Back to Romans 5:12 — Replies to Reader Comments

Posted By on July 11, 2009

Here we go again – same format as before.

COMM: Spiritual death is a Biblical truth that you have not considered in your rejection of original sin…

MSH: First, I haven’t rejected original sin. There was an original sin. That’s plain from the text. What I am rejecting is the idea that Adam’s GUILT was transmitted to all humans (the “federal headship” view), or that all humans were “in Adam” in the garden when he sinned (the “seminal headship” view). In other words (and I can’t imagine how much clearer I can make this), I am rejecting interpretive explanations of the original sin of Adam, not the fact of his original sin. So let’s be clear (as you have prompted me to on occasion!).

COMM: 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?)

MSH: So, this verse refers to spiritually dead people? Really? Can we honestly look at it and draw that conclusion? A look at a few good (i.e., exegetical, not homiletical) commentaries will tell you it’s a colloquialism. Your view is POSSIBLE (see the quotation below – but note that no Scripture text is cited for the idea!) but not PROBABLE for other reasons noted in the quotation below (it’s long – sorry) and in what follows. And, it still doesn’t get Jesus off the hook-which is what I have told you and everyone else is the real reason behind my position on Romans 5:12. You have yet to address that at all. Here’s the quote:

Indeed, this was required of a son by the Torah implicitly in the commandment to honor one’s father and mother and hence explicitly in later Jewish tradition (cf. Gen 50:5; Tob 4:3; cf. Sir 38:16; m Ber. 3:1, where burial of the dead supersedes other religious duties; in Lev 21:2 priests are allowed the defilement of touching the dead in the case of close family members); indeed, not to do so would violate the command of God. Yet Jesus in his response denies the legitimacy of such a delay. It is tempting for this reason to understand “to bury my father,” in the sense of “look after him until he dies” (for evidence that the phrase could have been understood in this sense, see K. E. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980] 26-27), but this too is required by the Torah. In fact, so important is the commitment to honor one’s parents that to fail in any of the following responsibilities is to be untrue to the Torah: to bury a father who has just died, to participate in the six days of official mourning after such a death, to look after one who is sick and perhaps near death, and to provide for an aging parent who may yet live many years. From the standpoint of the call to discipleship, the longer the delay involved the more reasonable Jesus’ negative reaction becomes (cf. 15:4). But the call to discipleship is for Jesus an absolute one that need not satisfy any normal canons of responsibility… “Follow [for the importance of akalouthein in Matthew, see Comment on 4:20] me, and let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus’ call in this case supersedes even strict obedience to the commandment of the Torah. . . . The concluding words of Jesus as they stand in the Greek text mean “let the dead bury their own dead” and are perhaps to be understood as “let the spiritually dead bury their own physically dead.” The notion of being “spiritually dead” was not unknown to the Jews (cf. Str-B 1:489; 3:165). On the other hand, it may well be that the Greek has misunderstood this underlying Aramaic, reading l?miqbar, “to bury,” for limqabber, “to the burier, to the undertaker” (see Perles; Montefiore, Synoptic Gospels 2:134), which may have run “let the grave-diggers bury the dead.” (Cf. M. Black’s suggestion [Aramaic Approach, 207-8] that m?????n, “dead,” has been mistakenly read for m????n??n, “waverers” [“Let the waverers bury the dead”].) T. W. Manson may be closest to the truth, however, when he speculates that the statement means something like “that business can take care of itself” (Sayings, 73).1

MSH: Here’s the point of all this: A possible view of this single passage that cannot cancel out the other view (mine, for example), means that my view has not been defeated. It just means that it has competition on this point. The commenter would have to show that the spiritual death view is (a) the point of the passage – not sure how that could be done; and (b) that it is superior to any other view, in that no other view has as much explanatory power. I submit that it cannot do that, and there’s really no way to do it. The debate can only be resolved by one’s overall position. We can even agree that there is a an idea called “spiritual death” (see my note on Rom 6:23 in Part 5) – but can we prove that is the point of Romans 5:12, as opposed to real, literal death, the loss of immortality? Good luck with that. My view covers both passages WHILE answering all the other problems noted (again) below. The commenter’s view does not, and so it has less explanatory power.

