depravity is enough to take several steps back from this presupposition on which all of Calvinism lies.

  14. on 11 Jan 2015 at 8:50 pmSarah

    Hi Mac,

    Welcome to the Kingdom Ready blog! The Justin Martyr quote is from chapter 43 of his First Apology. You can read it here:

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html

    I would also recommend the documentary “Beyond Augustine” by Jesse Morrell. It’s chock full of quotes from the early church fathers. There’s a link to it on post #4 above.

  15. on 14 Jan 2015 at 5:37 pmAmy

    Great article Matt! I was wondering about Romans 5:12 (which you note in the comments), where I think the inherited death that we get is a literal death. God created Adam and Eve to live forever, but the wages of sin is death. Calvinists seem to take death as a spiritual death in their view of total depravity. If the curse was just literal death, and not spiritual death, then total depravity doesn’t make sense. The literal death that is imposed upon us because we all sin is eventually made right by the Holy Spirit who will give us our resurrected bodies, just like when Jesus was resurrected. (see Romans 8:11) The Holy Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in us.

  16. […] Elton in his article on “Three arguments against Total Depravity” says “But Calvinism takes this to such an extreme as to say that human beings utterly […]

  17. on 29 Mar 2015 at 6:54 pmGeorge

    I see alot of talk and no bible proof for your argument. Yet I find more than enough bible that teaches what God said not what you claim Calvinist started.
    May I say you need to spend more time in scripture and not build your beleif on History or no trying to show the wrong of it than trying to show the right of your view

  18. on 27 Apr 2015 at 9:56 pmTony

    @ George,

    with all due respect sir there have been more scriptural references to defend free-will theology then I have seen on any Calvinist site I have seen thus far. No one here disputes anything that “GOD” has said only the misinterpretations of What Calvin has said. You and yours dare to question the salvation of others based upon the interpretations of a mortal man’s view of the scriptures, and not what the Holy Spirit has clearly revealed through them. All the letters that one has behind their name and all the famous personalities one can name will never persuade those of us who believe that God in his Mercy and Sovereignty is so small that he cannot handle a humanity that he himself designed with he ability to choose Good from evil.

    By your own theology of Total depravity your own beloved Children assuming you have them are in danger of Hell fire and damnation because you have no way to know who is elect and who is not. According to your theology every infant still born or victimized by abortion is doomed to Hell by a God whom the Bible clearly defines as Love. The false Doctrine may well hold up to Calvin’s interpretation But simply hold no water on the question of God’s Character as it was clearly defined in the personage of Jesus Christ.

    If total depravity is true then Why is Herod’s crime of slaughter referred to as “The slaughter of the innocents” How is it that you can ignore the direct documented quotes from the early church Fathers who clearly rejected the Doctrine. Stop hiding behind Calvin,Spurgeon, Sproul and any other personality you want to name and do a little study yourself.

    But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 14:26

    Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.

    And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

    These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.

    But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

    John 2:24-27

  19. on 27 Apr 2015 at 10:17 pmTony

    @ rebekah,

    The question is not whether or not there is depravity but rather if it is total depravity.

    Your point about the virgin birth is well stated and correct that is why he is the only “Begotten Son” and yet God in his own Sovereignty chose to subject Jesus to temptation at every level of human depravity.

    This is not to suggest Jesus was depraved at all only that he was afforded the opportunity to choose and simply “chose not too” and since we are commanded to be conformed to his image we could not possibly obey that command with out the option of choice.

  20. on 23 Aug 2015 at 10:38 amEverett Tracey

    God is sovereign! Which implies He has the right to act as He sees fit. If he chose some for destruction as is stated in Romans 9 and others received mercy who are you O man to dispute God? If one is humbled by God he soon realizes he is depraved in all his thoughts and actions——-which causes him to prostrate himself in the dust and look to the Sovereign God for mercy!! Man has forgotten he is a created being, a mere creature who needs God for His continued sustinence, which is abundantly provided through His continuing grace to His elect who were chosen before the foundation of the world. (See Ephesians chapter one). The unregenerate benefit from the overflow of God’s grace to His chosen, but never come to a saving knowledge due to their unbelief and rejection of the One true God.

