In the last section that we looked at, the first 11 verses of chapter 5, little was said about the question of Jew and Gentile. We were again looking at a section that could be described as part of the “pure” gospel. Paul had been dealing again with the basic gospel truths that are universal. The next basic step of the gospel was that, having already been justified by faith and thus reconciled to God, we could now expect the further grace of God to bring us to the fulfillment of the hope of the glory of God in our lives.
Now, though, having laid out that next basic step in its essential nature, he feels compelled once more to turn and defend that truth in its necessity for both Jew and Gentile alike. Just as he did in the first three chapters, he first lays out the universal gospel truth and then spends time defending the position that this truth is equally valid and necessary for both Jew and Gentile alike. He will turn his eye specifically to the Jew and his potential argument with the truth that has been laid out. And you might once more be struck by the obvious and significant fact that much more time will be spent in the elaboration of the truth as it relates to Jew and Gentile than was spent in the initial setting forth of the basic truth. That again has a lot to tell us about Paul’s focus and overall concern.
There will be two main ideas in the coming chapters related to this potential response of the Jew to this truth of the gospel. First, Paul will demonstrate that the Jew does indeed need this same grace just as the Gentile does. This is necessary to treat of because the Jew is prone to deny that he is in the same condition of need as the Gentile. He will not want to admit that he also needs a new grace in order to fulfill God’s purpose of His glory in his life. Second, Paul will have to demonstrate very clearly that the Jew does not have the means of this grace already found in his law. This is the second refuge that the Jew will turn to in an effort to deny the truth or the necessity of the gospel for him.
Does all this sound familiar to you, like you have already heard it? It should because these two basic matters of argument that Paul will address in relation to the Jew are the same as we have seen him to have addressed already in the first stage of the gospel message. When Paul asserted that the world of mankind was under sin and the wrath of God, he then felt compelled to show the Jews that this was as equally true of them as of all other men. He had to show that they, too, were sinners of the same nature as the Gentiles. He then also had to demonstrate that the means of dealing with that sin and being made righteous before God were not to be found in the law that they had been given. If the Jew confessed the first fact, that he did indeed have sin, he would very possibly then seek the secondary refuge of thinking that he could correct his wrong standing with God by doing better at keeping the works of the law henceforth.
Paul refuted both of those arguments then. He will do the same now concerning the question of whether the Jew needs moral and spiritual renovation within just as the Gentile. The Jew will not at first want to admit the case. Paul will start by demonstrating that the need for spiritual renovation is universal (the rest of chapter 5). Then, in 6:1-8:17, he will make a very extended argument that the law cannot accomplish that moral and spiritual renovation, but that it can be accomplished only through Christ within us.
Having addressed the potential arguments of the Jew, he then will return to the main thrust of the theme that the first part of chapter 5 introduced: The hope of the glory of God. In 8:18-39, he will bring a glorious conclusion to the whole picture by laying before us what is our certain hope of future glory in its fullness through Christ. We might be eager to hear more about that fullness set out for us now, but Paul finds it absolutely essential to address the Jew’s arguments first. For Paul, Romans is a letter about the gospel for both Jew and Gentile.
So let’s turn now to see how Paul develops this argument.
Justification has met the first need of the man under the wrath of God. Through the blood of Christ, God has been propitiated, and His wrath, therefore, is no longer against us. What else is needed? We must not forget the fact that much has happened to the human race as a result of sin. The condition of man has been described already in the very sad terms that God has given man over to a depraved mind. His condition is deplorable. That must be addressed if man is to have true salvation. The time has now come for Paul to show how God is to deal with that large and important aspect of salvation.
In this section, Paul is going to lay an important foundation by demonstrating that all men are in need of inner moral renovation, and he is going to give the basic answer to how this renovation of man is to take place. He begins by bringing to mind the basic facts concerning the initial entering of sin and death into the world:
Because of this, just as through one man sin entered the world and through sin, death, and thus death spread unto all men, upon which all sinned. (5:12)
These basic facts are foundational for Paul’s reasoning concerning the universality of moral depravity. He points out to us the clear Scriptural facts, confirmed very obviously by all experience and testimony of life, that sin came into the world through one man, death through that one man’s sin, and all men have received the plague of death ever since. There are various points of the reasoning process in this section that are matters of dispute as men try to follow the exact meaning of each phrase of the argument, but we for our purposes need not enter into all that discussion. Sticking to the clear and obvious points, we see that Paul emphasizes the universality of sin and death. All men have to face this cold reality. Death is truly no respecter of persons.
