Continuing with our subject of the difficult doctrine of imputation, we now move to an interpretation of Romans 5. The question has come down to this: Is it possible that Adam’s sin has been credited or imputed 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 say yes. Eastern Orthodox and Arminians would say no. 

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 12 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. 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 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. 18 ¶ 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 is adopted. The context of the passage has Paul explaining the believer’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 Adam’s sin and compares it to the free gift of Christ’s righteousness.

The meaning of the phrase, “because all sinned” in verse 12 (NAS) is the initial and primary subject of debate. What is the meaning of “all sinned”? Most commentators would argue that it is very difficult to interpret the “all sinned” as an act of personal 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, “Because all sin.” Then we could answer the question “Why are all people condemned?” with “Because all people sin.” But this does not seem to be the case here in Romans. The force of the verb has caused every translation that I know, except the NJB (a Catholic translation), to translate this passage “all sinned” 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, “The 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.”

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. 

Verse 12 attempts to begin the comparison of Adam with Christ but Paul then feels inclined to break off on one of his all-too-common parenthetical statements in verses 13-14 to defend his statement “because all sinned.” This is important because Paul’s understanding of what “all sinned” means is wrapped up in his defense which follows. Verse 13 begins with the conjunction “for” (gar). This links it with the previous statement, “because all sinned.” 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 (“but sin is not imputed when there is no law” v. 13). Then the objection may be “How do you explain that all people still died before the law?” Paul 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 death 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 much 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 Adam’s sin
2. The effects of Christ’s righteousness

Whatever one does with Christ’s righteousness, one must do to Adam’s sin. First let us draw out the comparison so that it might be better seen.

Through Adams Sin | Through Christ’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)
Adam’s disobedience=many were made sinners (19) Christ’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 “just as” (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 “one act of righteousness” are brought about by the same means as the “condemnation of all men” (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 “all sinned” and all were condemned in Adam, we must answer the question as to how Christ’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 Adam’s sin has no effect upon us whatsoever and that only his example has given us trouble, this means that Christ’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 men’s acts goes far beyond that of an example.

If we were to state, as the Arminians do, that we have Adam’s sin imputed to us only when we act in the same manner as Adam did, then we must state that we have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us only when we act as Christ acted. This cannot be true seeing as how we inherit Christ’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 Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone (Rom 3:28; Eph 2:8-9).

Paul is attempting to explain our relationship to Christ’s righteousness by comparing it to the imputation of Adam’s sin to us. This relationship, in my opinion, is best seen in the federal headship view of imputation. As Moo puts it, “Throughout 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.”

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. Christ’s righteousness is given to us without any participation of our own, just as Adam’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.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    3 replies to "Are we Condemned for the Sin of Another? (Part 3)"

    • stevemoore


      Well presented, thank you.

      I have one question that I was hoping you could clarify a point you made regarding the Augustinian view:

      “then we would also have to concede that we all actually and realistically were righteous in Christ.”

      I understand the words, but I’m not sure exactly what this means or or how it would play out. Can you clarify this statement a bit perhaps? What’s throwing me is that I have thought we were made righteous in Christ (justified) and so I’m not sure how to differentiate the two statements or ideas. Or are you saying this is our righteousness and not Christ’s righteousness imputed to us?

      A second comment:

      I probably fall into the federal camp on this point for the reasons you’ve noted. I’ve heard it explained that we can think of humanity as a family tree, as a whole. Adam, is at the trunk and when he sinned the trunk of the tree died. Even though the leaves may look green for a while, the whole tree is dead and there is no hope for it to live. As leaves or twigs or whatever out from the trunk, our only hope is a living tree. Christ is the trunk of the only other tree, a living tree, and he rescues us by grafting us onto himself. Maybe not a perfect example of the federal view, but I think it fits ok and may help some see how this lines up with scripture as well.

      I think is hard for us as humans not to be humanistic with respect to how a Just and Fair God deals with us. Our definition of fair is far from His and honestly will fall far very short. I think part of the hesitancy of all (including myself) in looking at some of these views is we fall into that trap. We think as humans that we have some special right to exist and be treated a in certain way but I just don’t see any proof of that anywhere, other than the Love of God being gracious to create us and gracious to save us. He’s the potter, we’re the clay. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I think it is a correct perspective according to Scripture.



    • jntowers


      I like your analogy, I think that is a good picture. I also liked your belly button comment the other day… 🙂



      Maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but based on how I’m reading the federal viewpoint, could we not change this statement: “Thank God for His grace, saving us from our depravity”; to this: “Thank God for His grace, saving us from the depravity that we inherited from Adam without our consent”? This viewpoint seems to make me want to say “Well God should have sent his Son, he used Adam to represent all of us, He needs to give us an ‘out’ from Adam’s screwup.” It seems to diminish grace…

      Palatability does not determine veracity… Palatability does not determine veracity… Palatability does not… 🙂

    • stevemoore

      Thanks – glad you liked the comments . ;^)

      Here’s something that I want to toss out to you in regards to one of your comments:

      ‘seems to make me want to say “Well God should have sent his Son, he used Adam to represent all of us, He needs to give us an ‘out’ from Adam’s screwup.” ‘

      This is something I’m still chewing on, so take this in that manner please ;^) – what is it about God that would _require_ Him to extend grace to us regardless of His choice about imputed sin? Would it be against some aspect of His character to declare His creation sinful? By who’s criteria is sin determined in the first place? If so, which one and how? Would He even need to do this if He wanted to wipe everything out and start from scratch? To me, this does not seem to diminish grace at all, but rather puts it in a much greater perspective.

      I think as humans we tend to think that we are owed something with respect to how God treats us. By definition, however He treats us is fair which is where the rub comes in I think – what we think of as fair and what God does is fair and they dont necessarily match. The play-doh creature my son makes does not stand a chance – he’s gonna squash it. And, it isnt owed anything from my son either. Now, dont get me wrong – I’m really, really, really glad that God has given us a way through Christ. I’m just trying to think of this in perspective. And I’m not trying to discount the fact that we are made in God’s image. That does mean that we should treat each other with dignity, but it does not, I dont think, obligate God to do something for us because we think it’s fair from our fallible and fallen and created perspective.



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