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I’m Fallen and I Can’t Get Up (An Exegetical on Romans 5:12-19)

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12 On account of this, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death entered by means of sin, and so death spread into all men, because all sinned. 13 For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 But death reigned from Adam until Moses, even upon the ones who had not sinned in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression 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. 16 And the gift is not like what resulted through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment from one transgression resulted in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift from many transgressions resulted in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more the ones who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then, as through one transgression condemnation came to all men, even so through one righteous act came justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Synthesis

Exegetical Idea

The results of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteous act have given the human race, all under condemnation in Adam, the potential for all to be made righteous in Jesus Christ.

Exegetical Outline

I. Humanity is inseparably identified in sin with its natural head, Adam, not only physically, but also spiritually—5:12.

II. A relevant rabbit trail explains the contrasting consequences of Adam and Christ’s actions—5:13-17.

    a. The consequences of Adam’s sin is death to all mankind—5:13-14.

    b. The consequences between Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteous act is, respectively, condemnation for all and righteousness for all who receive God’s gracious gift—5:15-17.

III. The contrasting consequences are completed, showing the results each man has brought to the human race; Adam, condemnation, and Christ, justification—5:18-19.

Introduction

Having described how God has provided His righteousness to sinful man through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ (5:1-11), Paul begins in 5:12-19 to contrast that work of redemption with the work of the sin of Adam which created the need for redemption. In commenting on this passage, Jonathan Edwards wrote that Paul . . .

. . . had particularly spoken of the depravity and ruin of mankind in their natural state, in the foregoing part of this chapter; representing them as being sinners, ungodly, enemies, exposed to divine wrath, and without strength. This naturally leads him to observe, how this so great and deplorable an event came to pass; how this universal sin and ruin came into the world. . . [the Jews] were prejudiced against the doctrine of universal sinfulness, and exposedness to wrath by nature, looking on themselves as by nature holy, and favourites of God, because they were the children of Abraham . . . it was therefore exceeding proper, and what the apostle’s design most naturally led him to, that they should take off their eyes from their father Abraham, their father in distinction from other nations, and direct them to their father Adam, who was the common father of mankind, equally of Jews and Gentiles.1

“. . . something has been accomplished by Christ which is as universal in its effectiveness as was the sin of the first man. Paul is no longer speaking just about the Church: his vision now includes the whole of humanity.”2 Christ is described in another letter as the “Last Adam” and is thus, by inference, God’s ideal Man fulfilling what Adam did not fulfill and yet was designed to fulfill. Christ ruled “. . . over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth,” and He thus demonstrated that He fulfilled God’s purpose for man as man.3 Christ also lived a life of obedience that Adam did not. This is seen dramatically portrayed in the two garden scenes. The garden of Eden provided Adam a choice to submit to the Father’s will or to die because of His sin. Adam willingly chose to sin, and this brought eternal ramifications for the whole human race. The garden of Gethsemene provided Christ a “choice” to submit to the Father’s will to die to pay for the sin of mankind in Adam, yet there was no other choice for Him, because as God’s ideal Man, Christ would obey the Father’s will above His own. Christ willingly chose to die, and this brought eternal ramifications for the whole human race. The two gardens and the two choices brought two results which are the topics of a theological comparison and contrast in Paul’s discussion in Romans 5:12-19.

Humanity’s Identification with Adam
(5:12)

Because of the righteousness provided through Jesus Christ (in vv. 1-11) Paul begins this comparison section with a protasis (but he doesn’t give the apodosis to the comparison until v. 18): On account of this (DiaV tou’to—vv. 1-11), just as (w{sper—comparison) through one man sin entered into the world. . . The means (di’) by which sin entered into the inhabited world (toVn kovsmon) of men is one man, meaning Adam.4 And death [entered the world] by means (diaV) of sin. . . The Bible clearly teaches that the result of sin is death.5 Paul makes an interesting statement regarding the results of Adam’s sin, not only for Adam, but for the whole human race. As a result (kaiV ou{tw"and so) of the sin of Adam, death spread into all men. The earlier word, “entered” and this word, “spread,” are from the same root word, but they have different prefixes describing the manners in which sin and death entered and spread, respectively. Sin “entered into” (eijsh’lqen) the world and death “spread through” (dih’lqen) all men. Both words emphasize the beginning of the acts which occurred in the past.6 The reason death spread into all men is because all sinned. “Sinned” (h{marton) is also emphasizing a past completed action, but rather than stressing the beginning of the action, it stresses the event as a whole and affirms that it happened—simply, “all sinned.”7 All men having sinned must include more than Adam and Eve. This is a reference to the human race as a whole. The clear implication is that these three verbs, “entered. . . spread. . . sinned,”8 all occurred in the past, at the same time, in the sin of the one man, Adam.

