Not Dead, Mostly Dead, and All Dead Illustrated


I recently taught a class on “original sin”. In order to clarify the differences between the views which were described as Not Dead, Mostly Dead, and All Dead, in a previous post, I used illustrations focusing on people from the sermon we had heard that morning (covering Acts 8-11). This post expands on those idea, focusing on the Ethiopian eunuch (instead of Cornelius).

The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is described in Acts 8:26-40 (NET translation used below). It should be noted that the circumstances surrounding this event and the way that God sent Philip were extraordinary and occurred during a time when the followers of Christ were becoming aware of God’s plan for the “good news” to be taken to the Gentiles. Even though we are not supernaturally transported to evangelical encounters like Philip, we all share a responsibility to respond to (Acts 4:12; 8:12; Rom 10:9-13) and share the good news (Acts 1:8; Rom 10:14-15).

This narrative is used to illustrate the differences in the views regarding the nature of man after the Fall. The numbered bullets are correlated across the illustrations so that it is easier to see the similarities and differences.

…There [Philip] met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace,queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home, sitting in his chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. … [Philip] asked him,“Do you understand what you’re reading?” The man replied, “How in the world can I, unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. … So Philip started speaking,and beginning with this scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. Now as they were going along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water! What is to stop me from being baptized?” He said to him, ‘If you believe with your whole heart, you may.’ He replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’. So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

The Not Dead (Pelagian) view

This view (positively stated based on canon 1 and 7 of the Council of Orange), believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired after the offense of Adam’s sin. People can form right opinions and make right choices which relate to the salvation of eternal life. This includes assenting to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here is how a person holding to the Not Dead view might break down this passage.

  1. The eunuch, of his own volition, desired to worship God.
  2. The eunuch’s desire caused him to take the initiative of traveling to Jerusalem to worship and to read the Scriptures.
  3. God graciously sent Philip to explain the Scriptures and proclaim the good news (prevenient grace).
  4. The eunuch understood the gracious gift of eternal life through saving faith, and had the ability to accept or reject it.
  5. The eunuch accepted the gracious gift through faith and was regenerated (made a new creation).

The Mostly Dead (Semi Pelagian) view

This view (positively stated based on canon 3, 4, 5, and 8 of the Council of Orange), affirms that the free will of man has been weakened through Adam but still has the ability to seek salvation. The beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Jesus and are saved comes from our own will and choice, however the increase and completion of this act requires the Holy Spirit.

Here is how a person holding to the Mostly Dead view might break down this passage.

  1. The eunuch, of his own volition (despite a corrupted nature), desired to worship God.
  2. The eunuch’s desire caused him to take the initiative of traveling to Jerusalem to worship and to read the Scriptures.
  3. God saw the desire and initiative of this person and sent Philip to explain the Scriptures and proclaim the good news (prevenient grace).
  4. God helped the eunuch overcome his corrupt nature so that he could understand and accept/reject the good news that Philip shared (prevenient grace).
  5. The eunuch accepted the gracious gift through faith and was regenerated (made a new creation).

The All Dead (Arminian) view

This view, (summarized from articles 3 and 4 of the Remonstrance) asserts that man is in a state of apostasy and sin and can not think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having saving faith). He must be renewed through prevenient, assisting, and co-operative grace so that he is able to rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good. However this grace is given in such a way as to be resistible by man.

Here is how a person holding to the All Dead/Arminian view might break down this passage.

  1. The eunuch, because of his corrupted nature could not desire to worship God until this desire was graciously given to Him (prevenient grace).
  2. Once the desire was stirred in the eunuch it allowed him to choose to act on it. He chose to take the initiative of traveling to Jerusalem to worship and to read the Scriptures.
  3. God graciously sent Philip to explain the Scriptures and proclaim the good news (prevenient grace).
  4. God helped the eunuch overcome his corrupt nature so that he could understand and accept/reject the good news that Philip shared (prevenient grace).
  5. The eunuch accepted the gracious gift through faith and was regenerated (made a new creation).

The All Dead (Reformed/Calvinist) view

This view, (summarized from articles 1, 2, 3, and 14 released by the Synod of Dort under the section that addressed the third and fourth articles of the Remonstrance) sees man as having a corrupt nature that resulted in (among other things) blindness, distortion of judgment, and hardness of both heart and will. Without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit people are neither willing nor able to turn to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to desire these things. God produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself. Faith is not offered by God for man to choose but bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him.

Here is how a person holding to the All Dead/Reformed view might break down this passage.

  1. The eunuch, because of his corrupted nature could not desire to worship God until this desire was graciously given to Him (prevenient grace).
  2. Once the desire was stirred in the eunuch it caused him to act upon it, thus he traveled to Jerusalem to worship and also read the Scriptures.
  3. God graciously sent Philip to explain the Scriptures and proclaim the good news (prevenient grace).
  4. God helped the eunuch overcome his corrupt nature by regeneration him (making him a new creation) so that he could understand and accept the good news that Philip shared (prevenient grace). This grace was not able to be resisted or rejected by the eunuch since he now had a new nature.
  5. The eunuch, with his new nature and the desire for a relationship with God stirred in him, acted by accepting the gracious gift through faith.

The question for those holding to the All Dead/Reformed view is how did the eunuch desire to worship God and learn about Him in the Scriptures (#1 and #2) prior to his being regenerated in step #4?

Do you think these illustrations properly represent each view?

Which view do you think best represents Scripture?

What do you think?

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