  21. on 28 Oct 2015 at 8:48 pmGabriel

    Hello,
    I’m currently writing a paper on the goodness and sinfulness on mankind. Do you have references for the quotes by the church fathers that you used? I found them very useful and interesting.
    Thanks!

    Be strong in the grace of Christ.

  22. on 18 Jan 2016 at 6:55 pmWesley Steinbrink

    Matt,

    You have done exceeding well in finding the crux of the matter where others have done only side matters. I very much appreciate your research and in depth thinking – and sharing it with the rest of us.
    I do have a correction though. You say that “According to Calvinism, if a baby dies immediately after birth he goes straight to hell, even though he actually never did anything wrong in his short life!”. From my reading on the subject this is not quite true. Calvin himself said that babies were born innocent and at the age of accountability that original sin (an oxymoron) would become *actual* sin – but still required baby baptism. A Neo-Calvinist would say that babies are born evil, but then say that they were among the elect if they died. Lutherans on the other hand take babies who die without baptism as going straight to hell. On this point neither Neo-Calvinists are quite logical nor are Lutherans quite logical nor was Calvin quite logical.
    Again, you provide the most coherent, forceful, and convincing reasoning against total depravity to date. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading the rest.

  23. on 18 Jan 2016 at 8:17 pmWesley Steinbrink

    The verse that I like to use to show that infants are born innocent is 1 Cor 14:20. Paul in making an argument implies that infants are innocent. He would have also assumed that those he was making the argument to would have assumed the same. If infants are not innocent, then his argument does not stand and Paul was a great debater. Of course there are other verses that state that infants are innocent when one wants to find them. Furthermore, Romans 7:7-11 illustrates the age of accountability very well.

  24. on 18 Jan 2016 at 9:12 pmWesley Steinbrink

    Another verse that refutes original sin is Deut 24:16. If sin does not transmit from father to son, then it did not transmit from Adam to his sons. Therefore it did not transmit to the rest of us. Sin is not an object. Sin is missing the mark whether by commission or by omission for that particular person.

  25. on 18 Jan 2016 at 9:31 pmWesley Steinbrink

    @ Everett Tracey:

    Please see Matt’s other article and the comments below it:

    http://lhim.org/blog/2014/04/11/a-free-will-perspective-on-romans-9-and-predestination/#comment-1054769

  26. on 25 Jan 2016 at 10:29 pmDavid Owen

    Certainly an emotive topic.
    Jesus’ temptation was the same as Adam’s who was created perfect and innocent. Jesus was the Last Adam, the 2nd man … not born with Adam’s sin nor his fallen nature. Christ did not have to have a depraved nature in order to be tempted.

  27. on 28 Jan 2016 at 8:14 amDiederik

    Hello,

    I have questions about Calvinism, so I thought I can turn to Calvin College.
    I myself am not a Calvinist.

    Is there a difference between “Calvinism” and “Reformed”?

    On an international level, which books/creeds is Calvinism based on?
    Institutes of the Christians religion / Canons of Dordrecht / …

    It seems to me that there are differences between the opinions of Canons
    of Dordrecht and Calvinism, Luther, …
    Is there a uniform teaching or are there many different opinions? Do you
    have an overview of the different opinions about these things?

    Is Calvinism the same as Tulip?

    I would be gratefull if someone could answer these questions.

    Diederik

  28. on 13 Feb 2016 at 6:03 pmNader

    “Fear and manipulation are not going to cut it for most adltus.”I think you overestimate the ability of American adltus to resist fear and manipulation. It is true that many will resist, but I don’t think you can categorically assert that “most” will resist. In fact I think that John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the entire McCain campaign disagree completely with you – they are banking on you being wrong.Think about that: John McCain is banking on the hope that the adult population of the United States will give in to fear and manipulation!And I am convinced that the source of that strategy comes out of the Christian Right, straight from the pulpit and the pulpit masters who lead those churches. Those Conservative Christian leaders have led their congregations into a position of dominance in the Republican Party.They preach a message of fear and retribution, a message of exclusivism and exclusion. And in the political arena they argue with great passion that while a vote for the wrong candidate may or may not be a sin, it surely will lead to the most dire of consequences, and God will no longer protect and preserve the Nation. In fact, it is argued that a vote for the wrong person will not only contribute to the continuing erosion of the all that America stands for, but enough such votes will in all likelihood put Satan himself into the White House, and herald the end of times. (I will show you the emails forwarded from a Conservative Christian friend quoting Revelation 13 at length and arguing that Obama is indeed the beast. There is no reason to assume that fear and manipulation will fail.John

