Original Death: The History of Exegeting Genesis 3 and Romans 5

Painting by Gustav Klimt, “Death and Life.” Source: Google Art Project.

Essay by Genevieve Scheele*


The history of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics is not without controversy, and the apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is no exception. It has more allusions and quotes from the Hebrew Bible than any other New Testament work, but is not always treated in its Israelite context. References to Genesis play a particularly important role in the core section of Romans 5–8, featuring hamartiology and justification. This essay will explore that relationship, also in conversation with the Church Fathers.

Within the Western tradition, the Augustine’s interpretation has dominated exegesis of the text, especially with regard to the doctrine of original sin. And due to intertextuality, Augustine’s exegesis of Romans 5 has determined how the Church reads the figure of Adam in the book of Genesis. However, one layer of intertext that has been obscured by interpretive tradition is the cultural and theological significance of apocalyptic thought, which is undoubtedly present in Paul’s writing. If this apocalyptic lens is restored to evaluation of Pauline Scripture, then the concept of inherited sin can be examined according to an apocalyptic metanarrative about the fallen creation and its cosmic redeemer, beginning with the introduction of death and corruption in Eden.

Reading Paul

These problems within the field of biblical interpretation arise from the fact that even into the modern period the Bible has been read not only as a historical document, but also as an authoritative text on issues of morality, ethnicity, and direct import for the spiritual lives of individuals and the community. As Hans Frei discusses in The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, premodern (or precritical), readers understood the Bible as a metanarrative of which they were a part. Scripture was read literally as well as typologically, and these readings were unified because the individual is not separate from the text, but as a participant in the cosmic metanarrative. Individual participation necessitated typological explanations to explain and admonish readers of their role in that metanarrative. It was not a spiritualization or allegorization of the text, as many have read and do read the Bible in the most recent centuries. Rather, it was a compounding of the individual and cosmic experience, and a unity of the present moment with the ancient narrative.1 Far from being a matter of merely academic interest, it follows that interpretation of the Bible was an enterprise weighted with godlike power and responsibility. By reinterpreting the text, one could change the very nature of the world as it was known. The natural result was the Catholic canon forbidding “private interpretation” of the Bible.2 Only by consensus, constrained by tradition, could such power—potentially disruptive of the entire fabric of reality—be safely exercised. And yet, as Stanley Fish explains, the ambiguity of language is inherent in the text. It is not necessary that there be one singular correct reading, but rather that the ambiguity be present. Due to the nature of language, even if it was not intended, ambiguity becomes part of the text immediately upon its creation and thus part of the reader’s experience. For Fish, the reader’s experience is the true text, and the physical “text” is merely the pattern from which the new text is derived.3 Consequently, based on a chain of these reader experiences, new “texts” are formed that comprise an interpretive tradition and principle/framework, which then determines the future reader’s experience. Set against the precritical perspective of the Bible, this recognition of subjectivity puts the reliability of doctrine and dogma into question.

The relevant interpretive foci for reading Romans 5 are apocalypticism and Augustinian original sin. To examine apocalypticism, it is necessary to define the apocalyptic worldview, which is not limited to eschatology. As J. Beker writes, modern neo-orthodoxy sets aside the apocalypticism of Paul’s theology, reading instead only its eschatological elements while ultimately subsuming it all in Christology.4 This results in an interpretative tradition among modern Christians driven by a gap between Christology and apocalypticism, through which lens eschatology would naturally be more apparent and accessible. The difference between these two facets being that eschatological theology is only concerned with judgment day events, whereas apocalyptic theology is more broadly cosmological and concerned with the conflict between good and evil. Even if a modern Christian reader were to be informed of Paul’s apocalypticism, they would most likely understand it eschatologically, and not comprehend it as in its fullness. This issue is not limited to eschatological interpretation, but carries ramifications as far afield as soteriology, as Douglas Campbell argues. Due to the loss of an apocalyptic lens, what Campbell calls the “justification theory” (dominant in Western Christian tradition) reads soteriology through a fundamental timeline beginning with rational, ethical humanity breaking its contract with God. This necessitates not only individual punishment but also an ultimate eschatological judgment, for which the death of Christ is the propitiation and substitution of punishment, the effects of which the individual may receive upon repentance and faith.5 In other words, the metanarrative of history is interpreted through the life of an individual, which effectively projects the subnarrative of the individual upon the metanarrative of the cosmos. Eschatology is consequently an aspect within the soteriological life of individuals, a dimension of their hope in Christ as the final judgment upon all mankind manifested personally. However, as examined below, Paul’s apocalypticism functions disparately from this modern hermeneutic model. Thus, the tension between apocalypticism and eschatology is another layer of complication upon Paul’s reception, as it drives the hermeneutic—especially in the passage of Romans under discussion here.

