T. Pierce Brown

I once took a course in Romans from a teacher whom I loved and respected more than most teachers I ever had. He taught that depraved man was born with a sinful nature. He apparently did not believe in “total hereditary depravity”, but did believe in “hereditary depravity.” As he was discussing Romans 7:15ff, he said, “Surely, if it can be put into human speech, here is a man handicapped with a radical defect in nature, yea, an inherent evil tendency in his flesh–.” He taught that the “law of sin which dwelleth in my members” is “a power, which is impregnably entrenched in human nature.”

When I went back to visit him twenty years or so after I had graduated, I discussed that with him, for I was not convinced that it was so.

He quoted several passages, such as Ephesians 2:3, which says, “–and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest:–.” I pointed out to him what I think he already knew–that “phusis” (translate “nature”) means, according to Thayer, page 660, “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature.” It has nothing at all to do with how one was born, or what one’s inherent qualities are.

But he was so filled with the idea that man has a “fallen nature”, and just “naturally” inclined to evil that it seemed that every passage we would read dealing with man’s depravity and sinfulness led him to conclude that it taught the hereditary depravity of man. Romans5:12says, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned.” To him and thousands of others, it apparently means, as I recall him saying it, “Adam, as federal head of the human race, passed the deadly virus of sin on to his posterity.” And, “Whatever change Adam’s nature sustained in his fall was transmitted to Seth.”

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” That, he inferred, meant that all of Adam’s descendants have “a fallen nature” which just “naturally inclines” him to do evil. Do you believe that man is “naturally inclined” to do evil? If so, was he born that way, or did he develop that “natural inclination” in some fashion?

I have denied for almost half a century that man was born with a “natural inclination” to do evil, and have been asking a question to those who take that position for which I have received no satisfactory answer. That is: Can you show me from the Bible or even from your own experience any proof that a child is born with any greater “inherent tendency” to do wrong than Adam was before the fall?

My beloved teacher pointed out that a baby is inherently selfish. He cries when he wants something that he does not have, and is not bothered that it does not belong to him, or that he disturbs others in the process. To him, this was an indication of his “inherent sinful nature.” But I asked him, “Did Adam and Eve want the forbidden fruit and demonstrate the same qualities that you call `inherent selfishness’ before the fall? Did they have the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes before the fall?” He admitted that they did.

It is my judgment that my Bible teacher, though a student of David Lipscomb himself, made the mistake that millions of others have made. He failed to adequately distinguish between the desire to gratify self which God placed in mankind, which is not wrong, and “selfishness”, which may be defined as “exclusive regard for one’s own interest with a consciousness that it may either deprive another of what is rightfully his, or disobey God.” It may be that self-interest is a “natural thing” and altruism is a “spiritual” one, but that self-interest is not sinful. It is a part of man’s nature, but Adam did not get it after the fall, but was created that way.

Notice carefully: Adam and Eve had the desire to gratify self before the fall! God made them that way, but that desire became selfishness by heeding the temptation of Satan. My point is: You and I become that way exactly the same way they did! My conviction is that the Bible teaches that we are born with exactly the same nature with which Adam and Eve were created. We developed the “fallen nature” in exactly the same way they did–by responding to the Devil’s temptation, not by inheritance.

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes7:29″Behold, this only have I found: that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” As far as I have been able to determine, no theologian or any of my Bible teachers who believe the theory that man inherited his sinful nature from Adam have been able to sensibly answer these two questions: 1. If a person can inherit his “fallen nature” from his parents, can he have parents who have become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and inherit that? 2. God, the Father of our spirits, gave the spirit and formed the spirit in man. Do we inherit the nature of our Father or Adam’s nature when we are born?

It is my judgment that many more of us than are aware of it have swallowed a lot of denominational “junk food” along with the Bread of Life. Many assume that when a Christian finds that “For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practice.  But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:19-20), it is because he was born with a “fallen nature.” If you can understand why an alcoholic can get drunk when he did not mean to, because it is “just his nature to do that” without assuming that he got his alcoholic nature from Adam, you can probably understand my viewpoint.

If any brother thinks I have mishandled God’s teaching on the “inherent evil tendency” with which man is supposedly born, I would appreciate your taking the trouble to enlighten me.

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