Romans 5:12, Part 5: A Few More Replies to Replies

Posted By on June 27, 2009

Still doesn’t seem like the time to go into what I really want to (the “where do babies go when they die?” thing). I promise that will be the next post. But for now, some mop of further replies and questions seems best. Same format as last post.

COMM: “You SEEM (I am leaving you the room for clarification) to have restricted death here in Romans 5 to physical death. This is a mistake, for the context clarifies that death is both spiritual and physical. The death introduced by Adam is conjoined with “condemnation” (vv. 16, 18), and it is also contrasted with “eternal life” (v. 21). Thus it can hardly be restricted to physical death. Indeed, Paul is likely reflecting on the threat of Gen. 2:17, where Adam is warned that he will die on the very day he transgresses God’s command. When Adam sins, however, physical death does not immediately follow. We should not conclude from this that Adam continued to live after his sin. The account in Gen. 3 reveals that Adam died when he sinned, for upon sinning he was immediately separated from God. Adam’s hiding from God and his expulsion from the garden signal his spiritual separation from God. I am not suggesting that physical death and spiritual death can ultimately be separated, for the former is the culmination and outworking of the latter. Nonetheless, the account in Genesis indicates that death is fundamentally separation from God, and this alienation from God entered the world through Adam’s sin. It is also vital to understand that sin and death are twin powers that entered the world when Adam transgressed. That sin and death are powers is borne out in the subsequent context, where Paul speaks of sin and death as reigning, of unbelievers as being slaves to sin, and of the wages sin exacts from its subjects: “death reigned” (Rom. 5:14, 17).”

MSH: There’s a lot in here that doesn’t make sense to me, and that isn’t entirely the fault of the commentator. Let’s take the first part, about “spiritual death.” I wonder whether this idea / category has any legitimacy at all. I’ve heard many preachers define death as separation of body and soul (okay with that), and then go on to talk about “spiritual death” as separation from God. It seems an odd category. Perhaps (and this depends on one’s view of whether hell and the “second death” is eternal), there is some legitimacy for the idea due to the “second death.” People are raised to judgment, and then die the “second death”. If that death is not annihilation of the body, then an eternal death would seem legitimately definable as “separation from God.” The problem, of course, with this is that, in the very same passage, Rev. 20:14, DEATH ITSELF suffers the “second death”. So you get into the logical problem of how DEATH ITSELF can still be “living” (ongoing) when it has DIED! Put another way, how can the second death be eternal if death is put to death? Paul himself says in 1 Cor 15:26 that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This is, as many of you will see, an argument for the END of death (annihilation). Those on the traditional side have to come up with a way for death itself to die and yet not be dead. Not easy! I’m still chewing on this one, so I can’t say I’d cast my vote anywhere. It’s a problem. At least, though, you should all know why I’m hesitant to even accept the “spiritual death” category. I’m also glad that my answer to these replies on Romans 5:12 doesn’t depend on that question. But there’s another reason to wonder about the legitimacy of “spiritual death.”

Now, the commenter would likely define “spiritual death” as ANY separation from God. That seems an over-reading. With respect to verses like Rom 6:23 (“the wages of sin is death”) it seems clear that sinners (anyone who sins – which is every human who is allowed to live and can, except for Jesus) are destined for separation from God in the afterlife. Incidentally, some commenters think that Rom 6:23 undermines my Rom 5:12 view – that since all of us born after Adam die and we inherited Adam’s death, that means we inherited guilt. No – it means that all who sin and are unredeemed endure this afterlife fate. Adam and Eve *sinned* and then died. They lost immortality, and therefore all their descendants did. All who descend from Adam die, but only if they sin does the *wage* of *sin* come into effect – death in the afterlife unless redeemed. The rest of humanity wasn’t guilty of what Adam did, but they would suffer something very serious because of it: death / loss of immortality. And, as I noted in the previous post, with the environment of Eden gone, they would be helpless to avoid sinning.

COMM: I am also perplexed that you can sustain the thesis that death is the result of Adam’s one sin, but not guilt. Don’t you see that “condemnation” is attributed to the sin of the one man? Condemnation implies guilt. Are you considering this?

MSH: Let’s try an illustration. Did David’s infant son from Bathsheba incur moral guilt for David’s sin? No. But he died as a result. He suffered the consequences without participating in the sin. So did Achan’s CATTLE (everyone likes to assume that Achan’s family must have somehow participated in his sin at Jericho, even though the text doesn’t say that – but then they must explain how his livestock sinned to make that work!). Take a good look at Romans 5:12 again. The TEXT clearly says “death passed upon all humanity.” It’s point blank. It never says “condemnation / guilt passed upon all men.” The Bible is filled with examples (corporate solidarity or otherwise) where people suffer the effects of someone else’s sin without ever being guilty of that sin. You might say, “Well Romans 5 is different.” On what basis? Not the text of Romans 5:12. The guilt has to be imported into the text. It ain’t there unless you put it there. Look at the words. All humans suffer the effect of the Fall, and they need not be guilty for what Adam did. Just like the creation suffers the effect of the Fall – did the creation sin? Where? What verse?

