Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV):

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.


Romans 2:12-16 (ESV):

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Are Gentiles born with a sinful nature or not? How is it possible that some Gentiles have the law of God written in their hearts and do the works of the law by nature (Rom 2:12-16) if mankind is born with a sinful nature (Eph 2:1-3)? How can we reconcile the two passages?

  • 3
    Paul answers your two-prong question: There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom 3:10). Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given..." (Rom 5:12-14). Epistles is like a written sermon of Paul speaking to different congregations in diff. situations & on issues. The cup is "half-full" or "half-empty" is different perceptions of the same from the entire perspective. Paul does not contradict in both Epistles quoted, much less the Scripture.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 3:14
  • You see that the Christians don't explain the problematic verses like Rom2; they choose to cancel those passages by their favorite verses or formulas.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 9:16

3 Answers 3


In Rom 3:23 Paul answered the question all including the Gentiles have a sin nature. Having the Law in one's heart didn't equal keeping the entire law.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. (James 2:10, ESV)

Wrong is the absence of right. Evil is the absence of good. While every person probably has some good, they are not perfectly good. Where good is absent is where sin resides. Because no one is perfectly good, all have sinned. What is their conscience accusing them of if they aren't sinning?

while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (in Romans 2:15, ESV)

Paul's point was even the Gentiles did not live up to what they knew was right.

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:22–23, ESV)

Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of both good and evil, not just evil alone. Thus, the sin nature did not exclude knowing what is right. It implies that knowing what is right and not doing it is what is sin.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17, ESV)

 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:16–17, ESV)

Here Paul answered the question that all people have the sin nature in greater detail.

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:12–21, ESV)

  • Then how do we explain Romans 2:12-16?
    – user38524
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 1:20
  • See the edited answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 1:42
  • See more editing.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 10:57
  • Note the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not of the knowledge of evil only.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 11:11

C. S. Lewis, in his book, "Mere Christianity", deals with this question at length in the first five chapters, or "Book I".

The essence of his famous argument is simple - all societies ever discovered, have a very similar societal and personal morality - all ban murder, theft and promiscuity, etc. That is, all societies have a similar moral code, whether christian or not.

Lewis uses this to show that all societies have two features:

First, they are haunted by the idea of a sort of behavior they ought to practice, what you might call fair play, or decency, or morality, or the Law of Nature. Second, that they did not in fact do so. (Chapter 3)

This is exactly what Paul is saying in Rom 2:12-16 - unconverted people have a kind of instinct about what is right and wrong, even if they do not have the "Law".

Thus, all people have "sinned" (Rom 3:23) and "there is no one righteous" (Rom 3:10-18).

That is, whether we are in a "Christian" society (whatever that means) of any other kind of society, all instinctively understand morality as impressed upon everyone, by the Holy Spirit either before conversion (as a pagan) or after conversion as a Christian (John 16:5-14). However, it is only Christians who have any hope of more consistently keeping any moral principles (Eph 2:8-10) by the miraculous work of God in transforming our heats and minds (2 Cor 3:18, Rom 12:1, 2).

Thus we must distinguish between the sinful human nature as clearly described in Rom 3:10-24, Eph 2:1-3 for ALL, and the equally common work of the Holy Spirit on the collective conscience of people in Rom 2:12-16.


Because those are simplified and general statements or figurative. When he says "all sinned", "all die", it doesn't mean absolute everyone. The context and mood of the text helps determine the sense of it, when we compare the overall context, harmony and common sense. When saying "you were dead in trespasses" and "we all lived in sin", he obviously doesn't mean every single one. As for the sinful nature, nobody is born with it, it simply means ability to sin rather than total depravity to sin. Human nature is not sinful but neutral and pure, being able to choose good and evil. Eccl 7:29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

[ESV Daniel 9:9-11] 9To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.

[ESV Ps 14:3-4] 3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. 4Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?

When it says "all Israel have sinned", it doesn't mean literally every single one of them have sinned.

[ESV Ps 51:5-6] 5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

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