NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XII)
Verse 12: Sin came into the world because of what one man did. And with that sin came death. So this is why all people must die – because all people have inherently violated God’s law.
Without mentioning his name, it is clear that the Apostle Paul was referring to Adam who was deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of mankind’s existence here on earth.1 As a result, death was pronounced as the penalty for sin.2 Paul said the same thing in his letter to the Corinthians: “Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now, there is resurrection from death because of what another man did.”3 Paul makes it clear, that it is nothing mankind does that makes him a condemned sinner, this was inherited from Adam. By the same token, there is nothing mankind can do that frees him from the sentence of death, this is only available by grace through the love and mercy of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.
This subject of inherited sin being the cause that death became the future fate of all mankind is clearly expressed in Jewish writings. We read: “Expelled from the garden under the curse which their disobedience brought upon them, Adam and Eve were doomed to a life of labor and pain which was the prelude to death. Happiness, innocence, and deathlessness were forever forfeited. And in their fall were involved all of their descendants, none of whom in consequence was exempt from the corruption of death and from sin.”4
But this was not considered merely a physical death, but also a spiritual one. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians that at one time they were all dead in their trespasses and sins.5 This same concept was expressed in a Jewish paraphrase of the Book of Ruth where it reads: “The serpent’s counsel to Eve, Adam’s wife, to partake of the fruit of the tree, the eating of which resulted in wisdom to distinguish between good and evil, was recalled before God. Because of that counsel, all inhabitants of the earth are mortal, and as a result of that blunder, the righteous Jesse died.”6
This topic was also discussed by the Rabbis and became part of their Talmud. For instance, we read where Rabbi Ammi said: “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity. There is no death without sin, for it is written, The soul that sins, it will die: the son will not bear the iniquity of the father, neither will the father bear the iniquity of the son, the righteousness of the righteous will be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon him, etc.7” But we read where an objection was made: “The ministering angels asked the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why did You impose the penalty of death upon Adam?’ He said to them, I gave him an easy command, yet he violated it.’ ‘Moses and Aaron fulfilled the whole Torah they pursued’ — ‘yet they also died.’”8
There is no “Which came first, the chicken or the egg” theory here. Life came first, sin second, the death sentence third, the Law fourth, salvation fifth, everlasting life sixth, and after that eternal rest. The influx of sin into life brought about the advent of death. But salvation through Christ completed the Law, thereby, bringing back a spiritual life that does not end in death. For the unconverted, however, the cycle has not changed. One is born and given life. At the age of accountability, the Law makes them aware of sin and the need for salvation and a Savior; and that the wages of continuing in sin is death. It is only when salvation is fully experienced, that a new life in Christ is granted through His grace and received by faith. God won’t let you earn it; He has no plan by which you can merit it; there is no layaway plan by which you can pay for it, even after arriving in purgatory. It is a gift from God. Sadly, many still think it’s an option. Truth is, you can’t make heaven without it.
Many early church and Medieval scholars had things to say about this verse. For instance, Eusebius made the point: “[Since] by man death entered into the world, it was surely essential that the victory over death should be achieved by man as well, and the body of death be shown to be the body of life, and the reign of sin that before ruled in the mortal body be destroyed [in the body]so that it should no longer serve sin but righteousness.”9 No doubt this is why the Father insisted that His Son come to earth in bodily form in order to correct all the mistakes the first created man made.
