Romans 5:12-19


John 1:29; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19; and Romans 5:18-19 teach the same grand truth: the universal atonement; the universal forgiveness of sins; the universal reconciliation of all human beings to God; and, the universal justification of all people. In all four cases because of what Jesus Christ did for all in His life, death, and resurrection.

Franzmann: (Concordia Bible with Notes) From his vantage point of exultant certainty Paul looks back and surveys the ground he has travelled. All that he has said of sin and grace, of Law and Gospel, of man's old status under the judgment of God and his new status under the acquittal of God, he sums up once more in the monumental comparison and contrast between Adam and Christ. After stating the first half of the comparison-contrast (12), he inserts two parenthetical thoughts; one (13-14) is designed to support his statement that ALL HAVE SINNED in the death-dealing primal sin of Adam, head of the human race, that the sway of death over mankind is due to mankind's solidarity in sin with Adam -- what else could explain the unbroken universal sway of death during the period without the Law between Adam and Moses? The other parenthesis (15-17) safeguards the unique glory of Christ against the misunderstanding that Christ and Adam are equal forces in the life of mankind. Three times Paul asserts the positive, vital, creative plus on the side of Christ. Then (18-19) two pithy statements enunciate the comparison-contrast between Adam's trespass and disobedience and Christ's act of righteousness and obedience, both universally effective in their result for all mankind.

Well said. We shall follow this scheme in our exposition of the text.

During the closing decades of the nineteenth century several controversies raged simultaneously in the Lutheran Synodical Conference (a number of synods in fellowship with each other.) One of these controversies was concerning the article of justification. One side said that in Christ all human beings were justified before God quite apart from their individual faith (Romans 4:25). The other side denied this. They maintained that the justification procured by Christ was not universal but only a potential. It comes to pass when a person comes to faith. The one side maintained that the Latin  justificatio per fidem,  found so frequently in the Confessions, means that justification is given to the individual through faith which is a  modus  not a  causa,  a method of reception, not a cause of reception. The various expressions in the Greek New Testament for "through faith" are always modal, never causal nor temporal. In the controversy the other side maintained that there is no justification until there is faith. This makes the expression "through faith" either causal (propter fidem) or temporal (post fidem).

Dr. Stoeckhardt's writings are typical of those who maintained universal or objective justification in the controversy. R. C. H. Lenski's writings are typical of those who denied objective justification. When using Lenski one must be constantly on guard for his erroneous understanding of objective, or universal, justification.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--

"Therefore" because Christ is central to all.

Eve is not mentioned because Adam received the commandment and was the head not only of the human race but also of Eve. Furthermore, Satan is not mentioned nor need he be. The contrast and comparison is not between God and Satan but between Christ and Adam.

"Just as" could be translated "just as-also thus."

Note that in this verse no mention is yet made of Christ. It is the first half of the comparison-contrast which is continued in verses 18-19. Verse 12 dwells on the one act of Adam. Through one person sin entered. Through sin the death entered. Note it came "to all men."

"Came" is variously translated as "spread, pervaded, passed on." Death came to all men and me not because of what I did but because of Adam's sin.

"Because" is unanimously translated "because." In Adam all sinned. In Adam all died. This is what we call inherited guilt, original sin. The sinfulness and death of all men are inevitable.

Note how often "through one" or its equivalent appears in this text: once in 12, twice in 15, once in 16, three times in 17, twice in 18, and twice in 19, for a total of eleven.

Lenski: Verse 12 is Paul's complete preliminary statement on the universality of sin and death, a universality not merely empirical, but actually original, not one that spread like an infection making more and more sound people sick, until no more sound ones are now left, but one that poisoned the original source and so doomed all in advance.
Stoeckhardt: That Paul also has eternal death in mind when he speaks of death is seen from the contrast between death and eternal life at the close of the chapter . . . . Because of his sin Adam forfeited his life, also the blessed life in communion with God and the blessed life of glorification, which he would have gradually entered had he stood the test.

Romans 5:13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

These verses tell us that death held its unbroken power over people because they continued in sin, though their sin was different from that of Adam.

The purpose of the giving of the Law is stated in verse 20. Between the time of Adam and that of Moses there was no Law to show the abundance of sin. But just because there was no Law does not mean that there was no sin. There was. That is proved in verse 14 by the fact that death was ruler among human beings.

"Even" over those who did not sin exactly like Adam did, death ruled. The point in the last part of verse 14: "Who is a type of the One who was to come."

Arndt: Adam is a type of him that was to come, that is a figure of Christ. In what respect? The act of the one determined the fate of the many. Through the one, calamity comes over all. Through the other, blessings come upon all.
Stoeckhardt: As by one man's sin death has come upon all men, so by the righteousness of one Man life has come to all men.