COMM: “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)

MSH: I don’t see spiritual death here – sounds like an annihilation verse to me (!) if we assume it should be taken literally (i.e., the soul is destroyed and the body, too – so what’s left in hell, huh?).

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

MSH: This is about as far from spiritual death as you can get – the point is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob yet live-with the Lord.

COMM: 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)

MSH: You’ve missed the point of Paul’s contrasts in this verse-note how the body and the soul are what are contrasted. You can’t have a righteous, alive soul and be spiritually dead. The redeemed are no longer “dead in trespasses” but alive in Christ. That the body is dead because of sin refers to its unredeemed state (it alone awaits redemption – BODILY resurrection – when we die or are glorified-the internal, immaterial part of the believer is already regenerated — 2 Cor 5:17). Your view has a dead body (your view: a spiritually dead person) and a redeemed soul in the same “person”! You are either alive to Christ or you’re not. I’m not doing Princess Bride theology.

COMM: 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)

MSH: Aside from the fact that this verse contradicts your interpretation of the previous verse, this is no support. Note that we are dead IN TRESPASSES – i.e., actual sins. Not the trespass of Adam – OUR trespasses. I have zero problem in this verse.

COMM: 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)

MSH: “Those who are dead” – yep, those who, because of Adam, have the curse of death hanging over them. These men are “judged in the flesh” – i.e., for the deeds done in/by the body as lost people. Again, no problem.

COMM: Also, you are unfair when you say that “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[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.

MSH: You accept that “no Trinity verse” premise too easily. Actually, there are verses that describe a Trinity. Matthew 28:19 makes no sense unless all three persons are of equal status. Other threefold formula exist as well: 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2. Here’s the point. If we are not to consider the three persons mentioned in such formula, especially the great commission, are they statements of INEQUALITY? That’s what you’d have to prove. Good luck, especially when there are plenty of verses that equate two of the three in different combinations elsewhere. When taken in the context of the NT, these formula are Trinitarian in nature.

COMM: 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.

MSH: I can go two ways with this. (1) I can deny it. That we have a “sin nature” is not a fact, since it is dependent on one interpretation of Romans 5:12. I would be denying the traditional concept of a sin nature, and that leads to … (2) I can accept that all humans are cursed by Adam’s fall (and I do) in such a way that they are helpless to save themselves (they are). My view of WHAT THAT CONDITION MEANS or HOW THEY ARE CURSED is the issue. So, I can accept the idea but deny how you (and many others) parse that idea. That’s really what’s going on. I’m not accepting your understanding of the condition of every human being. My view was articulated earlier, so I won’t repeat it here.

COMM: 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.

MSH: Thanks for this. My apologies for being careless in my wording. By “condemnation” I meant “Adam’s guilt.” I could have been clearer. That was my bad. You might have seen what I meant by my slash mark (“condemnation/GUILT”), but I should have added Adam’s name (“Adam’s guilt”). But providentially, this provides a nice segue to hammer away at the point you have evaded while clarifying other items.

I am rejecting the idea that Adam’s GUILT was transferred to all humans. You are accepting that, and that is the “normal” view. Now let’s think about it a bit more. I’m going to be direct because I want people to see what drove me to reconsider Romans 5:12. I’ll put you in the box I lived in for a while.

You could ask, “well, how is Adam’s GUILT different than condemnation’?” Good question, and it’s important. Let me illustrate by contrast:

You: “When Adam sinned, his guilt was transferred to all humans who would ever be born; they are under condemnation in that sense: they bear Adam’s guilt.”

Me: “When Adam sinned, all humans lost immortality and became invariably destined to sin; all humans are under condemnation because they cannot no sin. Their guilt is their own, from their first sin.

Notice that BOTH views believe in the reality of Adam’s original sin, and BOTH views have every human being affected by Adam’s fall. The difference is what that effect is. I would submit (and have been doing so!) that your view, though you assume it, is not self-evident from the text of Scripture. But wait, there’s more.

Notice that you must reject Romans 5:18-the verse you put to me-since you MUST exempt Jesus from its wording. While Paul says “condemnation passed to ALL men”, you cannot have Jesus under condemnation WITH YOUR DEFINITION OF CONDEMNATION IN PLAY (So Paul’s “all” doesn’t really mean “all” for your view–and it cannot). The fact that he must be exempt is unavoidable. But the question is, HOW do you do that? The virgin birth is no answer, because Jesus (a) was human; and (b) was in the line of Adam, by explicit scriptural testimony. What you now need is a verse that tells us the guilt of Adam is only passed on by MEN. Good luck. Your sin nature now lives in sperm. Who would have thought! Chapter and verse for that, please.

But wait….there’s still more. Let’s say you argue, “Well, Mike, I believe that the full person of Jesus was just deposited in Mary, and then she just birthed him out with a few human uterine spasms. He has no actual genetic relationship to Mary, so he can’t inherit the guilt of Adam. He just spent time in the womb, that’s it.” Might sound good, but it gets really theologically ugly.

First, you just denied the incarnation. Second, you just denied the full humanity of Jesus. Third, without an incarnation, you just whisked aside the atonement. I think you get the idea.

You can’t have an incarnation without HUMAN flesh. Jesus of Nazareth would have had a HUMAN blood type. He would have had HUMAN DNA. You can have deity incarnated, but you can’t have a “non-human human” which is what the above scenario produces. You’re stuck. Jesus MUST be truly human, he IS a son of Adam, and Paul says that ALL human sons of Adam are under condemnation. Now tell us how you answer that dilemma, as opposed to producing more verses that simply say “all people are guilty because they commit trespasses” and by insisting that Romans 5:12 can only be understood one way-the traditional way. I have an easy answer to the dilemma. You have no coherent answer at all (and believe me, I felt that pain). And THAT is what drove me to reconsider Romans 5:12.

COMM: 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 ?

MSH: Note that you are “dead” IN TRESPASSES AND SINS” (i.e., actual trespasses and sins – not Adam’s-and this accords with my view-we are guilty before God for our own sins; the guilt is our own). Note as well that they are “YOUR” trespasses and sins. The answer is right in the text. That is our condition prior to coming to Christ.

COMM: 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”?

MSH: The statement of the text is correct. As soon as they sinned (ate) they lost their immortality – their fate was sealed. Your problem is that you are assigning TIMING to something that need not be understood as immediate. There’s nothing in the grammar that requires immediacy like that.

I won’t be replying to more “dead in trespasses” questions since that ground has been covered. I want to see someone else put forth an answer for why Jesus is not under Adam’s guilt — condemnation — in the traditional view. Let’s have it. I’ll reply to that if it comes. For me, I plan to go into how this affects babies and innocents who die.

  1. Donald A. Hagner, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13 (, Word Biblical Commentary Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 217.

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5 Responses to “Back to Romans 5:12 — Replies to Reader Comments”

  1. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I know you said you won’t cover this ground again, but I think I didn’t ask my question right. What I want to know is, since there may not be any “spiritual death” from the text in Gen 3…then WHAT KIND of death is Colossians and Ephesians talking about that people are in (because of their own-not Adam’s-sins) before they come to Christ? Annihilation? Separation From God? Eternal burning, I mean what, if there’s no “spiritual death” ..the point was that the people Paul wrote to were actually alive at the time they read the letters so what Kind of death was Paul saying they were in if spiritual death doesn’t exist (which is what I’ve been taught my whole Christian life-traditional view I guess)?

