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Original Sin, Hereditary Depravity, and Free Moral Agency

Original sin and total inherited depravityDoes the Bible teach that babies are born guilty of original sin and total hereditary (inherited) depravity? Or does the Bible teach free moral agency and individual responsibility and accountability? 

Calvinism teaches the imputation of the sins of Adam and Eve, so that each person is born guilty of total corruption and a corrupt sinful nature. This doctrine is often used to justify infant baptism, but what does the gospel of Jesus Christ teach?

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"Original sin" refers to the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, and the consequences of that sin to future generations. All Bible students agree that serious consequences came to mankind from that sin. But the term generally refers to a particular doctrinal concept about sin as taught by most Protestant and Catholic churches.

The purpose of this study is to examine the doctrine of "original sin" and the related doctrine of "total hereditary (inherited) inherited depravity" according to the Bible. Does the gospel of Jesus Christ teach inherited guilt or free moral agency and individual accountability and responsibility?

Statement of the Doctrine:

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the Westminster Confession of Faith in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions. All emphasis has been added.

"Our first parents ... sinned ... By this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity...From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions" - Chap. VI, sec. 1-4.
"Every sin, both original and actual ... doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal" - Chap. VI, sec. 6.

So all people inherit the guilt of Adam's sin. Regardless of our own conduct or choice, we are born guilty of sin and held accountable for the guilt of what Adam did and doomed to eternal punishment.

We also inherit from Adam a sinful nature, so that our whole being is evil in every aspect. We are so thoroughly evil that we are incapable of doing anything really good. All specific acts of sins are committed because of this inherited corruption of our nature.

Consequences and Related Doctrines:

All the points of Calvinism follow from original sin:

"Total Inability"

Since man is incapable of doing anything good, he is powerless to respond to God's effort to save him. Nothing we can do, say, or think, can in any way influence our chance of salvation. [See Chap. IX, sec. 3]

"Unconditional election"

Since we can do nothing toward our salvation, everything is up to God. He unconditionally elects or chooses certain individuals to be saved. This choice has nothing whatever to do with our character, choice, conduct, attitude, or will, either now or in the future. Those whom God does not so elect to save, will be doomed to eternal torment and there is nothing they can do about that.

God does this "without any foresight of faith or good works, ... or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto..." (Chap. III, sec. 3-7). It is of God's "...grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein" (Chap. X, sec. 2).

"Irresistible grace"

Since man can do nothing to respond to God's will, God sends the Holy Spirit to act directly and irresistibly on the hearts of the elect to enable them to believe and obey. (Chap. X, sec. 2)

Other related doctrines of Calvinism are: "Limited atonement" (Jesus died only for those who are unconditionally elected, not for all mankind), and "Perseverance of the saints" (those who are God's elect, once saved, can never so sin as to be eternally lost - Chap. XVII, sec. 1,2). The first letters of these doctrines spell TULIP.

Infant baptism

If babies are born guilty of Adam's sin, then it is reasoned that they must be baptized for remission of sins. This is the origin of infant baptism (though some no longer practice it for this reason).

Though there are various forms of the doctrine, we have described the basic concept. Calvin, Luther, and other reformers believed it, but the Catholic Church taught it long before the Protestant Reformation. Few members of many modern denominations care about this or any other doctrine, but it is still in their official creed books.

Consider what the Bible teaches:

I. Men Do Not Inherit Guilt, Nor Are They Accountable for Other People's Sins.

If we can inherit Adam's guilt, why not inherit the guilt of all our ancestors? And why can't we inherit righteousness too? If our parents were Christians who have been cleansed from all sin (1 John 1:7,9; Heb. 7:25), then there would be no sin to inherit, so we would be born pure!

Ezekiel 18:20

Ezekiel 18:20 - The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

None of Adam's descendants bear the guilt of his sin. No one's guilt can come to us through our parents. Adam's sin is upon Adam alone. If you or I are guilty of sin, it is because of what we have done (note v24).

Did Jesus Inherit the Guilt of Adam's Sin?

Hebrews 2:14,17 - He shared in flesh and blood, made in all things like us.

Luke 3:38; Galatians 4:4 - He was a descendant of Adam, born of woman.

2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 2:22 - Yet Jesus knew no sin. In Him is no sin, because He did no sin [Heb. 4:15; 7:26]

If we inherit sin from Adam, then Jesus must have inherited it since he was a descendant of Adam and was like us in all things. But He did not inherit it, therefore we do not inherit it. Guilt is not inherited.

