Paul among the Evangelicals, §2: The Context

2. The Context of Rom. 5:12-21

After stating the “thesis” of the letter in Rom. 1:16-17, Paul begins by arguing for a universal solidarity in unrighteousness among both Jews and Gentiles, which Paul places in clear contradistinction to the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ (Rom. 1:17). Paul’s first “universalistic” argument in the letter is made clear by his quotation of Eccl. 7:20 from the LXX: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” In the presence of such sinfulness, the righteousness of God takes the form of divine judgment (τὸ κρίμα τοῦ θεοῦ; Rom. 2:3). Beginning then with the νυνί in 3:21, Paul presents the righteousness of God in the form, not of judgment, but of justification. In the presence of faith, God’s righteousness is the gracious event of justification on the basis of the redemption in Jesus Christ (3:24). Justification, like judgment, is the demonstration of divine righteousness; in justifying the one who has the πίστις Ἰησοῦ, God justifies Godself (3:25b-26). In Rom. 4, Paul connects faith to Abraham, thereby demonstrating God’s faithfulness to the covenant even while departing from the law.

This brings us to Rom. 5, which is the point at which occurs a “shift of emphasis and subject matter,”[12] from righteousness and justification to life. Martinus de Boer makes this especially evident in a chart[13] in which he notes the occurrence of certain key words in chapters 1-4 and then in 6-8. Thus, the words πίστις, ἔργον, and κρίμα (to take just three examples) occur 33 times in Rom. 1-4 but do not occur at all in Rom. 6-8. Likewise, the words θάνατος, ἁμαρτία, πνεῦμα, and σᾶρξ occur a total of only 12 times in Rom. 1-4, but a total of 86 times in Rom. 6-8. The transition thus occurs in Rom. 5, and as Boer argues, vv. 12-21 are the central turning-point in the book[14]. In these verses, Paul’s argument turns from justification by faith to life in the Spirit, and he grounds this movement in the relation between Adam and Christ. With this context in place, we turn now to the arguments for and against universalism in Rom. 5:12-21.


12. Martinus C. de Boer, The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians and Romans 5 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), 147.

13. Ibid., 148.

14. Whether one places Rom. 5 with Rom. 1-4 or 6-8 largely determines how one interprets the place of the Adam-Christ dialectic in the larger picture of Paul’s argument. De Boer notes that Schweitzer and Ridderbos place it with Rom. 1-4, while Bultmann, Käsemann, Nygren, Cranfield place it with Rom. 6-8. Others place Rom. 5:1-11 with the preceding chapters and vv. 12-21 with what follows, including Melanchthon and Leenhardt. De Boer himself views Rom. 5 as a “discrete literary unit,” but views vv. 1-11 as more closely connected with Rom. 1-4, while vv. 12-21 are equally connected to the chapters before and after it.; cf. de Boer, 147-49.



I worked with de Boer's book at Wheaton for a paper or two, and it is one of the finest volumes that I have ever read in NT studies.