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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 5 - Verse 12

Verses 12-21. This passage has been usually regarded as the most difficult part of the New Testament. It is not the design of these Notes to enter into a minute criticism of contested points like this. They who wish to see a full discussion of the passage, may find it in the professedly critical commentaries; and especially in the commentaries of Tholuck and of Professor Stuart on the Romans. The meaning of the passage in its general bearing is not difficult; and probably the whole passage would have been found far less difficult if it had not been attached to a philosophical theory on the subject of man's sin, and if a strenuous and indefatigable effort had not been made to prove that it teaches what it was never designed to teach. The plain and obvious design of the passage is this— to show one of the benefits of the doctrine of justification by faith. The apostle had shown

(1.) that that doctrine produced peace, Ro 5:1

(2.) That it produces joy in the prospect of future glory, Ro 5:2

(3.) That it sustained the soul in afflictions;

(a) by the regular tendency of afflictions under the gospel,

Ro 5:3,4; and

(b) by the fact that the Holy Ghost was imparted to the believer.

(4.) That this doctrine rendered it certain that we should be saved, because Christ had died for us, Ro 5:6; because this was the highest expression of love, Ro 5:7,8; and because, if we had been reconciled when thus alienated, we should be saved now that we are the friends of God, Ro 5:9,10.

(5.) That it led us to rejoice in God himself; produced joy in his presence, and in all his attributes. He now proceeds to show the bearing on that great mass of evil which had been introduced into the world by sin, and to prove that the benefits of the atonement were far greater than the evils which had been introduced by the acknowledged effects of the sin of Adam. "The design is to exalt our views of the work of Christ, and of the plan of justification through him, by comparing them with the evil consequences of the sin of our first father, and by showing that the blessings in question not only extend to the removal of these evils, but far beyond this; so that the grace of the gospel has not only abounded, but superabounded." (Prof. Stuart.) In doing this the apostle admits, as an undoubted and well understood fact,

1. That sin came into the world by one man, and death as the consequence, Ro 5:12.

2. That death had passed on all; even on those who had not the light of revelation, and the express commands of God, Ro 5:13,14.

3. That Adam was the figure, the type of him that was to come; that there was some sort of analogy or resemblance between the results of his act, and the results of the work of Christ. That analogy consisted in the fact that the effects of his doings did not terminate on himself, but extended to numberless other persons, and that it was thus with the work of Christ, Ro 5:14. But he shows,

4. That there were very material and important differences in the two cases. There was not a perfect parallelism. The effects of the work of Christ were far more than simply to counteract the evil introduced by the sin of Adam. The differences between the effect of his act and the work of Christ are these:

(1.) The sin of Adam led to condemnation. The work of Christ has

an opposite tendency, Ro 5:15.

 

(2.) The condemnation which came from the sin of Adam was the

result of one offence. The work of Christ was to deliver from

many offences, Ro 5:16.

 

(3.) The work of Christ was far more abundant and overflowing in

its influence. It extended deeper and farther. It was more than

a compensation for the evils of the fall, Ro 5:17.

 

5. As the act of Adam threw its influence over all men to secure their condemnation, so the work of Christ was fitted to affect all men, Jews and Gentiles, in bringing them into a state by which they might be delivered from the fall, and restored to the favour of God. It was in itself adapted to produce far more and greater benefits than the crime of Adam had clone evil; and was thus a glorious plan, just fitted to meet the actual condition of a world of sin; and to repair the evils which apostasy had introduced. It had thus the evidence that it originated in the benevolence of God, and that it was adapted to the human condition, Ro 5:18-21.

Verse 12. Wherefore. (dia touto). On this account. This is not an inference from what has gone before, but a continuance of the design of the apostle to show the advantages of the plan of justification by faith; as if he had said, "The advantages of that plan have been seen in our comfort and peace, and in its sustaining power in afflictions. Further, the advantages of the plan are seen in regard to this, that it is applicable to the condition of man in a world where the sin of one man has produced so much woe and death. On this account also it is a matter of joy. It meets the ills of a fallen race; and it is therefore a plan adapted to man." Thus understood, the connexion and design of the passage is easily explained. In respect to the state of things into which man is fallen, the benefits of this plan may be seen, as adapted to heal the maladies, and to be commensurate with the evils which the apostasy of one man brought upon the world. This explanation is not that which is usually given to this place, but it is that which seems to me to be demanded by the strain of the apostle's reasoning. The passage is elliptical, and there is a necessity of supplying something to make out the sense.

