Some argue that Romans 5:18 contradicts Calvinism, limited atonement, and unconditional election because it says that Jesus brought “justification and life for all men.” However, there is really only one valid interpretation of the phrase, “all men,” and this interpretation does not at all contradict Calvinism, limited atonement, or unconditional election—in fact, it supports the doctrines of Calvinism.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.Romans 5:18
The argument against Calvinism from Romans 5:18 is that since the first use of the phrase “all men” (in reference to Adam bringing “condemnation for all men”) clearly refers to every single person in the world, then it follows that the second use of the phrase “all men” must also be referring to every single person in the world.
In response to the argument from Romans 5:18, Calvinism teaches that this verse simply cannot be using “all men” in exactly the same manner in both places. If Jesus’ works brought “justification and life for all men” in the sense that it brought justification and life for every single person in the world, then every single person in the world would be saved. But, Jesus clearly teaches that this is false—every single person in the world will ”’not”’ be saved.
Instead, the obvious interpretation of Romans 5:18 is that Adam’s trespass led to condemnation for “all men” whom Adam represented in his trespass, or “all men” for whom Adam was their federal head, namely, every single person in the world; and Jesus’ act of righteousness leads to justification and life for “all men” whom Jesus represented in his act of righteousness, or “all men” for whom Jesus was their federal head, namely, everyone who ends up having faith in Jesus, or, God’s elect.
The person who says that “all men” in both places in Romans 5:18 must be referring to every single person in the world is essentially saying that Romans 5:18 teaches universalism, which is clearly unbiblical.
Below is a list of commentaries that interpret Romans 5:18 and defend Calvinism. None of them support the assertion that Romans 5:18 contradicts the doctrines of Calvinism.
In the last paragraph we have spoken of “justification leading to life” as applicable to believers. But does not Paul’s explicit statement that this justification leading to life is “for all people” call into question the propriety of so confining justification only to some people? Indeed, this verse simply makes explicit what seems to be the logic of the paragraph as a whole, as Paul has repeatedly used the same terminology of those who are affected by Christ’s act as he has of those who are affected by Adam’s. And if, as is clear, Adam’s act has brought condemnation to all, without exception, must we not conclude that Christ’s act has brought justification and life for all? A growing number of scholars argue that this is exactly what Paul intends to say here. Recently, for instance, A. Hultgren has urged that the universal statements in this passage must be taken seriously, as descriptive of a “justification of humanity” that will be revealed at the judgment. Some people are justified by faith in this life, but those who do not accept the offer of God in this life are nevertheless assured of being justified at the judgment.
Such universalistic thinking is, naturally, very appealing—who likes the idea that many people will be consigned to the eternal punishment of hell? But if, as seems clear, many texts plainly teach the reality of such punishment for those who do not embrace Christ by faith in this life (cf., e.g., 2 Thess. 1:8–9; Rom. 2:12; and the argument of 1:18–3:20), those who advocate such a viewpoint are guilty of picking and choosing their evidence. But can we reconcile the plain universalistic statements of this verse with these other texts that speak of the reality of hell? Some deny that we can, suggesting that we face a paradox on this point that God will resolve someday. Others argue that what is universal in v. 18b is not the actual justification accomplished in the lives of individuals, but the basis for this justification in the work of Christ. Christ has won for all “the sentence of justification” and this is now offered freely to all who will “receive the gift.” Nevertheless, whatever one’s view on “limited atonement” might be (and the view just outlined is obviously incompatible with this doctrine), it is questionable whether Paul’s language can be taken in this way. For one thing, Paul always uses “justification” language of the status actually conferred on the individual, never of the atonement won on the cross itself (cf. particularly the careful distinctions in Rom. 3:21–26). Second, it is doubtful whether Paul is describing simply an “offer” made to people through the work of Christ; certainly in the parallel in the first part of the verse, the condemnation actually embraces all people. But perhaps the biggest objection to this view is that it misses the point for which Paul is arguing in this passage. This point is that there can be an assurance of justification and life, on one side, that is just as strong and certain as the assurance of condemnation on the other. Paul wants to show, not how Christ has made available righteousness and life for all, but how Christ has secured the benefits of that righteousness for all who belong to him.
