Total Depravity

What is depravity?

Depravity is the word used to describe the moral corruption of a person who acts in an immoral way.


What is total depravity?

This is the term used in theology to mean that all of a person’s actions are depraved.  Every choice they make is sinful in God’s eyes.  There is nothing which an unregenerate man can do which could possibly earn God’s favor or be meritorious with Him.


Where in Scripture is this taught?

This is taught in many places.  We can start in Romans 8 where Paul is speaking about those who are under the control of sin and those under the control of the Spirit.  To use the language of theology, a person under the control of sin is an unregenerate person or an unbeliever.  A person under the control of the Spirit is a regenerate person or what we would call a believer.  Paul writes:

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)


How does Paul teach the doctrine of total depravity here?

Because Paul says that those who are under the control of sin or who have the “mind of the flesh” do not submit to God and are not even able to do so.


Does the Old Testament also teach this truth?

We can begin in the prophets where we read statements like Micah’s: “For her wound is incurable…”(Micah 1:9)


What do the Arminians teach about total depravity?

Most Arminians claim to hold to the doctrine of total depravity.  Arminius himself held to the doctrine of total depravity. He writes:

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and [attenuatum] weakened; but it is also [captivatum] imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do BUT LITTLE; neither does He say, without me ye can do ANY ARDUOUS THING, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do NOTHING! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot [perficere] COMPLETE any thing; but without me ye can do NOTHING.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and [potentiam] the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man. source

And Arminius goes on in that section to affirm repeatedly the doctrine of total depravity and using the same texts as above (Romans 8:7; etc.) in proof of it.  In his written defense before the States of Holland, October 30 1608, he wrote:

This is my opinion concerning the Free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his Creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform THE TRUE GOOD, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace. source

Richard Watson writes:

…the true Arminian, as fully as the Calvinist, admits the doctrine of the total depravity of human nature in consequence of the fall of our first parents; and is, indeed, enabled to carry it through his system with greater consistency than the Calvinist himself. source



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