NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XV)
Scottish theologian Robert Haldane makes this comment about sin and the law: “It is true that there is no sin where there is no law, and that where no law is transgressed there is no death, yet we see that death reigned from Adam to Moses, as well as from Moses to the present time. The conclusion from this is self-evident, and, therefore, the Apostle leaves his readers to draw [this conclusion], – namely, that the human race has always been under law, and have universally been transgressors.”1 Notwithstanding the obvious, Haldane states that even in Paul’s day there were those who disagreed with the premise that sin preceded the giving of the law. But he points out that this is erroneous thinking. He says there is no strong or striking difference, and, therefore, no contrast between the different methods of promulgating a law, whether a law is made known by being written on the heart or on tablets of stone, it is to the person to whom it comes a matter over which they have no control. This is where the saying is applied: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Albert Barnes picks up from where he started on the subject of how sin was not imputed to those who had no law to violate, yet the penalty of death was still imposed on them. In other words, just like Adam, who initiated the plague of sin which results in death and suffered the consequences, so people who did not sin also suffer the same penalty. Why? Barnes asks: “The difference between their case and that of Adam is plain, Adam had a revealed and positive law, and they did not. They had only the law of nature, or of tradition.”2 However, since Adam’s sin passed the penalty of death onto all his descendants, they suffered regardless of the fact they had no written law. Although through Noah, God revealed some guidelines, failure to live up to those laws was not the reason they died, it was predetermined because of Adam. God knew this was not fair, that’s why He had already planned to send His Son to undo Adam’s sin so that mankind could once again live eternally.
Jewish scholar David Stein makes this comment: “The Torah came into the picture so that the offense would proliferate (v. 20) — see 3:20, 4:15 and 7:7–25 on this function of the Torah, which non-Messianic Judaism tends to minimize. Where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more — see 6:1ff. for prophylaxis against misusing this idea to justify sin. Before assessing the doctrine of original sin, we must see what it actually says. Otherwise we will find ourselves dealing with oversimplified abstractions — ‘Judaism says man is a sinner because he sins, Christianity [says] that man sins because he is a sinner,’ ‘Judaism is less concerned with where sin comes from than struggling against it,’ ‘Christianity alone regards sin as fatal; Judaism takes it for a minor illness.’”3
Verse 15: But God’s free gift is not like Adam’s sin. If many people died because of one man’s sin, how much more will be God’s gift by grace through that one man, Jesus Christ, be spread among so many.
Now, the Apostle Paul makes a clear distinction between Adam’s contribution to the human condition and that of Christ’s. Although Adam was made in the image of God in man, Christ was God in man. Jesus did not hesitate to tell Philip: “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father too.”4 That’s why Paul could declare to the Colossians: “He is the visible image of the invisible God. He is supreme over all creation.”5
But, Paul also wanted the Jewish leaders in the church at Rome to know that none of this should seem too unnatural for them to understand. After all, did not God say to Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.”6 Adam’s sin led to a death sentence upon all mankind, but by the grace of God, Christ’s gift to mankind is eternal life to as many as believe that His death is the payment to satisfy the penalty for their sin. And it was done in the most remarkable way. The writer of Hebrews says: “For a short time Jesus was made lower than the angels, but now we see Him wearing a crown of glory and honor because He suffered and died. Because of God’s grace, Jesus died for everyone.”7 This is why it would be foolish to substitute anyone else as the object of our prayers for forgiveness and salvation that Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose again.
