Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Elephant in the Room - Romans 5:18-19

This is the first in a series of posts that seek to present key passages pertaining to the doctrine of Justification by comparing the statements of contemporary authors with the patristic writings of the the Church Catholic. It's by no means exhaustive; if it were, there would be far too many quotations for a simple blog post. But I hope it brings to mind a number of important questions: "Why is there so much disconnect? Why do the interpretations of these passages appear to completely contradict and disagree with one another?" (The second and third post can now be found here and here, respectively)

-- Exegesis of Romans 5:18 and/or 19 by contemporary sources --

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932)

4:25." (

This We Believe (WELS, 1999)
"1. We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends. It is a message relevant to people of all times and places, of all races and social levels, for 'the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men' (Romans 5:18). All need forgiveness of sins before God, and Scripture proclaims that all have been justified, for "the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men' (Romans 5:18)." (

Francis Pieper
"God no longer looks upon sinful man with wrath, but 'before His divine tribunal' forgives the sins of mankind, does not impute their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:19). 'By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life' (Rom. 5:18). And this reconciliation is, as has been shown, complete and perfect, extensively and intensively, for we certainly have no right to restrict the meaning of of either the terms 'world' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'all men' (Rom. 5:18) or the terms 'not imputing their trespasses' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'justification' (Rom. 5:18). Nor do these passages speak merely of a new relation between God and man, but they state definitely that God’s action produced the new relation, God’s action in not imputing their sins unto men, in forgiving them their sins, in justifying men in His heart, this is the meaning of objective reconciliation, as taught in 2 Cor. 5:19, Rom. 5:18; 5:10; 4:25. (CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, by Francis Pieper, Volume 2, pages 398 & 399)

Siegbert Becker
"Paul teaches the same truth in his epistle to the Romans (5:18)...because of the sin of Adam all men were condemned or declared guilty by God. In the same way all men were justified or declared innocent, righteous, not guilty because of what Christ did as their substitute." 
Universal Justification <>

--Interpretations of Romans 5:18 and/or 19 in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Statements from Orthodox Lutheran Fathers--

The Lutheran Confessions
Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

"This faith is a gift of God, by which we truly learn to know Christ, our Redeemer, in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him, that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the father, and are eternally saved. 12] Therefore it is considered and understood to be the same thing when Paul says that we are justified by faith, Rom. 3:28, or that faith is counted to us for righteousness, Rom. 4:5, and when he says that we are made righteous by the obedience of One, Rom. 5:19, or that by the righteousness of One justification of faith came to all men, Rom. 5:18. 13] For faith justifies, not for this cause and reason that it is so good a work and so fair a virtue, but because it lays hold of and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel; for this must be applied and appropriated to us by faith, if we are to be justified thereby." (

Epitome of the Formula of Concord

"He rendered to the Father even unto death, and thereby merited for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, as it is written: As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous, Rom. 5:19." (

Aegidius Hunnius
"Thesis 5
This notwithstanding, we most willingly grant that there is a righteousness that avails before God for the entire human race, a righteousness that has been gained and acquired through Christ, so that if the whole world were to believe in Christ, then the whole world would be justified. With respect to this, Paul writes in Romans 5 that 'through one man’s justification (dikaioma), the gift has spread toward all men for justification (dikaiosis) of life.' Nevertheless, no one is justified nor does anyone receive remission of sins from this acquired universal righteousness without the imputation of this acquired righteousness of Christ. But the imputation of righteousness does not take place except through faith."
(; p.58)

St. Augustine
"For as the clause, By the offense of one, upon all men to condemnation, is so worded that not one is omitted in its sense, so in the corresponding clause, By the righteousness of One, upon all men unto justification of life, no one is omitted in its sense—not, indeed, because all men have faith and are washed in His baptism, but because no man is justified unless he believes in Christ and is cleansed by His baptism. The term  all is therefore used in a way which shows that no one whatever can be supposed able to be saved by any other means than through Christ Himself. For if in a city there be appointed but one instructor, we are most correct in saying: That man teaches all in that place; not meaning, indeed, that all who live in the city take lessons of him, but that no one is instructed unless taught by him. In like manner no one is justified unless Christ has justified him." (Citation below, in next quote.)

