It is written:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—. 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 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. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.). 18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12-19)
Does the Bible here teach that infants and small children are born with original sin, stained with the depraved nature inherited from Adam?
First, this passage itself makes it clear that the ones who died were the ones who sinned personally. The fault is not placed on Adam; it is placed on those who sinned.
Romans 5:12-Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—
Romans 5:14-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.
The Easy To Read Version helps us see more readily what Paul is saying in this verse:
Romans 5:14 (ERV)-But from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, everyone had to die. Adam died because he sinned by not obeying God’s command. But even those who did not sin that same way had to die. That one man, Adam, can be compared to Christ, the one who was coming in the future.
Paul is making the point that every sinner died, even though the sins of each sinner were not the EXACT SAME KIND of sin that Adam himself had committed. Adam is not being held responsible for the sin of humanity; instead, each person is shown to be responsible for their OWN PERSONAL sin, and for their own spiritual death brought about by their own personal sin.
Is this not exactly what the rest of Scripture teaches us?
Isaiah 59:2-But YOUR INIQUITIES have separated you from your God; And YOUR SINS have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Colossians 1:21-And you, who once were alienated and enemies in YOUR MIND by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled
Colossians 2:13-And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
We are separated from God by our own sins and wickedness, not the sins and wickedness of Adam. The words of McGuiggan are helpful here:
“If they died when they sinned a sin that wasn’t like Adam’s, that might suggest the opposite of Godet’s view. If they died as a result of their own sin and it wasn’t like Adam’s, then they surely didn’t die from Adam’s sin. The distinction between theirs and Adam’s would be non–existent if they had died because of Adam’s sin. Colossians 2: 13 leaves me with the definite impression that people are dead through their own trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2: 1 gives me the same impression. In Romans 7: 9 I hear Paul saying: “I was alive apart from the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” He spoke of himself being “alive” and he didn’t mean physically. He spoke of meeting–up with the command of God and dying. It doesn’t look to me that Paul believed he was born spiritually dead due to Adam’s sin. It sounds like he died because he sinned. If, as we are told, by people like Steele and Curtis Thomas, Paul was born dead, estranged from the womb, spiritually dead, it would seem he chose the wrong speech in Romans 7: 9 & 10 for he claims he died after he had been alive. He was slain (7: 10) by sin after he had been alive apart from the law. Paul, like everyone else, according to the Calvinistic approach to these issues was born enslaved to sin and spiritually dead. Robertson and Godet (and even Wuest) hold that 7: 9 has reference to the time of Paul’s childhood when he was alive. But this surrenders the whole Calvinistic case. Since Paul was no exception and he claims he was alive at one point before he came under law, then we know that everyone else is in the same position. He met up with the law when he was “alive.” He broke the law and “died.” He didn’t die physically so you know he died spiritually. He died spiritually when he sinned and not when Adam sinned. Paul wasn’t born dead! He died even though he didn’t sin a sin like the sin Adam sinned!” (Jim McGuiggan, The Book Of Romans, 3099-3122 (Kindle Edition); Lubbock, Texas; Sunset Institute Press)
Second, the type of death discussed in this passage is important to consider. Paul is not talking about physical death: he is discussing spiritual death. One scholar has written:
“Often in the NT thanatos conveys the opposite of zoe (“ life”), which reflects the idea of eternal happiness and the magnificence of the resurrection. thanatos includes exclusion from the kingdom of God through rejection of the Son of God. This death is more than physical as it includes eternal separation from God (see Jn. 8: 51; Rom. 6: 16, 21, 23; 7: 5, 10; 8: 2, 6; 2 Cor. 2: 16; 3: 7; 2 Tim. 1: 10; Heb. 2: 15; Jas. 5: 20; 1 Jn. 3: 14; 5: 16–17). Spiritual separation is also referred to as the second death in Rev. 2: 11; 20: 6, 14; 21: 8.” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 342-343 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
That Paul is talking about spiritual death in the passage is clear from the fact that the death of this text is set in contrast to the life. Notice:
Romans 5:15-But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.
Romans 5:17-For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Romans 5:21-so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The “life” of these passages is talking about spiritual eternal life, not physical existence in this sin-cursed world.
In the same way, the death being discussed is not physical death, but spiritual death-which occurs when every person chooses to sin against God (cf. Romans 5:12-14).
Furthermore, please notice that the Apostle specifies that the example of the death is Adam himself. God had told Adam:
Genesis 2:17-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.”
Physically, Adam did not die for nine hundred and thirty years after he ate of that tree (Genesis 5:5). Yet spiritually, he was separated from God (i.e., died) on the day that he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Paul is telling us that every sinner is condemned (separated from God) when he chooses to personally sin, just as our father Adam did.
Third, notice the comparison that Paul is making between Christ and Adam in this passage.
As Adam came into the world and introduced wickedness, so Christ came into the world and introduced righteousness.
As Adam brought death to those who followed in his legacy, so Christ brought life to those who follow in His legacy.
As Adam opened the door for damnation, so Christ has opened the door for salvation.