  29. on 10 Apr 2016 at 7:07 pmAndy

    Christ was totally man and totally God. He gave me the ability to do good the day he saved me from my sinful nature by revealing to me His irresistable grace. Doesn’t Christ tell us that sin comes from the heart? When I think that my brother is a fool I have already killed him in my heart. How can sin be an action when we all sin in our hearts?
    Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

  30. on 24 Oct 2016 at 5:37 pmJonathan McCoy

    I disagree with argument #1, that no church fathers believed in total depravity. Here are a number of quotes from the church fathers talking about total depravity.

    Barnabas (A.D. 70): “Learn: before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak.”

    Ignatius (A.D. 110): “They that are carnal cannot do the things that are spiritual…Nor can the unbelievers do the things of belief.”

    Justin Martyr (A.D. 150): “Mankind by Adam fell under death, and the deception of the serpent; we are born sinners…No good thing dwells in us…For neither by nature, nor by human understanding is it possible for me to acquire the knowledge of things so great and so divine, but by the energy of the Divine Spirit…Of ourselves it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God…He has convicted us of the impossibility of our nature to obtain life…Free will has destroyed us; we who were free are become slaves and for our sin are sold…Being pressed down by our sins, we cannot move upward toward God; we are like birds who have wings, but are unable to fly.”

    Clement Of Alexandria (A.D. 190): “The soul cannot rise nor fly, nor be lifted up above the things that are on high, without special grace.”

    Eusebius (A.D. 330): “The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed.”

    Augustine (A.D. 370): “If, therefore, they are servants of sin (2 Cor. 3:17), why do they boast of free will?…O, man! Learn from the precept what you ought to do; learn from correction, that it is your own fault you have not the power…Let human effort, which perished by Adam, here be silent, and let the grace of God reign by Jesus Christ…What God promises, we ourselves do not through free will of human nature, but He Himself does by grace within us…Men labor to find in our own will something that is our own, and not God’s; how can they find it, I know not.”

  31. on 27 Oct 2016 at 8:28 pmWill Gunter

    Thanks for writing the article

    I am concerned about this assertion: “The doctrine of total depravity developed about 500 years ago.” Augustine’s writings (4th/5th cent.) seem to disprove your proposition. Furthermore, his controversy with Pelagius and dialogue with Cassian culminated at the Synod of Orange (529) where man’s moral inability to choose God was affirmed. Have you done any research on these topics?

    Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks.

  32. on 22 Nov 2016 at 3:26 pmBill

    One small point of contention… potentially…

    Although I agree with you that Calvinists make unnecessary assumptions about the effects of depravity on man’s capacity to make free will decisons, specifically free moral decisions, I’m not certain I understand your position on what effects the fall of man did have on the human race.

    Are you suggesting that sin is NOT a disease that spread from Adam to all of his descendants? The bible does say that through the one man, many were made sinners. I don’t believe this is referring to imputed sin, because it would contradict what Paul said when he wrote, “Sin is not imputed where there is no law.” Clearly a baby or a young child who does not understand right from wrong and is not capable of understanding the consequences of his or her actions cannot be found guilty of sin. This is why I believe Barnabus said babies are innocent. He was talking about “imputed sin.”

    I think when we discuss depravity, the focus should be on “imparted sin”. This is where I want to be careful not to jump to conclusions about what you are trying to say. I believe that human beings are born with a sinful nature. By nature, we naturally want to do things that go against the law of God, but that does not mean we are powerless to do what is right. It means there is a constant downward force tugging at us… like gravity. We are able to stand up under the weight of gravity, but if we take a wrong step, gravity can pull us down in such a way that we fall to the ground. This is what Paul spoke of when he referenced the law of sin that was at work in his members.

