Total Hereditary Depravity

(or Inherited Sin)

Scriptural Refutation of Inherited Sin

Calvinism is a system of theology developed by John Calvin (1509-1564) which has greatly influenced denominational teaching since the days of the Reformation. Actually, much of this doctrine finds its origin in the writings of Augustine (354-430), hundreds of years after the Bible was completed. Augustine lived during a period when religious leaders were debating the sovereignty of God and its relation to the free will of man. Although there were some indications of a belief in Total Hereditary Depravity as much as 100 years before Augustine (~250 AD), prior to this such teachings were not found among those commonly known as the Church Fathers, let alone the Bible. However, Aristedes a Christian who lived around 125 AD stated, "And when a child has been born to one of them [Christians], they give thanks to God; and if it should die as an infant, they give thanks the more, because it has departed life sinless." (Aristedes; Apology 15:11) from Early Christians Speak, p. 55. Similar statements were made by Hermas (~135 AD) and Barnabas (~135 AD), all within 50 years of the completion of the canon of Scripture.

The mechanism for the transmission of inherited sin is false:

1 John 3:4; John 8:34 - Sin is breaking the law. A person who submits to, commits and practices sin becomes a slave to sin. Lawlessness is sin. Sin is something that you do (Infants have done nothing). 1 John 3:12 confirms that it is one's actual breaking of the law that is sin.

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:6 - God commanded man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve was tempted by the lust of the flesh, a lust of the eye, and the pride of life (cf. 1 John 2:16). Adam did not inherit Eve's sin. Man sinned by breaking God's law, by doing what he was commanded not to do. Sin is not something that you inherit. Is it possible to sin without breaking God's law?

Spiritual consequences of sin cannot be transmitted from father to son but only falls on the one who committed the act: Ezek. 18:1-4; 18-20; Jer. 31:29-30

Exodus 32:31-33 - In this passage, Moses wanted to receive the punishment for someone else's sin. In verse 33, the one who sinned is removed from the book, not the one whose parents have sinned.

We will be judged only by our own actions: Mt 12:36-37; Rom. 2:5-11; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17

Sin is the result of lust conceived and is not that which can be inherited. Only those who are of age and ability to be responsible for their choices (lust conceived) are held accountable as sinners: James 1:13-15

Isaiah 59:1-2, "Your sins have separated you from your God" not Adam's

Where is one Bible verse that says we will be condemned for sin other than our own?

Unsaved and unregenerate men are capable of doing good and have freewill:

The Bible speaks:

Gentiles do by nature the good things of the law: Rom. 2:14-16

Cornelius was devout, feared God, righteous, Acts 10:1-4, 22 yet unsaved: 11:14

Man has a freewill and can choose to do good or evil: Josh 24:15 "Choose this day..."

God requires man to act and do something to be saved...infants can't act or do

"Unless you repent you will perish": Luke 13:3

Acts 17:30: He commands all men everywhere to repent!

Joel 2:12-13: Sinners are exhorted to turn unto the Lord, which implies they are of the age and ability to choose obedience, also Acts 2:38; 8:12. Why would God command repentance if we do not have the ability to choose for ourselves?

"Save yourselves": Acts 2:40 KJV; NIV, ASV

The spoken and written gospel message is God's power for salvation: Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; see also Rom. 10:17.

The words used to describe salvation refute inherited sin:

These words imply that we, individually, were once in God's grace at conception and birth

Justification - Romans 5:18 - A court term; a legal word. Addresses the subject of our guilt before God.

Reconciliation - Romans 5:6-11; Col. 1:14,20,21 - A word dealing with social intercourse; human relations; to make friendly again, payment of a price to recover from the power of another, a restoration to favor. Addresses the subject of our being estranged from God.

Redemption - Colossians 1:13-14 - to buy back; A slavery term; human commerce; purchasing one's freedom; a ransom. Addresses the subject of our slavery to sin.

Regenerate - Titus 3:5 (KJV) to generate again, renewed, restored.

