Exposition of Romans 5:20-21, Where grace reigns, Jesus is Lord

Contemporary people live in the swirl and cross-currents flowing in a culture that encourages drift. Whether we consider the ever-changing world of fashion, our most recent text message, the latest news about celebrities, or the long sequence of fast-food outlets, we encounter an endless series of mock-serious choices about how to occupy our minds and our bodies. It all means nothing!

Think harder: if we are drifting with the culture, we are serving the domain of sin by treating the awesome role God has given us without a sense of priority or godly purpose.

Paul tells us: Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom. 6:16, NET). Life is not about drift; it is about deciding whom you are going to serve.

Romans 5:20-21

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.

The Greek verb pareiserchomai is translated as the law came in to increase the trespass (5:20). But the standard lexicon says pareiserchomai may also mean slip in,[1] which is the way it is used in Gal. 2:4, where the verse says, the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy (NET). Douglas Moo says, “Negative connotations dominate in the use of this verb during the NT period.”[2]

Those under the law were unaware that the law was working to increase the trespass (5:20) to make them more aware of their danger (Rom. 7:7-8). In other words, the operation of the law within them was making them more aware of the utter sinfulness of sin (7:13). Moo explains: “The law came with a purpose. But its purpose, Paul affirms, was not to change the situation created by Adam, but to make it worse. But this negative purpose in the law is not, of course, Gods final word.”[3]

Paul intentionally uses the verb for increase twice in 5:20a to show God’s first objective in giving the law — to increase trespasses designed to reveal sin — and then to show the result of God’s effort; sin did indeed increase. The work accomplished by the law was like the efforts of a surgeon to expose diseased tissue.

Next the surgeon applies the cure: where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20b). Sin increases ten-fold, but grace escalates one-hundred-fold. Note carefully that the law cured nothing! Grace is what God offered to abundantly deal with sin. That was true in the Old Testament, and it is true in the New Testament.

So, we learn that the law is not a basis for righteousness, but it is a useful means to the end of a grace-based righteousness.

(ESV) Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes: “In expressing the divine purpose in the triumphant overflowing of grace, Paul has for the last time in this section made use of a comparison — this time comparing the never-ending reign of the divine grace with the passing reign of sin.”[4]

First, we will clarify the clause as sin reigned in death (5:21a). Moo observes: “Paul often thinks in terms of spheres or dominions, and the language of reining is particularly well suited to this idea. Death has its own dominion: humanity as determined, and dominated, by Adam.”[5]

But if sin is a proxy ruler for Adam, grace is a proxy ruler for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul draws the strongly one-sided comparison to a close by showing the utter superiority of Christ over Adam, of grace over sin and death. This Age (dominated by sin) is giving way to the Age To Come (dominated by grace through Christ). We live in the tension between the two.

But the comparison has a lesson, which Cranfield summarizes: “In spite of the vast and altogether decisive dissimilarity between Christ and Adam, there is nevertheless a real likeness between them consisting in the correspondence of structure between the Christ-and-all-men relationship and the Adam-and-all-men relationship, a likeness that makes it possible and appropriate to compare them.”[6]

But Paul does more than compare Adam and Christ; he contrasts them as well. Christ will rule! Sin and death, brought into the world by Adam’s disobedience, will vanish into the lake of fire.

Whose kingdom will you serve?

As Paul will make known in Romans 6, each of us will serve either the domain of sin or the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16, NET).

1. As you look back over what you have learned in Romans, whose kingdom have you served in the various stages of your life?

2. What is one thing you intend to do today to begin serving Gods kingdom more effectively? What might you add for becoming a more mature follower of Christ?

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. (Rom. 6:14, NLT). Use your freedom to serve Christ!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] BDAG-3, pareiserchomai, slip in, q.v.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 347.

[3] Moo, Romans, 347.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 294.

[5] Moo, Romans, 349.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 295.

Exposition of Romans 5:18-19, Jesus used obedience to bring righteousness

We have said more than once that faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done. Since God has said a lot about what he expects of us, including many explicit commands, it is obvious that obedience plays a central role in Christian faith. Is that not what you would expect since Christ is both Lord of lords and King of kings?

After we trust in Jesus, we still have a lifetime of choices to make about how best to obey our Lord. How will we proceed?

Romans 5:18-19

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.