COMM: Remember I said that Rm. 5:12 has the ability to affirm original sin in one of my comments, but I needed my Greek text to see it.

MSH: Pardon me here, but you’re not noticing anything in the Greek text that’s new, and that I haven’t seen either.

COMM: “Here it is: When Paul says “all sinned,” he indeed means that every human being has personally sinned.”

MSH: So where is the Greek argument? You simply pick a translation and assert your view. Where is the grammatical basis? Semantic basis?

COMM: “Nevertheless, we should not read a Pelagian interpretation from this, for the (eph ho) phrase explains why all human beings have sinned.”

MSH: So tell us how. I don’t see any grammatical-syntactical analysis here. Otherwise, all you’ve said to this point is that we have to have our theology “in place” before we look at the text and interpret it. (Don’t waste your time on the grammatical-syntactical analysis, either; the commentators have done it, and they show that the phrase is elastic; you won’t get anywhere).

COMM: As a result of Adam’s sin death entered the world and engulfed all people; all people enter the world alienated from God and spiritually dead by virtue of Adam’s sin.

MSH: What’s the Greek word for “spiritual death”? (Hint: there isn’t one). What you’ve done here is brought an interpretation from Genesis 3 about “spiritual death” – which was based upon some sort of take on the verb (Adam didn’t drop dead, so this death must be spiritual) which simply isn’t required by the future / projected semantics of the verb. In less dense English: A future verb doesn’t tell us HOW CLOSE IN THE FUTURE. It could be ANY POINT IN THE FUTURE. But you’re saying that since this death didn’t happen in the immediate future, the death must be “spiritual.” This is eisegesis. Once that interpretation is placed on Genesis 3, it is then imported into Romans 5 and then that passage is made to say more than the words that are in it. This is actually a vivid illustration of the problem with the traditional view. It is contrived to explain why Adam didn’t drop dead when the answer is as easy as affirming A future verb doesn’t tell us HOW CLOSE IN THE FUTURE. It’s so much simpler than what the traditional view does in making the passages stand on their head, as it were.

COMM: One other thing…check this out!

118 O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.
(2 Esd 7:118-119)

I am not heralding this as proof for my position, but it is one example of how a Jew identified himself with Adam in his sin in the Garden (the fall was not yours alone, but ours also).

MSH: Good thing you don’t take this one too seriously. How could we, who didn’t exist, influence Adam to sin? The answer: we couldn’t. Beings that don’t exist don’t do ANYTHING because . . . well, they don’t exist. At best this is reflective of the unscientific thinking in Hebrews 7, which doesn’t work either since it is contrary to reality.

Now something for the commenters. I’m glad we went down these trails, since I think careful readers will see all the more how the traditional view is contrived and based on assumptions and ideas brought into Genesis 3 to explain why Adam didn’t die on the spot, and then how that bogus answer is injected into Romans 5 to create a doctrine. It’s a thing of beauty, in an icky sort of way. But you still haven’t shown me a single verse that actually SAYS (with words right in the verse) that Adam’s guilt was transmitted to the rest of humanity. You’ve shown me that death was transmitted (which is what I said from the beginning), and then extrapolated to “well, death must be because of guilt.” All you need to overturn that is one example of where someone innocent died through no fault of their own. How about Naboth in addition to the ones I’ve already given? The point is that there is no logical, exegetical, or theological NECESSARY CONNECTION between death and guilt.

On another front, you still haven’t answered how Jesus gets off the hook if the traditional view is correct. What are you waiting for? Let’s have that answer. Be warned. If you tackle this, it’ll be even more difficult (read: impossible), now that the Augustinian view of Hebrews 7:8-10 has been blown to bits. Good luck. This impasse is what really prompted me to reconsider Romans 5:12.

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9 Responses to “Romans 5:12, Part 5: A Few More Replies to Replies”

  1. cwmyers007 says:


    You have mischaracterized me by saying that I am getting a false view from Genesis and importing it to Romans…but give me some more time to meditate on your post and then I will, Lord willing, show you why your characterization is not true.

    For your own reflection….spiritual death is a Biblical truth that you have not considered in your rejection of original sin…Here is some Scripture that shows a distinction (this is just off the top of my head…I will search for more in due time):

    But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me; and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22) – (How can physically dead people bury anyone?)

    “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

    *”‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?í He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

    And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10)

    And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, (Colossians 2:13)

    For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (1 Peter 4:6)

    Isa. 59:1-2 is also a good one to look at, although it will not be sufficient for you.

