Continuing with our subject of the difficult doctrine of imputation, we now move to an interpretation of Romans 5. The questionÂ has come down to this:Â Is it possible that Adam’s sin has been credited or imputedÂ to us in such a way that all men are born guilty of this sin of another before we ever exercise any personal sin. Evangelical Protestants and Catholics would sayÂ yes. Eastern Orthodox and Arminians would say no.Â
As some have wisely said, if Romans 5:12-21 were never penned, this would not be an issue. Here is the passage for reference.
Romans 5:12-21 12Â Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to 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 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15Â Â¶ 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 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18Â Â¶ So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The way in which one interprets this passage will determine which of the options presented thus far isÂ adopted. The context of the passage has Paul explaining the believerâ€™s position in Christ by comparing it to our former position in Adam. The subject of the section is not the transgression, but the free gift (v. 15). Paul uses the analogy of Adamâ€™s sin and compares it to the free gift of Christâ€™s righteousness.
The meaning of the phrase, â€œbecause all sinnedâ€ in verse 12 (NAS) is the initial and primary subject of debate. What is the meaning of â€œall sinnedâ€?Â Most commentators wouldÂ argue that it is very difficult to interpret the “all sinned”Â as an act of personalÂ choice (contra Pelagius and Arminius). Why? Because of the force of the verb tense; it is likely a historic aorist (past tense referring back to the sin of Adam). If the Pelagian or Arminian interpretation were correct, the present tense would have been a much better choice for Paul in this context. Then it would naturally read, â€œBecause all sin.â€ Then we could answer the question â€œWhy are all people condemned?â€ with â€œBecause all people sin.â€ But this does not seem to be the case here in Romans.Â The force of the verb has caused every translation that I know, except the NJB (a Catholic translation), to translate this passageÂ â€œall sinnedâ€ with the implied referent to the being Adam’s sin. Therefore, we are connected with the past sin of Adam. If this is correct, what Paul is saying is that when Adam sinned, we all sinned. As Morris has it, â€œThe aorist [tense] points to one act, the act of Adam; we would expect the present or the imperfect [tense] if the Apostle were thinking of the continuing sins of all people.â€
It should be noted that the historic aorist is used in Romans 2:23 in a similar but not identical way and is translated “all have sinned.” Notice there that the context only leaves room for the past tense referent to be the sin of the individual. This is brought up so that you can understand how the context of Romans 5:12 plays a determining role.Â
Verse 12Â attempts to begin the comparison of Adam with Christ butÂ Paul then feels inclined to break off on one of his all-too-common parenthetical statements in verses 13-14 to defend his statement â€œbecause all sinned.â€ This is important because Paulâ€™s understanding of what â€œall sinnedâ€ means is wrapped up in his defense which follows. Verse 13 begins with the conjunction â€œforâ€ (gar). This links it with the previous statement, â€œbecause all sinned.â€ It is as if someone got the impression that Paul was stating that all people sin and, therefore, all people die as a consequence of their own sin. At this point (v. 13), Paul says that before the Law, there was sin. But people did not die on account of these personal sins, because they were not imputed as sin (â€œbut sin is not imputed when there is no lawâ€ v. 13). Then the objection may be â€œHow do you explain that all people still died before the law?â€ PaulÂ seems to be saying that the reason people died before they commit an act of sin is because they are suffering the consequences of a sin already committed. They died not for personal sin, but for imputed sin. This sin was the sin of Adam. All people die because of the one sin of Adam.
With deathÂ being introduced through the avenue of Adam’s sin, we need to understand what death means. This death is most certainly to be seen as both spiritual and physical considering Pauline theology (Eph. 2:2ff). Therefore, the condemnation to which all suffer as a result in our participation in Adam’s sin is both spiritual and physical with the spiritual being evidenced by the physical (v. 13).
Less you think I am saying too muchÂ with regards to the subject, let us press on and see how the context will provide further evidence that Paul is speaking about imputed sin or guilt. Paul returns to his comparison to expound further. This comparison is between two things:
1. The effects of Adamâ€™s sin
2. The effects of Christâ€™s righteousness
Whatever one does with Christâ€™s righteousness, one must do to Adamâ€™s sin. First let us draw out the comparison so that it might be better seen.
Through Adams Sin | Through Christâ€™s Righteousness
Judgment (16) Free gift (16)
Condemnation (16) Justification (16)
Death Reigned (17) Life Reigned (17)
One Transgression=Condemnation of all (18) One Act of Righteousness=Justification of all (18)
Adamâ€™s disobedience=many were made sinners (19) Christâ€™s obedience=many were made righteous (19)
The comparison is unmistakable. Whatever we do to inherit the free gift is the same thing we did to inherit judgment (v. 16). This is the force of the â€œjust asâ€ (hosper) in v. 12. Whatever we do to receive justification is the same thing we did to receive condemnation (v. 16). The effects of the â€œone act of righteousnessâ€ are brought about by the same means as the â€œcondemnation of all menâ€ (v. 18). The way in which believers are made righteous is analogous to the way all mankind was made sinners (v. 19). In order to answer the question as to how it is that â€œall sinnedâ€ and all were condemned in Adam, we must answer the question as to how Christâ€™s righteousness is applied to us to the end that we are justified by that righteousness.
If we were to adopt the view as held by Pelagius, that Adamâ€™s sin has no effect upon us whatsoever and that only his example has given us trouble, this means that Christâ€™s righteousness has no effect upon us either. He simply came to set the example. But this is not what the text teaches. It states that the many were made sinners and that the many were made righteous. The effect of these two menâ€™s acts goes far beyond that of an example.
If we were to state, as the Arminians do, that we have Adamâ€™s sin imputed to us only when we act in the same manner as Adam did, then we must state that we have Christâ€™s righteousness imputed to us only when we act as Christ acted. This cannot be true seeing as how we inherit Christâ€™s righteousness while we are sinners (Rom 5:8, 10).
If one were to opt for a purely Augustinian interpretation of the passage in that we all actually and realistically sinned in Adam, then we would also have to concede that we all actually and realistically were righteous in Christ. This, of course, will not do for the analogy would be rendered meaningless and would contradict Paulâ€™s doctrine of justification by faith alone (Rom 3:28; Eph 2:8-9).
Paul is attempting to explain our relationship to Christâ€™s righteousness by comparing it to the imputation of Adamâ€™s sin to us. This relationship, in my opinion,Â is best seen in the federal headship view of imputation. As Moo puts it, â€œThroughout this whole passage what Adam did and what Christ did are steadily held over against each other. Now salvation in Christ does not mean that we merit salvation by living good lives; rather, what Christ has done is significant. Just so, death in Adam does not mean that we are being punished for our own evil deeds; it is what Adam has done that is significant.â€
Adam, as our chosen federal head, has represented us and passed on sin and all of its consequences. Christ, as the second Adam, represents those who believe and passes on righteousness along with all its benefits. Christâ€™s righteousness is given to us without any participation of our own, just as Adamâ€™s sin is given to us without our consent.
On the next blog we will deal with some of the implications and I will attempt to explain how this really can and does make sense. Please recognize that I understand the difficulty with this interpretation, but it does seem to handle the text with the most integrity. Remember, the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity.