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13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.

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13. For until the law, etc. This parenthesis anticipates an objection: for as there seems to be no transgression without the law, it might have been doubted whether there were before the law any sin: that there was after the law admitted of no doubt. The question only refers to the time preceding the law. To this then he gives this answer, — that though God had not as yet denounced judgment by a written law, yet mankind were under a curse, and that from the womb; and hence that they who led a wicked and vicious life before the promulgation of the law, were by no means exempt from the condemnation of sin; for there had always been some notion of a God, to whom honor was due, and there had ever been some rule of righteousness. This view is so plain and so clear, that of itself it disproves every opposite notion.

But sin is not imputed, etc. Without the law reproving us, we in a manner sleep in our sins; and though we are not ignorant that we do evil, we yet suppress as much as we can the knowledge of evil offered to us, at least we obliterate it by quickly forgetting it. While the law reproves and chides us, it awakens us as it were by its stimulating power, that we may return to the consideration of God’s judgment. The Apostle then intimates that men continue in their perverseness when not roused by the law, and that when the difference between good and evil is laid aside, they securely and joyfully indulge themselves, as if there was no judgment to come. But that before the law iniquities were by God imputed to men is evident from the punishment of Cain, from the deluge by which the whole world was destroyed, from the fate of Sodom, and from the plagues inflicted on Pharaoh and Abimelech on account of Abraham, and also from the plagues brought on the Egyptians. That men also imputed sin to one another, is clear from the many complaints and expostulations by which they charged one another with iniquity, and also from the defenses by which they labored to clear themselves from accusations of doing wrong. There are indeed many examples which prove that every man was of himself conscious of what was evil and of what was good: but that for the most part they connived at their own evil deeds, so that they imputed nothing as a sin to themselves unless they were constrained. When therefore he denies that sin without the law is imputed, he speaks comparatively; for when men are not pricked by the goads of the law, they become sunk in carelessness. 165165     This verse, as bearing on the argument, maybe viewed rather differently. This and the following verse contain an explanation or an illustration of the last, Romans 5:12. He states in this verse two things: a fact and a general principle; the fact is, that sin, the first sin in its evident effects, (for he speaks throughout of no other sin, as to Adam, or as producing death,) was in the world before the law of Moses was given; and the general principle he avows is, that no sin is imputed where there is no law. Having made this last admission, he proceeds in the Romans 5:14 to say, that “nevertheless,” or notwithstanding, death, the effect of sin, prevailed in the world, and prevailed even as to those who did not actually or personally sin as Adam did. He takes no account of personal sins, for his object was to show the effects of the first sin. And then he says, that in is respect Adam was a kind of type, a figure, a representative of Christ who was to come; and in the three verses which follow, Romans 5:15, 16, and 17, he traces the similitude between the two, pointing out at the same time the difference, which in every instance is in favor of the last Adam. That τύπος signifies here likeness and not identity, is quite certain, whatever may be its common meaning because its import is exemplified and illustrated in the verses which follow. — Ed.

But Paul wisely introduced this sentence, in order that the Jews might hence more clearly learn how grievously they offended, inasmuch as the law openly condemned them; for if they were not exempted from punishment whom God had never summoned as guilty before his tribunal, what would become of the Jews to whom the law, like a herald, had proclaimed their guilt, yea, on whom it denounced judgment? There may be also another reason adduced why he expressly says, that sin reigned before the law, but was not imputed, and that is, that we may know that the cause of death proceeds not from the law, but is only made known by it. Hence he declares, that all became miserably lost immediately after the fall of Adam, though their destruction was only made manifest by the law. If you translate this adversative δε, though, the text would run better; for the meaning is, that though men may indulge themselves, they cannot yet escape God’s judgment, even when there is no law to reprove them.

Death reigned from Adam, etc. He explains more clearly that it availed men nothing that from Adam to the time when the law was promulgated, they led a licentious and careless life, while the difference between good and evil was willfully rejected, and thus, without the warning of the law, the remembrance of sin was buried; yea, that this availed them nothing, because sin did yet issue in their condemnation. It hence appears, that death even then reigned; for the blindness and obduracy of men could not stifle the judgment of God.