A logical question must be raised at this point: how could all men be considered sinners when only Adam (and Eve) was the only man alive? The “Federal Headship” view believes that Adam was a representative of the human race, and therefore God simply decreed that the whole race was sinful because their federal head, Adam, had sinned.9 This view contradicts Scripture, for: “. . . ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin.’” (2 Chr. 25:4). Even multi-generational curses could be broken and surpassed in grace with faithfulness.10

Another view, taken by Cranfield, is that all sinned “in Adam” in that because Adam sinned, all would sin in turn. He argues:

It has also sometimes been argued that all [“men”] must include those who have died in infancy, and that the contention that infants participate by seminal identity [natural headship] in the primal sin of Adam is more intelligible than the contention that they commit actual sins. But those who die in infancy are a special and exceptional case, and Paul must surely be assumed to be thinking in terms of adults.11

Paul’s point is that all mankind is affected by Adam’s sin, not all adult mankind. If this not be so, then it could also be logically argued that only for adult mankind did Christ die, infants needing no redemption. To this King David retorts, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”12 Even as Cranfield describes it, whether it is the “sin” that brought death, or “sins” as the fruit of sin, every human has a “desperate moral debility and corruption which resulted from man’s primal transgression and which all succeeding generations of mankind have inherited.”13

Still another view is termed the “Natural Headship” view. This view squares with the principle that each person pays for his own sins because each person was not only represented in Adam, but was actually present in Adam when He sinned. Paul said in v. 12 that death spread into all men because all sinned, each a sinner for his own sin. Calvin concurs:

Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt.14

The reckoning of an act done through a forefather as credited to a descendant is not foreign to Scripture, and therefore, to reality. The author to the Hebrews wrote: “And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (Hebr. 7:9-10).

There is a textual variant in v. 12 as to whether the noun “death” is before the verb “spread,” after it, or altogether omitted. The reading where “death” is omitted seems to be a Western alteration,15 even though an alleged lack of a subject in the autograph might have coerced scribes to insert the noun.16 Its placement before or after the verb is of little grammatical consequence. However, the majority of the committee who compared the variants was compelled by the evidence supporting the noun appearing before the verb.17 Regardless of how the variant is taken, the subject of the construction is undeniably “death.”

Paul has explained in v. 12 that all humans are inseparably identified in sin with their natural head, Adam, not only physically, but also spiritually. When Adam sinned, all sinned; when Adam received spiritual death, all received spiritual death, because all were physically present in Adam when he sinned. F. F. Bruce states it well:

“To Paul, Adam was more than a historical individual, the first man; he was also what his name means in Hebrew - ‘humanity.’ The whole of humanity is viewed as having existed at first in Adam. . .human beings are mortal before they commit any sin, so that the mortality of the race is the result of the original racial sin. . . It is not simply because Adam is the ancestor of mankind that all are said to have sinned in his sin (otherwise it might be argued that because Abraham believed God all his descendants were necessarily involved in his belief); it is because Adam is mankind.”18

This sobering truth will be contrasted with its beautiful counterpart in chapter 6, where the exact opposite will be true through the Christian’s new identity in Jesus Christ. Heading this direction, Paul takes a relevant rabbit trail and begins to explain the counter-effects the one man, Christ has, with the one man, Adam.

Relevant Rabbit Trail of Contrasting Consequences
(5:13-17)

Paul takes the opportunity to exit his main proposition in order to explain the consequences of Adam’s sin and contrast those with the consequences of Christ’s obedience. Both consequences have far-reaching effects on the whole human race.

