Is the Calvinist theory of 'total depravity' biblical?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

Community answers are sorted based on votes. The higher the vote, the further up an answer is.

Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
Total depravity is a phrase or name that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of fallen man. It is the "T" in the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to enume...

July 01 2013 7 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Ken Egan
I will try to answer with scripture proofs so that my opinion does not influence the answer to man's ability to chose God.

1 Corinthians 1:18
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.....So 1 Corinthians teaches that God's Word is foolishness to the unsaved.

Romans 8:
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to Gods law; indeed, it cannot.....Romans teaches that unsaved man CANNOT choose God and obey His law. (inability)

Romans 3:
10 As it is written: 
"There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
…So Romans teaches clearly that no man seeks after God.

John 6:
44"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
65 "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.".....So John teaches that no man can even come to Jesus without the call of the Father. (inability)
BUT The GREATEST news is
37"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.....So man is incapable of coming to Jesus, but God's love is stronger than our sin and will draw us to His Son Jesus for our salvation, as a groom draws his bride close to him with unresistable love. 

John 1:
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

In finishing, the Bible teaches us that it is God's will, not man's, that gives us the power or the ability us to become children of God or to become saved and love His Word because we are unable (inability) and unwilling to do so on our own.

Peace and Love in Christ!

January 18 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Photo Anthony Clinton Teacher in China
The Doctrine of Total depravity is a doctrine that has been often flawed by certain scholars, who have made it to mean that man has absolutely no ability to make a decision to come to God. While in essence man is powerless to provide any means that will placate the wrath of God for sin, it does not mean that man is not able to want the remedy for sin. 

A drunkard who does not want to escape will never make an effort to solve his problem, but there are many that hate the way they are living and want to escape. The same goes for drug addicts. If someone came to them and told them that they would be instantly freed from their addiction by taking a certain medicine, it is guaranteed that some would believe it and want it others would reject it for that lifestyle they are living.

In the Scriptures the Bible also teaches that this is the case. John 3:19-21, show us that when the Light(Jesus) comes into the world some would want the light and some wanted to remain in darkness and hated the light. Both the haters of the light and those desiring the light are equally sinners needing the same remedy. They need Christ who is the remedy for all sin but some disobey the Gospel because they hate the Light and love their wicked deeds. 

No one is given the power to become a child of God before coming to Christ, but it's truth to say that anyone who comes to Him (before they are Born Again) is given the power to become God’s child. John1:10-13, 
So this begs the question. 

Do we have any ability to come to God before or after hearing the Gospel, or is it possible that some can please God in any way before being Born again? Acts 10, is the Chapter where the first Gentile converts are Born Again and Baptized in the Holy Spirit. If the Calvinistic concept of total depravity were sound doctrine, you’d expect it to be clear relating to the first Gentile convert. This however was not the case. We find in this chapter of Acts, a man who “feared God, and his household ”(before he was Saved), “Gave many gifts to the poor” (before he was Saved), “and always prayed to God” (before he was Saved)! One would expect that if his deeds done were worthless and considered repulsive to God then He would have sent message to Cornelius of self-righteousness. But this was certainly not the case. God Himself highly esteemed such sacrifices and kind deeds. Acts 10:4, "Your prayers and your gifts to the poor have arisen as a reminder to God". 
God was delighted with his deeds and what’s more, they were a constant memorial ascending up to Him in heaven.

Having said that, it’s also important to know that all his acts of kindness and his fear of God were not enough to bring him salvation. It did mean though that God Almighty who searches every hearts of all men, will also certainly lead such people as Cornelius, (the first Gentile convert) to salvation. Peter describes such righteous men in this verse, Act 10:35, Indeed, whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him in any nation. 

So what did Paul mean in Romans 3? Paul is describing the total cesspool of human sin; that all will inherit guilt for if they reject the Savior Jesus Christ. All will be judged guilty of total depravity if they refuse to obey the Gospel. Not everybody is a murderer, not everybody fails to seek God, not everybody’s tongue is an open grave, but everybody will be guilty of all if they reject the remedy through Christ’s provision of Salvation by His death, burial and resurrection.

February 04 2015 6 responses Vote Up Share Report

Raccoo Bob Johnson Layperson. Self Educated Theologically - see full bio
We do not have free will. Our wills are in bondage to Satan because of the Fall. This is 'Total Depravity' - that every part of us is affected:

People are totally dead and cannot respond. Here is our condition:

Body - Totally destroyed by sin - Philippians 3:21
Head - Totally destroyed by sin - Isaiah 1:5
Throat - Totally destroyed by sin - Romans 3:13
Tongue - Totally destroyed by sin - James 3:6
Mouth - Totally destroyed by sin - Romans 3:14
Lips - Totally destroyed by sin - Romans 3:13
Feet - Totally destroyed by sin - Romans 3:15
Ears - Totally destroyed by sin - Mark 8:18
Eyes - Totally destroyed by sin - Isaiah 53:2
Hands - Totally destroyed by sin - James 4:8
Heart - Totally destroyed by sin - Jeremiah 17:9
Thoughts - Totally destroyed by sin - Psalm 56:5
Bones -Totally destroyed by sin - Job 20:11

I sometimes try to picture the scene in John 11. I see the stone rolled away from the grave of Lazarus, and three men are there. The first one is looking into the dark tomb and passionately pleading with the dead Lazarus inside. “Lazarus, if you will only give God a chance, he will give you life. If you just take the first step, then the Holy Spirit will make you come alive. God honestly wants to make you live, but it’s all up to you. Lazarus, this is a great deal that God is offering, but your ‘free will’ must decide to take advantage of it. You must get up and take that first step in faith.” That may be just a bit of a caricature, but not much. That is exactly the way some free-will preachers talk who do not realize what Total Depravity is.

I am reminded of a story told by C. H. Spurgeon (this is as recounted by Ernest Resinger) about the Catholic saint whose head had been cut off. The man is supposed to have picked up his head, put it under his arm, and walked 10,000 miles back to Rome. Spurgeon said, “I would have no trouble believing that to be true, if the man could take that first step!” If man’s will can enable him to get up out of the tomb of death, then he surely does not need any help to keep on going. Total Spiritual Death is Total Depravity.

The second man I see at the tomb of Lazarus is what we call a hyper-Calvinist, which the Bible does not teach either. He is sitting down and calmly writing a treatise on the futility of preaching to dead sinners. This pathetic creature never preaches or witnesses the gospel, and he discourages and condemns those who do. Since Lazarus is dead, this man concludes that it is a waste of time to address the dead sinner in any way.

The third man is a preacher of the biblical gospel. Some call it Calvinism, but Calvin never did. Anyway, while the second man sneers and the first man gasps for breath, the third man cries out, “Sinner, believe! Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus walks out of the tomb. If we interviewed the third man, the questions might go as follows:
“Were you fully aware that Lazarus was totally dead in that tomb?” “Of course I was. Is not that what Scripture says?”

“Did you think that Lazarus had the ability to hear and respond to your message?” “Not for a moment. How can a dead man respond to my voice?” “Why did you command him to believe when you knew he was unable to comply because he was dead?” The man would smile and say, “Friend, my confidence was neither in my ability to preach and invite, nor was it in the supposed (wrongly) power of Lazarus’ “free will.” My whole confidence was in the power of the words that I spoke. I spoke the words of Christ believing that Christ himself has the power to wake the dead and give them faith.”

September 12 2016 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

Internet image Ben Jones Retired Professional Photographer
Something everyone is missing is found in Ephesians 1:4: "For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." So those that God chose to adopt into His family, He chose before the creation of the world. These "future" children of God were physically born of woman and then at the time that God predestined them to receive Christ, they received Him, but they were completely and totally unaware that they had been chosen before the creation of the world! Why? Because they sat in churches that taught that God will never violate man's free will. Ephesians 1:4, Romans 9, and 60 other NT passages that show that God chooses us were never ever preached on. 

Because God had chosen them from creation and before they were born He placed in their hearts the desire to seek Him. If you were to ask some of them, "Did God lead you, call you, or chose you? Did He draw you or did He have anything to do with you coming to Christ?” some of them would tell you that they were 100% sure that they used their free will, and only their free will, to receive Christ. It was their decision, and God had nothing to do with it. It just naturally flowed from their heart to receive Christ (of course it did, because God put it in there!).

The rest of the children that were chosen before the creation of the world and received Christ later on in their lives (just like the other group) read and understood that salvation is of the Lord, and that only by God drawing them to Christ (John 6:44) will anyone ever come to a saving knowledge of Him. Their pastors preached Romans 9, Ephesians 1:4, and the other 60 previously mentioned passages, too.

