“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because 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 to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Romans 5:12-14

In the last part of our study in Romans we saw that Christians are saved by Christ’s Life. Paul reminded the Roman believers that having been justified by the blood of Christ, they were saved from the wrath of God through Christ. Paul is focused like a laser on the beautiful doctrine of Christian salvation – also known as the Doctrine of Christian Soteriology.

With that as our context let’s see how Paul develops his theme of salvation.

Verse 12

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—”

δια τουτο ωσπερ δι ενος ανθρωπου η αμαρτια εις τον κοσμον εισηλθεν και δια της αμαρτιας ο θανατος και ουτως εις παντας ανθρωπους ο θανατος διηλθεν εφ ω παντες ημαρτον

δια τουτο (dia touto) “because of this” (therefore) .. the “this” refers back to the words in the previous sentences where Paul wrote that Christ died for the ungodly (all of us) when we were still without strength .. It refers back to God demonstrating His own love toward us, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” .. It refers back to how “we shall be saved from wrath through Him” and how as former enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of Christ .. “because of this” ..

ωσπερ δι ενος ανθρωπου η αμαρτια εις τον κοσμον εισηλθεν (hōsper di henos anthrōpou hē hamartia eis ton kosmon eisēlthen) “just as through one man sin into the world entered” .. hōsper is an emphatic verb that means “indeed just as, just exactly like” .. “through one man” introduces a new part of Paul’s theme on salvation .. we’ll learn more about that in following verses .. hamartia means “missing the mark, failure, offense, to err, sin” .. kosmon means “an ordered system” .. eisēlthen means “come into, enter into” ..

και δια της αμαρτιας ο θανατος (kai dia tēs hamartias ho thanatos) “and through sin death” .. thanatos means “death” (physical and/or spiritual) ..

και ουτως εις παντας ανθρωπους ο θανατος διηλθεν (kai houtōs eis pantas anthrōpous ho thanatos diēlthen) “thus to all men death passed” ..

εφ ω παντες ημαρτον (eph hō pantes hēmarton) “for that all sinned”

Paul is building a particular case here for a foundational understanding of sin and the sin nature. Understanding that is vital to Christian theology. Here is Paul’s logic –

  • sin entered the world through one man
  • death came through sin
  • death spread to all men because all sinned

Paul introduced the truth that all people have sinned earlier in Romans –

“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one … Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:9-12, 19-23

Paul repeats the same truth in chapter 5 verse 12 (all sin) and adds another important part for his readers to consider – “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin.”

Jews had some background in the connection between one man and the entrance of sin and death  –

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17

“Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51:5

We find the concept of what is often called “original sin” in the Old Testament, but what about the Gentile Greeks and Romans who read Paul’s letter to the Romans? How might they have viewed the idea of sin and death entering through one man?

The Romans and Greeks believed in many gods and the importance of pleasing their gods to receive “divine” favor and blessing. If they didn’t please their gods, the gods might remove their favor and blessing. The Greeks viewed “sin” (hamartia) as a missing of the mark, a tragic flaw, mistake, an offense, but not the idea of one person’s missing of the mark passing along to other people. Each person would succeed or fail on their own.  The idea of a sin nature passing from one person to another (aka “original sin”) was not how Greeks understood hamartia.

The concept of “original sin” (sin nature originating with one man and passing forward to each generation) is both Jewish and Christian. We believe that the “sin nature” had a beginning and that beginning was with one man.

Verse 13

“(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

αχρι γαρ νομου αμαρτια ην εν κοσμω αμαρτια δε ουκ ελλογειται μη οντος νομου

αχρι γαρ νομου (achri gar nomou) “until for law” .. nomou means “law” and was used for both law as a general principle and Law as written commands .. context determines usage

αμαρτια ην εν κοσμω (hamartia ēn en kosmō) “sin was in the world” .. we know from Genesis 3 forward that sin was in the world .. however ..

αμαρτια δε ουκ ελλογειται μη οντος νομου (hamartia de ouk ellogeitai mē ontos nomou) .. “sin however not is imputed not there being law” .. ellogeitai means “charge to one’s account” .. sin was not charged to or added to one’s account ..

