Calvinism, Romans, and Original Sin
In Genesis 3 God pronounces curses on the serpent and the earth. Nowhere is there any mention of a curse on man’s soul or spirit, but only on the physical world. Certainly if Total Depravity is true we should see it clearly stated in the account of the Fall. Such an important change in man’s condition would surely be made plain, but it is conspicuous by its absence. That God and man were spiritually separated is evidenced by Adam and Eve’s attempt to hide from God after “their eyes were opened”, and later when God banished them from Eden. But there is no mention of the alleged “death” of man’s spirit. Calvinism likes to point out that the dead cannot do anything, but it follows that neither can the dead reproduce! How can the spiritually dead create more dead spirits?
Romans 1:18 speaks of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. Tell me how the spiritually dead can suppress the truth when they can’t even comprehend it, being dead? The next verse tells us that what can be known about God is plain to them. Can anything be plain to the dead? Verse 21 says that these “dead” people knew God. How can this be? The rest of the chapter goes on to say that BECAUSE people rejected what they knew to be true about God, God “gave them over” to their hearts’ desires. How could God do this if the people were already born in a state of depravity? That’s like saying, “Because you are blind, you will be blind.”
The subject of Romans 2 is works or deeds, not salvation. Calvinism will focus on verse 7 and claim that eternal life is only for those who persevere in good works, yet it ignores not only the overall context but especially verse 6, which identifies the subject as REWARDS. Rewards are the owed wages to someone who has worked, but a gift is completely unearned. Since no one disputes the clear Biblical teaching of salvation being a gift, and since wages and gifts are mutually exclusive, then it is impossible for the subject here to be about salvation. (see also Rom. 4:4-5, Eph. 2:8-9)
Verse 14 tells us that the Gentiles can “do by NATURE the things of the law”. How can people whose nature is dead do the things of the law? Verse 15 says that these “dead” people have a conscience. Obviously, when one keeps the context in mind, Paul is talking to Jews about deeds, the law, and Gentiles, NOT about the saved and unsaved.
Chapter 3 continues, but in verse 21 we are introduced to something that is “apart from the law”: the righteousness of God through Jesus. We are told that what Jesus did is to justify us freely by his grace through the redemption that is in him. In verse 26 we are told that what Jesus did was also to demonstrate God’s patience with man because he “had passed over the sins previously committed.” What sins? The kind we were allegedly born with? No, the ones we COMMITTED.
Chapter 4 elaborates on righteousness apart from the law, but in chapter 5 we see the purpose (“therefore”) of the preceding discussion: that since we have been declared righteous by faith, we now have PEACE with God through Jesus Christ, who gave us access by faith into God’s grace. This is the meaning of justification. Verse 6 declares (in opposition to Calvinism) that Christ died for THE UNGODLY, who by Calvinist definition are DEAD. Paul goes on to point out that Jesus’ death reconciled us, God’s enemies, to him. But notice verse 11: it is only through Jesus that we can RECEIVE this reconciliation.
Now we come to probably the most misunderstood section of Romans, verses 12-21, which is most used to support “original sin” as meaning the spiritual death of all mankind. We see this progression of events referring back to Genesis:
- Through Adam came sin
- Through sin came death
- All people sinned, so death spread to all people
Verse 17 continues about the reign of death, but verse 18 speaks of the “condemnation” of “many”. (This, by the way, points out Calvinism’s redefinition of terms to suit its theology. In John where they claim “all” really means “many”, here they claim “many” really means “all”!) Verses 18-19 contrast “many” with “the one”. If the phrase “many were made sinners” means “all”, then also “many will be made righteous” means “all”. Calvinism can’t have its cake and eat it too: if all were made sinners, then all were made righteous.
How to resolve this dilemma? Remember that term “condemnation”? Condemnation is a legal term, as is justification. That condemnation, that legal separation, is what comes to us all SPIRITUALLY through sin. Why spiritually? Because the physical cannot be subject to legality; the physical cannot obey or disobey.
Paul then focuses on those who are believers, those who have had their spirits justified by faith in Jesus. Notice Romans 8:10 which contrasts the curse of the physical and the legal condition of the spiritual: “But if Christ is in you, your BODY is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness.” Verses 19-23 remind us of the curse of all the physical world.
Verses 29-30, when read in the natural sense of the entire letter to the Romans and not forced into Calvinist theology, plainly say that we who believe were foreknown by God and “predestined to be conformed”-- NOT “predestined to be elect”!-- to the image of God’s Son. It is we who come to him in faith who are called, justified, and glorified. (Notice the past tense here: we are already glorified!)
Chapter 9 turns to Paul’s lament over the nation of Israel, whom God has obviously not abandoned as Calvinism teaches (see also chapter 11). Paul speaks of God’s sovereign choice of the NATION of Israel as opposed to the Gentiles. This is NOT a treatment of the general condition of the saved and lost of the world. In verse 14 he rhetorically asks the Jews whether they think God was unjust in deciding to include the Gentiles in the hope of salvation.
It is in this vein of thought that Paul writes of God’s right to chose whom he will: not a matter of individual salvation but the inclusion of Gentiles to receive his mercy! The verses following continue to remind the Jews of God’s right to do as he pleases, to choose only one nation or many. We Gentiles were FORMERLY “the objects of his wrath”, but now we are included with the Jews as “the objects of his mercy” (verses 23-24). Then in verses 30-33 he points out the fact that the Jews pursued righteousness but did not find it, while the Gentiles did not pursue it but found it. Calvinism must wrench these verses completely out of context in order to force them to mean that God chooses the spiritually dead for salvation against their will.*
*(Yes, against their will. It is logically fallacious to contend that God’s forceful changing of man’s will so that it can do nothing but accept the gospel is not a violation of free will.)
After briefly discussing the sovereignty of God as it relates to the Gentiles, chapter 10 goes back to finish discussion of the matter of law and grace, and Israel’s rejection of God’s righteousness in favor of their own. Then Paul clearly presents the meat of the gospel; some who hear believe, but not all. But no one can believe at all UNLESS THEY HEAR THE GOSPEL. Conspicuously absent from this gospel presentation is the Calvinistic concept of regeneration before faith; rather, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (verse 17).
As mentioned already, chapter 11 clearly shows that God has not abandoned Israel. It also clearly says that Israel’s “fall” was NOT irrevocable (verse 11)! Then Paul states his focus on the Gentiles in verse 13, a fact Calvinism ignores so that it can force the interpretation of this section of the letter to refer to individual salvation. Context, context, context!
Chapter 12 is an obvious turning point, where Paul shifts his focus to general exhortations to all believers. These exhortations are frequently misinterpreted as a call to perseverance IN SALVATION, but they are, as the context makes clear, exhortations to live like Christians should, not to remain saved but to grow spiritually. He continues on into chapter 14, exhorting believers to be considerate of one another in the faith.
Paul ends the letter (chapter 16), mentioning the fact that God had proclaimed to him the “mystery that had been kept secret for long ages but now is disclosed”. The mystery is the Church.
I can honestly see no conflict between rejection of original sin / total depravity and the Bible. I sincerely believe, from all I’ve read of the Bible and both sides of this issue, that Calvinism grossly misinterprets scripture and is internally inconsistent.