The Bible describes infants are pure and holy:

Why would Jesus use infants as a model for all believers to imitate in character if they were "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil"? Mt 18:1-3; 19:13-14

Paul also used infants as a model of purity for Christians to follow: 1 Cor 14:20

Paul states that he was once spiritually alive but then he sinned & died/was killed: Rom 7:9-11

"Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." The law of Moses existed 1,500 years before his birth, yet he was alive without it at one point in his life! When could this possibly be? The only possibility is when he reached an "accountable age," because when the commandment came (he was old enough to fully understand righteousness and chose sin the first time), SIN THEN became alive (not before). THEN he died, for the wages of sin is death. He was not born in a state of death with God, because, YOUR iniquities have separated you from your God; YOUR sins have hidden his face from you," not those of someone else."

"God made men upright but they sought devices" Eccl 7:29 (plural can't refer only to Adam)

Newborns do not know the difference between good and evil

  • God allowed the children to enter Canaan but not the parents: "your little ones who...have no knowledge of good and evil shall enter". Deut 1:34-39
  • Jacob & Esau, "the twins were not yet born, and had done nothing good or bad" Rom 9:11. Note that in Rom. 9:12 that the older man (Esau) never actually served the younger man (Jacob). In fact Jacob referred to Esau as his "master" and himself as his servant (Gen. 32:4,10,18,20; 33:5), but the reverse is never recorded. Rom. 9:12 is a reference to the prophesy in Gen. 25:23 of how it would be with their descendants.
  • Jesus, "Before He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good" Isa 7:15-16

Jer 19:2-6 human sacrifices of children to Baal is called the "blood of the innocent" (v.4)

If newborns do not know "good or evil" yet the Bible says, "Your sins have separated you from your God" (Isa 59:1-2) then newborns must be born united with God.

The Bible itself teaches that Romans 3:10-18 refers only to adults who have turned from God and gone into sin: "As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one . . ." A careful reading bears out that this quotation does not apply to an inherited corruption of nature existing at birth, but to such as had corrupted themselves by wicked works. Psalm 14 is quoted in this passage where David was talking about the condition existing in Israel. The Bible calls them fools, meaning ones who are morally deficient, in the original Hebrew. Far from teaching inherited depravity, this shows that the Israelites had come to their sad state because their "their deeds are vile," (v. 1). How can one "turn away" if that person is already born turned away (Rom. 3:12; Psa. 14:3)?

Could any of this in Rom. 3 be true of an infant?

"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." (v. 13)

"The poison of vipers is on their lips." (v. 13)

"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." (v. 14)

"Their feet are swift to shed blood; (v. 15)

Not a single one of these descriptions fits a newborn infant, but all of these are applicable to adults who have turned from God and gone into sin.

Psalm 51:5 cannot be used as proof total hereditary depravity:

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity (Surely I was sinful at birth - NIV); and in sin did my mother conceive me." (KJV - most translations have similar wording)

Whatever may be the meaning of this passage, nothing forces the conclusion that a baby is born with a soul already tainted by sin. Look at the dilemma if it does: (1) If depravity comes by inheritance through our father, then Psa. 51:5 is the wrong passage. (2) If depravity comes by inheritance through our mother, then Christ was depraved, Gal. 4:4; cf. Heb. 4:15! Three plausible answers may be given, but neither proves a child is born with inherited sin.

  1. This verse may describe a sinful condition of his mother. If so, it would not prove the sin was imputed to the infant. Were the child to say, "In drunkenness my mother did conceive me," no one would attribute drunkenness to the child. (Context makes this unlikely -JH).
  2. This may describe the general condition of the world. If so, it would not necessarily mean the infant inherited this condition. Were the child to say, "In a world of cannibalism my mother did conceive me," no one would conclude the child was automatically a cannibal at birth. He may later become one, but he must first be introduced to the practice.
  3. This is surely the most likely place in any of David's Psalms for there to be a hyperbole, to emphasize how quickly he began to sin and how sorrowful he was. See Psalm 58:1-5.

It is my belief that the real answer is found in the last one. After careful research I found that my understanding of Psalm 51:5 is presented on a web page article written by Hugo McCord. His article, found at is written better than I could hope to have put forth. However, on this page I have omitted issues he deals with that I believe to be irrelevant to the subject at hand and therefore the following are mere excerpts with only minor comments of my own.