The parallelism built into Romans 5:18 is pervasive, as shown below:

Therefore
as one trespass [led to] condemnation for all men, } Adam

so one act of righteousness [leads to] justification and life for all men. } Christ

The square brackets [ ] indicate that the verb has been supplied to make literary English because the Greek sentence has no verbs. Different English translations have supplied different verbs:
NET (came), NLT (brings), HCSB (is), and NASB (resulted). Each of these choices is reasonable.

By dissecting 5:18 in this way, we can easily spot important points. First, each single act affected all men, a comprehensive expression. As to the scope of all, C.E.B. Cranfield says:

It will be wise to take it thoroughly seriously as really meaning all, to understand the implication to be that what Christ has done he has really done for all men, that [life-giving justification HCSB] is truly offered to all, and all are to be summoned urgently to accept the proffered gift, but at the same time to allow that this clause does not foreclose the question whether in the end all will actually come to share it.[1]

Of course, we have already discussed the gift-nature of the justification and life. The gift was explicitly mentioned three times in Rom. 5:15-17. Not all accept the gift by faith.

Using the interpretive principles of salvation history (see Introduction), we point out that Adams deed came first, to the undoing of humanity’s privileged position in Eden and much more. The act of Christ came later and contained such grace as to overwhelm the damage done by Adam. James Dunn says: “The inaugurating act of the new epoch [i.e. the Age To Come] is thus presented as a counter to and cancellation of the inaugurating act of the old [i.e. The Present Age], Christs right turn undoing Adams wrong turn.”[2] Wrong turn is just another term for disobedience.

(ESV) Romans 5:19 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.

Once again, Romans 5:19 has strong parallelism, but this time with actual Greek verbs:

For
as by the one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, } Adam

so by the one mans obedience the many will be made righteous. } Christ

It is clear from the parallelism that the major difference between what Adam did and what Jesus did is the difference between disobedience by Adam and obedience by Christ.

Sin wears many masks in life and in Romans, and Paul used a variety of terms to refer to it. In 5:12 we have the Greek noun hamartia meaning “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness . . . sin.”[3] In 5:15, 17, and 18 he switched to paraptoma meaning “a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin.”[4] Here in 5:19 Paul switched to parakoemeaning “refusal to listen and so be disobedient, unwillingness to hear, disobedience.”[5]

We could say that hamartia means: violating a revealed standard of God. The term paraptoma is used figuratively of making a false step; think of hitting your bare toes against a chair leg and put that pain in the context of a false step in some moral situation. The word in 5:19 gives us the interesting insight that Adam failed to listen to God’s actual voice! God told him explicitly what must not be done (Gen. 2:17), and he did it anyway. Unfortunately, many people can identify!

Cranfield makes one clarification about 5:19 when he says, “The many have not been condemned for someone else’s transgression, for Adam’s sin, but because, as a result of Adam’s transgression, they have themselves been sinners.”[6]

But the good news outshines the bad news by far: Jesus obeyed to bring righteousness to all who put their faith in him! The author of Hebrews says about Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9, NET).

Following Jesus

Surely it is plain that to follow Jesus means we are obedient to the Father just as he was. As the old hymn says, “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” When you think about it, trusting and obeying are very similar because trusting is faith and obeying is faithfulness.

1. How many of us have heard God's voice about something, but, like Adam, we come to a point at which we do not listen? When have you made that error, and what did you learn from it?

2. What do you consider a difficult thing about obedience? How do you get around that obstacle?

It is no accident that Paul begins the letter to the Romans with the phrase obedience of faith (1:5) and ends the letter with the same phrase (16:26). There is no such thing as faith without obedience!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 290.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 297.

[3] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, paraptoma, offense, q.v.

[5] BDAG-3, parakoe, unwillingness to hear, q.v.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 290.

Exposition of Romans 5:12-14, Everywhere death reigns, sin has preceded

When the great influenza of 1918 struck the world, more people died from it than even the Black Plague had taken. Everywhere the influenza pandemic spread, it came on two legs.

Sin entered the world in the same way, and it immediately became a pandemic that extended throughout humanity. You may easily identify sin’s victims they always die. Where is the cure?

(ESV) Romans 5:12-14

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned13 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.

