It is written:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
The Westminster Confession of Faith uses this passage of Scripture to claim that infants are born totally depraved.
However, the text itself refutes such a notion.
First, when Nicodemus discusses the “new birth” with Jesus, he is confused by Jesus teaching that a person must be born again. He asks if a man may enter into his mother’s womb a second time (John 3:4). By this, we see that the word “flesh” has simple reference to physical birth and descent in the context of the passage. Nicodemus and Jesus are not discussing total depravity and original sin, but instead the “new birth” that Jesus talks about (John 3:5)!
Second, Jesus builds upon this foundation of birth and begins to discuss the need for new birth. Man has become sinful by wickedness and needs to become innocent again, as a newborn child. Why has man become sinful? Let Jesus answer:
John 3:19-21-And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
Are infants and small children capable of hating the spiritual light of God? Do they “hate the light” and “love darkness?” Are they able to come to the light so that their deeds may be exposed? Are they able to “do the truth?
This is not discussing infants and small children.
Third, the text actually totally refutes the notion of original sin. Please observe that Jesus is talking about the fact that a man is born again to be saved, that he may enter into the kingdom of Heaven (John 3:5). He is using rabbinical language which describes how proselytes (converts) to Judaism were made. The Jewish people practiced baptism, and when they did, they referred to the person being baptized as being made as innocent as a child:
“That baptism was absolutely necessary to make a proselyte is so frequently stated as not to be disputed (See Maimonides, u. s.; the tractate Massekheth Gerim in Kirchheim’s Septem Libri Talm. Parvi, pp. 38-44 [which, however, adds little to our knowledge]; Targum on Ex. 12: 44; Ber. 47 b; Kerith. 9 a; Jer. Yebam. p. 8d; Yebam. 45 b, 46 a and b, 48 b, 76 a; Ab. Sar. 57a, 59 a, and other passages)… As he stepped out of these waters he was considered as ‘born anew’, in the language of the Rabbis, as if he were ‘a little child just born’ (Yeb. 22 a; 48 b, as ‘a child of one day’ (Mass. Ger. c. ii.)…It was expressly enjoined that all the difficulties of his new citizenship should first be set before him, and if, after that, he took upon himself the yoke of the law, he should be told how all those sorrows and persecutions were intended to convey a greater blessing, and all those commandments to redound to greater merit. More especially was he to regard himself as a new man in reference to his past. Country, home, habits, friends, and relation were all changed. The past, with all that had belonged to it, was past, and he was a new, man the old, with its difilements, was burried in the waters of baptism.” (Alfred Edersheim, Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, 26919-26943 (Kindle Edition))
Jesus uses this familiar language of baptism (just as the Jewish rabbis did), thus equating innocence from sin with babies and small children (again, just as the Jewish rabbis did). Thus, the new birth (and its’ language which describes the innocence and sinlessness of newborn babes) is a perfect refutation of Calvinism which claims that babies and small children are wicked little sinners!
The fact is, the study of the Old Testament, of the writings of the Jewish rabbis, and of the Intertestamental Period, demonstrate that the Jewish people did not believe in the ideas of original sin and total hereditary depravity.
One researcher who has carefully studied the doctrine of original sin has written:
“THE UNIVERSALITY OF SIN is certainly a Jewish belief; there are many statements to this effect in the Scriptures, some of them quite famous. “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” (Prov. 20: 9, KJV); “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7: 20); “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53: 6). But there seems to be nothing in Jewish tradition to support the idea of original sin, of an inheritance of corruption from Adam….The evil in us, in our hearts—in Hebrew the heart is the seat of will even more than of emotion—can be seen in what we imagine, what we scheme, what we devise. But there is no indication from the rabbis that we scheme so because of Adam. We just do.” (Alan Jacobs, Original Sin: A Cultural History 102 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; HarperCollins E-Books)
So we see yet another passage which has been taken out of context by our Calvinist friends to try and justify the belief that mankind is born totally depraved.
I believe that we are beginning to see a pattern.