In this last phrase, we touch on what is the most likely explanation of Paul’s language in this verse. Throughout the passage, Paul’s concern to maintain parallelism between Adam and Christ has led him to choose terms that will clearly express this. In vv. 15 and 19, he uses “the many”; here he uses “all people.” But in each case, Paul’s point is not so much that the groups affected by Christ and Adam, respectively, are coextensive, but that Christ affects those who are his just as certainly as Adam does those who are his. When we ask who belongs to, or is “in,” Adam and Christ, respectively, Paul makes his answer clear: every person, without exception, is “in Adam” (cf. vv. 12d–14); but only those who “receive the gift” (v. 17; “those who believe,” according to Rom. 1:16–5:11) are “in Christ.” That “all” does not always mean “every single human being” is clear from many passages, it often being clearly limited in context (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:32; 12:17, 18; 14:2; 16:19), so this suggestion has no linguistic barrier. In the present verse, the scope of “all people” in the two parts of the verse is distinguished in the context, Paul making it clear, both by his silence and by the logic of vv. 12–14, that there is no limitation whatsoever on the number of those who are involved in Adam’s sin, while the deliberately worded v. 17, along with the persistent stress on faith as the means of achieving righteousness in 1:16–4:25, makes it equally clear that only certain people derive the benefits from Christ’s act of righteousness.”
Source: Moo, D. J. (1996). ”The Epistle to the Romans” (pp. 342–344). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Perhaps the most crucial question that arises in connection with this verse is the extent of the apodosis—“through one righteous act judgment came upon all men unto justification of life”. Is this to be interpreted as embracively as the terms appear to imply? In the protasis we must conclude that the extent is universal. For the judgment of condemnation did pass upon all without exception (cf. vss. 12, 14, 15, 17). Must we assume that the same applies to the apodosis? There is no possibility of escaping the conclusion that, if the apostle meant the apodosis to be as embracive in its scope as the protasis, then the whole human race must eventually attain to eternal life. There is no escape from this conclusion by distinguishing between the objective provision and subjective appropriation. Nor is it possible to evade this inference by placing upon the justification of life an attenuated interpretation such as would be compatible with everlasting perdition. The justification with which the apostle deals in this verse is that with which he is dealing in this particular passage and in the epistle as a whole. It is the justification that takes account of the multitudinous trespasses of those who are its recipients (vs. 16); it is the justification in which grace abounds (vs. 15), in which the recipients reign in life through Jesus Christ (vs. 17); it is the justification by which the justified are constituted righteous (vs. 19); it is the justification that issues in the permanent standing of peace with God (vss. 1, 2). To put the issue of this justification beyond all dispute it is sufficient to appeal to verse 21. This is surely the apostle’s summation of the entire argument—“as sin hath reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. The righteousness and the justification with which verse 18 deals can be nothing less than those which issue in everlasting life, and the expression “justification of life” is itself capable of no other interpretation.
When we ask the question: Is it Pauline to posit universal salvation? the answer must be decisively negative (cf. 2 Thess. 1:8, 9). Hence we cannot interpret the apodosis in verse 18 in the sense of inclusive universalism, and it is consistent with sound canons of interpretation to assume a restrictive implication. In 1 Cor. 15:22 Paul says, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”. As the context will demonstrate the apostle is here dealing with the resurrection to life, with those who are Christ’s and will be raised at his coming. The “all” of the second clause is therefore restrictive in a way that the “all” in the first clause is not. In like manner in Rom. 5:18 we may and must recognize a restriction in the “all men” of the apodosis that is not present in the “all men” of the protasis. What the apostle is interested in showing is not the numerical extent of those who are justified as identical with the numerical extent of those condemned but the parallel that obtains between the way of condemnation and the way of justification. It is the modus operandi that is in view. All who are condemned, and this includes the whole human race, are condemned because of the one trespass of Adam; all who are justified are justified because of the righteousness of Christ. But we are not to give to justification the denotative extent of condemnation, and the parallel does not demand this.”
Source: Murray, J. (1968). ”The Epistle to the Romans” (Vol. 1, pp. 202–203). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Adam as the head of the human race sinned as our representative, and we are sinners by virtue of being in corporate solidarity with Adam. Many theologians have explained the connection in terms of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his descendants. This explanation accounts for the wording of the text, which repeatedly attributes death and condemnation to Adam’s one sin. It accounts for the analogy between Adam and Christ, for just as Adam functioned as the head of the human race, so too did Christ. Finally, it also explains why only Adam’s first sin was imputed and not the rest. It seems that the corporate solidarity of the human race is undeniable. We are all affected by the sins and actions of our ancestors, and human beings entered the world in a state of spiritual death as descendants of Adam. Thus all people inevitably sin because they enter the world alienated from God. Paul is not interested in sorting out whether people are condemned only because of Adam’s sin, for he never conceived of separating individual sin from Adam’s. To those in Christ, God graciously imputes Christ’s righteousness. At precisely this point the contrast between Adam and Christ emerges, and the wonder of grace shines brightly. As sons and daughters of Adam we enter the world spiritually dead and sinners. But God, in his grace, has reversed the baleful results of Adam’s sin by imputing the righteousness of Christ to us. Such an imputation is an act of grace; it is totally undeserved.
This solution does not answer all the questions. Someone might object that each human being should enter the world as Adam did instead of entering the world alienated from God. But it is difficult even to conceive of a world in which we are so isolated as to be completely unaffected by our parents and ancestors. All people enter the world separated from God, and only the doctrine of original sin satisfactorily explains why sin is a universal experience among all human beings. Empirically, the doctrine has been confirmed throughout human history, from generation to generation, from one end of the world to another. Even the most superficial knowledge of human history, contemporary society, and ourselves confirms the truth of the pervasiveness of human sin.
Another theological issue raised by these verses is universalism. If all become sinners through the headship of Adam, then does it not follow that all shall be counted righteous through the headship of Christ? Paul seems to draw this very conclusion, for he specifically says that just as “many” (πολλοί, polloi) died (v. 15) and were counted sinners (v. 19) through the transgression of Adam, so too “many” (πολλοί) have received an abundance of grace and shall be counted righteous through the work of Christ (Hultgren 1985: 86–93). The universal character of Christ’s work is strengthened by the thesis that πολλοί is equivalent to πάντες (pantes, all; cf. Jeremias, TDNT 6:536–45; Hultgren 1985: 90). The “many” that fell through Adam must refer to “all,” and for the comparison to stand, the same must apply to the “many” who have received the grace of Christ. The equivalence between πολλοί and πάντες is substantiated by verse 18. There the condemnation brought by Adam falls on “all people” (πάντας ἀνθρώπους, pantas anthrōpous), while the justification obtained by Christ also obtains for “all people” (πάντας ἀνθρώπους). One can understand, therefore, why K. Barth (1956a: 20, 41–43) appears to embrace universalism in his study on this text (cf. Hultgren 1985: 82–124). Boring (1986; cf. de Boer 1988: 173–75) says that this section clearly teaches universal salvation, but admits that this contradicts the Pauline claim elsewhere that those who reject Christ will perish. He suggests that we should not examine this issue on the propositional level—where the two propositions contradict—but we should retain both sets of statements as pictures or images. As pictures or images of God’s intentions, both statements have a message for human beings, but if we try to make both cohere propositionally we must admit that Paul contradicts himself.
Boring’s solution is unpersuasive, for the Pauline threats of punishment do not even work as pictures or images if ultimately no threat exists. Images that have no reality lying behind them (especially threats of eternal punishment) are hollow and lacking in integrity if the author does not believe that such punishments will in fact occur. If a contradiction is truly present, then we must dismiss Paul’s teaching and form our own theology on the issue, for Paul would then not be a sure guide as to the actual fate of human beings. But is a contradiction actually present? Verse 17 provides a clue that the grace of Christ is not dispensed universally to all people without exception. Reigning in life is a reality for “those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.” Bultmann (1962: 158) contends that the substantival participle οἱ λαμβάνοντες (hoi lambanontes, those who receive) indicates that not all are in Christ but only those who have chosen to belong to him (cf. Bornkamm 1952: 87; Morris 1988: 240; Ridderbos 1975: 340–41; Stott 1994: 159). This fits with Paul’s insistence that faith is necessary for a person to be in Christ. Boring (1986: 286–87) counters that οἱ λαμβάνοντες should not be construed actively in terms of human choice. Instead, he prefers a passive meaning, so that the participle denotes the gift all human beings receive from God. Murray (1959: 198) also argues that οἱ λαμβάνοντες signifies that those who have received the gift of righteousness are recipients of God’s grace. The accent then falls on God’s effective grace, not on human response. The use of λαμβάνειν (lambanein, to receive) in Paul confirms that the reception of what God has given is prominent (cf. Rom. 1:5; 4:11; 5:11; 8:15; 1 Cor. 2:12; 3:8, 14; 4:7; 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 3:2, 14; 1 Tim. 4:4). Nevertheless, Boring leaps beyond the evidence because he understands the reception as occurring outside human consciousness. Receiving grace may be a divine work that overcomes human resistance, but for Paul this divine work manifests itself through the human will. Thus in Galatians the reception of the Spirit does not occur apart from faith (Gal. 3:2, 14). Paul’s understanding of grace, as it is set forth in Rom. 6, makes abundantly clear that he could not conceive of a work of grace that did not transform human beings in this life. Thus God’s grace works, not around or beyond human consciousness and will, but in and through them.
The above comments on the effectiveness of God’s grace on the human will aid us in understanding the universal language of verses 15–19.The πολλοί and πάντες who have been affected by Christ are not coterminous with the πολλοί and πάντες affected by Adam’s sin. The latter group is universal, but the former group is restricted to all those who belong to Christ. This is suggested, as I have already argued, by the context of Romans as a whole. Chapters 1–4 stress that human beings must exercise faith to be justified, while chapters 5–8 insist that those who receive God’s grace live a transformed life. Paul did not conceive of grace that left human beings unaffected in their consciousness and behavior. Universal language is used of Christ’s work to signify that all people without distinction (both Jews and Gentiles) are the recipients of God’s work, which is quite different from saying that all people without exception receive his grace. By referring to the universal ramifications of Christ’s work, Paul trumpets the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s people (1:16; 2:9, 10; 3:9, 23; cf. Dunn 1988a: 285; Stuhlmacher 1994: 88). In addition, Moo (1991: 357) observes rightly that the word “all” does not always mean every human being (8:32; 11:32; 16:19). Here it designates all those who belong to Christ.”
Source: Schreiner, T. R. (1998). ”Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Romans” (Vol. 6, pp. 289-292). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Does the sweeping language used (“the many” being all men) suggest that all mankind will be brought within the circle of justification, so that none whatever will be lost? Some have thought so. But if the doctrine of universalism were being taught here, Paul would be contradicting himself, for he has already pictured men as perishing because of sin (2:12; cf. 1 Cor 1:18). Furthermore, his entire presentation of salvation has emphasized the fact that justification is granted only on the basis of faith. We must conclude, therefore, that only as “the many” are found in Christ can they qualify as belonging to the righteous.”
Source: Harrison, E. F. (1976). Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), ”The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians” (Vol. 10, p. 65). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Paul statement that ‘just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people’ would appear on first reading to imply that just as Adam’s trespass affected all people without exception, so also Christ’s righteous act likewise affects all people without exception, and in fact there are those who argue that this is what Paul intends. But this would be a misreading of the apostle, for already he has said that it is ‘those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness’ who will ‘reign in life’ (5:17, italics added). The ‘all people’ of the latter part of the phrase is best understood to mean all who receive the gift of grace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.”