Sin was in the world prior to God giving Moses His Law, but it was not technically charged to people’s account as sin for those who lived before the Law. There was no Law to define what was sin.

“… because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4:15

So, does that mean people who disobeyed God before He gave the Law to Moses didn’t sin? Not at all.

Verse 14

“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

αλλ εβασιλευσεν ο θανατος απο αδαμ μεχρι μωσεως και επι τους μη αμαρτησαντας επι τω ομοιωματι της παραβασεως αδαμ ος εστιν τυπος του μελλοντος

αλλ εβασιλευσεν ο θανατος απο αδαμ μεχρι μωσεως (all ebasileusen ho thanatos apo adam mechri mōuseōs) “nevertheless reigned death from Adam until Moses” .. ebasileusen means “to rule as king, to exercise dominion, reign over” ..

Even though sin was not charged to an individual person’s account until the giving of the Mosaic Law, death “reigned” from Adam until Moses. In those years from Adam’s sin to the time God gave the Mosaic Law, sin and death exercised dominion over all people.

και επι τους μη αμαρτησαντας επι τω ομοιωματι της παραβασεως αδαμ (kai epi tous mē hamartēsantas epi tō homoiōmati tēs parabaseōs adam) “even over those not having sinned in the likeness of the transgression of Adam” .. homoiōmati means “same form, resemblance, similar” .. death exercised dominion over people who lived before the Mosaic Law even though their sin didn’t resemble Adam’s transgression ..

Adam disobeyed God’s specific commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother. Even though that was not the same sin that Adam committed, Cain’s murder was sin. In fact, God told Cain not to do it so Cain disobeyed God. What about those who followed who did not disobey God in the same way Adam and Cain did? Paul’s point here is that sin and death exercised rule or dominion over all people after Adam.

ος εστιν τυπος του μελλοντος (hos estin tupos tou mellontos) “who is a type of the coming one” .. tupos means “mark of a blow, stamp struck by a die” .. it was the impression left by a die which became the mold to form something ..

In this context, Adam was a “type” of the “coming one.” Who was that? As we’ll see in the next study, that One is Jesus Christ. How was Adam a “type” of Christ? Stay tuned.

Other Commentaries

“Until the law was given, that is, during the period between Adam and Moses, sin was in the world. But sin is not put to the account of the person when there is no law. Yet, death reigned as king from the time of Adam to that of Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. Since death comes by means of sin, and those living between Adam and Moses had no sins charged to their accounts by reason of the non-existence of the written law, and yet in spite of that, died, logic leads us to conclude that their death came by reason of Adam’s sin and that they sinned in him, their federal head. Adam is spoken of as ‘the figure of Him who was to come.’ ‘Figure’ is tupos, used in a doctrinal sense of a type, a person or thing prefiguring a future (Messianic) person or thing; in this sense Adam is called a type of Jesus Christ, each of the two having exercised a preeminent  influence upon the human race (the former destructive, the latter, saving) (Thayer).” Wuest’s Word Studies in Romans, Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955

“The sequence is, first sin, then death. Now, the death which passed over mankind had its origin in Adam’s sin. Strictly speaking, there could be no individual sin till there was a law to be broken. But in the interval between Adam and Moses, i.e., before the institution of law, death prevailed, over the world. which was a proof that there was sin somewhere. The solution is, that the sin in question was not the individual guilt of individual transgressors, but the single transgression of Adam. Here, then, is the contrast. The single sin of the one man, Adam, brought death upon all mankind; the single act of the one Redeemer cleared away many offences—also for all men. Under the old dispensation law entered in to intensify the evil; but, in like manner, under the new, grace has come in to enhance and multiply the benefit. Thus the remedial system and the condemnatory system are co-extensive, the one over against the other, and the first entirely cancels the second.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

