Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Drawing a line in the sand

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

Part of the problem with the arrogance and boasting by certain Corinthians was apparently related to their (deliberate?) misinterpretation of a previous letter Paul had written to them. In that previous letter he had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9), yet they are tolerating a man in the church cohabiting with his stepmother. Paul now reiterates and clarifies his previous remarks.

Pauls previous instruction was not to mix indiscriminately with (Anthony Thiselton, 409) sexually immoral people. But it should have been apparent that he was not referring to having casual contact with unbelieving people in society who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters (1 Cor. 5:10a). David Garland tells us, Sexual immorality was ubiquitous in the Greco-Roman world. So too were greed and idolatry.[1] To avoid all such people, you would have to leave this world (1 Cor. 5:10b) a phrase which can mean to die!

Instead, Pauls letter actually meant and he now makes explicit not to associate with those who claim to be Christians yet are sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:11). So far, so good, but for us today greedy is a harder standard. Gordon Fee explains, The ancient world, both pagan and Judeo-Christian, had a special loathing for avarice that hundreds of years of legitimized greed in our culture have mitigated.[2] Anthony Thiselton says concerning greedy people in Corinth, This corresponds precisely with the social analysis of Corinthian society . . . that many at Corinth were obsessed the ambition to achieve, i.e., to gain more social status, power or wealth.[3]

The meaning of idolater is plain enough. Slanderer is a bit harder; Thiselton says that in this context the Greek word refers to people who cannot open their mouths without putting others down in a way which causes hurt and implies a scornful, superior attitude on the part of the speaker.[4] We hope no ones face springs to mind!

Since the word drunkard (1 Cor. 5:11) is used in a wine culture, we must take pains to see what it meant at that time and place. Fee says that in this context the word refers to that kind of person who is regularly given to drunkenness and the various forms of carousing with which it is associated.[5] Thiselton points out that drunkenness precludes the expression of love for others, which is a hallmark of Christian identity.

The term swindler (1 Cor. 5:10 and 5:11) is more subtle and interesting; it refers to those who exploit others in a way to gain disproportionate wealth. Imagine someone in a coastal city who knows a hurricane is coming and marks up the price of their plywood panels by 500%. Thiselton says, This, once again, may reflect the entrepreneurial culture at Corinth, whereby to get rich quick and to knock others off the ladder was the name of the game. . . . Paul means someone who kicks others down the ladder in order to advance upward at any price.[6]

Eating with others meant more than just friendship in ancient Corinth. The act created a social bond in the eyes of the community. For a Christian to be seen eating with someone actively involved with blatant immorality would undercut the witness of the church, so Paul rules that out (1 Cor. 5:11).

The discerning reader will realize that all these descriptions require making judgments about who falls into these categories. Someone might think this violates what Jesus says about judging others in Matthew 7:1-2, but that is not the case. Jesus was advocating that judgments be made with fairness and mercy, and, when that is done, some still turn out to be dogs (Matt. 7:6) and pigs (Matt. 7:6) or even false prophets and wolves (Matt. 7:15).

Though 1 Cor. 5:12 has two rhetorical questions, those actually amount to statements. These statements revolve around two similar Greek words: ex? (outside) and es? (inside). God will judge those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:13), but each church is responsible to judge those inside the church. Thiselton pointedly says, Against the laissez-faire [anything goes], consumerist culture of today, Paul asserts that to become part of the Christian community is explicitly to place oneself under the discipline of a Christian lifestyle.[7] That being so, the wicked man cohabiting with his stepmother must be banished!

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 185.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 224.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 411.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 414.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 226.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 411-414.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 417.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:4–8 Live “as you really are”!

1 Corinthians 5:4–8

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The first two verses (v. 4–5) of our lesson have challenged many interpreters. Verse 4 speaks of the assembled church with whom Paul is spiritually present along with “the power of our Lord Jesus.” Note carefully that while Paul orders the expulsion of the man guilty of incest, it is the entire church that must carry out that action. Remember that in 1 Cor. 3:16–17, Paul said: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” The church’s toleration of blatant incest — along with their spiritual complacency — is destroying the church in Corinth!

The most convincing analysis of 1 Cor. 5:5 arises from demonstrating that Paul, drawing on his familiarity with the Old Testament prophets, uses a literary structure with certain verses being parallel to others. If, for example, we could show an A-B-A literary structure was present, this would mean that the two verses labeled with the letter “A” were similar and thus could be used to clarify each other. In our case, such a pattern does exist[1] and 1 Cor. 5:2b is parallel to 1 Cor. 5:5a. Let’s put those two verses together and see what we learn.

