The Expectation of Justification

5:1  Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 5:2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

Justified – ‘Justification does not encompass the whole salvation process; it does, however, mark that instantaneous point of entry or transformation which makes one “right” with God.” Christians are justified in the same way Abraham was, by faith. (Rom 4:16; 5:1) Human works do not achieve or earn acceptance by God. The exercise of faith alone ushers us into a right, unmerited relationship with God. (Gal 2:16; Tit 3:7) Biblically, the spiritual journey begins at the point of justification. This immediate act has far-reaching consequences. It establishes the future. God in the present moment announces the verdict he will pronounce on the day of final judgment. He declares that trusting faith in Jesus Christ puts people in the right with God, bringing eternal life now and forever.’ (Holman)

We have peace with God – There is quite strong manuscript support for subjunctive ‘let us have’, rather than the indicative ‘we have’.

As J.I. Packer points out, Paul will fully unwrap this ‘peace’, this ‘contentment’, in Rom 8:- ‘“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children . . . heirs of God. . . . We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. . . . Those he justified, he also glorified. . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . I am convinced that neither death nor life . . . neither the present nor the future . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 1, 16–17, 28, 30, 31, 33, 35, 38–39).’

‘By justification we enjoy peace in our conscience; a richer jewel than any prince wears in his crown. ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.’ Rom 5:1:Peace can sweeten all our afflictions, it turns our water into wine. How happy is a justified person who has the power of God to guard him, and the peace of God to comfort him! Peace flowing from justification is an antidote against the fear of death and hell. ‘It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?’ Rom 8:33,34. Therefore labour for this justification by Christ. This privilege is obtained by believing in Christ. ‘By him all that believe are justified.’ Acts 13:39. ‘Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.’ Rom 3:25. Faith unites us to Christ; and having union with his person we partake of his merits, and the glorious salvation which comes by him.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

‘Justification is God’s fundamental act of blessing, for it saves from the past and secures for the future. It consists, on the one hand, of the pardon of sin, and the ending of our exposure to God’s enmity and wrath through our reconciliation to him, Acts 13:39; Rom 4:6-7; 5:9 ff; on the other hand, it includes the bestowal of a righteous man’s status and a title to all the blessings which God promises to the just, a thought which Paul amplifies by linking justification with the adoption of believers as God’s sons and heirs, Gal 4:4ff; Rom 8:14 ff. Both aspects of justification appear in Rom 5:1-2, where Paul says that justification brings peace with God (because sin is pardoned) and also hope of the glory of God (because the rights of the righteous are bestowed on the believer). This hope is a certainty, for the justifying sentence is the judgment of the last day brought forward into the present: it is a final verdict, which will never be reversed. “Those whom he justified he also glorified” Rom 8:30. Note that Paul puts “glorified” in the past tense: what God has resolved to do is as good as done! The justified man can accordingly be sure that nothing will ever separate him from the love of his Saviour and his God, Rom 8:35 ff. The coming inquisition before Christ’s judgment-seat (see Rom 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10 may deprive him of rewards which greater faithfulness would have brought him 1 Cor 3:13, but never of his justified status. He is eternally secure.’ (Packer, God’s Words, 140f)

‘But can that verdict [justification], hidden to the senses, guarantee that one will be delivered from God’s wrath when it is poured out in judgment?  Yes, affirms Paul.  Nothing can stand in its way: not death (5:12-21), not sin (ch 6), not the law (ch 7) – nothing! (ch 8).  What God has begun, having justified and reconciled us, he will bring to a triumphant conclusion and save us from wrath.’ (Moo)

Through our Lord Jesus Christ – ‘Five times in one brief paragraph (Rom 5:1-11) Paul repeats the preposition “through” in relation to Jesus Christ.  It is through the death of Christ that we were reconciled to God.  So it is through Christ that we have received our reconciliation, that we have obtained access into the state of grace, that we enjoy peace with God, and that we rejoice in God.  Reconciliation, access, peace and joy – these are all blessings which become outs only through the finished sacrifice and the present mediation of Jesus Christ.  No wonder our prayers are offered to God through him, for there is no other way to the Father except through his Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6).’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 57)

Access by faith – ‘All other graces, like birds in the nest, depend upon what faith brings in to them; take away faith, and all the graces languish and die: joy, peace, hope, patience, and all the rest, depend upon faith.’ (Flavel)

5:3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 5:4 and endurance, character, and character, hope.
5:5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

‘In the testimony of the apostle hope is, according to the original Hebrew sense, a connection stretching from God to us, in which the human creature, even in the midst of the pressure of opposition, possesses an eternal standpoint. Hope is like a rope stretching between the Now and Then, so that the Then in Christ is already realized. Hope is thus essentially another word for faith, which again does not look to itself but solely to the way in which God goes with us. Hope has nothing to do with conjecture, nor with our ‘fate,’ nor with possibilities, nor even with the ‘hidden God.’ Hope rather is concerned with what has been revealed in Christ, and with the promise which has been given in him.’ (Gaugler, cited and translated by Edwards)

To know God’s love is heaven on earth. And this knowledge is not the privilege of a favoured few, but part of the normal experience of every Christian, Rom 5:5. Paul had never met the Roman Christians to whom he was writing, yet he took it for granted that the statement would be as true of them as it was of him.

Poured out – the same word that is used of the outpouring of the Spirit himself, Acts 2:17-18,33 10:45 Tit 3:6. It suggests both a large quantity and a free flow. NEB – ‘flooded’. The impressions spoken of are not faint and fitful, but deep and overwhelming.

…has poured out – note the perfect tense, indicating a settled state resulting from a completed action. A vessel which has been filled with water remains full. Paul assumes that all his readers are, like himself, living in the enjoyment of a strong and abiding sense of God’s love for them.

…into our hearts – this filling of hearts with the love of God is part of the regular ministry of the Spirit to all believers. We are not to become s pre-occupied with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal manifestations of the Spirit that we neglect the ordinary, general, ministry of the Spirit in filling us with a knowledge of the love of God.

5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 5:7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.)

‘The whole confidence of the apostle in the continuance of God’s love (and therefore in the final perseverance of the saints) is founded on its being…gratuitous. If he loved us because we loved him, he would have loved us only so long as we love him, and on that condition; and then our salvation would depend on the constancy of our treacherous hearts. But as God loved us as sinners, as Christ died for us as ungodly, our salvation depends, as the apostle argues, not on our loveliness, but on the constancy of the love of God.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘Christ died for us while we were unable to obey him, and without ability to save ourselves. This weakness or inability is no doubt sinful; but it is our inability, not our guilt, that the Apostle here designates. When we were unable to keep the law of God, or do anything towards our deliverance from Divine wrath, Christ interposed, and died for those whom he came to redeem.’ (Robert Haldane)

According to Cranfield, the logic of vv6-8 is as follows: ‘We understand Paul’s meaning then to be that, whereas it is a rare thing for a man deliberately and in cold blood to lay down his life for the sake of an individual just man, and not very much less rare for a man to do so for the sake of an individual who is actually his benefactor, Christ died for the sake of the ungodly.’

5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But God – ‘Religion is what man tries to do for God; salvation is what God has done for man.’

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us – This is the glory and triumph of divine love. By this the love of God appeared in its highest exaltation, that when we were so far from being good or righteous, when useless and impotent, when loathesome and hateful, when enemies and haters of God; when there was nothing in us, that might move in the least to love us, when we were full of that which might oblige him to express his hatred and indignation against us, then he gave his Son. Herein both the greatness and freeness of his love appeared, to the wonder and astonishment of all that duly consider it.’ David Clarkson.

‘Christ dies for the ungodly; and therein, as the apostle goes on to show, is the mysteriousness of the divine love revealed. That God should love the good, the righteous, the pure, the godly, is what we can understand; but that the infinitely Holy should love the unholy, and give his Son for their redemption, is the wonder of all wonders…As the love of a mother for her child, with which God condescends to compare his love towards us, is not founded on the attractive qualities of that child, but is often strongest when its object is the least worthy, so God loves us when sinners.’ (Charles Hodge)

‘If we take the love of God for granted we shall not appreciate the sequence of the apostle’s thought. But when we assess our weakness and particularly our ungodliness, then we discover both the need and the marvel of the proof God has given. What looms up in our conviction when our ungodliness is properly weighed is our detestability and the wrath of God, and it is impossible to take God’s love for granted. That God could love the ungodly, far less that he did love them, would never have entered into the heart of man. (cf. 1 Cor 2:9-10) On that background the text must be understood. The marvel of God’s love is that it was love to the ungodly.’ (John Murray)

How do we know that God loves us? ‘The objective ground for believing that God loves us is historical. It concerns the death of his Son on the cross… (Rom 5:8) The subjective ground for believing that God loves us is experimental. It is not in history but in experience. It concerns not the death of Christ, but the gift of the Holy Spirit within us.’ (John Stott)

‘The Greek and Roman world of New Testament times had never dreamed of such love; its gods were often credited with lusting after women, but never with loving sinners; and the New Testament writers had to introduce what was virtually a new Greek word, agape, to express the love of God as they knew it.’ (Packer, Knowing God)

5:9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.

Justified by his blood – That is, his atoning sacrifice.  See also  in Rom 3:25; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:25, 27; Eph 1:7; 2:13; Col 1:20.

Paul argues from present reality (‘we have now been justified by his blood’) to future hope (‘we shall be saved from God’s wrath through him’).  ‘The cross not only forgives past sins, it assures the justified of their future hope and glory.’ (Edwards)

How much more – An argument from the lesser to the greater was common in Rabbinic teaching.

God’s wrath – Kruse quotes Käsemann: ‘There is not the slightest reason, for fear of anthropomorphism, to make of this an objective principle (Dodd) or impersonal process (Hanson, Wrath, 89) or even to relate wrath to the sufferings of vv 3f. What is meant is the consuming power of the World-Judge which according to 1:18ff. has already announced itself in hidden form in earthly history’.

It is argued from this verse that Paul does not teach a doctrine of penal substitution, because that doctrine would imply that it was on the cross that Christ endured God’s wrath on our behalf; whereas the present says that salvation from that wrath lies in the future.  (See Gundry-Volf, DLP, art. ‘Propitiation, Expiation, Mercy Seat’).

5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?

God’s enemies – Paul uses similar language in Rom 11:28; Phil 3:18; and Col 1:21.  Does this refer to (a) those who regard God as their enemy; of (b) those whom God regards as his enemies?  The former is certainly true (see Rom 1:30; 8:7 and Col 1:21.  However, in the present verse, the latter meaning is probably to be favoured (so ECB, Kruse, and others) on the ground (inter alia) that this would be consistent with v9, which says that we were subject to God’s wrath.

We were reconciled to him – How are justification (v9) and reconciliation to be distinguished?  Kruse comments: ‘As used by Paul, the terms are very close but nevertheless distinct. Justification is essentially a legal term relating to decisions in a court of law, whereas reconciliation is a personal term relating to the restoration of relationships. But Paul’s understanding of God as the justifier of sinners cannot be separated from his understanding of God as reconciler. For Paul God is not the detached judge dispensing judgment, but the lover of sinners desiring reconciliation with them.’

Edwards remarks: ‘Humanity cannot reconcile itself to God. If there is to be reconciliation it must be effected from God’s side, not ours. On our own and apart from grace we are entrenched in rebellion. We are not distant relatives of God; we are insurrectionists against a worthy king (Mark 12:1–12). It took nothing short of the death of God’s Son to persuade humanity to lay down its arms and accept the gift of reconciliation.’

Saved through his life – Some (e.g. Wright, Moo) see a participationist meaning: that we receive the fullness of salvation by sharing in our Lord’s resurrection life.  Kruse, however, points out that the context here is that of being saved from God’s wrath.  In this case, Paul may be thinking of Christ’s intercessory role (see Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1f).

5:11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

Reconciliation – of course, reverses the enmity of which Paul has just spoken.

‘In 1525 William Tyndale, in his translation of the New Testament from the Greek text, attempted to discover an English word that would express the true meaning of the Greek katallage as well as the Latin reconciliation. Unable to find the word, he coined one. The word he coined was ‘atonement’ (at-one-ment), and he used it in Rom 5:11. The King James Version committee followed Tyndale and used atonement. More recent versions and translations have returned to “reconciliation,” largely because the word atonement has been encumbered with various theories of atonement.’ (Holman)

‘The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32 wonderfully illustrates reconciling love. Willful and defiant, the younger son demanded his share of the father’s blessing, later to be rudely awakened in the outside world. Returning to his father and expecting what he deserved—censure, humiliation, and (if lucky) probation—the boy received what he did not deserve—shoes, ring, robe, banquet, and most of all, his father’s delight in the infinite worth of one who was lost and now found. Reconciliation is being found by—and surrendering to—the love of God.’ (Edwards)

The Amplification of Justification

5:12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned—5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law.

Barclays (DSB) writes: ‘If we were to put the thought of this passage into one sentence, which, indeed, was the sentence which Paul set out to write at the very beginning, and which got sidetracked, it would be this: “By the sin of Adam all men became sinners and were alienated from God; by the righteousness of Jesus Christ all men became righteous and are restored to a right relationship with God.” Paul, in fact, said this very much more clearly in 1 Cor 15:21: “As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”‘

What’s wrong with the world?

Pate suggests that a sermon based on Rom 5:12-14 could deal with the question, ‘What is wrong with the world?’

‘Here one could summarize theories regarding the origin of evil (Marxist, atheistic/evolutionary, and Eastern/dualistic) and discuss and defend the biblical view.

Thus, Marxism argues that capitalism is the root of all evil because it divides humankind into haves and have-nots. And one day a classless society will emerge in which material goods are equally distributed to all.

Atheistic evolution tries to allay our fears about evil by claiming that bad action on the part of humans is residual animal behavior that will extinguish itself in perhaps a few million years more.

Eastern religion, with its principle of yin and yang, believes that good and bad are inherent to the universe and indeed are dualistically related. One cannot have the one without having the other.

The Judeo-Christian tradition based on the Bible, however, argues that God created the first humans with a will, and with that will Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. This is the origin of evil, and that primeval choice has haunted humankind ever since.’

There are all kinds of people in this world: short ones, tall ones, fat ones, thin ones, old ones, young ones, bright ones, dull ones, black ones, white ones, nice ones, nasty ones, happy ones, grumpy ones, busy ones, idle ones.  But, at bottom, there are just two kinds: those who are ‘in Adam’, and those who are ‘in Christ’.

Paul has already stressed that the dividing line is not between Gentiles and Jews, but between those who are characterised by sin and guilt and those who are characterised by grace and faith.  We who are members of God’s new community of grace and faith have been justified, v1, and reconciled, v11, and accordingly enjoy peace with God, rejoice in sufferings, anticipate future glory, are assured of future salvation, and exult in God through Christ, vv1-11.

Stott entitles this section (Rom 5:12-21) ‘The two humanities, in Adam and in Christ’.  Marveling at its precise craftmanship, he likens it to ‘a well-chiselled carving or a carefully constructed musical composition.’  Stott divides this section into three paragraphs: (a) Adam and Christ introduced, v12-14; (b) Adam and Christ contrasted, v15-17; (c) Adam and Christ compared, 18-21.

Moo sees this passage as painting a bird-eye picture of the history of redemption.  It emcompasses the whole of human history, and its scope is universal.  There is no mention here of Jew and Gentile: the whole of the human race is in view here.  The great theme of this section is ‘the power of Christ’s act of obedience to overcome Adam’s act of disobedience.’

Although this section looks forward to chapters 6,7 and 8 (each of those chapters deals with a possible objection to the completeness of salvation set out here), it also looks back to 5:1-11.  That passage sets out the blessings and benefits achieved by Christ’s death, while the present section establishes that these blessings are for all.

Wright illustrates the main point of 12-17 by imagining a statue that has been ruined by vandals but then re-built, stronger and more impressive than before.  ‘The main point is that what God has done in the one man Jesus the Messiah is far, far more than simply putting the human race back where it was before the arrival of sin.  The statue has been remade, and it is far more splendid than before.  It isn’t a case of “what they knocked bown, God will put back up”.  Nor is it a case of “what they did wickedly, God will do graciously”.  God has done far, far more.’

See here sin’s entrance – by one man, and its penetration – to all men.

Pate notes that in Hebrew culture (as in today’s African culture), there is a strong sense of corporate responsibility.  Thus, in Josh 7:1-26, Achan’s sin is attributed to the whole of Israel (and thus the entire nation is punished at the battle of Ai).  ‘The very structure of 5:12–21, which contrasts the two heads of the human race, Adam and Christ, also suggests this idea of corporate personality.’

Ambrosiaster (4th century) developed a notion of original sin that was, in fact based on a mistranslation of this verse.  Following the Old Latin translation, he understood what is in the NIV rendered ‘because all sinned’ as ‘in whom [i.e. in Adam] all have sinned’.  ‘So it is clear that all have sinned in Adam collectively, as it were.  He was himself corrupted by sin, and all that were born were therefore all born under sin.  From him therefore all are sinners, because we are all produced from him.’  (Quoted in The Christian Theology Reader, 3rd ed., ed McGrath).  This interpretation was taken up by Augustine, who emphasised Adam’s position as progenitor of the human race (taking his cue from Heb 7:10).  It still has some modern supporters, and, in any case, the passage as whole allows for the notion that the human race as a whole sinned ‘in Adam’.  Reformed theology tends to emphasise Adam’s role as covenant head and representative of the human race.

Putting the matter in more modern terms, Ponsonby notes that we all inherit a kind of ‘spiritual DNA’ that determines our moral nature and propensity.  But we are not tied to our ancestry.  It can be changed.  Those who are born to die like Adam can be re-made in Christ.

Therefore What Paul has just said about the death of God’s Son, v10, prompts the question (paraphrasing Churchill’s saying), How can so many owe to much to just one person?  And this question will now be addressed.  Notice too that the two halves of this chapter conclude with the words ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v11, 21); Paul is concerned throughout the stress the absolute superiority of Christ and hs work. (Stott) 

Noting the connecting word ‘therefore’ in verse 12, we may say that what is true of Paul and his readers (‘us’ in verses 1-11) – justification, peace with God, access into this grace, rejoicing in the hope of glory, rejoicing in sufferings, and so on, and all through faith in Christ who died for us sinners – is true of ‘all’ (Jews and Gentiles the world over).  Just as the ‘problem’ is universal (all share in Adam’s sin and are liable to its death-penalty), so is the ‘solution’ (the reign of grace bringing eternal life in Christ).

Just as – ‘Paul begins to state his key point about the parallel between Adam and Christ in v 12, but interrupts himself before he finishes. We have, therefore, a ‘just as’ with no corresponding ‘so also’ (most English translations signal the break in thought with a dash at the end of the verse). Only in vs 18-19 does Paul come back to state the full comparison. This ‘just as’ clause presents the universal effects of the sin of the one man, Adam: it has brought death into the world and in this way (e.g. through sinning) caused death to spread to all people.’ (NBC) 

This passage prompts thanksgiving (for the super-abundance of God’s grace), promotes unity (we are all accepted by God on the same terms), and empowers evangelism (this gospel is suitable to all needs and conditions).

Verse 12 plots a downward spiral: (a) sin entered the world – an obvious reference to Adam’s disobedience; (b) death entered the world through sin – an allusion to Gen 2:17; 3:19; (c) death came to all men, because all sinned.

Sin entered the world through one man – Paul does not concern himself with the origin of evil in general, but only with its entry into humanity. It entered through one man’s disobedience.

‘In Genesis 3 the serpent tempts Eve to “be like God” (v. 5). There are two ways of being “like God.” One is positive, in which we honor and emulate God, whereby to “be like God” is admirable. But the temptation story carries a negative sense of rivaling God and willing to displace God. It begins with a desire to discredit God (“ ‘Did God really say?’ ”), and ends with a willful disobedience of God’s concrete command. In a mysterious and terrible way Adam’s sin becomes our sin. Genesis 3 is the story of every sinful act. All humanity disputes God’s word and usurps God’s authority.’ (Edwards)

We should never make light of Adam’s sin.  His ‘reckless attempt to seize the place of the kindly Creator is a woeful story of ingratitude and stupidity.’ (Barnett)

‘These two individuals (“through one human being”) appear in terms of their single, decisive deeds: the transgression of the former and the death of the latter define the life and existence of all human beings.'(Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament).

Although Paul does not quite complete his ‘just as…so also’, the overall structure of his argument is clear.  Stott summarises: ‘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.’

Enns (The Evolution of Adam) points out that ‘after a virtual silence in the Old Testament, Adam makes a sudden and unprecedented appearance in two of Paul’s Letters (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15). There Paul draws an important analogy between Adam and Jesus. Just as the first Adam introduced sin and death to all humanity through his disobedience in the garden of Eden (eating the forbidden fruit), now Jesus, the second Adam (see 1 Cor. 15:47), introduces life through his obedience (death on the cross and resurrection). The first Adam is a “pattern” for the second (Rom. 5:14), and Paul’s point looks straightforward enough.

Adam → disobedience → death

Jesus → obedience → life

For Paul’s analogy to have any force, it seems that both Adam and Jesus must be actual historical figures…The problem is self-evident. Evolution demands that the special creation of the first Adam as described in the Bible is not literally historical; Paul, however, seems to require it. After all, what purpose does the actual obedience of the second Adam (Christ) have if there was no first Adam who disobeyed? So, as the argument often goes, if there was no first Adam, then there was no fall. If there was no fall, there is no truly inescapably sinful condition and so no need for a Savior. If evolution is true, then Christianity is false. When the issue is framed this way, the discussion tends to move toward one of two extremes: Christians either choose Paul over Darwin or abandon their faith in favor of natural science.’  (Enns does not himself support the conclusion that Adam must have been an historical figure).

Hays and Herring (Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism) argue that Paul’s conclusion about the universality of sin can stand, even if his assumption about the historicity of Adam and the fall cannot be accepted.  Most of us do not bat an eyelid at the pre-scientific assumptions of Gen 1:6-8; 7:11; 8:2; Josh 10:12f; Job 38:22; Mt 13:32/Mk 4:31; Phil 2:10; 2 Pet 3:5, and so on, and we need not balk at those of Paul in this passage.  After all, Paul’s argument is not, “Because all died as a result of Adam’s deed, therefore all can be saved as a result of Jesus’ deed”, but rather, “Just as all died as a result of Adam’s deed, so also can all be saved as a result of Jesus’ deed.”

Blocher quotes Dunn: ‘What comes to expression here is not some concept of “corporate personhood” or cosmic Man or theology of Adam as Everyman.’  Blocher adds: ‘We may be certain that Paul..attributed a major role to an individual Adam and to his transgression in the beginning; this is what he meant, regardless of whether it appeals to our sensitivities.’

And death through sin – One door leads to another: Adam opened the door to sin, and sin opened the door to death (Gen 2:17; 3:19).  Some (Kruse cites Bray and Wright as examples) think that the reference is to spiritual death alone.  Others, however (such as Moo and Dunn) think that Paul is probably thinking of death in both its physical and spiritual aspects.

‘As the image-bearer of God, Adam’s life consisted in communion with his Maker, so separation from God resulted in Adam’s death, Gen 2:17; 3:19.  Sin meant that Adam could no longer live in fellowship with God in the garden.’ (Wilson)

John Walton observes that many Christians believe that humans were created immortal and only became mortal following the fall.  Walton protests that the Bible nowhere teaches this unequivocally.   ‘In Romans 5:12, Paul indicates that people are subject to death because of sin. But arguably, the existence of a tree of life in the garden, of which Paul is well aware, implies that people were mortal and in need of a remedy. Alternatively, then, in Romans 5 he may simply be observing that since sin brought the loss of the remedy (tree of life), we are subject to death because of sin.’

In this way death came to all men, because all sinned – In the same way that sin and death entered the world, so they spread throughout the world.

Because all sinned – eph’ hō (‘because’) has been variously understood.  If it is translated ‘because’, the meaning reflected in the NIV follows, and the teaching is that people are subject to death because they have sinned in their own persons.  If it is translated ‘in whom’, we get, ‘sin entered the world through one man, in whom all sinned, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people’, and the teaching is that people die because Adam sinned.

Moo emphasises the solidarity of the human race with Adam, due to the latter’s role as representative.

When he says that ‘all sinned’, Paul may either be thinking of imitation (all sin like Adam) or participation (all sin in and with Adam).  The first understanding is associated with Pelagius, who denied original sin.  Even reformed scholars such as John Murray concede that verse 12 taken by itself admits this interpretation.  But the context, especially verses 15-19, stresses universal death is attributable to the sin of one man.  Moreover, the analogy between Adam and Christ requires that life is available to all through the obedience of Christ, just as death came to all through the disobedience of Adam.  ‘In Adam all die,’ 1 Cor 15:22.

A number of interpreters emphasise the fact that ‘all sinned’ is in the aorist tense – inferring from this that Paul is referring not an habitual tendency to sin but harking back to the one original sin of Adam, in which we are all implication in solidarity with him.  But it is quite possible that ‘all sinned’ (both here and in Rom 3:23) does not refer to a single historical sin but rather to the sum-total of human wrong-doing.  Expositors are probably too willing to regard the aorist as indicating once-for-all action = Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, pp68ff

We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.  We are ‘by nature children of wrath’, Eph 2:3.  Man is ‘born spiritually dead and evidently under a curse (cf. Eph 2:15).  He was either tried in Adam and fell, or he has been condemned without a trial.  He is under a curse for Adam’s guilt, or for no guilt at all.’ (Johnson)

‘God has always dealt with mankind through a head and representative.  The whole story of the human race can be summed up on terms of what has happened because of Adam, and what has happened and will yet happen because of Christ.’ (Lloyd-Jones)

If it be thought that this doctrine of ‘original sin’ is contrary to reason, then we reply that it is certainly not contrary to experience.  Empirically, we have a bent towards evil, an antipathy towards God.

‘The folly, degradation, and hatred that are the chief characteristics of human history demand an explanation.  Why do people so consistently turn from good to evil of all kinds?  Paul affirms in this passage that human solidarity in the sin of Adam is the explanation – and whether we explain this solidarity in terms of sinning in and with Adam or because of a corrupt nature inherited from him does not matter at this point.  On any view, this, the biblical, explanation for universal human sinfulness, appears to explain the data of history and experience as well as, or better than, any rival theory.’ (Moo)

‘Obviously’, writes C.H. Dodd, ‘we cannot accept such a speculation as an account of the origin of death, which is a natural process inseparable from organic existence in the world we know.’  But while we can agree that death is a natural process in the animal and vegetable world, the biblical view is that human death is ‘unnatural, an alien intrusion, the penalty for sin, and not God’s original intention for his human creation’ (Stott).  It was only if Adam disobeyed that he would die, Gen 2:17; cf. Gen 3:19.  Biblical thinking is outraged by death, for it reduces us to the level of animals, Psa 49:12; Eccle 3:19.  If man was not originally destined to suffer decay and death, then perhaps God’s plan was for him to be ‘translated’ like Enoch and Elijah, or otherwise ‘changed’ like those believers who are alive when Christ returns, 1 Cor 15:51f.  Or we think too of the change that took place at Jesus’ transfiguration, which anticipated his resurrection body.  Because he had no sin, he did not need to die.  He could have stepped straight into heaven.  But he deliberately and willingly drew back from that in order to die and suffer sin’s penalty on our behalf.  (Based on Stott’s discussion)

In the context of the individualism of Western culture, Stott suggests that we need to redress the balance in favour of the biblical teaching on corporate responsibility (Heb 7:9f; Josh 7:1,11; Heb 6:6).  ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ asks the spiritual.  And Horatius Bonar sings,

Twas I that shed the sacred blood;
I nailed him to the tree;
I crucified the Christ of God;
I joined the mockery.

And if we are implicated in the death of Christ, so we share in its benefits, being identified with him in his death and resurrection, 2 Cor 5:14ff.

If we ask if this teaching is fair – that I should be condemned because of the disobedience of one man who lived long before I was born – then we are asking a question that would not have occurred to Paul.  His thought, and that of the Bible as a whole, recognises corporate responsibility much more clearly than we who think in such individualistic terms.  Barnett explains that we are all the result of choices made by our ancestors – where to live, whom to marry, and so on – and we cannot extricate ourselves from those choices.  In any case, what we may not be fully able to understand in theory is absolutely clear empirically: we all sin, just as Adam did.

Blocher (Original Sin) discusses two contrasting approaches to Paul’s discussion of the relationship between Adam’s guilt and ours.  The problem, as he sees it, is that they are presented as either/or alternatives: ‘either we are condemned for our own sins (and Adam’s role is reduced to that of a remote fountainhead, losing much of its significance) or we are condemned for his sin (and the equity of that transfer is hard to see).’  Rom 5:13 shows that sin is not sin unless there is a law to judge it by.  The law that the entire human race is judged by is the command given to Adam in Gen 2 (that is to say, prior to the coming of the law of Moses).  Blocher’s paraphrase of the passage:-

Just as through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and the sin-death connection was established, and so death could be inflicted on all as the penalty of their sins…

For take the period from Adam to Moses: sin was in the world, yet sin is not imputed in the absence of law, when it is viewed independently; nevertheless it was imputed through the relationship of all the Adam, and so death reigned even over people who had not sinned, as Adam had done, bu violating a precept directly given to them.  Adam’s role as a racial head for condemnation makes him a type of Christ, the Head of justification.

Of course, the operation of grace in Christ is infinitely more powerful.  It miraculously reverses a desperate situation marred by millions of sins, whereas Adam’s role is to secure condemnation of condemnable deeds.

Yet it can be said that through the one disobedience of Adam, of which all human sins are offshoots, all have been constituted sinners, just as through the one obedience of Christ all who own him as their Head are constituted righteous.

Ponsonby reminds us that many people actually prefer Adam.  He notes that for Marx, religion was ‘the opiate of the masses’.  For Freud, it was a search for a father figure.  For Dawkins, it is a delusion; a throwback to a pre-scientific age.  Ponsonby cites a literature review deriving from the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, summarising the many benefits of religion on human well-being.

13f. These verses amplify the statement in v12 that ‘all sinned’ in Adam’s transgression. This is the case whether or not they had the law, for ‘law is not necessary to the existence but only for the assessment of sin’ (C.K. Barrett). Sin without the law is ‘not taken into account’: it ‘was not the fully apparent, sharply defined thing which it became’ in the presence of the law’ (C.E.B. Cranfield).

But sin is not taken into account when there is no law – This, says Moo, ‘expresses Paul’s view that sin can be charged explicitly and in detail to each person’s account only when that person has consciously and knowingly disobeyed a direct command that prohibits that sin.’

It is obviously true that sin was reckoned against people before the time of Moses (i.e. ‘when there [was] no law’).  We need think no further than the flood.  Cranfield says that the phrase ouk ellogeitai (‘is not taken into account’) must be taken as relatively, rather than absolutely true.  Sin was not then ‘the fully apparent, sharply defined thing, which it became in [the law’s] presence.’

5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.

As Adam had a world made for him, so shall Jesus Christ, this second Adam—Adam being a type of him that was to come—have a world made for him. This world was not good enough for him; he has a better appointed than that which old Adam had, a new heaven and a new earth, according to the promise, where the saints shall reign.

Thomas Goodwin

Death reigned…even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam – Adam and those who lived from the time of Moses onwards had specific commands which defined and exacerbated sin.  But sin is still sin, and subject to a death-penalty, even when it does not amount to the transgression of God’s law.

There is, as Ponsonby says, a lot of talk about ‘reign’ and ‘rule’ in this section: in Adam, there is a ‘reign of death’, Rom 5:14,  and a ‘reign of sin’, Rom 5:21.  But in Christ, there is also a ‘reign of life’ Rom 5:17, and a ‘reign of grace’, Rom 5:21.  These terms express the grip that our Adamic nature has on us, which only the sovereign power of Christ can undo and replace.  We are powerless to free ourselves from the shackles of sin, unable to steer away from our destiny of death.  One mightier than Adam must unlock his grip and release us.

This verse has been taken by some to support a doctrine of salvation of infants before the (supposed) age of accountability.  Rather, the meaning seems to be as the NIV has rendered it (even though this is an interpretative translation. ‘Even where a deliberate rebellion against God was lacking, there was still the presence of sin and its terrible consequences.’ (Edwards)

Pattern tupos.  Adam is a ‘type’ of Christ in that ‘the universal impact of his one act prefigures the universal impact of Christ’s act’ (Moo).  The typological significance of Adam will be explored in vv15-21.

Edwards explains: ‘A “type” is a particular person or thing that foreshadows or prefigures something true of a larger group to follow. Sparta was a type of the military state, Machiavelli of the despotic ruler, Jefferson of the liberal democratic mind.’

The one to come – is suggestive of the Jewish designation of the Messiah as ‘the coming one’, Mt 11:3.

‘In 1 Corinthians 15:45 Paul calls Christ “the last Adam.” He is not called the “second Adam,” i.e., a repetition or even improvement of the first Adam. Christ is not Adam’s successor, but his redeemer, the final word of God who, though not part of the old, redeems the old in the new.’ (Edwards)

‘Faithful’s meeting with Adam the First in The Pilgrim’s Progress remains a classic of Adam-typology. The aged Adam promises Faithful “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) in an attempt to lure him from the pathway. But the truth finally breaks upon Faithful, “Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave”’ (Edwards)

5:15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

The gift is not like the trespass – not in nature, degree or consequences.

Adam and Christ are similar in that ‘each is one man through whose one deed enormous numbers of people have been affected’ (Stott).  But there the likeness ends.  They both stand as respective heads to two ages.  But one is the age of sin and death; the other is the head of the age of life.  And the latter is much more effective than the former.

Edwards: ‘Like the “lesser light” of Genesis 1:14ff., Adam represents humanity apart from salvation. There are many satellites in his orbit: “trespass” (v. 15), “sin” (v. 20), “disobedience” (v. 19), “judgment” (v. 16), “condemnation” (v. 16), “law” (v. 20), and “death” (v. 12). But Christ is the “greater light” whose starry host is far brighter. He governs “obedience” (v. 19), “justification” (v. 16), “grace” (vv. 15, 17, 20, 21), and “life” (v. 17).’

Edwards explains further that the contrast between Adam and Christ does not mean that the cosmos is locked in a battle between equal and opposite forces of evil and good.  ‘On the contrary, Christ is vastly superior to Adam, for the last Adam’s power to save is far greater than was the first Adam’s power to destroy.’

Adam’s trespass was an act of self-assertion; Christ’s gift comes as a result of an act of self-sacrifice.

The scheme of salvation is universal: the need was there long before the days of Abraham and Moses; the solution accordingly reaches out beyond the Jews to all who have faith in Christ.

The gift – Christ’s act of obedience (viewed as work of grace), as contrasted with Adam’s act of disobedience.

The trespass – The word is paraptoma, transgression, false step. ‘The picture here is of a road ordained by God: ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’. (Isa 30:21) But we transgress. We go off God’s road. We have sought out our own devices. (Jer 18:12) All of us like sheep have gone astray and have turned to our own paths. (Isa 53:6) We take the path that lies beside (para) God’s road because we imagine that God’s road leads nowhere, whereas this other road seems to promise so much pleasure and so much fulfilment.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

Paul does not speculate on the reasons behind Adam’s fall.  This is in contrast to some early Jewish writings, which attribute the fall to Eve (Sirach), or to Satan (Wisdom; 3 Baruch; Enoch).

Some early Jewish writings ponder the tension between individual guilt and universal condemnation.  ‘Each of us has become his own Adam’, 2 Baruch).

Another difference between the trespass and the gift is that the former is imposed upon us, whereas the latter must be freely received.  The consequences of Adam’s sin are automatically carried over to his progeny.  But Christ’s gift must be chosen by each one.

How much more = also Rom 5:17; 20.  The term is lit, ‘much much more’.  Ponsonby illustrates by saying that whatever card Adam lays down, Christ has a card to trump it.  Adam lays down the card ‘sin’, and Christ trumps it with the card ‘righteousness’.  Adam plays ‘death’; Christ trumps it with ‘life’.  Adam puts down ‘condemned’; Christ answers with ‘justified’.

God’s grace – This is mentioned ten times in just six verses.  As Ponsonby remarks, the boast of the Adamic man is, ‘I did it my way’.  That mark of the Christian is a dependency on what God has freely given.

How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! – ‘The many’ here must be qualified by Paul’s statement in v17 concerning the necessity of ‘receiving’ Christ’s gift.  But for them ‘the enjoyment of the gift and grace of God will be even more certain than the death that came to all in Adam.  Condemnation through Adam is inescapable, and Paul says nothing that would diminish the horrible reality of this judgment under which all people stand.  But alongside condemnation there is the grace of God.  And since it is precisely God’s grace with which we have to do, there is an “abounding plus” (Murray), a super-abundance connected with God’s gift in Christ that has the power not only to cancel the effects of Adam’s work but to create, positively, life and peace.  Adam’s “trespass” is the quintessence of human activity, an act for which a strict accounting must be due (cf. Rom 4:1-16); but Christ’s act is precisely a “gift”, a matter of God’s initiative, of his “unmerited favour” in which people are passive and which can, accordingly, never be earned, but only “received” (cf. v17).’ (Moo)

Divine grace, says Ponsonby, is exclusive in the sense that it can be found only in God.  But it is inclusive in the sense that it embraces any and all.  It is for ‘the many’ (lit. ‘hoi polloi’).

Calvin: ‘Christ is much more powerful to save, than Adam was to destroy.’

Again, Calvin says: ‘Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.’

5:16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification.

The gift of God – ‘of God’ is added by NIV to (correctly) clarify the meaning.

If the acts of Adam and Christ as different (v15), then so are the consequences of these acts.  The pronouncement of condemnation followed Adam’s one sin; the verdict of justification is in respect of a countless number of sins.

‘That one single misdeed should be answered by judgment, this is perfectly understandable: that the accumulated sins and guilt of all the ages should be answered by God’s free gift, this is the miracle of miracles, utterly beyond human comprehension.’ (Cranfield)

‘Christ has done far more than remove the curse pronounced on us for the one sin of Adam; he procures our justification from our own innumerable offences.’ (Hodge)

5:17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!

Death reigned through that one man – Paul does not particularly dwell on this, as if he wished to make us feel guilty and depressed.  Rather, he uses it a a stepping-stone to draw attention to the triumphant achievement of the one man Jesus Christ and his work of salvation.  And the solution is greater – much greater – than the problem.

Here is another aspect of the disparity between Adam and Christ.  Under Adam, we were under death’s tyrannical reign, but in Christ we ourselves ‘reign in life’.  Cf. 1 Cor 6:2; also Rev 20:4,6; 22:5.  As Moo says, this implies what is elsewhere explicitly taught, ‘that righteousness and life are for those who respond to God’s grace in Christ and that they are only for those who respond.’

They will reign in life – ‘Traditional readings might have led us to expect the conclusion that through the work of the Messiah those who receive his gift will escape death, will find “salvation.”…What Paul is saying is that the gospel, through which people receive the divine gift, reconstitutes them as genuine humans, as those who share the “reign” of the Messiah.’ (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began)

How much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ

‘In him the tribes of Adam boast/More blessings than their father lost.’ (Isaac Watts)

‘Heav’nly love shal outdoo Hellish hate.’ (Milton, Paradise Lost)

‘From a human perspective one or the other will rule: disobedience or obedience, sin or righteousness, death or life. It is not a question of whether we will submit to such masters, only to which ones we will submit. Either death reigns or life reigns, but not both. To be human is to stand at a crossroads of choice: there is the way of the past, the way of death, or the way of the future, the way of life in Christ. There is the first Adam, and there is the last Adam. But that is only the human perspective. Paul writes from the divine perspective, assuring us that the influence and effect of Christ’s work defeat the tragic effects of Adam’s trespass. The sin of one is cancelled by the righteousness of the other; the curse of one is overcome by the grace of the other. The one causes death, the other swallows up death in life. In every way Christ surpasses Adam.’ (Edwards)

Kruse quotes Cranfield: ‘The effectiveness and the unspeakable generosity of the divine grace are such that it will not merely bring about the replacement of the reign of death by the reign of life, but it will actually make those who receive its riches to become kings themselves’.

Notice that the saints’ reign is in the future.  See also 1 Cor 4:8; 9:25; 1 Tim 4:8; 2 Tim 2:12.

5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people.

Paul now returns to the comparison begun in v12: ‘as through one man, so through one man’.  This verse gives us a summary of the paragraph as a whole.

Wright regards this section (18-21) as summing up the whole story of Romans so far.  Even though God himself isn’t mentioned in this section, it is clear that for Paul only he could plan and accomplish this.

Moo, recognising the condensed nature of Paul’s writing here, suggests that the full meaning is something like: ‘as condemnation came to all people through the trespass of one man, so also did the righteousness that leads to life come to all people through the righteous act of one man.’

One trespass – Paul does not discuss the events behind the entry of sin into the world.  ‘Suffice it to say that the idea of a beautiful and good world, spoiled at one point in time by human rebellion, remains basic to all early Christian, as to all Jewish, thought.’ (Wright)

Condemnation for all men – this is the final judgment spoken of in Rom 2:1-16.

One act of righteousness – According the Kruse, this is ‘Christ’s obedience to his Father in offering himself as the atoning sacrifice for sins, the act that made it possible for God to justify freely those who believe in his Son (cf. 3:21–26).

‘It is often assumed that since Jesus shared a greater likeness to God than we do—indeed is God, according to the implication of Scripture and explication of the creeds—that it was easier for him to be obedient than it is for us. Both Scripture and logic would rigorously contest that assumption. According to Hebrews, “[Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered” (5:8), and Philippians says that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (2:8). Who can read the intensity of Jesus’ temptation and suffering in Gethsemane as a mere sham (Mark 14:32–36)? C. S. Lewis reminds us that the higher one is in the order of being, the greater are one’s temptations. A dog cannot be either as good or as bad as a child, nor a child as good or as bad as a genius. Christ’s temptations exceeded ours to the degree that his divine nature exceeds ours. Hence, his obedience effects a righteousness that we cannot achieve for ourselves.’ (Edwards)

Wright offers a characteristic view of this.  He explains that this expression carries ‘all the echoes of “justice” and “covenant faithfulness” which have been such an important part of Paul’s argument up to this point.  Jesus acted as the embodiment both of God’s covenant faithfulness and of the faithful obedience which Israel (Rom 3:2) should have offered to God but failed to do…When God entered into covenant with Israel, it was so that Israel could be the means of dealing with the evil that had infected God’s world.  Now, in the Messiah, that purpose has been realized.’

Justification that brings life – They are justified in the present, and assured of ‘life’ in the future.

Life for all men – Calvin’s comment supports the views of those who think that the great reformer taught a doctrine unlimited atonement: ‘Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.’

It is mistaken to suppose that Paul simply means here that Christ has made justification ‘available’ to all men.

Cranfield comments on another verse: ‘Something has been accomplished by Christ which is as universal in its effectiveness as was the sin of the first man.  Paul is no longer speaking just about the church: his vision now includes the whole of humanity.’


Some have taken Paul to be teaching universalism here. For Kasemann, ‘all-powerful grace is unthinkable without eschatological universalism.’

In The Lost Message of Paul (ch 19), Steve Chalke insists that, for Paul, ‘all people’ must mean ‘all people without exception’.  The gift of life is co-extensive for ‘all men’ with the sentence of condemnation ‘for all men’.  To interpret otherwise, he says, is not only ‘disingenuous’, but also renders Paul’s language incoherent.  We think that Chalke’s summary rejection of alternative views, together with his dismissal of those who hold them as ‘disingenuous’ is irresponsible.

But it is easy to show that ‘all’, in Scripture, can often mean ‘all without distinction’, rather than ‘all without exception’.  Andrew Wilson comments:

‘When Luke says that “all Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), he doesn’t mean that every individual in Turkey heard the gospel in two years; he means, rather, “the whole of Asia”, considered corporately, in the sense of “the word of the Lord was heard all over Asia.” Most commentators have argued that “all Israel will be saved” does not refer to every individual in Romans 11:26… The same is true in the Old Testament, actually – nobody thinks that “all Israel came to Shechem to make Rehoboam king” (1 Kings 12:1) is talking about every individual Israelite. It means, “people from all over Israel”, or “all types of Israelite”.’

Passages such as the present one ‘have been taken to imply that God will bring about the salvation of all people; since, however, salvation is by faith, what he will do is to cause all people finally to believe through some kind of postmortem persuasion and reformatory judgment.’ (Marshall, New Testament Theology).  Marshall goes on the correctly point out that ‘the fatal difficulty with this interpretation is that there is not the slightest indication in the texts of any such action. The final judgment, with the issues of life or death, is never presented as other than final. The texts must be understood in some other way that does justice to the total context of Paul’s teaching.’  However, Marshall is on slightly shakier ground when he asserts that ‘the point of Romans 5 is much more to demonstrate by the analogy of all becoming sinners through Adam’s sin that all can be saved through the righteous action of one person, Jesus Christ; Romans 5:18 thus refers to what is potentially available for all, provided that they believe.’