Whereas an eschatological, justification theory lens reads cosmology via anthropology, apocalypticism, on the other hand, reads anthropology via cosmology. There are variations in the details of how apocalypticism is defined, but Beker sums it up in “three basic ideas: (1) historical dualism; (2) universal cosmic expectation; and (3) the imminent end of the world.”6 The dualism of the apocalyptic is not directly gnostic dualism, for it is rooted in God as creator of all things, and thus even evil has its place within the created order. This dualism extends beyond the conflict between good and evil, but extends to law and lawlessness, righteousness and unrighteousness, and life and death. This is usually textually manifested by the inclusion of the battle between angels and demons as forces for good or evil, for example, in 1 Enoch wherein demonic/angelic figures are responsible for the corruption of man. This tradition continued even into the second century, such as in the writings of Justin Martyr who connects the universality of sin to the devil as the source, rather than to an original act in Adam or Eve.7 Apocalyptic dualism then translates into a doctrine of ages, the number of which for Paul is limited to two: the present fallen age, and the perfect eschatological age, which is inaugurated through cosmic redemption by a preexistent redeemer figure. This kind of messianism and cosmic expectation is not limited to Paul, but is also evident in works such as the Psalms of Solomon, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch.8 It is evident that eschatology is a critical element of apocalypticism. If there are ages of creation, there is necessarily a final age which, in accordance with messianism and cosmic expectation, would be the hope that is longed for and awaited. The distinction between apocalypticism and an eschatological lens is that for the former the final judgment is cosmological, whereas for the latter (and “justification theory”) the judgment is anthropological. Further, the apocalyptic lens extends beyond doctrine of the last age to include cosmogony and etiology for evil within the cosmos, and thus the Messiah is a cosmic redeemer because the creation itself is corrupted with evil. Man is redeemed because creation is redeemed, and man is judged because creation is judged. By contrast, justification theory reads redemption and judgment both as a collection of individuals who have either confessed or rejection salvation in Christ.

Beker argues that Paul’s apocalypticism is not antithetical to Palestinian Judaism, but is in fact an extension congruent with Jewish apocalypticism. Although many argue for a distinction between apocalyptic Judaism and “Pharisaic” Judaism, this is not necessary nor necessarily productive. Dietrich Rossler, for example, “views the Torah in an apocalyptic context as the domain of God’s faithful covenantal pledge to Israel.”9 Given that many of the Pharisees expected the Messiah to enable man to observe the law perfectly, as well as bring about the common biblical and apocalyptic doctrine of all nations gathering to Israel, God’s “covenantal pledge to Israel” is not a limited redemption but can be extended beyond Israel as the means of cosmic redemption. Apocalypticism was also the motivation for the Jewish revolts against the Romans in both the first and second century. It would thus naturally be part of Paul’s Pharisaic worldview, “the central climate and focus of his thought.”10 Despite this, it has been denied repeatedly by New Testament scholars. Even E.P. Sanders argues that Paul was only apocalyptic post-conversion.11 This evaluation is understandable, given that Paul’s writing does not strictly follow the conventions of other apocalyptic texts. However, Paul is not writing a narrative, or prophecy, or even wisdom literature. Paul’s works are epistolary, exegetical, and expository. There is necessarily a difference of style, and yet still the themes of apocalypticism presented above are most definitely present and dominant in Paul’s writing.

