Adding to Scripture in Romans

Adding to Scripture is condemned in both the Old and the New Testament as Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32 and Revelation 22:18, to go no further, plainly indicate. I personally well remember in the late fifties as a Nottingham University student attending a midland terminal conference in Birmingham at which Dr. J.I.Packer asserted that to add to Scripture had the effect of subtracting from it. He illustrated his point with reference to aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine, maintaining that they undermined the purity of the gospel.

Regrettably, Roman Catholics are not the only ones who add to Scripture. Received dogma in other churches makes it clear that they too have added to the word in order to maintain their stance on certain issues like infant baptism which is clearly alien to Scripture and undermines the doctrine of justification by faith. Thus the dogmas of original sin and traditional covenant theology, which are used to support it, are highly suspect and smack strongly of additions.  But this, as we shall see more clearly below, is to pre-empt what I have to say regarding additions to three texts in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Romans 5:12

Romans 5:12 is regarded as the locus classicus, or the verse par excellence, where the dogma of original sin is taught. Tradition tells us that when Adam sinned we all sinned “in him”. An immediate problem confronting us at this point is that the words “in him” do not appear in the text. They derive primarily from Augustine whose knowledge of Greek was very limited but who apparently relied on a Latin text which translated the Greek words ‘eph’ ho’ by means of the Latin ‘in quo’ meaning ‘in whom’. Even older commentators like Sanday and Headlam argue that this is impossible and that the expression means “because” which “is in agreement with Greek usage and is alone satisfactory” (p.133, cf. e.g. Dunn, p.273).

Referring to Bengel’s  statement that all sinned when Adam sinned (omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante), Sanday and Headlam rightly ask why, if Paul had meant this, did he not say so? They pertinently add that the words ‘in Adam’ are too important to be left to be understood and that Paul would have removed all ambiguity by inserting them (p.134). They proceed, however, to quarrel with the Greek commentators who take the words “all sinned” to mean that all sinned in their own persons. Their objection is that this destroys the parallelism between Adam and Christ (pp. 130,134).

In reply it must be strongly asserted that while there is analogy here, there is no exact parallelism. The latter is a figment of the traditional imagination. The very language that Paul uses gives the lie to it since the apostle differentiates sharply between the free gift of righteousness and the trespass. We all know that righteousness is imputed by faith, but where does Scripture even vaguely suggest, except in the case of Christ, that sin is likewise imputed? Is it a free gift too? The very idea that sin can be transferred or imputed apart from faith runs contrary to the very essence of biblical teaching (see e.g. Ex. 32:33; Dt. 1:39; 24:16; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18:2-4,20, etc.).

Sanday and Headlam (p.131) followed by many others (e.g. Murray, pp.178f.) also present both Adam and Christ as representatives of the race. Otherwise expressed, they are implying that we are in covenant relation with both. The problem here is that there is no hint of a covenant with Adam in Scripture. Certainly he was representative man according to the flesh (1 Cor. 15:45-49), but that is a world away from saying that he served as our covenant head and representative.

Our commentators have a further difficulty. They rightly aver that the heathen who did not have the law (of Moses) could not have sinned in the same way as did Adam, who was given a clearly defined commandment. They seem to ignore fact that Paul had argued earlier that both Gentiles and Jews were regarded as guilty: while the former broke the law they knew by nature, the latter sinned against the written law (Rom. 2:12). It is therefore no surprise to read that Paul distinguished elsewhere between the sin of Eve and that of Adam (1 Tim. 2:14). Clearly the sin of the one who received the commandment at second hand and was deceived served as a model for the sins of the heathen (Rom. 1:24-27, cf. Eph. 4:22), whereas the other who received a command directly from God sinned like the Jews under the law of Moses.

If we take Paul’s “all sinned” in what Sanday and Headlam call its ordinary sense, there is no need to sever its connection with Adam (p.134). After all, we are all made in his image (Gen. 5:1-5) and, as our first parent, he has inevitably had an impact on us despite Pelagius’ denial (cf. Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f.; Num. 14:33). It is however, one thing to be influenced by the evil, as well as the good (cf. Luke 11:13), of our parents but a wholly different thing to be punished or commended for it. (Traditionally Jews as his children derive comfort from the righteousness of Abraham. Both John the Baptist and Jesus deny that physical relationship has any value, Mt. 3:9; John 8:39.) The latter notion is repeatedly denied in Scripture (Dt. 24:16; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18:4,20 etc.). Despite stress on solidarity the sin of the individual is differentiated from the sin of the community throughout the OT (1 K. 8:46; Neh. 1:6; Ps. 106:6; Jer. 14:20, etc.). In light of this, it comes as no surprise to find that in Romans 5:15-19 there is a pervasive distinction between the one and the many (cf. Dunn, p.273). And we may well ask whether if one man sins, God will be angry with all the congregation (Num. 16:22). On the answer to this question rests the entire gospel!

Doubtless there is more to be said. But even at this point I would contend that it is dangerous indeed to add to Scripture without warrant. The dogma of original sin has done immense harm to the cause of God and truth, and the sooner we recognize its inherent blasphemy the better.

