T. Pierce Brown
Scriptures and explanations of those that seem to teach hereditary total depravity:
Starting in Genesis 1, we shall try to list all the scriptures of which we can think that some think seem to indicate, imply or suggest that we are hereditarily totally depraved. In textual order we shall try to list all the scriptures that suggest or teach that we are not totally depraved, but that each person that sins does so because he chooses to do so. The idea that a person is forced to do or be something, and at the same time is free to do or be something else is self-contradictory. Since the Bible is NOT self-contradictory, then it is our desire to find a sensible explanation to those scriptures that SEEM to contradict each other. We shall also be looking for any verse that suggests, implies or teaches that God’s Spirit operates directly on anyone to change their nature.
The scriptures that may be used by those who conclude that we are all born with a sinful, totally depraved nature, and can do nothing that contributes to our salvation will be save in bold type.
Gen. 3:7, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” This may leave the impression that they now had a changed nature and therefore anyone born to them would now have the same nature. It is supposed that they had been immortal and now their nature was changed where they could die.
Ans: The verse says nothing at all about depravity, hereditary, total or otherwise. The idea that their basic nature was changed when they sinned and their children inherited their nature is not even hinted at by the text.
Gen. 4:4-5, “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering, but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect.” This leaves the impression that both Cain and Abel could have done what God required, but Abel had faith to do what God wanted (Heb. 11:4); Cain did not.
Gen. 5:3, “Adam—begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.” This may suggest that since Adam had sinned, his son must have been born guilty of the sin.
Ans: The fact that Adam was made in the image of God has to do with his spiritual nature, for God is not a physical being, but Spirit. The son in the likeness of Adam had reference to his physical nature, for God is the father of spirits (Heb. 12:9).
Gen. 6:5, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great—and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This may suggest that all mankind was totally depraved, and one might assume that they were born that way.
Ans: One might assume almost anything, the text only shows that man’s wickedness was great for mankind in general. However Noah found grace, or was an exception to the general rule. In no case where a person was said to have found grace or favor is it shown to be arbitrary granting of righteousness. The fact that he “found” it would suggest that he was looking for it.
Gen. 5:8, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” This may suggest that Noah was an exception to the general rule, and was not hereditarily depraved. One may also assume that he was totally depraved, but God arbitrarily picked him out and graciously changed him.
Gen. 5:9, “Noah walked with God.” The verse suggests that Noah chose to walk with God, and nothing is suggested that implies that God made him do that.
Gen. 5:12, “All flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” This may suggest that mankind in general was depraved, but was not born that way.
Gen. 5:22, “Thus did Noah according to all that God commanded him.” This may suggest that Noah could choose to do what God commanded, or could choose not to.
Gen. 12:1-2, “The Lord had said to Abram—I will make of thee a great nation.” It may suggest that Abraham was then in a right relationship with God, and pleasing Him.
Gen. 15:6, “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.” This suggests that Abraham’s faith was (as it had always been) the basis of his right standing before God.
Gen.17:14, “The uncircumcised man child—shall be cut off from his people.” That seems to indicate that men had a choice of being a part of the covenant of grace, but were not arbitrarily chosen.
Gen. 20:7, “Restore the man his wife—for if thou restore her not, know that thou shalt surely die–.” That seems to indicate that the condition of Abimelech depended on his choice, not on some arbitrary decision of God.
Gen. 22:18, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” That seems to teach that Abraham was justified (James1:12) before God, and had a right standing with Him as a result of his choice to obey, not because of some arbitrary decision of God.
Gen.42:21, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother—he besought us and we would not hear.” It sounds as if they were guilty because of a choice they made, not because God had foreordained that they do evil to Joseph.
Ex. 1:21, “Because the midwives feared God, he made them houses.” It suggests that the midwives had the right and responsibility to fear God, and could have chosen not to, but no hint that God made them as they were.
Ex. 8:15, 32, “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also.” This suggests that Pharoah had the responsibility of hardening his own heart. The fact is that God hardened his heart and will harden any man’s heart who chooses to disobey and disregard His will. There is no hint that Pharaoh was born with a depraved heart.
Ex. 20:7, “I—am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me–.” This suggests the possibility that God might hold children guilty of the sin of their parents and therefore one might be guilty of “the original sin.”
Ans. There is no doubt that God lets the consequences of the sins of the fathers cause the later generations to suffer, and we would not even need the Bible to learn that. However, in no case in the Bible or in any court of justice of ANY nation would any case be found where the GUILT of the parents are attributed to their children. God specifically says it is not so in Ezek.18:20-24 and in addition shows that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants him to turn and be saved.