"For, he says, as by the offense of one upon all men to condemnation; even so by the justification of one upon all men unto justification of life. Romans 5:18....Moreover, if Christ alone is He in whom all men are justified, on the ground that it is not simply the imitation of His example which makes men just, but His grace which regenerates men by the Spirit, then also Adam is the only one in whom all have sinned, on the ground that it is not the mere following of his evil example that makes men sinners, but the penalty which generates through the flesh. Hence the terms  'all men' and  'all men.' For not they who are generated through Adam are actually the very same as those who are regenerated through Christ; but yet the language of the apostle is strictly correct, because as none partakes of carnal generation except through Adam, so no one shares in the spiritual except through Christ. For if any could be generated in the flesh, yet not by Adam; and if in like manner any could be generated in the Spirit, and not by Christ; clearly 'all' could not be spoken of either in the one class or in the other. But these  'all' the apostle afterwards describes as 'many'; for obviously, under certain circumstances, the all may be but a few. The carnal generation, however, embraces  many, and the spiritual generation also includes  many; although the many of the spiritual are less numerous than the many of the carnal. But as the one embraces all men whatever, so the other includes all righteous men; because as in the former case none can be a man without the carnal generation, so in the other class no one can be a righteous man without the spiritual generation; in both instances, therefore, there are many: For as by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Romans 5:19." (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.)

Martin Luther
For in the same manner also St. Paul writes in Romans 5[:18]: "As through one man's sin condemnation has come over all men ,so through one man's righteousness justification has come over all men." Yet not all men are justified through Christ, nevertheless he is the man through whom all justification comes. It is the same here. Even if not all men are illumined, yet this is the light from which alone all illumination comes. (Luther's Works: Vol. 52: page 71)

Johann Gerhard

"3) If we wanted to go beyond the limits of the Apostolic comparison, someone could infer from the same that the righteousness of Christ is propagated to us through carnal generation, since the unrighteousness of Adam is communicated to us in that manner.  Likewise, one could infer that the righteousness of Christ is propagated to all men together, without any regard for faith or unbelief, since the sin of Adam is propagated to all through carnal generation.
4) But since that is absurd, a distinction must fully be made between the acquisition and the application of the merit of Christ; or between the benefit itself and participation in the benefit.  The acquisition of the merit, or the benefit itself obtained by the death of Christ is general.  For as Adam, by his disobedience, enveloped all of his posterity in the guilt of sin, so Christ, who suffered and died for the sins of all, also merited and acquired righteousness for all.  But this benefit is only applied to those who are grafted into Christ by faith, and only they become participants in this benefit." (Citation below, in next quote.)
“This verse is a summary of everything that came before.  That I may briefly summarize, he says, what I have said thus far concerning the comparison between Adam and Christ, the matter boils down to this: Just as the guilt that was contracted from one transgression of Adam sentences all men to death, so the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to believers by faith justifies them, so that they are restored again to participate in the eternal life that had been lost in Adam and through Adam.

[You ask,] But how did the righteousness of Christ overflow to all men for justification, since not all men are justified?  We reply: The Apostle is not speaking about the application of the benefit, but of the acquisition of the benefit.  If we wish to descend to the application, that universality must be restricted to those who are grafted into Christ by faith. For as the unrighteousness of Adam is communicated to all those who are descended from him by carnal generation, so the righteousness of Christ is communicated to all those who are grafted into Him through faith and spiritual regeneration." ( and

Martin Chemnitz

“1. The merit which God the Father regards and on account of which He justifies believers freely through his grace. Here belong the passages of Scripture which clearly speak of merit, such as Rom. 4:25...1 Cor. 15:3...Rom. 5:6...1 Peter 2:21...1 John 4:10...And also with regard to the ransom which Christ paid, note the entire article of the Creed: “He suffered...was crucified,” etc. Concerning the perfect obedience note Rom. 5:19...”
Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, 2 vols., trans. J. A. O. Preus, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989, II, p. 1127.