1 Cor. 5:2b = “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this”

1 Cor. 5:5a = “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”

What does the comparison of these two verses tell us? Many have puzzled over the meaning of 1 Cor. 5:5a, wondering what “hand . . . over to Satan” might mean. The Greek verb for “hand over” has an ominous history; it is used in the Gospels for handing over Jesus for trial by the Jews and later Pontius Pilate, so it means here to give into the custody of Satan. Similar language occurs in 1 Tim. 1:20 in relation to two men guilty of blasphemy.

Anthony Thiselton further explains, “Consigning to Satan means ‘putting him outside the sphere of God’s protection within the church, and leaving him exposed to the satanic forces of evil in hope that the experience would cause him to repent and return to the fellowship of the church.’”[2] The last part of that quotation might seem confusing to those who thought “the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5a) meant physical death, but the interpretation affirmed here is that the word “destruction” has metaphorical force.

For that matter, “flesh” is also metaphorical. Gordon Fee explains, “’Flesh’ means the whole person as oriented away from God.”[3] David Garland similarly says that ‘flesh’ is “the sin-bent self characterized by self-sufficiency that wages war against God.”[4]

How do we know that “destruction” does not mean death? Consider the purpose stated for putting the man out of the church: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b). Thiselton says, “What is to be destroyed is the ‘self-glorying or self-satisfaction of the offended and perhaps also of the community.”[5] Of course, Paul does attribute some deaths in the Corinthian church to abuse of the communion table (1 Cor. 11:30).

In 1 Cor. 5:6, we begin a section in which Paul uses three metaphors about leaven and Passover. To unravel its meaning requires some background.

Modern Bible translations sometimes fail to distinguish between leaven and yeast. Unlike today, yeast was generally unavailable in the ancient world. C.L. Mitton explains: “In ancient times, instead of yeast, a piece of dough [called ‘leaven’] was held over from one week’s baking to the next. By then it was fermenting, and so could cause fermentation in the new lot of dough, causing it to rise in the heat.”[6] This was handy but not safe because dirt and disease could be passed from week to week. The Jewish feast of Passover broke the leaven cycle and was followed by eating unleavened bread for seven days (Lev. 23:6). That information will help.

Consider the following A–B–A literary structure in 1 Cor. 5:6–8 (ESV):

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? OLD LEAVEN A
7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. New Dough
For Christ, our Passover lamb, CHRIST/LAMB B
has been sacrificed. Sacrificed
8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, Feast
not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, OLD LEAVEN A
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Unleavened Bread

(adapted from Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 166).

The sin they are tolerating (“leaven”) affects everyone (v. 6). They must expel the man committing incest (“the old leaven” v. 7a) to demonstrate their renewal in Christ and their true identity as a people no longer dominated (“unleavened”) by the sin of their former lives. Christ died and enabled us to live each day (present tense “celebrate the festival” v. 7b) not as the people we used to be (“the old leaven . . . of malice and evil” v. 8) but as those whose lives show the presence of the Spirit (“the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” v. 8b).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011) 163.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 397, quoting J.T. South, Disciplinary Practices in Pauline Texts (New York: Mellen Press, 1992) 43.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 212.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 175.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 396.

[6] C.L. Mitton, The Gospel according to St. Mark (London: Epworth, 1957) 61.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:1–3 Blatant sin and spiritual pride

1 Corinthians 5:1–3

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.

It is no accident that the allegation of incest by a church member (1 Cor. 5:1) comes right on the heels of a suggestion that Paul may come to them with a rod of punishment (1 Cor. 4:21). Before dealing with the specifics, it would help further study to consider the wider organization of 1 Corinthians 5–6.

The relationship of this section to the material that follows in chapters 5–6 is disputed. Some commentators assert that Paul is simply moving through a list of issues that demonstrate Corinthian arrogance and lack of spiritual maturity. Others consider chapters 5–6 to have an A–B–A structure, where the “A” sections (1 Cor. 5:1–11 and 1 Cor. 6:12–20) deal forcefully with various forms of sexual immorality and the “B” section (1 Cor. 5:12–6:11) speaks of the church’s responsibility to judge this, or any other matter, internally. We prefer the latter view because it provides a comprehensible literary structure rather than a jumbled ‘grocery list’ of topics.

Under either view, it appears likely that 1 Cor. 6:12a (“I have the right to do anything” NIV) looms large over the sordid story of 1 Cor. 5:1–3. This was apparently a widely used slogan in the Corinthian church to express the idea that “Christian believers have been granted liberty from the law.”[1] We will cover this topic in detail later, but it is easy to see how such a belief — if not grounded firmly in our union with Christ — could lead to the incest that Paul attacks as well as to many other sins.

The facts related by 1 Cor. 5:1 are few but appalling: A Christian man in Corinth is having an ongoing sexual relationship with his father’s wife (not his own mother). It is probable that the man and his step-mother are married, possibly following the death of his father, and almost certain that she is not a Christian.

