I. Epistolary Introduction - 1:1-17
II. The Way of Salvation - 1:18-5:21
A. Human Depravity: the doctrine of universal sin - 1:18-3:20
B. Divine Deliverance: the doctrine of particular justification - 3:21-5:21
[It should be noted that I recognize a break in Paul’s argument between chapters 5 and 6. Others prefer to place 5:1-11 with chps. 1-4 and link 5:12-21 with chps. 6-8. More recently Schreiner has argued for a major break between chps. 4 and 5, so that chps. 1-4 are one major section and chps. 5-8 another.]
1. Justification: its provision - 3:21-31
2. Justification: its proof - 4:1-25
3. Justification: its product - 5:1-21
a. the fruit of justification - vv. 1-11
1) a new peace - v. 1
Several observations: (1) To be at peace with God as a result of justification implies that prior to justification we were at war with Him. One of the more difficult tasks we face is convincing unbelievers, whose lives are outwardly peaceful and prosperous, that they are in fact at war with God, that they are God's enemies (v. 10; cf. John 3:36; Eph. 2:3). As someone has said, “The problem isn’t so much getting people saved as it is getting people lost!” (2) To be at peace with God implies a cessation of the hostilities. Cf. Col. 19-22. (3) Being at peace with God is more than a cessation of war. It is more than simply agreeing not to fight anymore. It is the inauguration of intimacy, friendship and love. (4) It is peace with God that Paul describes, not the peace of God. Peace with God refers primarily to an objective relationship, a legal position, out of which flows the peace of God in our hearts. (5) Peace with God is a gift of God. The initiative that established peace was His, not ours.
2) a new presence - v. 2a
Being at peace with God, we now confidently stand in his gracious presence (cf. Eph. 2:18; 3:12). It may also be that by “grace” Paul has in mind justification or the “realm” of grace.
3) a new perspective - vv. 2b-5
a) a new perspective on the future: we can now live in hope - v. 2b
This verse is made all the more remarkable when it is read in the light of what we’ve seen in 1:21-23 and 3:20. We who once scorned God’s glory and exchanged it for a pathetic creaturely substitute (1:21-23), we who once fell short of God’s glory in failing to ascribe to him the praise of which he is worthy, are now promised a future share in it! What is it exactly to have hope in the "glory of God"? See Rom. 8:17,18,21,30; Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 3:4; Titus 2:13; 1 Pt. 4:13. It is moral perfection that comes as a gift of God, the transformation of our bodies into the likeness of Christ’s, and the very glory of God himself in which we somehow, inexplicably, participate.
Paul says that “exult” or “boast” in this hope of God’s glory. Boasting is always criticized when it has an improper object, such as human effort, accomplishment, or wisdom (Rom. 3:27; 4:2; 1 Cor. 1:29; 3:21; 4:7; 2 Cor. 11:18; Gal. 6:13; Eph. 2:9). But boasting in God or his gracious work in and through us is entirely appropriate (1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 6:14; Phil. 3:3).
b) a new perspective on the present: we can now live with hurt - vv. 3-5
What is the significance of the word "in" ("in our tribulation")? Is it "in spite of", i.e., though we suffer, yet we rejoice? Or is it "in the midst of", i.e., while we suffer, we rejoice? Or is it "because of", i.e., on account of our suffering we rejoice? Perhaps the latter, but not because we do not experience the anguish of suffering. We are not religious masochists. We can exult on account of our trials and tribulations only because we know something non-Christians don't: that tribulations set in motion a process that develops spiritual maturity and eventually issues in renewed hope and assurance (cf. Js. 1:2-4; 1 Pt. 1:6-7). Like our exulting/boasting in future glory, this, too, is a stunning statement, “since future glorification is prized precisely because afflictions are left behind” (Schreiner, 255).
1 - because tribulation yields perseverance - v. 3
As a general statement this is patently and painfully false. Tribulations most often yield bitterness and provoke impatience, resentment, anger, despair. Why is it different for the Christian? Because we know that nothing befalls us except by our Father's will and for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). But how, specifically, do tribulations (trials, afflictions, hardships of various kinds) produce perseverance or endurance?
