An In-Depth Look at Romans 5:12-21

An In-Depth Look at Romans 5:12-21

When examining Romans chapter 5 verses 12 through 21 it is important to understand the difference between a trespass, sin, transgression, gift, and gracious gift in order to comprehend what is being revealed. Many of our modern translations are not consistent when translating in this section of Scripture, even though in other areas some translate the words correctly. By mistranslating words, confusion is brought into a very important section of Scripture. However, since there are no textual problems that are causing confusion, we just need to simply look at the original language to clear up any confusion.

To understand the difference between a trespass and a sin we can examine the process by which a sin is produced. This process is found in James 1:14, 15 But each one is tempted (solicited to do that which lacks in character), having been lured and baited by his own lust. Then the lust having conceived, births sin, and the sin having been brought to completion births forth death. A temptation is presented to us that draws us out of our safe place and gets us to bite. Both of these terms are fishing terms. The first is used to lure the fish out, and the second is used of baiting the fish into biting the hook. In like manner, the desire lures us out of our safe place, which is a mindset that is framed on the truth not the desires from the flesh, and attempts to get us to accept it as our own. Once we accept the temptation as our own and determine to fulfill it, we have trespassed – offended God. Sin is then birthed from the trespass.

Scripture uses the same terms for how a child is born to describe the process by which a sin is produced. First conception happens. Conception does not guarantee a child will be born. Conception, in the process of a sin, is when a Christian determines to perform the bad desire. It is still internal, just as a child that is conceived. Unless something prevents the child from growing in the womb and maturing, the next natural step is birth. It is the same with a trespass. If the Christian does not take the way of escape that God has provided, the trespass will become sin.

Sin is always exterior to the body. It is birthed out from a person just like a child when born comes out of the womb. Flee fornication. Every sin, which perhaps a man should do is exterior (outside of) to the body, but the one fornicating sins against his own body, 1 Corinthians 6:18. Sin only happens when the desire from the temptation is worked out. Once sin is birthed it continues to mature until ultimately it brings physical death. For if, assuming it is true, you are living according to the flesh, you are about to die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the practices of the body you will live, Romans 8:13 (1 John 5:16).

Scripture is very clear that a trespass and a sin are distinct from each other. And you being dead in the trespasses and the sins … Ephesians 2:1. He is not saying you were dead in your sins and sins, but in two different areas. One is due to trespasses; the other is due to a sin. Since a trespass and a sin are distinct, the death each causes cannot be the same either.

Sin is an action. Trespass happens within the mind. A trespass has to happen before a sin can be committed since we must determine to act independent from God before we will perform the desire.

A transgression is a sin, but a specific type of sin that requires a law. It means to break the law. Christians cannot transgress because they are not under any law. For the law works out wrath, for where there is no law neither is there transgression, Romans 4:15.

In Romans 5:12-21 we also find two different gifts. The first gift is a gracious gift, which is a gift that is given without consideration of merit, and is eternal life. For the wages of the sin

[nature] are [spiritual] death, but the gracious gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 6:23. The second gift is the gift of righteousness, which is defined in Romans 5:17, and results in resurrection (Romans 4:25).

Now armed with a correct understanding of a trespass, sin, transgression, gracious gift and the gift of righteousness, let’s examine Romans 5:12-21.

5:12 Because of this, just as through one man the sin entered the world and through the sin the death, also thus unto all men the death passed, on the basis that all sinned. 5.13 For until law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed, being no law. 5.14 But the death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those not sinning upon the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of the one about to come.

“Because of this” is more accurate to the original Language. “Therefore” which is in many of our modern translations looks back into the context where “because of this” looks forward. The reason we needed to be reconciled was because of this, one man brought death into the world through a single act of sin; a death that passed to all men.

“The sin” is referring to Adam’s sin in the garden when he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good (beneficial) and evil (lacking in character) knowingly disobeying God.

…and Adam was not deceived, but the woman having been thoroughly deceived came to be in transgression, 1 Timothy 2:14.

This “sin” cannot be referring to the Sin Nature because it did not enter the world. Adam did not receive a Sin Nature; the Sin Nature is a result of Adam’s trespass, which separated his spirit from God, which twisted his innocent nature into a nature that is bent towards disobedience to God and doing what is evil, rather than obedience and good. It is in fact Adam’s nature after he sinned.

