NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XVII)
Charles Spurgeon framed his response to Adam’s blunder this way: “Adam’s fall was terribly effectual, it has brought death upon the human race age after age. But Christ’s death is wonderfully effectual, for on behalf of all those for whom He died His atonement so prevailed as to put their sins away forever.”1 Frederic Godet states: there is nothing more desperate in appearance than this great historical fact of the reign of death, and yet it is this very fact which becomes in the eyes of the Apostle a principle of the most powerful encouragement and the most glorious hope. For this terrible reign of death, established on the weak foundation of a single sin and a single sinner may serve as a measure to establish the greater certainty of the reign of life which comes to light among the justified by their freely accepted gift of God through Christ.2
Verse 18: So that one sin of Adam placed the death sentence on all people. But in the same way, Christ did something so good that it makes all people so right with God that they can experience what it really means to live free.
Paul now lays another layer in building his platform of comparing one man’s debilitating effect on humanity and another man’s delivering effect on those who believe in His liberating power. This time, he focuses on the judgment that brought the death sentence on all who were born of Adam, and the eternal life that comes to those born again through Jesus Christ. Paul shared this same message with the Corinthians: “Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now there is resurrection from death because of another man. I mean that in Adam all of us die. And in the same way, in Christ, all of us will be made alive again.”3
Early church Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria gives this explanation of how the human race contracted the disease of sin. He writes: “What has Adam’s guilt got to do with us? Why are we held responsible for his sin when we were not even born when he committed it? Did not God say: ‘The parents will not die for the children, nor the children for the parents, but the soul which has sinned, it shall die?’4 How then shall we defend this doctrine? The soul, I say, which has sinned, it shall die. We have become sinners because of Adam’s disobedience in the following manner… After he fell into sin and surrendered to corruption, impure lusts invaded the nature of his flesh, and at the same time, the evil law of our members was born. For our nature contracted the disease of sin because of the disobedience of one man, that is, Adam, and thus many became sinners. This was not because they sinned along with Adam because they did not then exist, but because they had the same nature as Adam, which fell under the law of sin. Thus, just as human nature acquired the weakness of corruption in Adam because of disobedience, and evil desires invaded it, so the same nature was later set free by Christ, who was obedient to God the Father and did not commit sin.”5
Here Robert Haldane gives his explanation: “Therefore, or wherefore, then. — There are two words in the original: the one word signifies wherefore, the other signifies then, or consequently. It states the result of what was said. By the offense of one, or by one offense. — Both of these are equally true, but the latter appears to be the design of the Apostle, as the word ‘one’ lacks the article. There is nothing in the original corresponding to the terms judgment and free gift, but they are rightly supplied by an omission from verse 16. Condemnation. — Here it is expressly asserted that all men are condemned in the first offense. Infants, then, are included. If they are condemned, they cannot be innocent — they must be sinners; for condemnation would not have come upon them for a sin that is not theirs. The whole human race came under the condemnation of death in all its extent — spiritual, temporal, and eternal. Even so, — that is, in the same manner. By the righteousness of one, or rather, by one righteousness.”6 Haldane is not saying that innocent children die as sinners, but because of sin.
Verse 19: One man disobeyed God, and many became sinners. But in the same way, one man obeyed God, and many will be made right.
Paul lays down one more stratum of proof to show how one bad example led all mankind away from the truth, but how another man’s good example open the door for everyone to follow Him to the truth. After all, Jesus did say: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.”7 And this was not because Jesus was the first to do this, but that He is the only one who can do it. Paul told the Corinthians: “God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with Him we might fully share in God’s righteousness.”8
In a passage of Chrysostom’s sermon on this text, we read his interpretation of how this affects a true believer: “How does it follow that from Adam’s disobedience someone else would become a sinner? For surely, if this were so, such a sinner would not deserve punishment, since his sins would not be his own fault. What then does the word sinners mean here? To me, it seems to mean liable for punishment and condemned to death. Why was this done? Paul does not say because it was not necessary for his argument.… But if you want to know what I think, I would say this: Far from being harmed or condemned, if we think straight, we will see that we have benefited by becoming mortal, first because it is not an immortal body in which we sin, and second because we have countless reasons for living a religious life. For to be moderate, temperate, subdued, and separated from wickedness is what death, by its presence and the fact that we expect it to come persuades us to do. But following on these or even before these, mortality has brought many other blessings besides. For it has made possible the crown of martyrdom… In fact, neither death nor the devil himself can do anything to harm us. Immortality is waiting for us, and after being chastened for a little while we shall enjoy the blessings to come without fear.9 This present life is a kind of school, where we are under instruction by means of disease, suffering, temptations, and poverty, as well as other apparent evils, in order to be made fit to receive the blessings of the world to come.”10
John Bengel has several interesting things to say by beginning with a question, how could the understanding or the will of an upright man have been capable of receiving injury, or of committing an offence? The answer: That understanding and the will simultaneously give way through carelessness. We cannot think of anything else previously existing in man besides carelessness. It illustrates the initial step of a city being taken because of a failure on the part of the guards on watch to be vigilant. Adam was seduced through carelessness and laziness of mind.