The Consequences of Adam’s Sin—5:13-14

Paul explains, for (gaVr) until the Law sin was in the world. The NIV translates “until” (a[cri) incorrectly as “before.” The point is that there is a pivot that occurs after the Law. That pivot is the reckoning of sin as sin. Paul will say in chapter 7 that he did not know what sin was until he heard the law (7:7). So sin was in the world, but (deV) as Paul says, sin is not imputed when there is no law. The word “imputed” or “reckoned” (ejllogei’tai) is indicating a general truth.19 That is, though sin is present, it is a principle that sin is not “reckoned” as sin if there is no law to call it such. Paul had already stated this earlier in his letter (4:1520). In spite of this truth, sin was still present in the world, because death, which came through sin, reigned (v. 14). But (ajlla—contrasts the reckoning of sin with the reigning of it) death reigned from Adam until Moses, even upon the ones who had not sinned in the likeness of the transgression of Adam. This further strengthens the Natural Headship view that says that all were physically and spiritually present in Adam when he sinned, thus all will die as Adam did; this is made unmistakably clear in Gen. 5 with the repeated phrase, “. . . and he died.” “Adam had disobeyed a specific command of God (Gen. 2:17) and committed a transgression, something that his descendants did not do when they sinned till other specific commands from God were received.”21 Yet Adam’s unique sin, it being the first with ramifications for the whole human race, is a type of Him who was to come, in that Christ’s actions also had complete ramifications for the whole human race. Paul made a similar statement in a letter contemporary with Romans: “So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45). “It is noteworthy that Adam is the only Old Testament character who is explicitly called a ‘type’ of Christ in the New Testament. . . in Paul’s thought Christ replaces the first man as the archetype and representative of a new humanity.”22 Paul goes on to explain his analogy by contrast.

Contrasting the Consequences Between Adam and Christ—5:15-17

Expanding on what he meant when he called Adam a “type,” Paul says in v. 15, But (*All*—indicating the “type” is one of contrast) the free gift is not like the transgression. The results of Christ’s actions are not like the results of Adam’s; the sin of the latter brought death to the many, but the free gift of the former brought grace to the many. Paul explains: For (gaVr) if by the transgression of the one the many died. . . Again, the Natural Headship view is strengthened in that “many” (same as “all” in v. 12) “died” (ajpevqanon) when Adam sinned. “Died” indicates not only a past action, but also an end to that action—”the many died.”23 Having explained the results of the one man’s sin, Paul expresses a dramatic contrast by saying much more (pollw’/ ma’llon) did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The results of Christ’s gracious gift of Himself as a sacrifice is said to be, by comparison, greater than the selfish sin of Adam. The sin of Adam brought death to the whole human race, but Christ’s gift brought life to the whole human race (upon those who are willing to receive it—cf. v. 17).

Paul says in v. 16, And the gift is not like what resulted through the one who sinned; “Obviously [in the Greek] here a noun paralleling ‘the gift’ is missing in the text. . .It seems best to leave it indefinite as does the Greek text and to translate it by ‘the result’ of that which happened.”24 The compared object could possibly be what the text mentions in the context (i.e., death to all, sin of all, judgment for all), but there is no emphasis by Paul for one over the other. Paul explains the contrasting results: for (gaVr) on the one hand (meVn) the judgment from one transgression resulted in condemnation, but on the other hand (deVv) the free gift from many transgressions resulted in justification. His point of contrast is that Christ’s “free gift” (cavrisma—“grace-gift,” being akin to cavri" as in v. 15) is different (and far better, as in v. 16) than Adam’s judgment, because while Adam’s one transgression brought condemnation, Christ’s gift from many transgressions brought justification. “Justification” (dikaivwma), used for the first time in this section, literally means a “righteous deed,” but in this context it seems to indicate the result of the righteous deed of Christ’s death, namely justification,25 which result is the whole point of Paul’s comparison. He makes use of this action/result play on words even more clearly in v. 18 (“through one just act came justification”).

Continuing to explain the contrasting results Paul says, For (gaVr) if by the transgression of the one (first class condition is assumed to be true—“since by. . .”), death reigned through the one (the basis for this assumption was stated in v. 12 ), much more the ones who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Now Paul indicates the qualifying action that reckons one righteous before God, that of “receiving” the grace and gift of Christ; this is what Paul has indicated is required from the beginning of his epistle (cf. 1:16-17). The reward of such faith is the gift of righteousness and the privilege to “reign” (basileuvsousin—future tense) with Christ in eternal life. Adam’s sin is reckoned to be sin to all, but Christ’s righteous act is reckoned to be righteousness to all “who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (see figure 1).

Figure 1

It could be asserted that this doctrine is clearly unfair. One might say, “I was born a sinner, not of my own choosing, yet I am required to receive Christ in order to be righteous?” The same could be said of Adam. Adam could say, “I was made perfect, not of my own choosing, yet I am required to sin in order to be a sinner?” Man was created to be right with his Creator, so because man willfully chose to sin, God graciously made provision for man to be reconciled and righteous. It can be demonstrated through figure 2.

