Total Depravity

Liberty University

Research Paper

A Paper Submitted to Dr. Christopher Bosson
In Partial Fulfillment of The Requirements For
The Course Theology 525

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Anthony D. Padgett

Jonesborough, TN.
October 4, 2011

INTRODUCTION ——————————————————————————————— 1
THE DOCTRINE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY —————————————————————– 2
ORIGIN ——————————————————————————————————- 3
THE NATURE OF TEMPTATION ————————————————————————— 5
IMPUTATION ————————————————————————————————- 6
ADAM AS THE HEAD OF MANKIND ————————————————————– 6
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ADAM —————————————————————– 8
GUILTY IN ADAM ———————————————————————————- 9
INHERITANCE OF SIN ————————————————————————————– 10
CONSEQUENCES OF MANKIND ————————————————————————— 11
CONCLUSION ———————————————————————————————– 14
BIBLIOGRAPHY – ——————————————————————————————– 16


Total depravity is often met with mixed emotions and is often debated. When a Christian first hears those words several things come to mind, sin, The Fall of Man, Unconditional Election, as well as Limited Atonement, and God’s grace. All have their place in total depravity and are closely related to the topic, yet very distinctive and separate from the subject itself. To the theologian when they hear total depravity, “Calvinism” comes to mind and the five-points or “TULIP” as it is often referred to. TULIP is an acronym and stands for the following, T – Total depravity, U – Unconditional election, L – Limited atonement, I – Irresistible grace, and P – Perseverance of the saints. True Calvinists strictly believe in all five points while others claim only part of the system and often call themselves “four-point Calvinists,” or a “three-point Calvinist,” depending on their beliefs on each point. Elwell states, “as a result no one can do anything, even good things, that can gain soteriological merit in God’s sight. Therefore, we may concisely define total depravity as the unmeritoriousness of man before God because of the corruption of original sin.” While others believe that sin is the matter of the entire person and that there is nothing they can do to merit the saving grace of God. As To examine the subject of total depravity of man to the fullest and to completely understand it, one must look at everything from the doctrine and origin, to the impact and remedy, and it must be made clear that with total depravity also comes the fall of man and the sinful nature in man. Each subject is so intertwine that one cannot discuss one matter without the other. Depending on beliefs and how they are viewed independently one could take this topic in several different directions. Arthur W. Pink states it best “Is man a totally and thoroughly depraved creature by nature? Does he enter the world completely ruined and helpless, spiritually blind and dead in trespasses and sins? According as is our answers to that question so will be our views on many others.” This paper will argue that sin is inherited through Adam and by nature man is sinful.

The Doctrine of Total Depravity

Total depravity is a theological doctrine closely linked with the doctrine of original sin that comes from the Augustinian and advocated in many Protestant confessions of faith and catechisms, especially in Calvinism. “The reformed tradition generally contends that each person born is guilty of the sin of Adam, who acted as the head of the race.” It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved in sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation. The doctrine of total depravity teaches that people are not by very nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, or mind, as He requires, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests, desires, wants, and needs, and to reject the rule of God. John G. Reisinger claims that total depravity can be explain in a nutshell this way; “Man is bad, but he is not that bad, but her really is bad.” This means, “(1) man is a sinner; but (2) he is not nearly as sinful in actual practice as he could be; however (3) he really is totally depraved sinner in the sight of God.”
Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as bad as they possibly can be. It does mean that “sin affects every aspect of our person, that our good acts are not done entirely out of love for God, and that we are completely unable to extricate ourselves from this sinful condition. Even the “good” things man does are tainted by sin because they are not done for the glory of God and out of faith in Him. The world focuses on the external acts claiming that they are good, while God focuses on both the external and internal acts. His purpose is to determine the motivation that perpetuated the act. If the act goes against God then it demonstrates a rebellious heart, meaning that they are going against Him. They bring no glory to Him. Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” What this demonstrates is the selfishness of man’s intended good deed actually corrupts the act itself.