Since this “sin” is an act of disobedience and when sin is brought to full maturity it brings physical death, the death in focus here is physical death. This death was passed onto all men on the basis that all sinned in Adam. Adam passed on his nature (his likeness and his image) to his offspring rather than the image and likeness that he was originally created in because he did not have children until after he disobeyed God; therefore, he not only passed on his nature, but also the affect that sin had on his nature.

And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years and fathered in his likeness, in his image, and he called his name Seth, Genesis 5:3.

There was no quality of a law from the time in the garden until when God gave the Mosaic Law to Israel, even though a quality of sin existed in the world; therefore, personal sins were not being counted. God still had standards and expectations that were clearly expressed to men that were responsible for ensuring all others had these instructions, because man was expected to do what is good now that he has the knowledge of good and evil, but no law was given. Yet the previously mentioned death still reigned. So physical death is a result of Adam’s sin, which was passed on to all men, not personal sins. This section of Scripture should not be translated “because all men sinned”, but according to the original language it is “on the basis that all sinned” in Adam. The preposition ἐφ᾽ (upon) is never translated “for” or “because”. Its root meaning us “upon” and is therefore either translated “upon”, “on the basis of”, or “over” when used with words of ruling, depending upon how it is relating to the rest of the sentence. Death did not pass onto all men because all men sin, but on the basis that one man sinned who passed death on to all.

Adam is a type of the one coming. Jesus is referred to as the last Adam. The first Adam become a living soul, the last Adam became a life giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). You are either in the first Adam and therefore separated from God and condemned, or in the Christ (the last Adam), alive unto God and not under any condemnation. Just as Adam’s determination and sin affected all men, so also those who are in Christ are affected by His act of obedience and are therefore seen by God as righteous in Christ.

5.15 But not as the trespass, thus also is the gracious gift. For since by the trespass of the one [man] the many died, how much more the grace from God and the gift by grace by the one man Jesus Christ abounds unto the many.

As we have just read, sin brought physical death, and since sin is birthed from a trespass then the death caused by the trespass cannot be the same death that sin caused. In Genesis 2:71 when God breathed the breath of lives into Adam- “life” is plural, even though many of our English translations make it a singular – He gave Adam both physical and spiritual life; the only two types of life humans possess. Since sin caused the physical life to be subject to death, the trespass must have caused the spiritual life to die, as it is the only life remaining. These lives are not ceasing in the sense of no longer existing; rather, in separation. All humans have three parts: spirit, soul, body2. Even the unsaved have all three parts; the human spirit did not cease to exist, it was separated from God. Physical death is the separation of our spirit and soul from our body3. Spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God4. We do not cease to exist, but are separated. Physical death, which has already been explained as coming as a result of sin, is not the focus again; rather, we are now examining the trespass, which caused spiritual death. By the trespass of one, many were spiritually separated from God.

To further strengthen our understanding that this is referring to spiritual separation, we come to the first occurrence in this section of Scripture of the gracious gift; the gift of eternal life, which counters spiritual separation from God. Since it is a gracious gift, it is a gift that is given without consideration of merit5. This gracious gift is specifically defined in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of the sin [nature] are [spiritual] death, but the gracious gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Remember that our verses and chapters are not inspired. They were added for our convenience, but in adding them a lot of confusion was also added because of how poorly they were placed. Take for instance the chapter break in Romans 6. Paul is still discussing the same subject as in Chapter 5. He is not changing the subject, but taking the next logical step. Since we are dead to the Sin Nature should we continue to live in it? By placing a chapter break here, the reader’s mind associates the words following as if another topic is being discussed, but the original book was a letter with no chapter breaks and must be read that way to understand the flow of the context. When this is taken into consideration, we can easily identify that according to the context, spiritual death and the Sin Nature are what Paul is referring to in verse 23 of chapter 6. Of course there is also substantial grammatical evidence that this is referring to the Sin Nature because in the original language there is a definite article that is often left out of our English translations. It is “the sin” not “sin”. It is looking at a specific sin, not sins as a whole. In the context “the sin” is the previously mentioned Sin Nature.

Adam’s trespass caused spiritual death for all; the gracious gift gives spiritual life. When someone directs faith at Christ through the facts of the Gospel (Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures6), they are given this gracious gift as part of their salvation, which is a result of Christ indwelling the believer. 1 John 5:12 the one having the Son, has the life, the one not having the Son of God does not have the life.

The second occurrence of gift in this passage is the gift of righteousness. This is a gift that brings physical life. Since we are now righteous in Christ we will be raised from the dead as He also was because resurrection is proof of righteousness. The gracious gift deals with spiritual death and the gift of righteousness deals with physical death. We cannot have a resurrected body (physical life) without having spiritual life. Since all spiritually died because of one man’s trespass how much more will the gift of righteousness that is given by grace from God abound unto the many. In the same way that by one man all died, by one man all can have life.