Early church Bishop Ambrose, in one of his writings, made this observation: “Death is alike to all, without deference for the poor, without exception for the rich. Although through the sin of one alone it passed onto all that we may not refuse to acknowledge Him to be also the Author of death. Whom we do not refuse to acknowledge as the Author of our race; and that, as through one death is ours, so should be also the resurrection; and that we should not refuse the misery, that we may attain to the gift… In Adam I fell, in Adam, I was cast out of Paradise, in Adam, I died; how shall the Lord call me back, except He find me in Adam; guilty as I was in him, so now justified in Christ. If then, death is the debt of all, we must be able to endure the payment.”10 This thinking is why Jesus is often referred to as the “Second Adam.”11
One Latin poet and hymn writer of the 4th century penned this:
“Such was the soul’s first state. Created pure
Through sordid union with the flesh, it fell
Into iniquity; stained by Adam’s sin,
It tainted all the race from him derived,
And infant souls inherit at their birth
The first man’s sin; no one is sinless born.”12
John Calvin states: “For as Adam at his creation had received for us as well as for himself the gifts of God’s favor, so by falling away from the Lord, he in himself debased, diminished, depraved, and destroyed our nature; for having been divested of God’s likeness, he could not have generated seed but what was like himself. Hence, we have all sinned; for we are all infected with natural corruption, and so are become sinful and wicked.”13
John Bengel writes: “This has regard to the whole of the preceding discussion, from which the Apostle draws these conclusions concerning sin and righteousness, herein making not so much a digression as a regression. In imitation of Paul’s method, we must treat, in the first place, of actual sin, according to the first and following chapters, and then go back to the source in which sin originated. Paul does not speak altogether expressly of that which theologians call original sin; but, in truth, the sin of Adam is sufficient to demonstrate man’s guilt; the very many, and most mournful fruits resulting from it, are sufficient for the demonstration of man’s habitual corruption. And man, in consequence of justification, at length looks back upon, and apprehends the doctrine concerning the origin of evil, and the other things connected with it.” Bengel goes on to say that the question is not about the particular sin of individuals, but in the sin of Adam all have sinned, as all died in the death of Christ for their salvation.14
Adam Clarke adds more: “All are born with a sinful nature; the seeds of this evil soon vegetate and bring forth corresponding fruit. There has never been one instance of an immaculate human soul since the fall of Adam. Every man sins, and also sins after the similitude of Adam‘s transgression. Adam endeavored to be independent of God; all his offspring act in the same way: hence prayer is little used because prayer is the language of dependence; this is inconsistent with every emotion of original sin. When these degenerate children of degenerate parents are detected in their sins, they act just as their parents did; each excuses himself, and lays the blames on another.”15 This is exactly what Adam did. He blamed his fall on Eve, thus questioning God’s wisdom for giving her to him. Then Eve blamed it on the serpent, and no doubt inferred that God also created the serpent. Clarke says that’s why it is difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone who offers a proper alibi for their own transgressions.
Robert Haldane makes this point on the need for justification and reconciliation: “The general object of the Apostle in this place it is not at all difficult to perceive. He had treated largely of the doctrine of justification by faith, evinced its necessity, shown its accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures, and unfolded some of the privileges of a justified state. Now he illustrates and displays the Gospel of salvation, by contrasting it with the misery and ruin introduced by the fall, and manifesting, in the plan of mercy, a super abundance of grace over transgression, and thus exhibits the foundation both of condemnation and of justification… Reconciliation, as has been noticed, implies two things, – first, that the parties referred to had been in a state of alienation and hostility; and secondly, that this hostility has ceased, and their discord been amicably terminated.”16
Methodist preacher Joseph Benson sees Paul referring to all the preceding discourse, on which he builds what follows. This is not a digression but a reiteration of sin versus righteousness. It is as if Paul had said: “We may from these premises infer, that the benefit which we believers receive from Christ is equal to the detriment we derive from Adam; yes, it is on the whole greater than that.” Benson goes on to write that since Adam is the common father of the human species it is through him, not Eve, that sin entered into the world. In fact, sin is the name given to the transgression of Adam and its consequence, a sinful nature, which took place in him was then conveyed to his posterity. Then death entered the world when it came into being; for until then, it did not exist. Therefore, it could not enter before sin was committed. Hence, it was passed from one generation to another; upon all men, for that all have sinned.”17
1 Genesis 3:6-7
2 Ibid. 2:17; 3:19
3 1 Corinthians 15:21
4 Jewish Encyclopedia: Fall of Man by Kaufmann Kohler, Emil G. Hirsch.
5 Ephesians 2:1
6 Targum to Ruth, Translation by Samson H. Levey, Ch. 4:22
7 Ezekiel 18:20. The point here is that each one will be responsible for their sinning and sinfulness.
8 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbath, folio 55a–b
9 Eusebius of Caesarea: Proof of the Gospel 7.1
10 Ambrose: On the Death of His Brother Satyrus Bk. II.6
11 See C. K. Barrett: From First Adam to Last.
12 Prudentius: The Divinity of Christ, Lines 909-915
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 2 Corinthians 5:15
15 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 206-207
17 Joseph Benson; On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.