Paul decisively changes subject by analyzing the origin of sin and talking about Adam. Douglas Moo tells us what is going on in the second half of Romans 5:

In a passage that rivals 3:21-26 for theological importance, Paul paints with broad brush strokes a birds-eye picture of the history of redemption. His canvas is human history, and the scope is universal. . . . The power of Christ’s act of obedience to overcome Adam’s act of disobedience is the great theme of this paragraph [through verse 21].[1]

That 5:12 has inner logic is obvious; the structure is chiastic:

A Sin results in (5:12a)

B death (5:12b);

B all died (5:12c)

A because all sinned (5:12d)

Moo says, “If this reading of the structure of the verse is right, then verse 12d has the purpose of showing that death is universal because sin is universal.”[2] When Paul says, “death spread to all men” (5:12c), he uses the verb dierchomai, which is used for moving from one village to another to preach (Acts 10:38) or for news spreading about Jesus (Luke 5:15); death spread throughout humanity like a deadly plague moving from one village to the next. It could be found everywhere there was sin. Death is universal because sin is universal.

Romans 5:12 has spilled a lot of ink due to various attempts to explain Paul’s grammar and logic. A majority of Bible translations (ESV, NET, NASB, NIV) and commentators think Paul began to say something in Romans 5:12 and then abruptly stopped. You see, for example, the long dash at the end of verse 12 in the ESV translation above. Moo says, “Paul becomes sidetracked on this point and abandons the comparison, only to reintroduce and complete it later in the text.”[3]

Other Bible translations (HCSB, NLT) and commentators, whom I join, say Romans 5:12 is a complete sentence as it stands. The broken-sentence view (above) has insufficient respect for Paul and utterly fails to explain how the Roman recipients would have unraveled Paul’s meaning; after all, commentators over twenty centuries have been unable to agree on the resumption point for the allegedly broken sentence!

Aside from these disputes, keep your eye on the point that sin is lethal! Christians have the remedy in eternal life through Christ, but that does not alter the fact that every time we sin we spread death. That is exactly what Adam did, as we will see.

C.E.B. Cranfield makes a telling observation: “It is difficult for those who are in the habit of thinking of death as natural to come to terms with this doctrine of death [being caused by sin].”[4]

(ESV) Romans 5:13-14 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.

The statement “sin indeed was in the world before the law” (5:13a) captures the main idea, but the Greek imperfect verb here can emphasize that sin continued for the duration of the period before the law. The absence of specific commands from God between Adam and Moses does not imply that sin took a vacation. This is obvious because death reigned from Adam to Moses (5:14), see below.

The clause “sin is not counted where there is no law” (5:13b) can be confusing. The Greek verb ellogeomeans: “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[5] Thomas Schreiner says, “The purpose of that verse is to explain that apart from the Mosaic law sin is not equivalent to transgression. . . . Adam’s sin was different in kind from those who lived before the Mosaic law in that he violated a commandment disclosed by God.”[6]

Paul appears to argue that, even if sin does not rise to the level of transgression, it still killed everyone between Adam and Moses (5:14). In this way Paul continues to press the idea of 5:12 that all die because all sin. That argument would be strong in relation to those present or former Jews who might claim never to have transgressed God’s law; in effect, Paul answers, neither did the people before Moses transgress, but sin still brought about their death!

Grant Osborne says, “There was still moral transgression even if there was no official law that identified it as such, and the fact of death (God’s legal punishment on sin) proves that this was the case.”[7]

To explain the relative clause about “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (5:14b) — Cranfield says, “Adam in his universal effectiveness for ruin is the type which . . . prefigures Christ in his universal effectiveness for salvation.”[8]

Is death natural or caused by us?

If death is a natural thing, then we may look for its cause among the ever-changing molecules that make up our bodies. A pill, perhaps, or an exercise regimen or a diet will eliminate the problem one day. Perhaps a little genetic engineering will save us all — or not!

The Bible presents a different theory of death; it reveals that sin causes death. That means death is not natural but caused by human rebellion against God. Medical care, exercise and nutrition have their place in maintaining life for a longer period, but sin is a spiritual/theological problem whose solution comes from the hand of God.

1. Read Gen. 2:16-17, Gen. 3:19 and Exod. 20:12. How do the first two verses show that death is caused by disobedience and subject to spiritual consequences? How does the last verse demonstrate that our obedience to God has an effect on the length of our lives?

2. Read Romans 8:11 and John 11:25-26. In what ways do the power of Jesus and the Spirit transcend even the bounds of human mortality?

“It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44, NET)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 314315.

[2] Moo, Romans, 321.

[3] Moo, Romans, 319.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 281.

[5] BDAG-3, ellogeo, charge to the account, q.v.

[6] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 279.

[7] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 140.

[8] Cranfield, Romans, 283.