  2. cwmyers007 says:


    Pointedly, I have already previously answered your problem with Jesus. This is how I take Paul in Rm. 5:18, “Therefore as by the offense of one judgement came upon all men (IN ADAM) to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men (IN CHRIST) unto justification of life.”

    You see, you think that in order to believe in some kind of union with Adam it must be Augustinian and mystical. But nothing is farther from the truth. In order to hold my view, all you have to do is believe in a covenant union that is not mystical, but real in a covenant sense. Go back to WBC’s explanation of Hebrews 7, although he did not believe that Levi was in Abraham’s loins in a mystical sense, the commentator does admit that he was “in a real way”–a covenant way–our forefather’s relationship to others directly affects our relationship to them (Israelis vs. Palestinians is an excellent contemporary example). And with that example I would be justified in saying that Jews were in Isaac and the Palestinians were in Ishmael and the hostility between them today is one result of the hostility between them today. On that note, bringing all of this back to the Bible, Adam’s fallen relationship with God affects us…it makes all of us TO BE BORN with a fallen nature and therefore a relationship with God that is only wrath and no peace.

    Now let me bring all of this to your problem with Jesus. To solve your problem, all that has to be proved is that Jesus is not under the covenant headship of Adam, but rather that he is A COVENANT HEAD himself. And this is EXACTLY what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that the SAME WAY that we are UNITED with Adam in his condemnation, THAT is the same way that we are UNITED with Christ in JUSTIFICATION. This theme of being UNITED is explained further in Paul’s words in chapter 6.

    I stand perplexed at your musings because you are saying in effect that the millions of Christians before you who have contemplated this very same thing in regard to Jesus have been largely mistaken and have been totally misguided in understanding a covenant context for the language of union and they have not taken seriously the problem of Jesus–I find your “explanatory power” with your view to fail on these grounds. 1) You are denying what every recent Pauline scholar (especially from the New Perspective) have seen in Paul, namely, that he is a covenant theologian–Rom. 5-6 especially is saturated with a covenantal context (people in Paul’s day do not merely talk about such UNIONS without thinking COVENANT). 2) You do no justice to the fact that BEING BORN with a DESTINY to sin MEANS that we are born with a sin nature; you are saying that the PROPENSITY to sin is not a corruption in itself and you are dead wrong (no pun intended). 3) Your view does not allow for the texts obvious contrast between union with Adam and union with Christ–it actually causes it to break down (therefore how can you say it has explanatory power). 4) Your view taken CONDEMNATION and makes it a loss of something (immortality). However, condemnation as the loss of mortality does not fit the text because of the parallel that Paul makes. The parallel is this:

    One Judgment–Condemnation to all (in him)
    One act of righteousness–Justification to all (in Him)

    Now try limiting Justification unto life to that which is physical (like you do death)! The parallel then breaks down. This is your scheme:

    One judgment–Mortality to all
    One act of righteousness–Immortality to all

    Now explain how this survives the charge of universalism? It does not. Unless you think COVENANT. Like Paul was.

    And your view also does not do justice to the second parallel: It is this:

    One man’s disobedience–many (those in him) made sinners
    One man’s obedience–many (those In Him) made righteous

    Your scheme is this:

    One man’s disobedience–many men lost the ability to not sin
    One man’s obedience–many made able to not sin

    Now this is the result if you are consistent with the parallel: but look at it…you have to change what you mean by righteous in order to be consistent. I know you rather not say that righteous=made able not to sin (because of the Pelagian overtones), but consistency demands it. Are you starting to see?

    I have so much more to say, but time is so short. I have finished reading through Jonathan Edwards’ defense of original sin. And there are some things that I highlighted that is applicable to our study here. I will post that at my leisure.