As. (wsper). This is the form of a comparison. But the other part of the comparison is deferred to Ro 5:18. The connexion evidently requires us to understand the other part of the comparison of the work of Christ. In the rapid train of ideas in the mind of the apostle, this was deferred to make room for explanations, (Ro 5:13-17.) "As by one man sin entered into the world, etc., so by the work of Christ a remedy has been provided, commensurate with the evils. As the sin of one man had such an influence, so the work of the Redeemer has an influence to meet and to counteract those evils." The passage in Ro 5:13-17 is therefore to be regarded as a parenthesis thrown in for the purpose of making explanations, and to show how the cases of Adam and of Christ differed from each other.

By one man, etc. By means of one man; by the crime of one man. His act was the occasion of the introduction of all sin into all the world. The apostle here refers to the well-known historical fact, (Ge 3:6,7) without any explanation of the mode or cause of this. He adduced it as a fact that was well known; and evidently meant to speak of it not for the purpose of explaining the mode, or even of making this the leading or prominent topic in the discussion. His main design is not to speak of the manner of the introduction of sin, but to show that the work of Christ meets and removes well-known and extensive evils. His explanations, therefore, are chiefly confined to the work of Christ. He speaks of the introduction, the spread, and the effects of sin, not as having any theory to defend on that subject, not as designing to enter into a minute description of the case, but as it was manifest on the face of things, as it stood on the historical record, and as it was understood and admitted by mankind. Great perplexity has been introduced by forgetting the scope of the apostle's argument here, and by supposing that he was defending a peculiar theory on the subject of the introduction of sin; whereas nothing is more foreign to his design. He is showing how the plan of justification meets well-understood and acknowledged universal evils. Those evils he refers to just as they were seen, and admitted to exist. All men see them, and feel them, and practically understand them. The truth is, that the doctrine of the fall of man, and the prevalence of sin and death, do not belong peculiarly to Christianity, any more than the introduction and spread of disease does to the science of the healing art. Christianity did not introduce sin; nor is it responsible for it. The existence of sin and woe belongs to the race; appertains equally to all systems of religion, and is a part of the melancholy history of man, whether Christianity be true or false. The existence and extent of sin and death are not affected if the infidel could show that Christianity was an imposition. They would still remain. The Christian religion is just one mode of proposing a remedy for well-known and desolating evils; just as the science of medicine proposes a remedy for diseases which it did not introduce, and which could not be stayed in their desolations, or modified, if it could be shown that the whole science of healing was pretension and quackery. Keeping this design of the apostle in view, therefore, and remembering that he is not defending or stating a theory about the introduction of sin, but that he is explaining the way in which the work of Christ delivers from a deep-felt universal evil, we shall find the explanation of this passage disencumbered of many of the difficulties with which it has been thought usually to be invested.

By one man. By Adam. See Ro 5:14. It is true that sin was literally introduced by Eve, who was first in the transgression, Ge 3:6; 1 Ti 2:14. But the apostle evidently is not explaining the precise mode in which sin was introduced, or making this his leading point. He therefore speaks of the introduction of sin in a popular sense, as it was generally understood. The following reasons may be suggested why the man is mentioned, rather than the woman, as the cause of the introduction of sin.

(1.) It was the natural and usual way of expressing such an event. We say that man sinned, that man is redeemed, man dies, etc. We do not pause to indicate the sex in such expressions. So in this, he undoubtedly meant to say that it was introduced by the parentage of the human race.

(2.) The name Adam, in Scripture, was given to the created pair, the parents of the human family, a name designating their earthly origin. Ge 5:1,2, "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called THEIR name Adam." The name Adam, therefore, used in this connexion, (Ro 5:14,) would suggest the united parentage of the human family.

(3.) In transactions where man and woman are mutually concerned, it is usual to speak of the man first, on account of his being constituted superior in rank and authority.

(4.) The comparison on the one side, in the apostle's argument, is of the man Christ Jesus; and to secure the fitness, the congruity (Stuart) of the comparison, he speaks of the man only in the previous transaction.

(5.) The sin of the woman was not complete in its effects without the concurrence of the man. It was their uniting in it which was the cause of the evil. Hence the man is especially mentioned as having rendered the offence what it was; as having completed it, and entailed its curses on the race. From these remarks it is clear that the apostle does not refer to the man here from any idea that there was any particular covenant transaction with him, but that he means to speak of it in the usual, popular sense; referring to him as being the fountain of all the woes that sin has introduced into the world.

