Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 10, 1957
NUMBER 23, PAGE 3,14

Arguments For 'Total Depravity' Considered

James E. Cooper, Campbellsville, Ky.

While preaching a series of lessons on the general theme, "The Foolishness of Preaching vs. Foolish Preaching" over WTCO here in Campbellsville, I set forth some objections to the theory of inherited total depravity. One of the Baptist preachers in town took issue over his program. I appreciate the man because he holds his convictions with courage. It is a trait to be admired in any individual who will stand up for what he believes. I remember reading where someone said, "He who cannot reason upon religion is a fool; he who dares not is a coward; and he that will not is a bigot." Our friend is neither a "fool," nor a "coward," nor a "bigot," and I appreciate him for it.

To refresh your minds about what was said in a previous article, and over the station, I shall present briefly our objections to the theory of inherited total depravity, as given then. (1) We suggested that the theory is unreasonable because of the nature of sin. Sin is an act of transgressing what God has required of man (1 Jno. 3:4). Since an act cannot be inherited, we concluded that sin cannot be inherited. Jesus teaches us not to steal. Well, what is stealing? It is something that we do, not inherit. It is an act, nothing more and nothing less. Can you inherit the act of stealing? You most certainly cannot! Hence, you cannot inherit sin. (2) We also suggested that the theory is unreasonable because of the origin of the soul. God is the father of our spirits; we are his offspring (Acts 17:28, etc.). Is God the father of totally depraved sinners? Does my spirit inherit total depravity from God? (3) We further suggested that little children are not depraved because Jesus said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Is the kingdom of heaven composed of totally depraved sinners? (4) We suggested that the Bible teaches that we are held accountable for our own sins, not Adam's (Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 18:2-4). With these four arguments we indicted the theory of inherited depravity as both unreasonable and unscriptural.

My Baptist preacher friend took issue with our position and attempted to prove that the doctrine of inherited total depravity is scriptural. He did not attempt to answer my arguments, but referred to several passages of Scripture which he thinks sustains his position. Most of the passages he used are given as footnotes in the Church Manual designed for Baptist churches. I quote from the manual the creedal statement concerning the fall of man: "We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation." (Church Manual Designed for the use of Baptist Churches, J. M. Pendleton, p. 46).

All who believe the Bible will agree to the part that says, "We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his maker," for Gen. 1:27 declares, "God created man in his own image," and in Gen. 1:37, we read, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." In Eccl. 7:29, the wise man said, "God hath made man upright."

The next statement is also a well-known fact, clearly taught in the Bible. Man "by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state." Adam and Eve voluntarily ate of the forbidden fruit; they were not forced to eat it. The serpent showed Eve the fruit and she "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise; she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat."

The remainder of the statement presents the theory of inherited depravity. It says that all mankind are now sinners as a consequence of Adam's transgression. The expression, "not by constraint but choice," refers to Adam's transgression, not to each individual's. Adam could, and did, without restraint, choose to disobey God, and as a result of that choice, the theory says that we were all born depraved. In other words, every child since Adam's time was born a sinner, not by his own choice, but by Adam's choice.

Now, let us consider the proof texts, which have been presented to sustain this theory. The first passage introduced in my friend's radio address was Eph. 2:3. I begin with verse one, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation (manner of life-RV) in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." When the expression, "and were by nature the children of wrath" is read by advocates of Calvinism, they assume that it refers to inherited depravity, i.e. that they were born children of wrath. This passage does not mention the birth or the inheritance of the child. In fact, verse one says they were dead "in trespasses and sins." The American Standard Version reads, "through your trespasses and sins." Why were they dead, or separated from God? Because they were born so? Of course not; they were dead through their own trespasses and sins. The theory of inherited depravity says they were dead through Adam's trespass and sin, but Paul says they were "dead through your trespasses and sins." Verse two says, "wherein ye once walked ..." In what did they walk? In sin inherited from Adam? No, in "your trespasses and sins." Paul says that while they walked in trespasses and sins they were the "children of disobedience." Thus, they walked in disobedience, not inherited sin. In that life of disobedience to God they lived in the lusts of their flesh, "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." The lusts of the flesh are listed in Gal. 5:19-21, "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like . . ." The Ephesians had been practicing some, if not all, of these things, and because of their behaviour, Paul said they were "by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." These people had practiced sin until they were utterly steeped in it; and that practice of sin brought the consequences of God's wrath upon them, and they were condemned, not because they were born children of wrath, but because they walked as such.

Paul is making no reference to human nature, but is talking about that which had become their common and customary practice. This is substantiated by Henry J. Thayer, one of the greatest Greek scholars who ever lived. Mr. Thayer was the chairman for the committee that gave us the American Standard Version of the Bible. In Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 660, he defines the word translated "by nature" in Eph. 2:3. As used in this passage, Mr. Thayer says it means "a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature: 'by (our depraved) nature we were exposed to the wrath of God, Eph. 2:3. (this meaning is evident from the preceding context, and stands in contrast with the change of heart and life wrought through Christ by the blessing of divine grace)." In a further comment, he says, "Others (see Meyer) would lay more stress here upon the constitution in which this 'habitual course of evil' has its origin, whether that constitution be regarded (with some) as already developed at birth, or (better) as undeveloped." Hence, Mr. Thayer thinks that "by nature" does not refer to a depraved constitution of man already developed at birth, but which is undeveloped. Thus, the sinfulness which is "by nature" is an acquired characteristic. Acquired characteristics are not hereditary. Any high school science student can tell you that. If you take a heifer and de-horn her, she does not produce muley-headed calves when she grows up. That she has no horns is an acquired characteristic, and she cannot pass on that characteristic to her offspring.

The sinfulness of Adam was an acquired characteristics, and it is not hereditary. Men suffer as a result of Adam's sin, but they are not guilty of Adam's sin. We must suffer the penalty of death as a result of Adam's sin, but this certainly does not mean that we are guilty of Adam's sin. A drunken driver may ram head on into your car. As a result you may suffer broken limbs or even be crippled for life, but that does not mean that you are guilty of drunkenness. You can see, then, that though we suffer death as a result of Adam's transgression, we are not guilty of his sin. We will not be lost for Adam's sin, but if we are lost it will be for our own sins.

Back to the "by nature" in Eph. 2:3. Did you ever notice that Paul charged the Gentiles with behaving unnaturally in some of their sins? In Rom. 1:26 he said that "their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature." In verse 27, he said that the "men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly .... "

In our next article, we shall continue our consideration of the proof texts presented by our friend in objection to our position against the theory of inherited total depravity, the preaching of which we are constrained to call "foolish preaching."