    You said, “The Calvinist view of sin is the same as that of the Gnostics. According to this view, sin is an invisible disease that is transmitted by birth. Human flesh totally depraved by its very nature, so everyone born in the flesh is already a sinner, even before do any actions. According to Calvinism, if a baby dies immediately after birth he goes straight to hell, even though he actually never did anything wrong in his short life!

    Those views come straight out of Gnosticism. It was the Gnostics who believed that flesh is inherently evil and totally depraved. David, on the other hand says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

    God doesn’t make garbage. He doesn’t make depraved, demented beings who are incapable of loving Him. Why would He?

    God only makes perfect things. God created us to be perfect, 100% valuable, 100% worthy of love. We are not born sinners. We choose to be sinners through our actions. We become guilty and deserving of death because we choose to be.”

    David also says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

    When you say we choose to be sinners by our actions, I agree if we are talking about imputed sin, but if you are denying imparted sin, I think you are missing an important aspect of the doctrine of man and the doctrine of salvation.

  33. on 23 Nov 2016 at 11:41 amKen Price

    Excellent Article!!!

    I would add one simple idea to your most excellent article.

    If Total Depravity were true it should be described clearly in Genesis precisely where it would have occurred, but it is not there and in fact just the opposite is.

    Immediately after Adam and Eve’s sin, just after they “died”, they are hiding from God, being convicted and completely aware of their sin. Being “dead”, they actually have the fear of the Lord in them. They hear God and understand Him completely. And God Himself describes them, and so all of mankind, as becoming like Him, “knowing good and evil”.

    And then after that, it takes from Adam to Noah (2000 – 5000 years depending on how you calculate it) before mankind has become so depraved that God had to destroy them with the flood. They became depraved over thousands of years, becoming worse, and worse, and worse still. God did not have a desire or need to destroy them even a hundred years before that, or a thousand years before that. They were clearly not all born that way. They all became that way by their own choice. Even at this point in history, Noah of course, was certainly not described as Totally Depraved either.

    God Bless!!!

  34. on 16 Sep 2017 at 8:35 pmtom g

    i gave up on all the isms that that twist truth.We should all be doing it, calvinism, catholicism, gnocticism. these isms are what is dividing christians. calvinists are afraid to give up their tulip commercial which, as far as i am concerned is an absolute degradation of jesus christ , and please dont hand me any cliches, thank you!

  35. on 18 Oct 2017 at 6:06 pmCharles

    In my view, Calvin, or Augustine, nor any other big name in the history of Christianity, is in no way better saved than the Samaritan woman at the well, or the criminal who were hanged by Jesus’ side and was saved at his last moment on earth.

    This is because “…God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34

    So, it is belief in Jesus, God the Son, rather than any big name or sound doctrines that saves us from our sins and gives us a new life.

    About the free will debate, we could as well ask ourselves a simple question: Of the two criminals hanged together with Jesus, why was one saved and the other was not? Is there a free will at play, or each’s fate was predestined by God? If latter was the case according to Calvinism, does it make sense to say that God was just staging a show for the world?

  36. on 06 Nov 2017 at 3:50 pmRobert

    God only makes perfect things. God created us to be perfect, 100% valuable, 100% worthy of love. We are not born sinners. We choose to be sinners through our actions. We become guilty and deserving of death because we choose to be.

    Explain this with the understanding that man PROCREATES. Bible speaks of 2 births.

    One in Adam (physical) You can’t create your own physical birth

    One in Christ (spiritual) You can’t create your own spiritual birth

    I never have to teach my kids to sin. They already have that down.

    Why were Jews commanded to circumcise their babies at 8 days old?

  37. on 17 Dec 2017 at 4:20 pmCG

    Thank you for this. I grew up with Calvinism and it is a disease that has infected most of my family. Hope you don’t mind if I share this article 😉

  38. on 17 Jan 2018 at 11:25 pmsanjay bamne

    Please Answer

    Why God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
    Evil pre-existing before the fall of man( In the Heaven with Satan and his angels)

  39. on 02 Apr 2018 at 1:03 pmBee

    “Without a meaningful free will ability to choose good or evil, one cannot be justly held responsible.”

    ….hmmm. this sounds familiar.
    OH. Romans 6:1 Paul says “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” This arguement above mimics the Pharisees. Paul was anticipating in this verse the objections of his critics (the pharisees).

