The mechanisms that maintain intestinal homeostasis despite constant exposure of the gut surface to multiple environmental antigens and to billions of microbes have been scrutinized over the past 20 years with the goals to gain basic knowledge, but also to elucidate the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and to identify therapeutic targets for these severe diseases. Considerable insight has been obtained from studies based on gene inactivation in mice as well as from genome wide screens for genetic variants predisposing to human IBD. These studies are, however, not sufficient to delineate which pathways play key nonredundant role in the human intestinal barrier and to hierarchize their respective contribution. Here, we intend to illustrate how such insight can be derived from the study of human Mendelian diseases, in which severe intestinal pathology results from single gene defects that impair epithelial and or hematopoietic immune cell functions. We suggest that these diseases offer the unique opportunity to study in depth the pathogenic mechanisms leading to perturbation of intestinal homeostasis in humans. Furthermore, molecular dissection of monogenic intestinal diseases highlights key pathways that might be druggable and therapeutically targeted in common forms of IBD.