I received an email from a friend yesterday. He wanted my thoughts on Romans 5.12-21. That might have been a mistake because I wrote him a long, rambling response. I have thought about this passage a lot and I cannot divorce my thinking on 5.12-21 from 1.18-32, so I had a lot to say about both passages. Since I spent time writing these notes I thought I may as well post them here too. Of course, what follows is the body of the email (free from the personal greetings):
I have done quite a lot of thinking on this passage. That is not to say that I have resolved all the tensions present, but I’l share my thoughts and you can let me know what you think.
First, I think it is important to realize that 5.12-21 is not the first time Paul has dealt with this subject. It is the first time it is explicit. I am convinced by the exegesis of Morna Hooker and James D.G. Dunn that 1.18-32 is framed by the narrative of Genesis 1-3. Quickly: Adam (and Eve) had direct access to the Creator and the Creator has made himself known to Adam (v. 19). “Since the creation” is another way of saying “at the beginning,” which includes Adam, the first man in Paul’s worldview (v. 20a). Since the Creator made known all of his “attributes” even then Adam was without excuse (v. 20b). Adam knew God, but he did not honor God nor show thankfulness to God in Eden when he refused to heed to the commands given to him (v. 21a). When he joined Eve in entertaining the serpent’s lie they “became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (v. 21b). Rather than allowing the Creator to teach them the difference between good and evil they partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil seeking to be like God; thereby, “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22). The language regarding the exchange of the glory of the incorruptible God to images of man, birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures (v. 23) finds it source in the LXX of Genesis 1.20-27 where humans are made in the image of God being given command over all the classes of animals mentioned here. Therefore, Paul is framing Adam and Eve’s disobedience as honoring creation (embodied in the serpent) over the Creator. This lead to their punishment (v. 24 speaks of dishonored bodies, which is interesting considering the “nakedness” scene of Genesis 3) and the reason for their punishment (vv. 24-25). I think this is why Paul begins his list of offenses against God with mention of same-sex eroticism, because he has been thinking of a narrative wherein we find the “image of God” given to humans from God for creation as “man and woman made he them” being exchanged for people choosing to ignore the opposite gender which creates a fullness of human existence in favor of a self-image as depicted in people who share your gender. Then he moves to other actions that deface the image of God.
Now this is not to say that 1.18-32 is merely a retelling of Genesis 1-3. It is about humanity as a whole, but I think it “framed” by Genesis 1-3. In other words, Paul is talking about the erosion of the image of God in humans in general across time and place using the outline of the story of the “fall” of humanity’s “first parents” as he would have understood them. This frames 5.12-21.
When Paul arrives at 5.12-21 he has spoken of how God has forgiven and reconciled with people through Jesus. He mentions the Spirit has been given to “us.” This will matter in Romans 8.1-23 where he explains how this Spirit will result in resurrection life as it did for Jesus himself. In the present though he unfolds his thoughts from 1.18-32 using the “figure” Adam explicitly.
I read v. 12 differently from our Reformed friends. I do not see this as a passage on “original sin,” but rather Paul sees Adam as the first man who opens the door through which all humans inevitably follow. Adam sins, death is the result of sin (ala Genesis 2), death spreads to everyone (this may have two parts in Paul’s thinking: (1) because everyone will sin like Adam and (2) because Adam’s exile barred humans from the so-called Tree of Life meaning that the proverbial “Fountain of Youth” was no longer available to his descendants), and death spread “because” (ἐφʼ) everyone sins. In other words, like 1.18-32, Adam is the prototype, but all humans reenact the Adam story. There is not a human born (other than Jesus) who avoids this and therefore they must die because that is the penalty (something Paul states explicitly in 1.32).