5.16 And the gift is not as through one having sinned. For on the one hand judgment out from one [having sinned] unto condemnation, on the other hand the gracious gift out from many trespasses unto justification.

Judgment came out from the one having sinned unto condemnation. The sentence has already been passed – dying you will die. Genesis 2:17 and from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil do not eat from it because in the day you eat from it dying you will die. The result of Adam’s disobedience was both spiritual and physical death, which passed to all men.

Our English translations often leave out the second death and replace it with the emphatic word “surely”. However, the original Hebrew states that he in death will die. The first death is an infinitive “to die” the second death is an imperfect, which emphasizes incomplete action “dying”. Therefore an accurate translation is “dying you will die.” This is an emphatic way of expressing death by the Hebrew language, so to use it as the sole basis for two deaths would not be well supported. It can only be understood to show two stages of death in the light of New Testament revelation on the two deaths; however, its use is not to be discounted either. 1 Kings 2:37 is a good example of the how the construction of the Infinitive with the Imperative in the Hebrew language is used. “And it will come to be in the day you go out and you pass over the Kidron brook, knowing you will know that dying you will die. Your blood will be upon your head.” He will know at the point in which he crosses over and continue to know, until his death, that at that point he died. That is, he is a dead man walking. The death is not going to be fulfilled immediately, but he will be killed for crossing over (1 Kings 2:46). In like manner when Adam sinned, he died spiritually and became subject to physical death, even though he did not immediately drop dead.

The gift of righteousness deals with resurrection and counters the death from Adam’s sin. Romans 4:25 who was given over because of our trespasses and was raised because of our justification.

Many of our modern translations add the word “transgression”, “trespass”, or “sin” into this verse, which is grammatically incorrect. Within the Greek language, as is with English; parts of the sentences can be left out in the greater context to reduce repetition; however, they are only left out when fully understood by the context. Some of our modern translations violate the normal rules of grammar by adding in words that are not allowed to serve as the ellipsis in this area of Scripture. In this passage the ellipsis is not “transgression”, “trespass”, or “sin” because the word “the one” is agreeing with the previous part of the sentence [the one having sinned]. Judgment came out from the one having sinned, not from a transgression, trespass, or sin. In verse 14 a transgression happened, but then in 15 there is a change in the context to a trespass and now the focus is on the one having sinned, so you would have to jump over multiple subjects that would normally serve as the ellipsis to get to a transgression, a sin, or a trespass, which violates the normal grammar of the Greek language.

The gracious gift came out of many trespasses unto justification. A trespass is before a sin. And unlike the judgment out from one, which brought condemnation, this gift counters the personal trespasses of the individual to bring spiritual life. Spiritual life is not atomically imposed upon all mankind like spiritual death was as a result of Adam’s trespass; only those who take God at His Word concerning salvation receive spiritual life (their spirit becomes alive unto God).

5.17 For since by the one [man’s] trespass the death reigned through the one [man], how much more the ones having received the abundance of the grace and the gift of righteousness in life will reign through the one Jesus Christ.

The death that is reigning here comes from the trespass, which is spiritual death (separation from God). This death reigns as king through the trespass of the one man. Due to the fact that as a result of Adam’s trespass we are all born spiritually dead to God, this death rules over all. This is not referring to physical death, but the death from a trespass. The result of the spiritual death is a nature that is twisted towards acting independently from God, not being thankful, and even seeking to remove the knowledge of God entirely. Romans 1:28 And just as they did not consider worthy to have the God in full experiential knowledge, the God gave them over to an unapproved mind to do that which is improper,

Through spiritual separation from God, our bent nature rules over us. We serve it as a slave. However, through Christ Jesus, it is no longer spiritual death that is reigning, but the life given to the ones having received grace and the gift of righteousness.

5.18 Therefore then, as through one trespass unto all men unto condemnation, thus also through one act of righteousness unto all men unto justification of life.

Prepositions in Scripture are extremely important. The purpose of the preposition is to better clarify how the noun is relating to the sentence. “Through” has the meaning of the agency through which something comes about. It is likened to a tunnel that one goes through to get to the other side of a mountain – the way to the other side of the mountain is through the tunnel. Condemnation is a result of judgment that is because of a sin, which was birthed from a trespass; in order for sin to come, a trespass has to precede it. Therefore the trespass, when worked out, would bring condemnation. Through one trespass condemnation came upon all men.

