Romans 5:12-21

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This passage is a transitional area between the Doctrine of Justification in chapters 3-5 and the Doctrine of Sanctification in chapters 6 and following.  This is a passage of sources.  It presents the source of our condemnation:  Adam.  And it presents the source of our justification:  Christ.


As we read this passage, I want to suggest that verses 13 through 17 are parenthetical.  Paul sets out to present a comparison between Adam and Christ.  Verse 12 contains the “AS” clause.  The “EVEN SO” clause that is needed to finish the comparison is taken up again in verse 18.





            Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all man, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).


Pelagius interpreted this verse as containing both the protasis and the apodosis: “Just as Adam sinned, so also everyone else sinned.”

Paul begins with a protasis (“just as”). 

He is going to compare the way that sin entered the world through one man with the way that salvation is provided by one man.  He begins by pointing out three things that happened through Adam.


1.         Sin entered the world.


This is what happened in the Garden of Eden.  Sin was not a part of original creation.  It had no place in the original design.  It was an aberration.  The fact that sin is here today means that something took place to make the world a different place.


2.         Death entered the world through that sin.


Death is not natural.  Just as sin is an aberration, so also death is also an aberration.  The nature of sin is the mutilation of life.  Sin brings about death.


3.         That death spread to all mankind (because all sinned).


“Because all sinned” is the aorist tense.  It describes a point in time.  It looks to the time of Adam’s sin.  There is a sense in which all people sinned when Adam sinned because he was the federal head of the human race.  There are four interpretations of this phrase:


(1)        All have sinned in their own persons.


(2)        All are corrupt - everyone has inherited a sin nature from Adam.


(3)        All mankind was mystically and genetically in Adam and so all sinned.


(4)        All sinned in Adam in the sense that Adam is the federal head of the human race.


I want to suggest that it is this last interpretation that we are to understand.  Just as Christ's righteousness has been credited to us, so Adam’s sin was first imputed to us as our federal head.


When Congress declared war on Japan in December 1941, most Americans did not have any say in the matter.  This made no difference.  The United States was at war and ALL of its citizens were now at war.  The action of the federal head of the Congress meant that every citizen which that federal head represented was impacted.


In the same way, Paul assumes the federal headship of Adam as a foregone conclusion.  Because Adam sinned and rebelled against God, all mankind similarly entered that rebellion.


Notice that sin did not come by “one woman.”  The woman was not the head of the human race.  Man was responsible, even though it was the woman who first sinned.  Why?  Because man was the woman’s head.


This was not an especially new or innovative concept.  What was new was that the same thing also applied to Jesus.  The distinctive aspect of Paul’s teaching will be that CHRIST is also a federal head.





Paul started verse 12 with a protasis:  “Just as...”  We would expect this to be followed up with an apodosis: “Even so...”  But he doesn’t do this.  Instead, he stops in mid-sentence to explain what he means when he says that “all sinned.”  He will not come back to protasis/apodosis until verse 18 (and at that time, he will repeat the protasis).


What does Paul mean when he says that “all sinned”?  He does not mean that all sinned individually.  He means that all sinned in Adam.


            For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law. (Romans 5:13).


Paul has already demonstrated that sin and death always go together (Romans 3:23).  Wherever you see one, you will also see the other.  Satan always tries to divide them.  “You shall not surely die.”  And the world has always believed this lie.  You cannot sin with impunity.  If you sin, you will soon smell the odor of death.


Here he brings up another point.  It is that sin existed without law even though, by strict definition, there is no sin without law.  The syllogism goes like this:


Major Premise

Sin is imputed to the one who breaks God's Law.

Minor Premise

There was a time when sin was in the world but when the Law had not been given.


Sin was imputed some other way besides the breaking of God's Law - IE, through the sin of Adam.


It is impossible to sin when there are no commands to sin against.  It is impossible to break the speed limit when there is no speed limit.  Prior to the Law, “sin was in the world” (imperfect tense).  There was no Law until Mount Sinai.


Adam sinned and death entered.  The result was that "all sinned."


     Death reigned

The Law was given to Moses at Mount Sinai.


Verses 13-14 prove the doctrine of imputation of sin presented in verse 12.

Sin is not imputed where there is no law (Romans 5:13c).  You cannot disobey God's law unless He has given a law.  Anyone living after Adam but before Moses could not break any of God's laws because God had not given any laws.


On the other hand, people continued to die during the period between Adam and Moses.


However, the penalty of death was not inflicted upon men because of their transgression of the Law.  Therefore, the reason that death reigned from Adam to Moses was because of Adam's sin.





Paul was familiar with the Jewish way of thinking that says, “If I can just keep the Law, then I will be okay.”  But people were suffering death, the effects of sin, during a period when there was no Law.  They were getting speeding tickets in a place where there was no speed limit.


            Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (Romans 5:14).


If sin always is accompanied by death, then how could death reign in the period from Adam to Moses if sin had not been legally imputed?  It is because Adam’s sin WAS imputed.


We often ask, “What about the man in Africa who has never heard of God’s law?”  Paul goes one better by asking, “What about the man who lived before the Law where NO ONE had heard of God's law?”


The answer is found in the imputation of Adam’s sin.  Adam’s sin was imputed to all of his descendants, even though they had not sinned in the same way that Adam had sinned.


In this way. Adam was a type of Christ (“a type of Him who was to come” - 5:14).  Adam was a type of Christ in this respect - that he served as a federal head of many.  He sinned.  His actions were imputed to others.


Christ also served as the federal head of many.  He performed a single act - dying upon the cross.  And His actions were imputed to others.  In the eyes of the law, all who were identified with Christ were also crucified.





Up to this point, we have seen the similarities between the act of Adam and that of Christ.  Each served as the “federal head” of mankind, whose actions affect all men.  But now there is a change.





Describes the Similarities between the act of Adam and that of Christ.

Emphasizes the Differences between Adam and Christ.

Summary of Christ’s work as it relates to Adam.


            But the free gift is not like the transgression.  For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (Romans 5:15).


Adam is a type of Christ - actually an "anti-type."  He was similar to Christ in one respect.  It was in that his action brought about a result on the part of many.




By the transgression of one...

By the gift of grace of one man, Jesus...

Many died.

Grace abounded to many.

The Transgression.

The Gift.


If it is certain that we all die through Adam's sin, it is even more certain that we have received the grace and the gift of God.  If we had no part in the first, then we also have no part in the second.


Here is the point.  While it is certain that death comes, it is even more certain that we have salvation in Christ.


            And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand, the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. (Romans 5:16).


ONE sin of ONE man at ONE time in history brought forth God's condemnation against the entire human race.  That is an indication of how bad sin really is.  One sin was so bad that it condemned an entire race before it was even born.  It only took one sin to get you into trouble and it wasn't even yours.




The judgment...

The free gift...

Arose from one transgression.

Arose from many transgressions.

Results in condemnation.

Results in justification.


How did the free gift arise from many transgressions?  This is the gift of justification.  The believer is declared to be righteous.  Christ did not just die for Adam’s sin.  He did not merely die for original sin.  He died for many.


If the one sin was enough to plunge the entire world into condemnation, then how great must be the power of the grace that is able to overcome that condemnation!


            For if by the transgressions of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17).


Notice the progression within this verse.  It moves from grace to righteousness to life.








This is important.  Grace is the source of everything that we have.  On the basis of grace, we receive the righteousness of Christ.  And life only comes after we have received that righteousness.






By the transgression many died

The free gift abounds in life to many


Judgment arose from transgression resulting in condemnation

The free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification


Death reigned

We reign in life


The human race got off to a bad start in Adam.  But the human race gets a new start in Christ.  Birth is both the cause and the cure for man’s sin.


            By being born as descendants of Adam, we found ourselves under the condemnation of sin and death.


            But by being born again in Christ, we find ourselves declared by God to be righteous as we enter a new life in Him.



ONE MAN (ROMANS 5:18-19)


            So then as through one transgression there resulted in condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted in justification of life to all men.

            For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19).


Through one man’s disobedience the many were classified as sinners.  The word              carries with it the idea of placing a person in a certain category.  This is the imputation of Adam’s sin.  It had the effect of placing all men into the category of “sinner.”


All men


In Adam

All men


In Christ


Does this mean that all men are justified?  Yes.  All men who are in Christ are justified just as all men who are in Adam are condemned.  Just as Adam’s sin affected all those who were members of his race, so also Christ’s righteousness affects all those who are members of His race through faith.  Your identity is found in one of two persons.  It is found either in Adam or else it is found in Christ.


You might be saying to yourself, “I don’t like the idea of Adam representing me.”  I don’t either.  But I did something about it.  I repudiated the representation of Adam by accepting a new representative - Christ.


We have already established the basic definition of the term “impute” as referring to that which is considered or reckoned or credited.

We can summarize these imputational truths into three points:


(1)        Adam’s sin was imputed to us in the Garden.


(2)        Our sins were imputed to Christ when He was upon the cross (this is the basis for the doctrine of a particular atonement).


(3)        Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us when we believe.  This is why justification is by faith.


This means that you do not focus upon yourself for your salvation.  You focus upon what God has done.  This means that God is the One who gets the glory in your salvation (note the three times in verses 1-11 where Paul speaks of boasting in God.




            And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21).


Why does Paul go back and speak of the Law again?  This is a reference back to verse 14.  He is still contrasting that which brought sin versus that which brought salvation.


There was a time when the Law came in.  The Law was not the main actor upon the stage.  It came on the scene to perform a specific purpose.  It came that “the transgression might increase.”  How does the Law bring increased sinfulness?  There are several ways.


·        By contrast.  The deeds of sin are pointed out as being wrong and so are made much more wrong than if they had not been pointed out.

·        By stirring up man’s sinful nature.  When the law forbids, there is something within us that desires to do that sin.

·        By bringing out what is within man.


Why was the Law given if it would produce these results?  It was to cause us to run to grace.  It was so that “grace might reign through righteousness.”


As sin reigned in death


Even so...

Grace might reign through righteousness


Here is the point.  Grace can come to man on the bridge of God’s righteousness.  That righteousness has set grace upon the throne.  When you are saved by grace through faith, it isn’t IN SPITE of God’s righteousness, but BECAUSE OF His righteousness.


When Martin Luther began his odyssey toward understanding the doctrine of justification, he came face to face with the righteousness of God.  He deemed God’s righteousness to be his enemy.  It was the righteousness of God that condemned him for the helpless sinner that he was.  But then, he read in the book of Romans the concept that grace reigns through righteousness.  That made all of the difference in the world.  Instead of God’s righteousness being the source of his condemnation, he came to realize that God’s righteousness was the source of his justification.


Sin is described in verse 21 as “having reigned.”  Sin is pictured as sitting upon a throne and reigning over mankind.  The sign of sin’s sovereignty is death.  Christ came to dethrone sin.  He replaces sin with GRACE.  Grace now sits upon the throne.  And the righteousness of God will not unseat grace because it was that very righteousness that put it there!


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