Translations: 简体中文 繁體中文

Romans 5:12-21 (web)

Original Sin

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.
5:13 For until the law, sin was in the world;
but sin is not charged when there is no law.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5:19 For as through the one man's disobedience many were made sinners,
even so through the obedience of the one will many be made righteous.
5:20 The law came in besides, that the trespass might abound;
but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly;
5:21 that as sin reigned in death,
even so might grace reign through righteousness
to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Discussion Questions

Do all die because Adam sinned or do all die because each individually sins?
Are all guilty because Adam sinned or because all sinned individually? (Contrast vs 12 and 15)
Is "sin" a substance, an action, an attitude, or some or all of these?
Before the Law and after Adam, could people sin in the same manner as Adam did?
How about now?
In what ways is the gift of righteousness different than the trespass?
In what ways is the result of Adam's sin different from the result of Christ's death?
What benefit came from the addition of the law?
Are you righteous now or is that a future event?


Romans 5b - Sin & Death

Having completed his presentation of the gospel with regards to justification, Paul is going on to speak of living the Christian life, or Sanctification. And as much in chapters 6-8 he'll be talking about the sinful nature, here in the end of Romans 5 he'll speak of the origin of the sinful nature.


Part of of understanding this last section on Romans 5 is understanding what Paul means by "sin" in this context. For if we read ahead into Romans 6 and Romans 7 we note that Paul personifies sin. "Not not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires." Rom 6:12  "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." Rom 7:20

Consequently by "sin" I take it he's referring to the sinful nature. And by "sinning" (the verb form of sin) I take as complying to the desires of one's sinful nature.


Also what is meant by "death" in this context? For there are two kinds of death. There are those who are physically alive, but spiritually dead. "the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives." 1Tim 5:6 "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins" Eph 2:1 And there are those who are physically dead, but spiritually alive. "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." 2Cor 5:8 As well as those who are physically alive, but who are said to have already past from death to life. "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24 Death and life being spiritual in that case.

But for the rest of Romans 5 you will notice that he associates "death" with "condemnation". Now seeing as verses like John 5:24 and much of Romans indicates that believers are not subject to condemnation and yet physically die, the "death" he logically is referring to here is spiritual death and not physical death. Else the idea would be that believers who physically die are condemned, which is not the case.

Spiritual Death through the Sinful Nature

Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin , and in this way death came to all men, because all sinnedó

What Paul is describing here is how sin became part of our nature. Sin, as an entity, was injected into humanity and propagated through the flesh. Notice the correlation between sin and the sinful nature (sarx = flesh) in Romans 7:17-18 "As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." This being the case, I will be interpreting the word "sin" in much of this section of Romans 5 to be referring to the sinful nature.

Everyone dies spritually due to complying with the desires of their sinful nature. Thus it says in Eph 2:1-3 "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." Notice the correlation between spiritual death and a corresponding behavior.

People are spiritually dead not because they were born guilty of sin, but rather because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Rom 3:23, a fact of which Paul had already established earlier in Romans and so need not repeat himself. In fact notice the very first word in Rom 5:12 is "Therefore". He is drawing upon earlier material, and as such one cannot ignore what he already said on the matter.

Sinful Nature, it's just being Human

Rom 5:13,14 for before the law was given, sin (the sinful nature) was in the world. But sin  is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, (spiritual) death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come

I take this first of all to mean simply that the sinful nature was not introduced by the law, but rather the sinful nature is part of human nature, and thus precedes the law. The reason why he might be bringing up that fact is to say that the law is not the problem. Throughout history and today there are people who think they can solve the problem of sin in the world through legislation. But if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that sin is much more ingrained and cannot be done away with through legal regulations.

True, if there were no laws, people could not be reckoned guilty, even though complying with their sinful nature. For there would be nothing they were transgressing against. But again remember what Paul had already pointed out. "(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)" Rom 2:14,15 Thus we find whole societies generally agreeing upon what is right and wrong, because human nature also has a conscience, to which each of us will be held accountable.

Therefore even prior to written law, people became spiritually dead because they did what they knew was wrong, in compliance with their sinful nature, or failed to do what was right. Adam had law. He explicitly knew God's command. But it doesn't take explicit commandments to know right from wrong. And thus all are guilty who comply with the desires of their sinful nature.

The Gift is Unlike the Trespass

Rom 5:15,16 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died (spiritually) by the trespass of the one man, how much more did Godís grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one manís sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

The one sin, the one trespass brought condemnation to Adam's descendants in that his sinful nature was passed down through the flesh through which condemnation came. In fact throughout the New Testament the phrase "sinful nature" is "sarx" in Greek, which is elsewhere translated "flesh". While we're not born guilty of sin, we're born with a sinful nature. And when people comply with the desires of their sinful nature they are condemned. In this way it could be said that the one sin brought condemnation to all.

There are misconceptions concerning what people label "original sin", in which people have explicitly said to me, "God is not just, in human terms", whereas the Bible, speaking to humans, says "God is just" 2Th 1:6a. And thus "fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin." Deuteronomy 24:16 But  "this only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes." Ecc 7:29 This effect being due to the sinful nature.

Some also misread Rom 5:15 to mean that the gift is just like the trespass, whereas it says that that gift is not like the trespass. So there is a danger in drawing too much analogy between the two. Paul is simply pointing out that as Adam is the progenitor of a race of sinners, so also Christ is the progenitor of the righteous.