II. Each Person Is Individually Accountable and Will Be Judged for What He Personally Does.

A. A Person Becomes Guilty of Sin Because of His Own Personal Conduct.

Sin is what people do (in word, deed, or thought) that is not in harmony with God's will. When the Bible says people are "in sin," "slaves of sin," or under the "law of sin," it refers to the condition of guilt and other consequences a person experiences because of his own sinful conduct.

All the following passages say a person becomes guilty of sin when he himself commits or practices wrong. Contrast each passage to original sin, which says man is a sinner by inheritance before he does anything himself.

1 John 3:4 - Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. Sin is defined as something a person "commits" ("transgression" - KJV), not what he inherits. [cf. v6,8]

Mark 7:20-23 - A man is defiled (made guilty) by things (such as those listed) which a person does because of decisions in his heart. Contrast this to original sin.

Romans 3:9-18,23 - We are all "under sin" (v9) because we "have sinned" (v23). We have "turned aside" (v12), we do not "do good" (v12), etc. [cf. Psa. 14:1-4]

Romans 6:16,19 - People become servants of sin because they present themselves, their own members, as servants of sin and uncleanness. When we obey sin, we become servants of sin. Compare to original sin.

James 1:14,15 - A man becomes worthy of death when he responds to temptation by sinning (note "then ... when"). Sin and spiritual death are results of what he does. Note "each man" - it is an individual matter, and it is true of each of us.

James 2:10,11 - A person becomes guilty and a transgressor when he disobeys the law (stumbles).

John 8:34 - A person becomes enslaved to sin because of what he himself "commits."

1 Timothy 6:10 - Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Original sin says the love of money has another root - inherited depravity - a "root" to the "root." The Bible says the root is the man's attitude, not Adam's sin.

1 Peter 2:22 - Jesus was not a sinner because he did no sin. If original sin is true, He would have been a sinner whether He did anything sinful or not.

Where is the passage that teaches that anyone is guilty of sin because he inherited guilt from Adam or is counted guilty before he himself commits sin?

[See also Ex. 32:32,33; Isa. 59:1,2; John 3:19-21; 7:7; Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 12:21; Col. 1:21; James 4:17; 3 John 11]

B. Each Person Will Be Judged and His Eternal Destiny Determined by What He Himself Does.

Eternal destiny is determined by our conduct (not by what we inherit), and it is determined individually. Each person is held accountable for what he did, not for what his ancestors did.

2 Corinthians 5:10 - For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Each will be judged for what He did in the body. This is true of all. Only Adam will be judged for what Adam did. The rest of us will be judged for what we did.

Matthew 7:21-23 - We enter the kingdom of heaven or are rejected based on what we do. Sin is something people work or practice - v23.

Romans 1:32 - People are worthy of death because of what they practice. Original sin says they are worthy of death because they are born guilty of sin before they ever practice anything.

Romans 2:6-10 - At judgment every man will be rewarded according to his works (not Adam's works). Tribulation and anguish will be for those who work evil and don't obey the truth but obey unrighteousness.

Romans 14:12 - So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Only Adam will give account for what he did. Each of the rest of us will give account for what we did.

Where is the passage that says a person will be judged or eternally condemned because of guilt he inherited from Adam?

Original sin says every person is passive in becoming a sinner and passive in being saved from sin. He is a sinner before he does anything and saved without doing anything. The Bible says man is active both in sin and in salvation. He becomes a sinner because of what he does, and we will see that he must choose to act in order to receive God's offer of salvation.

[See also Matt. 16:27; John 5:29; 1 Peter 1:17; 3:10-12; Jude 15; Rev. 20:12,13; 22:12]

III. Babies Are Innocent, Not Guilty.

If original sin is true, then babies are born guilty of sin, totally depraved, destined for eternal punishment. All passages already studied disprove this. Now note specifically:

Psalm 106:37,38; Jeremiah 19:4,5 - In sacrificing babies to idols, people shed the blood of innocent people. But if the babies inherited Adam's sin, they would be guilty and worthy of death. [cf. Jer. 32:35]

Romans 7:9 - Paul (representative of people in general) was alive before sin came, but then he died. How, if people are totally depraved since birth? (cf. v11)

Hebrews 12:9; Zechariah 12:1; Ecclesiastes 12:7 - Our fleshly nature comes from our earthly fathers (like Adam). But God is the Father of our spirits. God gives the spirit and forms it within man.

Total depravity says man is "wholly defiled in ... soul and body." Does the sinless Father in heaven give us wholly defiled, totally depraved spirits? If the spirit comes from God, not from earthly parents, how can we inherit sin from our parents?

Matthew 19:14; 18:3 - The kingdom of God belongs to those who are converted and become like little children. But if little children are totally depraved, why should we become like them? Does conversion make us totally depraved?

Jesus prayed for children and blessed them (Mark 10:14-16), but He did not baptize them. They did not need baptism, because they were acceptable just as they were. But how could this be if they were born total depraved?

The Bible teaches that sinners must be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 3:6,4; Gal. 3:26,27). The consequence of original sin is that babies who die without baptism are all lost eternally. But the Bible teaches that babies are innocent and need no baptism. So original sin must not be true.

IV. Man Is Not Totally Corrupt, But Is Capable of Choosing Between Good and Evil.

Total depravity says that man is so corrupt that he cannot choose between good and evil, and he cannot choose whether or not to obey the conditions of the gospel. Hence, he must be "passive" in determining his own salvation. Note the Bible teaching:

A. God Has Made Salvation Available to Everybody.

2 Peter 3:9 - God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

1 Timothy 2:4 - God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:6 - Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all.

Hebrews 2:9 - Jesus tasted death for everyone.

Titus 2:11 - The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

1 John 2:2 - Jesus is the propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the whole world.

John 3:16 - God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34,35 - God is no respecter of persons.

Since God has made salvation available to all and wants all to be saved, if man has no control in the matter, then everyone would have to be saved. But we know many people will not be saved (Matt. 7:13,14), so it follows that man has the power to determine whether he will or will not accept salvation. Salvation is conditional.

Either: (1) Salvation is conditioned on the choices man makes, or (2) all people will be saved, or (3) God is a respecter of persons and did not really extend salvation to all. But points #2 and 3 are false, so man must have the power to choose whether he will or will not accept the salvation God offers.

Any doctrine which teaches that salvation is NOT conditioned on man's choice, must conclude either that all people will be saved or that God is a respecter of persons and did not really make salvation available to all.

[1 Timothy 4:10; John 1:29; 4:42; 10:9; 12:32,33,47; 6:51; Matt. 11:28-30; 5:43-48; Lam 3:33; Rom. 10:8-18; 11:32; 5:18; Acts 3:25,26; Luke 9:23,24; 15:7,10; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; 1 John 4:14; 2 Cor. 5:14,15,19; Rev. 3:20; Isa. 45:21f; Col. 1:28]

B. Man Is Capable of Choosing between Good and Evil, and therefore Salvation Is Conditional .

Note the following passages which show that men do have the power to choose whether we will or will not obey God's instructions.

People are not totally depraved but can choose to become better or worse.

Acts 10:2,22 - Before his conversion (11:14), Cornelius was devout and feared God. How could this be if he was totally depraved and incapable of choosing good or evil? [Luke 7:2-10]

Luke 8:15 - Some people obey God's word when they hear it because they have a "good and honest heart." How is this possible if they are totally depraved?

2 Timothy 3:13 - Other men grow worse and worse. Again, if they are already totally depraved and cannot choose good or evil, how can they get any worse?

People are free moral agents like Adam and Jesus.

Calvinism admits Adam and Eve and Jesus were free moral agents and had the power to choose between good and evil, but it says we have inherited total depravity so we do not have that power. Consider these verses:

1 Corinthians 10:13 - With every temptation there is a way of escape so we do not have to give in and sin. We are like Adam and Eve in that, with each temptation we face, we can choose to overcome the temptation by taking the way of escape or we can choose not to.

Hebrews 4:15 - Jesus was tempted in all points like we are. He was a free moral agent but did not sin because He always chose to do right. Either we have the same power to choose or else Jesus was not tempted "in all points" like we are. If we have a totally depraved nature so we can never choose to do right, but He did not have that nature, then His temptation was not at all like ours!

[Other passages showing that man is able to resist sin: James 4:7; John 5:14; 8:11; 1 John 2:1; 1 Cor 15:34; 2 Cor. 13:7; Eph. 6:16; 1 Thess. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:19]

Many verses say people are able to choose to obey God or disobey Him.

Joshua 24:15 - "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

1 Kings 18:21 - Elijah said, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." The people had the power to choose.

Revelation 22:17 - The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. God invites people to come to Him. Whoever desires (or "will" - KJV) can do so. The choice is ours.

Psalms 119:30 - I have chosen the way of truth. How, if we cannot choose good or evil?

Hebrews 11:25 - Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than the pleasures of sin.

Acts 17:11,12 - Even before they believed, the Bereans were noble-minded and had a ready mind to search the Scriptures and learn the truth.

Isaiah 1:18-20 - God reasoned with the people offering to make their sins white as snow. "If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword". Their will determined the outcome.

Matthew 23:37 - Jesus wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem together, but they were not willing! The will of the people determined how they responded to Jesus' will.

Proverbs 1:29 - Some people do not choose the fear of the LORD.

Matthew 21:29 - Asked to do His father's will, a son said, "I will not." Later he repented and went. This illustrates our relationship to God. We have the power to determine whether or not we obey Him.

[John 7:17; Psa. 119:173; Isa. 56:4; Luke 10:42; 7:38; 1 Chron. 28:9; Matt. 5:6; 13:14,15; 16:24; 19:17,21; 26:41; Acts 17:11,27; James 4:4,8; Heb. 2:17; Prov. 3:31; 4:23]

Salvation is conditioned on the response we choose to give to God's commands.

Mark 16:15,16 - Those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who disbelieve will be condemned. These alternatives are to be preached to all people, but why bother if we have no power to choose anyway?

Every passage that gives some instruction for men to follow to be saved, is necessarily implying that man has the power to choose whether or not to respond. We have seen in numerous passages that man does have that power. [Cf. Acts 2:38-40; Phil. 2:12]

We do not deny that much of mankind is depraved. We do deny that all of mankind are depraved (those in Christ and little children are innocent). We deny that depravity is inherited unconditionally. And we deny depravity is total such that man is incapable of choosing between good and evil.

Calvinism says, in effect, that man is a robot. We have no choice in anything. We became sinners because someone else sinned, before we had anything at all to say or do about it. Then we are saved or lost unconditionally, and there is nothing we can say or do about that either! The doctrine totally eliminates man's free moral agency, power to choose, and individual moral responsibility!

V. Answers to Defenses of Original Sin and Total Depravity.

Psalm 51:5

Psalms 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Does this mean he was born guilty of sin, totally depraved?

1. It says nothing about Adam, Adam's sin, or that David inherited guilt of Adam's sin.

2. The verse does not state that David was born guilty. It describes the guilt of his mother. His mother is the one who was guilty of sin and iniquity when she conceived him and brought him forth. (The first part of the verse is, in Hebrew parallelism, explained by the last part of the verse.)

3. Consider parallel language in Acts 2:8. People were born in a native language or tongue. Did they inherit the language? Was it part of their inherent nature? No, but the people around them spoke it, so they soon learned it.

4. So David's point is, not that he was guilty of sin from birth nor inherited it, but he was born into the midst of a sinful environment and sinful influences. His mother was guilty and so were all around him, so he soon learned it, like one learns a language.

Ephesians 2:1-3

Some say you were "by nature children of wrath" means inherited depravity, and "dead in sin" means powerless to do anything about your condition like a dead body.

1. But it nowhere mentions Adam, Adam's sin, nor inheriting guilty of Adam's sin.

2. They were dead because of "sins" (plural, not singular, as Adam's sin) "in which you once walked" (v2), and conducted themselves in the lusts of the flesh (v3). This contradicts inherited depravity and proves our position, that people are in sin because of their own conduct, not Adam's conduct.

3. "Nature" here refers to a person's character which comes as a result of repeated practice, not necessarily by inheritance. Rom. 2:14 says some people by nature obey God's will, but total depravity says that is impossible.

4. "Death" refers to spiritual separation from God - see v11-13. As the body is dead when the spirit separates from it (James 2:26), so our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2) and we become spiritually dead in sin.

5. Luke 15:24 - The prodigal son had been "dead," yet in that condition was able to decide to turn from sin and return to His father (v17-20).

Sins of the Fathers Visited on the Children

Gen. 3:15-19,22-24; Ex. 20:5; 34:6,7; Josh. 7:24f; 1 Sam. 15:2f; 2 Sam. 21:1-9 speak of the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons. We are told this is how Adam's sin comes upon us.

1. Gen. 3 shows that we suffer consequences in this life for Adam's sin, but this does not prove we are considered to be guilty of his sin or will suffer eternal punishment after this life for it. The children of a gambler or drunkard may suffer in this life because of his sin, but that does not mean they are considered guilty of it or will suffer eternally because they inherit guilt.