In reply, Paul addresses himself to the church as a whole rather than to the man committing the sin. Fee says, “If for us the problem is how the man could have done such a thing, for Paul it is the fact that with this sin in their midst they are ‘proud’ [verse 2] and ‘boasting’ (v. 6).”[2] In a sentence that resonates in today’s cultural climate, Craig Blomberg says, “They were actually smug over their newfound ‘enlightened’ tolerance as Christians.”[3] It must be said that it is also possible that the man’s sin was ignored because of his higher social status and wealth, but we do not know whether this theory is true.

Paul uses a rhetorical question (“Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” 1 Cor. 5:2) to say what should have been done by the church. The force of this rhetorical question is to shame them.

It is difficult to translate 1 Cor. 5:3. The Greek text strongly stresses Paul’s presence, making it likely that Thiselton is right in translating “As for my part, as physically absent, but nevertheless present in the Spirit . . . .”[4] It is through the Holy Spirit that Paul has an actual, spiritual presence with the Corinthian church in passing formal judgment on the man “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Thiselton rightly adds, “It is a mistake to regard the realm of . . . the Spirit and divine verdict as the realm of ‘as if,’ and the historical, empirical realm as ‘reality.’”

Paul has previously said that the man should have already been “put out of your fellowship” (1 Cor. 5:2), and he will have more to add to this dire judgment before long.

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



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 461.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 201.

[3] Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 104–5.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 384.

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, God’s 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 God’s 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. 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 5:17: One man has done it all

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How would you like it for people to say about you “death reigned through that one man”? Surely no one even wants to think about having that role.

But one man could rightly hear those words: Adam. It is fair to say that no man ever had more and did less with it than Adam. Adolf Hitler killed fewer than he did.

But God had an answer for Adam and all the harm he did. The answer was Jesus — one man above all others!

(ESV) Romans 5:17  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

In some ways Romans 5:17 acts as a summary of this section of Romans. Paul is contrasting Adam and Christ, and C.E.B Cranfield notes the limits of this comparison: “The one real point of likeness between Christ and Adam [is] the fact of one man’s action being determinative of the existence of the many.”[1] Adam affects all related to him by infecting them with sin and death; Jesus affects all related to him — by faith! — by giving them the free gift of righteousness and an abundance of grace.

Note carefully the two uses of the verb “reign” (Greek basileu?). Death reigned through Adam, because of his sinful act. But notice who reigns in the contrasting clause: those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” That was unexpected! What would have been expected was for life to reign, but God had a better idea.

Adam sinned and caused the unraveling of humanity made in God’s image. As Genesis 1:27–28 demonstrate, humanity was designed to rule on earth under God. But Adam’s sin led to the rule of sin and death instead. Through Jesus, believing people are restored to reign as was originally intended. So, we find that death reigned over us through Adam, but we reign in life through Jesus Christ.

Douglas Moo draws attention to a qualification: “The reign of life  is experienced through choice and personal decision; it is for those who ‘receive’ the gift. The importance of this qualification can hardly be overemphasized.”[2]

Paul uses the future tense “will … reign” to describe the effect of believing in Christ. While this may be a reference to the Age To Come, the interpretive structure of salvation history leads me to think it begins with our salvation (“already”) and reaches full development when we are finally with Christ in the Age To Come (“not yet”). If you have no idea what I am talking about, read the material on salvation history in the Introduction.  :-)

Your legacy

We all start out like Adam; we are spreaders of sin and death. But God graciously gives us the chance to take advantage of what the man from heaven, Jesus, did. If we give Jesus our allegiance, we can become spreaders of his life.

1. What events or influences in your life moved you toward spreading death like Adam? Which ones still present problems for you?

2. What events or influences in your life moved you toward spreading life like Christ? What would it take for you to become more effective in doing so?

God gave you a chance to make a living legacy. Even if you have chosen life through faith in Christ, you still have a chance to expand your legacy by helping others find him. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite. Materials originally prepared 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) 287.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996)  340.

Exposition of Romans 5:15–16 Through Jesus, grace multiplies to all

Most who read this study have never felt the terror of being caught in a hopeless trap. So, it is hard to imagine the depth of desperation involved. Thomas Howes knows, because he was held by FARC guerillas in the jungles of Colombia for over five years. Every day he wore a heavy chain which would be padlocked to a tree or some other object. Insects, heat, abuse, poor food, and boredom were his constant companions. No one was looking for him, and no one was coming.

On July 2, 2008, Howes and other hostages were taken to a FARC helicopter to be moved; they almost refused to board out of fear. Once they entered and took off, a brave group of disguised Columbian soldiers suddenly subdued the FARC guards and flew the stunned hostages to safety!

