One Man Sin Entered - One Man Salvation Available
Cecil N. Wright

Romans 5:12-14 "Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come."

 Verse 12:

1. Through what man did sin and death enter the world? The answer is "Adam," as indicated in Verse 14. The word means "man" in the generic sense, but was also the name of the first of his kind, all of whom were seminally a part of him.
2. Why is it not said that sin and death entered by Eve, since she took the initiative and led Adam to sin (Gen.3:6; 1 Tim.2:13-14)? A clue may be found in the fact that all her posterity were yet in Adam's loins, and that this was crucial to the results that followed.
3. Was the death that passed to all men physical, or spiritual, or both? Certainly physical (see 1 Cor. 15:20-22); but those reaching the age of accountability also sinned and thus died spiritually (Isa.59:2; Rom.3:23).
4. How or why did death pass to all men? Was it because they were born outside of Eden, away from the tree of life? Surely so. But that is not the point being made by our text. It says that "death passed unto all men, for that all sinned" -- not merely that they were born away from the tree of life.
5. Did death pass to all men by contagion of sin (after Adam had children and as a result of their learning sin from him and their mother)? Apparently not. According to Verse 18, it was not the "sins" of parents that were responsible, but "one trespass" -- evidently Adam's first, while the entire posterity of him and Eve were in his loins and seminally a part of him.
6. Did Adam's posterity inherit his sinfulness and guilt, and in that was sin and death passed to all men? Contrary to popular notion, evidently not, for Jesus said: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16); also, "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.18:3).

None of the passages relied upon by those who teach hereditary total depravity, actually do so. Consider the following:

Job 14:14: "Who can bring forth a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one."

This is used to teach that man born of woman cannot himself be clean. But it poses a problem with reference to Jesus, born of a woman, and nevertheless sinless. It led to the manufacture of the doctrine of Immaculate Conception of Mary, set forth December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX, declaring "that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God, and therefore must be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful" (Ineffabilis Deus). (Catholic Question Box (1929), pp. 358-360).

"The scriptures nowhere teach this doctrine, but Pius IX cites two passages, from which it may be inferred, if they are considered in light of Catholic tradition. They are: "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel' (Gen.3:15). ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28).'" (Ibid.)

Psalm 51:5: "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." This describes the condition of David's mother at the time of his conception and birth, and something of his environment from birth, but does not say he inherited his mother's sin.

It is significant the NIV renders the foregoing passage as follows: "Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." But this is commentary, not translation. It tells what the translators (part of them) believed the writer meant, not what he wrote.

Psalm 58:3>: "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies." This does not say the wicked are estranged "in" the womb, but rather "from" the time they leave the womb. This is a figure of speech called hyperbole, which is an exaggeration not intended to deceive but to give emphasis -- in this instance to suggest that they go astray exceedingly early in life, but not before they are able to talk and speak lies -- lies being falsehoods intended to deceive.

Eph.2:3: "Among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest." The word phusis, here translated "nature," does not necessarily refer to the result of heredity and birth, but here means "a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature" (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).

The use of any or all of the above scriptures, or any others, to teach hereditary total depravity -- referring to the total man, body, soul, and spirit -- overlooks or ignores Heb.12:9, which reads: "Furthermore, we have had the fathers (Plural) of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father (singular) of spirits, and live?" (The margin says, as does the King James Version, "the Father of our Spirits.") This indicates that we do not obtain our "spirits" immediately from our earthly parents, as we do our bodies, but rather they come to us immediately from God. That being the case, to claim them to be depraved is equivalent to attributing depravity to God, their immediate source, as he is not for our bodies.

With neither contagion nor inheritance being responsible for sin and death passing from Adam to all mankind, what other possibility is there? Or, is there any? Surely so.

Heb.7:9-10 reads as follows: "And so to say, through Abraham even Levi, who receiveth tithes, hath paid tithes: for he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedek met him." Just as surely, and in the same manner, as Levi, the great grandson of Abraham, paid tithes "through Abraham" because he was in the loins of the latter when Melchisedek met him and received tithes from him, all the posterity of Adam sinned through him because they were in his loins he committed the fatal "one trespass" that brought the sentence of physical death.

Futhermore, only the physical bodies of Adam's posterity were in his loins seminally, not their spirits (see Heb.12:9, already noted). This means that only physical death would be the consequences of being in the loins of Adam when he sinned. Spiritual death of his posterity would not be the result of such, but would result only from their spirits becoming personally involved in sin.

Moreover, Levi did not inherit Abraham's tithing, but, so to speak, paid tithes through Abraham. By the same token, Adam's posterity did not inherit his sin, but sinned through him. And that sin resulted in their physical death. "So death passed unto all men, for that all sinned."

Verses 13-14:
1. How came there to be sin in the world before there was law, if it is not imputed where there is no law, and, according to 4:15, "Where there is no law, neither is there transgression"? Or was there law in some sense, or to some degree? Surely so, but no law the transgression of which could account for universal death, as in the case of Adam's fatal "one trespass."

