Introduction to Calvinism: Is ‘Total Depravity’ Biblical?

51b75d48323d245148In part one, we defined and discussed the doctrine of total depravity through a combination of systematic and biblical theology. To sum up part one of this series, total depravity is a doctrine of sin, that describes the effects of original sin. In other words, it describes the state that man is in post-Fall. That state, or condition, is two-fold containing pervasive fallenness because we are born in sin as well as spiritual inability because we are dead in sin. In this state, we rightly and totally deserve eternal punishment from God.

While this theologically makes sense and is sound, if it is not biblical, we must throw it out. My desire in this post is to provide a list of all of the passages that I used to write part one on total depravity. I do not presume to provide an exhaustive list as there are certainly some passages I have overlooked or not considered. However, this list should give you a place to begin. Prayerfully consider and study these passages. Feel the desperation. Feel the emptiness. Feel the hopelessness. I pray your heart would be pierced with the Word as you taste and see the bitter ugliness that is our sin as we prepare to take in the sweet sight of God’s glorious sovereign grace.

Total Depravity in the Old Testament

Job 14:4 “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.”

Job 15:14 “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?”

Psalm 14:3 “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Psalm 53:1, 3 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good…They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Proverbs 20:9 “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?'”

  • Answer: No one (Rom. 3:23).

Ecclesiastes 7:20 “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”

  • This question implies a negative answer. What is natural to the Ethiopian (skin) and the leopard (spots) cannot be self-changed. Neither can someone who is inherently evil (every natural man) do good.

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Jeremiah 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”

  • By nature our hearts are deceitful. The only way for us to be God’s people and for him to be our God in covenant relationship is for God himself to give us a new heart.

Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Total Depravity in the New Testament

Matthew 7:18 “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

Matthew 13:38 “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one”

  • Note the contrast between the regenerate “good seed” and the unregenerate “weeds.” Sons of God vs. sons of Satan. There is tremendous depravity in being called a child of Satan. Such is the curse of the Fall.

John 3:3, 5-6 “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’. . .  Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'”

  • In this passage, Jesus’ word here contrasting flesh born of flesh with kingdom requirements implies a radical human inadequacy & inability in spiritual matters.

John 3:27 “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”

John 5:42 “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.”

  • Jesus addresses those who refuse to come to him that they may have life (v. 40) with an indignation of their state outside of grace. The love of God is not in them naturally.

John 6:44, 65 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. . . .And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.'”

  • Note the clear and desperate spiritual inability.

John 8:34 “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.'”

John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

  • This verse shows us once again that by nature we are children of Satan. But this verse also shows that our depravity is not in opposition to our will, but rather in compliance with it.

John 14:17 “even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

  • The carnal world cannot receive the Spirit.

John 15:4-5 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Acts 13:10 “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

  • Paul condemns Elymas the magician who was an unregenerate trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith (v. 8).

Romans 3:9 “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.

  • Be sure to check out the rest of this section in Romans 3:9-20

Romans 5:10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

  • The unregenerate, unconverted man is an enemy of God.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed…” [see also Romans 6:16-23]

Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Rom 8:7-8 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 14:23 “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

1 Corinthians 12:3 “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 4:4, 6 “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 2:1-3 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Ephesians 4:17-19 “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

Colossians 1:21 “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds…”

Titus 1:15-16 “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

James 3:8 “…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”

1 John 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Revelation 14:3 “…and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”


9 thoughts on “Introduction to Calvinism: Is ‘Total Depravity’ Biblical?

  1. From what I have seen from Calvinism, it begins with a false premise based on a misunderstanding of sovereignty and predestination and goes astray from there. It answers questions that other Christians are not asking. You have presented many proof-texts but I would respectfully ask you, “Do you not think that non-Calvinists have not seen these verses before – and yet still reject the tenants of total depravity and the rest of the tulip as incorrect?”

    1. Peter,

      Thanks for the comment and pushback. My purpose in this series of posts is to show that Calvinism is a viable soteriological system that is worth considering. Of course, non-Calvinists will interpret many if not all proof passages for the five tenets of Calvinism differently. This is why there has been a divide on the understanding of how God saves sinners for hundreds of years. However, I think this is important for all Christians to consider. The more we think about the glory of God in salvation, the more our hearts will desire him and be fueled to worship him. If our theology does not lead to doxology, something is off. So, I do disagree with you that Christians aren’t asking questions that Calvinism gives answers to. It’s just that not all Christians will agree with these answers. And that is fine. Christians have been considering and questioning what the Bible reveals about God’s work in salvation for centuries. Calvinism provides answers to these questions in the same way that Arminianism and other soteriological systems do.