What is Paul’s point here, exactly? Why does he take time to point out this obvious fact? I would remind us that throughout the book of Romans we have seen this language of all men a few different times with the specific idea of referring to both Jews and Gentiles as the two classes of men; between them, they form all men. It is the same emphasis here in this passage. Though it is certainly true in the absolute sense of “all men without a single exception,” and that is certainly part of Paul’s meaning here, we ought to be enough in tune with his reasoning by now to know that he has at least one eye towards the question of Jew and Gentile when he makes such a statement. Following the flow of Paul’s mind throughout the book to this point should make it no surprise to us that he is again looking to this issue. Trying to understand why he takes the steps of thought and argument that he does is very helpful in grasping the overall picture of what he is trying to say.
In case the pattern of Paul’s thought alone is not enough to indicate the focus upon Jews and Gentile, the following verses make it plain again that Paul is demonstrating something with a particular emphasis to the Jew. In fact, he breaks off the form of his reasoning started in verse 12 to make the point abundantly clear that he is talking about the fact that both Jew and Gentile alike are under the same plague of sin and death. He began a comparison in verse 12 that he did not complete. Verses 13-14 are an important addition and clarification to the main part of the argument, and not until verse 18 will we see Paul take up again the comparison (in explicit form, at least) that he began in verse 12, completing it at that point.
Verses 13 and 14 are truly an interjection in the sense of what we have just described. The question, though, might be raised as to why Paul interjects these verses and interrupts his argument. Certainly he must have a good reason. If the argument started in verse 12 and then again returned to later does not have much to do with the Jew, then verses 13 and 14 are really a somewhat irrelevant (or at least disjointed) aside that actually distracts the reader more than anything else.
Sometimes we might be tempted to think that Paul is off chasing rabbits again before remembering what he was trying to say, what point he was trying to make. And sometimes the explanations we hear of Paul’s writings from those who study and write about them add to that feeling of disjointedness and confusion. Though every writer, no matter how reasoned and logical, makes an occasional aside or exclamation, and Paul is no exception to this by a long stretch, I think it is important to give him more credit than we often do and seek a bit harder to find an understanding of his argument that places the parts in closer and more reasoned connection than we often explain them to have. And we won’t have to work too hard to find that connection here.
So then, in verses 13 and 14 especially, there is an obvious look to matters that relate particularly to the Jew:
For until the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not accounted, there not being law. But rather, death reigned from Adam until Moses even upon those not sinning upon the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one to come. (5:13-14)
Why is Paul talking about the law again and the great epoch-making life of Moses in relation to the fact that all men die, which he has just asserted? We are not surprised much by this if we have realized his focus throughout the book, but the line of thought here is not too difficult to trace out on its own. It is undeniable that the Jew and the Gentile alike are under the penalty of death. Who would claim not to be under the reality of eventual death? Not even the proud Jew would make such an audacious claim, I think.
But what he might indeed do is attempt to explain his penalty of death in terms of his failure to keep the law of Moses. As Paul attempts to trace the penalty of death for all mankind back to one single common point of origin and thus bring Jew and Gentile together in one common condition before God, the Jew might seek to undermine that argument by focusing upon the Mosaic law as his point of departure for explaining his death.
Paul demonstrates that this cannot be so, for before there even was such a thing as the Mosaic law, all mankind commonly was already under the universal condemnation of death. In fact, despite the fact that men who lived between the times of Adam and Moses did not violate a direct, stipulated command of God, they still reaped the same punishment as Adam as if they had sinned in like manner. Why? Because the cause of all men’s death is the same: The sin found at the very beginning of the history of mankind. When Adam sinned, death came into the world. This death reigned over all men even before there was such a thing as the law given.
The penalty of death, therefore, does not spring from the Mosaic law, no more for the Jew than for the Gentile. Death had universal power over all men before the law was ever given. The basic and central point of Paul’s explanation here is that both the Jew and the Gentile are equally affected by the original sin of man that brought death upon all. Paul insists to us that both Jew and Gentile are in the same condition. He again is committed to the truth that there is not a fundamental difference between Jew and Gentile. Rather, they are fundamentally alike. All men are under sin through the same common cause at the very beginning of the history of mankind.