The word here translated "until" is achri, which can also mean to the extent of. Thus translated, Verse 13 would read: "To the extent of law sin was in the world." And that surely was the case between Adam and Moses, through whom the Jews received their justly treasured law from God, which was more detailed than any given before, the violation of which caused "trespass to abound: more than otherwise (Verse 20).* But even that law did not initiate the death process and bring it upon the race. Its death penalty for some sins, not all, only brought physical death earlier and in a manner it would not have otherwise occurred.

 Consider the case of Cain (Gen.4:1-15; Heb. 11:14), of Lamech (Gen.4:23-24), of the antediluvians (Gen.6:1-8); blood not to be eaten, and death penalty for murder (Gen. 9:3-6), etc., etc.., between Adam and Moses. To the extent there was law, and it was violated, there was sin. But, again, there was no law during that time whose violation could account for universal death between Adam and Moses. Only the fatal "one trespass" of Adam, and the sinning of the race through him at that time because it was all in his loins then, could so account.

2. What difference was there between Adam's sin and the sins of others between him and Moses? The answer is not spelled out in Verse 14. But at least two differences can be distinguished in the scriptures at large: (1) Adam's sin involved the entire race in its consequences, throughout all generations, whereas no other sin ever did regardless of how immense may have been the numbers who did suffer its consequences. (2) Adam's sin was against a "positive" divine law, whereas most other sins were not, but were transgressions of "moral" law.

The expression "positive" and "moral" have been coined by theologians to differentiate between commands that rest simply upon the authority of God himself, so far as can be perceived by man, and those that also rest upon the principle of rightness and wrongs in the very nature of things. Thus laws against murder, lying, stealing, and such like, are "moral." But the command to Nana to dip seven times in the river Jordan if he would have his leprosy healed (2 Kings 5:10) was "positive"; so was the command to Israel to march around the walls of Jericho in order that they fall (Josh.6:2-5); and likewise the command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt-offering unto God (Gen.22:1-2), which would have been wrong within itself except upon the authority of God.

Adam and Eve had no inherent need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But, so far as it is known, it would not have been wrong or injurious to eat of it if God had not prohibited it. Its existence and God's command not to eat of it, appeared to be arbitrary. It therefore became a test of recognition of, and obedience to, divine authority in a way it would not have been if it had been inherently injurious, as the serpent appeared to demonstrate that it was not. All "positive" commands are chiefly tests of the spirit of loyalty and obedience. That accounts for their oftentimes seeming to involve consequences far transcending their apparent intrinsic importance, as in the stoning of a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath day (Num.15:32-36), or the striking of Uzzah with death for touching the ark of the covenant (2 Sam.6:6-7), which was lawful only for a priest; or the healing of Naaman when he dipped, or the falling of the walls of Jericho when they had been marched around the prescribed number of times.

The following are some renderings of Verse 14, that constitute commentaries and indicate various ways it has been understood, some correct and maybe others not:

Jerusalem Bible: ". . . yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even though their sin, unlike that of Adam was not a matter of breaking a law."

Twentieth Century New Testament: " . . . even over them whose sin was not a breach of law, as Adam's was."

Goodspeed: " . . . even over those who had not sinned as Adam had, in face of an express command."

Williams: " . . . even over those who had not sinned in the way Adam had, against a positive command."

3. What is the significance of Adam's being "a figure of him that was to come"? It is this, that he was a type (Gr. tupos) of Christ in some respects -- but some of them opposites, as indicated in Verses 15-21. And this is exceedingly important to understanding a basic principle involved in both our human predicament and the divine scheme of human redemption.

Adam and Christ each bears a relation to the entire human race that no other persons ever have or will. Adam was its federal head, physically. The entire race springs from him, and experiences the physical consequences of his first sin because of its physical solidarity with him. Christ is the rightful head of the entire race (see 1 Cor.11:3), spiritually, and the actual head of all who respond to him in faith and come into spiritual solidarity with him -- seeking even to imitate his character. Consequently, as we have borne the likeness of Adam in time, so shall we bear the likeness of Christ in eternity to come, if we are his (see 1 Cor.15:45-49; 1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:20-21; Rom. 8:28-29).

            Christ, a member of the Godhead from all eternity past (John 1:1-3,14), became a man in order to die and redeem man from sin, overcoming death in his own person and in behalf of all mankind (Heb.2:9,14-18; 1 Cor.15:20-22; Rev.1:8; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). His coming was to undo ultimately all the ruin wrought by Adam, and more -- to undo unconditionally the physical ruin wrought by Adam (achieving the resurrection of the dead; and freeing creation from its bondage to decay, Rom.8:21); and further, to undo conditionally the awful spiritual ruin wrought by the personally committed trespasses of men since Adam's fateful sin, in behalf of all who turn to God in faith and loyalty (giving them in the end eternal life),

These are tremendous considerations, exceedingly important to understanding the remaining verses (15-21) of the chapter.

"Even Abraham, living some centuries before the Law of Moses, was under a measure of law. God said of him: "Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Genesis 26:5). This pretty well confirms the rendering of achri in Romans 5:14 as "to the extent of" being correct.