2 - because perseverance yields proven character - v. 4a
Again, how, specifically, does perseverance in tribulation yield or produce proven character?
3 - because proven character yields hope - v. 4b
Again, how, specifically, does proven character generate hope? That is to say, by what process does this occur?
4 - because hope will never disappoint - v. 5
How do we know that our hope in Christ won’t fall apart? How do we know it all won’t fizzle out in the end or be consumed by the fires of God’s wrath on the final day? We know, says Paul, by virtue of the action God has taken to assure us of His eternal and unchanging love. This love He poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Other English translations are unclear whether it is God’s love for us or our love for God that Paul has in mind. But the NIV ("his love") is certainly correct, and for two reasons:
First, "the love of God" is designed to be a proof of the security of our hope. How can our loving God do that? Our love for God is fitful and often faint. If my hope is built on how well I love God, there are times when I would be quite hopeless.
Second, verses six through eleven are an obvious expansion of the nature of this love in verse five. There it is clearly God’s love for us as demonstrated by the gracious gift of His Son to die in our stead.
He tells us that God "poured out" His love "into our hearts". The verb "poured out" is used elsewhere of the spilling of wine (Luke 5:37), the shedding of Christ’s blood (Matthew 26:28), and of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 10:45). More graphic still is its use in Acts 1:18 of the fate of Judas: "With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out."
Paul is emphasizing the unstinting lavishness with which God has flooded our hearts with a sense of His love for us. "The hearts of believers," writes John Murray, "are regarded as being suffused with the love of God; it controls and captivates their hearts." "Like an overflowing stream in a thirsty land," says Gifford, "so is the rich flood of divine love poured out and shed abroad in the heart."
This is an exuberant communication of God’s love. The love of God, writes Charles Hodge, "does not descend upon us as dew drops, but as a stream which spreads itself abroad through the whole soul, filling it with the consciousness of his presence and favour." God wants your heart to be inundated by wave after wave of His Fatherly affection, so effusively poured out that you feel compelled to request that He pull back lest you drown is His passion! Paul is not talking "of faint and fitful impressions," says Packer, "but of deep and overwhelming ones."
The famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-99) knew precisely what Paul meant. Moody was always reluctant to speak of what occurred, but conceded to give the following brief account:
". . . one day, in the city of New York -- oh, what a day! -- I can’t describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name . . . . I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world -- it would be small dust in the balance."
It’s also important to note that Paul uses the perfect tense of the verb. This implies, Packer explains,
"a settled state consequent upon a completed action. The thought is that knowledge of the love of God, having flooded our hearts, fills them now, just as a valley once flooded remains full of water. Paul assumes that all his readers, like himself, will be living in the enjoyment of a strong and abiding sense of God’s love for them."
In other words, God’s love doesn’t leak! Unlike the waters of Noah that receded after a time, God’s love remains perpetually at flood stage in our souls!
The Holy Spirit works to evoke and stimulate in your heart the overwhelming conviction that God loves you. The amplitude and immensity of God’s devotion is not abstract and generic, but concrete and personal . . . not for everyone in general but for you in particular.
It is difficult to describe more precisely what Paul is saying here. Perhaps this is because he’s not talking about knowledge that we gain by inference from a body of evidence. Neither deduction nor induction can account for what he has in mind. Empirical observation doesn’t yield the assurance of being God’s beloved.
The objective proof of God’s love is the sacrificial gift of His Son (vv. 6-8). The phenomenon portrayed in Romans 5:5 is altogether subjective in nature. This is an assurance of being God’s beloved that is fundamentally intuitive. One knows it to be true because through the internal work of the Spirit one knows it to be true!
4) a new passion - vv. 6-11
Paul's point here is that our hope is as secure as God's love. We are secure in our salvation as long as God loves us. But what if God should stop loving us? What if something should happen to diminish his passion for his people? Paul's purpose in vv. 6-11 is to prove that such will never happen.
a) the character of God's love for us - vv. 6-8
1 - When? At what time did Christ die?
It was "at the right time," literally, "in due time." The death of Jesus was no accident, no quirk of fate (Gal. 4:4). At the "right" time, in "due" time means that Jesus died in God's time, i.e., when the Father ordained that he should die. See esp. Acts 2:23; 1 Pt. 1:20.