How sin came into the world has been studied by theologians for years. The title in which they call it has also been debated for years. Some choose to use the term “inheritance of sin,” while others use “sin nature.” Still others use the term “original sin” because Adam’s original sin created that moral corruption of nature that was transmitted by inheritance to each subsequent generation.
“Man is not now as God made him.” The crown of glory of His creation was plunged into sin and misery by very nature. This began with Adam’s free will and his own actions; he was not as he first came from the masters hands. Genesis 1:26-27 says “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” The words “the image of God” does not mean that man was created as equals to God or that they were to be glorified. The term “the image of God” means in his moral nature. Calvin explained it as being “spiritual,” and stated that it “includes all the excellence in which the nature of man surpasses all the other species of animals” and” denotes the integrity Adam possessed.” Colossians 3:10 further supports the idea of this image which man was originally made, transformed in knowledge after the image of the new man made in the image that shaped him. This unmistakably implies that same image in which man was first made, and which now sin has defaced. Man’s original state was far from one of innocence’s but one which was full of negativity.
Looking at the Scripture and seeing how Adam was created, can give great insight into his sinful nature. Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Several things can be observed in this passage according to Pink. First, the material which his body was shaped, to reveal the wisdom and power of God in making out of such matter so amazing a thing as the human body, and to show man his lowly origin. Secondly the law bestowed on Adam, which was from God, an intelligent spirit, of which the fall did not deprive him as seen in Ecclesiastics 12:7 “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Third, was the effect on Adam and how he was now full of life and made competent of vital acts. “Man’s body out of the dust was the workmanship of God, but his soul was an immediate communication from the Father of spirits.” Through this process earth and heaven were united in Adam.
The Nature of Temptation
All sins begin with human desires as seen in James 1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Due to man’s very sinful nature there are elements of man’s nature that form a natural disposition for him to sin. The elements in man that lead to this sinful nature are “pride, selfishness, natural disbelief, ignorance, disobedience, and self-deception.” Those elements seem to grow out of man’s depraved human nature and push the temptation process. These elements by themselves may not be considered sinful in nature, however when directed by biblical standards they are. Some would argue that the mentioned elements signify the essence of sin. However, Satan and Adam both “possessed a positive disposition to do right and had no evil nature as we do today with feelings of disbelief, pride, and disobedience, yet they still sinned.” The feelings of pride, self-deception, disbelief, ignorance, and selfishness are feelings that branch not only from man’s sinful nature but, more from his improper use of free will. It must be made clear here, that free will is not the cause of sin; rather it is man’s inappropriate use of his free will in seeking after his needs that leads men to decide in their will to do something opposite to the law of God. Man today wrestles with accurately controlling the desires within them and free will, but also the evil character of their nature that draws them to engage in sin in the first place.

