It is one of the disturbing facts of history that in the West the traditional interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans is governed by Augustine of Hippo. Yet, he had only a limited grasp of Greek and, having begun his exposition of Romans, gave up after the first seven verses lapsing “into easier things” (D.Bentley-Taylor, The Apostle from Africa, p. 51).
(1) Since Paul is at pains to establish, list and categorise the actual sins of both Gentiles and Jews in chapters 1-3, it is reasonable to conclude that when he says that “all sinned” in 5:12, he is referring to actual not imputed sin as he is in Romans 3:23. See further below.
(2) In 1:20 (cf. 2:1) Paul tells us that sinful men are without excuse. However, if they are born with a sinful nature, this simply does not follow. They clearly have the excuse that they are following nature as, according to 1:26f., they are expected to do.
(3) In 1:23 the apostle contrasts the immortal God with mortal man. This being so, Augustine’s belief that Adam was created perfect and immortal is false. In any case, plain logic teaches us that if Adam was ever immortal, by definition he was so forever! One can no more lose immortality than one can lose eternal life (John 3:15f.; 1 John 2:19, etc.). According to the author of Hebrews, Christ has the power of an indestructible life (7:16), yet even he died “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22), that is, in his adamic nature, which was mortal flesh (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18).
(4) In 1:32 Paul establishes the connection between actual sin, desert and death (cf. 2:1-11; 6:21,23; 7:5; 8:10). This rules out the possibility that death can be the result of imputation (i.e. free gift, cf. 4:1-5) and logically forces us to conclude that death in 5:12 is the consequence of actual sin. Reasons for denying this must be compelling, and, to my knowledge, they are well short of that.
(5) In 2:7,10 Paul infers from his belief in the natural mortality of man (1:23) that we are obliged to seek immortality. After all, he is fully aware that God has promised eternal life to all who keep the commandments (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, cf. Rom. 7:9f.).
(6) 2:1-11 teaches that judgement is based on works (v.6). Babies can’t work, so they cannot be judged by a law of which they are ignorant (3:20,27,28; 9:31f.) or by deeds of which they are incapable (8:13). In other words, they cannot be regarded as either righteous or sinful. Like Adam and Eve in Eden, they are innocent or morally neutral. They know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39, etc.). See further (19) below.
(7) In 2:12f. Paul first grounds sin, even that of the heathen, in law, and then asserts that it is not the hearers but the doers of the law who are righteous (cf. Dt. 6:25; Rom. 6:16; 1 John 3:7). If this is true, then Adam could never have been righteous. Logic alone requires us to reject the Augustinian dogma of his original righteousness. The only moral quality the Bible attributes to Adam is his sin which stemmed from his transgression of the commandment.
(8) While in 1:26f. Paul says that some sin against nature, in 2:14 he says that on occasion the Gentiles do by nature what the law requires (cf. Luke 11:13). This surely contradicts the idea that we are born sinful.
(9) In Romans 3:23 (cf. v.12) the Greek word for “sinned” (hemarton) is the same as the one used in 5:12. It is reasonable to infer that it has the same meaning in both instances. Denial of this requires convincing evidence, and that, to my knowledge, has still to be produced. (To argue that original sin is implied by the aorist in both cases is not only weak in itself but is plainly contradicted by Paul’s line of reasoning.)
(10) As was hinted above, in 4:1-5 Paul avers that wages and imputation are mutually exclusive. Thus it follows as surely as night follows day that the traditional dogma that Adam’s imputed sin produces the death of babies is false. Even if it were true, the imputation of sin, which is a gift (4:4), cannot produce death, which Paul specifically describes as the wages (6:23) that are due to work (4:4, cf. 2 Pet. 2:15f.). The so-called doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin is a felonious fabrication.
(11) Romans 4:15 (cf. 5:13; 7:8) tells us that where there is no law, there is no transgression. Babies, like Adam and Eve before them, are created without knowledge of law in any form (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:13, etc.) and have to be taught it in the course of their development (Ps. 78:5f.). They cannot therefore transgress what for them is a non-existent law (cf. Gal. 5:23). Plain logic declares them innocent.
