Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 24. Romans 5:12-21.

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Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 24. Romans 5:12-21.

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‘Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and by means of sin, death, and so death extended unto all men, because all sinned: 13. For until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not reckoned where there is no law. 14. But death reigned from Adam to Moses even over those who sinned not after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is a type (figure) of the future one. 15. But not as the offence so also is the gift of grace; for if by the offence of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift in grace, which is of the one man Jesus Christ, abound toward the many. 16. And not as through one that sinned is the gift; for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is by many offences unto justification. 17. For if by the offence of the one death reigned through the one, much more shall they who receive the abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ. 18. Therefore as through one offence [it came] upon all men unto condemnation, so also through one righteous act [it came] upon all men unto justification of life. 19. For as by the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also by the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous. 20. But the law came in besides, in order that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace superabounded; 21. That as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness unto life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

It is only in part that this passage has respect to the law, and, as such, calls for special consideration here. The other portions, though in themselves of great moment, may be noticed only as having an incidental bearing on the subject now more immediately in hand. There is a certain abruptness in the transition here suddenly made to the case of Adam, and the comparative view instituted between him and Christ; for, though the general sinfulness and corruption of mankind had been already portrayed, nothing had as yet been indicated as to the primal source of mischief. The discourse of the apostle hence becomes somewhat involved; since, in order to explicate the points relating to the one side of his comparison, or prevent it from being misunderstood, he is obliged to introduce some explanatory statements, before proceeding to bring out what relates to the other side of the comparison. This necessarily breaks the continuity of the line of thought in the passage, while still the general meaning and drift of the whole admit of being quite definitely ascertained. The wherefore (διὰ τοῦτο) at the outset is best referred to the immediate context, Rom_5:9-11, in which the believer’s state of reconciliation, peace, and hope, through Christ, had been stated, and which suggested to the apostle the thought of what had been lost in Adam, as a further mode of magnifying the grace of God; wherefore, since this unspeakable boon has been secured for us in Christ, we may justly compare, in order to see the wonderful riches of Divine grace, what comes to us of evil from Adam, with what comes to us of good through Christ—only, as already said, there is an interruption, after the announcement of the first member, of the comparison, to make way for some thoughts that were deemed necessary to complete it. As by one man sin entered into the world, and by means of sin, death—Adam is, of course, the one man; by his breach of the command laid upon him, or violation of the covenant of life under which he stood, sin entered into the world—entered, that is, not merely as a specific act, but as a dominant power—and in the train of sin, as its appointed recompense, death. There is nothing new in these announcements—the apostle, indeed, gives expression to them as matters too well known to require proof, being clearly exhibited in the history of the fall; (Jowett seems entirely to ignore that history, when he says that ‘the oldest trace of the belief common to the Jews in St Paul’s time, that the sin of Adam was the cause of death to him, is found in the Book of Wisdom, Wis_2:24.’ Certainly, Paul’s mode of reading Old Testament Scripture furnished him with a greatly earlier trace of it. Compare with the passage here, 2Co_11:3; 1Ti_2:13-15.) therefore, he goes on, and so death extended to all men (εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους διῆλθεν, passed through among, extended to, all men), because all sinned. The and so at the beginning is as much as which being done, or such being the case, Adam having died on account of sin, the evil diffused itself throughout the whole race of mankind, because all sinned—ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον. Not in whom, with the Vulgate, Augustine, Estius, Beza, and others, as if the Greek had been ἐν ᾧ, but propter id quod, because that (see Fritzsche here); and, besides, the antecedent (the one man) is too far removed to admit of such a construction. Nearly all the better and more recent commentators are agreed in this mode of interpretation, which is that also of our common version; and the proper import of the clause cannot be more exactly represented than in the following exposition of Meyer (as given in the later, which here differs from the earlier, editions of his work): ‘Because all sinned, namely (observe the momentary sense of the Aorist), when, through the one, sin entered into the world. Because, since Adam sinned, all men sinned in and with him, the representative of the entire race of mankind, death, by reason of the original connection in Adam between sin and death, has diffused itself through all: All have become mortal through Adam’s fall, because the guilt of Adam was the guilt of all.’ Plainly, it is the relation of mankind to Adam in his sinfulness, not their own personal sin (according to the Pelagian view), which is asserted to be the procuring cause of death to mankind; and hence the absolute universality of death, the sin that caused it being in God’s reckoning the sin of humanity, and the wages of that sin, consequently, men’s common heritage.