Adam as the Head of Mankind

Adam is clearly the head of mankind as can be seen in three distinct areas of the Bible. The first is in reference to Adam as the “federal head of the race,” the second is that he entered into a covenant with God on behalf of all mankind, and the third that the guilt of his original sin was divinely imputed to his descendants. The first is in Romans 5:12-14; where it is see that through one man’s sin entered into the world, so did death to all men. So death would be from Adam to Moses and even over those who had not sinned, but because of Adam’s transgressions and our likeness to him all are guilty. Erickson states that “sin entered the world through Adam and death through that sin, and so death passed to all people, because all sinned. Through one person’s sin all became sinners.” This is the Calvinist position and is based upon the very serious and quite literal understanding of the Apostle Paul. Paul views salvation from view of the curse of Adam to God’s healing in Jesus. Adam’s one act of defiance brought both sin and death upon all of mankind. Jesus’ one act of obedience, on the cross, brought about the result to this curse. The work of Jesus affords all men not only the promise of the forgiveness of their sins, but a new life in Jesus Christ.
Paul shows two very important connections in these verses. The first is that between Adam and mankind, while the second is between Adam and Jesus. These connections are critical, because they explain the way God intends to save man from his sins. Jesus is the answer to what Adam has caused. The curse which Adam brought on all of mankind has its cure in Jesus. Adam is regarded as the source of sin’s entrance into the world because of his single act of disobedience. Any Christian who has studied the Bible at any length would not argue with this. However Adam’s sin did much more than that, it brought about a guilt across mankind. Adam’s sin and resulting guilt was imputed to all his descendants. Because of Adam’s sin he died, and so will the rest of mankind. All mankind is born of Adam so Adam’s sin and death were imputed to all of mankind and therefore our sin is from Adam. It is important that we understand what Paul is not saying here, as well as what he is saying. Paul is not saying that we all sin because Adam sinned, though this is true. Paul is saying that we are all guilty of sin, in Adam, and as a result we fall under the divine death penalty.
All mankind is the victim of Adam’s sin, but remember that while Paul speaks of mankind as a victim of Adam’s sin in Romans 5, he also says that we sinned in Adam. We are not forgiven or relieved of our own guilt and responsibility in the issue of sin. All those who lived before the Law was given were sinners as well. And even now those who have the complete revelation of God’s word are even more accountable. We must not also forget that in Romans 1-3 Paul finds every man guilty before God, not because of Adam, but because each person has discarded the revelation of God given to him. We are guilty because Adam sinned as seen in Romans 5, but we are also guilty because we have sinned ourselves as seen in Romans 3:23.

God’s Covenant with Adam

Adam entered into a covenant with God in Genesis 2:16-17 “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God is the ruler and the creator of Adam so He has authority over him. He entered into a covenant with Adam, and if Adam obeyed he would surely live, but if he disobeyed, he would surely die. “Adam was placed not only under a divine law but under a covenant of works.” A law requires obedience and if broken the punishment is threatened in relationship to the nature of the crime. Adam was bound to obey the law by he cannot be rightly deprived of that which he has an ordinary right, except for in case of disobedience. Obedience to the law gives him a right to impunity; while a covenant gives a person the right, upon his satisfying the conditions, a reward or privilege. Adam was promised a life full of riches and rewards with the promise of eternal life, however if the covenant was broken as seen in Genesis 2:17 the penalty was death. God’s words in Genesis 2:17 signified His intention to punish sin, but were also intended to inspire obedience.
Roman’s 8:3-4 also shows the law that was given to Adam, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This statement is believed by many scholars to refer to back at Adam’s tendency to error. Pink describes it this way, “What the law ‘could not do’ with such material was to produce an indestructible righteousness. Therefore God in His sovereign grace sent His own incarnate Son, impeccable and immutable, to the make full atonement for the guilt of His people and to bring in an ‘everlasting righteousness’ for them.” Jesus was perfectly obedient which Adam failed to be, in so doing obtained for all the reward of the fulfilled law.
Another verse that clearly shows that God entered into a covenant with Adam is Hosea 6:7 “But like men (Adam) they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt treacherously with Me.” Adam was under a covenant with God and by which he was under continued subjection to God. This can also be seen by the evils and curse that fell upon Adam’s descendants due to his fall from God. “In Adam all die” because in him (Adam) all have sinned.
Adam was clearly the head of mankind and a covenant between him and God was established. God made Adam perfect and well suited to represent all of mankind. However, God also allowed Adam to have freewill to choose between right and wrong. God in no way can be blamed for Adam’s fall as can be seen in Ecclesiastic 7:29 “ This only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” All sin is traced back to their fountain head of corruption or in this case Adam. Adam was created without blemish but he turned from his original integrity because he believed he could better himself along with Eve.