(12) It is claimed that the classic text of original sin is Romans 5:12. Apart from the fact that the vital words “in Adam” do not appear, it is imperative to note that in line with the Bible at large Paul unmistakably links sin with death in 1:32; 2:5,8f.; 5:21; 6:21,23, 7:5 and 8:10. Since death is wages, logical consistency alone requires him to mean here that all actually sinned. Furthermore, since the apostle says that all men died because all actually sinned, the traditional notion that Adam’s sin brought about death in the animal world must be dismissed as patently false. Since animals do not sin, the reason for their death must lie in the nature of creation which, as was implied above, stands in contrast with the eternal God (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). Incorruptibility is characteristic of heaven, not of earth (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; 1 Pet. 1:3f., etc.). See on 8:18-25 below.
If it is complained that this negates a la Pelagius the impact that Adam had on his posterity, we need to bear in mind that Scripture constantly refers to the effect parents have on their children. To go no further, Jeremiah tells us that people stubbornly follow their own hearts AND that they are taught by their fathers (9:13f., cf. 11:10; 14:20; 16:11f.; 31:29f.; 32:18f., etc.). Imitation is intrinsic to Scripture and is pervasively taught (cf. 3 John 11). Solidarity in sin is not mechanical and does not negate personal responsibility (cf. Ezek. 18, etc.).
(13) Romans 5:14 rings the death-knell of original sin for two basic reasons. First, if we all sin “in Adam”, then simple logic tells us that we all sin in exactly the same way. Yet Paul’s point is that the sins of those who lived between Adam and Moses were different. So, in plain language Augustine’s view is a blatant contradiction of what Paul says! Secondly, in chapter 2 Paul has already carefully distinguished between Gentile sin apart from the law and Jewish sin under the law of Moses. Thus, the only reasonable inference we can draw is that he is making the same distinction here. Since, in contrast to Eve (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14), Adam received a direct commandment from God, his sin was the archetypal sin against the law.
(14) In chapter 5:15-19 five times Paul points up the difference between the free gift of Christ (i.e. his imputed righteousness) and the effect of Adam’s sin (which he fails to specify). If they are both free gifts as tradition teaches, then we are forced to conclude, first, that in principle they are the same and not different, and, second, that both depend on faith as their instrumental means. Unfortunately, it is universally agreed that babies cannot exercise faith. So our conclusion once more must be that the imputation of Adam’s sin is a theological mare’s nest, a figment of men’s imaginations. The oft-proclaimed parallel is logically impossible and manifestly absent. Let us be glad it is so since, if Adam’s sin is imputed to all his posterity, then inevitably Jesus, as his son (Luke 3:38), is implicated. There is no way of avoiding this inference – unless, of course, we want a docetic Christ, that is, one who was not truly human. But if this is the case, he is excluded from his role as Saviour. (Augustine’s attempt by having recourse to the virgin birth and denial of carnal concupiscence to exclude Jesus from Adam’s sin was a lamentable failure. If we try to obviate the problem by appeal to Luke 1:35, as some do, then logically we have the same problem as those who attribute original sin to Seth, Genesis 5:1-3, who was at once the son of God, v.1, and the son of Adam, v.3. If Seth inherited Adam’s sin, then Jesus inherited Mary’s sin. But what is worse, God himself is implicated. See further 18 below.)
(15) Catholic and Reformed theology has traditionally placed regeneration first in the order of salvation (ordo salutis) and made faith its fruit. In violent contrast, Paul places righteousness before the new birth and, like the OT (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) makes it its indispensable prerequisite (Rom. 5:17,18,21; 10:5). The implication of what he teaches in chapter 6 is the same, for there Paul says that obedience, which is dependent on faith (1:5; 16:26), leads to righteousness (v.16), righteousness to sanctification (v.19) and sanctification to eternal life (v. 22).
(16) 6:23 leaves us no option but to believe that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, imputed sin, which by definition is a gift (4:5), even if it exists, cannot lead to death, as was affirmed above. Wages and hence death are inexorably excluded. The sole exception is the imputation of our sin to Christ who in his mature manhood freely exercised faith as our sin-bearer (cf. John 10:11,15,17; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).
(17) In 7:1 the apostle tells us that only those who know the law are under it (cf. 3:20; 7:7). Babies, being ignorant and in need of teaching (Dt. 4:9; Ps. 78:5f.; Isa. 28:9), are therefore out of the reckoning. The reason why the widow who remarries is not guilty of adultery is that the law governing her first marriage has been abolished by death (cf. vv.6,8). In other words, since she is not under law, that is, the law which binds her to her husband, she is guiltless if she remarries. As Paul puts it in Galatians 5:23, against such there is no law. If there were, it would be the power of sin as it was when her husband was alive (1 Cor. 15:56). Again, we are forced to conclude that where there is no law there is no transgression (4:15, etc.).
(18) In verses 8 and 11 Paul expands on the above and expresses somewhat differently the thought of 4:15, etc. He now tells us that since sin requires a legal foundation, it cannot exist until (the) law makes its appearance. Once it does, however, it strikes like a snake and brings death to all who break it (7:9f.). I conclude that law is as indispensable to sin as knowledge is to guilt (John 15:22,24).
(19) In verses 9f., the apostle, clearly with Genesis 2 and 3 in mind, points out that as a child, like Adam and Eve before they knew the law, he was ‘alive’, that is, innocent and therefore potentially capable of attaining to the eternal life that it promised (Gen. 2:17). However, when he learnt the commandment, he broke it and hence earned the wages of death. (See further on 9:11 below.) So once more, we are forced to conclude that the imputation of sin to little children is ruled out of court. If it was not imputed to Paul, who became the arch-persecutor of the early church, then manifestly it cannot be imputed to the rest of us. The reason why unconscious babies die has (normally) nothing to do with sin (see further below). The logic of this is irrefutable. It might be added in confirmation of this reasoning that in 1 Tim. 1:13 Paul specifically mentions ignorance as a mitigating factor in his ante-anti-Christian sin.
There is another point here. If we are born sinful, then God creates us so. This inevitably implies that God himself is evil, since it is he precisely who creates in the womb (Gen. 30:2; Job 31:15; Isa. 44:2; 49:5, etc.), not least in the Virgin’s womb (Luke 1:26ff.; Heb. 10:5). However, since Paul says he was “alive”, we must assume that it was because he was a creature of God and hence in “fellowship” with him as Adam had been at the beginning. However, he imitated or repeated first Eve’s (NB v. 11) then Adam’s sin (7:13ff.). He had strayed like a lost sheep (Isa. 53:6, etc.), but eventually returned (1 Pet. 2:25) to be finally glorified in Christ (1 Pet. 5:4; Rom. 5:2).
In 7:14 Paul informs his readers of the basic reason why they sin (apart from parental influence and example, cf. Rom. 5:12; Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f., etc.). As flesh, even when they are well disposed and admire the law (cf. Ps. 119:14,47f., etc.), they lack the power and/or will to keep it (cf. Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.). When fleshly unregenerate man collides with the law, like Adam and Eve he inevitably sins and his body becomes a body of sin and death (6:6; 7:24, cf. 8:10; Gal. 5:16-18). Instead of exercising dominion over what is earthly in him (cf. Col. 3:5), he permits it to rule over him (cf. Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19).
(20) Traditionalists have regularly characterised the flesh as sinful (see especially the tendentious and highly misleading translation of sarx in the NIV, e.g. Rom. 7:18; Gal. 6:8, and Art. 9 of the C of E), but this Paul implicitly denies when he says that God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3, cf. Heb. 2:14f.). In other words, though the flesh is closely associated with sin since it serves as its bridgehead, it is not identified with it. After all, God created it and Jesus embraced it. Jesus alone of all who ever lived in the flesh perfectly kept the law and so attained to righteousness and life (Rom. 2:13, cf. Mt. 3:17, etc.). He alone, though severely tempted, as all fleshly human beings are, was without sin (Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 2:18; 4:15, cf. Jas. 1:14f.).
(21) The expression “the likeness of sinful flesh” in 8:3 has been a stumbling block to some. However, we can safely dismiss the idea that the flesh as such is evil. First, we need to note that God created man as flesh from the “good” (i.e. useful) earth (Gen. 2:7; Job 10:8f.; 1 Cor. 15:45-49), and, secondly, that Jesus himself as “born of woman” was truly flesh and was thus able to redeem his fellows in the flesh (Heb. 2). This points to the fact that the prime problem facing mankind is not Adam’s sin imputed to all his posterity, which logically includes Jesus, but Adam’s nature as flesh which certainly includes Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2) who overcame it (Rom. 8:3). If this is the case, then once more logic rules out original sin. In fact, it makes it, first, superfluous, and, secondly, absurd and blasphemous: for why would God compromise his holiness by imputing sin to those who have not broken the law (i.e. condemning the guiltless, Mt. 12:7) when he had already made them flesh in all its weakness and susceptibility to temptation? Not for nothing did Paul say that no flesh (literally) would be justified in God’s sight (1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.). Rather they would be held accountable by the law (3:20) with a view to his freely exercising his mercy (11:32).
