Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 17, 1952
NUMBER 36, PAGE 12,16b

Answering The Total Depravity Arguments

Franklin T. Puckett, Calico Rock, Arkansas

Those who argue for the inherited total depravity of the race are fond of quoting from the book of Job. One of their favorites is Job 26:4, "How can he be clean that is born of a woman"? But they do not read or refer to the context. For these words are the language of Bildad, who is described for us as a forger of lies! To take the language of one who is known to be a forger of lies and try to make his words set forth the truth of God is certainly going a long way to try to prove a point. Bildad also asks, "How then can a man be justified with God"? Are we to suppose from that question that a man can not be justified with God? If we answer this latter question with an affirmative, and declare that one can be justified with God, then we also can answer the first question by declaring that one who is born of woman can be clean.

Certainly no man that is born of woman can be clean or justified in the sense of sinless perfection. For all of us sin, and come short of the glory of God. From 1 John 1:8 we know that no man is sinlessly perfect; but that does not mean that all are born inherently totally depraved. We are referred to Job 14:4, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean"? As though this were the final statement of the case. But does that affirm that all women are "unclean"? Does that imply that all women are "totally depraved"? Assuredly not! The innocent babe that rests in a mother's arms, drawing his life from the milk of her body, is not totally depraved. If it could be established that the mother were "unclean," that still would have no meaning for the babe. Being "unclean" does not necessarily mean being sinful. The stars in heaven are not always in a "pure" state; there is an admixture of metals and chemicals in them all. They are materially "impure," but who would be so silly as to charge them with being "sinful"? All women are not "unclean"; neither are all totally depraved. And neither do they "transmit" any depravity to their children. Jesus was born of a woman; and whatever is "transmitted" through fleshly motherhood was transmitted to Jesus. Was he "unclean"? Was he born totally depraved?

Total Depravity — Jesus' Birth

When I was in discussion with Mr. Weaver a few years ago, he was forced to take the position that Jesus Christ came into this world with a depraved nature. Arguing from these passages in Job, he contended that "everything born of woman" was unclean, totally depraved. It was the sheer logic of this very dilemma which forced Catholicism to invent the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary. One falsehood demands another to sustain it. Contending for inherited total depravity, men have been faced with the problem of explaining the case of Jesus' birth. To get around that difficulty they have invented the lie of the "immaculate conception." This teaches that God miraculously kept Mary free from inherited sin, and that since she was not depraved, she could not transmit depravity to her child, Jesus.

In meeting this difficulty, the defenders of the doctrine of depravity sometimes quote "A body thou has prepared for me,' 'and then contend that Jesus had a special body, one "prepared" specially for him by God. Hence that special body was free from sin. Truly God did prepare for Christ a body. But it was a human body, just like yours and mine. We don't have to guess about that, but are clearly told, "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to naught him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Heb. 2:14, 15) And further, "Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (verse 17) Thus, Christ was as we are; he had the same body we have; he partook of the same nature that is ours. And if we are born totally depraved, then so was Christ. And if Christ was not born totally depraved, then neither are we.

Righteous Parents?

If it be possible for a person to inherit depravity because his parents are depraved, then what shall we say of those children who are born unto righteous and godly parents? What happens when children are born to people who have been cleansed of all depravity, who are pure and holy, and who are made clean by the blood of Christ? What shall be said of their children? If sinful parents transmit sin to their children, why do not righteous parents transmit holiness to their children? If physical birth will transmit the one, why will it not transmit the other? There simply is no answer to this.

Positive Texts

The texts ordinarily relied upon to prove man's inherited depravity do not prove it. But there are other texts, on the contrary, which show fully that man is not born totally depraved. Consider, for example, Paul's statement that "Evil men, seducers, will wax worse and worse." (2 Tim. 3:13) If a man is born totally depraved, how can he get any worse? To be totally depraved is to be wholly and completely corrupt. But Paul describes certain men who are going to go deeper and further into depravity; they are going to make progress downward to still lower depths of degradation. That could not be so if they were totally depraved to start with.

There are innumerable examples in the Bible of unconverted men who were capable of generous and noble deeds, impulses, and thoughts. All of which is contrary to the teachings of the "total depravity" advocates. They hold that man is completely incapable of one single thought that is good, or of one deed that is right or pleasing to God. But consider the case of the rich man in Hades. Even there, condemned as he was, he had a good and unselfish thought—he wanted to help his brothers. Cornelius before his conversion was a devout and prayerful man; the eunuch before he was regenerated was a worshipper of God. Lydia before her conversion worshipped God. And incidents of this sort might be multiplied almost without number. Here were noble deeds, righteous acts, good thoughts—and all of them coming from "totally corrupt" natures!

Ezekiel's statement should forever silence those who contend for this false teaching. He said, "The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge"? Then he said, "As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel." (Ezek. 18:2, 8) Thus there is a positive prohibition against that teaching in Israel; and if such were prohibited even in fleshly Israel, how much more shall it be forbidden among the spiritual Israel of God?