Are people inherently good or inherently evil?

One of the Pastors at my church encourages people to “assume the best” when dealing with people. Is that wise? Let’s see what the Bible says.

Let’s start by looking at the first five verses of Genesis 6. Notice the activity that was taking place on earth.

Gen. 6:1-5 ¶ Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

We see from this that there were many people on the earth. Now read verses 5-7. What did God observe about people? Notice the words highlighted in red.

Gen. 6:5 ¶ Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Yahweh observed that people continually had evil intentions. This observation is repeated in Genesis 8.

Gen. 8:21 The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.

Again, people have evil intentions from their youth. Let’s look at what Jeremiah has to say about man’s nature. Again, notice the words highlighted in red.

Jer. 17:9-10 ¶ “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.

The Bible clearly teaches that every person is naturally inclined to do evil and to have evil intentions. Now look at the following verses. What is the warning inherent in these verses?

Rom. 16:18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

Eph. 5:6 ¶ Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

1John 2:26 ¶ These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

The New Testament clearly teaches that there are people who are trying to deceive; therefore, the warning to us is to be on the alert for deception.

So, is it wise to “assume the best” when dealing with people? No. People are naturally inclined to have evil intentions and we are warned that people are trying to deceive us; therefore, “assuming the best” is foolish. If you “assume the best”, you are making it easy for people to deceive you.

Let me balance this by saying I do not believe we should “assume the worst” either. Yes, there are evil intentions and deception in our world, but there are also good intentions and honesty in our world. Instead of assuming the best or assuming the worst, what we should be doing is trying to discern one from the other.


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”