    Grace be with you,


    P.S. Notice that the battle is not at 5:12, but 5:18-19

  3. cwmyers007 says:


    I am tracking with you that your main argument is against the imputation of Adam’s guilt. But I think that how you think I define (and the reformed in general) Adam’s guilt may not be on the mark so let me define it for you in my view.

    The definition: If we were not united with Adam in his condemnation, then we would all be born free from a depraved nature. Since we are BORN with a sin nature, a nature that is destined to sin (i.e. CORRUPTED, not innocently uncorrupted), so we must be united with Adam in his condemnation, since that was the result of his disobedience. How is it that we can be united with Adam in his disobedience and condemnation so that we are born with a sin nature (corrupted nature–a nature with an unswerving definite propensity to sin)? The answer: We were united with Adam in his first sin (niwhen it comes to imputation of righteousness or imputation of guilt, I prefer to talk of this in the terms of UNION because I think this best describes the Pauline way of talking). The uty that we had with Adam is not mystical or seminal (as Augustine), but is a union in a REAL way (just like our union with Christ)–it is covenantal. This covenant union had such an effect that when the forefather of all men sinned, God reckoned that it would affect all of his progeny, so that they are born corrupted and unable not to sin–therefore sinners–because of their corruption [sinners being that which is separated from God because of WHAT they are]. Saying that babies are born innocent but unrighteous is like saying that a corrupted piece of paper is not trash–it is–the corruption demands it (especially before an INFINITELY holy God).
    In sum, Adam’s guilt is rendered to us by UNION with Adam—covenantal union. Adam’s guilt IS NOT God making us responsible for Adam’s sin (Ezekiel 18 disallows this interpretation). But instead, God counts that CORRUPTION (DEATH physical and spiritual) be the CONDITION of all humanity on account of this union with Adam. And we are CONDEMNABLE based on our nature—our corruption. This is how union with Adam affects us. The reformed have called this union with Adam, the imputation of his guilt. Why? Because we stand guilty before God because of our corrupted nature. And why do we have this corrupted nature? Because of Adam’s first sin—Because of his disobedience. This is how condemnation and guilt are related. You even admitted this unconsciously by “mistakenly” putting them together with a slash. You see, the truth is that we sin BECAUSE we are corrupted. Your view is that we are corrupted BECAUSE we sin. Your view does not stand up to the fact that we are born UNITED to Adam, therefore, we need to be united to the second Adam. This is Paul’s covenantal thoughts in Romans 5, why do you reject them over a man-made objection to how it affects Christ? When it seems obvious to me that Paul would have never thought of such an objection because he never thought of Christ IN ADAM, instead he saw Christ as a separate covenant head and everyone united to Christ to be justified IN UNION WITH HIM. Yes, Christ does have humanity, but this humanity is the same humanity given to Adam ORIGINALLY FROM GOD (i.e. pure, non-corrupted). The apostle says that Christ took on himself flesh (he did not receive it from anybody). Did Christ get anything from Mary? YES!, he received from her the seed of David and I believe God used her seed to produce the flesh that he took on himself. But it never necessarily follows that since he used Mary’s seed, he must receive also corruption–because corruption is only the result of COVENANTAL UNION with Adam. And Christ WAS NOT covenantally unified to Adam, but Jesus was a covenant head of a new humanity itself—a SECOND ADAM. Are you starting to see the answer to your Jesus problem?

  4. MSH says:

    @Jonnathan Molina: Since we are already (by virtue of Adam) sentenced to death by mortality, it is indeed necessary to ask this question. It’s a good one. My answer: the death that the unbeliever is in danger of is what revelation calls the “second death” — which has been defined as either annihilation or eternal damnation /punishment of body and soul (i.e., that is more than separation; it is either annihilation or punishment).

  5. Diane says:

    Adam did indeed die in the day that he sinned, seeing scripture also states that “a day to the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day and no man has lived a full thousand years, all men, including Adam, have died “in the day” that they sinned. No conflict in scripture, only conflict is what we consider a “day” and what God considers a “day”.

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