Romans 5:12-21 A Very Simple Text

For so many scholars, this text becomes a goldmine of doctrinal difficulties that I only imagine helps preserve their positions in Christendom (whether as pastor, theologian at seminary, writer, etc.).  There is nothing quite like a text such as this to keep books flying out of the printer’s presses to explain to Christians what exactly it is that Paul is saying.  My question this time around is, “Is this text in fact so difficult that we need someone to explain it to us?”  Secondly, without the use of technical commentaries, dictionaries, sermons, Greek word studies, etc., can we come to an understanding of Paul that brings glory to God and gives us hope?  I could add so many more questions alongside these, but I think these few will serve my purpose.

I am going to offer my basic explanation of this text (which I grant will not be perfect nor in-depth or as explanatory like many of you may require) and then give a brief rendering of the text by a leading apologist, theologian, seminary professor, and prolific Christian writer.  I ask that you compare and contrast the two and decide for yourself which reading (explanation of the text) fits the text the best.  Send your comments and maybe, if you would, an explanation of why you chose the reading you chose.  Help all the readers here to learn from your wisdom or challenge your conclusions that we may sharpen one another.

My Reading

(Rom 5:12)  Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.
Because Adam disobeyed God (sinned), death came into the world.  This is both physical death and spiritual death, though we can’t get that from this text.  Because of Adam’s sin, all people after Adam who are born will eventually die (physically and are already dead spiritually).  And, we all die because we all sin.

(Rom 5:13)  For until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not charged when there is no law.
The law here I believe is the Mosaic Law.  So, before Moses received the Law, sin was in the world but was not charged to people.

(Rom 5:14)  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those whose sins weren’t like Adam’s disobedience, who is a foreshadowing of him who was to come.
People died between the time of Adam and Moses, even though they didn’t sin like Adam did (maybe directly disobeying God by eating of the tree?).  Adam was a type of Christ.

(Rom 5:15)  But the free gift isn’t like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
There is a difference between the free gift, (salvation) and sin.  Through Adam’s sin the many (all people born after Adam, but not including Adam) died.  But salvation is a greater “gift” than the “gift” of death and sin because salvation comes as a gift of grace from God through the one man Jesus Christ.  This gift abounded to the many (the same many as previously spoken of, all mankind born after Adam)

(Rom 5:16)  The gift is not as through one who sinned: for the judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification.

(Rom 5:17)  For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.
The gift of salvation doesn’t come through Adam or his sin.  Condemnation came through Adam’s “gift.” Out of the  many sins of the many the free gift of justification came.  Because, if by Adam’s sin death reigned, how much greater it is for those receiving the grace of salvation because of Jesus’ sacrificial death.  They will reign in life with Him.

(Rom 5:18)  So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life.
Through Adam’s sin all men were condemned; through Jesus’ death on the cross in their place all men are justified, saved.  Through one thing (sin), all are condemned.  When Paul talks about the thing (sin) he includes all men in that “thing”, which includes Adam.  In the next verse when Paul talks about the person who caused that thing, he separates that person (Adam) from all the rest, the many, who became affected by his sin.

(Rom 5:19)  For as through the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, many will be made righteous.
Through Adam’s disobedience to God (in the Garden) many (all people after Adam, not including Adam) became sinners, even so through the obedience of Jesus (to the Father in everything, including sacrificing Himself) many (all people after Adam, but not including Adam) will be saved.

(Rom 5:20)  The law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly;
The law was given to Moses to show what sin is and that no one could keep the law.  Why?  Because where sin abounded, where people became aware that they were sinning, God’s grace abounded even more than their sin!  Though God’s image bearers sinned more and more, God’s grace abounded more and more.  This shows forth His abounding love for mankind.

(Rom 5:21)  that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to aionian [481] life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And, as sin reigned in death, as sin had its life in death, even so God’s grace reigns through righteousness in life through this age.  We will no longer need God’s grace after this age since we will be with Him and will no longer be in sin.  We will be made perfect in Christ after this age and will have no need for grace.

Main Point of the passage:  Because Adam sinned, all the rest of mankind since Adam receive death.  They die physically and are dead spiritually, because they are all sinners.  Thankfully through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, all people are justified and thereby saved from death.  This salvation may take place in this life or after physical death, but it will take place.  The parallelism is all die, all made alive; many die, many made alive.   One group, all, is Adam plus the many, the other group, the many, refers to all those after Adam.

Noted Apologist, theologian, seminary professor, prolific Christian writer:

Intro:  This is a tough text, a very tough text.  It is tough partly because so many go through it word by word and phrase by phrase and they miss the overarching meaning of the text.  People have problems with the text because they focus on verse 12 and don’t take into account verses 18-21.  Through my experience, as limited as it is, going on three decades now (I got the sense of sarcasm here),  the only way to see the text of verses 12-21 is to see that Paul is talking about two humanities here.  If you don’t see the two humanities here, you will miss the whole point.  The two humanities Paul talks about are the humanities IN ADAM and IN CHRIST.  Paul talks about those here who are IN ADAM and those who are IN CHRIST.  If you don’t see that, you will be forced by the very grammar of verse 18 into universalism (my note: that in the end of the ages, God will reconcile ALL people to Himself and every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus).

If you see it, you will see that what is received from being IN ADAM is less than what you receive from being IN CHRIST.  The gift is far bigger and better, the gift of being IN CHRIST rather than being IN ADAM.  If you see it you’ll understand one is not like the other.  Certainly they overlap but they are not contiguous (synonyms: connected, adjoining) here.

(Rom 5:12)  Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.
(Rom 5:13)  For until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not charged when there is no law.
(Rom 5:14)  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those whose sins weren’t like Adam’s disobedience, who is a foreshadowing of him who was to come.
(Rom 5:15)  But the free gift isn’t like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
One man sinned and death spread to all because all sinned in Adam. Notice in vs.13 that no sin was charged until the Law came, the Mosaic law.  People died before the law.  Adam cannot give spiritual life because all people die IN ADAM.  This is not an equals issue.  This is not an issue of equal ultimacy.  Salvation and damnation are not two sides of the same coin.  The free gift is not like the trespass.  One act of righteousness leads to all men IN CHRIST.  Paul is talking about all people IN ADAM die, but ALL people IN CHRIST will live.  Which man are you in?  All men are IN ADAM but not all men are IN CHRIST.

The grace of God and the grace of Christ are the same thing.  The giving of grace is an extension of God’s grace.  Condemnation does not require God’s power, it happens automatically.  Condemnation was not only for Adam but for the many (apparently meaning ALL mankind).

(Rom 5:16)  The gift is not as through one who sinned: for the judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification.
The many receive justification.  Death reigned over people and Paul is talking about two humanities here.  The one group receives condemnation automatically, those IN ADAM, but the different group seen here, the second humanity are those IN CHRIST who receive salvation.  One group is a subgroup of the other.  One group is smaller than the other.  The saved are a subgroup of the larger group, IN ADAM, and are therefore smaller.  All those IN ADAM are not the same as those who are IN CHRIST.  (at this point the apologist has not explained the terms “all” and “many” nor the parallelism found here)
(Rom 5:17)  For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.
If we are placed IN CHRIST we have the gracious gift of life and justification.  The ultimate authority over those who are IN ADAM is death, because death reigns.  You have to see the two humanities here.  But, the free gift of righteousness reigns over those who are IN CHRIST.
(Rom 5:18)  So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life.
We must read verse 18 in light of verse 12, other wise you will be merely following after your own traditions.  One trespass led to condemnation of all men, all those who are IN ADAM.  Then, one act of righteousness leads to justification for all men who are IN CHRIST.  If you just pull things out of context you can make these texts here proof-texts for almost anything.  The focus is on what they did (Apparently what Adam did and what Christ did).
(Rom 5:19)  For as through the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, many will be made righteous.
(Rom 5:20)  The law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly;
(Rom 5:21)  that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to aionian [481] life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through Adam’s disobedience the many were made sinners and conversely by one man’s (Christ) obedience the many will be made righteous.  This blows away synergism (that God works and man works in the salvation of people, God makes salvation possible and man chooses to believe in God).  We are uncomfortable explaining what Paul is saying here.  We can only get from Adam what he has to give and we get from Christ we he has to give.

