A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 5:12-14. a).
Adam and Christ are introduced.
Paul begins with a sentence he never completes. His opening words are *Therefore, just as sin entered…*, but the corresponding words we expect (‘so also…’, as in the sentence structure of verses 18, 19 and 21) never come. What he was intending to write we can only guess. But the symmetry would require something like this: ‘Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death came to all because all shared his sin, so also through one man righteousness entered the world, and life through righteousness, and so life came to all because all shared his righteousness.’ Indeed, this is more or less what Paul does write later. Verses 18-19 may be regarded as completing the sentence which he began in verse 12. Instead, however, he breaks off his argument in order to explain and justify (in verses 13-14) what he has just written (in verse 12).
The topic of verse 12 is sin and death, and in it Paul describes three downward steps or deteriorating stages in human history, from one man sinning to all men dying.
First, *sin entered the world through one man*. Adam is not named but is obviously meant. Paul is not concerned with the origin of evil in general, but only with how it invaded the world of human beings. It entered through one man, that is, through his disobedience. Eve was also implicated (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13f.; cf. Ecclus 25:24), although Paul leaves her out of the picture here, because he holds Adam responsible.
Secondly, *death* then entered the world *through sin*. As Adam was the door through which sin entered, so sin was the door through which death entered. This is an allusion to Genesis 2:17 and 3:19, where death (both physical and spiritual) is said to have been the penalty for disobedience (cf. 1:32; 6:23). I will come back later to modern questions about historicity of Adam and the origin of death.
Thirdly, *in this way death came to all men, because all sinned* (12). The apostle is still handling the relation between sin and death, but now he moves on from their presence in *one man* to their presence in *all men* (the human race). Moreover, he sees a similarity between these two situations (*houtos, in this way*). This may refer to the essential connection between sin and death: as death came to one man because he sinned, so death came to all men because they sinned. Or it may refer to the agency through which both happened: as through one man sin and death ‘entered’ the world (*eiselthen), so through one man they ‘spread’ throughout the world (*dielthen*).
Here then are the three stages – from Adam’s sin to Adam’s death, to universal death due to universal sin. But what is the meaning of the third statement that *death came to all men, because all sinned*? In what sense have all sinned so that all die?
Grammatically speaking, there are two possible answers to this question. Either *all sinned* by copying and so repeating Adam’s sin, or *all sinned* when Adam sinned and were included in his sinning. The first would be a case of imitation (all sinned *like* Adam), and the second a case of participation (all sinned *in and with* Adam). The first explanation is usually associated with the name of Pelagius, the early fifth-century British monk, who denied original sin, taught a form of self-salvation, and was opposed by Augustine. In Pelagius’ view Adam was simply the first sinner, and everybody ever since has followed his bad example. Moreover, Paul’s actual language could justly be understood in this way. His two words *all sinned* (*pantes hemarton*) are precisely those which he has used in 3:23 when affirming that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. As John Murray has written, verse 12 of itself is compatible with a Pelagian interpretation, and if Paul had entertained the Pelagian view he could have stated it admirably well in these terms…. If Paul meant that death passed upon all because all men were guilty of actual transgression, this is the way he would have said it. At least no more suitable way could be considered’. Consequently many have held this position, not least because of the difficulties inherent in the alternative view. For example C.K.Barrett writes straightforwardly: ‘That is, all men sin (3:23), and all men die because they sin.’ Other scholars make much of the use of Adam in the literature of Judaism at that time. Take 2 Esdras: ‘A grain of evil seed was sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning, and how much wickedness hath it brought forth unto this time!’ ‘O thou Adam, what hast thou done? for though it was thou that sinned, the evil is not fallen on thee alone, but upon all of us that came of thee.’ ‘In the light of contemporary and near-contemporary Jewish thought,’ writes John Ziesler, ‘it is more likely that Adam is Everyman (and Everywoman), so that to say that Adam sinned is a way of saying that everybody sins. Everyone is his or her own Adam.’ Others, wanting to preserve a stronger link between Adam’s sin and the sinning of his posterity, have stressed the transmission of his depraved nature to them: ‘If they sinned, their sin was due in part to tendencies inherited from Adam.’
Tomorrow: Romans 5:12-14 Adam and Christ are introduced (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.