There has been no small amount of debate over the idiomatic use of the word “DEAD” within the New Testament. But what does that term mean in the manner that it is used in the scriptures?
If it is taken too literally it would mean that the “DEAD” could have no response, positive or negative, to the inspired truth of God’s gracious revelation. After all, an actual corpse can do nothing except passively lie there. No one takes the term quite that literally. We all affirm that the “DEAD” are at least able to respond negatively to the gracious truth of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). But can the “DEAD” respond positively even in light of God’s life giving truth?
Calvinists insist, without much biblical foundation, that the term connotes an innate moral inability inherently passed down to every human being as a result of the fall of Adam. This moral incapacity from birth is of course a part of God’s divine plan from the very beginning. In other words, on Calvinism, God decreed that everyone born in this fallen condition would be morally unable to respond positively to God’s own appeals and pleas for reconciliation from that fall.
Let that sink in.
But, what if the Calvinist is wrong? What if the biblical use of the term “DEAD” does not mean that everyone is born without the ability to desire anything other than hating and rejecting God and His clearly revealed truth?
That is my thesis here:
“DEAD” DOESN’T MEAN INNATE MORAL INABILITY
Let’s look at the uses of the term “DEAD” in the scripture for you to decide:
1) Jesus referred to the church in Sardis as “DEAD” and called them to “wake up” (Rev 3). Given Christ’s use of the idiomatic term “DEAD” in reference to this church, should we presume that his hearers cannot respond positively to Christ’s appeal in this passage as well?
2) The Prodigal was “DEAD/lost” then “alive/found” demonstrating that the term “DEAD” is idiomatic for “separated by rebellion” not “innate moral inability” (Luke 15:24).
3) “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” – James 1:13-15
Are we born “DEAD” according to James? Or is DEATH birthed in those who sin after its “full grown?”
4) “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” – Romans 7:7-11
Are we born “DEAD” according to Paul? Or was it through the commandment, after “sin sprang to life” that DEATH came?
5) “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” -Ephesians 2:1-3, 6
This passage says nothing about how or when they died, nor does it relate their condition to any type of innate moral inability.
It does say God raised them up with Christ. Is this meant to represent the special inner work of regeneration which effectually causes them to believe after they are raised up? Let’s observe what else Paul says about being raised up in Christ.
“In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which *you were also raised up with Him through faith* in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col. 2:11-13).
They were raised up THROUGH FAITH, not unto faith according to Paul.
Calvinists have the burden to produce just one clear biblical example of the term “DEAD” meaning “the moral incapacity to respond willingly to God from birth.”
The strongest rebuttal I’ve heard to this argument thus far is “Leighton, you just don’t think dead means dead!”
In reality, I’m looking for the actual biblical meaning of this term while Calvinists seem to be presuming theirs.
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