Source: Kruse, C. G. (2012). ”Paul’s Letter to the Romans”. (D. A. Carson, Ed.) (p. 251). Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos.
Therefore as by the offence of one, &c.] Or by one offence, as before, the guilt of which is imputed to, and judgment came upon all men to condemnation; which word is used in a law-sense, and intends condemnation to eternal death, as appears from the antithesis in the text; for if justification of life, means an adjudging to eternal life, as it certainly does, the judgment or guilt, which is unto condemnation, must design a condemnation to eternal death, the just wages of sin: and this sentence of condemnation comes upon all men, all the sons of Adam without exception, even upon the elect of God themselves; though it is not executed upon them, but on their surety, whereby they are delivered from it: even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men to justification of life; the righteousness of Christ being freely imputed without works, as it is to all the men that belong to the second Adam, to all his seed and offspring, is their justification of life, or what adjudges and entitles them to eternal life. The sentence of justification was conceived in the mind of God from eternity, when his elect were ordained unto eternal life, on the foot of his son’s righteousness; this passed on Christ at his resurrection from the dead, and on all his people as considered in him, when they, in consequence of it, were quickened together with him; and this passes upon the conscience of a sinner at believing, when he may, as he should, reckon himself alive unto God, and is what gives him a right and title to everlasting life and glory.”
Source: Gill, J. (1809). ”An Exposition of the New Testament” (Vol. 2, p. 456). London: Mathews and Leigh.
Here, after a long parenthesis, the apostle returns to what he had begun to say in ver. 12; and now he makes the comparison full in both members, which there, by reason of intervening matter, was left imperfect, as I before hinted. Judgment; guilt, which exposeth to judgment. Came upon all men; all the posterity, or natural seed, of the first Adam. The free gift; that which all along he calls the free gift, seems to be the benefit believers have by Christ’s obedience. Came upon all men; not all universally, but all sorts of men indifferently, Gentiles as well as Jews; or all that are his spiritual seed. Or all men here is put for many men; see elsewhere, Luke 6:26; Acts 22:15. Many is sometimes put for all, as Dan. 12:2, and again all for many; and indeed these two words, all and many, seem to be used reciprocally by this context in particular, ver. 15, and 19.”
Source: Poole, M. (1853). ”Annotations upon the Holy Bible” (Vol. 3, p. 495). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.
The second question of importance respecting this verse is, whether the all men of the second clause is co-extensive with the all men of the first. Are the all who are justified for the righteousness of Christ, the all who are condemned for the sin of Adam? In regard to this point, it may be remarked, in the first place, that no inference can be fairly drawn in favour of an affirmative answer to this question, from the mere universality of the expression. Nothing is more familiar to the readers of the Scriptures than that such universal terms are to be limited by the nature of the subject or the context. Thus, John 3:24, it is said of Christ, “all men come to him;” John 12:32, Christ says, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Thus the expressions, “all the world should be taxed,” “all Judea,” “all Jerusalem,” must, from the nature of the case, be limited. In a multitude of cases, the words all, all things, mean the all spoken of in the context, and not all, without exception; see Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:22, 51, 2 Cor. 5:14, &c. This limitation is always implied when the Scriptures elsewhere speak of a necessary condition connected with the blessing to which all are said to attain. It is everywhere taught that faith is necessary to justification; and, therefore, when it is said “all are justified,” it must mean all believers.