As in Adam the many were made sinners (in choosing to follow Adam’s example of sin and thus inherit sin and death-Romans 5:19), so in Christ the many will be made alive (in accepting the free gift by choosing to follow the Lord of life-Romans 6:3-4).
The passage thus teaches that each individual chooses death through his own personal decision to sin (Romans 5:12, 14). With this in mind, it is interesting to notice that the early church clearly rejected the idea that infants are thus condemned to spiritual death because of Adam’s sin.
Paul Blowers writes:
“There is little evidence among the Greek fathers for a notion of inherited guilt or physically transmitted sinfulness. With the apologists, culpability was principally a matter of the individual’s exercise of free will, of personal sins for which Adam’s disobedience was only a prototype (Tatian, Or . 11; Justin, 2 Apol . 7; Dial . 88). Greek writers consistently espoused the sinlessness of infants ( Barn . 6; Aristides, Apol . 15; Clement of Alexandria, Str . 4.25.160; Gregory of Nyssa, Infant . passim; John Chrysostom, Hom . 28 in Mt . 3), thereby precluding original guilt as a basis for infant baptism (Gregory of Nazianzus, Or . 40.17, 28; Theodoret, Haer . 5.18). Irenaeus indicated explicitly that humanity shared in Adam’s actual disobedience, but the upshot was more a mystical solidarity with Adam than a genetic fault that might impair individual freedom ( Haer . 3.18.7). Origen too stressed that individual souls were punished precisely according to their respective sins ( Princ . 2.9.6). This characteristic emphasis on personal responsibility (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech . 4.18–21; John Chrysostom, Hom . 10 in Rom .), coupled with the belief that moral evil had no “natural” status in creation but resulted only from human volition (Athanasius, Gent . 6–7; Gregory of Nyssa, Or. catech . 7), continued to militate against a doctrine of genetically transmitted sin in the Christian east….A crucial scriptural text in debates over original sin was Romans 5:12: “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because ( eph hō ) all men sinned….” The Greek fathers generally deduced from Paul’s statement that humanity inherited not Adam’s actual sin, but his punishment of “death,” be it mortality (John Chrysostom, Hom . 10 in Rom .; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Rom . 5.13–14), bodily corruption (Athanasius, Inc . 4–5; Cyril of Alexandria, Rom . [PG 74.789B]), or subjugation to lustful passions (Methodius, Res . 2.1–4; Gregory of Nyssa, Anim. et res . [PG 46.l48Cff]; Maximus, Thal . prol.). This “death” did not vitiate human nature and volition, but did leave persons frail, and was conducive to the further proliferation of sin (cf. Cyril of Alexandria, Rom . [PG 74.788D–789B]; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Rom . 5.21; Theodoret, Rom . 5.21). Human beings grew up with sin such that it became second nature for them (Gregory of Nyssa, Beat . 6). ….In the west, the Old Latin text of Romans 5.12 rendered the Greek phrase eph hō with in quo, suggesting that “death spread to all men in whom [i.e., Adam] all men sinned.”…Augustine took this to mean that humanity hereditarily bore Adam’s guilt ( Nupt. et concup . 2.5.15). His arch-opponent Pelagius, teaching at Rome in the early fifth century, had flatly denied this interpretation of Romans 5:12 ( Rom . 5.12–19). For Pelagius, guilt was incurred only through individual sins, committed “by the example of Adam’s disobedience” ( exemplo inobedientiae Adae ). Evil or guilt could never be said to dwell naturally in human beings, compelling them to sin; sin was principally a matter of personal actions (in Augustine, Nat. et grat . 19.21; Pecc. orig . 13.14)….Challenged by more aggressive Pelagians like Celestius and Julian of Eclanum, Augustine formulated his mature doctrine of original sin in what was really a debate over the efficacy of divine grace in human salvation….Accused of Manichaeism for attaching original sin to human nature itself ( Nupt. et concup . 2.29.49), Augustine conceded that a certain creaturely dignity remained in that nature but that it had been persuaded into evil by the devil and was diseased ( Nupt. et concup . 2.34.57; cf. Nat. et grat . 3.3)….Augustine’s theory of original sin won the favor of African bishops in councils at Carthage in 416 and 418 and was pivotal for the later development of the doctrine of sin in the Christian west.” (Paul M. Blowers, Original Sin,’ in Everett Ferguson (Editor), Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity, 32764-32813 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added M.T.); New York, New York; Routledge Taylor & Francis Group)
The idea of original sin came to fruition in the third to fourth centuries A.D., formulated especially by Augustine. The passage in Romans 5:12-19 was “used” by Augustine and others to introduce the ideas of pagan Gnosticism into Christianity, even though the passage itself actually taught personal accountability for personal sin (Romans 5:12, 14) and was understood by the church prior to Augustine in a context of infant sinlessness.
It is also interesting to observe that Augustine was accused of teaching and advocating Gnosticism by his spiritual counterparts, as we have also previously noted.
Romans 5:12-21 is another passage of the Word of God which our Calvinist friends misrepresent to try and justify the teaching of original sin. As we can see, the doctrine simply is not there.