Below I have outlined a chapter in Dr. Jack Cottrell’s book “The Faith Once For All.” The chapter attempts to discuss the issues regarding the doctrine of original sin and specifically how one should understand Romans 5:11-21. I found the content fascinating. What do you think of Dr. Cottrell’s conclusions?
Original Sin or Original Grace?
What is the meaning of Romans 5:12-19?
Cottrell believes that this passage teaches original grace not original sin.
Cottrell seeks to answer four questions in explaining original grace in Romans 5:12-19.
Question 1: What is the purpose of this passage in relation to the epistle as a whole?
- It is best understood as continuing the theme of assurance that began in 5:1.
- Paul assures his readers that we can put all our hope and confidence in one saving act (the cross) of one man (Jesus Christ).
- In verses 1-11 there are 10 references to the saving efficacy of Christ and his cross.
- Some may wonder “isn’t this expecting a lot from just one man?” Yet this is essentially what the gospel asks us to believe. Therefore, the one act of Jesus on the cross has the power to save the whole world.
- In order to show that Jesus’ one act can in fact save the whole world Paul shows how the one sinful act of one man (Adam) effected the whole human race.
- So, in verses 11-19 Paul compares and contrasts the one sin of Adam and the one act of righteousness of Jesus. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater: If we can accept the fact that the one sin of man brought sin and death upon the whole world then surely we can believe the one act of Christ can bring salvation upon the whole world
Question 2: Does this doctrine teach the doctrine of original sin?
- This passage definitely teaches that humanity has inherited more than just physical death; there is a spiritual death as well.
- However, the biggest problem to the approach that every child is conceived in a sinful state is that it assumes that Paul’s main subject is Adam’s sin and its consequences. This is not the case however; Paul’s subject is Jesus and his cross, and the universal, all-sufficient consequences of that saving event.
- In reality it does not matter which view of “original sin” one takes because Paul’s main point is this: whatever the whole human race got (or would have gotten) from Adam has been completely canceled out for the whole human race by the gracious atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Question 3: What is the scope of the words “many” and “all” as they are used in 5:12-19?
- If the answer to the above question is correct why do so many still teach a doctrine of original sin? The answer lies in how they interpret the words “many” and “all” in these verses.
- Most all interpreters view the words “all” and “many” to be synonymous terms not contrasting each other but contrasting the words “one” in reference to Adam and Jesus. In other words the term “all” is used to convey totality, but is not meant to be broader in scope than “the many.”
- The problem lies in how one applies these terms to Adam on the one hand and Jesus on the other. The common approach is that when the terms are used in relation to Adam they are universal in scope but when used in conjunction with Jesus they are more limited and do not literally mean all people. Therefore, Adam’s sin did in fact come to all people but Christ saving work is only given to those who have received Christ by faith.
- More often these terms are understood in light of an Augustinian view of original sin which are stated thus: The consequences of Adam’s act extended to all who were in him or belonged to him when he sinned—which includes the whole race; but the consequences of Christ’s act extended only to “all” who were in him or belonged to him when he died—which only includes the elect.
- It must be emphasized that the above approaches are false. The reason is that all attempts to reduce the words “many” and “all,” when used of Christ, to anything less than their scope when used of Adam, would negate the whole purpose of the Adam-Christ comparison!
- The question of assurance is this: can I have confidence that Christ’s work is sufficient for taking away all of my sins—and the sins of the entire world? Paul’s answer is yes based on how Christ one act of righteousness has already counteracted everything brought upon everyone by Adam’s one sin.
Question 4: Does this passage teach universal salvation?
- Some do take Paul’s use of “all” and “many” to teach universal salvation
- However Cottrell argues that this passage does not teach universal salvation for the following reasons:
- The primary focus of this passage focuses on how Christ’ one act of righteousness counteracts the one sin of Adam for every single individual.
- However, Paul here absolutely does not say the same thing about the consequences of all our personal sins. Personal sins are only removed through personal faith.
- The universal language in this passage only refers to what we have inherited from Adam.
- From a practical point of view this passage addresses the question of the spiritual state of infants when they are conceived and born. Infants are therefore born in a state of original grace because of Christ one act on the cross negating the one act of sin committed by Adam.
- However, when one reaches the age of accountability they enter into a state of personal sins which requires personal faith in Christ to receive forgiveness.