Figure 2

Adam was made perfect whether he liked it or not (and he did), and he was made a sinner by choice. Therefore all were made sinners because “all sinned” being literally “in Adam.” Consequently all are born sinners whether they like it or not. Once Christ died for sins, those “in Adam” were made savable whether they liked it or not, and now they have the choice to leave their initial nature (as did Adam) and take on a new nature “in Christ” by receiving God’s gracious gift of salvation.

The Contrasting Consequences Completed
(5:18-19)

“Finally, instead of just expressing at last the apodosis which he has all along intended, he now, as his parenthesis has become so excessively long (it is five whole verse), repeats the substance of his original protasis in v. 18a, and then immediately completes it with its proper apodosis in v. 18b.”26 Paul says in v. 18: So then (“Ara ou ) as through one transgression condemnation came to all men, even so through one righteous act came justification of life to all men. Here again, as in v. 16 but only more clearly, Paul uses the same word to show the action and its result. It could be seen as “through one just act came justification” (di* eJnoV" dikaiwvmato" . . . eij" dikaivwsin). The participation of mankind in summary is demonstrated by two extreme examples in v. 19. For (gaVr—explains the “connection links between Adam’s misdeed and the condemnation of the many, and between Christ’s perfect fulfillment. . .” bringing eternal life to the many27) as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Mankind is seen to have participated with Adam in his sin, and therefore mankind is justly condemned. Mankind is also seen to have participated in the death of Christ (appropriated by faith), and therefore all mankind is potentially made righteous. Again, Calvin says it well:

To what quibble will the Pelagians here recur? That the sin of Adam was propagated by imitation? Is the righteousness of Christ then available to us only in so far as it is an example held forth for our imitation? Can any man tolerate such blasphemy? But if, out of all controversy, the righteousness of Christ, and thereby life, is ours by communication, if follows that both of these were lost in Adam that they might be recovered in Christ, whereas sin and death were brought in by Adam, that they might abolished in Christ. . . As Adam, by his ruin, involved and ruined us, so Christ, by his grace, restored us to salvation. In this clear light of truth I cannot see any need of a longer or more laborious proof.28

Conclusion and Application

Romans 5:12-19 serves as a pivot from the teaching section on the depravity of mankind, identified in Adam, who is reckoned righteous only by faith in Jesus Christ (ch. 1-5), and the section that immediately follows which teaches the practical implications of the new identity in Christ (ch. 6-8). The results of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteous act have given the human race, all under condemnation in Adam, the potential for all to be righteous in Jesus Christ for those “who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness.”

An important application to the church today is to preach the gospel to all men in fulfillment of the Great Commission. All men being sinners in the one man, Adam, constitute the need for them to hear also of the righteousness provided through the one man, Jesus Christ.


1 Jonathan Edwards, “On Original Sin,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, reprinted 1992, 207.

2 Cranfield, 1:271.

3 Gen. 1:26 and cf. Luke 5:4-9.

4 Gen. 3:6, 17-19.

5 Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:56; James 1:15.

6 Both I take to be ingressive aorists.

7 I take this to be a comprehensive aorist indicative—”all sinned.”

8 All these verbs are aorist indicatives.

9 Witmer, 458.

10 cf. Exod. 34:7 and Psalm 103:17-18.

11 Cranfield, 1:279.

12 Psalm 51:5.

13 Cranfield, 1:278.

14 Calvin, Institutes, 2:218.

15 Present in D G 2495 itd,e,f,g syrh eth and several early fathers.

16 Metzger, A Textual Commentary, p512-513.

17 Present in A A B C K P 0220vid 33 81 614 1739 Byz Lect.

18 Bruce, 119, 122-123.

19 ejllogei’tai is a gnomic present.

20 Rom. 4:15—”for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.”

21 Witmer, Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Romans,” 458.

22 Bruce, 124.

23 ajpevqanon is a consummative aorist indicative.

24 Witmer, 459.

25 BAGD, 198. “. . . It [dikaivwma ] is chosen obviously because of the other words in - ma, and is equiv. in mng. to dikaivwsi” [‘justification”]. . . forms in -ma . . .express the result of an action.”

26 Cranfield, 1:273.

27 Cranfield, 1:290.

28 Calvin, Institutes, 2:215.

Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification