Total Hereditary Depravity

by Al Maxey


According to the Canons of Dordt (3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine --- Article #1), man, as originally created, was pure and upright, "and the whole man was holy" and without sin. But he forfeited his sinless state when, by his own free will, he succumbed to the wiles of the Devil. "In the place thereof he became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections."

Article #2 states that "man, after the fall, begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence, all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, but by the propagation of a vicious nature." Article #3 states that "all men are conceived in sin" and are therefore "neither able nor willing to return to God .... or to dispose themselves to reformation." "Without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit" no man would even desire a relationship with God.

Article #15 of The Belgic Confession (which deals with "original sin") states, "We believe that through the disobedience of Adam original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature and a hereditary disease, wherein even infants in their mother's womb are infected." One Calvinist leader referred to newborn babies as "little rattlesnakes" --- they are born with "fang and venom intact."

All men "are born in sin, children of the devil; totally depraved." One is sinful, therefore, by virtue of birth (it is hereditary), rather than by willful rebellion against God. If it is true that infants are born depraved, and thus in a lost condition, it only follows that something must be done to insure their salvation. This led to the creation of the doctrine of "infant regeneration" (J.M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual, p. 83 ...... James H. Oliphant, Principles & Practices of the Regular Baptist, p. 288). The practice of infant baptism arose from the Calvinist doctrine of "Total Hereditary Depravity."

"Many denominations embrace and teach the doctrine of 'Total Hereditary Depravity.' This doctrine has been adopted by the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Church of God (Anderson), Nazarenes, and many others" (David Gibson, Calvin's "Tulip Theology").


Is Calvinism's doctrine of "Total Hereditary Depravity" a valid teaching in light of God's Word? Let's ask several important questions and answer them from the inspired Scriptures.

What is sin? Is it something one is born possessing; is it hereditary; something passed on from generation to generation? Or, is it a conscious, willful act performed by an individual?

  1. I John 3:4 ..... "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness." ("And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" --- Matthew 7:23)

  2. I John 5:17a ..... "All unrighteousness is sin." Romans 14:23 ..... "Whatsoever does not proceed from faith is sin." James 4:17 ..... "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin."

  3. Jeremiah 44:23 ..... "You have sinned against the Lord: not obeying the voice of the Lord, not living by His law, His statutes, and His decrees."

  4. Isaiah 53:6 ..... "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."

The Word of God teaches that sin is something man chooses to do, not something thrust upon him at birth .... or before.

What is the nature of man at birth? Is he born in a pure state, becoming a sinner only at the point he himself commits sin? Is he born sinful (Calvinism), or does he at some point become sinful?

  1. Ecclesiastes 7:29 ..... "Behold, I have found only this: God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices."

  2. Ezekiel 28:15 ..... "You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you." (Written about the King of Tyre)

  3. Psalm 106:37-38 ..... "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, and they shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters."

  4. In the wilderness the people of Israel rebelled against God and perished in the wilderness. However, the children were allowed to enter the promised land. "Your little ones, who you said would become prey, and your children, who as yet do not know good from bad --- they shall enter; to them I will give it, and they shall occupy it" (Deuteronomy 1:39). Isaiah 7:15-16 speaks of there being "a time" when a child will "know enough to refuse evil and choose good."

  5. Romans 9:11 ..... "For the twins (Jacob & Esau) were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad." Yet Calvinism says "infants in their mother's womb are infected." Romans 3:12 says men "turn aside" and "become useless."

Does the Word of God teach that we inherit the guilt of our ancestors (inherited sin), or does it teach that each man is solely responsible for, and will be punished for, his own sin?

  1. Ezekiel 18:20 ..... "The person who sins, he shall die. The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father (KJV -- "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father"), nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. The virtuous man's virtue shall be his own, as the wicked man's wickedness shall be his own."

  2. Ezekiel 18:30 ..... "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct." "Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sins" (Deuteronomy 24:16; II Kings 14:6; II Chronicles 25:4).

  3. Ezekiel 33:20 ..... "O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways." "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds" (Jeremiah 17:10).

  4. Romans 2:6 ..... On the day of judgment God "will render to every man according to his works." "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12). "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12) ....... See also: I Corinthians 4:3-5.

What is the testimony of Jesus concerning the nature of infants and children? Does He proclaim their total depravity or their innocence and purity?

  1. Matthew 19:14 ..... "Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Is Jesus here implying that the Kingdom belongs to the depraved?!

  2. Matthew 18:3 ..... "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven." Is conversion to be equated with depravity?! Are we to become depraved in order to have the hope of salvation?!

  3. Matthew 18:5 ..... "Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me." Is Jesus actually comparing Himself here to depraved individuals?!

Does God's Word teach that a man is born sinful or that he becomes sinful at the point he is able to determine right from wrong --- which, in a normal individual, occurs at some point in his/her youth?

  1. "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth."

  2. Jeremiah 3:25 ..... "Let us lie down in our shame, let our disgrace cover us, for we have sinned against the Lord, our God, from our youth to this day, we and our fathers also; we listened not to the voice of the Lord, our God."

  3. Jeremiah 22:21 ..... "I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said, 'I will not listen!' This has been your practice from your youth: that you have not obeyed My voice." "Indeed the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have been doing only evil in My sight from their youth" (Jeremiah 32:30).

These are just a few of the many passages from God's Word which indicate that the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity is not consistent with the teachings of Scripture. In point of fact, James 1:14-16 makes it very clear as to when and how each man becomes a sinner:

"But each one is tempted when he is carried away
and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has
conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is
accomplished, it brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."

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