Douglas Moo on Original Sin in Romans 5:12–19
Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner have spent their long careers specialising in Romans and hold to a confessional original sin position. Schreiner in 2014 conceded that that teaching is based solely on Romans 5:12 and that he himself was having doubts about it.
You will see from what Moo says in his 2018 Romans commentary, as below, that this understanding of Christian anthropology, although a corner stone of systematic theology, is a post-apostolic understanding that is not actually articulated in Scripture—and is a teaching that is now not held by many biblical theologians in the academy.
These extracts deal with this key verse: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12).
[“Because all sinned” i.e., not that all sin in Adam] is by far the most popular understanding among modern scholars […] Paul says nothing explicitly about how the sin of one man Adam has resulted in death for everyone—nor has he made clear the connexion, if any, between Adam’s sin and the sin of all people. (350)
What he has made clear is that the causal nexus between sin and death exhibited in the case of Adam has repeated itself in the case of every human being. […] Probably a majority of contemporary scholars interpret v. 12 […] to assert that the death of each person is directly caused by that person’s own, individual sinning. (350–51)
Paul in v. 12 asserts that people die because they sin on their own account; [but] in vv. 18–19 he claims that they died because of Adam's sin. Paul does not resolve these two perspectives and we do wrong to try to force a resolution that Paul himself never made. A systematic theologian may have to find resolution, but we exegetes do not insist that Paul in this text assumes or teaches one. (351–52)
One popular explanation holds that Paul assumes [but does not articulate] a middle term in the connexion between Adam’s sin and the condemnation of all human beings: […] a corrupt nature inherited from Adam. […] Nevertheless, we may question whether this is what Paul meant in v. 12. (352–53)
The most serious objection is that this interpretation adds a step in Paul’s argument that is not explicit in the context […] While it possible that Paul would want us to assume [this] addition he has given us little basis for doing so. (353)
We must admit that the case for interpreting all sinned in v. 12 as meaning all people “sinned in and with Adam” rests almost entirely on the juxtaposition of v. 12 with vv. 18–19 and maybe we should not force this combination when Paul himself did not explicitly do so. (354)
The resolution to the problem of reconciling v. 12 with vv. 18–19 is surely that the latter verses are referring to the fact that all mankind is ‘condemned to die’ because all (infants or adults, innocent or guilty) are born outside Eden without access to the tree of life, as Genesis 3:22 says—just as a man injured in a road accident might be condemned to a life in a wheelchair. (Genesis 3:22 seems to indicate that Adam, unlike the created spiritual realm, was created mortal, as implied in the phrase ‘of the dust’ in Genesis 2:7).
But! Moo, for himself, still inserts a transmitted sinful nature in between v. 12 and vv. 18–19 because “Paul may, indeed, have been thinking along these lines.” (355)
Moo, D. J. The Letter to the Romans. 2d ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018.
Schreiner, Thomas R. “Original Sin and Original Death.” Pages 271‒288 in Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin. Edited by Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2014.