Guilty in Adam

Adam took things into his own hands; he turned from God and blatantly disobeyed His law. Adam broke the covenant with God and in doing so brought sin into the world. This sin as seen in Roman’s 5:12 is that of sin death, which man will one day return to dust in which he came from. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 is seen that “In Adam all die,” explaining that “all die by virtue of their relation to the covenant head of our race – die because of their legal union with him.” As Pink continues to explain it best, “we are subject to mortality because we were ‘in Adam’ by federal representation – we share his fallen nature because we share his guilt and punishment.”
Inheritance of Sin
Inheritance of sin is very closely related to that of imputation but now verses shows more clearly that sin is inherited than that of Psalms 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.” This verse clearly shows that sin is in man from the time of conception, not from something he acquired by his actions. Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Because God’s children are human beings–made of flesh and blood–the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he (Christ) break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” That passage confirms Romans 5:14, which shows that death could have no authority over the young unless they were charged with Adam’s sin. Again showing that through Adam man is guilty of the sin death and that it was inherited from Adam.
Another view is to look back at Psalms 51:5 and it can be clearly seen that through conception and birth sin is in man. Genesis 4:1 says that Adam clearly knew his wife Eve and she gave birth to Cain, and that she had acquired a man from the Lord. After the sin they could only multiply after their own kind and their children were sinners by birth. This means that everyone born into the world is a sinner by inheritance and by nature. None are born into good or is anyone born just partly good and partly sinful. All are equally sinful in God’s eyes, if not then only half of the world would be sinful and would only need half of God’s salvation which is simply not true.
Consequences of Mankind
The sin Adam committed was great so the penalty must be also. Adam’s transgression was more than most ever realize or recognize. The theologian James Ussher pointed out many years ago, that Adam in essence broke all Ten Commandments of the moral law. He broke the first by choosing another God. The second, “in idolizing his palate, by making a god of his belly by eating the forbidden fruit.” The third, by not believing Gods threats of punishment in such a way of taking His name in vain. Fourth, “by breaking the sinless rest in which he had been placed. The fifth, by dishonoring his Father in heaven. “The sixth, by bringing death on himself and all his posterity.” The seventh, by committing spiritual adultery. Eighth, “by laying hands upon that to which he had no right. The ninth, by accepting the serpent’s false witness against God.” And the tenth, “by coveting that which God had not given him.”
Nothing written in the Bible after Adam’s fall is favorable about him, in fact quite the opposite. “Job denied that he covered his transgressions or hid his iniquity in his bosom “as Adam” did (31:33).” The psalmist points to Adam by declaring that those who judged unjustly and accept the wicked should die like Adam (82:7). In 1 Timothy 2:14 it mentions that “Adam was not deceived,” indicating his transgression. After being forced from Eden the Bible has nothing to say about God having anymore contact with Adam.
After the fall the consequences began to appear quickly. God’s command to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 did not spell out all of the consequences for his defiance. In Genesis 2:25 is seen that Adam and Even were both naked and they felt no sense of shame, however after the fall they immediately were aware of their nakedness and wanted to cover up as seen in Genesis 3:7. They attempted to hide from God because their sin created a sense of guilt and shame in them. Added to their shame came the separation from God, not only did they try to hide from them in separation but God cast them out of the garden so that they may never return to the tree of life.
In Genesis 3 can be seen the “proof that the penal consequences of their transgression are inherited by their posterity.” Genesis 3:16 says “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply they sorrow and they conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” A woman bearing a child is one of the most painful experiences she can have, but also can be one of the most rewarding. The pain they are subjected to is from that of the fall of man as part of “the curse on the ground, the obligation to live by toil and sweat, the decay and death of the body.” This can be seen further in Psalms 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” From very birth every child is morally and spiritually cut off from God and is a lost sinner. But nothing in Genesis 3 is more important than when God warned Adam that by eating of the fruit he would surely die, this is seen in Genesis 3:19-5:27. However, the death that is spoken of here will go way beyond Adam. Death has now entered into the world for all living creatures. The animals from which God made skin coverings for Adam and Eve would have had to die as seen in Genesis 3:21.
In Genesis 4, things get worse for Adam with the rebellion of his son Cain against God and the murder of his brother Abel. However, Pink makes a very important note here, That in Genesis 5:3 we are told, “Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.” This statement occurs “after his defection, and they statement is in designed and direct contrast with the declaration of verse 1: “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.” Adam did not tell his descendants that he was made pure by God originally, but that he was polluted by the fall. Pink continues to make an excellent point, “it is very striking to note the precise place where this statement is made in the sacred narrative: not at the beginning of Genesis 4 in the connection with the begetting of Cain and Abel, but here, introducing a lengthy obituary list-showing the dying Adam could only beget mortals.” Since Adam’s fall he could only produce sinful and mortal offspring’s in “his own fallen likeness, which had in it corruption and death.”
Further biblical references include Psalms 14 which opens with “the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works.” This passage again shows the fall corrupt state of mankind. The entire Psalms is devoted to showing the corruption of mankind and the full state of mankind’s condition. Psalms 51:5 “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and sin did my mother conceive me.” This is another confession that all mankind has, born like Adam as a fallen creature and through him all of his descendents including future descendants are nothing more than replicas of himself, Adam. Therefore Adam being the head of mankind and the one who all descendants flow, all are born into a depraved state and have the penalty of sin death.


