Is human nature good or evil?   For the majority of my life, I have been told humans are born evil. Evil humanity must choose God so they will completely alter the core of their being to ‘good’. Humanity then lives the rest of their lives fighting the true self so God can continue to change them for the better. However, I don’t believe this line of logic.   I believe all people are born with good, pure souls. As we mature all of us will choose evil at one point or another but it is in our nature to fight to get back to the pure souls we had when we were children (Perhaps this is part of what Ecclesiastes 3:11 meant). My experiences working with drug addicts, convicted felons, and prostitutes seem to reaffirm my thought process. Human beings are extremely resilient and I have yet to meet a person who does not want to be seen as good. Additionaly, there seems to be a scientific backing for this philosophy (

To add to my confusion, when I look to the bible for insight into human nature, I find passages that seem to conflict with each other. Genesis begins by saying people are good (Genesis 1) but latter the Psalmist says he was born evil (Psalm 51:5). Additionally, Paul talks about his innate desire to do evil (Romans 7:18). When discussing this topic with other followers of God they point out the numerous times in the Old Testament when the Jews and other peoples sinned. How can human nature be good when people murder babies, worship idols, and turn their back on the Creator?

I ask this question because I feel it is counterintuitive as a Christian to truly love people (always trusting & hoping – 1 Corint. 13) when you believe that people are evil. I also find it difficult to spread the ‘Good News’ when the news relies on the fact that each human started out as creations filth. It is much more attractive to believe each human started out as a spectacular creation and the good news is working to get back to the whole creation. But I’m still unsure if the Bible supports my thought process.

Regardless of how we come into the world, we will always need God’s aid to be made into our best selves.

Thank you for all of your work!


Good question.  First of all, I do not know who told you that humans are born evil.  This is not a biblical teaching.  There are two possibilities:  1. You heard this from someone who accepts the twin false doctrines of Original Sin/Total Depravity, which was taught by the Catholic theologian Augustine, as well as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who created what is known as reformed theology and also known as Calvinism.  This idea that we are born inherently sinful by inheriting genetically the sin of Adam is not biblical.  2. People have often said things to you which you interpreted them as saying that we are born sinful.  For example, perhaps they read Romans 3:9-20, in which Paul is talking to adults about adults (not to or about little babies). but when you heard this or when it was explained it left you feeling that humans are born evil.  Either might be a reason you believe you have been told that humans are born evil.

Let me assume that it is the second case.  In other words, what  you have heard said about adults was not qualified.  When they quoted Romans 3 they did not say “He is not talking about small children.”  Of course, Paul did not qualify it when he made the statement in Romans 3!

OK, so now let me get to your question which is not an easy one.  A very brief summary of how I view the theology with regard to our sinfulness is this.  We are born innocent but we become corrupted when, using our free will, we rebel against God and sin.  We are born good and innocent–sinless!  As you quoted from Genesis, everything God created is good.  In fact it is very good!  If the Bible ended in Genesis 1 & 2, then that would be the whole story.  But, as you know, one of the good things about humans is that they have free will.  It is the abuse of our free will which led to sin.  This does not prove that God is bad, but that he loves us enough to give us freedom.

But what happened to Adam and Eve leads to the difficult question.  Although Augustine is wrong and we do not inherit anyone’s sin (Ezekiel 18:3, 19-20)–we are not born depraved, there was some sort of “fall” that occurred when Adam and Eve sinned.  What is the nature of this fall?  I believe that we inherited the knowledge that Adam and Eve gained when they ate from the tree.  We inherit, not sin, but a tendency to sin.  The Bible calls this our “flesh” or our “sinful nature.  If a baby dies, it will be in heaven, but if the baby lives to be an adult he or she will eventually sin.  I know I have sinned, and I assume you have as well.

What David said in Psalm 51:5 appears to contradict this, but we need to remember the genre here.  This is poetry and David is pouring out his emotions.  He is using hyperbole, not making a doctrine-worthy statement here.  It is bad exegesis to use Psalm 51:5 to prove that we are born with sin.

Is humanity good or evil?  We are neither good nor evil.  We are humans.  Humans do good things and we do evil things.  All of us, because we are in the image of God, desire to do good, and all of us do good at times.  Some of us have a much stronger desire to do good, but all of us desire to do good.  But… doing good things does not make us good.  Also, doing evil things does not make us evil.  Evil is not a “thing” and good is not a “thing.”  Things we do are good or evil, but we are not good or evil.

So, the question is this.  What is the result of the fact that we do evil?  The fact is that this creates separation.   You make the point that when we sin we try to recover our innocence–to get back to the pure souls we were as babies.  The problem is that this does not work.  Doing good things does not erase doing bad things.  The Hindu concept of karma is not real.  Neither is the Muslim concept of good canceling out evil.  I agree with you that all of us long to return to that purity we had as children.  However, the question is how do we recover this?  I believe we recover this through the work of Jesus–through is death, burial and resurrection, which is a victory over sin and its consequences if we will come to Christ through repentance and baptism.  By the way, when we are baptized, we are not made “good.”  What we are made is righteous, which sounds the same as good, but it is not the same thing.  We are pronounced innocent so that the evil we have done is not counted against us and we are brought into a right relationship with God.

I definitely agree with what you have learned from working with drug addicts, felons and the like.  All people (except sociopaths?) want desperately to be good.  The question is whether their efforts to reform themselves will make them good.  I believe that this desire they all have was put there by God, but this desire alone, without the help of God, is not sufficient.

I have already responded to Genesis 1 and to Psalm 51. What about Paul in Romans 7:18 and elsewhere.  Here is the question: Is he talking about himself as an accountable adult or as a small baby?  I believe the answer is clear.  He does not qualify his statements (“but I was not like this when I was 3 years old”).  It is implied.  Is human nature good or evil?   I suppose that is a matter of definition.  The phrase human nature is not exactly biblical.  It is the nature of humans to want to do good.  It is also the nature of human beings to, as an adult, rebel against God and do what they know is evil.  Like I said, we are not inherently good or evil.  We are created in God’s image, but if we want to be made good, it is only by God, not by our own efforts.

I do not believe that people are evil, but I believe that people do evil things and that this evil separates them from God.  It corrupts them, and this corruption does not disappear when we do good things.  This is why we need God.  I like your statement, It is much more attractive to believe each human started out as a spectacular creation and the good news is working to get back to the whole creation. But I’m still unsure if the Bible supports my thought process.  I am not sure I would put it that way exactly, but I believe that what you are saying here is essentially true, biblically.   I would say that the good news is getting back to the innocence we had in the garden.

John Oakes

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