Some Q&A on Romans 5, Original Sin, & Guilt

Can death in the passage be taken as “consequence” instead of guilt in Romans 5?

I do not think taking death merely as the consequence (and thus limiting the use of the word to physical cessation of life) does adequate justice to the passage. Douglas Moo writes, “But what does Paul mean by death here? He may refer to physical death only, since “death” in vs. 14 seems to have this meaning. But the passage goes on to contrast death with eternal life (vs. 21). Moreover, in vv. 16 and 18 Paul uses “condemnation” in the same way that he uses death here. These points suggest that Paul may refer to spiritual death: the estrangement from God that is the result of sin and that, if not healed through Christ, will lead to eternal death…Paul may focus on physical death as the evidence, the outward manifestation of this total death, or, better, he may simply have in mind this death in both its physical and spiritual aspects.” (Romans, 320) Because of contextual reasons, Thomas Schreiner also refuses to see the death as a mere physical result of sin (Romans, 272-273). It has both spiritual and physical connotations within the Pauline corpus. My main reason for rejecting the view that death is simply the result of sinning (“we all like Adam physically die because we sin”) is verse 19 (“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”). Utilizing forensic language, it would seem that the logic of the verse is that Adam’s sin affected all of humanity in the sense that his sin served to taint and spoil those who subsequently follow after him. They, because of their solidarity with him, were made (κατασταθήσονται) like him. We’re not sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re sinners (See Schreiner for a discussion on this pg. 290-292). It likely is a both/and rather than an either/or. Commenting on Romans 5 being one’s actual sins or Adam’s sin as the fountain head for our own, N.T. Wright notes, “Paul’s meaning must in any case be both that an entail of sinfulness has spread throughout the human race from its first beginnings and that each individual has contributed their own share to it. Paul offers no further clue as to how the first of these actually works or how the two interrelate.” I also find a deep theological issue with merely viewing our sinning as analogous to Adams. Like Adam, we sin and die. Cornelius P. Venema writes, “If we were to interpret Paul to be teaching that death reigns over all human beings because they all have sinned, we would seem to be compelled by Paul’s argument in this passage to say that life reigns over all believers because they all have obeyed like Christ. Nothing is more obvious in this passage than that there is a similar modus operandi in terms of the way human beings become guilty by virtue of the disobedience of the one man, Adam, and the way believers become righteous by virtue of the obedience of the one, Christ.” There’s more going on within the passage than “we like Adam sin and die.”

How do we interpret Paul’s contextual usage of all and many?

I interpret them in a universalizing fashion without affirming universalism. The results of each important man’s obedience or lack thereof have epochal significance for the human race. There’s an extended parallelism between the two figure heads and their works. Just as the disobedience of Adam brought sin and death upon all, so the obedience of Christ brings righteousness and life to all who benefit from it.

Is Paul including infants in his sweeping statements concerning mankind?

As long as they’re in Adam, I think they would be included within his sweeping statement. I suppose one could argue that you’re not guilty and accountable for Adam’s sin unless you yourself sin. I think that would be a tough sell to make though from the text. I discuss an age of accountability elsewhere.

Could the fall have altered the human condition and not human nature?

It’s possible but it’s not what Scripture teaches in its full sense concerning anthropology. I think the doctrine of total depravity explains the full breadth of Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Michael Horton in his book For Calvinism describes the misunderstandings and true understanding of the doctrine. He said, “As understood in Reformation theology, [total depravity] does not mean that each of us has committed every possible sin or that everyone is equally depraved in terms of their outward actions. What it does mean is that everyone is equally guilty and condemned and that there is no aspect of our existence that is unscathed or open to God’s grace. No less than our bodies and desires, our mind, heart, and will are under the command of sin and death. The “total” is total depravity refers to its extensiveness, not intensiveness: that is, to the all-encompassing scope of our fallenness. It does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be, but that we are all guilty and corrupt to such an extent that there is no hope of pulling ourselves together, brushing ourselves off, and striving (with the help of grace) to overcome God’s judgment and our own rebellion.”