"Pattern" is variously translated as figure, type, foreshadowed, picture. Though Paul has not mentioned Christ at this point, the precise point of comparison between type and antitype is "one act of disobedience brought sin and death to all just as one act of obedience brought righteousness and life to all."

Before we leave this section we mention that in the account of Adam's descendants in Genesis 5 for each descendent Moses adds these words: "and he died."

Stoeckhardt: The sinner of the first world-era died because of the one transgression of Adam.

Romans 5:15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, 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!

Verses 12-14 deal almost exclusively with Adam and his descendants. The comparison with Christ and all mankind is introduced right at the end where Christ, though not named, is implicitly called Adam's antitype. The comparison is fully explained in verses 18-19.

But verses 15-17, which intervene, denote not so much a comparison as a contrast.

Franzmann: The other parenthesis (15-17) safeguards the unique glory of Christ against the misunderstanding that Christ and Adam are equal forces in the life of mankind. Three times Paul asserts the positive, vital, creative plus on the side of Christ.

As verse 15 begins, the editors rightly begin a subparagraph at this point. It runs to the end of verse 17.

"Trespass" is the sin, the fall of Adam. "Grace" is the gift of grace which Christ earned for us. Both denote an action which effected all. Paul is saying: "The gift of grace far exceeded the sin."

Now follows a fact or particular condition. We must say "yes" to the protasis, the "if" clause.

Stoeckhardt: He means all people. He creates the impression of a great mass and so makes the contrast to 'the one' appear very strong.

That this expression means "all men" becomes quite clear when one compares verses 18 and 19. The apodosis is introduced with the words "how much more" which words are found again in verse 17.

"The grace of God" is that quality in God which caused Him to send the Savior. The expression "the gift in grace which is of the one person, Jesus Christ" denotes that which Christ earned for us, the meritorious cause.

What is the difference between the "trespass" of the one and the "gift" of the other? The latter abounded.

Arndt: The grace of God and the gift of Christ abounded much more. It is much greater than sin. It far outweighs and surpasses it.
Lenski: Christ did far more than to restore the state before the fall. He at once brought the full consummation, for the attainment of which Adam had been created. Not again was there to be a testing, such a one as Adam had failed in, but Christ won for him and for all of us the full reign of life everlasting, the  status gloriae,  as the dogmaticians call it.
Stoeckhardt: In the grace of that one Man, Jesus Christ, God's grace manifests itself. And the grace of God is an altogether different power, is much greater, stronger, and effectively more powerful than the transgression of the one man. For that reason it is said of the grace of God and Jesus Christ, not only that it came unto the many, but that it 'abounded' unto many, was richly poured out upon them.
Bengel: The grace of God is the grace of Christ, conferred by the Father upon Christ, that it may flow from Him to us.

By the way, Adam is called "man" in verses 12 and 19. Christ is called "man" only once, here in verse 15. They were alike in their humanity, but yet so unlike, for Christ was sinless. But the sinless one took sin upon Himself. That is implicit in our text. It is said of the many that they died through Adam's trespass. It is not said that the many "lived" through what Christ did for them. Christ's vicarious atonement did not remove temporal death. It did something far greater. That is why Paul uses "abounded."

Note that in verse 15b we have two nouns for one verb, which is in the singular number. That is remarkable. The two nouns are so closely united that they have a singular verb in common. TEV translates: "But God's grace is much greater, and so is his free gift to so many men through the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ."

God's grace and His gracious gift of redemption in His Son far exceed sin and death. It is somewhat like the idea in Romans 8:18: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." The glories of heaven are so great that they aren't worth comparing with temporal sufferings. The gracious gift of salvation attained by Jesus Christ far exceeds the terror and power of sin and death. What a glorious truth!

Romans 5:16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

We quote three modern translations which cause us to think:

In verse 15 we had the first great difference in the Adam-Christ comparison: God's grace and the gift of grace in Christ is much greater than sin and death. Now comes the second great difference.

Arndt: Adam was the only person who had sinned when the sentence was spoken over the whole world; when Christ died many had sinned and many are still going to sin. That shows the superiority of the work of Christ.

Note that we have two sets of opposites: "Trespass" and "grace"; "Condemnation" and "justification." "Trespass" and "condemnation" frighten us. "Grace" and "justification" comfort us.

Lenski: Here is no difference of mere extent, but a difference of opposite results. Once a verdict of condemnation, then a verdict of justification . . . Paul takes only the one man as the source of the verdict of condemnation but takes all the falls of that one man and of all other men as the source of the justifying verdict.