Paul’s apocalyptic discourse is characterized by prolepsis, in which the present age not only prefigures the future age, but the new creation is already present in the old by means of the Christ-event. N.A. Dahl also observes the correlation of “eschatology” and “protology,” not only in the writings of Paul, but in the early fathers: Irenaeus wrote about recapitulation, and Origen “taught the apocatastasis of all things.”12 This means that the beginning and end are united not solely in typology, but rather the final expectation was already part of the cosmos from the beginning. In other words, the protos includes the eschatos.13 In fact, the original creation already contains the eschaton, as the full realization of God’s purposes. “The new creation is seen as the final establishment and perfection of the first one, rather than as an independent, parallel act.”14 This is exemplified in 1 Enoch where the Son of Man is “named on the day of judgment as [he]was named before the creation,” which parallels the Adam-Christ doctrine of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.15 Consequently, for Paul’s apocalypticism, there is not merely a parallel between these two ages, but a simultaneity of functionality. The creation, the Christ-event, and the eschaton are all present at once. This is demonstrated by the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist: the washing of water distributes the new creation but conforms it to the first, and the bread and wine mediate the effects of the Christ-event. Both of these use the elements of the old to distribute the new, while the eschaton is as yet unrealized.16 This simultaneity is present in Judaism, for example in that the Sabbath points variously to God’s original rest, the weekly experience of the devotee, and the final Sabbath. The observances of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur also follow this pattern.17 This unity and unification is not simply temporal, but spatial and relational. Man is restored to the creation, and the restoration of man is the restoration of creation. Nations—specifically Jews and gentiles, and even the division between man and woman—are reconciled to each other.18 And so in the apocalyptic vision, the individual is not ignored, but subsumed by and even instrumental to the cosmic redemption. The individual is redeemed because the creation is, not in isolation from it.

It follows that the Christ-event drives Paul’s apocalyptic exegesis and exposition, for Christ is the solution and apocalyptic hope that necessitates a need to establish what problem the solution is for. Martinus de Boer argues that Paul mythologizing explains “why the Law is not, or no longer, a viable option for those who have come to believe in Christ.”19 Although the question of precisely which elements in Judaism Paul opposes is contested, it is clear throughout Paul’s writings that he contrasts Christ and the Law. This dichotomy is part of his inherent apocalyptic lens, as we see it extend to the other dualities already mentioned above—righteousness and sin, life and death, as well as spirit and flesh. The dualism of apocalypticism is thus reinterpreted through the Christ event, as Paul illustrates throughout the letter of Romans. Paul sees Christ as the redeemer figure who inaugurates the new age, and just as the eschaton is the in the type of the protos, he must illustrate and explicate how Christ corresponds to the initial creation. The solution is found in Adam, who for Paul is not simply a mythical figure but the real, physical, original progenitor of humanity. In the thought of Hans Frei, Paul would have viewed Adam and Christ as part of one narrative in which history is not incidental and unrelated. The literal and the typological reading are unified, and so Adam is simultaneously a literal first human, and also a type of Christ. Because the creation and the final judgment are joined, Paul does not strictly read Adam according to Christ or Christ according to Adam, but rather interprets each in light of the other. As he articulated in 1 Corinthians, Christ is the author of life through the resurrection, and so conversely Adam is necessarily the agent of death. Likewise, as Adam is the first created man of the old order, Christ is the first man of the new order. Further, Adam represents humanity itself, and so in contrasting the old and new creation, Paul is also describing old and new humanity, which only adds to the apocalyptic doctrine of cosmic redemption. By extension, if Christ correlates to the new age, the labels of old and new apply also to creation, not simply ages and time. In an apocalyptic sense, if the new creation rectifies and replaces the old, then there is consequently the triumph of righteousness over sin, and spirit over flesh. As a result, rather than focusing on demonic powers as other apocalyptic texts do, Paul speaks of the ontological powers of sin and death. Their reign is first over the cosmos, and yet also over the individual, and the victory of Christ is effective for the individual precisely because it is for the cosmos.