July 11 2022 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
'Total Depravity' is also known as 'Total Inability', is one of the teachings of Calvinism or the Reformed tradition. It forms the 'T' of the acronym T.U.L.I.P. It attempts to explain the depths and repercussions of the fallen, sinful state of man, and in many ways is the philosophical foundation which the other four points rest on.

'Total Depravity' starts with the premises that all men sin without exception (Rom 3:10-23); that sin corrupts every aspect of our being, such as flesh, heart, mind, etc, (Mark 7:21-23); and that man cannot save himself (Psalm 60:10-12, Is 63:5-6). 

On these points, all of Christianity agrees. The theory continues from that base, however. 

'Total Depravity' further claims that man is so tainted by sin that he cannot accept the offer of Christ’s salvation and so receive Christ's deliverance from sin.

However, that premise does not seem to be supported by scripture. Firstly, scripture asks us to believe: Rom 10:9-13, John 3:14-21, Luke 11:5-13, Heb 11:13-16, Gal 3:24, Deut 30:11-14, etc. - an odd command if we cannot possibly do so. Similarly, Jesus says that He knocks, and He will come to any who 'open the door' to receive Him (Rev 3:20).

Secondly, scripture presents Jesus' sacrifice and gift of the Holy Spirit to the world as all sufficient for man to come to faith, not in need of 'something else' that God has not made available to man. 

For example, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (Jn 20:31) and "the gospel reveals the righteousness of God that comes by faith" (Rom 1:17) show that God has given scripture and the evidence of miracles to give evidence of Christ. "He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8) shows that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin. "I will draw all people to myself" (Jn 12:32) shows that Christ, by His death, was lifted up before the world as their Saviour, and by that revelation and influence all men are drawn to Him. "Faith comes by hearing" (Rom 10:17) shows that the gospel is a further grace God gives to all who hear it, presenting the person and work of Christ to them. 

Based on the premise of man being so tainted he could never accept Christ, even with all the general graces of scripture and the Holy Spirit's conviction, etc., the theory then draws the conclusion that 'something further' must occur in the life of certain chosen people.

Calvinists vary on what this 'something further' is. For some, it is the extreme of actual spiritual regeneration, being 'born again' and given a new heart, so that one can afterward have faith. This version has the most difficulty squaring with scripture, for scripture states we receive the spirit, are made new creations, etc., only after we place our faith in Christ - never before: Gal 3:2-3, Gal 3:10-14, Eph 1:11-14, II Cor 5:17, etc. 

For others, the 'something further' is less extreme, an unveiling of the eyes and heart by the Spirit, that in combination with the Calvinist theory of irresistible grace, perfectly proves Christ to the person and compels them to have faith, with no option for them to reject the gospel. 

This version is less problematic since scripture does mention a few people whose hearts were opened to the gospel by God upon hearing it. Tabitha, for example (Acts 16:14).

However, 'how' God opens the heart/eyes in these cases was through the gospel message, not through a special, extra act by the Holy Spirit that only some receive. The gospel reveals the righteousness of Christ to all (Rom 1:17.) In the case of the two men from Emmaus, for example, their hearts 'were kindled within them' just by Jesus sharing the fulfillment of scripture. (Luke 24:31-32)

In short,'Total Depravity' is built on many extra-biblical premises and philosophical assumptions that are not supported by, and even contradict, scripture.

September 13 2016 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Robert Hibbard Retired Christian High School Teacher
A friend's comment some time ago helped me understand "total depravity" even better. The totality of our sin extends to every part of our life. But we also see some people better or nicer than others, even non-believers. The depth of our sin, while not in question, may be in different degrees among persons. But everyone is completely sinful in all parts of our life. I use the phrase "width over depth" in thinking about the truth of "total depravity."

October 28 2023 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Add your Answer

All answers are REVIEWED and MODERATED.
Please ensure your answer MEETS all our guidelines.

What makes a good answer? ▼

A good answer provides new insight and perspective. Here are guidelines to help facilitate a meaningful learning experience for everyone.

  1. Adhere to the eBible Statement of Faith.
  2. Your answer should be complete and stand-alone.
  3. Include supporting arguments, and scripture references if possible. Seek to answer the "why".
  4. Adhere to a proper tone and spirit of love and understanding.
  5. For more info see The Complete Guide to eBible
  1. 4000 characters remaining