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The Doctrine of Original Sin

➤❘        The Doctrine of Original Sin

Part 6

Earlier in our discussion I mentioned that few who take the traditional view of Romans 5:12 (that all humans are guilty before God because they inherit Adam’s guilt) realize that their interpretive position can be used to argue in favor of universal salvation. To understand how, we need to look at the Romans 5 passage:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Does it Lead to Universal Salvation?

The key verse is verse 18:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

If one interprets Romans 5:12 as universal – all humans—even the conceptus in the womb, the fetus, the stillborn baby – inherit Adam’s guilt, then it seems reasonable to say that Romans 5:18 should be taken as universalism—all humans will inherit justification and life because of what the second Adam (Jesus) did. The text says “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (humanity).”

I’ll leave the traditional view of Romans 5:12, which I have rejected in this series, defend itself against universalism. Let them have that struggle and keep their view of Romans 5:12. What I want to do here is offer my own take on the issue.

Does Not Lead to Universal Salvation

Now, follow my thinking from my own view of Romans 5:12 here. You will need to have read Part 4 to follow my reasoning.

5:12  Death (not guilt) passes to ALL humans

By one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death passed to all humanity.

5:15 – “The free gift is not like the trespass.” Paul sets up a contrast, but he'll also be making comparisons.

5:15 - If many died . . .

I take this to refer not to physical death, but the second death (see Part 4), which not all will suffer (see earlier posts on that)

. . . grace abounded to many; i.e., the ones not suffering the second death

Take the above back to Romans 5:16

5:16 - the one trespass brought condemnation (to many, not all), and so the free gift brought justification (to many, not all – see v. 19, “Many” will be made righteous)

5:17 - by the one man's sin, death reigned (not guilt), but that sin brought many under condemnation, and so how much more will those who receive grace (not all will, but many will)

To this point, things extend from my view in a pretty straightforward way. Then Paul appears to throw a monkey wrench into it with the “all” wording in verse 18 – and then he retreats back to “many” (not all) in v. 19. Here is the pairing.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

My take on vv. 18-19:
  1. The one trespass put all humans under the condemnation of death (there's the "all" language of v. 18a). Because of what Adam did, all humans will be under condemnation (it is prospective, as “led” implies).
  2. As noted in earlier posts, this condemnation of all humans means that, because all humans are born sinners, they will all sin, and thus will all be under the condemnation of sin. The payment for sin is death (Rom 6:23). Consequently, what Adam did will in fact lead to condemnation for all humans because no human cannot not sin (if allowed to live, and if not incapacitated).
  3. This “leading to condemnation” idea means something happens in the interval between Adam’s sin and human condemnation. That “something” is sinning. And so in v. 19, another man’s act of righteousness (Jesus – and his righteousness is his obedience unto death on a cross) will “lead to” justification and life. What happens in between the cross and this outcome? I would suggest the answer is “believing the gospel.”
  4. Paul’s language of “many” in both verses 18 and 19 allow for (a) some who don’t sin and are not condemned (the innocent) and (b) those who don’t believe the gospel. “Many” (all those who sin) are found under condemnation, and “many” (all those who believe) are justified and given eternal life.
Put another way:

The one act of Adam that affected all actually led to a subset of many. All were put under the curse of death and, theoretically, all would sin; not all do, though, because they don't all get to live. The many who do sin are then rightly called sinners.

The one act of Jesus that somehow affects “all” actually leads to a subset of many. All could have eternal life and justification, but not all do. In verse 18 Paul says what Jesus did "leads to justification and life for all humanity, but then he turns around and limits it (creates a subset) in the next verse: "so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

There are of course other approaches to showing Romans 5:18 isn’t teaching universalism:

Mark Rapinchuk, "Universal sin and salvation in Romans 5: 12-21," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42.3 (1999): 427-441

N. T. Wright, “Towards a biblical view of universalism,” Themelios 4:2 (Jan 1979):54-58.

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➤❘    The Doctrine of Original Sin



What do you think?
We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.

What is your response?

Yes, I want to follow Jesus

I am a follower of Jesus

I still have questions



How can I know God




When you die, why should God let you into heaven?


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