This argument is very similar to that which Paul used in chapter 4 to demonstrate that the most basic spiritual principles are not distinctly matters for the Jew. Do you remember the argument Paul made there about the fact that Abraham received spiritual promises from God before ever having circumcision or law? That was enough to prove that the basis of those spiritual promises could not be circumcision or the law, those particularly Jewish traits that the Jew would like to make the basis of all blessings and promises from God.
In the same way here in chapter 5, Paul demonstrates, then, that the negative elements of spiritual principles, primarily that death is the consequence of sin, precede the time of the law. How can the Jew think that the law is the key element of the spiritual consequence of death when death reigned over all men before there was law? So, Paul once again demonstrates the essential unity of all mankind, both Jew and Gentile, in regards to the question of death’s reign over them. The Mosaic law is not an essential matter in the discussion at all. The Jew, though he does not wan to do so, must again recognize that he and the Gentile are essentially alike and not essentially different.
Having made the point very clear that the Jew can beg no exemption to his inclusion in the position of all men as under death on account of the first man’s sin, Paul now is ready to explain more fully the point he was making from that fact. He has already begun the comparison in verse 12, though he will not explicitly state it fully until concluding the argument in verses 18-19. Because of this beginning, we are perhaps already anticipating the conclusion of the comparison. If so, we will have a good idea where Paul is headed because of his statement at the end of verse 14 that Adam is a type of the one to come. Verses 15-17 give enough reasoning and explanation that we are able ourselves to complete the comparison by the time Paul actually does so explicitly. Here is that extra explanation that he gives us:
But rather, not as the trespass so also the gift? For if by the trespass of the one, the many died, how much more the grace of God and the gift in grace which is of the one man Jesus Christ did abound unto the many. And the gift is not as through one man sinning. For indeed the judgment from one man unto condemnation, but the gift from many trespasses unto a righteous decree. For if in the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one, how much more those receiving the abundance of the grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. (5:15-17)
Paul, then, compares and contrasts the condemnation of all men in Adam with the justification of all men in Christ. This is the point of the comparison that he began in verse 12. He is using the reality of what took place in Adam as a basis for arguing that a like pattern is to be seen in the reversal of that event.
It is important to see the inherent connection between what took place in Adam and what is proposed by Paul as taking place in Christ. It is not explicitly spelled out here, but it should be natural enough to be seen without explicit declaration. What took place in Adam was the fall of all men, where death came to reign over all men. This is looking at the whole corruption of mankind. All men now labor under the burden of a fallen and corrupt nature. “Death” here in these chapters moves beyond the simple cessation and end of life, just as “life” means far more than simple physical existence. We are talking about true spiritual life and about spiritual death, which is the corruption of all things good.
The sin of Adam plunged all mankind into corruption and death. This must somehow be undone. This is the great need that Paul is addressing in this portion of the gospel message. When this is understood, then the parallel between the cause of death and the remedy of that death is very natural indeed. To show how a gospel of faith in Christ provides such an analogous parallel goes far in demonstrating its likely truthfulness.
The main point of comparison is the fact that in each case, death through Adam and life through Christ, from one man’s actions comes the result to many others. In each case, one man represents the whole race. This is undeniably the case with Adam’s sin leading to guilt and death. Paul seeks to convince the Jew that the same is true in Christ unto righteousness and life. How will we overcome the corruption that we have inherited from Adam? In the same way that it came, Paul answers. Just as one man sinned and so brought all men down into death, so likewise one man has done righteousness and brought many to life and wholeness. What a perfect salvation that Christ provides!
Once again Paul has brought the Jew into the same position as the Gentile. Not only does he share with the Gentile in the death that comes from Adam’s sin, but also, if he is to have life and escape this death, there is but one opportunity to do so, through the life provided in Jesus Christ. Just as mankind finds its unity in the common origin in Adam, so also Christ proves to be the unifying point of all those who would have life, Jew or Gentile alike. There is no other way.
A whole different perspective on the gospel is being formed. Paul is challenging and transforming the way that the Jew thinks of how God works among men in this world. The Jew was prone to think of the work of God and His Messiah in terms of God’s saving His people, Israel. It was a Jewish Messiah and a Jewish salvation that he anticipated and hoped for. But Paul is adamant in driving home the point that the gospel is not about the Jew, but about mankind. God did not accomplish a work to save the Jew. He accomplished a work to save the world. And this is only what makes sense when we realize that all mankind fell into the same condition at the time of Adam’s sin.
We stop only for one more observation from these verses, which is the status of the language of “life” that is here used. Paul had already begun to make reference to life in verses 1-11, but there only speaking explicitly of the life of Christ. Here, the concept of life is more clearly identified as that which results for us as the fruit of Christ’s obedience and righteousness. We now read that we will reign in life with Christ (v. 17). This is the natural expectation of the contrast of the death that is named numerous times as the result of Adam’s transgression. So far, however, we have actually only seen this concept of “life” stated once in any explicit connection with us. The language has more consistently been that of “gift” and “grace” thus far. This is about to change, though, with the many references to life that are about to appear both in the closing verses of this section and much more also in the chapters to follow.
Having basically now completed the argument of comparing Christ to Adam and showing that just as death comes to all men through Adam’s sin, so likewise must life come to all men through Christ’s life, Paul concludes the section by summarizing the point in the comparison that he began in verse 12 and did not complete:
So then, as through one trespass unto all men unto condemnation, so also through one righteous deed unto all men unto justification of life. For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were appointed sinners, thus also through the obedience of the one man, the many were appointed righteous. (5:18-19)
This conclusion serves not to introduce any new material so much as to bring into clear form the argument that he began back in verse 12 and has since explained further. In wrapping up and summarizing nicely what he has been saying, Paul does make more clear the comparison between death and life as found in Adam and Christ. We also have it stated more clearly than before that the method of entering death or life is such as that the deeds of one man result in the many being appointed either as sinners or as righteous.
The argument is complete and has been plainly summarized as a fitting conclusion to wrap up the point that Paul is here making. Where will he turn from here? To the next argument that is necessary to bring the Jew completely under the sway of the gospel as equally as the Gentile. He will again turn to consider the law:
But the law entered alongside so that the trespass might abound. But where sin abounded, grace overabounded, so that just as sin reigned in death, thus also grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (5:20-21)
Good, solid expositions of this chapter often bring us to see how all mankind is united and represented in one man, Adam, at the first and then again in one man, Christ, the second head of the race. But have we seen how much Paul’s purpose here is tied to bringing the Jew and Gentile into one and the same position in relation to the gospel? Or does this focus upon the coming in of the law again take us by surprise? This focus on the law was already present back in verses 13-14, as we saw. This is not a new turn. It has been in Paul’s mind and purpose to begin with. He has been thinking in terms of proving to the Jew that he is equally under these truths as are all other men.
The fact that Christ is the only source of moral and spiritual renovation unto true life, for Jew and Gentile alike, brings us to the second prong of the argument focused upon the Jew in this section. Not only is the Jew equally under Adam’s condemnation of death as all the rest of the world is, but he also is just as needy and without remedy as the rest of the world. He needs Christ to renew him within and bring him life.
The Jew might respond to this by declaring that he has in the law the means of moral renovation, but Paul knows far better, and he will show it to us. He knows the reality of what is the purpose of the law and also what is its actual effect in a man’s life. He states here at the close of this chapter that the law did not enter in to bring life to a dead world. The law came in to cause the trespass to increase. Yet, this only made the true way of renovation to spiritual life all the more necessary and all the more effective after all; the grace found in Christ unto eternal life has more than enough power even to overcome the greater sin brought about by the law.
This will be a large point to prove to the Jew, for Paul has just asserted that the law actually causes more sin rather than providing a remedy for sin in a man’s life. This is in flat contradiction of the Jew’s hope and boast. The Jew would make his claim to the hope of eternal life to rest upon the fact that God has granted him the only necessary and only extant means of guiding him in the holy life, the law. Paul says that the situation is exactly the opposite.
As Paul begins his large argument that will span most of the next three chapters, he will deal with these great matters of death and life, of sin and righteousness in the life of men. He will be dealing with the experience of a man who passes out of the corruption of death that he has inherited from Adam and into the renewed and sanctified life that he receives from Christ.
As he does so, the law will be taking a prominent place in view. Though at times it will be in the background and only be seen in a reference here and there (showing that it has never passed wholly out of view, of course), it will at other times again take center stage in the discussion. The next three chapters show us how a man can pass from death to life, how he can find a true salvation and remedy for this corruption that is the natural experience of all men born since Adam. And the answer, Paul is concerned to emphasize plainly, is not in the law, but is found alone in our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone provides the cure for the ills of the world.