Objective justification means that Christ has justified all human beings. It is complete. We benefit by this only through faith. Objective justification is not universalism.

Romans 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, 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 verse 15 we had the first difference. The second difference follow in verse 16. Now comes the third difference: Adam's sin brought death; Christ's act brought life. The condemnation of Adam meant death. The justification of Christ means life.

We translate "abundant provision of grace" as "the abundance of grace and of the gift which amounts to righteousness."

AAT: "If one man by his sin made death a king, we, on whom God has poured His love and His gift of righteousness, are all the more certain the one Jesus Christ makes us live and be kings."

Lenski: 'In life' is emphatic, being placed before the verb . . . Eternal life is the goal of justification . . . Salvation and life are the same concept. Here they refer to heaven. This means that they will live and reign eternally.

Note the utter contrast in this verse: Death was king through one man, Adam. Those who receive the gift of righteousness will live and rule as kings.

The gracious gift of righteousness is an accomplished fact for al people. Only those who receive it by faith benefit from it. They live and reign eternally through the one Jesus Christ. Verses 18 and 19 which now follow are a very clear statement of universal justification.

Romans 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

Franzmann: Two pithy statements enunciate the comparison-contrast between Adam's trespass and disobedience and Christ's act of righteousness and obedience both universally effective in their result for all mankind.
Arndt:A grand summary is introduced. The apostle once more takes up the comparison which he began in verse 12. Now he shows in what respect Adam and Christ are similar, stating at the same time the points of dissimilarity. . . . We have here a clear passage for objective or universal justification.

We quote several modern English translations which bring out the thought:

Stoeckhardt: Because of Christ's righteousness all men were declared righteous and awarded life.

By his fall and disobedience Adam lost everlasting life and caused all men to lose eternal life. The active and passive obedience of Christ led to His acquittal which was then accounted to all men as a declaration of forgiveness of sin and the bestowal of eternal life.

Luther: Where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.

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

Note the beautiful and exquisite parallel structure.

By comparing this verse with verses 15 and 18 we know that the expression "many" must mean "all men," "all people." One cannot water down the second "many" without doing violence to the context. Furthermore, what resulted from Adam's disobedience and what resulted from Christ's obedience is altogether independent of man's conduct. All men became sinners through the disobedience of Adam. That is true in the moment of their conception, before they do, say, or think anything. We call that inherited sin. But we are just as guilty as Adam. All men are constituted righteous through the obedience of the one Man, Jesus Christ.

Stoeckhardt:With Paul justification is identical with the forgiveness of sins. 2 Corinthians 5:19. God has, in Christ, forgiven the world all its sins. The entire Pauline doctrine of justification and all comfort in justification stand or fall with this article of universal justification. So it is fully clear and evident that justification is altogether independent of man's conduct. And thus alone can the individual be absolutely sure of his justification. For it is a cogent conclusion: If God has already in Christ justified all men and forgiven their sins, then I also in Christ have a gracious God and the forgiveness of all my sins. . . . What he says about Adam only introduces what he says about the second Adam. He puts before our eyes the abyss of Adamite corruption but soon directs our glance from the type to the antitype and shows us the abyss of unending divine compassion. And only for this purpose does he permit us to look into the depths of human depravity, that we rightly estimate the depth and greatness of divine compassion.

In conclusion, we must mention one problem. "Will be made righteous" is obviously future tense. Stoeckhardt calls this the logical future, meaning that it is something which is sure to happen and did when Christ died and rose from the dead, Romans 4:25. Some (Lenski and other Lutherans) object to this. Some claim, erroneously, that there is no justification until there is faith. The objectors say: "Nowhere in the Bible is any person constituted or declared righteous without faith, before faith."

We answer. Of course, Paul is not teaching universalism. People must repent and believe in order to benefit from what Christ did for all. Objective justification by no means excludes repentance and faith. But Romans 5:12-19 clearly teaches that God, in Christ, justified, acquitted, forgave, freed all people everywhere so that they might, by faith, appropriate what Christ did for them.

The terms subjective and objective justification do not occur in our Lutheran Confessions. That is simply because at that time no Lutheran had denied the universal justification of all men in Christ. But in many places in the  Apology  and the  Formula of Concord  the word "justification" is used synonymously or interchangeably with such words as reconciliation, forgiveness of sins, the merits of Christ, and the righteousness which avails before God. In other words, the Reformation fathers considered justification an accomplished fact, not merely a potential for believers only.

Apology  (Tappert 116, 71): When we say that faith justifies, some may think this refers to the beginning, as though faith were the start of justification or a preparation for justification. Then it would be not faith, but the works that follow, by which we would become acceptable unto God.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 75-80. Used with permission.

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