Whereas apocalypticism is essential for understanding Paul, the impact of Augustine’s original sin doctrine is essential for understanding the reception of Paul. Augustine’s exegesis of Romans 5 became a foundational principle of Western doctrine. In short, the doctrine of original sin contends that all men sinned in Adam (as in a lump-massa) and thusly inherit Adam’s sin and guilt, even unborn and infants. His exegesis is based on the Latin translation of the Greek, and a particular construction that is problematic for translating into any language. As Naomi Seidman discusses, once a word is translated its range of meaning is limited.20 So where the ambiguity of the Greek text lends itself to a variety of interpretations, the Latin translation limited the understanding significantly. As examined below, however, earlier Latin and Greek fathers did not write any doctrine of originating sin as explicitly as Augustine did. Further, the Orthodox Church continued without his formulation and remains into modernity without it. Catholicism and its descendant interpretive traditions, on the other hand, have inherited and maintained Augustine’s doctrine as a paradigm through which the entire Bible is read, and especially Genesis 3 and Romans 5. Even as theologians like Erasmus and Luther began to study the Greek text in the sixteenth century, they were so ingrained with Augustine’s doctrine that they could only extrapolate original sin from Romans 5:12. Erasmus, at least, struggled with it and discussed some alternate interpretations, but in the end, as a faithful Catholic, he was obligated to say that Augustine’s doctrine was the best reading.21 Even now in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the original sin paradigm rules in the work of those who are scholars of Greek.

Additionally, the Latin-derived traditions also have Augustine to thank to a great degree for the transition from an apocalyptic/cosmic lens to an individual focus for reading all of Scripture and especially Romans. There are two general ways that Augustine and his interpretive tradition are understood. The first is in line with what Benjamin Myers argues in his article, “A Tale of Two Gardens,” that Christians read Paul to “assuage a troubled conscience,” not for matters relating to the “great drama of salvation history,” and that this all stems from Augustine’s rereading of Romans in his Confessions.22 Robert Jewell puts it even more strongly than Myers, claiming that the “Augustinian tradition . . . construes salvation as individual forgiveness.”23 Augustine’s Confessions, Myers contends, is simply his interpretation of Romans retold through the story of his own life. This is the extreme end of what Frei discusses as the unity of literal and typological readings of Scripture. Not only is Augustine a participant in the metanarrative of Scripture, his life is the metanarrative of Scripture. Paula Fredriksen, however, contends for a different reading of Augustine that is not so egocentric, yet still nonetheless individual and anthropocentric. “For Augustine, the inner life of man is the sovereign arena of God’s work of redemption, and the chief problem Paul addresses in Romans is the works of the law and of grace. The heart of the epistle for him is Rom 7, the torment of the saint in the face of his divided will, which only God can heal.”24 In other words, Fredriksen argues that Augustine is not filtering Paul through his own life, as many have argued. Yet he does read Romans through the lens of individual man and his struggles, rather than the apocalyptic perspective that Paul and the apologists shared. The doctrine of original sin is thus crucial and explains why Adam’s sin is shared with all men: it is essential that every man broke God’s original command. Bearing the guilt of that deed, each man will be judged (eschatology), thus each man requires God’s grace to be redeemed from sin and kept from said judgment. However, we understand it now, this Augustinian lens is another added layer to Latinate Interpretive tradition, as the majority of readers understand the works of Paul individually, even with the consequence that many writers have expounded on the psychology of Paul. (For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to this as Augustinian tradition or Christianity.) Readers are thus bound by this perspective, and without unlearning their paradigms, they are unable to read outside of that box and even consider the cosmic narrative of apocalypticism. It is not that the apocalyptic lens excludes the individual, for as a universal narrative it naturally includes the individual as part of the collective. The individualistic reading, by contrast, necessarily excludes the cosmic reading.25

Romans 5

The second half of Romans 5 is a summation of what is understood to be the gospel. Man’s need for a redeemer is demonstrated by the universality of sin and death, and thus man is helpless and thus requires salvation. But Christ, who is a type of Adam, has come to reverse the condition brought about by Adam. Sin is triumphed by righteousness, and death is triumphed by life.

There are various ways of systematizing Romans, but each of these are of course contingent on the paradigms by which one reads the text. Chapters 1–4 is typically read as a summation of justification, particularly in relation to the individual. Beker argues that Romans 1–5:11 could be understood as the address “to the Jewish nomistic audience of the Roman Church, while Romans 6–8 are addressed to the gentile antinomian section of the Church.”26 In this light, 5:12–21 is a summary and transition between these sections. Douglas Campbell, however, argues Paul’s purpose in writing the letter to the Romans is to guard against hostile counter-missionaries, and thus it contains not only Paul’s gospel but criticisms of his adversaries.27 This is significant because it indicates that Paul’s writing is not solely cataphatic, but also an apologetic apophatic to draw the boundaries for proper doctrine, by which is salvation. Campbell summarizes what he calls the “justification theory” and its modern reading of Romans 1–4 in five critical principles: 1) humanity is individual, rationalistic, and self-interested; 2) God is an authority figure of strict justice; 3) humanity is ethically incapacitated; 4) Christ’s atonement is the mechanism for satisfaction of justice; and 5) faith is the stipulation for receiving salvation.29 The following explication on Romans 5:12–14 tends toward Campbell’s systematic breakdown of the structure of Romans and away from justification theory.

Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ δι’ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος, καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν, ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον· (Romans 5:12 NA28)

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (NASB)

I will argue that according to an apocalyptic framework and the most faithful understanding of the Greek text, the import of this segment is less concerned with the origin of sin than with the origin of death. Death here refers at minimum to physical death, but is likely also referring to something weightier—a total death of the tangible and intangible. The problem with strictly using this segment to discuss sin is that its grammatical ambiguity can be manipulated to argue anything eisegetically, as exemplified in the disagreement between Augustine and Pelagius. Even Erasmus argued that the text could be read in such a way to support Pelagius’s reading, and thus, he concludes that it is a weak proof text for the traditional doctrine of original sin.30  And so, considering that Paul shortly compares the death brought about by Adam to the life brought about by Christ, rather than being the concern of Paul’s proposition, the emphasis here is death. Even compared with 1 Corinthians 15, which focuses on the resurrection of Christ, the dualism is between life and death. The enemy in that passage is death, and resurrection is the means of victory. His thesis is that if Christ is not rise, then death is not conquered, and there is nothing to preach. The enemy he subdues is not only spiritual powers, but the ultimate enemy is death. By proxy, righteousness and sin are corollaries with life and death, not principal agents. This distinction exemplifies the divide between an apocalyptic reading and an anthropological reading, the latter of which necessarily stresses sin to teach the need for justification. It is significant that Paul states that it was sin that entered the cosmos, and death that passed upon men. If there is no distinction between κόσμος and ανθρωποι, then the point is moot. However, some early interpreters did distinguish between these statements, and so for the sake of maintaining the ambiguity of the text, it is important that we maintain the distinction between these propositions.

Although sin is undeniably a partner with death, Paul begins this section of his letter by articulating the need for a savior who distributes life, and with it righteousness. With this perspective, “δι’ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν” is subordinate to, “εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν.” Simply beginning with “through one man Sin entered,” does not mean that Paul is discussing its origin. What it does mean is that in an apocalyptic manner, he is making creation the beginning of the cosmic condition of Death and Sin for which a redeemer is necessary. As outlined above, for the apocalypticist, the creation and the redemption are timelessly unified, present with the current moment. The remaining transition between these two propositions is, “διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος,” which could be read as “through the act of sin death entered,” “through the condition of sin death entered,” or even “on account of sin death entered (as the consequence of sin).” Whichever way this is read, the general sense of the sentence can be understood that sin is involved in the activity of introducing death to all mankind, because of one man. In other words, death is the active agent whereas sin is only instrumental. Further, observe that Paul does not introduce this segment with “One man’s transgression,” but simply through one man. His focus is on the who of the source of death, contrasting the who of the source of life. Even when Paul does mention parabasis(transgression), it is within the clause “καὶ ἐπὶ τοὺς μὴ ἁμαρτήσαντας ἐπὶ τῷ ὁμοιώματι τῆς παραβάσεως Ἀδὰμ.” He is not necessarily making a point about an original act of sin that initiates sin in humanity.

Because Paul is discussing the universality of death, it could then be understood that he is referring to the universality of both death and sin. He does not begin with “through Adam,” but “through man.” If he wanted to emphasize sin as entering specifically through Adam as a person, he could have used Adam’s name as he does in the next line. However, by “one man” he emphasizes both the individual (henos) man, and the humanity of Adam. Consequently, the entering of sin is contingent on Adam’s humanity and his individuality. And according to Bultmann, “In most passages, anthropos means man in his creaturely humanity, and that means also man in his relation to God.”31.  Additionally, Bultmann defines κόσμος as specifically referring to the creator, which sets up Paul’s depiction of messiah as a cosmic redeemer.32 Even further, because God is creator, and Christ is God, he is necessarily the author of life. As Paul connects the redemptive moment with creation, he defines the apocalyptic opposite of life as death, for which Adam must be the source as the foil of Christ. In this light, sin is the partner of death in that it is contrary to the will of God, replacing a relationship with God with a relationship to self.33 Can then death not also be understood as a disruption of a basic human state? If humanity (ανθρωπως) is both man’s relation to self and to God, consequently death is not only the end of physical life, but ontologically a corrupted existence. Man’s lapse cannot be strictly read as an individual experience, but rather as the initiation of a cosmic condition of separation from the creator. This would be the condition from which not only man but all of creation would require a redeemer.

