NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XIX)
John Calvin adds that Paul was not interested in arguing against all the opposing views to righteousness as man’s gift from God instead of man’s gift to God. Says Calvin: “Paul adds the word grace, that he might more deeply imprint this truth on the memory – that the result is to be ascribed, not to our merit, but to the kindness of God.”1 And Charles Hodge was inspired to say: “We should open our hearts to the large prospects of purity and blessedness presented in the Gospel; the victory of grace over sin and death, which is to be consummated in the triumph of true faith, and in the eternal salvation of those multitudes out of every tribe and kindred, which no man can number.”2
Calvin continues: “The absolute and universal influence of sin is figured by the empire of a monarch exercising authority in uncontrolled sovereignty. But now grace reigns. There was nothing in men to merit salvation or to recommend them in any measure to God. Grace, therefore, reigns in their salvation which is wholly and entirely a free favor [from God]. Sin is said to reign unto, or in, death. This shows that death was, in every human being, the effect of sin. The way in which death manifested its universal reign over the human race, was in causing their death. This most fully proves that infants [were born] sinners. If sin ruled in causing death to its subjects, then all who died are the subjects of sin. Death to the human race is in every instance the effect of the dominion of sin. But if sin did reign, grace [now] reigns. If the former reigned in death, the latter reigns in life; yes, it reigns unto eternal life.”
Robert Haldane had a thought on how this verse sums up all that was said before. He writes: “In this 21st verse the doctrine of the whole preceding context, of the salvation of believers, is summed up in a manner most beautiful and striking. Having exhibited in a strong light the righteousness of God,3 the Apostle returns to it in this chapter; having contrasted Christ and Adam, he brings out his conclusion in this verse by contrasting the reigns of sin and grace. Sin had an absolute sway over all the descendants of Adam. There was nothing good about them, or in any of them. Sin existed and predominated in every human soul. Therefore, it is said: sin reigned.”
Robert Haldane asks: How, then, does grace reign unto life? He answers by saying the following: “Is it by a gratuitous pardon? Doubtless, it is. But it is not by forgiving the sinner in an arbitrary way, with respect to the punishment due to sin. Forgiveness is indeed entirely gratuitous; but if it cost believers nothing, it cost much for their Salvation. Grace reigns through righteousness. – How beautifully this fulfills the prophetic declaration of Psalm 85:10-13. Grace did not, could not, deliver the lawful captives without paying the ransom. It did not trample on justice or evade its demands. It reigns by providing a Savior to suffer along with the guilty. By the death of Jesus Christ, full compensation was made to the law and justice of God. ”4
Albert Barnes writes the following summary on what Paul said here: “This chapter is a most precious portion of divine revelation. It brings into view the amazing evils which have resulted from the apostasy [of mankind]. The Apostle does not attempt to deny or excuse those evils; he admits to them fully; admits to them in their deepest, widest, most melancholy extent, just as the physician admits the extent and ravages of the disease which he hopes to cure. At the same time, Christianity is not responsible for those evils. It did not introduce them. It finds them in existence, as a matter of sober and somber fact, pertaining to all the [human] race. Christianity is no more answerable for the introduction and extent of sin than the science of medicine is responsible for the introduction and extent of disease. Like that science, it finds a state of wide-spread evils in existence; and like that science, it is strictly a remedial system. And whether true or false, still the evils of sin exist, just as the evils of disease exist.”