“The design of what follows is plain. It is to exalt our views respecting the blessings Christ has procured for us, by comparing them with the evil which followed upon the fall of our first father; and by showing that these blessings not only extend to the removal of these evils, but far beyond. Adam sinning, his nature became guilty and corrupted, and so came to his children. Thus in him all have sinned. And death is by sin; for death is the wages of sin. Then entered all that misery which is the due desert of sin; temporal, spiritual, eternal death. If Adam had not sinned, he had not died; but a sentence of death was passed, as upon a criminal; it passed through all men, as an infectious disease that none escape. In proof of our union with Adam, and our part in his first transgression, observe, that sin prevailed in the world, for many ages before the giving of the law by Moses. And death reigned in that long time, not only over adults who wilfully sinned, but also over multitudes of infants, which shows that they had fallen in Adam under condemnation, and that the sin of Adam extended to all his posterity. He was a figure or type of Him that was to come as Surety of a new covenant, for all who are related to Him.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

“For until the law … – This verse, with the following verses to the 17th, is usually regarded as a parenthesis. The Law here evidently means the Law given by Moses. “Until the commencement of that administration, or state of things under the law.” To see the reason why he referred to this period between Adam and the Law, we should recall the design of the apostle, which is, to show the exceeding grace of God in the gospel, abounding, and superabounding, as a complete remedy for all the evils introduced by sin. For this purpose he introduces three leading conditions, or states, where people sinned, and where the effects of sin were seen; in regard to each and all of which the grace of the gospel superabounded. The first was that of Adam, with its attendant train of ills Romans 5:12, which ills were all met by the death of Christ, Romans 5:15-18. The second period or condition was that long interval in which men had only the light of nature, that period occurring between Adam and Moses. This was a fair representation of the condition of the world without revelation, and without law, Romans 5:13-14. Sin then reigned – reigned everywhere where there was no law. But the grace of the gospel abounded over the evils of this state of man. The third was under the Law, Romans 5:20. The Law entered, and sin was increased, and its evils abounded. But the gospel of Christ abounded even over this, and grace triumphantly reigned. So that the plan of justification met all the evils of sin, and was adapted to remove them; sin and its consequences as flowing from Adam; sin and its consequences when there was no written revelation; and sin and its consequences under the light and terrors of the Law.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

“Romans 5:14. Nevertheless — Though the law was not yet given by Moses, yet sin was in the world, and was imputed, as appears by this, that death, which is the punishment of sin, was in the world at that time, and reigned — Brought all under its power, from Adam to Moses — As Romans 5:21, and Romans 6:12, even over them, &c. — Not only over them that had sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, but also over infants that had not committed actual sin, as Adam had done, and over others who had not, like him, sinned against an express law. Who is the figure of him that was to come — A lively type of Christ in his public capacity, each of them being a public person, and a federal head of mankind: the one the fountain of sin and death to mankind by his offence, the other of righteousness and life by his free gift. Thus far the apostle shows the agreement between the first and second Adam: afterward he shows the difference between them. The agreement may be summed up thus: As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so by one man righteousness entered into the world, and life by righteousness. As death passed upon all men, in that all had sinned; so life passed upon all men, (who are in the second Adam by faith,) in that all are justified. And as death, through the sin of the first Adam, reigned even over them who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression: so through the righteousness of Christ, even those who have not obeyed after the likeness of his obedience, shall reign in life. We may add, as the sin of Adam, without the sins which we afterward committed, brought us death: so the righteousness of Christ, without the good works which we afterward perform, brings us life, although still every good as well as evil work will receive its due reward.” Benson Commentary

“Beginning at v. 12 we enter Paul’s extended contrast between Adam (the first man) and the results of his sin and Jesus Christ (the “second man”) and the gracious provisions of his atoning life and death. 118 The contrast runs through v. 19. These two figures illustrate the central theme of the specifically theological portion of Paul’s letter. Adam typifies the sinful condition of all humans (1:18–3:20). Jesus stands for the justification received by faith (3:21–5:11). Redemption is the story of two men. The first man disobeyed God and led the entire human race in the wrong direction. 119 The second man obeyed God and provides justification for all who will turn to him in faith. No matter how devastating the sin of the first, the redemptive work of the second reverses the consequences of that sin and restores people to the favor of God. Only by grasping the seriousness of the first is one able to appreciate the remarkable magnanimity of the second.” Mounce, Robert (2010), Romans, B&H Publishing Group

Previous Romans Study eBooks


Next Time

We will look at Romans 5:15-17 as we continue our study of the Gospel of God.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.