Bengel goes on to say that it is one thing for a man to be considered righteous, but it is another thing to be justified. Righteousness must exist as the basis and foundation for justification. We have both the one and the other from Christ, for both the merit of Christ’s satisfaction for sin imputed to man, who himself was unrighteous, obtains the merit by which he is justified.11 This is not something mankind obtains on his own, it only comes through Christ.
Robert Haldane has an interesting way to express his opinion here on what Paul is saying: “So by the obedience of one shall the many be made righteous. — Only a part of mankind is included in that covenant of which Christ is the surety. In consequence of Adam being the covenant-head of all mankind, all are involved in his condemnation; but Christ is not the head of all mankind, but of the Church, and to all but the Church He will say, ‘I never knew you.’ So, — that is, in this way, not in like manner. — It is not in a manner that has merely some likeness, but it is in the very same manner. For although there is a contrast in the things, the one being disobedience, and the other obedience, yet there is a perfect identity in the manner.”12 In using the term “Church,” Haldane is not referring to any one church here on earth, but the Body of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon remarked in one of his sermons that the wonderful doctrine of “the Gospel of Christ.” was being rejected in his day by people who called it simple, as well as other derogatory terms. But he saw what Paul said in the simplest of terms was this: “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.”13 And Charles Ellicott sees the word “obedience” to be the key here. He writes: “This term is chosen in contradistinction to the disobedience of Adam. The obedience of Christ was an element in the atonement.14 But if we interpret St. Paul by himself, we must not see in it the sole element to the exclusion of the ‘redemptive sacrifice.‘15”16
Verse 20: The law was brought in so that more people would sin the way Adam did. But even though sin increased, God’s grace increased even greater.
After Paul clearly establishes his dual concept of the first Adam bringing sin and death into God’s creation and countered with the second Adam bringing righteousness and everlasting life to rectify the first Adam’s mistake, he now makes a bold statement. He infers that the law was given to Moses so that sin could be codified and thereby result in more and more of Adam’s descendants sinning the same way he did. So how could this help the situation? Paul says that by so doing God verified beyond any doubt that all mankind could not save themselves because they were hopelessly enslaved by sin. That it would take a special act of God’s grace to rescue them. And the real miracle was that this then proved how great and sufficient God’s grace proved to be.
Paul expressed this same truth to the Corinthians, but in a different form. He wrote: “The old agreement that brought death, written with words on stone, came with God’s glory… So surely the new agreement that comes from the life-giving Spirit has even more glory. This is what I mean: That old agreement judged people guilty of sin, but it had glory. So surely the new agreement that makes people right with God has much greater glory. That old agreement had glory. But it really loses its glory when it is compared to the much greater glory of the new agreement. If the agreement that was brought to an end came with glory, then the agreement that never ends has much greater glory.”17
1 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
2 Frederic Louis Godet: On Romans, loc. cit.
3 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
4 Deuteronomy 24:16
5 Cyril of Alexandria: Explanation of Romans, loc. cit.
6 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 216
7 John 14:6
8 2 Corinthians 5:21 – Complete Jewish Bible
9 See Matthew 25:34; Hebrews 10:36-37; 2 Maccabees 7:33
10 Chrysostom: Homily on Romans 10
11 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p.
12 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p 219
13 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
14 Cf. Philippians 2:8 and Hebrews 10:7, especially in connection with the atonement
15 Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7; 5:2; 1 Timothy 2:6
16 Charles Spurgeon, ibid.
17 2 Corinthians 3:7-11