Sin entered into the world. He was the first sinner of the race. The word sin here evidently means the violation of the law of God. He was the first sinner among men, and in consequence all others became sinners. The apostle does not here refer to Satan, the tempter, though he was the suggester of evil; for his design was to discuss the effect of the plan of salvation in meeting the sins and calamities of our race. This design, therefore, did not require him to introduce the sin of another order of beings, he says, therefore, that Adam was the first sinner of the race, and that death was the consequence.

Into the world. Among mankind, Joh 1:10; 3:16,17.

The term world is often thus used to denote human beings—the race, the human family. The apostle here evidently is not discussing the doctrine of original sin; but he is stating a simple fact, intelligible to all: "The first man violated the law of God, and in this way sin was introduced among men." In this fact—this general, simple declaration—there is no mystery.

And death by sin. Death was the consequence of sin; or was introduced because man sinned. This is a simple statement of an obvious and well-known fact. It is repeating simply what is said in Ge 3:19, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The threatening was, (Ge 2:17,) "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." If an inquiry be made here, how Adam would understand this, I reply, that we have no reason to think he would understand it as referring to anything more than the loss of life as an expression of the displeasure of God, Moses does not intimate that he was learned in the nature of laws and penalties; and his narrative would lead us to suppose that this was all that would occur to Adam. And indeed there is the highest evidence that the case admits of, that this was his understanding of it. For in the account of the infliction of the penalty after the law was violated, in God's own interpretation of it, in Ge 3:19, there is still no reference to anything further. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Now, it is incredible that Adam should have understood this as referring to what has been called "spiritual death," and to "eternal death," when neither in the threatening, nor in the account of the infliction of the sentence, is there the slightest recorded reference to it. Men have done great injury in the cause of correct interpretation by carrying their notions of doctrinal subjects to the explanation of words and phrases in the Old Testament. They have usually described Adam as endowed with all the refinement, and possessed of all the knowledge, and adorned with all the metaphysical acumen and subtility of a modem theologian. They have deemed him qualified, in the very infancy of the world, to understand and discuss questions which, under all the light of the Christian revelation, still perplex and embarrass the human mind. After these accounts of the endowments of Adam, which occupy so large a space in books of theology, one is surprised, on opening the Bible, to find how unlike all this is the simple statement in Genesis. And the wonder cannot be suppressed that men should describe the obvious infancy of the race as superior to its highest advancement; or that the first man, just looking upon a world of wonders, imperfectly acquainted with law, and moral relations, and the effects of transgression, should be represented as endowed with knowledge which, four thousand years after, it required the advent of the Son of God to communicate! The account in Moses is simple. Created man was told not to violate a simple law, on pain of death. He did it; and God announced to him that the sentence would be inflicted, and that he should return to the dust whence he was taken. What else this might involve—what other consequences sin might introduce, might be the subject of future developments and revelations. It is absurd to suppose that all the consequences of the violation of a law can be foreseen, or must necessarily be foreseen, in order to make the law and the penalty just. It is sufficient that the law be known; that its violation be forbidden; and what the consequences of that violation will be, must be left in great part to future developments. Even we yet know not half the results of violating the law of God. The murderer knows not the results fully of taking a man's life: he breaks a just law, and exposes himself to the numberless unseen woes which may flow from it.

We may ask, therefore, what light subsequent revelations have cast on the character and result of the first sin? and whether the apostle here meant to state that the consequences of sin were in fact as limited as they must have appeared to the mind of Adam? or had subsequent developments and revelations, through four thousand years, greatly extended the right understanding of the penalty of the law? This can be answered only by inquiring in what sense the apostle Paul here uses the word death. The passage before us shows in what sense he intended here to use the word. In his argument it stands opposed to "the grace of God, and the gift by grace," (Ro 5:15) to "justification," by the forgiveness of "many offences," (Ro 5:16) to the reign of the redeemed in eternal life, (Ro 5:17) and to "justification of life," (Ro 5:18.) To all these, the words "death," (Ro 5:12,17) and "judgment," (ro 5:16,18) stand opposed. These are the benefits which result from the work of Christ; and these benefits stand opposed to the evils which sin has introduced; and as it cannot be supposed that these benefits relate to temporal life, or solely to the resurrection of the body, so it cannot be that the evils involved in the words "death," "judgment," etc., relate simply to temporal death. The evident meaning is, that the word "death," as here used by the apostle, refers to the train of evils which have been introduced by sin. It does not mean simply temporal death; but that group and collection of woes, including temporal death, condemnation, and exposure to eternal death, which is the consequence of transgression. The apostle often uses the word death, and to die, in this wide sense, Ro 1:32; 6:16; 7:5,10,13,24; 8:2,6,13; 2 Co 2:16; 7:10; Heb 2:14.