Jesus did the same thing for us, even if we never knew how hopelessly chained we were. His gracious gift made it possible for billions of people to be justified. But will they accept the rescue by faith?

(NET) Romans 5:15–16  But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification.

Romans 5:15 is arranged to emphasize the difference between the free gift from God and the willful rebellion begun by Adam. Douglas Moo says, “The first contrast is one of degree: the work of Christ, being a manifestation of grace, is greater in every way than that of Adam (verse 15).”[1]

Paul’s subtle literary artistry is apparent. In 5:14, where death and sin are emphasized, the name of Adam appears, but Jesus is referenced indirectly. In 5:15, where Paul emphasizes the gracious gift of God, Paul overtly uses the name of Jesus and references Adam indirectly.

(NET) Romans 5:15  But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

Now that Moo has clarified certain general aspects of 5:15, we will dust off a few other items for clarity. “The one man” is a reference to Adam, whose transgression allowed the entry of sin into the world (5:12) and spread death to himself and all after him.

The gift meant by the phrase “the gracious gift” (5:15) is apparently “the free gift of righteousness” (5:17). So, Moo says the gift refers to “the righteous status and life conferred on ‘the many.’”[2]

Those affected by Adam, “the many” (Greek hoi polloi), is clearly a reference to all humankind. Moo represents one group who agree with that comprehensive scope but hesitate to apply the same meaning to the same Greek phrase when it relates to those affected by “the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ” (5:15b).[3] In other words, they say “the many” means all humanity in the first half of the sentence, but less than that in the second half.

What is the concern that drives them to reject a conclusion so compelling (“the many” equals humankind) which is also supported by the words “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18, ESV)? The concern goes by the name universalism, which means every human being will receive righteousness from God and ultimately go to heaven.

The Bible does not teach universalism. For example, in Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus taught about those “who will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). As for Paul, he was referring to a distinct group of people when he spoke of God’s wrath against human sin (Rom. 1:18-31). So, what is the resolution of this conflict of ideas?

Theologians come in all kinds, including some who say God saves all (i.e. universalism) and other theologians who say Paul contradicts himself. In the final analysis — and there has been extensive review — neither of these positions is worth further attention here.

How is the issue to be resolved? Does “the many” refer to all humankind or not? The solution comes in two steps. C.E.B. Cranfield quotes the reformer John Calvin’s remarks: “‘Many’ is put, not for a definite number, but for a large number, in that He sets himself over against all others. And this is its meaning also in Rom. 5:15, where Paul is not talking of a part of mankind but of the whole human race.”[4]  So, “the many” in Rom. 5:15 uniformly refers to the whole human race. That is the first step.

The second step is that we must account for the fact that the grace Christ brought came in the form of “the gracious gift” (5:15). Some accepted the gift by faith and some rejected it. Note carefully that it is “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness [who will] reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (5:17). Not all receive the gift of God because they do not want to “honor him as God or give thanks to him” (1:21). But we who trust in Christ are different; “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2).

So, we find that the offer of God’s grace is made to all humanity, but the acceptance of it is limited to those willing to respond by faith. Universalism fails due to unbelief. In terms of faith as a response to God’s gracious gift, Thomas Schreiner says, “The use of [the Greek verb lamban?, ‘to receive’ (Rom. 5:17)] in Paul confirms that the reception of what God has given is prominent.”[5]

(NET) Romans 5:16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification.

Paul continues the uneven comparison between Adam and Christ in 5:16. Adam sinned and ultimately brought condemnation for all, but the gracious gift through Christ overturned Adam’s sin and all other sins to bring about justification.

Cranfield ably says: “That one single misdeed should be answered by judgment, this is perfectly understandable: that the accumulated sins and guilt of all the ages should be answered by God’s free gift, this is the miracle of miracles, utterly beyond human comprehension.”[6]

Two men — two destinies

Adam is the head of a race of people; he is the head of all who are dominated by sin and subject to the penalty of spiritual death. Jesus is the head of another race; he leads all who have put their faith in him, experienced his rescue from their sins and expectantly wait for a day when their salvation will be complete.

1. How have you taken advantage of the gracious gift which came to you through faith in Jesus Christ?

2. You undoubtedly know someone still in chains, and they may not even know it! What might you do to help them?

 “When the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared,
5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, NET)

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. 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) 334.

[2] Moo, Romans, 335, footnote 96.

[3] Moo, Romans, 336-337.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 285, footnote 1.

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 292.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 286.

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 sins 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 Christs act of obedience to overcome Adams 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 Pauls 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 Pauls 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 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 elloge? means 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. . . . Adams 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 Gods 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 (Gods 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. 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, elloge?, 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.