"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.X No.VI Pg.3,16b
June 1948

Some Old Doctrines Restated And Examined

R. L. Whiteside

Paul's Natural Man

"Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness into him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man." (1 Cor. 2:14, 15).

Various theories have been advanced as to what this natural man is, but in this article we shall give direct attention to only the one that is used as a basis for an argument on the direct operation of the Spirit in the conversion of sinners. Of course, if we can determine what Paul here meant by "the natural man," we shall in that way overthrow all false theories without pointing out the flaws in them.

The advocates of hereditary total depravity assume that the natural man is the unconverted man, that the unconverted man cannot receive the gospel, and that he must be converted by a direct work of the Spirit to enable him to understand and obey the gospel. The Greek word here translated natural occurs six times in the New Testament, and not one time does it mean inherent depravity. Examine carefully how it is used, and see for yourself. Of the body in death, Paul says, "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." (1 Cor. 15:44). No one can say that a dead body is either moral or unmoral. A dead body has in it the elements of physical corruption, but not of moral corruption. It is just such a body as God created, and then gave it life. Sin therefore is not inherent in the body; it is not a part of the body nature. When Adam and Eve were first created and placed in the Garden of Eden, they had all the human nature that they ever had, or that any has had since. From the way some people argue, it seems that they think Adam and Eve had no human nature about them till after they sinned. But notice this: The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual. (Verses 45, 46). Hence when Adam and Eve were created, they were natural, but not sinful. They were able to know and to do what God said, yet Adam was a natural man.

In James 3:15 the Greek word for natural is translated "sensual." "This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish." But James here does not even hint at the condition of an unconverted man, but a course of life that might spring up among the brethren. This you can easily see by reading the two preceding verses. "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth." It is that sort of wisdom that is sensual (natural); that is the course of life he warned the brethren against.

Jude 19 has sensual for the same Greek word: "These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit." The words, "these are they," show clearly that Jude was speaking of people of a certain class, and not of all unconverted people. You can see the people he had in mind by reading the preceding verses. In none of the passages where the word occurs was the writer seeking to prove that the natural man is an unconverted man; yet the advocates of inherited depravity use them to prove their doctrine.

The references show that the word is used with different shades of meaning. In James and Jude the natural man is the one who lives a worldly, selfish life. In 1 Cor. 15:44 Paul applies the term to the dead body, and his use here certainly proves nothing concerning an unconverted man. In verse 46 the term applies to Adam as he was when created, and certainly not to inherent depravity.

But what is the natural man of 1 Cor. 2:14? That must be determined by the context and the verse itself. Beginning with chapter 1, verse 18, and continuing through second and third chapters, Paul shows the inability of man by his own wisdom—his own power of research—to know God or what God has provided for them that love him. "Greeks seek after wisdom," and so do scientists and philosophers of today; but "the world through its wisdom knew not God," nor can it now so know him. But many have ruined for themselves the whole course of Paul's argument by using chapter 2, verse 9, to prove that God has not revealed the things which he has prepared for those that love him, but Paul was using that quotation from Isaiah as a part of his argument that man by his own unaided powers of research had never conceived in his heart the faintest idea concerning the things God has prepared for those that love him. If people did not do such scrappy reading, they would see how miserably that passage is perverted; for Paul immediately adds, "But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit." And then verse 13: "Which things we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth." Search closely all that Paul is here saying, beginning with verse 18 of chapter 1, and you will not find one thing said about the condition of an unconverted man—no contrasting the condition of the unconverted man with the condition of the converted man. The contrast is between man's wisdom and God's wisdom--between man's discoveries and God's revelation in the gospel. Worldly wisdom learns many things about the material-universe, but it cannot find out God nor the things of God prepared for those that love him. Natural science and philosophy are useful, but have limitations. The gospel--God's wisdom—is foolishness to the one who thinks nature reveals all that can be known. He is the natural man—the man of nature—to him revelation by inspiration is foolishness. So long as he depends on nature as the only source of knowledge, he will not, he cannot, "receive the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him." The ultra modernist rejects all revelation as foolishness. The natural man rejects revelation, because, to him, it is foolishness. Any man therefore that rejects revelation as foolishness is a natural man, for that is what the natural man does. Can such a man be converted? Not so long as he holds that attitude toward the gospel as a revelation from God. He must realize his limitations, his poverty of spirit. "If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know." (1 Cor. 8:2). "Let no man deceive himself. If any man thinketh that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise." (1 Cor. 3:18). A man in that frame of mind is in position to examine and judge concerning spiritual matters.

But if the natural man is an unconverted man, how is he ever to be regenerated and converted, for both regeneration and conversion are things of the Spirit; and if the theory is correct, they are things the natural man cannot receive. The natural man is not the unconverted man, but the man who seeks knowledge only through the study of nature, and thinks the idea that God ever made a revelation to man is foolishness.