‘Some would ground the hope of universal salvation on Paul’s statement, “Then as one man’s [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s [Jesus Christ’s] act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” (Rom 5:18) One needs to take into account the full sweep of Paul’s teaching on sin and righteousness. All men do in fact share the consequences of Adam’s disobedience, namely, sin and death, but a person comes to share in the benefits of Christ’s saving work only on the basis of faith in him. This limitation of the second statement about “all men” (v 18) to the believing portion of mankind is not arbitrary exegesis. A parallel exists in the apostle’s teaching on resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22) The following sentence limits those who will be made alive to those “who belong to Christ.” Nothing is said in the chapter about the resurrection of the unsaved. Nothing is said elsewhere in the NT to the effect that the resurrection of the unsaved will lead to eternal life.’ (Jn 5:28f) (E.F. Harrison, ISBE)

According to Kruse, ‘the “all people” of the latter part of the phrase is best understood to mean all who receive the gift of grace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.’  Dunn adopts a similar view, as does Hendriksen (with more detailed discussion).

Longenecker translates v18f: ‘Consequently, just as through one trespass there has resulted condemnation for all people, so also through one act of righteousness there will result acquittal that brings life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one will the many be made righteous.’

Longenecker comments: ‘The universalism of God’s grace, which has been made effective “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” has to do with what God has provided on behalf of all people. It does not, however, as seen in the future tense (“will be”) of the verbs (both expressed and implied) in 5:18–19 and the subjunctive mood (“may” or “might”) of the verb in 5:21, assure inevitability, but rather speaks of what God has graciously provided, to which people need to respond positively.’

Moo comments that a universalist interpretation of this text would require Paul to contradict himself on a rather fundamental point within this very letter, ‘for he affirms unequivocally that the reign of sin and death can be escaped only through the gospel of Jesus Christ.’  Moo thinks it possible that Paul is teaching here ‘that Christ’s work on the cross is of potential benefit to all people.’  He thinks it more likely that ‘the “all” in the second half of verse 18 refers to “all who are in Christ.” This interpretation meshes perfectly with Paul’s overall purpose in Romans 5:12-21. He seeks to assure believers of their ultimate salvation (see Rom 5:9-10) by reminding them that Christ has more than cancelled the damaging effects of Adam’s sin. All who belong to Adam are condemned. But all who belong to Christ can be absolutely certain of eternal life. Paul is not claiming that all people will be saved but, rather, that all believers will be saved.’  (Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 2319-2324). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

Stott explains that ‘life for all men’ cannot refer to absolutely everybody, because the two communities are related to Adam and Christ in different ways.  We are ‘in Adam’ by birth, but we are ‘in Christ’ by new birth.  The latter are defined in v17 as ‘those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace.’  Throughout Romans, Paul insists that justification is ‘by faith’, Rom 1:16f; 3:21ff; 4:1ff.  Moreover, Paul is clear that on the last day God’s wrath will be poured out on self-seeking sinners, Rom 2:5,8,12.  We conclude, therefore, that Paul’s ‘all’ here means ‘all without distinction’, rather than ‘all without exception’.

Nevertheless, as Stott also says, we have grounds for having confidence that the scope of Christ’s redeeming work, though not universal, will be very extensive.  For Paul uses ‘kingdom’ language both of the reign of sin and of the reign of grace, and this leads us to think that the scope of the latter will be substantially comparable to that of the former.  Then, Paul uses superlative language to describe the work of Christ.  In important ways, the reign of grace will be greater – much greater – than that of sin.  It will be like an ample harvest, or an overflowing river, or an abundance of reign.  ‘Although Adam’s disobedience led to universal sin and death, there has been a lavish extravagance about the grace of Christ, in both quality and quantity, which was entirely absent from Adam and all his works.’  Then again, Paul goes out of his way to assert that the ‘gift’ is not like the ‘trespass’.  He uses the language of a fortiori (how much more).  And, whereas the death-penalty following the trespass was earned, eternal life in Christ is a free gift.

‘This is not necessarily to assert universal salvation, however. In verse 17 Paul spoke of “those who receive God’s grace and righteousness.” Salvation by grace is not salvation by fiat, much less coercion. Grace is only grace where it grants the other freedom to receive—or reject—Christ’s self-sacrifice for forgiveness at the cross.’ (Edwards)

Commenting on the ‘restorationist’ (or universalist) position, Hodge writes: ‘This is made to mean, that as all men are condemned for Adam’s offence, so all men are justified for the righteousness of Christ. The same interpretation is put upon the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In both these passages, however, the “all” is necessarily limited by the context. It is the all who are in Adam, that die; and the all who are in Christ, that are made alive.’ (Systematic Theology, Vol 3, p871f)

5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.

‘This clearly implies that Jesus’ obedience in the wilderness won what Adam’s disobedience in the garden lost.’ (Edwards)

Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners – That is, ‘constituted sinners’.  ‘People do not fashion their fate as much as they like to think. It is rather they who are fashioned by the masters they serve, a point Paul will elaborate in 6:15ff. Ultimately, both sin and salvation are extra nos, as the Reformers taught. They originate not within us but outside us in Adam and Christ, and they manifest themselves as persons adapt to their pattern.’ (Edwards)

Do we inherit Adam’s sinful nature only, or also his guilt?  In this passage, Paul says little or nothing about our present sinfulness, but rather emphasises strongly our association with Adam’s one act of disobedience.

‘In view of the sustained emphasis on the one sin of the one man, vv15-19, as well as the antithetical parallel was, here as elsewhere (see esp. Rom 4:1-8), in which believers are justified, all men are sinners not only because they inherit a sinful nature from Adam but primarily because his sin is imputed to them, or reckoned as theirs.’ (R.B. Gaffin, New Dictionary of Theology, p5)

Here, the contrast between Adam and Christ is expressed in terms of ‘disobedience’ and ‘obedience’.  In Adam, ‘the many’ were ‘made sinners’ in the sense that they are placed in the category of ‘sinners’, just as ‘in Christ’ the many are placed in the category of ‘the righteous’.

‘Those who live in the state of sin have the status of “sinners”; they are not, that is, basically good people who sometimes to bad things, but are rather basically flawed people whose flaws reveal themselves repeatedly in specific acts of sin.’ (Wright)

‘Society’s present denial of human sinfulness has dire consequences. The daily news should tell us that Sin is real and pervasive. That we need locks on our doors, bars on our windows and alarm systems for our homes should tell us something about human nature. Post-enlightenment humanism continues to believe in the myth of fundamental human goodness in spite of daily evidence to the contrary, including within our own lives. We expect more than we should from one another and yet never seem surprised by the depths of evil around us.’ (Barnett)

Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He’s dirty, he has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children but all children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.  (Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 18, no. 1 (May 1927) reporting the Minnesota Crime Commission Report of 1926)

‘The many’ expresses Paul’s emphasis’ oft-repeated in this epistle, and not least in this passage, on the inclusion of Gentiles and Jews alike in the final acquittal

To be made righteous does not mean to be made morally upright, but to be ‘judged acquitted, cleared of all charges, in the heavenly judgment…”Righteousness”… is a legal, not a moral, term in this context.’ (Moo)

The emphasis on ‘grace’ in verses 15-17 highlights an important point: ‘while our solidarity with Adam in condemnation is due to our solidarity with him in “sinning”, our solidarity with Christ in righteousness is not because we have acted righteously in and with Christ…It is this gratuitous element on the side of Christ’s work that enables Paul to celebrate the “how much more” of our “reigning” in life, v17 and that gives to every believer absolute assurance for the life to come.’ (Moo)

‘It is often assumed that since Jesus shared a greater likeness to God than we do—indeed is God, according to the implication of Scripture and explication of the creeds—that it was easier for him to be obedient than it is for us. Both Scripture and logic would rigorously contest that assumption. According to Hebrews, “[Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered” (5:8), and Philippians says that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (2:8). Who can read the intensity of Jesus’ temptation and suffering in Gethsemane as a mere sham (Mark 14:32–36)? C. S. Lewis reminds us that the higher one is in the order of being, the greater are one’s temptations. A dog cannot be either as good or as bad as a child, nor a child as good or as bad as a genius. Christ’s temptations exceeded ours to the degree that his divine nature exceeds ours. Hence, his obedience effects a righteousness that we cannot achieve for ourselves.’ (Edwards)

5:20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 5:21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The law was added so that the trespass might increase – Paul probably means that the law intensified transgression in that what was not known as trespass before the law was given became known as such after the law had been given.  See Rom 7:7.  Kruse quotes Wright: ‘Wright offers the following comment and striking illustration: ‘To sin outside the law is still to sin; Paul has made that clear in 5:13–14; but to sin under the law—in other words, to transgress, to break a known commandment—is to make the problem worse. Think of sin as a small color transparency; the law puts a bright light behind it and a large screen in front of it. That is what Paul means by “increase the trespass” ’. Kruse adds: ‘One thing is clear: Paul sees the law as part of the human predicament, not its solution.’