Some will argue as Stephen R. Brock, that “we are not held accountable for what our daddy did. We do not inherit sin from Adam.” However, it is clear from scripture that Adam was the head of all mankind. When Adam ate of the forbidden fruit and sin enters into the world, that curse fell upon all mankind for generations to come. The only way for mankind to overcome what Adam so clearly caused, is through Jesus Christ, only He can overcome man’s depravity in such a way that man is able to know his spiritual state and his desperate condition apart from the grace of God.
Mankind’s eyes must be open to the truth that sin bonds the entire race and that only through the gospel message and Jesus Christ’s death on the cross can all be freed. Many Christians believe that through a “universal grace” God brings mankind to a condition where has the choice of choosing or rejecting Him. While others believe that only through the gospel of faith can man be born again and be able to fully understand what Jesus Christ has done for them.
Even when the doctrine of total depravity is correctly understood, there are those that will still reject the doctrine, because the world generally thinks of man as being basically good. So the concept of man by nature being a depraved sinner is contrary to most religious views of the nature of man. However the fact is that the Bible teaches how depraved man’s human heart really is, and the cause of mankind’s problem is not the setting, but that man by very nature is wicked and selfish as seen with Adam in the garden. If understood correctly, the doctrine of total depravity will obliterate the hopes of those who put their faith in any type of works-based system of salvation and will quickly recognize that only through Jesus Christ’s sovereign grace is there hope. So is man totally depraved without any glimmer of hope or reconciliation with our Lord and Savior? Matthew 19:25-26 answers that question, “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Even though man’s sinful nature is inherited through Adam, through Jesus Christ man’s depraved heart can be saved.

Bible Logos 4 Software: All Biblical References.

Brock, Stephen R. Inherited Sin and Other Myths. Stephen R. Brock Publisher, 1997. Kindle

Elwell, Walter. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Book
House, 2001.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Book House, 1998.

Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992.

McCord, James I. “The Biblical Doctrine of Human Depravity.” Union Theological Seminary
and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Interpretations Article (April 1947):
142 – 153.

Pink, Arthur, W. The Doctrine of Human Depravity. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers,

Pink, Arthur, W. The Total Depravity of Man. Memphis, TN: Bottom of the Hill Publishing,

Reisinger, John G. Total Depravity. Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2000.

Ryrie, Charles, C. Basic Theology. Chicago, IL. Moody Press, 1999.

Sawyer, M. James. The Survivor’s Guide to Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Towns, Elmer, L. Theology for Today. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002.


One thought on “Total Depravity

  1. Pingback: Exposing the Source of True Defilement - Mark 7:14-23 - |

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