2 - Who? For what kind of people did Christ die?
Christ did not die for people who were naturally inclined toward God or who expressed a desire to cease from their enmity against him. In particular, he died for . . .
a - helpless
b - ungodly
c - sinners
d - enemies
Jesus died for spiritually impotent people (cf. Rom. 3:10-12). He died for people who were helpless to prepare themselves, helpless to prove themselves worthy, helpless to do or think or say anything that might attract God's love. Contrary to the aphorism which asserts that "God helps those who help themselves," God helps those who are utterly and absolutely helpless.
Jesus died for ungodly people, i.e., people who are both unlike God and opposed to God. Jesus died for sinful people. He didn't die for a single righteous person. Jesus died for his enemies. Jesus didn't die for a single friend. He died for rebellious, insolent, haughty, arrogant, self-righteous, repulsive, disobedient, at-war-with-God people.
The kind of people for whom Jesus died is illustrated in vv. 7-8.
Righteous - the just man; the man governed by duty; the man who meets his obligations; the man who is lawful and evokes your respect, but not necessarily your affection. Paul says that whereas you might admire such a man, it is unlikely that you will die for him.
Good - the righteous man who is also kind, gentle, loving; the man who evokes your admiration and affection. For such a man you might be willing to die. Odds are a little more in his favor that someone would step forward to make the ultimate sacrifice on his behalf.
But God . . . but God demonstrates the depth and quality of his love by sending his Son to die . . . not for the righteous man, not for the good man, but for helpless, ungodly, sinful men who hate him!
What you and I would only reluctantly do for a good man God joyfully and spontaneously did for evil men. Mothers and fathers would gladly die for the sake of their own child. But would they die for the person who kidnapped and killed him?
But that is what God did. He didn't send his Son to die for those who loved him or sought him or helped him or served him. He sent his Son to die for his murderers, for those who spat in his face and despised him. So what was it about us that so attracted God that he sent his Son to die? Was it our pleas for help? Our good intentions? A spark of divinity? Our potential? Nothing!
We must also remember that the cross is the demonstration of God's love for us, not the provocation of it. Christ's love did not procure or obtain the love of God. It was a manifestation of that love. Jesus doesn't stand before the Father pleading, "Oh Father, I died for them, therefore love them." Rather he declares, "You love them, Father, and that is why I died for them.
[A few additional comments are in order concerning the reason, ground, or cause why God loved us so as to send his Son to die for us. My understanding is that God loved us in spite of our unloveliness, not because of our loveliness. Nothing in us stirred God's heart to send his Son. He sent his Son solely because of his character as a loving God. When God contemplated the objects of his redemptive love he saw only sin, rebellion, enmity, resistance. This is what magnifies the love of God in Christ is that "it was while we were yet sinners" that "Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). It was as "helpless" and "ungodly" people (Rom. 5:6), not treasures, that God saw us. The only thing we stirred in God's heart was wrath. The only thing we could have moved or induced or inclined God to do was to judge us eternally. The fact that he gave his Son in love was not because of anything in us that he regarded as worthy of his affection but solely because of his great and unfathomable determination to love those who were the moral antithesis of himself and enemies of everything that he regards as holy and true and right.
I've often heard people emphasize our value as treasures and pearls in God's sight, as if that is what moved his heart to send Jesus to die for us. But if that is the case, what becomes of grace? The cross is an expression of grace because those for whom Christ died merited only wrath and hell. If those for whom he died were contemplated as "treasures" whom God valued, do we not diminish the nature of grace? Do we not, to that degree, "merit" his atoning sacrifice? If God saw something in us that stirred him to send Jesus for us, the gift of his Son ceases to be grace and becomes a matter of debt.
I’ve often heard this: "We say to Jesus: 'Who were we that led you to do this for us?' Jesus then says to us: 'You were a treasure hidden to yourself but seen by Me.'" But my understanding is that when we ask, "Who were we that led you to do this for us?" the only answer is: "You were hell-deserving rebels who had no claim on anything in Me other than to be the recipients and objects of eternal wrath. I did this for you not because you were a treasure or because of anything in you; indeed it was in spite of what was in you. I did this for you solely because of what was in Me, namely, sovereign and free and gracious love for those who deserved only to be hated."