    Also, you are unfair when you say that “But you still havenít shown me a single verse that actually SAYS (with words right in the verse) that Adamís guilt was transmitted to teh[sic] rest of humanity.” This is unfair because YOU cannot show me one single verse that actually SAYS that God is a Trinity! You should know by now that there are many doctrines that must be deduced from evidence…the trinity is a fine example…imputation of Christ’s righteousness is another one…..original sin is yet another. You have yet to deal with the problem of the obvious fact that we are by nature–since birth–with a sin nature. You have not even attempted to defend such an assertion. But let me reflect on that in a little while.

    Grace be with you,


  2. cwmyers007 says:

    CORRECTION to last post: You have yet to deal with the FACT that we are born with a sin-nature. You deny this…and you have not provided adequate support for denying this.

  3. cwmyers007 says:


    Before I write a response post I had to highlight a major error on your part.

    You said: “It [Rom. 5] never says condemnation/guilt passed upon all men.”

    But Romans 5:18 says exactly that!

    ??? ??? ?? ?? ???? ???????????? ??? ?????? ????????? ??? ????????? ????? ??? ?? ???? ??????????? ??? ?????? ????????? ??? ????????? ????

    Literally, ‘through one trespass to all men unto condemnation’ (di henos paraptOmatos eis pantas anthrOpous eis katakrima)

    This oversight in my view is huge because Paul is using the fact that we are united to Adam in his condemnation as the parallel to how we are united to Christ in his righteousness.

    I plead with you to consider this.

  4. cwmyers007 says:

    Sorry, the Greek didn’t go through in the last post…and make sure you read the last paragraph like this…

    This oversight of yours, in my view, is HUGE because Paul…etc.

  5. Jonnathan Molina says:

    For the record, I’m right there with you on this Rom 5:12 and how the traditional view doesn’t work. As an evangelical non-catholic I pretty much am just curious as to how to better explain the text when I witness or in sunday schools etc. to the layman so I can’t wait till you get to where we get “sin nature” since it’s such a heavily relied upon term in these circles. I’m 100% for accuracy and a better understanding (hence my love of this blog).

    Now a question please. I’m with you on not reading “spiritual death” into Genesis 3 and avoiding eisegesis that stems from that elsewhere in scripture. But what can we say about Colossians 2:13 and Ephesians 2:1 were Paul says to his reader “you BEING DEAD through your trespasses” and “you WERE DEAD in your trespasses and sins” respectively ?

    Can you break it down in terms of “spiritual death”, can these verses be used to support that idea (since the reader is clearly still alive) or is Paul referring to something else? In other words in what way (if not spiritual) is the reader already dead while yet breathing? Thanks.

  6. cwmyers007 says:

    Real quick…is there something that I am missing in the Hebrew? Because Gen. 2:17 says that “IN THE DAY THAT YOU EAT…YOU WILL SURELY DIE” Does not “in the day that you eat thereof” directly connected to “you will surely die”?

    I am questioning myself because I cannot imagine you overlooking something like that…

  7. cwmyers007 says:

    It is certainly the most natural meaning of the text that “in the day that you eat thereof” is the qualifier for when “you will die” and I have a lot of scholarly commentators with me on that reading.

  8. Lesly says:

    Hello Dr Heiser,

    I don’t want to get Jesus “off the hook” re the traditional understanding but I did want to ask:

    If Adam’s dying was a result of not just his original sin but his being out of Eden, cut off from God and presumably, other sins committed in his very long life, then wouldn’t the life of the Lord Jesus stand out in contrast to that? Isn’t Jesus’ living of His life also a portion of the salvation He wrought for us?

    Jesus’ death – wasn’t the loss of His life something he surrendered: Jesus says that no one took it from Him. I just feel that also has something to do with it and that is what separates the Lord’s death from babies and other innocents.

    Thanks and cheers,

  9. MSH says:

    @Lesly: I have put your questions below, but changed the order. See responses at **

    Jesusí death – wasnít the loss of His life something he surrendered: Jesus says that no one took it from Him.

    ** yes; agreed

    I just feel that also has something to do with it and that is what separates the Lordís death from babies and other innocents.

    ** not sure where/how you are tracking on that point. Maybe you can apply it when we get into the matter of babies and innocents, etc.

    If Adamís dying was a result of not just his original sin but his being out of Eden, cut off from God and presumably, other sins committed in his very long life, then wouldnít the life of the Lord Jesus stand out in contrast to that? Isnít Jesusí living of His life also a portion of the salvation He wrought for us?

    ** If Jesus had lived forever and never died, we would not have an atonement. Yes, his life was sinless, and that’s important, since the OT typology required it and the logic of an eternal, perfect sacrifice required it as well.

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