Barnes goes on to say that the fact about universal sin remains a fact. And then he gives another fact: “Christianity proposes a remedy; and it is permitted to the Christian to rejoice that that remedy is ample to meet all the evils; that it is just suited to recover our alienated world; and that it is destined yet to raise the race up to life, and peace, and heaven. In the provisions of that strategy we may and should triumph; on the same principle as we may rejoice in the triumph of medicine over disease, so may we triumph in the ascendancy of the Christian plan over all the evils of the fall. And while Christians thus rejoice, the infidel, the freethinker, the pagan, and the scoffer shall contend with these evils which their systems cannot alleviate or remove, and sink under the chilly reign of sin and death; just as people pant, and struggle, and expire under the visitations of disease because they will not apply the proper remedies of medicine, but choose rather to leave themselves to its unchecked ravages, or to use all the panacea of quackery in a vain attempt to arrest evils which are coming upon them.”5
H. A. Ironside offers clarity on the subject Paul has written about here that begins with verse 12 and concludes with verse 21. He states: “The intervening passage (verses 13-17) is parenthetical, or explanatory… Sin was in the world dominating man from Adam’s fall even before the law was given by Moses, but sin did not as yet have the distinct character of transgression until a legal code was given to man, which he consciously violated. Therefore, apart from law, sin was not imputed. Nevertheless, that it was there and to be reckoned with, is manifested in that ‘by sin came death’ and death reigned as a despotic monarch over all men from Adam to Moses, save as God interfered in the case of Enoch, who was translated that he should not see death. Even where there was no willful sin, as in the case of infants and irresponsible persons, death reigned, thus proving that they were part of a fallen race in union with Adam’s sin and actually possessing Adam’s fallen nature. He who was originally created in the image and likeness of God defaced that image by sin and lost the divine likeness, and we read that ‘Adam begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.’6 This is characteristic of all the race of which he is the head. ‘In Adam, all die.’”7
Then Charles Spurgeon uses his oratorical talent to frame it this way: “Just as sin has reigned, and with despotic and irresistible power has ground its subjects in the very dust, and then cast them into the flames, so does grace with irresistible goodness, constrain the chosen multitude to yield obedience, and thus prepares them for eternal bliss. See, it lifts up the beggar from the dunghill and makes him sit among princes.8 Mark its shining course, and behold it blessing the sons of man wherever it stretches out its silver scepter, chasing away the misery of night, and giving the gladsomeness of Gospel day[light]; sending back the monsters of discord and of cruelty to the dens from which they once escaped, and bidding the angels of mercy to keep perpetual watch and ward over the sons of Adam who have given themselves up to its sway of the kingdom of grace.”9
Jewish theologian David Stern has a lengthy exegesis on verses 12-21, including several theories on the doctrine of Original Sin, which is worthy of reading if you can get a copy of his commentary. But his introductory remarks gives us a good sense of what he sees in Paul’s writings here. He begins with this: “This is one of the great theological passages in the Bible; but because upon it Christians have erected the doctrine of original sin, it is for Jewish people one of the most problematic. Pivotal in Chapters 1–8 of Romans, it looks backward to 3:21–5:11, where God’s means of considering people righteous (first mentioned at 1:17) through Yeshua is proclaimed, and forward to 6:1–8:39, where Paul elaborates the consequences for the individual believer of what Yeshua has accomplished.”
Stern continues: “The purpose of these ten verses in their context is not to teach about the origin of human sin but to give assurance that the Messiah has truly redeemed us human beings from bondage to sin by paying its full penalty on our behalf. Paul makes his case by developing the parallel between the effects on mankind of Adam and of Yeshua (vv. 12, 14, 18–19, 21), while stressing that what Yeshua accomplished by His obedience to God was far greater and better than what Adam wreaked by his disobedience (vv. 15–17) and simultaneously dispelling any suspicion that focusing on these two men minimizes the importance of the Torah (13–14a, 20). But the whole argument is built on a premise which Paul assumes can be taken for granted, as axiomatic, namely, that it was the one man Adam who brought sin and death upon all humanity.”10
Stern then says this that will help us understand why Jesus had such trouble convincing the Jews that they needed salvation, and the only salvation that God the Father had approved was the one He came to explain and give His life to pay for it. Stern then adds this: “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”11
Not only did our Lord have problems trying to get this point across in His day, and all the Apostles fought an uphill battle trying to convince both Jews and Gentiles that this was the one and only way to salvation, but we have this same problem today. People don’t want to hear that they can’t do it on their own or with the help of some rite, ritual, sacrament, or ceremony. If it were not the case that Jesus is the one and only door to salvation and heaven, He would have never made this promise: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”12 It was true back then, it is true now, and it will be true until Jesus comes again.
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 See 3:21, 22
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 230-231
5 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Genesis 5:3
7 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Psalm 113:7; cf. 1 Samuel 2:8
9 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 See 1 Timothy 2:13–15
11 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 John 8:36
The end of Chapter Five