Wright: ‘The phrase “so that,”…is vital. Paul is hinting that the often dark and sad history of Israel, the long descent into the “curse” of Deuteronomy, was not itself outside the divine purpose. That descent under the law was to be the means by which redemption would come. Even the exile itself, the long sojourn under the law’s curse, was part of the eventual saving purpose. The “so that” indicates that this was God’s intention. It was not an accident. Nor was it a demonic intrusion into the divine purpose.’ (The Day the Revolution Began)

‘A stick is crooked, but you do not notice how crooked it is until you place a straight rule by the side of it.  You have a handkerchief, and it seems to be quite white.  You could hardly with it to be whiter.  But you lay it down on the newly fallen snow, and you wonder how you could ever have thought it to be white at all.  So the pure and holy law of God, when our eyes are opened to see its purity, shows up our sin in its true blackness, and in that way it makes sin to abound.  But this is for our good, for that sight of our sin awakens us to a sense of our true condition, leads us to repentance, drives us by faith to the precious blood of Jesus, and no longer permits us to rest in our self-righteousness.’ (The Best of Spurgeon, 318f)

Paul is answering a possible question here.  ‘If the two great categories are “in Adam” and “in Christ”, what room is there in this scheme for Moses and the law?”  Paul has already explained that the law defines and reveals sin, Rom 3:20; that it turns sin into transgression, Rom 4:15.  He will go on to say in 7:8 that the law actually provokes sin.  In these ways, the law actually increases sin, as the present verse states.  But even when sin increased to the point of crucifying  the Lord of Glory, then grace increased all the more in the ‘divine self-giving of the cross’ (Cranfield).

Paul’s teaching here contrasts with the view of many Jews of the time, which saw the law solely in terms of the beginning of God’s gracious purposes for humanity, and his marking out a distinctive people for himself.  Paul says here the law merely intensified the problem of sin and condemnation.  The law defines sin and draws attention to it, but by itself is powerless to deal with it.  ‘Against Jewish tendencies to attribute virtually salvific meaning to the law, Paul dethrones the law by ranging it on the side of Adam and sin. ‘ (Moo)

‘The law does not play a determinative role in the contest between Adam and Christ because the law did not bring sin and death into the world, nor can the law remove sin and death from the world. The law thus promises no ultimate solution to the meaning of existence. This was assuredly no small offense to Paul’s Jewish readers, as it is to the moralistic of every age, for it excludes “living a good life”—the way of legal piety—from the whole question of salvation. Beyond Adam and Christ there is no third alternative of moralism, legalism, or good works.’ (Edwards)

Edwards adds: ‘As Paul will argue in chapter 7, the law not only reveals sin, it actually incites it! The prohibition, “Do not,” creates an appetite in the sinful will for the thing it forbids, thus exposing the depth of human complicity in sin. That was its intent from the beginning. Its purpose was not to convince Israel of its goodness and separate it from the Gentiles, but to expose Israel’s solidarity with the Gentiles in sin.’

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more – ‘The gospel of the grace of God has proved itself much more efficacious in the production of good, than sin in the production of evil.’ (Hodge)

As Edwards reminds us, this verse provided John Bunyan with the title of his autobiography: ‘Grace abounding to the chief of sinners‘).

‘However prevalent, nay rampant, sin may be, grace is more rampant yet, says Paul. Grace outweighs sin, indeed overwhelms it. After Bethlehem, evil can never again tip the scales in its favor!’  And this is no light thing ‘in a world such as ours where the specter of nuclear holocaust can reduce the earth to vapor and ash, or where injustice and social decay threaten the world with a dark age of moral and political anarchy.’ (Edwards)

Grace might reign – ‘Sin is sovereign until sovereign grace dethrones it.’

Through righteousness – This, for Wright, means, ‘through God’s faithful covenant justice.’  In other worlds, ‘the new world, the new type of human existence, has been brought about because the living God has been faithful to his covenant, the covenant designed to put the world to rights.” 

Eternal life – Wright translates this as ‘the life of the age to come’, complaining that the usual translation ‘gives most modern readers the quite wrong impression that Paul is talking about spending “eternity” in a world beyond space, time and matter, in “heaven”.  Paul never mentions such an idea.  What he has in mind, here and elsewhere, is the bodily resurrection of God’s people to share in the new earth and new heavens which will result from God’s liberation of the present world from decay and corruption.’  He adds, ‘if there is any doubt about this, chapter 8 will remove it.’

Kruse says that ‘eternal life’ in Paul’s writings (in contrast to the writings of John) ‘appears to denote the future reward in store for believers.’

‘Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression “the reign of grace”.  For grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life.  Grace satisfies the thirsty should and fills the hungry with good things.  Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ.  Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun.  And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom.  So when we are convinced that “grace reigns”, we will remember that God’s throne is a “throne of grace”, and will come to it boldly to receive mercy and to find grace for every need [Heb 4:16].’ (Stott)

Hodge (quoted by Stott) comments ‘that the benefits of redemption shall far outweigh the evils of the fall, is here clearly asserted,’ and explains that this is so because Christ ‘exalts his people to a far higher state of being than our race, if unfallen, could ever have attained,’ because the blessings of redemption ‘are not to be confined to the human race,’ and because ‘the number of the saved shall doubtless greatly exceed the number of the lost.’  He concludes that ‘we have reason to believe that the list shall bear to the saved no greater proportion than the inmates of a prison do to the mass of the community.’

Stott, adding to this reflection on the implications of Rom 5 a recollection of God’s promise to Abraham, and of the reference in Rev 7:9 to the redeemed constituting ‘a great multitude that no-one could count’, says that ‘this expectation should be a great spur to world evangelization.  For God’s promise assures us that the church’s mission will be attended by great blessing, and that a mighty harvest is yet to be reaped.’

‘Who reigns today?  Who is on the throne?  Before Christ came, the throne was occupied by sin and death, v14,17, and the world was strewn with corpses.  But since Christ came, the throne has been occupied by grace and by those who have received grace, and their reign is characterized by life, v17,21…Are we authentic New Testament Christians, whose vision is filled with Christ crucified, risen and reigning?  Is guilt still reigning, and death?  Or is grace reigning, and life?  To be sure, sin and Satan may seem to be reigning still, since many continue to bow down to them.  But their reign is an illusion, a bluff.  For at the cross they were decisively defeated, dethroned and disarmed.  Now Christ reigns, exalted to the Father’s right hand, with all things under his feet, welcoming the nations, and waiting for his remaining enemies to be made his footstool.’ (Stott)

Through Jesus Christ our Lord – through his work of grace in his death and resurrection.  This phrase has already concluded the previous paragraph, Rom 5:11, and will conclude each of the next three chapters.