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An Argument: Death’s Reigning From Adam To MosesRom. 5:13, 14

It ought to be clearly kept in mind, that Paul’s great theme is here not really the Fall, Sin, Death and all its consequences; but rather he is writing concerning theredemption which is ours in Christ Jesus, as the fulfillment of the promise of God and of His sovereign good pleasure. In so writing, he makes a comparison between the legal representation of Adam to the entire human race and of Christ, the last Adam, to the new man which shall perfectly be saved and glorified. This we ought not to forget. 

However, before we consider this comparison as drawn in the verses 15-21 we must still take notice of Paul’s clinching argument in the verses 13 and 14, where we read, “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” 

It should be noticed that Paul really reasons here somewhat in the form of a syllogism. A syllogism, you must know, is the regular logical form of reasoning or argument consisting of three propositions, the first two are called the premises and the third the conclusion. Thus there is the well-known syllogism: 

1. All men are mortal. 

2. I am a man. 

3. Ergo: I am mortal. 

In some such way Paul here too reasons. The syllogism here runs about as follows: 

1. Major premise: where no law is, there is also not any imputation of sin and guilt.

2. Minor premise: the fact is that sin reigned over all men from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the similitude of Adam’s transgression. 

3. Conclusion: all men are accounted guilty and subject to the dominion of death, due to Adam’s transgression; through one man sin entered into the world, and passed through unto all men. 

It is well to observe that the major premise is an axiom of Paul and of all the moral-order: where no law is there is no transgression, and also not any imputation of sin and guilt. On the other hand, the minor premise is taken from the undeniable testimony of some 2300 years of the history of mankind, as this is recorded for us in the Genesis record, the Chapters 4-50, as well as the history of Israel and the world up till the law-giving at Sinai, as is written in Exodus, Chapters 1-20. The conclusion is therefore iron-clad and binding. Why? Because the content here of both the major and of. the minor premises is not given by unbelieving denial of the moral world-order and of the facts of history as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, but it is given with due consideration of faith of both of these with the only possible and legitimate conclusion. The conclusion too is taught in the Holy Scriptures. 

Some Exegetical-grammatical ConsiderationsRom. 5:13, 14

Paul writes here, “for until law sin was in the world.” See verse 13. For a correct understanding of this we ought to attempt to study the meaning of the term “law” as it is here and often employed by the apostle. The KJV of the Bible translates “the law,” although in the Greek text we simply read “law,” without the definite article “the.” We believe that the omission of the definite article here in the Greek text is intentional on the part of the Apostle. He did not intend to single out the law of Sinai in distinction from other laws, but merely intended to designate the nature of the dispensation of Sinai as belonging to the principle of law: the man that doeth the same shall live thereby; the law-principle in distinction from the grace-principle. All law is such that, for the transgressor, it is, only the source of the knowledge of sin: 

This principle of “law” as a characteristic law-principle Paul often brings forward and sets it in bold relief. Thus we read in Rom. 3:20, “for through ‘law’ (not the law) is the knowledge of sin.” And, again, in verse 21 we read, “but now without law a righteousness of God is manifested, being witnessed of by the law and theprophets.” Notice that in both of these instances Paul writes simply “law” and not “the law.” When the article in Greek is absent no particular things, class of things is pointed out demonstratively, but rather the quality is emphasized instead of the identity. This does not mean that Paul leaves it an open question, a certain grab-bag for us, to decide to which law he refers here. It is quite evident that he refers to the law-giving at Sinai, as the special dispensation of the law, given by angels into the hands of the mediator, Moses. Only he here emphasizes that that dispensation was really purely law, it was the “law” added to the promise. But sin did not come into the world with this law-giving at Sinai. It was there even up till that point on the clock of God. That men were subject to death is not due to the law-giving at Sinai. We must look for an earlier judicial act of God and the application of the principle of “law,” as applied to the transgressor. Such is the cogent reasoning here of Paul. 

Sin as the transgression of law was in the world up till the enunciation of the law-principle at Sinai. Hence, there must have been an earlier law-principle which was transgressed. For sin was in the world. The force of the Greek verb and its nature .and tense should not be overlooked here. It is the imperfect tense of the verb to be in Greek. Now the verb “to be” (einai) does not have voice, active, passive or middle, but refers to a state or condition, a state of being. The imperfect tense refers to action incompleted in past time. Here it expresses incompleted state of being in past time. It is a descriptive imperfect, which is here used by Paul to give vivid presentation of what was the state of the man under sin in past time. It is the moving picture and not the snapshot. The entire panorama unfolds before the eyes of us, concerning sin being in the world, upon the pages of Holy Writ in which this era from Adam to Moses is revealed and recorded for us. 