I understand v. 13 to mean that the penalty for sin–death–was enforced even if they did not have the Law (of Moses) to guide them. This doesn’t mean that sin disappeared when the Law was given (or when someone comes to know the Law), but that the penalty is present whether or not they know the Law. When Paul says sin was not “recorded,” or “accounted for,” (ἐλλογεῖται) I am not quite sure what he means. It is clear form v. 14 that the penalty of sin is death and that this penalty was enforced whether people knew the Law. What was not being enforced is unknown to me. It could be that the sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17 where Luke presents Paul as preaching an eschatological message where God has overlooked sin but calls everyone to repent now is an accurate reflection of Pauline thinking on God’s mercy toward the nations that must come to submit and obey the God of Israel now that God has chosen his messiah (Romans 1.1-17 comes to mind).
In v. 14 Paul seems to unpack v. 13 as I imagined. He does emphasize that it doesn’t matter if one has sinned “in the likeness of the transgression of Adam” (ἐπὶ τῷ ὁμοιώματι τῆς παραβάσεως Ἀδάμ). At face value I assume that this goes back to 1.18-32 and provides a reason for the long list of sins–even if one’s sin against God isn’t like Adam’s (denying Creator for creation) there are dozens of opportunities to sin.
In semi-Lutheran fashion I take vv. 15-16 to mean that everyone has entered the gateway opened by Adam and that everyone can enter the gateway opened by Jesus, yet the difference seems to be participation in the same action of sinning like Adam or “participation” in the obedience of Jesus, but not by one’s actions, per se. I am not a universalist, but this line comes about as close as one can get: the many (οἱ πολλοὶ) are effected by Adam and the many are effected by Jesus (τοὺς πολλοὺς).
The wording of v. 16 is a tad difficult for me to interpret. The gist is that the gift of grace is different that the penalty of transgression. One brings judgment and the other brings justification. I don’t know what to do with the line “from many transgressions” (ἐκ πολλῶν παραπτωμάτων).
In vv. 17-18 Adam and Jesus as juxtaposed as the immediate sources of death and new life. Again, it sounds almost universalist: condemnation to all people (εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατάκριμα) and life to all people (εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς·) in v. 18. I assume that Paul is presenting this as an opportunity though based on what he said earlier in the passage and how he frames things in 1.18-32. I think he wants to compare the universal opportunity to sin and therefore die for the descendants of Adam to the universal opportunity to receive grace, righteousness, and life to those same people. The theological implications of these statements are complex!
In v. 19 the many were made sinner because of Adam (aorist tense) and the many will be made righteous because of Jesus’ obedience (future tense). Again, if all humans are included here, this sounds universalistic. If one is automatically included in the first group without having to participate through personal disobedience then it is hard to see how one can avoid reading the second group as being automatically included without expressing faith.
Finally, I take vv. 20-21 to be saying that the role and function of the Law is to make known transgression, to name it, and to provide a place to grace. When the Law confronts sin grace becomes available. I know I have seen a blog post by Tim Gombis where he suggest that this has a particular context for the church in Rome rather than a universal message, i.e., I think he means that when Jews brought their Law to non-Jews there was something good about this in that it names transgressions making room for the gospel, but I can’t locate that post now.
Excellent commentary. I like that you’ve drawn it back to the ‘Image of God’, which it leads me too. I’ve been thinking alot about ‘Image of God’ recently. My view of Imago Dei is shifting from seeing this as an ontic thing innate to man, to being a covenant thing, where it is a choice of God but bound by a covenant relationship.
In that sense your description of the sins makes complete sense; forgoing a relationship with the creator (which rightfully lionize and esteems the creator) in favour of an idolatrous one with creation.
Now Imago Dei is an ontic thing innate to man, than esteeming man is not wrong. However, if Imago Dei is a particular type of covenant relationship between man and his creator (based on righteousness, holiness, obedience) esteeming man is idolatry, but esteeming man with a right relationship to his creator (and evangelism) is not because Imago Dei is limiting its esteem for only those men in a right relationship to creator. (Some might argue [Gen 9:6] refuts this, but I don’t think so. A live man can have his relationship to God restored, a dead man cannot – so even in sinful man it is about restoring a right relationship to God, or Imago Dei).
This has implications for the Christ/Adam parallel. Before Christ’s mission, there were no ‘Christians’ only Israelites, Judeans, Jews by citizenship, Jews by conversion, and Jews by name. Christ had a right relationship to God (using this covenant view of Imago Dei) and so was the (potential) progenitor of us all in bridging creation to God and God to creation. This is no different than Adam, except Adam broke covenant with God, thus breaking it for us all.
