Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 5:12-21

Text in red, if any, are my additions.

A Summary of Romans 5:12-21

After speaking in verses 1-11 of the first fruits of justification and reconciliation with God, which are universally extended to all men on condition of proper faith in Christ, the Apostle now turns to reflect on original sin, the root and beginning of all human ills, which also, but in a contrary manner, has universally affected all mankind. Having spoken of the universality of the remedy and its effects, the Apostle is reminded, or is in a better position, to speak of, and insist again upon the universality of the disease. Through one man came the curse upon all, through one man reconciliation is provided for all. Comparing Adam and Christ he shows that, whereas through the former we were divested of grace and lost our supernatural gifts and our rights to heaven, through the latter we have been reinstated in God’s favor and enriched with benefits even more abundant in many ways than those which we lost in Adam.

12. Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

Wherefore (δια τουτο) is only a simple connective used to bridge over the transition from what has preceded. What follows in the chapter is not, therefore, a conclusion of what has preceded in verses 1-11.

As introduces the thought, which, however, is not completed in this verse. This defective sentence structure, or anacoluthon (i.e., an incomplete sentence), is a mark of the Apostle’s deeper feelings. He begins his phrase, but is then so carried away by other thoughts that he forgets its proper termination. Yet, from verses 18 ff. we know that his thought was as follows: “As by one man (Adam) sin entered into this world, etc., so by one man (Jesus Christ) has the grace of justification entered into the world,” etc. As Adam, by his disobedience, brought sin and death upon all his descendants, so Christ by His obedience has merited justification and life for all who through faith become His adopted children.

By one man, i.e., by Adam (verse 14). Cf. 1 Cor 15:22.

Sin (ἁμαρτία = hamartia), i.e., original sin personified, not sin in general. With the article the term ἁμαρτία always signifies original sin, together with its consequent evils; whereas without the article it means actual sin, or sin in general (Prat). The first actual sin was committed by Eve; but there is question here of the sin of Adam only. Adam was constituted by God not only the physical, but also the moral head of the human race; and consequently the sin committed by him has been transmitted along with human nature to all mankind, as an inheritance passes from a father to his children. All human beings, therefore, as descendants of Adam, have shared in his transgression and are stained with sin from the beginning of their existence; and thus they are born into the world as enemies of God and children of wrath (Conc. Trid., Sess. V. can. 3).

Into this world. Literally, “Into the world,” i.e., into the souls of men, infecting the whole human race. Doubtless, also, the pernicious effects of Adam’s sin have been felt in all physical nature.

And by sin, i.e., by original sin, as is evident from the use of the article in Greek, as before.

Death means physical and moral death, death in general, which came upon all mankind by Adam’s sin. Death is at once the result and the chastisement of sin. Cf. Gen 2:17; 3:19; Wis 1:13; 1 Cor 15:21.

The words in whom (εφ ω, Vulgate, in quo) have caused much dispute among interpreters. The phrase is understood by Ambrosiaster, and by all the Latins after him, to refer to Adam, in whom all have sinned. But this understanding of the phrase causes such grammatical difficulty that it seems better, with the Greek Fathers and most modern scholars, to render it by because, or inasmuch as. These latter authorities rightly observe that  ω, as a masculine pronoun, should naturally refer to the noun nearest to it, namely, to death or world, rather than to the more distant men; and also that εφ  never has the meaning of “in”, in. Cf. Prat, La Theol. de S. Paul, I, p. 296 ff.; Cornely, Lagrange, etc., h. 1. However the expression may be rendered, St. Paul’s meaning is clear, namely, that all men have sinned in Adam, and so have inherited the evil consequences of his sin. The only exception to this rule is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary who, although born of Adam, was preserved by special privilege from every stain of original sin.

The following doctrines are taught in this verse, as the Council of Trent has declared: (a) By the sin of one man, Adam, sin entered into this world, i.e., came upon the human race; (b) all men have incurred the guilt of this sin; (c) in consequence of this guilt all men die (Rickaby). The opinion of some non-Catholics (cf. Parry, h. 1.), that death passed upon all men, not because all shared in the sin of Adam, but because each and every man in turn sinned by actual personal sins cannot account for the death of infants, idiots and similar non- accountables: these surely did not die on account of their own personal sins, since they were incapable of sinning.