The most controversial and ambiguous phrase in Romans 5:12 would be the ἐφ’ ᾧ of “ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον,” for it is the critical phrase for Augustine’s original sin, as well as the greatest variable among interpretations of the other early fathers. It is clear that “all have sinned.” However, is sin the reason that death passed to all men? Or have all sinned “epi” something? And if so, upon what have they sinned? Many have taken the first line of interpretation, that men die because they sin. This would agree with what Paul says in Romans 3:23, that death is the wages for sin, clearly implying physical death. But is that the most grammatically faithful interpretation here? Comparing this example of ἐφ’ ᾧ with the other three Pauline usages (2 Corinthians 5:4, Philippians 3:12 and 4:10), “because” seems to be the weakest possible translation. It is not necessary unlikely, as several of the Church fathers interpreted it as such. On the other hand, if it is a prepositional phrase, what is the antecedent of ho? Granted that the antecedent is a noun, the only possibilities are άνθρωπος or θάνατος, given that αμαρτία is feminine. θάνατος is the most proximate choice, which makes it more likely than άνθρωπος, yet still does not necessarily rule it out. If θάνατος is the antecedent, then the interpreter must take death to be something more than physical death, because physical death as the cause of sin is illogical, for the dead cannot act in any form, let alone sin. If άνθρωπος is the antecedent, then Augustine’s interpretation is not impossible, nor would be Pelagius’s, as Adam would be the pattern upon which all other men sin. The antecedent could also be one of the three propositions: through one man, sin entered the cosmos; death entered through sin; death passed to all men. Or even still, the ᾧ could refer to the entirety of this idea, as a conclusion of the whole sentence. Yet, just as due to syntactical distance άνθρωπος was less likely than θάνατος, the first two of the three clauses are unlikely. And so we are left with three choices for the ᾧ: θάνατος; θάνατος spreading to all men; or the compound concept of one man as the source of death, as well as sin, unto all men and creation.

ἄχρι γὰρ νόμου ἁμαρτία ἦν ἐν κόσμῳ, ἁμαρτία δὲ οὐκ ἐλλογεῖται μὴ ὄντος νόμου, (Romans 5:13 NA28)

For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (NASB)

Just as Stanley Fish argues that the experience of rereading creates the text, much of the interpreting and translating of verse 12 is contingent on how verse 13 is read. What does Paul intend by νομος? The most likely possibilities are Mosaic law or natural law, both of which have been argued for. Mosaic law is a natural interpretation, considering that νομος was the standard rendering of Torah in the LXX. And yet, if νομος is understood to be Torah, then there is a conundrum for verse 12: Why do men die if there is no law, and it is not imputed? Paul is including a time pre-Torah, and so how can men be punished for their lack of observing something that has not yet been instituted? Due to the lack of an article for νομος, natural law provides a less troubling reading of the text. This is likely an intended ambiguity. Paul’s understanding of the relationship between sin and the law is expanded in chapter 7, wherein he argues that the law is the means of the knowledge of sin, and that law is what makes sin functional. And yet, the sin via the law causes death, and the command is still holy and just. This at first seems like a paradoxical statement. This passage does support interpreting law as something broader than simply Mosaic law, which is what Origen argues in reading this text. For, if the knowledge of sin comes by the law, how could Adam and Eve have known that they had done wrong without Mosaic law? All transgression is sin, according to its scriptural usage. If there is indeed a form of law from the beginning, even before Moses, then Romans 7 could be read not only biographically concerning Paul, but even of Adam. “For Sin, taking opportunity through the spoken command beguiled me and through it put me to death” (7:11). If Romans 7 is read as not only Paul’s experience, but that of Adam and every individual, then it continues the apocalyptic pattern of prolepsis.

