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What is the Doctrine of Imputed Sin?

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational
Seminary: none

The Doctrine of Imputed Sin is not explicitly stated in the Bible. The doctrine is born out of careful study of the biblical text, and, in this case, a careful study of the Greek language. It is often confused with Original Sin and is a subject of much controversy. Take a moment to study this article to understand Paul's logic and the various interpretations of this challenging verse.

Romans 5:12-19

12) Therefore,

"Therefore" makes an inference to what has gone on before. After his introduction to Romans, Paul speaks about the depth and depravity of sin committed by both Gentile and Jew. Even with the Law, the Jews have failed to be holy and are under God’s judgment; all of humanity is helpless to sin (Rom 1:18-3:20).

But God provided a means for righteousness for humanity: justification through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul uses Old Testament examples, Abraham and David, to illustrate how God declares people righteous on the principle of faith instead of works (Rom 3:21-4:25).

Jewish allegory had always held to the concept of two Adams: one with good inclinations and the other with bad. The significance of using Abraham and David is apparent: God had made covenants with them. Now Adam can be introduced; the bridge has been set, with the focus on the two Old Testament covenant figures, to connect the second Adam (Christ) to the first Adam. How sin, introduced by the first Adam, can be resolved with the second Adam Jesus Christ.

just as

Paul begins his illustration of justification through a parallel comparison between Jesus, and his work of justification and reconciliation, with Adam, and his work of sin and death. Yet the comparison that Paul initiates here (just as) is not completed in verse 12. It is completed in verse 18 (So then as…). Thus the context and content of the comparison must be considered in light of the pertinent verses.

Before Paul makes any comparisons, he first establishes that all men is condemned on the account of Adam's sin. He states a causal relation: One man Adam was the cause of sin. And, as we see later, this statement facilitates the parallel to Christ who was the cause of righteousness.

through one man

In review of Adam's sin in Genesis 3:17-19, we see that death was the penalty for the sin of breaking God's command.

Then to Adam He said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it.' Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you. And you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' (Gen 3:17-19)

sin entered into the world, and

"Sin" was personified with through, entered, and spread, which emphasized its ominous invasion and evil dispersal. The Greek use for the word sin here encompasses the following range of definitions: 1) the guilt of Adam's sin (imputed sin), 2) man's sinful nature (inherited sin), and 3) transgressions that come from the sinful nature (personal sins).

Most significant is the Greek use of the past tense of entered and spread. In the plain and simple meaning of the Text, humanity sinned when Adam sinned. Because this is difficult to understand, this verse has generated much discussion and differences of interpretation. In a world where there is an emphasis on human effort towards good works to achieve salvation, the very idea of man being regarded and treated, not according to their own merit, but the merit of another, is contrary to contemporary cultural values.

death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

"Death" here refers to both spiritual and physical death with both immediate and an eventual sense of time. In reviewing Genesis 2:17 (…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die), we see that Adam and Eve did not physically die immediately when they ate the fruit; however spiritually, they died immediately when God removed them that same day from His presence and banished them from the Garden.

The term "n the day" in Genesis 2:17 conveys a sense of certainty, but not necessarily the immediacy of 24 hours.

A word study of the same term in 1 Kings 2:37-42 supports this view. In 1 Kings 2:42 (So the king sent and called for Shimei and said to him, 'Did I not make you swear by the LORD and solemnly warn you, saying, You will know for certain that "on the day" you depart and go anywhere, you shall surely die?' And you said to me, 'The word which I have heard is good.'), Shimei died physically then, but his death occurred some days after he committed his sin some 25 miles away (a 50-60 mile round trip).

Thus Adam’s sin caused both spiritual and physical death with both immediate and an eventual sense of time.

13) for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Verse 13 is an explanation for verse 12. Based on his earlier statement in Romans 4:15 .., but where there is no law, neither is there violation, many understood Paul to mean that sin was charged when one violates the law: there is no sin when there is no law against the action. Paul clarifies that sin existed before the Mosaic Law and that "personal" sins were not charged on one's account.

14) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam,

Verse 14 is further proof for verse 12. Only Adam is recognized for disobeying God's command, From any tree of the garden you may eat freely. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen 2:16-17). Yet death existed for all even though mankind did not break this law.

who is a type of Him who was to come.

With "who", Paul begins to contrast Adam with Jesus: comparing the first Adam with the second Adam.

15) But the free gift is not like the transgression.

"Transgression", used in verses 15-18, comes from other Greek terms for sin parabasis and paraptoma. These were stronger terms for sin than amartia, which was used in verse 12. This characterization indicated that Adam's sin was not simply the natural consequences of a sinful nature, it was a volitional act that occurred before a sinful nature existed.

For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.

With the assertion of verse 12 proven, verse 15 begins the first illustration to establish a greater truth. The term "for" starts the comparison to highlight the differences between Adam and Jesus. Through one man, judgment, a deserved penalty, was brought to all. In contrast, through Jesus, unmerited grace was made available to all. The comparison highlights the magnitude of Divine grace juxtaposed against Divine judgment.

16) The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.

Verse 16 is the second illustration to establish a greater truth. As in verse 15, verse 16 is another contrasting comparison. Divine judgment was the consequence of one man's sin, and divine justification was the consequence of those who accepted the gift of divine grace, which was in response to man's propensity to sin! This highlighted the depth of God's love.

17) For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Verse 17 is the third illustration to establish the greater truth. Through Adam, man, the victim burden with sin, is oppressed by death, which in contrast, through Christ, man, the believer victorious over death, is ruler in life!

18) So then

With "so", Paul begins complete his illustration of justification that he initiated in verse 12, and his conclusion sums up the preceding contrasting comparisons of verses 15-17.

as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

19) For as through the one man's

Just as one sin condemned all, one atoning sacrifice made justification available to all. The parallel comparison is complete. Imputed righteousness remedies the eternal consequences of imputed sin.

disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

"Disobedience" is the translation of another Greek term for sin parakoh. This, like transgression, is a stronger term for sin than amartia. Paul's characterization of Adam's sin is clear: Adam did not naively sin, he sinned intentionally.

The preceding verses, Romans 1, 2, 3, and 4, are available here to provide a biblical context to Romans 5:12-19.



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