Paul goes on to say that to set the mind on the flesh is death (8:6). Why? There are two reasons: first, indulgence of the flesh leads inevitably to sin (i.e. lack of dominion and hence death) whenever the law is transgressed (8:7f.), and, secondly, since the flesh is part of a naturally corruptible creation (Gen. 3:19; Ps. 104:29; Eccl. 3:20, etc.), it leads remorselessly to corruption (Rom. 8:13, cf. Gal. 6:8). That is the way God made it (Rom. 8:18-25). So long as he was in the flesh, even the sinless Jesus got older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57). Even if he had not died for his fellows (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18), he would have died naturally had he not inherited life, ascended and been transformed (Rom. 6:9f.; 14:9, cf. 1 Cor. 15:51ff.).
(22) At this point it is important to return to Romans 7:5. As noted above this verse is set in a passage dealing with the function of the law in making sin sinful (vv.1-13). Yet such has been the influence of Augustine on Western theology that virtually all translations (the KJV is a noteworthy exception), not to mention commentators, tell us that the passions are “aroused” by the law. There are insuperable objections to this. First, there is no word in the Greek for “aroused”, which contrasts with the comment made by Paul in 5:20 that the law increased sin or caused it to abound. Secondly, Paul has already described at inordinate length the grossly licentious sins of the Gentiles who had not got the written law. Thirdly, he tells us in the verse 12 that the law is holy and good which would be impossible if it aroused the passions (cf. Ps. 78:5f., 2 Tim. 1:8-11). Fourthly and most importantly, it destroys the logic of his argument which is that where there is no law there is no sin (note the deadness of the husband in v.3 and the deadness of sin in v.8). Apart from noting that the passions in themselves are not sinful (e.g. in the marriage relationship, 2 Tim. 4:3; Heb. 13:4), they are constituted so by the law as in adultery, for example! And it is precisely here in 7:1-6 that Paul is at pains to indicate that when the law is abolished, there can be no adultery. The plain truth is that to add the word “arouse” to 7:5 is as serious an error as to add the words “in Adam” to 5:12 and “to obtain”, or the like, to 8:21, on which see below.
For Paul it is the flesh in rebellion against the law that spawns sin as 7:5 itself implies when it is translated literally as “the passions of sins through (or by) the law“ (cf. James 1:14f.). In fact, the flesh which is a law to itself (7:23,25, cf. Gal. 5:17), does not discriminate as does the mind instructed by the law (7:1-3). This can be illustrated by reference to David whose wooing of Abigail whose husband was dead is apparently approved by Scripture but whose pursuit of Bathsheba whose husband’s death had to be arranged certainly is not. Not without reason has it been crudely but effectively averred that an erect penis (that is, the flesh) has no conscience. It is governed by its own law (cf. breathing, sweating, urinating, hunger, thirst, taste, etc.), and is intrinsically amoral (cf. 7:23)!
(23) The logic of Paul’s argument respecting flesh and spirit (Spirit) in Romans 8:5-11 puts it beyond reasonable dispute that our future bodies will be spiritual, supernatural, heavenly (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff.; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10). Verse 10 sums up the issue. The fleshly body will die and see corruption (cf. Gen. 3:19), but the spirit will live (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6. Jesus was born and attained to the age of thirty-three in the flesh but spiritually had neither beginning nor end, Heb. 7:3!). At the last day, we shall be endowed with an appropriate body of glory like that of Jesus who was himself obviously transformed (1 Cor. 15:50ff.) at his ascension (Phil. 3:21; 1 Tim. 3:2). In a word, the flesh, which is meant to be our slave not our master (cf. Gen. 4:7) is cast out (Gal. 4:29f.; John 8:34-36).
(24) Romans 8:18-25 is difficult to exegete, though I have attempted the task elsewhere. To cut the story short, it should be noted, first, that in verse 18 there is an obvious contrast between the sufferings of the impermanent present (evil) age (cf. Gal. 1:4) and the permanent glory of the coming age that is still to be revealed (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Thus, it surely follows that verses 19ff. are to some extent an exposition of this contrast (cf. the contrast in 1:23,25 and 2:7 between the immortal God and the mortal creature). In light of this, we must be on our guard against any attempt to eternalise, regenerate or redeem the material creation which is by nature impermanent (Heb. 1:10-12, cf. John 3:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:50b). If man’s earthly, that is, his fleshly body, like the earthly temple (Mark 14:58), is destroyed (2 Cor. 5:1) since it cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50), logic dictates that the material creation from which it derives is also destroyed. As a matter of fact, this line of reasoning receives massive biblical support from Genesis 1:1 (cf. Heb. 7:3) through to Revelation 21:1,4. As was intimated above, on the assumption that ktisis in v.21 means ‘creation’ (which is arguable), to add words like “to obtain” or “to share in”, which are not in the Greek, is to pervert Paul’s meaning and to render his thinking contradictory. For he clearly teaches, as do the rest of the NT writers, that the material creation, which had a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and will hence have an end in time (Heb. 12:27), is intrinsically impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Rom. 8:24, etc.), and in direct contrast to the eternal God himself (cf. Isa. 40:6-8; 54:10; Mt. 24:35, etc.).