In the article he refers to correspondence with a Jewish Rabbi who indicates that those who reject the New Testament and regard only the Old Testament as being inspired have never believed that Psalm 51:5 teaches Total Hereditary Depravity.  The following is from this correspondence:

Indeed, Jews, be they Orthodox or not do not believe that babies are born in any way depraved or burdened with sin. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite, babies are totally innocent. Apologies again, Yours sincerely, Rabbi E. N. Kaye.

Babies are born sinless, but Psalm 51 does not deal with that subject. It is a mistake to look at Psalm 51 as prose, not poetry. David was born sinless in a world of sin, but that was not on his mind. The only thing on his mind was the fact that he had adulterized Bathsheba.

Literally his words were not true (conceived in sin and nine months later born in iniquity), but the soul of a sincerely penitent man, overwhelmed in grief, holding nothing back, making no excuses, spoke words poetically and figuratively true.

In the same psalm he used other words that were not literally true: "Against you, you alone," he told God, "I have sinned" (v. 4), but he had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah.

David prayed that God would purify him "with hyssop" (v. 7), but literally he did not expect that God would obtain a "labiate plant" called "hyssop that springs out of the wall" (1 Kings 4:33), dip it in "water" and animal "blood," and sprinkle it on him (Heb. 9:19).

Literally David did not mean that his "bones" could "rejoice," nor that God had "broken" his "bones" (v. 8). Only figuratively could he speak of God as hiding his "face" (v. 9), and of a sinner's having a "broken" heart (v. 17).

Many verses of Scripture are true only as hyperbole: exaggeration for effect, not meant to be taken literally (Webster). Only by hyperbole, figures of speech, could David call God his "rock," his "fortress," his "shield," his "horn," and his "shepherd" (Psa. 18:1­2, 23:1).

False literally, but true by exaggeration, David (Jesus) was a "worm" and no man (Psa. 22:6), one who trusted in God while on his "mother's breasts" (v. 9), one who was surrounded by "bulls" (v. 12), one whose bones were "out of joint" (v. 14), one whose "heart" had "melted in the midst of his bowels" (v. 14. KJV).

Also, in other Bible books, figurative language is often used. Job wrote that he had provided for widows "from my mother's womb" (31:16-18).

Just as David's words ("born in iniquity," "conceived in sin") are a hyperbole, "not meant to be taken literally," so are John's words as he closed his Gospel: "Now there are also many other things Jesus did, which, if each one was written, I suppose the world itself would not have room for the books" (21:25).

Don Jackson accurately summarized my understanding of Psalm 51 by writing these words:

Psalm 51 is David's response to his sin with Bathsheba. He poured out his heart in acknowledging his sin and calling for God to forgive him. It would be contrary to the nature (and context - JH) of the Psalm for David to have excused himself because he was born with the sin of Adam or because he was born in a sinful world that influenced him. He was not concerned about the sinful world but about his own sin. David used hyperbole to describe his sin as so great that it was as though he had been sinful from his very conception (Don Jackson, Gospel Advocate, Oct. 15, 1987)

Psalm 58:1-5 cannot be used as proof total hereditary depravity:

A careful reading shows this passage does not say they were born astray, but they "go astray as soon as born." Furthermore, it specifically identifies these who "go astray" as being the "wicked" in contrast to those who are frequently referred to as the "righteous" (eg. Psa. 32:11; 33:1; 34:14; 34:17). How could these statements literally be true of infants? "from the womb they are wayward and speak lies." (v. 30): Infants cannot speak at all, which shows this is a hyperbole similar to that in Job 31:16-18 and Psalm 51:5 (cf. Matt. 5:29-30; 23:24).

Ephesians 2:1-3 cannot be used as proof total hereditary depravity:

The premise is that since man is "dead in sin" he can do nothing at all to remedy that condition. Being unable to do anything for himself, by reason of that death, man must be operated on by God in some miraculous way.

The premise assumes too much. It equates spiritual death with physical death.