Reformer John Calvin makes this point: “Grace means the free goodness of God or gratuitous love, of which He has given us a proof in Christ, that He might relieve our misery: and gift is the fruit of this mercy, and has come to us, even the reconciliation by which we have obtained life and salvation, righteousness, newness of life, and every other blessing.”8 Calvin goes on to decry what he calls the absurd teaching on grace in the Catholic seminaries of his day, calling it nothing but a quality infused into the hearts of mankind through the sacraments. Calvin says we must understand that grace is in God, and what is in us is the effect of that grace. He finishes by saying that the Father has made Him the fountain out of whose fullness all must draw. And this teaches us, that not even the least drop of life can be found outside of Christ, — that there is no other remedy for our spiritual poverty and moral needs than what He conveys to us from His own abundance.9
John Bengel states that Paul (more than the other apostles, who had seen Him before His passion) gladly and purposely calls Jesus man, in this His work, as man for man.10 Can the human nature of Christ be excluded from the office of Mediator? No! When Paul in this verse calls Christ man, he does not give that appellation to Adam; and Romans 5:19, where he gives it to Adam, he does not bestow it upon Christ.11 Why? The reason is doubtless this, both Adam and Christ do not affect who and what we are as humans on the same level. Adam rendered himself unworthy of the name of man because of his failure in the Garden. At the same time, it is scarcely sufficient to think of Christ as only man because of His obedience to the Father. Moreover, Christ is generally thought of as Divine when it comes to His taking us back to God;12 He is mostly considered human when referred to as coming to save us, and the protection which He affords us, against our enemies.13 Bengel makes the point that no mention is made here by Paul of the Mother of God; and if her conception was necessarily immaculate, she must have had no father, but only a mother, like Him, to whom she gave birth.14
Robert Haldane has this to say on the comparison between Adam and Christ: “There is a likeness between the sin of Adam and the gift of righteousness by Christ. But, as in most instances with regard to types, the antitype surpasses the type; and while in some respects the type furnishes a likeness, in others it may be very dissimilar. The sin of Adam involved all his posterity in guilt and ruin, as they were all created in him as their head, and consequently in him are guilty by his disobedience. This was a shadow of the gift of righteousness by grace. All Christ’s seed were created in Him,15 and are righteous by His obedience. But while the one was a type of the other in this respect, there is a great dissimilarity both as to the degree of the evil and of the blessing. The evil brought death, but the blessing not only recovered from ruin but abounded to unspeakable happiness.”16
Verse 16: Adam sinned one time and was judged guilty. But the gift of God is different. His free gift came after many sins, and it makes people right with Him.
Paul continues his comparison between Adam and Jesus and focuses on how God’s grace increased through Christ. After the Garden of Eden couple disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden tree, it was deemed a sin because it violated God’s command. When the Most High came down to talk with them and noticed that they were hiding, only to be told by Adam that they didn’t want Him to see them naked.17 But God did not say, “Oh, it’s alright! That’s your first mistake, so I’ll give you another chance.” No! After just one sin, the dream of paradise came to a painful and embarrassing end. This “one ends all” concept was then placed in the law. We see this in the Apostle James’ explanation to his readers: “You might follow all of God’s law. But if you fail to obey only one command, you are guilty of breaking all the commands in that law.”18
Paul is more or less trying to convince the Jewish leaders of the church in Rome of their foolishness in suggesting that as believers in Christ they still must continue living under the law. Couldn’t they see that God’s grace is higher, deeper, longer, wider and more powerful than the law? This was not a case of God changing His mind, we find such grace already expressed in Isaiah: “’Come now,’ says Adonai, ‘let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool.’”19
Jesus also evinced such compassion while having a meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house, after a known prostitute came and anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. The self-righteous Pharisees objected vigorously, but Jesus had this message of grace for them: “I tell you, her sins are many, but they will be forgiven. This is clear because she showed great love. People who are forgiven only a little will love only a little.”20 So, God’s grace is not cheap or given indiscriminately, but extended to all those who love God and accept Jesus the Christ as their Lord and Savior. No matter how many the sins may be that need forgiving, there will be sufficient grace to cover them all.
Early church scholar Theodore reiterates his earlier point: “There is one great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gift in Christ. Adam’s sin brought punishment on all those who came after him, and so they died. But the free gift is different. For not only did it take effect in the case of those who came afterward; it also took away the sins of those who had gone before. It is therefore much greater because where sin harmed those who came after, grace rescued not only those who came after but those who had transgressed before as well.”21
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 210
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John 14:9
5 Colossians 1:15
6 Isaiah 55:8
7 Hebrews 2:9
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Calvin: ibid.
10 1 Corinthians 15:21; 1 Timothy 2:5.
11 Cf. Hebrews 12:18
12 Ibid. 2:6
13 Titus 2:13
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 263-264
15 Ephesians 2:10
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 213
17 Genesis 3:6-12
18 James 2:10
19 Isaiah 1:18; 44:22 – Complete Jewish Bible
20 Luke 7:47
21 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, loc. cit.