Tom Schreiner, Romans 5 and Original Sin

Dr. Terrance Tiessen, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, in Manitoba, Canada reflects on Dr. Tom Schreiner’s paper “Original Sin and Original Death:Romans 5:12-19” which was presented at the 2012 Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting.

Tiessen compares the 1925, 1963, and 2000 versions of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) finding tension between Schreiner’s position on Rom. 5:12-19 and the latest BFM. Keep in mind that Tiessen is Baptist, but not Southern Baptist. He would like to better understand the tension between Schereiner and the BFM.

Tiessen begins the article considering Schreiner’s proposal.

Romans 5:12-14

Tom finds the first part of the verse clear: “through one man sin entered the world and death through sin.” Through Adam’s sin, both sin and death were introduced into the kosmos, which refers specifically to human beings, and this death had both physical and spiritual aspects, though they did not occur at the same moment. Although the narrator “doesn’t explicitly say that all human beings shared in Adam’s sin,” such a reading is supported by the narrative, “for paradise has certainly been left far behind beginning with chapter 4.” Since Adam all human beings “have entered the world as sinners and spiritually dead.”

Most scholars have argued that Paul breaks off his comparison in mid-sentence and does not pick it up again until 5:18, because he uses kai houtôs rather than houtôs kai, but Tom thinks we should not press the word order. Consequently, he sees the comparison completed in the latter part of 5:12. That leads to this paraphrase of the verse: “since sin and death entered the world through one man, so also death spread to all people since all sinned.” Thus, the evil powers of sin and death “rule over all people by virtue of Adam’s sin.”

Evidence of the difficulty of interpreting the last part of 5:12 is seen in the fact that Tom has changed his own mind about it since writing his Romans commentary. The change, however, “does not affect the truth that Adam is the covenant head of all human beings,” who enter the world condemned and dead because of Adam’s sin. In his commentary, Tom had argued that eph hô is a result clause, giving the translation: “and so death spread to all people, and on the basis of this death all sinned” (Romans, 273-77). In other words, all people sin individually because they enter the world spiritually dead, and they express that death by their sin.

Tom still considers this a possible reading, which fits theologically with what Rom 5:12-19 teaches. So his theological reading of the text has not changed, but he has now moved away from that rendering of eph hô for two reasons.

  • though it is theologically true that spiritual death leads to sin (cf. Eph 2:1-3), Paul emphasizes that sin leads to death, in Rom 5 and 6 (cf. 5:13-14, 15, 17; 6:23). It is most plausible, therefore, “that 5:12cd teaches that death spread to all because all sinned.”
  • although eph hô can designate result, in the three other occasions when Paul uses the phrase (2 Cor 5:4; Phil 3:12; 4:10), a causal sense seems preferable. Given that “Paul regularly argues in Romans 5 and 6 that sin begets death, context supports the interpretation, “and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (5:12).

A causal reading would fit well with a Pelagian understanding, since individuals are said to die because they sin, but Pelagianism ignores Paul’s repeated stress on Adam’s role as the originator of both sin and condemnation for all. Charles Cranfield also followed a causal reading, but he understood Paul to be saying that “human beings sin because they inherited a corrupt nature from Adam” (Romans 1-8, 278-79). Cranfield erred, however, because “sinned (hêmarton) does not mean ‘become corrupted’ in one’s nature. It refers to the act of sinning, and hence Cranfield strays from the wording of the text. (Read the whole thing ->)

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cathy M. April 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Well, Bro. Mark… what do you say? I too would love to hear how us Southern Baptists find comfort in an apparent contradiction. Is it true that the SBC holds “that some human beings do not become transgressors and come under condemnation?” If so, then my mind is officially BLOWN! Is that really what we’re supposed to believe?

2 mariep April 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Thanks for sharing- interesting article! My 2 cents on a complex issue: The question isn’t whether someone believes in an “age of accountability” but when that age occurs. And, many of the Reformed who argue that all those who die in infancy are elect would say the issue is not their native innocence but because they are elect, .and so God granted them faith, even as a mustard seed, and saved them by the blood of Christ.

3 Robert Vaughn April 24, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Thanks for posting this and the link to Tiessen’s article. I enjoyed it very much.

4 Mark Lamprecht April 26, 2013 at 9:23 am

I know there are two other comments here, but until disqus finished importing they won’t show up. Cathy M. asked “how Southern Baptists find comfort in an apparent contradiction.” My answer right now is – I don’t know.

Some of my friends have given answers that they don’t see a contradiction. However, as I read the BFM2000 in the area of “original sin” I do find tension. I think it’s worth exploring.

5 Chris Whisonant September 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

thanks for the quite timely archive post as we are teaching Romans 5 in SS tomorrow. 🙂

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