Certainly I agree that God saved us in Christ in order that he might make treasures of us, but not because we already were treasures. I am hopeful that most agree with this but I fear that some might still think that the cause or ground or reason why God loved us in Christ was our loveliness or our value as treasures. If that were the case, we can no longer speak of the cross as an act of grace. It was grace because the cause/ground/reason for it is found wholly in God's good pleasure and decision to shed his love on people whose only distinguishing feature was the fact that they deserved his wrath. What I am saying is that when people think about why God smiled on them in the cross of Christ they should say: "It certainly wasn't because of anything in me. In fact, I should have brought only a frown of judgment to his face. That he should have smiled in redemptive love is traceable only to his sovereign and gracious good pleasure. Thanks be to God that he has chosen to make a treasure out of a dungheap. But it was not because I was a treasure but in spite of my being a dungheap that he was moved to love me in the first place."]
b) the consequences of God's love for us - vv. 9-11
1 - the proposition - v. 9
Paul's point is this: If it is true and certain that we have been justified by faith in Christ, it is much more true and certain that we will be delivered from God's wrath in the future. But on what basis does Paul make this assertion?
2 - the proof - v. 10
The technical name for this argument is a fortiori, i.e., reasoning from the greater to the lesser. If the greater task was for God to send his Son to die for us while we were his enemies, how much easier is it for him to save us now that we are his friends! If Christ died for us when we hated him, how much more shall he live for us now that we are his friends! If God loved us as much as he did while we were helpless, sinful and ungodly, how much more shall he love us now that by his grace we are justified, righteous in Christ, adopted as children, reconciled to his heart!
Cf. Rom. 8:31-33.
If ever there were a time for God not to love you or a time for him to forsake and abandon and desert you, it would be while you were an alien, unreconciled, and at enmity with him. But now you are no longer an alien but a member of God's household; no longer unreconciled but a child; no longer at enmity but in love with the Lord of your life. It is logically and theologically impossible that God should love you less now, now that you are his child, than he loved you then, when you were his enemy!
3 - the praise - v. 11
b. the foundation of justification - vv. 12-21
A central point to keep in mind in studying this incredibly difficult text is that Paul's thought is distinctly corporate in nature. Moo explains:
"All people, Paul teaches, stand in relationship to one of two men, whose actions determine the eternal destiny of all who belong to them. Either one 'belongs to' Adam and is under sentence of death because of his sin (disobedience), or one belongs to Christ and is assured of eternal life because of His 'righteous' act (obedience). The actions of Adam and Christ, then, are similar in having epochal significance. But they are not equal in power, for Christ's act is able completely to overcome the effects of Adam's. Anyone who 'receives the gift' that God offers in Christ finds security and joy in knowing that the reign of death has been completely and finally overcome by the reign of grace, righteousness, and eternal life (cf. vv. 17,21)" (326).
1) a crucial proposition - v. 12
There are 5 phrases in v. 12 that call for comment.
(1) "through one man" - Adam was a historical figure. He had a mind, body, a spirit just as we do. He lived in space-time history just as we do, in a geographical location no less than you or I. Cf. 1 Tim. 2:13-15; Mt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6; 1 Cor. 15.
(2) "sin entered into the world" - Lit., sin invaded the world. This does not mean Adam was the first sinner; Eve was. It does not mean that sin began its existence at that time in the Garden of Eden. Paul says sin entered, not that it began to be. Sin already existed as a result of Satan's rebellion. This text speaks of sin's inaugural entry into the world of humanity. Sin, therefore, is portrayed as an intruder. It was not a constituent element in the original creation.
(3) "and death through sin" - See Gen. 2:17; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23; Js. 1:15. Sin is the cause of death. Thus, death is a penal evil; it is punishment. Death was not inevitable for Adam and Eve. It was the punishment for rebellion.
