Romans 5:12-21

Mar 1, 2009


This passage is highly structured - so much so, that I will refer the reader to study of the outline above.  One striking aspect of the outline is the apostle’s purposeful insertion of a balanced pair of statements in the exact middle of the text as opposed to waiting one verse and inserting it in the middle of the outline or inserting it slightly earlier so that it would be positioned between points (see green outline text at vs 16).

Another aspect worth mentioning is the balanced omission of names in verses 12 and 14.  Thus, Adam is purposely not named until vs 14 when it would have been naturally expected in vs 12.  At the same time, Paul balances the lack of Adam’s name in vs 12 with the lack of Christ’s name in vs 14.  This serves not only as a balance, but also as a transitory statement to what follows. 

Readers will also note that I have not translated ef w in vs 12 as “because” nor the more literal “upon which” though that would have been a better alternative. Although there are several directions one can take with the exegesis of this verse, I think the apostle hints at his own mind set in his following reasoning which is based upon time (vs 13).  One meaning of this combination listed by Louw & Nida is “when, at the time of.” Therefore, because of the direct contextual connection provided by “for in v13, I take the preposition as a marker of a point of time which is simultaneous to or overlaps with another point of time. It is literally “upon which time” (and I have smoothed this a bit to “at which time”). This translation is consistent with Paul’s previous explanation of death coming through sin in Adam’s case.  It  states that, like Adam, death crossed over into all men at the point when they sinned. Though they themselves become guilty because they themselves sin, even this is not what Paul says is the mediate cause of death.  Paul goes on in 5:13 to explicitly say that the reign of sin was not due to the imputation of sin (there being no Law).  So what is the cause? In Romans 8:17ff, creation, of which humankind is a part, is said to be in bondage to corruption. I believe this is what we have inherited due to Adam’s sin.  The glorious likeness of God in our created image has been corrupted. In Rom 5:12, Paul was recounting the ultimate results results of Adam’s sin to contrast them with Christ’s one act of righteous covenant faithfulness:

a. “just as through one man sin came into the world

b. and through sin, death came,
b’ even so, death crossed over into all men
a’ “upon which” (time or occasion) all men sinned“

What has been taken by some in Rom 5 as a theological truism for the entire race - that we all sinned in Adam and so death passed to all men in that one sin is a misinterpretation.  The misinterpretation only appears to gain some support in Rom 5 by Paul’s purposeful analogy with Christ’s one act of righteousness.  However, these sweeping terms are Pauline statements of ultimate result and causation, not agency.  Adam’s sin did indeed lead to the death of the race, but it was indirect causation, not direct.  In between ultimate cause and ultimate result is the state in which we are born. Humanity, in the flesh (and apart from the Spirit), exists “in bondage to corruption” along with the rest of fallen creation.  It is this bondage to corruption that ensures the crossing over of death and the fear of death to every generation. It is this corruption, inherited from Adam, that causes individuals to miss the mark of God’s glorious image by their very constitution.  Their sinful actions are merely the result of this corrupt state of existence.