      As for the premise of God’s sovereignty, you are among many who claim that Calvinists misunderstand it. I am not too proud to say, this is entirely possible. Arminianism (just to use one position) and Calvinism cannot both be correct. However, I think the premise of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things and his desire to glorify himself is biblical and this puts him in the position to receive all the glory in salvation. But I’m cool to agree to disagree with those who think this is faulty reasoning/exegesis.

      And thank you for your closing question. It definitely got me thinking. Yes, most who oppose Calvinism have considered each of these texts, but you may be surprised at the number of folks who are anti-Calvinists because they think there is zero biblical support for it. I intended this series and this post specifically for people like this. I would expect some non-Calvinists to dismiss total depravity as they would interpret these passages in an entirely different way. However, most Christians affirm this doctrine. Evangelical Arminians even affirm it, yet they are on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the other four points.

      Again, thanks for the interaction and I hope you check out my other posts that are up in total depravity and check back in in the coming days and weeks for the rest of my series on Calvinism. Even if you vehemently disagree with this position, it is always edifying to see how other Christians have and are interpreting Scripture. Whatever the case I hope these posts lead you to the Bible and leave you with a desire to glorify God through adoring worship either through agreement or denial of this particular position.

      Grace to you,

  2. Mathew, I wholeheartedly endorse and honour your respectful style of dialogue. I am not interested in picking on-line fights with people, so your style is like a breath of fresh air. I would encourage you, however, to consider the impact you may have – of trying to “enlighten” people as to the doctrines of Calvinism. Calvinism is either totally true and biblical or it is not (as it relates to soteriology at its root). There is no combining Calvinism and non-Calvinism and no saying that they are both true. I have undertaken extensive study and watched and listened to many debates on the topic. In every single one of those, without fail, neither side has moved the other to consider their arguments. This is alarming – in that one is right and the other is wrong, as they are diametrically opposed to each other. If you take a position that is the wrong one, and influence others to join you, God is not in favour of you doing that. I am open to debating with you on this site, but would hope that we could do it with an openness to the other’s position – and not just have our heels dug in so that we are unteachable. We could tackle TUPIP one petal at a time and do an exegetical study where we challenge each other. If you are not up to it, that’s fine too. But I would just hope that you consider that the nuances of Calvinism promote a God who is exclusive in His love and this presents numerous challenges for evangelism and for Christians who are continuously seeking to know Him better and to figure out what He is like. When we are told that He is love, it is difficult to reconcile that with being told that He creates some to suffer everlastingly with no hope of relief ever coming – ever…

  3. Calvinism is ultimately an exegetical problem that requires an exegetical solution. Here is a good book you can buy for your kindle for only $3. I submit that if you read it, you will change your view about Calvinism. It deals with all the proof texts:

    1. None of them. Understanding the gospel is not in view here. The inability is in responding to the gospel. In other words, these verses establish volitional inability rather than mental inability. It is possible to understand the elements and facts of the gospel and simply want no part of it. It is this heart change–volitional change–that sinners need to rightly obey the command to repent and believe.

  4. Mathew,
    It seems to me that your argument for Total Depravity based on volitional inability is nothing more than a denial of free will which runs head first into men being told to choose the true God found throughout scripture (as an example see Deut, 30). What Jesus taught the Pharisees was that they were unwilling to believe saying nothing about an inability,Being unwilling implies a will’ In fact He was condemning them for a failure to do what they clearly could do.
    What the Bible does teach is that man is a sinner and because he is a sinner he is dead in his sin meaning he is separated from spiritual life found in a relationship with Christ. (In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul described this deadness as being “without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” – all terms of separation, nothing about ability) Trying to assign physical attributes to a spiritual condition is an analogical fallacy that Calvinism falls into in trying to equate spiritual dead and inability.
    Scripture also teaches that God desires all men to be saved and none to perish, Jesus has ransomed all men by voluntarily sacrificing His life on the cross. In doing this He has provided a means for all men to have a relationship with God by believing in Him. Calvinism teaches a different view of Christ.
    Calvinism uses many verses to illustrate the sinfulness of man, There is no argument there. Calvinism fails to show one verse that says man is unable to believe, yet scripture is filled with commands for all men to repent and believe. Calvinism ignores these and clings to its unscriptural doctrine of Total Depravity (inability) in order to support its soteriological system,

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