Ex. 32:33, “Whosoever hath sinned against me him will I blot out of my book.” It suggests that God had given the Law of Moses to people and required them to choose to keep it and made them responsible for their actions, with no hint that they were born with such a nature that they had to keep it, or not.
Ex. 33:19, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” That suggests that God might arbitrarily take a depraved person and show mercy to him by changing him into a non-depraved person.
Ans: It may SUGGEST that to a person who already had some such idea in his mind, but it only says that God will show grace and mercy to whomever he may choose to show it. It neither says nor indicates anything at all about how a person may be born, nor does it say anything at all about arbitrarily changing anyone into another kind of person. When Paul quoted it in Rom. 9:15 he is using it to show that God had the right to present the gospel to the Gentiles and show them mercy. He did that by preaching the gospel to them, which is the power of God to save (Rom.1:16), not by arbitrarily saving them by directly operating on them with the Holy Spirit.
Lev. 4-27. Of all the sins and offerings mentioned, there is no hint of any sin or offering for one who was counted guilty because of the sin of Adam. Every blessing and every curse relate to those who choose to do the will of God or refuse to with no hint that they do either because God foreordained such.
Num.15:30, “The soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” Every reference in Numbers that has to do with sin suggests that the sin is a deliberate choice of the individual, with no hint that the child was born that way and guilty of the sin of another.
Deut. 1:35-36, “Not one of the men—shall see the good land that I sware to give unto your fathers, save Caleb—because he hath wholly followed the Lord.” It suggests that God had an elect people, foreordained to inherit the land of Canaan, but they did not get it or fail to get it because of Adam’s sin, but because they chose to follow or not follow the Lord. Every other reference in Deuteronomy that relates to blessings or cursings indicates the same thing—it was not because of some supposed hereditary situation, but because of individual choices, even though God had promised them, as an elect people, the blessings.
Joshua 24:15, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” It seems that those persons, like all who have gone before and come after, could choose God or not, regardless of what we may assume about their ability, inability, or condition at birth.
Joshua 24:20, “If ye forsake the lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that the hath done you good.” It seems that although God had promised that his elect people would inherit the land and be blessed, the promise only applied to those specific individuals who chose to do his will, and not because they were born with a certain nature or especially operated on by the Spirit of God to make them his chosen obedient people.
Judges: There is no verse in Judges that suggests or implies that any person was like he was because he was born that way, or ordained of God to be that way, but although there were many that were “God’s chosen people” they chose to follow God or not follow him and were blessed or cursed as a result of their own choice, not as a result of Adam’s sin or some supposed nature they may have inherited.
Ruth 1:18, “When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking to her.” It appears that Ruth and Orpha both had the freedom of choice to do what they did, with no hint that their actions were determined by some supposed inherited nature, or by God’s decree. Nothing else in the book suggest otherwise.
1 Samuel1:26, “And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men.” The whole story of Samuel’s birth and life would not give a person the idea that he was ever depraved, either wholly or otherwise, but would lead one to think that he belonged to the Lord all his life, and was always free to make choices as everyone else did. Every other incident in 1 & 2 Samuel indicates the same.
1 Kings 2:2-3, “Be strong and show thyself a man—that thou mayest prosper.” It seems to indicate that Solomon could choose to obey the Lord and be blessed, or choose not to and be cursed, as has been the case with every person since Adam, with no hint that he had to be changed by some direct operation of God. Every incident in 1 & 2 Kings indicates the same thing.
Ps.10:4, “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” This may suggest that the wicked COULD not seek God because he was born unable to do so.
Ans: This may SUGGEST it to one who has that idea previously. All it actually teaches is that in general the wicked people do not seek after God, nor have him in their thoughts. However, there are many unsaved persons who are not thus classified, for Jesus said that some have good and honest hearts (Luke8:15). Paul had lived in a good conscience before God all his life, yet was unsaved (Acts 23:1).
Ps. 11:3, “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” That may suggest that all mankind is inherently wicked.
Ans. What it actually says, however, that they are GONE aside, not that they were born that way. The wicked people about whom he spoke could not have GONE aside had they been born totally depraved.
Ps.22:10, “I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” That leaves the impression that David belonged to God from before he was born.
Ps. 51: 5, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This suggests to some that David was guilty of sin when he was conceived and from then on.
Ans. If a student said, “I entered the room in confusion, and in anger did the teacher slap me” surely anyone could see that it could be that the room was in confusion, and it was the teacher who was in anger, not the student. Exactly the same language is used here and has nothing whatever to do with David being guilty of sin. No one can point out a sin of which David was guilty, but merely assume that he was guilty of an inherited sin—the original sin.