It is at this point that we can infer why it is that babies, that have not come to know the commandment as either promise or threat, die. As flesh (cf. John 1:13) and therefore part of a naturally corruptible creation, they die naturally (cf. Isa. 40:6-8). As with mortal plants and animals, moral considerations are not on the horizon. (It might usefully be added at this point that there is no covenant with Adam who, in racial terms, symbolised man in his fleshly infancy. The relationship or fellowship that he and Eve enjoyed with God was in essence the physical one experienced between Creator and creature, like that of a baby with its parents, its mother in particular. Cf. 9:11 and note 26 below.)
(25) Romans 8:39, like 18-25, suggests that it is precisely “creation” that separates us from God. This, Paul, like the author of Hebrews who refers to the flesh of Jesus as a curtain (10:19f.), teaches elsewhere (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 5:6,8). So long as we are in this world in the flesh, even apart from sin, God remains inaccessible both as consuming fire and unapproachable light (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16, cf. John 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:27). As was intimated above, being created both as mortal flesh and in the image of God (spirit), man from the beginning was urged to transcend his natural mortality and to seek immortality by keeping the commandments (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10, etc.). Or, to put the issue another way, his calling was to exercise dominion over the earth, of which his fleshly body was a prime derivative, with a view to being crowned with glory and honour (Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9f.). As James (ch. 3) notes, like Adam he had some success but when put to the test failed to control his own body. The problem remains today! No wonder Paul, like John, warns his readers not to love this world or this age (1 Cor. 7:31; Col. 3:2; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:15-17). By its very nature, whether apart from or including evil (cf. Gal. 1:4), it prevents access to God (cf. Phil 1:21-23). To pursue its pleasures to the neglect of its purpose leads inevitably to death (Gal. 6:8, etc.).
(26) In Romans 9:11 in what appears to be a deliberate attempt on his part to demonstrate that election is not based on the moral standing of Esau and Jacob, Paul states the ‘obvious’ fact that in the womb neither Esau nor Jacob had done either good or evil. They were, as he himself was, “alive” (7:9a) before the commandment came. He thus implies that they were innocent like Adam and Eve in Eden, the womb of the race. To import moral considerations, including original sin, at this point is to undermine his argument regarding election. Furthermore, doing so implies yet again that God who creates in the womb is the author of evil. The plain fact is that babies/infants who do not know the law are regarded as innocent throughout Scripture (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:3,29-33, etc.). They are flesh like the animals without understanding (Ps. 32:9) and they sometimes die as such (Job 3:10,16; Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18ff.; 6:3; Jer. 20:17).
It might be further pointed out that according to Paul and the Bible in general sin is a work performed against the law just as obedience is a work performed in accordance with the law (e.g. Rom. 2:12f.; 9:31f., cf. 6:16). It is by the law that people are held accountable (3:19) and where there is no law there is no transgression (4:15, etc.). Here Paul specifically states that Esau and Jacob had done nothing either good or evil (cf. Seth in Gen. 5:1-3). The inference is inescapable: they were innocent and hence guiltless. The condemnation of guiltless babies is Pharisaical (Mt. 12:7, cf. John 9:2,34).
All this rules out any suggestion that sin is in any way to be considered genetic.
(27) In 11:32 (cf. Gal. 3:22) Paul says that God has consigned all human beings to disobedience so that he may have mercy on all. Since disobedience occurs when law is transgressed (Rom. 2:12f.; 3:9,19; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17), all have sinned against the law (3:23; 5:12). And since no flesh is capable of being justified (by keeping the law) in his sight (3:19; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.), all must turn in faith to Christ in order to receive mercy. Apart from him who alone kept the law (Rom. 8:3) and so gained access as man to the presence of God, there is no salvation (John 14:6). The exercise of mercy on those who like unconscious babies have not sinned is meaningless.