Ver. 13. But this was a point which called for some additional explanation or proof; for it might seem strange, and even unjust, that that one sin, with its sad penalty, should involve all alike, if all were not in substantially the same state of sin and condemnation; particularly after what the apostle had himself declared but shortly before, that ‘where no law is, there is no transgression’ (Rom_4:15). Might it not, in that case, be held that those who lived before the law was given, were not chargeable with sin, and, consequently, not liable to its penalty? No, says the apostle there is no room for such a thought to enter; ‘for, until the law (ἄχρι νόμου, up to the time when it came), sin was in the world;’ that is, not only were men involved in the one act of Adam’s transgression, but sin, as a principle, continued to live and work in them onwards till the period of the law-giving at Sinai, as well as after it—shewing (for that is what it was needful to prove, and what the statement does prove) that sin in Adam was disease in the root, and that, as those who sprung from him ever manifested the same moral obliquity, they could not be placed in another category, or treated after another manner. They, too, were all sinners; but ‘sin (the apostle adds) is not reckoned where there is no law;’ sin and law are correlates of each other; hence, though not, like Israel after wards, placed under formal law, those earlier generations must have been virtually, really under the obligations of law—as, indeed, all by the very constitution of their nature are (according to what had already been stated, Rom_2:9-16). This, however, was not the whole: ‘But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression;’ that is, as I understand it, not only those who had themselves sinned, who by their violations of moral duty had given palpable evidence that actual sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, but even such as were not capable of sinning like Adam, sinning by any personal overt transgression (infants must be chiefly understood), these, as well as others, were during all that time subject to the penalty of sin—death. Relationship to Adam, therefore, renders all alike, from the first, partakers of a heritage of sin, and as such subject to condemnation; of which we have two proofs—first, that throughout past generations, before the law as well as after it, sin has been ever manifesting itself in those who were capable of committing it, and that in the case of others who, by reason of age, were not so capable, death, which is the penalty of sin, still reigned over them—though they had not sinned like Adam, they nevertheless died like Adam. Rom_5:13 and Rom_5:14 thus contain a double proof of the general position laid down in Rom_5:12—the universal prevalence of sin (in such as were capable of committing it), and the universal dominion of death (whether there had been actual sin or not). And that the former—the prevalence of actual sin is included in the apostle’s proof, as well as the latter, seems clear both from the natural import of the words (sin was in the world, the world all through has been a sinful one), but also from the account made in the comparative view which follows of the actual sins or offences of mankind. These, along with the sin of Adam, constitute the mass of guilt from which deliverance had to be brought in by the second Adam, and out of which justification unto life eternal had to be imparted; while the sin of the one man wrought for all unto condemnation and death, the righteousness of the other prevailed, not only against that sin, but against numberless offences besides, unto justification and life (Rom_5:16).