“By him,” says the apostle, “all that believe are justified from all things,” &c. Acts 13:39. As if to prevent the possibility of mistake, Paul, in ver. 17, says it is those who “receive the gift of righteousness” that reign in life. Even the all men, in the first clause, must be limited to those descended from Adam “by ordinary generation.” It is not absolutely all. The man Christ Jesus must be excepted. The plain meaning is, all connected with Adam, and all connected with Christ. A reference to the similar passage in 1 Cor. 15:22, confirms this interpretation, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive;” that is, shall be made partakers of a glorious resurrection and of eternal life. Thus the original word (ζωοποιηθήσονται) and the context require the latter clause of that verse to be understood. The all there intended are immediately called “they that are Christ’s,” ver. 23, i.e. all connected with him, and not numerically the all that die in Adam. This interpretation is necessary, because it is impossible, with any regard to scriptural usage or truth, to carry the opposite interpretation through. In this whole passage there are two classes of persons spoken of—those connected with Adam, and those connected with Christ. Of the former, it is said “they die,” ver. 15; “they are condemned,” vs. 16, 18; “they are made sinners,” ver. 19, by the offence of one man. Of the latter it is said, that to them “the grace of God and the gift by grace hath abounded,” ver. 15; that “they are freely justified from many offences,” vs. 16, 18; that “they shall reign in life through Christ Jesus,” ver. 17; that “they are regarded and treated as righteous,” ver. 19. If these things can be said of all men, of impenitent sinners and hardened reprobates, what remains to be said of the people of God? It is not possible so to eviscerate these declarations as to make them contain nothing more than that the chance of salvation is offered to all men. To say that a man is justified, is not to say that he has the opportunity of justifying himself; and to say that a man shall reign in life, is not to say he may possibly be saved. Who ever announces to a congregation of sinners, that they are all justified, they are all constituted righteous, they all have the justification of life? The interpretation which requires all these strong and plain declarations to be explained in a sense which they confessedly have nowhere else in the Bible, and which makes them mean hardly anything at all, is at variance with every sound principle of construction. If the all in the latter part of the verse is co-extensive with the all in the former, the passage of necessity teaches universal salvation; for it is impossible that to be justified, constituted righteous, can mean simply that justification is offered to all men. The all who are justified are saved. If therefore the all means all men, the apostle teaches that all men are saved. And this is the use to which many Universalists have put the passage. As, however, not only the Scriptures generally, but Paul himself, distinctly teach that all men are not to be saved, as in 2 Thess. 1:9, this interpretation cannot be admitted by any who acknowledge the inspiration of the Bible. It is moreover an unnatural interpretation, even if the attention be limited to this one passage; because as death on account of Adam supposes union with Adam, so life on account of Christ supposes union with Christ. It is all who are in Adam who are condemned for his offence, and the all who are in Christ who are justified by his righteousness. The modern German commentators, even those who do not hesitate to differ from the apostle, admit this to be the meaning of the passage. Thus Meyer says, Die πάντες ἄνθρωποι in the first clause, are die gesammtheit der Adams-generation, and in the second clause, die gesammtheit der Christus-generation. Philippi says, “The limitation of the πάντες ἄνθρωποι is of necessity to be assumed. It can only mean all who believe.… The apostle views, on the one hand, the generation of those lost in Adam, and on the other, the generation of those saved in Christ.”
Source: Hodge, C. (1882). ”A commentary on the Epistle to the Romans” (New Edition, pp. 268–270). Grand Rapids, MI: Louis Kregel.
In vs 18–19 Paul finally states the full comparison between Adam and Christ. The verses are parallel, each of them comparing the way in which Adam’s trespass/disobedience has brought condemnation and sinfulness to the way in which Christ’s one act of righteousness/obedience has brought justification and righteousness. But does the parallel between them extend to the universal effects of these results? This might seem to be the case, since Paul asserts in v 18 that the effects of both Adam’s act and Christ’s extends to all men. Yet Paul elsewhere plainly repudiates the idea that all people will be saved (e.g. Rom. 2:12; 2 Thes. 1:8–9), and v 17 also makes clear that it is only those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness who will reign in life. Therefore, we must understand the universalism of v 18 in terms of the representative significance of each individual: the effects of Christ’s action extend to all who belong to him, just as the effects of Adam’s action extend to all who belong to him. All people, without exception, belong to Adam (v 12); but only those who come to faith, who ‘receive the gift’, belong to Christ (see also 1 Cor. 15:22–23).