The core of the doctrine is that sin has affected every part of our being in such a way that there is no spiritual good in us that could merit any salvific reward from the hand of God. We have all gone astray and preferred ourselves over the glory of God. Though totally depraved, humanity can still do good things in the eyes of men. But, their altruism is not worthy of heavenly value because it is not undergirded by a soul-satisfying contentment in the person of Jesus and aimed at the Christ-exalting glory of God (Rom. 14:10). Man may be righteous coram hominibus (before fellow humans) but certainly not coram deo (before God).

As a result of the Fall, man is spiritually and morally corrupt before God unable to achieve any salvific righteousness before him (Gen. 6:5-6, 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Psa. 14:1-3, 51:5, 58:6, 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Luke 11:3; John 5:42; Rom. 1:29-32, 3:9-23; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3, 4:17-19; 1 John 1:8). The extent of sin’s reach is unequivocally total covering every aspect of man (heart, mind, soul, body, spirit, intellect, will, etc.). Man possesses real guilt for their sin and the sin of their progenitors. Scripture couldn’t be more clear concerning the nature of humanity. Humanity’s life apart from God is described in miserable and hopeless terms from cover to cover within Scripture: profoundly vulnerable (Ezek. 16: 1-14; Deut. 10:17-18; Psa. 62:4-5, 146:5-9; Isa. 54:4-6; Lam. 1:1-2; Eph. 5:25-31), deeply afflicted (Luke 13:10-16; Exod. 15:26; Psa. 38; Psa. 103:3-5; Psa. 147:3; Isa. 53:1-6; Ezek. 34:1-16; Mark 2:1-12; John 5:1-14; Jas. 5:13-18), poor and destitute (Exod. 23:6-13; Lev. 25; Deut. 15; 1 Sam. 2:7-8; Isa. 3:14-16, 32:6, 61:1-2; Luke 14:21; Jas. 2:5-6; Rom. 2:4, 9:23, 10:12, 11:33; Eph. 1:7, 15, 2:4,7, 3:13,16; Phil. 4:19; Col. 1:27, 2:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:15; 2 Cor. 2:9, 2 Cor. 6:10; Tit. 3:6; 1 Pet. 1:3-4), weary and fatigued (Deut. 5:12-15; Matt. 11:28-30; Heb. 4:1-11), and needing rescue from captivity, slavery, and danger (Isa. 61:1-2; John 8:31-36; Gel. 4:1-7; 5:1; Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 2:19; Rom. 8:21; 2 Pet. 2:9; 2 Sam. 22:18-20; Psa. 31:4; Psa. 91, 107:1-16; Isa. 50:1-2; Rom. 7:24, 1:4, 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:18). The reality and extent of sin is an experiential fact of existence.

Do other Jewish writers other than Paul (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15:20-27) link Adam’s sin with humanity as a whole?

Various Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal texts link Adam’s disobedience with a universal punishment of death.

  • Apocalypse of Moses-Adam said to Eve, “Why have you wrought destruction among us and brought upon us great wrath, which is death gaining rule over all our race?” (14:2)
  • 4 Ezra- Ezra speaking to God says: “And you laid upon him one commandment of yours; but he transgressed it, and immediately you appointed death for him and his descendants.” (3:7)
  • 2 Baruch-“When Adam sinned and death was decreed against those who were to be born, the multitude of those who would be born was numbered.” (23:4)
  • 2 Baruch- “Adam sinned first and brought death upon all who were not in his own time.” (54:15)…“For when he transgressed, untimely death came into being. . .” (56:6).
  • 4 Ezra 7:118-199- “O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants. For what good is it to us, if an immortal time has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death?”

The debate will be did they share the same nuanced viewed of death as Paul (death as both physical cessation of life and also a spiritual state).


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