2. Ex. 20:5; etc., do not mention Adam or Adam's sin. They do not say we inherit sin from Adam. Ex. 20:5 says the sins of the parents are visited on the third or fourth generation. We are much further from Adam than that.

3. These verses also could refer to physical consequences of sin in this life, rather than guilt and eternal consequences. "Iniquity" (Heb. AVON) is elsewhere translated "punishment" in ten instances. "Visiting" (Ex. 20:5) is translated "punishing" in NIV and in NKJV footnote. The specific examples cited are all examples of consequences in this life.

4. Note "third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Ex. 20:5). God is discussing those who continue to hate Him! Most likely this is an expression of God's long-suffering (see the context of Ex. 34:6,7). If one generation hated God (idolatry - see context), He would rebuke but not destroy the nation. If a future generation repented, he would spare the nation. But if three or four generations in a row hated God, He would destroy the nation. So this is suffering in this life, and it comes on the children only if they too are guilty of the sin.

Romans 7:14-25

It is argued that this passage describes the total depravity of nature inherited from Adam.

1. Again, the passage nowhere mentions Adam or Adam's sin, nor does it say anyone inherited sin or depravity. The passage does describe depravity, but it is the consequence of sin the man himself practices (v15-20).

2. The passage actually contradicts total depravity. The spirit "delights" in God's law (v22), and man "wills" to do good (v18,19,21). But this is impossible according to total depravity, for it says man is wholly defiled in all parts of soul and body, opposite to all good, wholly inclined to all evil, and has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good. Total depravity has serious problems in this passage.

3. The context in v9 teaches the innocence of children (as discussed previously). Surely v14-25 does not contradict v9.

4. The passage describes the condition of men in sin, outside Christ, before conversion (especially Jews under the law, like Paul was before conversion). Paul uses first person and present tense, but he sometimes does this to show how he identifies with the people in the condition, especially if he himself has experienced the problem (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6; Rom. 13:11-13).

Yet it cannot be that Paul still had the problem he describes. He describes one who is "carnal, sold under sin" (v14), but 8:8,9 condemns those who are carnal, and 7:5 shows it is a past condition for Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1ff). He says sin dwells in him and he is captured under the law of sin (v17,23), yet he elsewhere shows that Christians must not let sin reign in their members - 6:11-19; Gal. 5:16-24; Eph. 4:17ff; Col. 3:5-14. He says he is "wretched" (v24), but that is not the state of one in Christ (Phil. 4:4ff). He says Jesus delivers people from this wretched state (v24,25).

So Paul is using the historical present tense, just as we might do to tell a story that already happened. Paul used it to express understanding of the condition of those in sin, and because he once had that condition (imagine him on the Damascus road after he knew he was wrong but had not yet been told what to do about it).

5. Why can't the passage be describing the depraved and hopeless case of one who is guilty of sin as a consequence of his own practice, before he is forgiven (like we discussed in Eph. 2)? Man has physical urges and natural instincts that are neither good nor bad, moral or immoral, in and of themselves. God's law reveals proper ways to satisfy these urges, but sometimes our natural body sees ways to satisfy these urges which are improper, but it does not know the difference so it still desires it.

As a result we all eventually sin and become a slave of sin. We do not have God's promise to answer our prayers, nor do we have other blessings in Christ to strengthen us. We know we are guilty and not forgiven, so we despair and are wretched. We have little motivation to do good because doing good of itself will not remove our past guilt. We know we are wrong, wish to be right, but can see no solution to our wretchedness.

The solution, as Paul finally states, is forgiveness in Christ. As Christians we still sin occasionally, but sin does not reign in our lives as before, and we have a means of forgiveness when we do sin (cf. chap. 6,8).

Romans 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22

We are told "in Adam all die" means that all inherit the guilt of Adam's sin, thereby being born totally depraved.

1. 1 Cor. 15:22 is discussing physical death, which all men do suffer unconditionally as a consequence of Adam's sin, but it is not saying we all unconditionally suffer spiritual death and total depravity as a consequences of his sin. This is clear by the contrast to Christ who unconditionally will make all alive, referring to the resurrection from physical death, which has been discussed throughout the context (v3-8,12-21). This will happen "at Christ's coming" (v23), when the "end" comes (v24).

2. Rom. 5:12-19 is, I believe, discussing spiritual death, but it does not teach the key points of original sin and total depravity. It does not say people receive the guilt of Adam's sin by unconditional inheritance, nor does it say people as a result become totally depraved, unable to do good, etc.

