Friday, May 15, 2015

Romans 5:12 - Part I


How do we make sense of Romans when it says “death spread to all men because all sinned?” That’s the question of this series. 


For the sake of transparency, here are the rules and preconceptions by which I will be using to evaluate the verse:

  1.  Answers are restricted to Christian ones. So that rules out all Zoastrian, Pantheistic, Pelagian or even Arminian answers, which I find ultimately amount to unbelief. If it says all sinned then it means every man, woman, and unborn child sinned, and that’s that. I’m not interested in discussing if this is true, but how it’s true.
  2. The main things of Scripture are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. There are only eight words here and nothing else like it in the New Testament, which makes this verse is neither main, nor plan. Therefore I must retain a sensitivity to the fragility of the foundation as I seek to explain the mechanism by which we’ve become sinful and avoid putting any unnecessary assumptions on the text, because otherwise this shallow raft is going to sink. Reckless loading of unclear verses with needless assumptions is how we got the gap theory out of Genesis 1:2, after all.
  3.  I’ve no interest in historic answers that come from theology or worse, philosophy (Traducianism vs Creationism debate, I’m looking at you here.) As I work through this I’m going to be using the Scriptures and reason, not coming to an understanding based on opinions that came from preexisting systems of thought.
  4. I'm after the principle (singular) mechanism here by which we’re guilty of sin, because while a verse may have many applications it only has one meaning. Someone else examining this topic might be inclined to sweep up everything they likes as true and in the end agree with Adam being our federal head and passing to us an inherent corruption, and doing this by imputation, but I’m rejecting this approach as invalid. I want only the simplest, clearest, and most straightforward answer, and I want to dispense with the dead weight of tradition or speculation to get there. The protestant reformation was dealing in exactly this way with a similar problem—the Roman Catholics had mashed in sanctification to justification and it was only because people came along to find out the principle mechanism for their righteousness that we gotten as far as we have.

There. Now that I’ve clearly stated the methodology I’m working from, I think we’re ready for the verse.


 The broader context (Romans 5:12-21):
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The argument without the wandering detours:

Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned… therefore as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

 The verse under discussion by itself:

Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”


There are three phrases here:

1.       Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world

2.       When sin entered, death entered with it

3.       Death spread to all men, because all sinned

The first thing that strikes me about item 3 (1 and 2 are easy to understand and accept) is the notion that death spread to all men. Only the NIV is different with came to all men, (which I suspect is purposely ambiguous) but even still that still seems to suggest an enlarging, an engulfing. Sin grew like bacteria, coming across the fences and infecting everybody. It walked from there to here. That would not be the word I would select if I was trying to convey that at the instant Adam sinned, we sinned together with him, or in him. This word seems to imply instead that as people came into the world sin came with them, which fits better with an inherited notion of sin. That’s a small point that by itself that doesn’t prove much, but it’s worth a passing comment.

Considering the verse as a whole, I think the question which makes the most sense of it is: is this third phrase following from the first two logically or chronologically? Is this an argument or a description? Does this verse mean we sinned with Adam, or does it mean at some point in our past we’ve all sinned and therefore deserve death, and this after Adam? Did Adams sin affect us when he ate, or did the sin of it follow us down throughout history and affected us when we were conceived? Historically this debate has been framed in terms of the propagation of sin, was it immediate with Adam, or was it mediated by time, but that seems to reference Adam more than it does this verse, and for that reason I like framing it in terms of logical vs chronological better.

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