The Reign of Death and the Reign of Life

Rom 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, (spritual) death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive Godís abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Spiritual death's reign is a matter of choice, as Paul later writes, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires." Rom 6:12 But as we saw in the Eph 2:1-3 passage, the reign of the death is through our sinful nature, Adam being the progenitor of the sinful nature of his descendants. "Reign" itself implies choice as submitting to one's ruler is a matter of choice. But the sinful nature coerces us to submit.

In a similar manner when one is born of God, the new nature coerces us into doing what is right. "And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God." Eze 36:27,28  And "if we endure, we will also reign with Christ." 2Tim 2:12 For concerning the saints it is written, "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Rev 5:10

The End Results of Adam & Christ's Actions

Rom 5:18,19 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Note Paul's usage of the word "result". He's talking about the result, not the process. He's speaking by way of ellipsis with regards to the process. But what is the process, by implication?
leads to
leads to
leads to

But here he's simply pointing to the two ends speaking of the ultimate effect and not the process which led up to that effect.

The Augustinian heresy, as held by a number of sects of Christianity, came from a misinterpretation of these verses. Namely the idea that God holds people accountable for things over which they have no control. In this case they claim that God holds children  accountable for the sins of their father, namely Adam. But as the Bible is clear that God is just and "Children shall not be put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin." Deut 24:16, therefore such an interpretation is unBiblical. Calvinists largely discard God's judicial nature when interpreting the Bible rather than interpreting the Bible in light of God's judicial nature.

Classical Calvinists, like John Gill, hold to an Augustinian theory. Note how he interprets these verses, "though the posterity of Adam are habitually sinners, that is, derive corrupt nature from Adam, yet this is not meant here; but that they are become guilty, through the imputation of his sin to them; for it is by the disobedience of another they are made sinners, which must be by the imputation of that disobedience to them; he sinned, and they sinned in him, when they had as yet no actual existence; which could be no other way, than by imputation, as he was reckoned and accounted their head and representative, and they reckoned and accounted in him, and so have sinned in him."

Thus such people hold that God holds people accountable for things of which they hadn't actually done wrong, things of which they had no control over, things that occurred even before they were born. That is not justice. That is prejudice. That is injustice. And consequently such a view is anti-Biblical, anti-Christlike. Not only this but they interpret other passages to indicate that God imputes guilt to Christ, which is contrary to God's character.
"Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty." Ex 23:7

 "Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocentó the LORD detests them both." Pr 17:15
As such, God detests Calvinism. Consequently any interpretation which compromises God's judicial nature or any of God's character is to be discarded, and those who hold such interpretations to be discredited as those who portray a false image of God.

Made Sinners versus Made Righteous

The many being "made" sinners is speaking of the result, not the process. And note that he's not saying the God makes us sinners, but rather that through Adam's disobedience we ended up as sinners.

There are those who misinterpret Rom 5:18,19 to mean that a person is made into a sinner in the exact same way that a person is made righteous. Now the Bible teaches us that the way a person is made righteous is that he is first of all justified, forgiven of sin, through faith in the blood of Christ. Such a person is reckoned guiltless. Then, having been saved, and his destiny secure, for God "set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." 2Cor 5:5, the Holy Spirit then coerces him into doing what is right. Thus righteous behavior is characteristic of those born of God. In fact "Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God" 1John 3:10a Because doing what is right is in the nature of those born of God.

But there are those who claim that people become sinners in a similar manner, namely God first reckons guilt to them and then gives them a sinful nature which leads to unrighteous behavior. That's like portraying God as reckoning guilt to the innocent and then putting them in jail so that the environment there would cause them to become bad people. Obviously such a portrayal makes God out to be unjust, and indeed they will admit that in their theology "God is unjust, in human terms". (In fact if God were unjust in this way then Christ wouldn't have had to die. For Christ's death appeased God's judicial nature. But if God reckoned guilt prejudicially, he could have just as well forgiven sin prejudicially, without having to appease his judicial nature if indeed he had no judicial nature to begin with. The Augustinian heresy denigrates God's character.)

Rather the process goes like this:

Adam past down a sinful nature
People are guilty when they comply with that nature
Having then sinned, they are condemned

Christ died for sins.
When they come to faith in Christ, people are forgiven of sin
Having been justified, they are born of God, given the Holy Spirit
The new nature coerces them into righteous living.

So while Paul was making an analogy between the end effects of what Adam did  to what Christ did, how each led to the end effect was different. Thus one should not read too much into these verses of how these end effects came about. Among the hermeneutical errors Calvinists make in this whole section is to take it out of the context of what Paul had already stated in the first four and a half chapters of Romans, and to read too much into the analogy Paul is making without interpreting it in light of God's character.

Law Increases Sin

Rom 5:20,21 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul later describes how the law causes sin to increase with regards to his own experience in chapter 7. "Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death." Rom 7:9-11 For example, "I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.' But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire." Rom 7:7b-8

But if the law, though itself being good, provokes our flesh to sin, why introduce it? It was introduced because people need to realize they need to be saved. We all need to recognize that we are sinners, that we commit sin and therefore are guilty, subject to condemnation. Remember Paul previously wrote, "through the law we become conscious of sin." Rom 3:20b Therefore "the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Gal 3:24 For Christ died for sins and he says, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources