The doctrine of total depravity (or total inability) says that all men, as a consequence of the Fall, are born morally corrupt, enslaved to sin, at enmity with God, and unable to please Him or even of themselves to turn to Christ for salvation. (Thus the necessity of a gracious, unconditional election.) Here is a sweeping survey of the biblical support for the doctrine.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Is man basically good or basically evil?

  • Ecclesiastes 7:29 – “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”
  • Romans 5:7-8 – For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • Romans 5:12,19 – sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners

c.f. Job 15:14-16, 25:4-6; Ecclesiastes 9:3

All men? Are there any exceptions?

  • Psalm 143:2 – Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
  • Romans 11:32 – For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (c.f. Galatians 3:22)
  • Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
  • 2 Chronicles 6:36 – “there is no one who does not sin”
  • Isaiah 53:6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way
  • Micah 7:2-4 – The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge.
  • Romans 3:9-12 – What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (c.f. Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3)
  • 1 John 1:8,10 – If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.
  • Mark 10:18/Luke 18:19 – And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

c.f. 1 Kings 8:46; 116:11, 130:3, 143:2; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Jeremiah 2:29; Micah 7:2-4, Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19; Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 5:9-10; James 3:2; etc., etc.

Are people good deep down?

  • Mark 7:21-23 – “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (c.f. Matthew 15:19)
  • Psalm 5:9 – For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.

Are men totally depraved? Is every faculty of the person corrupted?

Heart/Mind (Deceitful)

  • Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
  • Titus 1:15-16 – to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.
  • Ecclesiastes 9:3 – Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
  • Romans 1:28-31 – And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were… foolish
  • Ephesians 4:17-18 – you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
  • Jeremiah 10:7-8,14 – among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. They are both stupid and foolish… Every man is stupid and without knowledge
  • Matthew 15:19 – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (c.f. Mark 7:21-23)
  • Genesis 6:5 & 8:21 – The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… from his youth.
  • Proverbs 10:20 – the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
  • Proverbs 28:26 – Whoever trusts in his own [heart] is a fool

c.f. Deuteronomy 29:2-4; Psalm 10:4, 36:1-2, 58:4-5, 94:11; Proverbs 10:20; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26; Matthew 13:14; Mark 7:21-23; Romans 8:7; Ephesians 4:17-18, 23

Will/Choosing (Enslaved)

  • John 8:34 – Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
  • 2 Peter 2:19 – They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
  • Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
  • Galatians 4:8-9 – Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
  • Romans 6:6,16,17,19,20 – We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed… For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
  • Romans 7:14 – For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
  • 2 Timothy 2:25-26 – God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

c.f. Isaiah 42:6-7; Psalm 51:12; John 8:31-32,36; 2 Corinthians 3:17

Affections/Desires (Perverted)

  • Romans 1:24-27 – Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
  • Ephesians 2:3 – we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
  • Proverbs 21:10 – The soul of the wicked desires evil
  • John 3:19 – And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
  • John 8:44 – “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

c.f. Genesis 3:16; Psalm 4:2, 52:3-4 140:8; Proverbs 10:23; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; 2 Peter 2:13

et al (Utter Ruin)

  • Titus 1:15-16 – to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.
  • Romans 7:18 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.
  • Isaiah 1:5-6The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.

Can men change themselves or still do good when they want to?

  • Jeremiah 13:23 – Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
  • 1 Samuel 24:13 – “As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’”
  • Matthew 7:18 – “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” (c.f. Luke 6:43)
  • Matthew 12:34-35 – “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
  • Romans 8:7 – For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
  • Genesis 6:5 & 8:21 – The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… from youth.
  • Titus 1:15-16 – to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

c.f. Job 14:4; Matthew 12:34; John 15:5; Romans 14:23; Philippians 1:11; 1 John 5:18-19

Are men at least born pure? What about the “tabula rasa”?

  • Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
  • Genesis 8:21 – the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
  • John 3:6 – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”

c.f. Proverbs 22:15

What is the natural disposition of man toward God?

  • John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
  • Romans 8:7-8 – For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God
  • Colossians 1:21 – And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds

c.f. Romans 1:28-30; James 4:4

What is man’s relationship to God?

  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb;
  • Ephesians 2:12-13 – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:3 – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

c.f. Isaiah 59:2

Can man then do anything to please God?

  • Proverbs 15:9 – The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord
  • Proverbs 15:8 – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (c.f. Proverbs 21:27)
  • Proverbs 28:9 – If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
  • Isaiah 64:6 – We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
  • Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please [God]
  • Romans 8:7-8 – Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

c.f. Psalm 50:16; Proverbs 21:4; Isaiah 1:10-15; Amos 5:21-24

Are men at least seeking God?

  • Psalm 10:4 – In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
  • John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
  • Isaiah 65:1 – “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
  • Isaiah 64:7There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
  • Romans 3:10-12 – “no one seeks for God.”

c.f. Romans 10:20

Can the natural man comprehend the gospel or come to saving knowledge of God on his own?

  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 – The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-4our gospel is veiled… to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18,21-24 – For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles
  • Deuteronomy 29:2-4 – And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”
  • Matthew 11:27 – “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

c.f. Psalm 119:18; Proverbs 4:19; Isaiah 42:6-7; Hosea 14:9; Matthew 16:17; John 8:43; Acts 22:14, 26:18; Ephesians 4:17-19; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 1 John 5:20

Can men of themselves accept God’s gift of salvation? Do men choose God or come to Him on their own?

  • John 3:27 – John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”
  • John 14:16-17 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.”
  • John 1:12-13 – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
  • John 6:44,65 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
  • Romans 9:16 – So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
  • Romans 11:35-36 – “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:30 – And because of him you are in Christ Jesus
  • Philippians 2:13 – for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

c.f. Jonah 2:9; Zephaniah 3:9; John 15:16; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 1:6; James 1:18

Who supplies faith/belief/repentance?

  • Acts 16:14 – One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:6 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
  • Acts 5:31 – “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
  • Acts 11:18 – When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
  • Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should… believe in him
  • Acts 18:27 – When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
  • 2 Timothy 2:24-25 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, [etc.]… God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth
  • 1 Corinthians 12:3 – no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
  • 2 Peter 1:3 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence
  • Romans 11:36 – For from him and through him and to him are all things.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:7 – For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
  • John 3:6, 6:63 – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”

c.f. 1 Chronicles 29:14; John 5:44; Acts 3:16; Romans 1:8, 12:3; Ephesians 6:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:2

Can men do anything to help themselves?

  • Colossians 2:13 – And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses
  • Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

c.f. Psalm 49:7-9; Jeremiah 2:22; Ezekiel 16:6, 37:1-3; Romans 5:6

Then what becomes of our boasting?

  • Romans 3:27 – It is excluded.

c.f. 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, 4:7; Ephesians 2:9-9