Re: Rom 5:12 Death spread... because all sinned - How?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 04 1998 - 15:23:30 EST

At 11:17 AM -0500 3/4/98, Jeffrey Gibson wrote:
>Just wondering, but does the idea that the death that Paul speaks of as
>"spreading" in Rom. 5 is not the death that comes to all humans, but the
>willingness and propensity to *deal death* to others, to commit murder,
>that is in view here. I raise this point because I am not so sure
>that Paul viewed finitude/mortality as something humans (or even
>Adam as representative of one sort of humanity) did not have from the
>beginning, let alone something that humans attained gradually.
>Conversely, was it Paul's claim that being "in Christ" rather than in
>Adam really prevent people from dying?

I'm not sure to what extent our theological presuppositions are playing a
role in the way we respond to this question.But what Paul actually says in
this whole passage is so fascinating and so far-reaching in its
implications for "salvation history" that it's hard NOT to venture some
speculation on what may be meant here--granting that better minds than mine
have worked hard and long on this passage and that there may never (in this
world) be a clear consensus on exactly what is meant--wherefore I'm tempted
enough to ask some questions of my own and offer a couple ideas.

(1) I am rather dubious of Jeffrey's notion that "the willingness and
propensity to deal death to others, to commit murder, etc." is really at
issue in this passage, although I will readily assent to that as a
corollary implicit in the proposition that "sin entered the world, and
through sin death, and so death spread to all humanity," insofar as Paul
certainly seems to argue in Rom 1 that alienation of humanity from God
entails alienation from each other which entails mutual self-aggrandizement
and exploitation of others. But I think, considering Rom 5:15 (EI GAR TWi
TOU hENOS PARAPTWMATOS hOI POLLOI APEQANON ...), that he has in mind simply
that death is what all humanity descended from Adam are subject to as a
consequence of the governance of sin in all humanity: mortality is what's
involved rather than death-dealing, I think. QANATOS is generally the death
that one dies rather than the death that one deals, which is rather FONOS
and cognates of KTEN/KTON/KTA.

(2) With regard to Rom 5:12, I've always been somewhat curious about how we
are to understand the temporal efficacy of Christ's obedience and its power
to justify and give life. It seems to me that there's a great paradox here
when we assert that Sin and Death are prevalent in the heirs of Adam as
PRWTOS ANQRWPOS and PRWTOS hAMARTWLOS, for certainly we must say, must we
not, that the heirs of Adam continue to exist and propagate their like
after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, so that the saving power
of Christ crucified is efficacious only for believers, who do indeed
continue to die as Adam died, but who are expected to be heirs to Christ's
resurrection. What I am curious about is the "anachronistic" or
"backwards-in-time" efficacy of the Christ-event on the ages of humanity
existing prior to the Christ-event: as I read Romans 4, it appears to me
that Abraham's faith-righteousness is not only paradigmatic of the
faith-righteousness of Christian believers, but it is itself a
faith-commitment to the God who creates out of what does not exist and who
raises the dead into new life (Rom 4:17)--so that it would appear that
Abraham's faith is Christ-directed as much as is any Christian's (in Paul's
perspective, at any rate). But if that is the case, then is Abraham unique
within the countless generations of pre-Christian humanity in being
characterized by faith-righteousness? Or must there not also be others
within God's people who fall under the paradigm of Abraham's
faith-righteousness, and of whom we perhaps should say that their faith is
directed toward Christ even if their historical era far antedates the
historical point of the Christ-event?

That is to say, it seems to me that the PRWTOS/ESCATOS ANQRWPOS scheme must
involve a curiously rich convergence of a Christ-event that is centered in
finite human historical time while at the same time reaching out from
eternity both forwards and backwards over all of human history, so that,
although the rebellion against God and the mortality shared by all who are
heirs of Adam does not cease to adhere to every new generation of humanity
born after the Christ-event, yet somehow the possibility of
faith-righteousness made efficacious by Christ in his crucifixion would
appear to extend backwards and be presented as a possibility even to the
generations of pre-Christian humanity.

And that is to say, faith-righteousness in Paul's view is clearly a
possibility for humanity only by virtue of the death and resurrection of
Christ, and yet it would appear that that possibility confronts all the
heirs of Adam extending as far back as Cain and Abel.

I confess openly here that I am not making any effort to harmonize this
with other Biblical teachings on salvation history, and I really do not
want to get beyond what Paul seems to be saying and what he may mean in
Romans 4 and 5. I somehow don't think that we can make sense of the Greek
of Rom 5:12 without extending the dimensions and scope of the questions
raised by this verse--and those dimensions seem to extend universally
backwards and forwards through human history (not to mention God's
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:08 EDT