Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Total Depravity

Total Depravity: What does it mean? Socrates said that the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms. So, we should begin with some elucidation. In doing so we will first clarify what it does not mean. It does not mean that every man is as bad as he can potentially be. This misunderstanding is perhaps why many people reject the doctrine. C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Problem of Pain, stated that he disbelieved the doctrine of Total Depravity because, “if our depravity were total we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and partly because experience shows us much goodness in human nature.” Both parts of Lewis’ rejection of the doctrine are due to the misrepresentation that I am refuting.

Firstly, I would assert that, by nature, we do not know that we are depraved. It is theologians who have formulated this doctrine from the Divine revelation of Scripture, not secular philosophers from observation of humanity. If God had not revealed to us our depravity we would not know it, and that, in itself, is an indication of the totality.

The word, “depraved,” occurs three times in the New Testament (NASB). It is rendered thus from the Greek:
αδοκιμος. The word αδοκιμος occurs eight times in the New Testament (Rom. 1:28; 1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Tim. 3:8; Tit. 1:16; Heb. 6:8). The range of meanings includes: unfit, reprobate, worthless and depraved. It is impossible to say anything positive about humanity in light of this word. Let me reiterate, we did not discover this about ourselves; God revealed it in His Word.

Secondly, by “total,” we do not mean that every man is the worst he can possibly be. This is patently false. What we do mean is this: Every single faculty and part of the totality of man’s being has been ruined by Original Sin. There is no part of our total human nature that is unaffected by the Fall. In essence, Total Depravity means that corruption has extended to all aspects of human nature; hence, there is nothing any person can do to merit saving favor with God. Unregenerate man is not as bad as he can be, but he is as bad off as he can be. Only the restraining of God keeps any and every sinner from doing any evil thing any other sinner has done. All unregenerate are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). There are no shades of dead: dead is dead! No unregenerate sinner is less liable to God's wrath than any other unregenerate sinner, regardless of outward appearances.

Scripture is very clear on this issue. In Jeremiah 17:5 we are told, “Cursed is he that trusteth in man.“ In verse 9, this reason is given: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” What heart is so wicked and deceitful? The heart we were told not to trust - and that heart belongs to man. Ecclesiastes 9:3 declares, “Madness is in the heart of the sons of men, while they live.” Consider also what Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:23 “Get thee behind me, Satan – for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” This tells us very plainly that to be carnal and vain, (opposite to what is spiritual and divine) is what men in their present state are naturally like.

Paul supposes the very same thing. In 1 Cor. 3:3 he writes,”For ye are yet carnal. For whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Hosea proclaims in 6:7, “But they, like men, have transgressed the covenant.” We might also adduce Matthew 7:11 – “If ye being evil, know how to give good gifts…” In 1 Peter 4:2 we read, “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the lusts of men, but to the will of God.”

But what could be stronger than the statement of Job 15:16 that says that mankind drinks iniquity like water? The only possible rival is perhaps Genesis 6:5, where the intent of mankind’s heart is said to be always evil – continually.

Theophilus of Antioch, the 3rd Century Apologist, writing to an unbeliever, says, “For God is seen by those who are enabled to see Him when they have the eyes of their soul opened: for all have eyes; but in some they are overspread, and do not see the light of the sun. Yet it does not follow, because the blind do not see, that the light of the sun does not shine; but let the blind blame themselves and their own eyes." Note the assertion that man must be enabled to see God because he does not have an innate ability or will to do so.

This is why some theologians have called this doctrine Total Inability. This term expresses the idea, that since man is so hopeless corrupted and dead in sin, he is totally unable to do anything tending to his own salvation. This make perfect sense. What corpse could respond to a "raise your hand" altar call? Jesus likened regeneration to birth. What baby decides when, how, where or even if it will be born? Hence the foolishness of asking people to decide for Jesus if they want to be born again.


  1. I'll follow...I might just learn something. Thanks for sharing. Your newest follower.


Visitor Counter

Flag Counter