It is more conformable to the Greek to omit hunc before mundum of the Vulgate.

13. For until the law sin was in the world ; but sin was not imputed, when the law was not.
14. But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come.

That the Apostle was speaking of original sin, i.e., of the sin of Adam, and not of actual sins, when he said in the preceding verse, “all have sinned,” is evident from the present verses. For here he says that between Adam and Moses death, the effect of Adam’s sin, reigned, i.e., was inflicted on all, even on those who had committed no actual sins, such as infants, imbeciles and the like. Since, therefore, death was in the world, afflicting all, from Adam to Moses, i.e., before there was any other cause for universal death, except the sin of Adam, it follows that all had sinned in Adam.

Until the law (vs 13), i.e., from the time of Adam to the Law of Moses.

Sin (vs 13), i.e., actual sin, as is evident from the omission of the article in Greek before ἁμαρτία = hamartia.

Was in the world (vs 13), i.e., among men,—actual sins were committed by mankind; but these sins were not imputed, i.e., were not so imputed as to be considered in every instance as deserving of death, and consequently could not have been the cause of death, because the positive law was not existing which inflicted such a punishment on sinners for their personal offences. The sins committed were against the natural law, which did not then oblige under pain of temporal death. These sins, however, would be punished by God on the day of judgment (Rom 2:14-16). Hence, such offences were “not imputed” ad poenam, but they were ad culpam.

The Apostle wishes to say that at least not all the sins committed between Adam and Moses were in themselves so serious as to deserve death—the death which fell upon all. That there were during this period some sins in themselves deserving of death, such as those that occasioned the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the like,—which sins hastened and made more terrible the punishment of death, the Apostle does not here deny. But it must be remembered that, as death to all was due to the sin of Adam, so the extreme gravity of personal sins after Adam found its explanation in Adam’s fall.

Who have not sinned (vs 14), etc. Better, “who had not sinned,” etc., i.e., who, like infants, imbeciles and the like, had not committed actual, deliberate, grievous sins, as Adam did. Since, therefore, after the sin of Adam death was inflicted even upon those who had committed no actual sins, it is clear that death is the resultant chastisement of the first sin. That actual sins were committed between Adam and Moses is evident from the Bible and is here taken for granted by St. Paul, but those sins were not in themselves punishable by death, because they were not opposed to any positive law then existing which imposed such a punishment.

Who is a figure, etc., i.e., Adam, by contraries, as well as by certain resemblances, was a figure or type of Christ. As Adam, the first physical man, by his disobedience, brought death upon all mankind, so Christ, the first spiritual man, i.e., the second first man, by His obedience and merits, brought life and justification to all (verse 19). This idea of Adam being a figure of Christ somewhat completes the comparison begun in verse 12. Cf. 1 Cor 15:22, 45-49.

The imputabatur and esset of the Vulgate (verse 13) would be expressed, more conformably to the Greek, by the present tense, imputatur and est. Corresponding changes should be made in the English translation.  The Douay Rheims read: “But sin was not imputed when the law was not“. The New Latin Vulgate has this emendation: Usque ad legem enim peccatum erat in mundo; peccatum autem non imputatur, cum lex non est~”But sin is not imputed where there is no law.”

15. But not as the offence, so also the gift. For if by the offence of one, many died; much more the grace of God, and the gift, by the grace ot one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

The Apostle now begins to show the points of difference between Adam, the type, and Christ, the antitype; and he says that the detriment and evil caused by the sin of the former has not been so destructive in its effects, as the grace and gift of the latter has been abundant and reparatory in its consequences.

But (ἀλλά = alla) introduces the contrasts between Adam and Christ.

The offence (παράπτωμα = paraptōma) means the fall, or personal sin of Adam.

The gift means the gratuitous merits which Christ bequeathed to the world by His death on the cross.