That sin was in the world from Adam to Moses is plain from the clear testimony of Scripture. Do we not read there of the first son of Adam, a man by the name of Cain? He rose up against his brother in the field. He was an evil unbeliever! Gen. 4:3-15Heb. 11:4I John 3:12Jude 1:11. Or take a look, long and hard, at the history of the generations of Cain as they end in the proud boasting of Lamech. Gen. 4:19. There you see sin in the world in moving picture action! Or look at the amalgamated church-world in the days of Noah as portrayed in Gen. 6:1-8 Do not forget to read carefully the account of the world after the Flood, when men -would build the Tower of Babel in the days of Peleg. Gen. 11. Does not sin and death reign here, even so that the Lord says, “and now will nothing be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Or look at the great type and. outburst of sin in the beginning of the post-Diluvian world, when God destroys Sodom and Gomorrha, the cities of the plain of Jordan and the Dead Sea, setting them forth as an example of what God, in His righteous judgment, will do to all the world! To appreciate for what great example this was set in history we have but to look .at the many, many references to this judgment of God as recounted in both the Old Testament and the New Testament Scriptures. See such passages as Deut. 29:23Deut. 32:32;Isaiah 1:9, 10Isaiah 13:19Jer. 23:14Jer. 49:19Jer. 50:40Amos 4:11and Matt. 10:15Mark 6:11Rom. 9:29II Pet. 2:6Jude 1:7

Surely sin was in the world from Adam to Moses. Look at the life of the saints in their sins and weaknesses, of an Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Do not fail to observe the sins of a Judah and the twelve sons of Jacob, not to mention the idolatry of Abraham’s posterity. Think of the might and sins of the Egyptian Pharaoh, whom God destroyed utterly in His wrath from heaven. 

Forsooth, sin was ever in the world from Adam to Noah. And sin was there not by virtue of imitation as the proud heresy of Pelagius teaches, but it was there by virtue of the one man, Adam. And it was there even though God had not yet promulgated His law amid thunder, lightning, and earthquake from Sinai’s lofty crown. Such is the interpretation of the Bible concerning the phenomena and reality of sin in the world. 

Thus God looked from heaven upon all the human race! 

It was all because we sinned in Adam, legally. Upon sin came death, and death passed through to all men. All have sinned and come short of the glory of, God. All are under sin, under the dominion of death! 

The term “death” (thanatos in Greek) refers first of all to the legal and just verdict of God. Our guilt is our death; man is subject to the fearful wrath of God revealed from heaven upon all men. But death is also the corruption and the perversity of our mind and will. Our mind is darkened and our will is perverse. Man is wholly incapable of doing any good and is inclined to all evil. Such is the implication of the term “reigned.” Death is a fearful king—spiritually, ethically, He is a fearful king and brought all to the grave from Adam till Moses, even though they did not sin as Adam sinned. We all sinned in him, being represented by him, and the death which came upon his transgression is imputed to all of us! 

Christological Perspectives

We must say just a word about this here too. Paul is, strictly speaking, not writing simply about the Fall of the human race in Adam. He is writing on the subject of our redemption. Notice the “therefore” in Rom. 5:12, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world . . .” He will pick up this subject further in the verses 15-21. 

Let us suppose here for the sake of argument that Pelagius is correct when he teaches: 

1. “Adam was created mortal, so that he would have died whether he had sinned or not; 

2. “Adam’s sin only affected himself, and not the human race; 

6. “The law is as good a means of salvation as the gospel; 

7. “There were some men, even before the appearance of Christ, who did not commit sin.” 

When we suppose that Pelagius is right, for the sake of argument, let it then too be seen that he is right when he denies that Christ really is the free gift of grace for all His people, so that out of many transgressions we are justified. The one stands and falls with the other. 

We will denounce this teaching as having its origin within the gates of hell which would prevail against the church. Our fathers of Dordt say that the Remonstrants took out of hell once more the teaching, the proud propositions, of Pelagius, of all Greek wisdom and philosophy. We say: Amen! We will bow before the stark and dreadful reality of the Fall, but with our eye of faith directed upon Calvary, the place of the skull. There hangs the second, the last Adam, the Lord out of heaven. And we will now already fill out Rom. 5:12 and add what Paul writes in Rom. 5:18, “. . . thus also through one man’s righteousness unto all (in . . . him) unto justification of life.” We rejoice in these Christological perspectives which are .implied in the manner of the Fall, and we are comforted!! 

—G.L.