Calvinism (III) Total Hereditary Depravity

By Harry E. Ozment

(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the May 9th and May 16th issues for the first two articles in this five article series on Calvinism.

Historical Background

A fundamental part of Calvinism is the doctrine of “Total Hereditary Depravity.” The doctrine actually had its beginning with Roman Catholicism and was the doctrinal springboard for infant sprinkling. The Teaching of the Catholic Church, p. 339, states: “. . . it is Catholic teaching that, as the result of his (Adam’s) sin, all men, except Jesus Christ and his blessed mother, are born . . . subject to death and concupisence, and deprived of grace.” Hereditary depravity is so essential to Calvinism, however, that it is now considered an integral part of Calvinistic theory. In fact, several prominent Protestant denominations teach “total hereditary depravity” in their creeds and manuals.


This doctrine, sometimes called “Original Sin,” simply teaches that the guilt of the original sin of Adam and Eve is inherited by each person at birth, so that with sin within the child’s heart, it is considered totally depraved or completely corrupted. The Presbyterian Confession of Faith explains the theory: “By this sin (eating the forbidden fruit) they (Adam and Eve) 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 thee 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 descending from them by ordinary generation. 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.” (Chapter 6) This doctrine, therefore, presents three ideas that require examination:

(1) Sin is inherited.

(2) A child is in sin at birth.

(3) A child is totally depraved at birth.

Errors of the Doctrine

I believe that no man can actually look into the face of a newborn infant and honestly believe and declare that the child’s soul is stained completely black with sin. Certainly, the parents would not do such. The very thought of it is repulsive. This is why many churches that practice infant sprinkling now claim to do so in order to “dedicate the child to God.” Although even this is without Bible authority, this nevertheless indicates their efforts to disassociate themselves from such a distasteful doctrine as Hereditary Depravity. However, such a doctrine is not only distasteful-it is, more important, unscriptural because it:

1. Contradicts a plain Bible passage. God said through Ezekiel: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” (Ezek. 18:20) Calvinism forthrightly and squarely contradicts this scripture. Theory has it that the son shall (and does) bear the iniquity of the father, while scripture has it that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.” The issue resolves itself into whom are we going to believe God or Calvin! Some Calvinists, however, delight in confusing the issue by referring to Exo. 20:5: “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” Do these passages contradict each other? Of course not. The truth lies in the fact that Ezek. 18:20 is speaking of the imputation of guilt of sin, while Exo. 20:5 is speaking of the imputation of consequences of sin. The child might, and often does, inherit the consequences. of his father’s sin. For example, a child of a convicted killer might suffer at the hand of society because of his “bad name.” The child, however, would not inherit the guilt of his father’s sin (thus having to die in the electric chair)-simply because the child did not commit the murder.

2. Denies the Bible definition of sin. Although Calvinists do not admit it, they in effect deny John’s definition of sin: “For sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 Jn. 3:4) Transgression involves individual action-one must go beyond or fall short of the law in order to “transgress.” A newborn infant does neither-therefore, he does not “transgress.” Hence, according to John’s doctrine of sin, an infant cannot sin because he does not transgress. Calvinists would add to John’s definition of sin and have us believe, “Sin is the inheritance of the transgression of the law.” They need to read Rev. 22:18-19 and Gal. 1:6-9.

3. Destroys the Biblical description of children. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3) I believe Jesus is here teaching the importance of conversion. He did not mean to teach that children are members of the church. Rather, he taught that unless we, as accountable,persons before God, change our hearts and lives to the innocence and humility of a child, we cannot be added to the church. The Old Testament psalmist describes children as “innocents” (Psa. 106:38), as does Jeremiah in Jer. 2:34; 19:4. Calvinistic scholars deny these inspired words. According to their doctrine, there is nothing about a child that a person trying to enter the kingdom should imitate, for a child is totally depraved. Would you believe this doctrine, or the doctrine of Christ?

4. Renders redemption and reconciliation impossible. Thayer defines “redeem” as “payment of a price to recover from the power of another.” Thayer defines “reconcile” as “restoration to favor . . . the blessing of the recovered favor of God.” Both terms involve the same idea-recovery. When an item is said to be “recovered,” it is necessarily inferred that the item had formerly been in the recoverer’s possession. When a child is born into this world, he is in a pleasing relationship with God (safe). When the child grows into accountability, however, he transgresses the law and sins (Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10, 23; I Jn. 1:8, 10). When the blood of Christ is applied to his soul through baptism, this individual is then “recovered” into a pleasing relationship with God (saved). This process is called “redemption” or “reconciliation.” Redemption (or reconciliation) therefore necessarily implies that the redeemed was formerly in a pleasing relationship with his Redeemer. Calvinism denies this, and in so doing, they deny the possibility of redemption and reconciliation. Paul, though, delivers a death blow to this idea, for in Colossians 1, he shows that redemption and reconciliation both are possible: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:… and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled . . . .” (vv. 14. 20-21). If the words of Paul are true, Calvinism is impossible.

5. Rejects possibility of degeneration. “Degenerate” simply means to pass from a higher to a lower type or condition. The Bible. teaches that such is true of some men. For example, Paul said, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.” (2 Tim. 3:13). If Calvinism is true, how can this be possible? If men are totally depraved at birth, how can they become any worse? Either Paul was a liar, or Calvinism is a false religion.

6. Makes God the source of depravity. The inspired writer said in Heb. 12:9, “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live.” Just as our flesh contains traits of our earthly fathers, so our spirits contain traits of our heavenly Father (e.g., immortality). Therefore, if a person inherits a depraved spirit at birth, he inherits it from God! This would make God the source of all iniquity! How blasphemous! Jesus said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (Jas. 1:17)

7. Assigns sin to nature of Christ. The New Testament reveals that Christ took upon himself the likeness of man. Paul said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:5-7; cf. Heb. 2:16-18) If the “likeness of man” at birth consists partly of sin, was Christ a sinner when born of the virgin Mary? If so, Peter was wrong in 1 Pet. 2:21-22: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did not sin, The Roman Catholic Church, which teaches “Original Sin,” anticipated this difficulty with their doctrind”; and so, in 1854 they formulated the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. This doctrine simply states that Mary was born without “original sin” and therefore did not pass any depravity on to Jesus. However, this idea has no scriptural foundation whatever-it is merely an arbitrary law designed by the Roman Catholics to rescue them from a position “between a rock and a hard place.”

Sin and corruption are certainly a part of every responsible individual (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). This, however, is certainly not inherited C it is committed by each respective person as a result of his own choice. Jesus said, AVerily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin@ (John 8:34). And Jude wrote, ABut these speak evil of those things which they know not; but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves@ (Jude 10).

Truth Magazine, XVIII:31, p. 9-11
June 6, 1974