In the same sense the word is often used elsewhere, Joh 8:51; 11:26; 1 Jo 5:16,17; Re 2:11; 20:6, etc. etc. In contrasting with this the results of the work of Christ, he describes not the resurrection merely, nor deliverance from temporal death, but eternal life in heaven; and it therefore follows that he here intends by death that gloomy and sad train of woes which sin has introduced into the world. The consequences of sin are, besides, elsewhere specified to be far more than temporal death, Eze 18:4 Ro 2:8,9,12.

Though, therefore, Adam might not have foreseen all the evils which were to come upon the race as the consequence of his sin, yet these evils might nevertheless follow. And the apostle, four thousand years after the reign of sin had commenced, and under the guidance of inspiration, had full opportunity to see and describe that train of woes which he comprehends under the name of death. That train included evidently temporal death, condemnation for sin, remorse of conscience, and exposure to eternal death, as the penalty of transgression.

And so. Thus. In this way it is to be accounted for that death has passed upon all men; to wit, because all men have sinned. As death followed sin in the first transgression, so it has in all; for all have sinned. There is a connexion between death and sin which existed in the case of Adam, and which subsists in regard to all who sin, And as all have sinned, so death has passed on all men.

Death passed upon. (dihlyen). Passed through; pervaded; spread over the whole race, as pestilence passes through, or pervades a nation. Thus death, with its train of woes, with its withering and blighting influence, has passed through the world, laying prostrate all before it.

Upon all men. Upon the race; all die.

For that (ef w). This expression has been greatly controverted; and has been very variously translated. Elsner renders it, "on account of whom." Doddridge, "unto which all have sinned." The Latin Vulgate renders it, "in whom [Adam] all have sinned." The same rendering has been given by Augustine, Beza, etc. But it has never yet been shown that our translators have rendered the expression improperly. The old Syriac and the Arabic agree with the English translation fix this interpretation. With this agree Calvin, Vatablus, Erasmus, etc. And this rendering is sustained also by many other considerations.

(1.) If (w) be a relative pronoun here, it would refer naturally to death, as its antecedent, and not to man. But this would not make sense.

(2.) If this had been its meaning, the preposition (en) would have been used. See Note of Erasmus on the place.

(3.) It comports with the apostle's argument to state a cause why all died, and not to state that men sinned in Adam. He was inquiring into the cause why death was in the world; and it would not account for that to say that all sinned in Adam. It would require an additional statement to see how that could be a cause.

(4.) As his posterity had not then an existence, they could not commit actual transgression. Sin is the transgression of the law by a moral agent; and as the interpretation "because all have sinned" meets the argument of the apostle, and as the Greek favours that certainly as much as it does the other, it is to be preferred.

All have sinned. To sin is to transgress the law of God; to do wrong. The apostle in this expression does not say that all have sinned in Adam, or that their nature has become corrupt, which is true, but which is not affirmed here; nor that the sin of Adam is imputed to them; but simply affirms that all men have sinned. He speaks evidently of the great universal fact that all men are sinners. He is not settling a metaphysical difficulty; nor does he speak of the condition of man as he comes into the world. He speaks as other men would; he addresses himself to the common sense of the world; and is discoursing of universal, well-known facts. Here is the fact—that all men experience calamity, condemnation, death. How is this to be accounted for? The answer is, "All have sinned." This is a sufficient answer; it meets the case. And as his design cannot be shown to be to discuss a metaphysical question about the nature of man, or about the character of infants, the passage should be interpreted according to his design, and should not be pressed to bear on that of which he says nothing, and to which the passage evidently has no reference. I understand it, therefore, as referring to the fact that men sin in their own persons, sin themselves—as, indeed, how can they sin in any other way?—and that therefore they die. If men maintain that it refers to any metaphysical properties of the nature of man, or to infants, they should not infer or suppose this, but should show distinctly that it is in the text. Where is there evidence of any such reference?

{s} "as by one man" Ge 3:6,19.

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