    This article is continually repeating that “total depravity actually elevates man by excusing his sin.” If one believes he is totally depraved this doesn’t excuse my sin lol. Just like Paul says above. Just because His grace abounds doesnt mean I can go on sinning knowing that he will graciously forgive. Likewise, you suggest/claim that “it means my sins are not really my fault – God never gave me the ability to do otherwise.” This is eerily the response that Paul anticipates of the pharisees.

    Romans 3:5 “but if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? CERTAINLY NOT!” !!!!!!!!!! Sorry. I didn’t say it. The bible does. But you cannot biblically use this as an argument against total deprivation. You seem to be using the same arguements a Pharisee would have against Paul.

  40. on 24 Jun 2018 at 2:30 amMatthew Davidson

    The issue of Free will and God’s sovereignty is a fascinating one. Yes, man has a free will, but no, man can not simply choose Jesus, based only on His free will. God’s Spirit must convict and draw man to God, in order for Him to be saved, yet man can choose to quench that conviction by willful sin and eventually commit the sin unto death, which is apostasy or blasphemy against the Spirit.

  41. on 20 Oct 2018 at 2:33 amBrandon Bennett

    Interesting article, though I think it presents more of a caricature of Calvinism than what it is my understanding Calvinism actually teaches. It is my understanding that the inherited part of sin is not the actual guilt, but the inescapable reality that upon reaching a morally culpable state one WILL become a sinner. 100% unavoidable. It is possible to believe in a form of total depravity that still teaches that babies are born innocent rather than the caricature you present. That said, the main reason I reject total depravity is because in my view it is going beyond the words. IMO if such a penalty was true of the fall God would have pronounced it in the curses He lists in Genesis 3 since it is of far greater consequence than pain in childbirth.

  42. on 01 Mar 2019 at 4:57 pmANTHONY CHRISTIE

    I am greatly appreciative of the interaction noted above and have learned more of the pros/cons of Calvinism (at least the “T”) from it than I expected when selected the link.
    I will not even attempt to present counter arguments to the myriad of arguments that has been thus far presented. I do ask, however, how do you, who believe man didn’t die in the garden but continued to maintain the capacity to independent of God birth a desire to reconnect with God, understand the words of John 6:44 “NO MAN CAN COME TO ME (capitalized for emphasis) except the Father which hath sent me draw him:…”
    Thanks.

  43. on 06 Mar 2019 at 4:17 pmBryan Eason

    I am a pastor = 20 + years. I first taught on this when I got out of seminary and really thought I had a grasp on my beliefs, but the more I study the more confused I get about Calvinism. You don’t have to understand all of this to be a Christian. People don’t have to understand it to be saved. We just need to preach and teach people the gospel.

  44. on 26 Mar 2019 at 2:15 pmWill

    Matt,

    Obviously none of this has any bearing on whether or not someone is saved. How God actually worked out my salvation is important to me, and all the Calvinists I know are more humbled that God chose them to be one of his elect. I know from the outside, the idea that someone is “elect” seems arrogant but the Calvinists would admit that it actually has the opposite affect. I grew up believing in free will and after many hours of study, prayer and losing sleep I yielded to God and his Word (seeing salvation as sovereign choice). I used all the same arguments you did but I realized they were all a stretch. If you read the Bible with a view of literal interpretation, I don’t understand how someone could not believe that salvation is entirely a work of God. Since I once believed salvation was a choice, I used to think Calvinist were so prideful but now I actually view free will as an arrogant view of salvation. Basically, you are in effect saying that you contributed to your salvation which is not what the Bible says at all (John 6.44). I hate to see Christians fight over this. My family still believes in free will but they still love me the same, and I them. I just wanted to write this so that you will see how a Calvinist views his salvation after believing in free will for so long (23 years). Of course I was saved before despite believing in free will but that didn’t change the fact that God had to draw me first. I see this so clearly now and it humbles me. Don’t let bitterness take root but just pray about it and if God leads you to see his sovereign choice in salvation then I believe it will humble you and make your salvation even more special to you. Hope that we will both continue to preach God’s word so that one day his elect will he gathered from the four corners of the world. Mark 13:27.

    In Christ,
    Will

  

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