NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XIV)
Albert Barnes comments on the fact that until the law came, it was difficult to define sin since sin is failing to keep the law. Says Barnes: “This is a self-evident proposition, for sin is a violation of law; and if there is no law, there can be no wrong. Assuming this as a self-evident proposition, the connection is, that there must have been a law of some kind; a ‘law written on their hearts,’ since sin was in the world, and people could not be charged with sin, or treated as sinners unless there was some law. The passage here states a great and important principle that people will not be held to be guilty unless there is a law which binds them of which they are apprised, and which they voluntarily transgress. This verse, therefore, meets an objection that might be started from what had been said in Romans 4:15. The Apostle had affirmed that ‘where no law is there is no transgression.’ He here stated that all were sinners.”1
There is a longstanding tradition among the Jews that Noah was given seven laws by which he and his family were to live, and became known as the Noahic Laws. They were:
Do not deny God.
Do not blaspheme God.
Do not murder.
Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
Do not steal.
Do not eat from a live animal.
Establish a legal system to ensure obedience to these laws.
We find some of these promulgated in Genesis Chapter 9. They were also included in the Book of Jubilees 7:20-28. It is also believed that these were referred to by the Council in Jerusalem that met with Paul.2 Also, in the Babylonian Talmud, they are also enumerated.3 So it is clear, that the descendants of Noah knew God had established laws for living righteously long before they were given to Moses. After Noah’s son Shem migrated to what would be come known as Mesopotamia, this is where Abraham was born and grew up some 400 years later. It was here that several kings arose and began to rule over the Shemites, later to be better known as Semites. Their laws given by the God they worshiped were developed and written for all to hear and learn right from wrong.4 So Paul was right, before the laws given to Moses some became the law of Israel some 430 years later, people already knew what God approved of what He did not.
Charles Hodge makes this distinction that just as we are justified by the righteousness of Christ as something outside ourselves, so we are condemned for the sin of Adam as something outside ourselves. So it makes even clearer the compassion of God on mankind having been betrayed by Adam in the garden by sending His Son to be faithful to His calling and thereby saved from the destruction that resulted from Adam’s sin.5
F. F. Bruce comments on the effect of sin on humanity: “Once sin gained an entrance into the human family, death followed. The sentence on Adam, ‘From the day you eat of it you’re destined to die,’6 was executed on his descendants, even though, until the law was given, there was no positive commandment for them to break as there had been for Adam. Yet sin was all-pervasive, and mortal in its effect, even in the absence of any positive commandment with a penalty attached. Sin manifests itself in the form of specific transgressions when there are specific commandments to be transgressed. Later Jewish tradition regarded the seven commandments [given] to Noah in Genesis 9:1–7 as binding on all the Gentiles. Paul makes no reference to them. But the oldest form of the tradition recognized that six of them were already creation ordinances (the only new one being the ban on eating flesh with blood in it); and in Paul’s eyes it was in disobedience to the creation ordinances that the death-deserving ungodliness of the pagan world consisted.7”8
Verse 14: But from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, everyone was condemned to die. Adam died because he sinned by not obeying God’s command. But even those who did not sin that same way had to die. That one man, Adam, was a type of Christ, the one who was coming in the future.
Now that Paul makes his point about the presence of sin, he proceeds to show why what Cain and the people of Sodom did was considered sinful, even though there was no published law against it. And the main reason was that God’s punishment for sin was death, and death has been present in the world since Adam.9 This truth led the writer of Hebrews to say: “Every person has an appointment with death.”10 So, even without sin being clearly documented in the lives of many of those who died, nevertheless, they suffered the penalty of sin, death, including those innocent Hebrew infants who were thrown into the Nile for no reason.11
Paul ends this verse by saying that Adam served as a type that was a sign of a second Adam to come who would reverse all the wrong that Adam did by doing the right that God intended for Adam to do. In other words, Adam was disobedient, Christ was obedient; Adam sinned, Christ was sinless; Adam brought death, Christ brought life.
One of the earliest church scholars gives his interpretation of what Paul is saying here: “Paul called Adam ‘the type of the one who was to come’ because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, in union with the Son of God. God predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature with this in view, that he might be saved in the spiritual nature. For since the Word had preexistence as a saving being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the being who saves should not exist in vain.”12
Then Diodore, the Bishop of Paul’s hometown of Tarsus, makes this point: “Adam was a type of Christ not with respect to his sin or his righteousness – in this respect the two men were opposites – but with respect to the effects of what he did. For just as Adam’s sin spread to all men, so Christ’s life also spread to all men. Adam was also a type of Christ in another respect. For just as he was the head of Eve, in that he was her husband, so also Christ, being its bridegroom, is the head of the church.”13
John Calvin says on this subject: “But in saying that Adam bore a resemblance to Christ, there is nothing inappropriate; for some likeness often appears in things wholly contrary. As then we are all lost through Adam’s sin, so we are restored through Christ’s righteousness: hence he calls Adam not inaptly the type of Christ. But observe, that Adam is not, said to be the type of sin, nor Christ the type of righteousness, as though they led the way only by their example, but that the one is contrasted with the other.”14
John Bengel makes the point that just as Adam, when he transgressed the law, died, in like manner also they died who did not transgress, or rather, who did not sin. This is the conclusion: That men died before the law was given is a thing which befell them on account of the similitude of Adam’s transgression. Because the ground on which they stood, and on which Adam stood, [their footing and that of Adam] was one and the same: – they died on account of another guilt, not on account of that, which they themselves had contracted, namely, the guilt which had been contracted by Adam. In fact, the death of many is ascribed directly to the fall of one person.15 Thus it is not denied, that death is the wages of any sin whatever, but it is proved, that the primary cause of death was the first sin. It is this fact, which has brought us to destruction.16
Bengel then goes on to say that just as that man [Adam] has become the source of death, which was brought in by the eating of the forbidden fruit, to those descended from him, although they had not eaten of the fruit of that tree, so also Christ has become the provider of righteousness to those belonging to Him, although they have not performed what is righteous; and this righteousness He has freely bestowed upon us all by the cross; therefore IN EVERY DIRECTION AND ON ALL OCCASIONS he maintains this One thing, and perpetually brings it into view. We may further add; as the sin of Adam, independently of the sins, which we afterwards committed, brought death upon us, so the righteousness of Christ, independently of good works, which are afterwards performed by us, procures for us life; nevertheless, as every sin receives its appropriate punishment, so every good action receives a suitable reward.17
Adam Clarke renders his thoughts this way: “Through him [Adam], as its spring and fountain, sin became diffused through the world, so that every human comes into the world with sinful propensities: for by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all people.18 Through Christ, as its spring and fountain, righteousness becomes diffused through the earth; so that every human is made partaker of a principle of grace and truth; for He is the true light that lights every one that comes into the world.19”20
1 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 See Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 15
3 Babylonian Talmud: Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 105a
4 The Law of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi: Stanley A Cook, Adam and Charles Black, London, 1903
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Genesis 2:17
7 See 1:18-32
8 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 134.
9 Ibid. 5:5-31
10 Hebrews 9:27
11 Exodus 1:22
12 Irenaeus: Against Heresies Bk. 3. Ch. 22:3
13 Diodore: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Romans 5:15
16 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 261
17 Bengel: ibid, pp. 262-263
18 See verse 12
19 John 1:9
20 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.