Death in Scripture is three-fold: (a) Spiritual death (the alienation of the soul from God and the subsequent spiritual corruption of the whole person; cf. Eph. 2:1-2); (b) Physical death; and (c) the Second death (which is the perpetuation of spiritual death into eternity; eternal separation and alienation from God; cf. Rev. 2,20). The remedy for spiritual death is regeneration or the new birth. The remedy for physical death is the bodily resurrection. There is no remedy for the second death. It is irremedial, irrevocable, and eternal.
(4) "so death spread to all men" - Adam's sin and its consequences did not stop with him. But why do all die? The answer is "because all sinned" . . .
(5) "because all sinned" - This difficult statement has been interpreted in a number of different ways. We will focus on the major views.
First, is the doctrine of Pelagianism. According to this view the only reason people die is because they themselves personally sin. It is true, of course, that we die because we sin. But this view argues that the only link or connection between Adam's sin and us is that he set a bad example which we have unwisely followed. We each individually re-enact Adam's transgression in our own experience.
There are several objections to this view. a) It is historically and experientially false: not all die because they voluntarily sin (e.g., infants). b) In vv. 15-19 Paul says 6 times that only one sin, the sin of Adam, is the cause of death. c) If all die because they are guilty of actual transgression, then they die because they sinned like Adam did. But v. 14 says some did not sin that way. d) This interpretation would destroy the analogy or parallel that Paul draws between Adam and Jesus in vv. 15-21. If this view were correct, Paul would be saying that since all men die personally because they sin personally so also men become righteous personally because they personally obey. But the point of these verses is that just as we died because of the sin of one, so also we live because of the obedience of one. e) Finally, "this interpretation fails to explain why it is that, as Paul makes clear, everyone does, in fact, sin. Surely there must be something inherent in being human that causes everyone, without exception, to decide to worship idols rather than the true God (cf. 1:22-23)" (Moo, 335).
Second, there is the doctrine called Realism. This view asserts that all of us, all of humanity, were present in Adam naturally, biologically, physically, seminally. It is from Adam and Eve that all have descended; thus it may be said that we were all in his loins. Thus, when Adam sinned, you were really present, being in Adam, and thus you participated in his transgression. When he partook of the fruit, you partook of the fruit. Augustine advocated this view based on his reading of 5:12 in the Latin translation of the NT. According to the latter, the final phrase of v. 12 is rendered, “in whom (a reference to Adam the “one man” of 12a) all sinned,” not “because all sinned.”
There are also problems with this view. a) How can we act before we exist? In other words, how can we personally and individually sin before we are individual persons? b) If this view were correct, would we not also be guilty of all Adam's subsequent sins? c) Again, it is the sin of one man, not of all men in Adam, that accounts for death. d) Realism says that all die because all really sinned in Adam, but this again destroys the parallel in vv. 15-21. Surely it cannot be said that all live because all personally obeyed. We were not physically or seminally in Christ when he obeyed. The point of vv. 15-21 is that just as men are justified for a righteousness not their own, so also are they condemned for a sin not personally their own. Paul's point is that death came by one man so that life might come by one man.
Third, there is the doctrine known as Federalism or Covenant representation. In v. 12 Paul says all die because all sinned. But in vv. 15-19 Paul says all die because Adam sinned. In both statements Paul is saying the same thing. But how can it be that the sin of one man, Adam, is also the sin of all men? The answer is that there is some kind of union or solidarity between Adam and us. It can't simply be a physical or natural union, as the realists contend. It must be a legal or representative union, i.e, a covenant union. God entered into covenant with Adam as representative head of the human race. God dealt with Adam as with all his posterity.
Thus, we became guilty of Adam's sin and suffer its penalty, not because we personally committed a sin like Adam's sin, as the Pelagians argue, nor because we sinned in Adam as our physical or biological root, but because Adam served in the capacity as covenant head of the human race. Similarly, we become righteous because of Christ's obedience, and experience the life it brings, not because we personally obeyed, but because our covenant head, Jesus, obeyed. Read 1 Cor. 15:21ff.
Two men, two deeds, two destinies. Adam ruined us. Christ renewed us. As we are condemned for the sin of the first Adam, we are justified for the obedience of the last Adam. This is why Adam is called the type of Christ in v. 14. According to this view, God has not dealt with men as with a field of corn, each standing for himself, or as pebbles of sand on the shore, each person isolated and independent of all others. Rather he has dealt with men as with a tree, all the branches sharing a common root. While the root remains healthy, the branches remain healthy. When the axe cuts and severs the root, all die.