ἀλλ’ ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος ἀπὸ Ἀδὰμ μέχρι Μωϋσέως καὶ ἐπὶ τοὺς μὴ ἁμαρτήσαντας ἐπὶ τῷ ὁμοιώματι τῆς παραβάσεως Ἀδὰμ ὅς ἐστιν τύπος τοῦ μέλλοντος. (Romans 5:14 NA28)

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (NASB)

Moving onto verse 14, it seems that verse 13 is best understood as a paraphrasis, as Paul continues to his main focus of death. Αλλ’ death reigned from Adam until Moses. This seems to contradict the previous statement that sin is not reckoned, if death is understood to be the punishment for sin. And yet, what if death and sin are taken as related but separate realities? For, if law is understood to be Mosaic, how can there be death if sin is not reckoned? If the meaning of Torah is insisted upon, then death must mean something other than the judgment for sin, or result of sin. This would also complicate a reading of verse 12 that insists that sin is the cause of death, because if death is the consequence of sin, and judged by Torah, but there is not yet Torah, how can there be death from Adam to Moses? It then continues to show that natural law is a much better understanding of νομος in verse 13. Imputation in this context must be something other than punishment, whatever it may be. Here in verse 14, Paul is demonstrating the dominion of death in order to contrast it with the dominion of Christ. The middle portion of this verse has also been variously and ambiguously read. Is it not upon those that sinned according to the likeness of Adam’s transgression, or upon those that did not sin according to the likeness? Both possibilities have been taken up, but in the end, the thrust is that death reigned regardless of transgression. The last phrase leads into his comparison between Adam and Christ: the type of he who is to come. It should be noted, that the participles μελλοντος could be masculine or neuter, and similar phrases have been interpreted in Rabbinic circles as the Age to Come. However, given that for Christian hermeneutic the Age to Come and Christ are functionally synonymous, there is little need to expand on that possibility. Considering an apocalyptic viewpoint, there is no need to distinguish between either of these possibilities.

For some Pauline cross-reference, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s pièce de résistance on the resurrection, the real existence of Adam, and the contention that the events that happened in Genesis 3 are essential for the resurrection of Christ. All people have their humanity through Adam, as Adam’s name itself means,“human” or “humanity.” Likewise, all men receive death because of that shared humanity with Adam. Consequently, it is because of Christ that all are made alive. The resulting lemma would be that if all are dead via Adam because of his humanity, then all are alive through Christ because of his humanity. And so just as humanity participates in the sin of Adam, all of humanity can, or does, participate in the δικαιωμα of Christ. However, those who receive the resurrection only do so at the last day, as Paul says, they will be made alive, although all died (ἀποθνήσκουσιν aorist) with Adam (1 Cor 15:22). His contention is not only about humanity, but about time. The death of Adam is a current reality, and the life of Christ is a future reality. Here, as in Romans, the main contrast is between death and life with sin as a corollary but not the focus. Paul illustrates later in that chapter that the death of Adam is essential for the resurrection of Christ, or any man: “In this way is the resurrection from the dead. What is sown in corruption is raised in incorruptibility” (1 Cor 15:42). This line of thinking is also demonstrated in the Second Temple work of the Wisdom of Solomon, in which it is written that God made man incorruptible, αφθαρσια—the same word used here in Corinthians—and that death is the opposite of incorruptibility (Wisdom 2:24). The death of Adam is not merely physical, but administered to the soul as understood by the word “corruption.” The flesh of Adam, the body handed down from him, is dishonor and weakness. What is unclear about verse 44 is whether Paul is contending that the ψυχικος is transformed into the πνευματικος, that man has both, or that there are separate types of men for ψυχικος and πνευματικος. His prooftext is Genesis 2:9, again demonstrating that the redemptive work of Christ is predicated upon his humanity. Because Adam “became a living soul,” the eschatos Adam is a life-making soul. This comparison at once emphasized Christ’s humanity in connection to Adam, but designates him as a life-maker, and highlights his divinity. The following line could thus clarify verse 44, in that as he draws a timeline between Adam and Christ, there is a timeline between the ψυχικος and the πνευματικος. Likewise, the first man is physical—of dust—and the second man is spiritual—of heaven.

