Sometimes verses like Psalm 143:2 are referenced by Calvinists to defend their doctrine of Total Depravity.
Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous (Psalm 143:2)
There are other verses throughout the Bible that say similar things. But there is a vast difference between Total Depravity as defined by the Calvinist and not being righteous in God’s sight.
It is a biblical fact that no one is righteous before God. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). We have all done what is wrong. No one has the positive righteousness of God, and no one can do enough good works or become holy enough in order to attain this infinite righteousness. This lack of righteousness is all that passages like Psalm 143:2 are teaching.
In and of ourselves, we have no merit, nor any basis on which to stand to gain favor with God. But this does not mean that we cannot believe in Jesus for eternal life, or cannot accept the good gift of God’s grace when it is offered to us. Such an acceptance of God’s gift is non-meritorious, and to the contrary, is based upon the fact of us not having any merit.
So we can affirm the truth of passages like Psalm 143:2, that before God there is no one who is righteous, without having to add to this core biblical idea the unbiblical concept of total inability.If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.
John Lesley says
Thanks Jeremy for the clear explanation of this passage. Once again we can see that those who interpret scripture from a “theological” position rather than by context of the passage can reach just about any conclusion they so choose. There is only one way to interpret literature, that is to base our interpretation on the context and the plain meaning of the words that the author chose to convey his thoughts to the reader.
Jeremy Myers says
Of course, it is also impossible to approach a text with a completely clean slate. We all interpret Scripture according to preconceived theological opinions. The goal, however, is to be willing to allow Scripture to change our theology, rather than allow our theology to change the meaning of Scripture.
…Easier said than done!