Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Difficulty with Romans 5:12-14

For my write-up today on Heikki Raisenen's Paul and the Law, I will talk some about Raisenen's discussion of Romans 5:12-14, which (in the KJV) states the following:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have 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 to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come."

This passage has long confused me. If God did not impute sin to people before the law, then what do you call the death penalty for Adam's sin? Raisenen points out another example in which God punished people prior to the Mosaic law: the Flood. I can also refer to the examples of Cain, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

Raisenen does not seem to buy the notion that Romans 5:12-14 is saying that the law made people accountable and guilty in terms of the last judgment, whereas, prior to the law, God may have punished people in this life but did not record their sins for judgment day. Raisenen states that the "explanation that the people of the interim period were punished immediately, whereas other people are only punished on the day of judgment is artificial" (page 146). Raisenen points out that Paul in Romans 2:12-16 talks about people who sinned and will perish (at judgment day) without the law. Raisenen also believes that there is a contradiction between Romans 5:12-14 and Romans 7:8, for the former acknowledges the existence of sin before the law was given, but the latter says that sin was dead before the law came.

Raisenen settles on the interpretation of Romans 5:12-15 stating that "although there is sin in the world since Adam's days, 'transgressions' in a technical sense are not there until there is a law which can be transgressed" (page 148). Raisenen says further down that "the law is seen as a formal standard which qualifies transgressions of it as different from other ways of sinning." Was sin conceptualized differently after the law came----as a transgression of the known will of God? While God held people responsible to a moral standard prior to the law, did the law increase their responsibility, since the law revealed what God actually wanted?

I don't know how systematic Paul was. Maybe his point in Romans 5:12-15 is simply that the law is a dead end, since it primarily revealed God's standard and officially made sins into transgressions without doing anything about them. That's why Christ had to come.


  1. Hi James,

    If I may: I ventured a solution to the problem of Rom 5:13-14 in my article on "Romans 5:13-14 and the Universality of Law" (*Novum Testamentum* 38 [1996] 344-58).

  2. I'll check that out. Thanks, John!


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