  1. Have you young gents read Pr. Jon Buchholz's 2012 paper regarding Justification?

  2. Thank you for bringing up Jon Buchholz' germane essay on the topic at hand. I had not acquainted myself with it prior to your inquiry, but for the sake of discussion I took a look at the portion directly relevant to this post. I will reproduce the relevant portions here for our observers:

    "This whole section of Romans from 5:12 through 5:21 lays out the stark and simple contrast between the effect of the action of the first Adam and the effect of the action of the second Adam, namely Christ. Adam sinned and brought condemnation. Christ was obedient and brought justification. Romans 5:18 most clearly lays out the contrast between the results of Adam’s sin and the results of Christ’s righteousness.

    The result of ἑνὸς παραπτώματος, 'one transgression,' was κατάκριμα, 'a verdict of condemnation,' upon all men. The word κατάκριμα denotes a verdict or judgment, not a process. All people were found universally guilty because of Adam’s one rebellion against God’s command. In the same way also (οὕτως καὶ draws the parallel contrast), through the ἑνὸς δικαιώματος, 'one declaration of righteousness,' comes εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους, 'upon all people,'
    for the action of δικαίωσιν ζωῆς, 'justification of life.'

    We cannot help but be struck by the parallel structure of Paul’s sentence. He lays out side by side the condemnation of all through the transgression of Adam and the justification of all through the work of Christ. The judgment in each case is both objective and universal. Whether a sinner acknowledges it, or not, he stands condemned through Adam’s sin; the sin and condemnation are an objective and universal reality, regardless of personal perception. Whether a sinner acknowledges it, or not, he was acquitted through Christ’s work; the atonement and accompanying not-guilty verdict are an objective and universal reality, regardless of personal perception.

    Adam -> Transgression of the command -> Verdict of condemnation upon all -> Final result for the impenitent and unbelieving

    Jesus Christ -> Obedience to every command -> Verdict of justification upon all -> Final result for the penitent and believing" (pp. 10-11, cf. for the full paper).

  3. In the spirit of this blog post, it seems prudent to compare Buchholz' interpretation with the exegesis of our Fathers in the faith. In this instance, let's consider the words of the Blessed Reformer himself:

    "*As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation (5:18). Here the Apostle says 'all;' first, because as all who are begotten of Adam are born again through (faith in) Christ; and secondly, because as there is no carnal begetting except through Adam, so also there is no spiritual begetting except through Christ.
    *As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous* (5:19). Here the Apostle speaks of 'many' and not of 'all,' to show that in the preceding verse his emphasis is not on the number of the sinners or the righteous, but upon the power of sin and grace. If sin proved itself so powerful that a single transgression has perverted many, or rather all, then divine grace is much more powerful; for the one act of grace, (Christ's atonement) can save many, indeed, all men, of many sins, if they only would desire it" (*Commentary on Romans*, pp. 97-98, cf.

    It seems to me that the Reformer has no wild imaginings of universal declarations of righteousness as Buchholz innovatively interprets this passage. The Reformer clearly sees St. Paul saying that, just as Adam begets children in his corrupted image, so Christ begets children spiritually recreated in His perfect image. Buchholz seems to see only a cosmic facade, or "verdicts" that have no tangible meaning.

    Even more damning, though, is the citation that Christian reproduced above from the Blessed Reformer; namely: "Not all men are justified through Christ, nevertheless he is the man through whom all justification comes. It is the same here. Even if not all men are illumined, yet this is the light from which alone all illumination comes."

    No, not all men are illumined or justified. St. Paul is merely saying that Christ is sufficient for all men to be justified - "if they only would desire it."

  4. Thanks for pointing that out Daniel. It clearly shows that Pr. Buchholz agrees with the Brief Statement, This We Believe, and Pieper as opposed to the those from the latter of the post (Luther, Chemnitz, the Lutheran Confessions, Gerhard, etc.)

