Early Christians And Total Hereditary Depravity

It is written:

“The one who sins is the one who will be put to death. A son will not be punished for his father’s sins, and a father will not be punished for his son’s sins. A good man’s goodness belongs to him alone, and a bad man’s evil belongs to him alone.” (Ezekiel 18:20)


“You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you.” (Ezekiel 18:20)

The Bible teaches that children are born innocent and pure, free from sin.

In contrast, many in the religious world claim that children are born with the sins of their parents. The terms usually used to refer to this are “total hereditary depravity” and “original sin.”

Did the second century Christians believe that children are born stained with the guilt of their parents’ sins?

“There is little evidence among the Greek fathers for a notion of inherited guilt or physically transmitted sinfulness. With the apologists, culpability was principally a matter of the individual’s exercise of free will, of personal sins for which Adam’s disobedience was only a prototype (Tatian, Or . 11; Justin, 2 Apol . 7; Dial . 88). Greek writers consistently espoused the sinlessness of infants ( Barn . 6; Aristides, Apol . 15; Clement of Alexandria, Str . 4.25.160; Gregory of Nyssa, Infant . passim; John Chrysostom, Hom . 28 in Mt . 3), thereby precluding original guilt as a basis for infant baptism (Gregory of Nazianzus, Or . 40.17, 28; Theodoret, Haer . 5.18). Irenaeus indicated explicitly that humanity shared in Adam’s actual disobedience, but the upshot was more a mystical solidarity with Adam than a genetic fault that might impair individual freedom ( Haer . 3.18.7). Origen too stressed that individual souls were punished precisely according to their respective sins ( Princ . 2.9.6). This characteristic emphasis on personal responsibility (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech . 4.18–21; John Chrysostom, Hom . 10 in Rom .), coupled with the belief that moral evil had no “natural” status in creation but resulted only from human volition (Athanasius, Gent . 6–7; Gregory of Nyssa, Or. catech . 7), continued to militate against a doctrine of genetically transmitted sin in the Christian east. A graver picture of human solidarity with Adam emerged among the earlier Latin fathers. Tertullian, although defending individual responsibility ( Marc . 2.5–7, 9), nevertheless postulated a real infection of human nature through Adam, an irrational predisposition to sin inseminated in each new soul through its parent ( Anim . 16, 39–41; Test, anim . 3).“ (Paul M. Blowers, ‘Original Sin,’ Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity (Everett Ferguson, Editor), 32767-32777 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Routledge Taylor & Francis Group)

Scholar Everett Ferguson notes:

“The earliest surviving Christian inscriptions come from the end of the second or beginning of the third century. They are overwhelmingly burial inscriptions. The thought of the innocence of children continued to be expressed with no reference to baptism: “Eusebius, an infant without sin by reason of his age, going to the place of the saints, rests in peace” (ILCV 2155).” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries, 7423 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

The idea that children are born as sinners did not originate with the Bible. Rather, it is traceable to pagan philosophy which eventually invaded the church and whose teachers began to twist Scripture out of context to try and find justification.

Biblically and historically, the teachings of total hereditary depravity and original sin are shown to be false.

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