When Paul says “Free Gift” he’s speaking of ‘salvation’ not ‘faith’ (sorry Calvinists!) so Vs. 16 “Free gift (of salvation) is not like the result of that one man’s sin (salvation is the exhibition of Grace mentioned in Vs 15). Thus the ‘one brings judgment and the other brings justification’ dilemma is this:
Adams sin brought judgement to Adam, but because of that ONE sin, many others sinned as well, many times – and thus harvested (many) judgement on themselves. So from one sin came many judgements (of condemnation). This is a one to many mapping. Compare this to Christ. After many judgements, many condemnations, one man’s faithfulness, covers those very many sins, and re-established one grace, one salvation (one body, one faith, one baptism). Adam’s sin lead many to sin, in many different ways. Christ made that diversity of man (and sin) go away, one in Christlikeness, and the same standing before God. This is a many to one mapping (and high school math, functions and relations all over again) This is how Christ’s work was greater than Adams – Adam was a one to many mapping, and Christ was a many to one mapping.
Another possibility for the “they” of Romans 1.
The dispersed Gentiles of Genesis 11. In the OT narrative, they represent the “nations”, those in outer darkness, those who worship the created “gods” and not the creator God, those who God basically had to throw up His hands after quite some many years and say,”Alright, have it your way, see what it’s like W/O Me” and in Egypt we have lots of secular evidence they did worship gods with animals serving the role wooden idols did elsewhere and Egypt had a powerful influence on Jewish “theological dialectics”.
Bryan, I like what you have to say here but I am not sure about your view of v12. I’m not Reformed and have never liked the idea of “original sin”. I was taught it in Catholic grade school in the 60’s (I don’t know what they teach today) . Your understanding of v12 seems to agree with Barrett. It would solve some problems for me to see it this way but I just don’t think that is what Paul is intending to say. The reasons have to do with v18 picking up and starting over the thought began then interrupted in v12. Also the effect of the whole Adam/Christ, one/many-all parallel. It’s getting late so I sorry I can’t go get into more detail now. I would really rather see it your way but just can’t get there at this time.
I agree that Adam broke the first covenant which provided the personal relationship with the Elohim. This broken covenant provided the definition of sin. The woman was the first to take part of the fruit but she was not in covenant therefor this is why Adam is accounted for it. I like the way you reference this covenant as a bridge which was destoyed with Adam breaking the first covenant by breaking to first commadment. It is silly to say Adam caused many to sin by passing on a sin nature when the only reason many became sinners was because commandments was added. These commandments were the structural components to rebuild this bridged which everytime Yahshua was tempted and overcome it added a piece to the structure till it was completed. This bridge is the only path to judgement and without it man could never be again in Eden with a person relationship with the Elohim. It was the works of Yahshua that restored this path which is complete .
This is salvation and the only way to lose it would be to deny the builder of it at judgement claiming some other builder completed it. Your works,your church’s works and or believing satan built it.
While this is the most important part of the good news preached from Adam till present there is still promises that must be kept and the fact that most cant rightly divide the promises from Grace it has caused many to claim that salvation is by works by mixing the promises and has led to a replacement theology where Abrahamic promises regiven to Israel are no longer of obedience and grace.
Romans was written to those of then remenant of Judah(southern kingdom) to remind them of what was written in the prophets that even though Israel(northern kingdom) was dispersed amongst the then nations they were going to be grafted back in to the covenant . It also deals with grace that was lost with Adam but restored by Yahshua which the gentiles that the exiled are dispersed among wll take part in causing jealousy.
This is my favorite book of the NT with Hebrews coming close 2nd but only because without the understanding of Romans first Hebrews can be misunderstood. Romans also addresses that the oral law doesnt have authority over any of the promises and its ordinances on food, drink ,sabbath, holy days are just meant to divide the people of the promise and to block all others . There is much more in it that if used in context other letters of Paul can become clearer.
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