Interpreted thus, every part of the apostle’s statement is taken in a quite natural sense, and has its due effect given to it; but the other interpretations which have been adopted always fail, in one part or another, to give what seems a full or natural explanation. For example, the clause respecting the reckoning or imputing of sin, is understood, by a large number of commentators (Augustine, Ambrose, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Stuart, etc.) as referring to men’s own sense of sin; being without law, they did not charge guilt upon their consciences, did not take it to heart, or, as put by Usteri, Tholuck, and others, ‘Man did not feel his sin as a punishment.’ But this is to take the verb in an arbitrary sense, which plainly denotes a formal transaction, a legal reckoning, as of a matter that may or may not justly be placed to one’s account; and it also introduces an irrelevant consideration; for the question here was not what men thought of themselves, but how they stood in reference to the judgment and procedure of God. The view of Meyer, Alford, and several recent commentators, appears equally untenable: they understand the passage to say, that while there was sin constantly existing in the world before Moses, yet it was not reckoned to men as formal transgression, or as deserving of punishment, because the law had not been given. According to Meyer, ‘it was not brought into reckoning, namely, for punishment, and indeed by God—for it is of the Divine procedure, in consequence of the fall, that the whole context treats.’ Alford modifies it a little, as if the representation of Meyer were somewhat too strong: ‘In the case of those who had not the written law, sin (ἁμαρτία) is not formally reckoned as transgression (παράβασις) set over against the command; but in a certain sense, as distinctly proved, ch. Rom_2:9-16, it is reckoned, and they are condemned for it’—that is, reckoned, indeed, but reckoned as ‘in a less degree culpable and punishable.’ But this is to put a meaning on Paul’s language, for which Paul himself gives no warrant; he is speaking, not of degrees of culpability, but of what might or might not be reckoned sin, and, as such, deserving of death. Besides, to distinguish between sin and transgression in this way, when the matter relates to actual guilt, is to make too much hang on a verbal difference; nor is it warranted by other passages of Scripture. (See the remarks at Gal_3:19.) Unquestionably, before the giving of the law, men were not only spoken of as sinners, but formally reckoned such, judged, held deserving of the severest penalties; (Gen_4:8-12; Gen_6:3-7; Gen_6:13, etc., 9:6, 11:1-8, 18:17, 19:29, etc.) and the apostle merely epitomizes this part of Old Testament history, when he states that sin was in the world up to the giving of the law, and consequently bespoke the existence of law (though not formally enacted as from Sinai) of which it constituted the violation. It is true, he does not ascribe the heritage of death to these actual violations of law, but only to the sin of Adam; this, however, does not prevent his seeing in them a proof, that all were held to have sinned in Adam, and in him to have fallen into a state of depravity and condemnation—the point immediately in hand. So far, I entirely concur with Dr Hodge: ‘If there is no sin without law, there can be no imputation of sin. As, however, sin was imputed (or reckoned), as men were sinners, and were so regarded and treated before the law of Moses, it follows that there must be some more comprehensive law in relation to which men were sinners, and in virtue of which they were so regarded and treated.’ Assuredly, but I see no reason for holding that this has reference simply to original sin, or to men’s relation to the one sin of Adam—that they were regarded and treated as sinners, merely because they were viewed as having sinned in Adam; for this would be to put rather a forced interpretation on the clause, that sin was in the world till the law, making it to mean that the sin of Adam’s first transgression was in the world. This were unnatural, especially just after that sin had been mentioned as a past act; and, besides, by fixing attention only on that one sin, the thought of actual offences would be virtually excluded; while yet these, as we presently find, form an important item in the comparative view drawn by the apostle. Take the line of thought to be that which we have presented, and there is no ground for such objections. ‘All sinned in Adam’—this is the general position; and the proof is, sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, as well as since, at once the fruit of Adam’s sin, and the parent of numberless other sins; but, apart also from these, death has reigned with undistinguishing equality over one and all, whether or not chargeable with personal transgressions.

Having made this explanation about sin and death in relation to Adam’s fall, the apostle now begins to wend his course back to the comparison of the two great heads of humanity; and first notices the resemblance, by saying of Adam, that he was ‘the type of the future One’—of the Man, by way of eminence, that was afterwards to come. He was the type in regard to the great principle of headship—it being true alike of both, that their position in the Divine economy carried along with it the position of all who are connected with them—the one in nature, the other in grace. But with this general resemblance, the apostle goes on to say, there were important differences; and more especially, first, in regard to the kind of results flowing from the connection—in the one case evil, condemnation, death; in the other good, justification, life; secondly, in regard to the mode and ground of procedure—one man’s sin bringing upon the many such a heritage of evil, the righteousness of the other (because of its absolute perfection and infinite worth) prevailing over many sins to secure a heritage of good, greatly more than counterbalancing the evil; hence, thirdly, the surpassing excellence of grace as manifested in the one line of operations, as compared with the actings of nature in the other.

Two points only, and these of a somewhat incidental kind, call for a brief notice. One is, as to the place where the explanatory matter ends, and the apostle formally concludes the comparison begun in Rom_5:12. It is, as all the better commentators now agree, at ver. 18, where there is a recapitulation of what had been previously stated, and a pressing of the formal conclusion: ‘Therefore as through one offence [it came] upon all men to condemnation, so also through one righteous act (διʼ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος, pointing specially to the consummation of Christ’s work on the cross) [it came] upon all men unto justification of life,’ etc. The other point has respect to what is said of the law in its bearing on the subject, which was, not to provide the means of justification, but rather to increase the number of offences from which justification was needed: ‘But the law came in besides (παρεισῆλθεν, subintravit, entered by the way as a kind of subsidiary element, therefore with power only to modify, not to alter essentially, the state of matters) in order that the offence might abound’—not, of course, in an arbitrary way to increase the number of sins, or strictly for the purpose of working in this direction, but with such a certain knowledge of its tendency so to work, that this might be said to have been its object, Prescribing to men the way of righteousness, and commanding them to observe it, the law did but shew the more clearly how far they had gone from it, and by its very explicitness as to duty, served to multiply the number and aggravate the guilt of transgressions. Substantially the same thought is expressed in Gal_3:19, so that it is unnecessary to enlarge on the subject here.