If by the offence, etc. Although hypothetical in form, this proposition, like that in verse 17 below, is absolute in meaning, because the condition was entirely verified.

Of one, i.e., of Adam.

Many (οι πολλοι = hoi polloi, lliterally, “the many,” as in the NAB) signifies all men who are descendants of Adam, as is evident from verses 12 and 18, where it is expressly said that all have incurred the penalty of death.

Died (απεθανον = apothanon) refers to natural or physical death, considered as the punishment of the sin of Adam or spiritual death.

The grace, etc., i.e., the goodness and benevolence of God, from whom all good things come, and especially the gift (δωρεά = dōrea), i.e., justification. If the sin of Adam has exercised so great an evil influence upon all humanity, much more, says the Apostle, has the grace of Christ exercised a contrary influence for the good of all. The range of sin was equalled by the range of grace, but it was surpassed in effect by the latter.

Unto many (εις τους πολλους), i.e., unto all men. There is absolutely no difference between the extension of the grace of Christ and that of the sin of Adam. All men are concerned in both cases, even though all do not profit by the former, and hence the plures of the Vulgate here should be omnes.

16. And not as it was by one sin, so also is the. gift. For judgment indeed was by one unto condemnation; but grace is of many offences, unto justification.

A second difference between the sin of Adam and the gift of God is found in their respective effects. On acount of the one sin of Adam the judgment of God’s condemnation (κατάκριμα = katakrima) is pronounced upon all men; but by the grace of Christ all men are justified, both from that one sin and from all other personal sins. “One sin availed to bring in death and condemnation; but the grace of God took away not that sin only, but all the sins that came in after it” (St. Chrys).

Judgment (κριμα = krima. Note the connection with katakrima above) means condemnation, God’s decision to punish.

Condemnation (κατάκριμα = katakrima) means an extension of the decision to punish εις παντας ανθρωπους= unto all men (verse 18).

Justification (δικαίωμα = dikaiōma) means a sentence of acquittal, on condition of faith.

The reading of the Vulgate per unum peccatum, although supported by a number of Greek MSS., is not considered so good as that of several other MSS. and versions, per unum peccantem, through one who has sinned (δι ενος αμαρτησαντο).

17. For if by one man’s offence death reigned through one; much more they who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift, and of justice, shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ.

Another contrast is deduced from the respective effects of the sin and the gift. If through one man’s offence, i.e., through the fall of Adam, death was visited on all the people in the world, how much more through the abundant grace of one, namely Jesus Christ, shall life reign in the world. But in this new life only those shall have part who shall have received the abundance of grace, and of the gift of justice, i.e., the remission of sins and true justification, which can be had only through the merits of Christ. Our Lord has merited for us not only a life of grace in this world, and a life of glory hereafter, but also all the means necessary to attain these abundant blessings here and hereafter.

The majority of MSS. have “of the grace of the gift of justice.”

18. Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life.

This verse is a development of the thoughts expressed in verses 14 and 16, and is at the same time a continuation and completion of the comparison begun in verse 12; αρα ουν (“Therefore”) picks up the thought begun there. As by the sin of one man, Adam, all men have been condemned to spiritual and temporal death, so by the justice, i.e., the merits of one, Jesus Christ, the justification of life, i.e., of sanctifying grace, has been extended to all men. “The justification of Christ extends to all men in point of sufficiency, but in point of efficacy it reaches only the faithful” (St. Thomas). And this justification, or sanctifying grace, which is offered to all through faith in Christ, raises man from a state of spiritual death to the life of the children of God, and gives him a right to heaven and immortality.

The force of the comparison between Adam and Christ is this, that as all who are carnally descended from the former have, by his sin, incurred the condemnation of death; so all who are spiritually descended from Christ obtain justification through His merits. Or, the second part of the comparison may be explained with St. Thomas, as quoted above, by saying that the merits of Jesus are sufficient, and more than sufficient, to save all men, although many through their own fault do not profit by them. It remains true, however, that as no one dies except on account of the sin of Adam, so no one is justified unto life except through the justice and merits of Christ.

19. For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.

As by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of paradise, many, i.e., all men (verse 18) became sinners, i.e., lost original justice; so contrariwise, by the obedience of one man, namely Christ, through His sufferings and death on the cross, many, i.e., all are provided with the means of justification, as explained above (verse 18). The future tense, shall be made just, shows that the justice to be realized personally is dependent on faith in Jesus. The justification of Christ is intended, and is sufficient for all, even though many do not profit by it.

In the previous verse justification through Christ is proved a posteriori, i.e., through the reign of grace, its effect ; here it is proved a priori, i.e., through its efficient cause (St. Thomas). As the disobedience of Adam was the cause of all becoming unjust, so the obedience of Christ is the cause of the justification of all.

20. Now the law entered in, that sin might abound. And where sin abounded, grace did more abound.

This and the following verse form a kind of appendix to what precedes. To prove the existence of original sin St. Paul had considered the situation between Adam and Moses, and so it might reasonably be expected that he would also discuss the situation after the giving of the Law, between Moses and Christ. What effect upon sin had the Law? Paul responds briefly by saying that instead of destroying or lessening the reign of sin in the world, as might have been expected, the introduction of the Law only increased sin. Not that the Law was bad; it was good (Rom 7:10) and led to Christ (Gal 3:24); but after its promulgation, owing to the corruption of human nature, the sins of men became more numerous and more serious, partly because the Law not only made known but also multiplied man’s duties and obligations, without, however, giving any help to fulfil them, and partly also because the very prohibitions and restrictions it imposed served to excite concupiscence the more. Nevertheless, the primary end God had in view in giving the Law was not to multiply sins, but to humiliate sinners by showing them their weakness and degradation, and thus to move them to desire the Messiah and to seek pardon from God; and to this higher end God permitted the increase of sins on account of the Law (St. Augustine, St. Thomas, Lagrange, Cornely, etc.). In this interpretation that (ινα) would signify the final cause or purpose of giving the Law. The law entered in, in order that what was sin might be realized as sin (Rom 3:20). St. Chrysostom and others understand “that” in a consecutive or consequential sense.

Sin (παραπτωμα) means all the actual sins committed by men under the Law of Moses.

Where (ου) may mean either “where” or “when,” more probably the latter here, since the Apostle is treating of a period of time rather than of a particular place.

Sin (η αμαρτια) abounded, i.e., original sin, which, like a poison spread its evil among men and caused the multiplication of actual sins. At this time when sin was working its ravages among mankind grace did more abound, because it not only liberated from original and actual sins and eternal death, but it did much more by making men, through faith in Christ and His justification, children of God and heirs of eternal happiness in heaven; it had not only a negative but a positive effect (verse 21).

It is more conformable to the Greek and to the traditional MSS. of the Vulgate to replace the second delictum of our present Vulgate by peccatum.

21, That as sin hath reigned to death; so also grace might reign by justice unto life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As sin hath reigned, etc., i.e., as sin reigned over all mankind from Adam to Christ, bringing death, spiritual and temporal, to all; so, after the coming of Christ, grace through justification has reigned, preparing souls for life everlasting. This justification is a supernatural gift of God, communicated to the soul, by which one passes from a state of enmity to a state of friendship with God; its end is life eternal, its author and source is Jesus Christ our Lord.

In verse 17 it was death, the effect of sin, that reigned; here it is sin which has reigned through death, temporal and spiritual.

Throughout the latter part of this chapter we find two actors, Adam and Christ, illustrated by their mutually opposing acts and effects. There are the sin of Adam, and the gift of grace (verse 15); the judgment of condemnation leading to chastisement, and the gift of grace leading to justification (verse 16); the sin of Adam inaugurates the reign of death, the gift of justice begins the reign of those who have received it (verse 17); the actual sin of only one brings punishment upon all, the meritorious act of only one provides justification for all (verse 18); disobedience makes all sinners, obedience renders all just (verse 19); original sin, increased by actual sins, reigns and kills, grace through justification reigns and prepares for life eternal (verses 20, 21) (Lagrange, h. 1.).

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 5:12-21

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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