Are We Sinners by Nature or Nurture?

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Are we accountable for our sins if we’re born that way? Or are we only accountable for sins that we can learn and unlearn—exercising a reasonable degree of control over them?

Questions like this are common. The motivations for asking them are varied and inexhaustible. Some don’t want to believe that God creates or allows the procreation of corrupt beings, arguing that we are only sinners by nurture. Others recognize our proclivity towards sin and conclude it’s a problem with our nature. Both groups are prone to use either explanation (sometimes both) to excuse their behavior before God and society. Regardless, believers and unbelievers alike are faced with an important question: Are we sinners by nature or by nurture?

Sinners by Nurture?

The sinners-by-nurture position assumes we’re all born with a clean slate. It assumes we’re taught right from wrong and have the freedom to choose, making us accountable for ourselves. This perspective proclaims, “I’m a product of my environment.” It says, “I can’t help it, I was raised that way,” to explain the sin problem, sometimes attempting to excuse it. 

The world likes to believe human free will makes us solely responsible for our sins and that it has nothing to do with our nature. Why? Because the nurture view puts the ability to deal with evil directly within human control.

Interestingly, the vast majority of people and religious systems favor this view; many even identify as Christians. The world likes to believe human free will makes us solely responsible for our sins and that it has nothing to do with our nature. Why? Because the nurture view puts the ability to deal with evil directly within human control; conversely, the nature view places that ability outside of our control. Generally speaking, most people pursue moral superiority for the sake of a better afterlife. They fear lacking control of their post-mortem destiny regardless of religious background. 

Proponents still find convenient use for human nature, using it to mitigate or justify what the Bible calls sin. For example, the quest for a “gay gene” and an “alcoholism gene” exists to justify the sin of sexual immorality (Leviticus 18; Romans 1:26–27) and mitigate the sin of drunkenness (Proverbs 23:20; Isaiah 5:22). These supporters presume that if God exists, He ought not punish that which is from our God-given nature.

What Does the Bible Say?

Biblically, sin is an inevitable product of our nature. The book of Genesis does not explicitly state that mankind’s nature was corrupted by Adam and Eve’s transgression, but the narrative implies it:

1. God created mankind as “very good” (1:31). He isn’t to blame for introducing sin.

2. The enticement to transgress was not introduced from within a human heart; rather, it was external with the serpent (3:1–5).

3. After they sinned, their eyes were opened, and the knowledge of evil became an inseparable part of them (2:25; 3:7, 22).

4. The Lord asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” (3:9). Our all-knowing God wasn’t suddenly ignorant of the couple’s whereabouts. His question is translated from a single Hebrew word, ’ayyekkāh, which denotes “an ominous estrangement between God and the … couple.”1

5. Cain, the first human produced via sexual relations—the way of all (except Jesus) born under Adam—was conceived in this estrangement. God told him he had to master sin, which sought after him (4:7).

God later explicated what Genesis implied. More than mere human prayers, the psalms serve as truth from God (2 Samuel 23:1–3). Through the Holy Spirit’s leading, King David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Contextually, David wasn’t writing about his mother’s morality in child-bearing. Rather, the surrounding verses indicate he referred to himself.

This truth isn’t exclusive to David. God enshrined this prayer into Scripture because the problem affects everyone. We’re all born into sin before a Holy God. 

God enshrined this prayer into Scripture because the problem affects everyone. We’re all born into sin before a Holy God.

The problem is universal, as David also wrote that “the Lᴏʀᴅ looks down from heaven upon the children of men … all turned aside … [and became] corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (14:2–3). King Solomon wrote, “There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The apostle Paul, in the Spirit, concluded that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The source of sin is internal. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus reiterated, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, … wickedness, … an evil eye …. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:21–23). 

Even Talmudic Judaism says that the evil impulse “is born with the individual.”2 Commenting on the Talmud, Rabbi Abraham Cohen said it “exists from the time of a person’s emergence from his mother’s womb … the disposition of the human being which results from natural desires.”3 

People often create a false dichotomy between Christianity’s teaching of sin nature and Judaism’s teaching of evil impulse. Practically, they’re not that dissimilar. The differences mostly arise from semantics and how the conclusions are drawn.

Many resent the biblical truth that although sin can be nurtured, it is ultimately inherent within everyone’s nature, leaving all guilty before God. The “born this way” excuse fails. The Lord said “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). We must conclude from the Tanakh that no one is sinless. We cannot limit sin’s death penalty (Genesis 2:17) to being merely physical. The prophets Isaiah and Daniel state that eternal condemnation with torment exists (Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2). Jesus (Luke 16:19–31) and the Talmudic rabbis taught the reality of hell (Gehinnom) as well.4

What Must We Do About Our Sin Problem?

While Messiah’s followers find authority in Scripture, Talmudic followers find authority with early rabbis. Surprisingly, the disagreement is not over our sin nature; instead, it’s over what can be done about it. Biblically, there is no escape from judgment: “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Biblically, “the blood … makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Biblically, a prophet like Moses came, and those who don’t listen to Him are accountable to God (Deuteronomy 18:18–19). Isaiah called Him a Servant who would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities” (53:5), who would pour “out His soul unto death,” and bear “the sins of many” (v. 12). 

Contrast this teaching with the words of mere men, some calling themselves rabbis or priests, who oppose the Bible by saying you can atone with good deeds, sometimes even quoting Scripture (like Micah 6:8) out of context to justify the approach. Who is your authority? Is it the Word of God, rightly understood in context, or the words of men?

1 Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Jewish Publication Society: Tanakh Translation, 1985), 17. 
2 Rabbi Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1949), 89–90.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., 98.

About the Author
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Cameron Joyner

Cameron is the Assistant Program Ministries Director for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. He resides with his family in Atlanta, GA. If you would like to learn more or partner with Cameron’s ministry, you can contact him at or call our headquarters at 800-257-7843 and speak with someone in North American Ministries. You can also support his ministry online here.

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