Source: Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). ”New Bible commentary: 21st century edition” (4th ed., p. 1134). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
With reference to that justification which is connected with eternal life. That is, his work is adapted to produce acceptance with God, to the same extent as the crime of Adam has affected the race by involving them in sin and misery. The apostle does not affirm that in fact as many will be affected by the one as by the other; but that it is fitted to meet all the consequences of the fall; to be as wide-spread in its effects; and to be as salutary as that had been ruinous. This is all that the argument requires. Perhaps there could not be found a more striking declaration any where, that the work of Christ had an original applicability to all men; or that it is in its own nature fitted to save all. The course of argument here leads inevitably to this; nor is it possible to avoid it without doing violence to the obvious and fair course of the discussion. It does not prove that all will in fact be saved, but that the plan is fitted to meet all the evils of the fall. A certain kind of medicine may have an original applicability to heal all persons under the same disease; and may be abundant and certain, and yet in fact be applied to few. The sun is fitted to give light to all, yet many may be blind, or may voluntarily close their eyes. Water is adapted to the wants of all men, and the supply may be ample for the human family, yet in fact, from various causes, many may be deprived of it. So of the provisions of the plan of redemption. They are adapted to all; they are ample, and yet in fact, from causes which this is not the place to explain, the benefits, like those of medicine, water, science, &c. may never be enjoyed by all the race. Calvin concurs in this interpretation, and thus shows that it is one which commends itself even to the most strenuous advocates of the system which is called by his name. He says, “He [the apostle] makes the grace common to all, because it is offered to all, not because it is in fact applied to all. For although Christ suffered for the sins OF THE WHOLE WORLD (nam etsi passus est Christus pro peccatis totius mundi), and it is offered to all without distinction (indifferenter), yet all do not embrace it.
Source: Barnes, A. (1884–1885). ”Notes on the New Testament: Romans”. (R. Frew, Ed.) (p. 134). London: Blackie & Son.
We can understand that one trespass resulted for all men in condemnation, but what does the apostle mean when he states that also for all men one act of righteousness resulted in life-imparting justification? If in the first case “all men” means absolutely everybody, does not logic demand that in the second instance of its use it has the same meaning? The answer is:
a. The apostle has made very clear in previous passages that salvation is for believers, for them alone (1:16, 17; 3:21–25, etc.).b. He has emphasized this also in this very context: those alone who “receive the overflowing fulness of grace and of the gift of righteousness” will reign in life (verse 17).c. In a passage which is similar to 5:18, and to which reference has been made earlier, the apostle himself explains what he means by “all” or “all men” who are going to be saved and participate in a glorious resurrection. That passage is:“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward those who are Christ’s, at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:22, 23). Here it is clearly stated that the “all” who will be made alive are “those who are Christ’s,” that is, those who belong to him.
But though this answer proves that when Paul here uses the expression “all” or “all men” in connection with those who are or will be saved, this “all” or “all men” must not be interpreted in the absolute or unlimited sense, this still leaves another question unanswered, namely, “Why does Paul use this strong expresssion?” To answer this question one should carefully read the entire epistle. It will then become clear that, among other things, Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles. Over against that erroneous and sinful attitude he emphasizes that, as far as salvation is concerned, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The reader should carefully study the following passages in order to see this for himself: 1:16, 17; 2:7–11; 3:21–24, 28–30; 4:3–16; 9:8, 22–33; 10:11–13; 11:32; 15:7–12; 16:25–27. As concerns salvation, says Paul, “There is no distinction. God shows no partiality.” All men are sinners before God. All are in need of salvation. For all the way to be saved is the same.In a day and age in which, even in certain evangelical circles, the unbiblical distinction between Jew and Gentile is still being maintained and even emphasized, it is necessary that what God’s Word says about this, particularly also in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, be pointed out.
Note that in verse 18 we are told that the one trespass resulted in condemnation for all, but that the one act of righteousness resulted in justification issuing in life. This shows that justification not merely overturns the verdict of “guilty,” setting aside the sentence of doom, but also opens the gate to life.
Source: Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). ”Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans” (Vol. 12–13, pp. 182–183). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
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