A popular tenet of Calvinism held by many in the religious world today is the belief a person is born inheriting the sin of Adam. Calvinism in its purest form would teach a person is born totally depraved and incapable of doing any good without a direct influence from God. Some individuals may claim we simply inherit a sinful nature, etc. Does the Bible teach a person is born in sin?
The Bible teaches a person does not inherit the guilt of another person’s sin. In Deuteronomy 24:16 God taught the Israelites, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” Amaziah, king of Judah, followed this command by not slaying the children of those who murdered his father but only the actual murderers (2 Kings 14:6). Ezekiel 18:20 teaches, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” I don’t know how the Bible could state in any simpler terms an individual does not inherit the sins of another individual.
The Bible teaches individuals are created pure and innocent and corrupt their ways. In Ezekiel 28:15 it is said of the king of Tyre, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” He was not born in sin but instead was born perfect. He remained in a perfect state till he committed sin. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not saying a person needs to become a sinner to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet, if a little child is a sinner, that would be exactly what He is teaching. Paul describes his past by saying, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:9). Paul does not depict himself as being born dead in sin and needing to be saved before he was able to understand God’s commandments. Many places in the Bible we see how people are not born in sin but go down a path leading to sin. Genesis 6:12 speaks of how “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Psalm 58:3 says, “they go astray as soon as they are born.” How can people corrupt their ways if they were already born completely depraved? How can people who are born in sin enter sin by going astray? Sin results when we are tempted by being drawn away by our own desires and enticed (James 1:14-15). Until one is old enough to be drawn away by their own desires to violate God’s will they are not capable of committing sin.
Answering some arguments used to support the concept we are born in sin:
1. Many would point to the fact babies end up dying and the consequence of sin is death. Therefore, it is assumed babies must be guilty of sin. Physical death was introduced into the world as a result of sin entering the world (Genesis 3:19). All men since sin entered the world are subject to death. However, death is a temporal consequence we suffer because of sin coming into the world and does not mean we are guilty of sin ourselves. A child may suffer the temporal consequences of a parent’s sin but not be guilty of sin. For example, a parent may squander the family’s money on gambling or alcohol. As a result, the child may go without the things he needs like food. The child is not guilty of squandering the family’s money but is suffering consequences because of another’s actions which are not his own fault.
2. An argument is sometimes made that mankind was initially created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) yet after sin entered the world mankind is no longer made in the image of God because they are born with sin. Yet Paul speaks of men needing not to cover their heads while praying and prophesying years after sin entered the world and cites the following reason. “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7). Mankind retained the image of God after sin entered the world because God is spirit (John 4:24) and mankind still possesses an eternal spirit (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
3. Many believe Romans 5:12-21 teaches an individual is born in sin. Without going into an in depth study of the passage, we can recognize the reason all die is “because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) not because Adam sinned. Other arguments have been made attempting to prove man is born in sin but all fail to reconcile with the verses we citied in the beginning of the article.