The principal objection to this view is what appears to be the injustice of it. To hold all of the human race eternally accountable for the sin of one of its members seems morally inconceivable.
2) a conclusive proof - vv. 13-14
Here Paul's point is to demonstrate that personal death is not always the result of personal sin. He has in mind that period in OT history stretching from Adam to the Mosaic Law. During this period people certainly sinned. But in the absence of law, their sin was not imputed to them (v. 13). Nevertheless, they died. But why did they die, if God did not impute their sins against them? The answer would seem to be: they died because of the sin of another, someone who had indeed violated a divinely revealed law. That other person, of course, would be Adam.
Moreover, says Paul, death reigned even over those who did not sin like Adam did. In other words, there is a class of people who never sinned voluntarily and personally like Adam did, like the majority of the people during this period did, but they still died! Whom does he have in mind? Infants, no doubt. But if infants don't sin voluntarily and personally, why do they die? If death comes only as a penalty for sin, why do infants, who commit no sin, still die? It must be because of the sin of another. It must be that those who die in infancy, before they commit conscious, personal sin, die because of the sin of their representative head, Adam.
An Alternative Interpretation of Romans 5:12-14
One of the principal issues in the interpretation of Romans 5 is Paul’s statement that “death spread to all men eph’ ho pantes hemarton” (5:12b), which I translated earlier as “because all sinned.” On this reading, Paul’s point would be that all men die because when Adam sinned they were reckoned by God to have sinned in him, their representative head.
An alternative reading has recently been proposed by Tom Schreiner, first in his commentary on Romans (Baker, 1998) and now in his Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001). Schreiner contends that we should translate this enigmatic phrase as “upon the basis of which”. The words eph’ ho forge “a logical connection between two propositions,” those propositions being the entrance into the world of “death” because of Adam’s sin and the consequent sin of all men. Schreiner’s point is that the sinning of all people is a consequence or result of that death which entered the world through Adam. He writes:
“As a result of Adam’s sin death entered the world and engulfed all people; all people enter the world alienated from God and spiritually dead by virtue of Adam’s sin. By virtue of entering the world in the state of death (i.e., separated from God), all human beings sin. . . . Our alienation and separation from God are due to Adam’s sin, and thus we sin as a result of being born into the world separated from God’s life” (Romans, 275-6).
Paul’s point is not that we sinned when Adam sinned, whether “seminally” or by virtue of his representative role, as a result of which we died spiritually. Rather, Adam’s sin brought spiritual death into the world, as a result of which death we sinned personally. The objection to this view is that Paul often argues that death is the result of sin whereas Schreiner is arguing here that sin is the result of death. The resolution of this problem, notes Schreiner, is not difficult:
“We should not opt for an either-or answer here. Paul does indeed claim that people die because of sin, but he also insists that they sin because they are dead (i.e., separated from God [and he points particularly to Eph. 2:1-3 as proof of this]). All human beings enter the world alienated from God, and as a result of this alienation they sin. It is also true that they will experience eschatological death if they sin” (Romans, 276-77).
If Schreiner is correct, what is the meaning of vv. 13-14? Contrary to the view explained earlier, Paul is not suggesting that people between Adam and Moses died solely because of Adam’s sin and not because of their own personal rebellion. Romans 2:12 makes this clear, for there Paul asserts that “those who sin without the law perish without the law.” Schreiner explains:
“It would be inconsistent for Paul to assert in Romans 2:12 that Gentiles without the law perish because they transgress the unwritten law and then to say in Romans 5:13-14 that sin is not charged to the account of those without the Mosaic law. Moreover, Paul was well aware of the early chapters of Genesis in which the world was destroyed by a flood and those building the tower of Babel were judged. Such punishments would be indefensible if judgment was only valid after the law of Moses was disseminated. The judgment of the flood generation and Babel fits with the Pauline principle that those who sin without the law will perish without the law (Rom. 2:12)” (Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 147).