There is the proper interpretation of the text.  Most focus on verse 12, not verse 19.  Can you be a good Christian if you don’t understand this text?  Yes.  But, any sub-biblical belief will limit our glorifying God.  We must grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus and be consistent in our beliefs.  The difference between belief and ignorance because of our traditions is the difference between knowing God’s Word and then willfully not following it.

My Thoughts:

Several things struck me as I heard this explanation of Romans 5:12-21 from this man.  First, he prefaced the whole teaching by, I believe, poisoning the well.  He made the statement that if you do not see the two humanities (I will say HIS understanding of the text) then you CANNOT understand the text at all.  In other words, if you do not separate the groups of people Paul is talking about here into the larger group, ALL MEN IN ADAM, and the sub-group, the smaller group, ALL MEN IN CHRIST, then you cannot understand the text.  You will be basically following your own tradition and will misinterpret Paul here.  I think this is a pretty bold way of saying, “My way is the only way, my interpretation is the correct interpretation, and all others are invalid.”  The poison is that he puts into the minds of the hearers that any interpretation other than his is sub-biblical.  For those who are not “as learned” as he, they must come to understand his explanation.

Now, to be fair, he did say that he was not going to go into depth, meaning a word for word, phrase by phrase study of the text.  Maybe if he had, we all would understand more fully why he comes to the conclusions he does.  But, maybe not.  Maybe he would explain to us all what Paul’s reason for using the terms “all” and “many” in parallel, when he really should have not drawn a parallel between them.  Maybe he would explain how “all” only means a sub-group of a larger group, even though Paul does not say this.  Maybe he would explain why Paul never used the terms, “IN ADAM” or “IN CHRIST” in this whole passage.

I capitalized the terms IN ADAM and IN CHRIST on purpose.  I stipulated it this way to continuously show you that these artificial groups are key to the apologist’s rendering of the text.  Nowhere are these terms used here.  Paul merely talks about the same group of people, one group of people, throughout this whole passage.  The one group is all mankind.  He shows that all mankind is, from the outset, under the curse of death and sin because of Adam.  And then the same group is talked about concerning Christ’s sacrifice, in relation to His sacrifice, which is ALL MEN ARE justified.  As I stated earlier, Paul talks about “all mankind” which includes Adam, and “the many” which refers to “all mankind except Adam.”  I explained that under verse 18 above.

What I see here, to wrap things up, is how even the best and most “knowledgeable” Christians can miss the point of the text.  I think that theologians, et al. have made this text hard to understand.  I think all the rabble about federal headship etc. (Are Adams’ sins our sins, or do we become sinners when we sin, etc.) is just that.  Does the average believer have a hard time understanding that in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive?  I have been invested in theological systems in the past that enslaved me to a certain perspective and “poisoned my well” of thinking against any other interpretations.  This has led to more arguments and estrangement from other believers that it has destroyed the unity that Paul says we are to have IN CHRIST!  My perspective on this is that this brother in Christ has fallen prey to the very thing he decries, traditionalism coloring his view of scripture.  If we must hold advanced degrees from schools of higher learning to understand the plain texts of Scripture, then I think  we have lost sight of God and are in danger of worshiping the idol of scholasticism rather than THE ONE who bids the little children to come to Him.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under "All" Passages, Universal salvation

2 responses to “Romans 5:12-21 A Very Simple Text

  1. Dirk

    Thank you Craig. Very nice post and true indeed 🙂

  2. The more I try reading the Bible without a traditional view, as much as is possible, God’s Word becomes easier to understand and much, much more meaningful. Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s