July 2, 2023

The Reign of Death Before the Law (Romans 5:13-14)

The Reign of Death Before the Law (Romans 5:13-14)


Last week, we had the chance to explore the Bible’s most explicit verse concerning the doctrine of Original Sin. The passage that forms this doctrine comes off the heels of Paul assuring Christians of the peace with God they can receive through Christ.

But the idea of “peace with God” raised some important questions:

How did humanity find itself in need of peace with its Maker? What caused the hostility between God and mankind? And at what point did this enmity with God come into existence?

These questions were at the base of Paul’s teaching in the following verses. Paul taught about the Fall of Adam and the imputation of his sin to all humanity. He did this to emphasize the contrast between Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness. And this served as the foundation for understanding how Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, providing a remedy for the effects of Adam’s sin.

The doctrine of Original Sin is an important discussion because today’s individualism has informed our theology more than Scripture. Many Christians struggle to accept the concept of Adam’s sin being imputed to them because they did not personally commit it.

Consequently, they refuse to acknowledge the idea of federal headship or representation by both Adam and Christ. As I emphasized last week, it is crucial to understand that this rejection carries significant consequences because the denial of Original Sin ultimately leads to the rejection of the Gospel itself.

Let me explain. When you reject the imputation of Adam’s sin, you must also reject the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith. If you deny Adam as your representative before God, then, to be consistent, you must deny Christ as your representative before God.

Namely, if you want to believe you are the sole contributor to your sinful state, you must also see yourself as the sole contributor to your righteous state. Namely, you cannot say you receive the imputation of Christ while rejecting the imputation of Adam.

Therefore, when you reject the biblical doctrine of imputation and representation, you reject the Gospel. You reject the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith. And, as a result, you are left not with a Gospel of grace but a pharisaical religion striving for self-righteousness.

There is no rest for you if you have not the righteousness of Christ imputed to you by faith. There is no peace for you if you have not the righteousness of Christ imputed to you by faith. There is only the Law, your inability to keep it, and the judgment to come.

Today’s passage in verses 13-14 comes as a parenthetical or an explanation of Paul’s closing statement in verse 12. In fact, you may even have brackets or an em-dash in your Bible demonstrating the relationship between verse 12 and 13-14. As we can see, Paul ends the verse by saying that “all had sinned.” Last week, I explained how this phrase most certainly means that “all had sinned in Adam’s sin.”

Now, Paul, as a master of argumentation, anticipates the claims of his opponents who might say, “How can you say that “all have sinned” if there was no Law until it’s delivery to Moses on Mt. Sinai?” That is, how can you have sin without the law? But Paul is prepared in this passage to demonstrate the validity of his statement through the following explanation. Let’s read Romans 5:12-14.


Romans 5:13-14
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Vs. 13: for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 

  • Paul is about to make the case that, although there was no Law, sin was in the world, and we will see his evidence and justification in verse 14.
  • His phrase “but sin is not imputed when there is no law” often causes Paul’s opponents to say, “See, you said it yourself. Without the Law, Adam could not have imputed his sin to all humanity.”
  • But that is not what Paul is doing. Paul is making a statement of fact that he will use to demonstrate his point in verse 14.

Vs. 14: Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

  • Namely, if there was no law, then there was no sin. If there was no sin, there should be no death. But since there was death before the Law of Moses, there must have been sin.
  • In other words, if there was no sin, yet people died from Adam to Moses, then God is an unjust God afflicting penalties upon people who did not deserve judgment.
  • What Paul is really attempting to communicate here in verses 13 and 14 is that the claim “for all sinned” at the end of verse 12 is not speaking about the individual sins we commit against the Moral Law of God, but rather the imputed sin of Adam.
  • This is why he says, “Death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.
    • Many commentators believe Paul is referring to infants or the mentally disabled.
    • That is, he’s highlighting that death reigned even over those who did not commit acts of sin as a consequence of imputed sin.
  • Now why is this important? Paul is trying to convey the strength of representation. If representation is strong enough to procure spiritual and physical death in Adam, it’s strong enough to procure spiritual and physical life in Christ.
  • This is why Paul ends verse 14 by showing how Adam is a “type” of Him (Christ) who was to come.
  • Specifically, Paul is highlighting the parallel and equal representation of Adam and Christ.

Now, to be clear, Paul is not saying that imputed sin was the only manifestation of sin between Adam and Moses. We know this was not the case. Sin was rampant since the Fall of Adam. From Cain slaying Abel and the tower of Babel to the corrupt world preceding the flood, humanity was saturated in sin.

In fact, prior to the flood, Genesis 6:5 says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Ultimately, the Law doesn’t create sin; it simply exposes it.

One pastor said:
“The Law comes and shows the evidence of sin. The Law says in essence: ”Do you want to see if you are a sinner? Then here is the Law. Go ahead and try to obey it.” Why can’t we obey the Law? Because we have the Sin nature of Adam. Sin is not so much the activity. That’s just the evidence of the Sin nature. Sin is the nature of every man born of Adam and you don’t need Law to convict someone of that. There are many unsaved people who are living good, moral lives (maybe better than many born-again believers) but they are still in Adam and bound for the Lake of fire. Remember that all mankind is either in Adam or in Christ, those in the latter group having been delivered out of Adam and the penalty (eternal death) and transferred into the body of Christ and His eternal kingdom.”

Galatians 3:24 speaks to the purpose of the Law. It says, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

That is, the Law becomes a mirror to see our already existing sinfulness. It shows us our inability to be found righteous and drives us to seek an alien, or imputed righteousness, in Christ.

The central point of Paul is to demonstrate that sin is not just an act but also a condition—It’s a condition handed down from their representative head.

You see, Adam and Christ both affected their offspring by one single act. Adam by one act of disobedience resulting in death and Christ by one act of sacrifice resulting in life. The first Adam brings condemnation and eternal death, while the second Adam brings justification and eternal life.

1 Cor. 15:45-49
“Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

When we see that God has done for us what we were incapable of doing ourselves—that is causing us New Birth in Christ—adopting us as sons and daughters—transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of His beloved son—freeing us from our slavery to sin—and making us new, we can begin to have a greater appreciation for God’s love in our salvation and the righteousness we receive from our Head—Jesus Christ.

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