What, then, does Paul mean in 5:13 when he says that “sin is not imputed when there is no law”? He does not mean that people aren’t punished for their personal sin simply because the law of Moses had not yet been given. His point is simply that sin committed before the Mosaic law is not technically reckoned as sin. In other words, “there was not a technical register of sin; sin was present, just like heat and cold are present whether we have a thermometer or not. But one could not, in a sense, measure sin before the giving of the law” (Paul, 148). It’s true that people between Adam and Moses didn’t sin like Adam did in that they did not violate a revealed commandment. But this doesn’t mean they weren’t held accountable by God for their actions. It simply means their sin couldn’t be measured as sin without the violation of written commandments.
Paul’s point, then, is that death reigns or exercises its power over people even if no explicit and divinely encoded law exists, for even in the absence of the law sin is still sin and will be punished. Once that written law is revealed the seriousness of sin increases “in the sense that the sin is now more defiant and rebellious in character” (Romans, 279; cf. Paul’s statement to this effect in Rom. 7:7-11).
Two observations are in order, neither of which is a critique of Schreiner. First, if Schreiner is correct, the sinful plight of the human race is still traceable to Adam and his sin. Whether we die spiritually because we are reckoned to have sinned in Adam or we sin personally because of the spiritual death that came from Adam’s sin, the fact remains that it is “by the transgression of the one [Adam] [that] the many died” (5:15). Second, if Schreiner is correct, he has provided a helpful way of understanding Romans 5:12-14, but not one that is any more successful than the earlier view in addressing the ethical dilemma of how the human race can find itself sinful, not ultimately because of personal, conscious sin, but because of the sin of another, Adam.
3) a contrasting parallel - vv. 15-21
Observe the parallels (and ethical contrasts) between Adam and Christ:
v. 15 - the offence of one brought death; the obedience of one brought the free gift of grace;
v. 16 - one sinned, bringing condemnation; one obeyed, bringing justification;
v. 17 - through one offence death reigns; through one act of obedience life reigns;
v. 18 - the offence of one brings judgment; the righteousness of one brings justification;
v. 19 - by virtue of one man's disobedience men are made sinners; by virtue of one man's obedience men are made righteous;
v. 21 - through Adam sin reigned unto death; through Christ righteousness reigns unto life.
Before objecting to the doctrine of covenant or representative headship, remember this: only if Adam represents you in the Garden can Jesus represent you on Golgotha. It was on the cross that Jesus served as your representative head: his obedience to the law, his righteousness, his suffering the penalty of the law, were all the acts of a covenant head acting in the stead and on behalf of his people. If Adam stood for you in the garden, Christ may also hang for you on the cross.
If you insist on standing your own probation before God, instead of submitting to the covenant representation of Adam, you must also stand on your own in regard to righteousness. And how do you think you will fare? In other words, if you fall individually and by your own doing, you must be saved individually and by your own doing.
One final comment regarding v. 18. Adam's act has brought condemnation to all men. Must we not also conclude, as this verse seems to assert, that Christ's act has brought justification and life for all men? In other words, does this verse teach the doctrine of salvific universalism? Moo's answer is helpful:
"Paul's point is not so much that the groups affected by Christ and Adam, respectively, are coextensive, but that Christ affects those who are His just as certainly as Adam does those who are his. When we ask who belongs to, or is 'in', Adam and Christ, respectively, Paul makes his answer clear: every person, without exception, is 'in Adam' (cf. vv. 12d-14); but only those who 'receive the gift' (v. 17; 'those who believe,' according to Rom. 1:16-5:11) are 'in Christ.' That pas [all] does not always mean 'every single human being' is clear from many passages; it is often clearly limited in context (e.g., Rom. 8:32; 12:17,18; 14:2; 16:19), so this suggestion has no linguistic barrier. In the present verse, the scope of ["all men"] in the two parts of the verse is distinguished in the context. Paul makes it clear, both by his silence and by the logic of vv. 12-14, that there is no limitation whatsoever on the number of those who are involved in Adam's sin. The deliberate wording of v. 17, along with the persistent stress on faith as the means of achieving righteousness in 1:16-4:25, makes equally clear that only certain people derive the benefits from Christ's act of righteousness" (357).