What Does All Mean in Romans 5?

gnhnfThere’s an issue in Romans 5, especially for the more Calvinistic among us or really anyone who denies everyone will be saved in the end. The issue within the passage is “what does all mean?” Does not “all” mean all without exception? Some like to say “all means all without exception and that’s all it means” and similar statements. Unfortunately, this is incorrect. All sometimes means all without exception (Rom. 3:23) but many times it does not carry that meaning. The context of the Bible passage determines the meaning. Not our theology or traditions. We ought to get our theology and traditions FROM the verses; not place our theology and tradition on top of the verses. I will show why all and many cannot mean all without exception. I can best show this in Romans 5:12-21 by listing it out with the phrase all without exception made explicit.

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men without exception because all without exception sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 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.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many [or all without exception] 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 [or all without exception]. 16 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. 17 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.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men without exception, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men without exception. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many [or all without exception] were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many [or all without exception] will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let me list where the problem arises by reading all and many as all men without exception.

  1. Death comes to all men without exception. No problem.
  2. All men without exception are sinners. No problem.
  3. All men without exception die as a result of Adam’s transgression. No problem.
  4. Therefore God’s grace and gift through Jesus Christ abounded to all men without exception. May be a problem but nothing yet.
  5. Judgment falls on all men without exception. No problem.
  6. All men without exception receive justification of life. IMMENSE PROBLEM.
  7. All men without exception were made sinners. No problem.
  8. All men without exception will be made righteous. IMMENSE PROBLEM.

bgfdbdtfThe problem in the passage with reading all and many as all men without exception is it says too much. It leads us into theological absurdity and even heresy. The heresy of course would be universalism which is the idea that all men with be saved. Hell will have occupants and currently does have occupants. Universalism is false.

Here is a better way to understand all within the passage.

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all Adam’s descendants because all Adam’s descendants sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 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.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many [or all Adam’s descendants] 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 [or all Christ’s descendants 16 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. 17 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.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all Adam’s descendants, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all Christ’s descendants. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many [or all Adam’s descendants] were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many [ or all Christ’s descendants] will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It makes better sense to read it this way. Now this may seem to someone as playing fast and loose with the Bible to save our theological belief. It is not. We had a good reason to read the passage in the second way because the first way of reading it led to something we know isn’t true. God does not contradict himself. The Word is true. Here are three reasons why you should read Romans 5:12-21 in the second way.

  1. If you read it the first way, it says too much and affirms universalism. Universalism is wrong.
  2. The passage tells you twice that Christ’s work is different than Adam’s. But the free gift is not like the trespass (vv. 15 & 16). Whereas what Adam did applies to every single person that comes after him, Christ’s work does not apply to every single person who comes after him. There’s a difference between the work of our representatives.
  3. The parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 makes it explicit where the Romans 5 passage is a little unclear without proper interpretive work. I listed it below. Both passages are written by the Apostle Paul.

1 Corinthians 15:22-23, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

Where do all people die? All people in Adam die.

Where are all made alive? All those IN CHRIST will be made alive. Paul’s language of “in Christ” is his way time and time again of referring to Christians. This is especially easy to see in the books of Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians.

Now, in verse 22, those who are made alive are described by the word all. How are they described in verse 23? It is made explicit—those who are Christ’s. In Adam, all Adam’s descendants die, and in Christ, all who belong to Him live.

 

 

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