    Mr. Krohn, as was suggested in the very beginning of this post, what say you of these contradictions? Who is right and who is wrong? The quotes certainly contradict one another. One half is saying that in Romans 5:18-19 that God has justified every single sinner whether they have faith or not. The latter half says the exact opposite. Enlighten us, please. As was said in the the very first post on this blog, I don't claim to be an esteemed theologian, but I can't just over look these contradictions. They are so obvious.

  5. Correction: his 2012 paper I have not. His older paper on justification I have. Considering his older paper, his very recent suspension of Pr. Rydecki for teaching justification by faith, and the fact that he is still a DP in good standing, I don't have high hopes that his recent essay would be orthodox on justification.

  6. You should take Luther's advice and not dwell on the many and all. Its about sin and grace. To say there is a contradiction puts the universal redemption of all men and the reconciliation of all sins into question. Do you really want to do this?

    1. The short answer is: YES! I, of course, speak only for myself. I am even my convinced after readind Dr. Beckers paper on Justification where he addresses the Kokomo Articles. I looked up his references and it seems he takes some out of context?! My longer answer is below.

  7. I want to proclaim what Scripture says. Namely, that "one act of grace, (Christ's atonement) can save many, indeed, all men, of many sins, if they only would desire it."

  8. Scripture says that God was in Christ reconciling the world; not holding their trespasses against them. Have all men been redeemed?

  9. Sorry for the tardiness of my reply, Mr Krohn.

    Regarding your reference to St. Paul's second Epistle to the Corinthians, the Wittenberg Theologians (as quoted in Tom Hardt's essay, "Justification and Easter") tell us that: “Never does Paul teach universal justification. For as far as concerns 2 Corinthians 5, the words ‘not imputing their trespasses unto them,’ they are not to be understood universally about all men regardless of faith.”

    Likewise, St. Chemnitz teaches us in the Examen: "Paul expressly distinguishes between the power and efficacy of reconciliation which belongs to God, and the ministry which was given to the apostles, so that it is God who reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and forgives sins (Is. 43:25), not however without means but in and through the ministry of Word and sacrament."

    All that St. Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians is that "God was in Christ" (a confession of the Blessed Incarnation), providing the foundation for the reconciliation of the world. He did not "reconcile" the world (past tense), but was "reconciling," a process that is continued through the Apostolic Office, as he says directly afterwards: "and has committed to us the Ministry of reconciliation." This has been the consistent teaching of the Ecclesia Catholica, and it is the teaching of Ecclesia Augustana as well.

  10. The Bible reference escapes me at the moment, but scripture clearly states that in the end times men will listen to leaders they choose to tell them what they want to hear, not truth. It seems to me that the WELS has many itchy ears who prefer new teachings to the original. The absurdity of Universal Justification should be obvious to any open minded sincere Christian. The Kokomo (That may be misspelled.) Paper shows how silly that position really is. One of the statements made by that paper to show how silly Universal Objective Justification (UOJ) truely is made the statement that the souls in hell are justified. One of our esteemed theologians stated that those souls were justified though in hell.

    That appears to be an error ofunderstanding basic theology. The reason we cannot enter heaven is because we have sin upon our souls and God who is perfect cannot tolerate sin. If a person could live a sinless perfect life (Of course none can!) then he would be allowed into heaven based on the perfect keeping of the Law. When God justifies us he declares us no guilty. The perfection of Jesus is seen as our perfection. That is why we are allowed into heaven. We are seen as being perfect because of Justification. Anyone Justified is seen as having no sin. Therefore, if all are justified then no one is in hell. That is a false teaching which leads to such a Universalism.

    Those in hell are not justified.

    God says for us to be holy because he is holy.

    If l am in error l will gladly subnit to correction. But until then I stand with my comprehension of scripture. Just because one is a theologian does not mean he is automatically correct. And I prefer to side with Luther.

    1. My apologies for the typos. I am using a Tablet and it does not allow me to navigate my entry to perform corrections. This is unfortunate as l usually consider many typos as a sloppy or uneducated paper. I hope you the reader will be more forgiving!