Ps. 53:2-3, “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” This may suggest that everyone is wicked, including babies.
Ans: The persons about whom he is speaking is the wicked “children of men” in contrast to “children of God.” All of them have “gone back.” They were not born wicked, but have gone back and “BECOME filthy.” Unless one had in mind already some idea of inherent depravity, he could not get the idea from this text.
Proverbs: Practically every chapter in Proverbs suggests that men may choose to follow the path of wisdom or refrain from it, and are responsible for doing so.
Ecc. 1:13, “I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom—.” This sounds as if Solomon had the choice of giving his heart or not giving it.
Ecc.7:20, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” This may suggest that all persons are born so they cannot do good or be good.
Ans. All it really says is that there is no man who is totally or completely just—who does not sin. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether a person is born guilty of the sin that someone else committed.
Ecc.7:20, “God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” This may suggest that man was not born depraved, but chose to do wrong.
Isa. 1:2, “I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me.” This leaves the impression that God’s children could obey or rebel as they chose.
Isa. 1:16-20, “Wash you, make you clean—if ye be willing—ye shall eat the good of the land;if ye refuse and rebel–.” Leaves the impression that God’s people can chose to serve or rebel.
Is.1:28, “They that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.” Leaves the impression that God’s people can choose to forsake the Lord or not.
Isa.7:16, “Before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good–.” Sounds as if a child can learn to refuse evil and choose good, and is not born depraved.
Isa.45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved.” It seems that God knew that evil people could look unto him if they wanted to.
Isa. 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” May give the impression that every person is a sinner, and we must therefore assume that all were born that way.
Ans. What is actually says, however, is that “we have GONE astray” which indicates that we were not born that way.
Isa. 55:3,”Incline your ear and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live.” Leaves the impression that sinners can choose to come and hear.
Isa. 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” Seems clear that the wicked can choose to forsake wickedness and come to the Lord.
Isa.59:2, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.” Sounds as if it is the sins of the individual that have separated us from God, not the sin of Adam.
Jer. 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” This may be assumed to mean that a person who is accustomed to do evil cannot change, and it may therefore be assumed that he was born depraved.
Ans. It is clear that it is talking about those who are accustomed to do evil and does not even mention the idea that a person was born so he had to do evil. Of course a person who is accustomed to do evil cannot get rid of his sin by himself any more than a leopard change his spots. But from the beginning of the Bible to the end of it man is represented as able to change and get rid of his “spots” if he will chose to listen to and obey the Lord. What he cannot do by himself, he can do with God’s direction and power. Verse 25 shows that they got that way because they forgot God and trusted in falsehood, not because they were born that way.
Jer. 14:20, “We acknowledge our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against thee.” It sounds as if sinners can acknowledge their wickedness and get help from God to change their ways.
Jer.17:5, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man—whose heart is departed from the Lord.” It leaves the impression that a person can choose to depart from the Lord.
Jer.18:6, “Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand.” This sounds as if a person is just as God planned him to be, but cannot not be good or bad by his own choice.
Ans. The following verses show clearly that God is trying to show them that when he speaks against a nation to destroy it (break it like a potter’s vessel), if that nation turn and repent, God will not destroy it, and if has a good vessel if it does evil, he will break it like a potter breaks his vessel and makes something different happen. The choice is in the vessel, and we are not pictured as being dead vessels, but living ones who are responsible for what happens to us.
Rom. 8:7-9, “because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: 8 and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.”
Rom. 5:12-13, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned: — 13 for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”
Eph. 2:1-10, “And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, 2 wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest: —
4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: 7 that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: 8 for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not of works, that no man should glory. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”
Rom.3:10-12, “as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; 12 They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one.”
John 5:40-44, “and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life. 41 I receive not glory from men. 42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in yourselves. 43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44 How can ye believe, who receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?”
John6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day.
Titus 3:4-6, “But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, 5 not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
Rom.3:20, “because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law
cometh the knowledge of sin.”
Rom.6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Mt. 1:2, “And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.”
Mt. 18:11-14, “11 For the Son of man came to save that which was lost. 12 How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray?”
1 Cor. 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
John 17:1-2, “These things spake Jesus; and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that the son may glorify thee: 2 even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life.”
John19:30, “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.”
John 1:11-13, “He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 3:19-21, “ And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.”
John 3:1-3, “1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see thekingdomofGod.”
John 5:29, “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”