In contrast to this we have one act of righteousness. There is no trespass involved because there was not determination within the mind to do something that was against God’s standards; rather, the determination was to act righteously. It is through this one act that justification unto all men comes. Justification deals with physical life, but the spiritual life is not ignored nor left dead. The end result is both spiritual and physical life through the one righteous act. You cannot have resurrection without first having spiritual life. We are now looking at the finished product.

5.19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, thus also through the obedience of the one [man], the many are constituted righteous.

“Constituted” come from a word that means “to logically reckon” or put “to one’s account”. Because of Adam’s disobedience all men are considered to be sinners. In the similarly way as Adam’s disobedience is attributed to the many, so also is Christ’s righteousness credited to many. It is not through an act of righteousness by the individual, but through Christ’s obedience, whose righteousness is put to the believer’s account.

5.20 And law, having entered, in order that the trespass should abound; moreover, where the sin [nature] abounded, the grace super abounded

The Mosaic Law entered to fully expose the Sin Nature for what it is7. It entered so that Adam’s trespass would abound.

Through the law one comes to experientially know the Sin Nature; however, apart from the law the Sin Nature has no strength. Romans 7:8 ..for apart from the law sin is dead.

Yet where the Sin Nature abounded because of Adam’s trespass, grace super abounded. By grace God has not only promised full salvation, he has made us righteous in Christ by giving us the gift of righteousness. A righteousness that is based upon Christ’s obedience that counters the physical death we all face through resurrection from the dead. In addition, He has also given us a gracious gift that gives us immediate access to eternal life.

“Sin” in this passage is referring to the Sin Nature, not sins. Sin is singular here not plural so it cannot refer to many sins. In addition, since it is the trespass that is abounding, which caused spiritual death, the result is a nature that is bent towards rejecting God; hence, our Sin Nature. Therefore where the Sin Nature abounds, God’s grace super abounds. 5:21

5.21 in order that just as the sin [nature] reigned by the death, thus also the grace should reign through righteousness because of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Sin Nature reigns by the previously mentioned death, which is a death from a trespass (spiritual death). Grace super abounded here in order that in the same way the Sin Nature reigned by death, grace will reign because of the life (spiritual) through Jesus Christ.

Adam’s trespass brought spiritual death to all; therefore, all humans are born spiritually dead from God. The separation caused by the spiritual death resulted in a nature that is bent towards acting independent from God.

We are still liable for our own personal sins because in the fall we also gained the knowledge of good and evil. God instructs Cain after his offering of the works of his hands was not accepted that he was responsible for ruling over the desire to sin and therefore do what is good. Genesis 4:7 Will you not be lifted up if you do good? And if you do not do good, sin lies at the door, and its desires unto you, and you are to rule over it. Cain did not listen to God and ultimately sinned by killing his brother as a sacrifice resulting in punishment. He was already subject to physical death because of his father’s sin, but that did not excuse him for his own sin. He had the choice to do good or evil and chose to do evil. However, because God was not counting personal sins because there was no law, he was not immediately put to death because of his sin but was punished by banishment.

Adam’s sin brought physical death to all; therefore, all humans are subject to physical death. The body, which was made from the dust of the ground, goes back to it and the soul and spirit are placed in Hades, the holding cell for all unrighteous until the Day of Judgment.

God’s gracious gift of eternal life counters the spiritual death caused by Adam’s trespass and His gift of righteousness counters the physical death from sin through resurrection out from the death, all through Jesus Christ. One who is saved is no longer spiritually separated from God, and although many of the saved will still face physical death, we will all be resurrected and given bodies that cannot die again; therefore, destroying the last enemy – death.

1 And Jehovah God formed the man of dust from the earth and breathed in his nostrils breath of lives and the man became a living soul, Genesis 2:7

2 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely, even entirely the spirit, the soul, the body of you… Unlike in English the Greek use of the definite article (the) specifics and shows individuality here. Spirit, soul, and body all have an article in front of them and therefore cannot be the same things.

3 For just as the body apart from spirit is dead, thus also the faith apart from the works is dead, James 2:26

4 But the soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit from God for they are foolishness to him and he does not have the natural ability to experientially know them, because they are spiritually examined, 1 Corinthians 2:14

5 “Grace” is defined by its use in Scripture as an attitude by which God provides a benefit without consideration of merit.

6 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Salvation comes only by believing that Christ died for your sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures.

7 Romans 7:7,13

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