  1. Paul told the Roman Christians that they had "died," Rom. 6:2; and to the Colossians he wrote, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). Now if the dead are totally helpless and can do nothing at all, then the Christian finds himself in the same sad fix. He can "do nothing" either; he cannot even repent when he sins; he can do no works of righteousness because he, the Christian, is dead! Obviously this reasoning is false.
  2. The word "dead" simply indicates separation. Sinners are separated from God through their own sins and not the sin of Adam. Notice the ASV, NIV and most translations correctly translate the Greek text, "your transgressions..." It does not say they were dead through Adam's transgressions! This is set forth clearly in Isa. 59:2 "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."
  3. Sin separates; the man who is dead in sin is separated from God. But the child of God has died to sin. So he is separated from sin and separated unto God. One is separated from God by sin; the other is separated from sin, having been united with God through Jesus Christ.
  4. "…You followed the ways of this world..." (v. 2), and "we were by nature objects of wrath." (v. 3). This means they lived according to the corrupt principles and practices which prevailed in the world at that time. "Nature" (phusis) may refer to that which is the result of physical law (Rom. 11:21,24; Gal. 2:15-KJV,ASV; Rom. 2:27-KJV,ASV), although neither "nature" nor the Bible tells us how sin can be so transmitted. Nature also refers to social customs and mores (1 Cor. 11:14). Sometimes "nature" is on God's side as praise was given to the Gentiles who "do by nature things required by the law," (Rom. 2:14). The description in Eph. 2:3 represents a condition brought about by a continued way of life. Their usual practice ("by nature") had come to be a condition wherein they lived as sinners ("objects of wrath"), just as we might say that something is natural for us if we repeat it long enough.

Rom. 5:12-19 refutes total hereditary depravity!

Notice! "Death passed upon all men for that all have sinned." It does not say, "for that Adam sinned." The NIV is even clearer here, "because all sinned" not "because Adam sinned."

  1. "Life" in Christ is equated to "death" in Adam, Rom. 5:15-19
  1. Both came by "one" and overflow unto "many," (v. 15),
  2. "All men" are condemned as well as justified, (v. 18).
  3. "Many" are made sinners as well as made righteous, (v. l9).
  1. This passage supports universal salvation as much as it does universal inherited depravity, but actually neither one is taught. It does teach that spiritual death was introduced into the world by Adam just as spiritual life was brought into the world by Christ.
  2. If Adam had introduced measles into the world, it would not necessarily mean that all his descendants would be born with measles. To say people are born subject to sin is far different from saying people are born sinners. By Adam's sin conditions were brought about which make every person subject to temptation. By Christ's resurrection He brought about conditions which made every person subject to righteousness-but each is by choice, not inheritance!

1 Cor 15:20-23 refutes total hereditary depravity!

  1. It does not say "as in Adam all are dead or born dead"
  2. Yes all men die when they sin, just as Adam died when he sinned. "die" implies former life
  3. Notice "as in Adam" all die proving that every man is born pure like Adam was
  4. This section is parallel to what Paul said in Rom 5:12-21 (See above). If all men automatically die because of Adam's sin then all men are automatically saved by the cross.

CONCLUSION: The few (three?) supposed literal proof texts used to support Total Hereditary Depravity present serious problems if actually taken literally. If Psa. 51:5 is taken literally, it could be understood to teach spiritual death but not inherited sin being transmitted literally through ones father or mother unless Christ was born depraved (Gal. 4:4; cf. Heb. 4:15). If Rom. 5:12-19 and 1 Cor. 15:20-23 are taken literally, to be consistent we must accept it as teaching universal salvation (cf. Matt. 7:13-14, 21-23; 2 Thess. 1:6-9) as much as it teaching inheritance of sin from Adam.

Calvinism stands or falls on the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity. If the claim is true that man does not have the ability to choose good over evil, then obviously no one could be righteous unless God makes him so. Such a doctrine not only denies the free will choice of man, it leaves God to blame if anyone is left lost and unchosen by Him, Acts 10:34-35; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4-6. Therefore the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity is false not only because of its untenable consequences, but also because the doctrine itself contradicts plain scriptures which teach that each person is responsible for himself before God, Ezek. 18:20; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:5-11.


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