3. Adam is compared and contrasted to Christ (v14). They are alike in some ways, different in other ways. The key point is this: Whatever people lost through Adam, the same people gain through Christ! Note the chart:

One man's offense
The gift by grace
V15 many died much more the grace... abounded to many
V16 resulted in condemnation resulted in justification
V17 death reigned much more ... righteousness will reign in life
V18 AS through one man's offense judgment came to ALL men resulting in condemnation EVEN SO through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to ALL men resulting in justification of life
V19 For AS by one man's disobedience many were made sinners SO ALSO by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous

4. If this means through Adam's sin all men unconditionally received guilt and condemnation imputed to them, then it must mean that through Jesus' death those same all men unconditionally received justification of life! Whatever problem Adam caused and for whatever people he caused it, Jesus solved the problem for those same people. If everybody was unconditionally lost through Adam, then everybody is unconditionally saved through Jesus!

Again, consistency would require advocates of original sin to believe in universal salvation. But this contradicts the Bible, so it must not be that people unconditionally inherit the guilt of Adam's sin.

5. What the passage really teaches is what we have said all along. The consequences of both what Adam did and what Christ did are made available to all men conditionally on our conduct. Whether or not we actually receive the consequences of their deeds depends on what we do.

"How can people receive condemnation conditionally through what Adam did?" even as people receive justification conditionally through what Jesus did! We have proved by many passages that Jesus' death brought salvation into the world, making it available to all men, giving us the opportunity to be justified. But whether or not we actually receive that justification depends on our conduct based on the choices we make.

Likewise Adam's sin brought sin into the world (v12), creating an environment of sin that tempts and influences us all toward sin. But we actually become sinners and are held guilty for sin only when we decide to participate in conduct that is sinful. We become sinners by our own conduct, as we have also proved by many passages.

This is clearly stated in the passage. V12 - "death spread to all men, because all sinned." We become guilty of sin when we commit sin, not before. Adam brought sin into the world and we all sooner or later follow his example. All the consequences of sin listed in v15-19 come upon us conditionally when we practice sin, and all the blessings of forgiveness come upon us conditionally when we obey Jesus.

Illustrations: "Through the knowledge of the math teacher, all the class became good mathematicians." "Through the talents of the music teacher, all her students became good musicians." Were the consequences inherited unconditionally? No, but the teachers made the knowledge or skill available, so when the students responded properly, they received what the teacher had to offer.

Psalm 58:1-6

The wicked are estranged from the womb (v3), so we are told this means we are guilty of sin and totally depraved from birth.

1. Again, it does not mention Adam, Adam's sin, nor that men inherit the guilt of Adam's sin.

2. What makes these people sinners? In their hearts they work wickedness (v2), and they have violent hands (v2). They are sinners because of their own conduct, exactly as we have taught. This proves our position, not inherited guilt.

3. "Estranged from the womb" is explained to mean "they go astray as soon as they are born" (v3). How can one go astray into sin if he was in sin from the start? If you are already in sin and you "go astray," where do you go?

4. How did they "go astray" and become "estranged"? By "speaking lies" (v3). Again, it is the conduct of the individual that makes him a sinner. But can babies literally speak lies at the moment of birth? No. So the verse itself forces us to conclude that the phrase "as soon as they are born" is not literal but figurative. It is an hyperbole - a poetic exaggeration to emphasize a point. (Compare the following verses where many illustrations are used to describe these same people.)

5. V6 says they have teeth. Again this is not describing people at the moment of birth.

Nothing here teaches that people are born guilty of Adam's sin. Clearly the passage confirms what we have taught: people are not born guilty of sin, but become sinners later when they go astray by their own conduct.


The Bible nowhere teaches the Calvinistic concept that man inherits sin or is born totally depraved, incapable of doing good or evil. Rather, little babies are born innocent and not accountable for their conduct. As they grow up in a sinful world, they reach the age when they are capable of understanding God's will for their lives. He then holds them accountable for their conduct, and they are counted sinners when they themselves choose to practice that which is a violation of God's will.

Note: You may also want to read other related articles on our web site, including other articles about Calvinism. See the links below for articles about eternal security (once saved, always saved), predestination and election, salvation by faith, and infant baptism.

(C) Copyright 2002,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Calvinism and the Gospel
Once Saved, Always Saved (Eternal Security)
Election and Predestination
God's grace and mercy (law & works)
Imputation of Jesus' Sinless Life
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
Importance of Repentance
The Importance of Obedience
Salvation by "Faith Only" vs. Obedient Faith
Should Babies Be Baptized? - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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