Romans 7:5

According to modern translations (RSV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, REB, JB, etc.) Romans 7:5 tells us that the law aroused our sinful passions, though there is no word for ‘aroused’ in the Greek. In contrast, the KJV referred to the motions (passions) of sins which were by the law working in our members to bear fruit for death. I am not sure exactly what the translators of the latter had in mind but as a translation it is infinitely to be preferred. Why?

First, we need to recognize that Paul had spent a great deal of time in chapters 1-3 cataloguing the sins of the heathen apart from the law. This being so, it is clear that he believed that the law of Moses played no part in arousing their sin. It was necessarily excluded. In any case, since Paul held that the law was “holy, righteous and good” (7:12), he would have rejected out of hand the notion that the law aroused sin. What then was he affirming?

He had already laid it down in Romans 4:15 that where there is no law there is no sin (cf. 5:13). Here in chapter 7, clearly with Adam and Eve in mind, he goes into greater detail to maintain that sin did not spring into being until the commandment (law) was given. First, in verses 1-3 he makes it pellucidly clear that a woman whose husband has died is free to remarry (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39). And the reason he gives for this is that there is no law against it (cf. Gal. 5:23). In fact, the law, which is very much alive while the husband is alive, dies when he dies (cf. v.8). This is the consistent witness of Scripture, if it is not of Augustinianism. So it bears repeating that where there is no law there is no sin.

If sin is defined by law (Rom. 4:15) and knowledge (John 9:41; 15:22,24) and the law is the power of sin (1 Cor. 15:56), the notion that the law ‘arouses’sin is ruled out of court. What the law does is render certain actions it forbids sinful. In other words, our passions are a part of our very nature as fleshly creatures and are evident in man (including Jesus) and animal alike. But whereas the latter obey their passions or instincts amorally, that is, without reference to law apprehended by mind (cf. Rom. 7:23,25) for the simple reason that they have got neither minds nor understanding (Ps. 32:9), man made in the image of God is called on to rule his passions according to the law of his mind. So while David could freely indulge his passion with Abigail whose husband was dead, he could not do so with Bathsheba whose husband was very much alive. Before God, as Nathan told him, he was guilty as a transgressor of the law (cf. James 2:11).

So what Paul is saying is that our natural passions are only constituted sinful when they involve infraction of the law, and to suggest that the law arouses sin gives a wholly false impression. While it may be true that some people, but not all, rebel like Adam as soon as they are confronted by the law, as the history of Eve and the heathen makes clear people hardly need a written law to spur them into sin (Rom. 1:18-32, etc.).

Romans 8:21

Many modern translations would have us believe that the material creation of which we are a part will one day share the glory of the children of God. Of course, the (Augustinian) argument is that when man “fell”, so did creation and as a result we live in a “fallen world” which requires redemption (cf. 8:23)! To cite but one example, the RSV avows that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God”. So, having noted that the words “and obtain” do not appear in the Greek, how should we react to this?

Admittedly, exegesis of this superficially simple verse is somewhat difficult and cannot be undertaken in detail here. So to cut a long story short, I would call on the reader to note the following: (1) If this verse teaches what is claimed, then it is not only unique but contrary to the teaching of the rest of Scripture which constantly differentiates between the ephemeral creation and the eternal (word of) God (Isa. 51:6; Mt. 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). (2) As flesh, the sinless Jesus was growing older (John 8:57), so like the creation from which he derived through his mother he was subject to corruption (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16) or in the words of the author of Hebrews ready to vanish away (8:13). (3) It is disputed whether the word ktisis should be translated ‘creation’ or ‘creature’. If the verse were isolated from its context, no one would dream of using the former. (4) Paul regularly uses words in different senses (e.g. Rom. 9:6ff.). He arguably does this in verses 19-23 (cf. KJV). (5) There is no more mention of sin here than there is in John 3:1-7, but Genesis 3:17-19 is unwarrantably dragged in. (Here it must be remembered that Augustine taught that both man and creation were originally perfect!) (6) Paul tells us that the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50) and that the visible creation is naturally, that is, apart from sin, perishable (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Rom. 8:24f.). So while Paul can say that God’s eternal power and divine nature are evident in the things that are made (Rom. 1:20), the author of Hebrews tells us that all created things will eventually be removed and replaced, not redeemed (Heb. 12:27, cf. Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4). The present age will give way to the age to come, as was always God’s intention.

A good deal more could be said, but already the suggestion that the material creation will be glorified along with God’s children is looking distinctly dubious. Obviously, there is more behind the traditional view than the mere addition of a word or two. What really drives theologians and translators is false Augustinian theology, and exegesis is made to dance to its tune. The truth is that the Augustinian worldview is false to the Bible and seriously distorts our understanding of it.

Adding to Scripture is a dangerous procedure which perverts our apprehension of Scripture as a whole. Paul’s letter to the Romans is often regarded as a summary of the essence of biblical doctrine. This being so, supplementing it with ideas that are alien to it necessarily clouds our perception of the entire plan of salvation. We have been warned and are advised to let Scripture speak for itself. To be held in thrall by Augustine in the 21st century when world religions and materialistic philosophies are resurgent is to court disaster and stifle our witness to the truth. What we need is a new reformation. The alternative is the judgement of God.


J.D.G.Dunn, Romans 1-8, Dallas, 1988.

J.Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, London, 1967.

W.Sanday and A.C.Headlam, ICC Romans, Edinburgh, 5th ed. 1902