Early Fathers

Due the ambiguity of the Greek text, although there were uniform interpretive patterns, there was actually a variety of ways in reading Romans 5. And yet, no father—Greek or Latin—before Augustine exegetes a doctrine of inherited sin.34 As David Weaver argues, “Whatever their opinion on the grammatical question, the Greek writers without exception understood this inheritance to be an inheritance of mortality (θάνατος) and corruption (φθορά) only, without an inheritance of guilt—which for them could only result from a freely committed personal act.”35 The early Greek fathers were not concerned with the origin of sin, so they did not look to this passage for that resolution. And as regarded earlier, the second-century fathers especially were concerned apocalyptically, focusing on demons as the source of evil and sin among creation. It is not necessarily that they would not exegete inherited sin, but that it was not a question they were seeking to answer. The earliest extant exegesis of Romans 5 is by Justin Martyr, in which he refers to man as “fallen to the power of death and . . . in the error of the serpent” since Adam.36 In defense of the statement made earlier, we can see the pattern of death and corruption even in this earliest of writings. And thus are the beginnings of an interpretive tradition for reading both Genesis 3 and Romans 5, and particularly through an apocalyptic lens. This pattern is demonstrated again in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, in which he wrote that man was “destroyed through disobedience” and “fallen under the power of sin”—the first statement demonstrating the principle of death as a cosmic power, and the second of sin as a cosmic power. He also says of man, that “he had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death.”37 The bondage is essentially the concept of φθορά, which is not the sin itself, but the corruption that binds men. And still Irenaeus is not speaking of man as inherently having sin, but rather under bondage drawn by sin, not unto sin itself. Further, death in this formulation is still the more powerful force, even worse than corruption and sin. And so in that apocalyptic sense, even Irenaeus expounds that death is the reason that man needs a redeemer.

Origen’s interpretation of Romans 5, as well as his entire commentary on Romans, is unique, as well as expansive and detailed. First of all, he defines κοσμος as the worldly or fleshly aspect of man, and so sin entering the cosmos signifies sin in the flesh.38 Consequently, it is this part of man that the saint dies to when he is crucified with Christ. Likewise, ανθρωπος is only man as he becomes aware that he is created in the image of God. This is not too far from Bultmann’s explication of Pauline vocabulary, as examined above. However, although Bultmann strictly reads thanatos as physical death, Origen employs a concept of death that is beyond physical, his reasoning being that Christ had no sin and yet he died. So, although all people physically die, death “passes through” those who know they are in the image of God—who have become anthropoi— so that they do not die spiritually. Another interpretation of Romans 5 unique to Origen is verse 13, in which he argues that sin is not imputed without law because it is not until an individual has conscious awareness of the law that sin is imputed, thus interpreting law to be not only natural law, but natural law in a personal context.39 Overall, in an apocalyptic pattern, Origen views material existence as sinful and corrupted for two reasons:

“first, because it presupposes that pure intellects had fallen away from the contemplation of God; and secondly, because material existence was itself a product of this fall, and therefore had an intrinsically lower order of existence in which the intellects had become mired. The only exception was the divine Logos, the one unfallen intellect who willingly entered the world and assumed a material existence for the purpose of returning the fallen intellects to their natural contemplation of God.”40

The difficulty with evaluating Origen’s reading of Romans is that the Greek original is no longer extent, so we can access Rufinus’s problematic Latin translation. Further, much of our perception of Origen has been shaped by later critiques of the “Origenist” crisis. Even still, what is accessible concerning Origen’s reading of Paul follows the apocalyptic model, with Christ as a cosmic redeemer, and man as entirely helpless. Origen’s interpretation of verses 12 and 13 also fits naturally within his paradigm of redeeming the mind, which is why nomos and thanatos would both be interpreted psychologically. This also demonstrates that Origen received and propagated the Alexandrian tradition that Origen had received and propagated, which included Philo’s hermeneutic of reading literal and allegorical side by side.

It is then not unsurprising that Didymus speaks in a similar manner of corruption being handed down from Adam, not sin. He writes, “Adam was incorrupt before the transgression, after he transgressed he became corrupt; and thus the successive generations had corruption. Therefore, the Savior had the likeness of this flesh, except His flesh did not see corruption.”41 Corruption is the status of humanity after the lapse, with sin as inevitable. The significant view for the Greeks was that sin was necessarily individual, and one man could not be held responsible for another man’s guilt. And so corruption is fallen, material ontology for humanity, but each man naturally brings forth sin for which he is judged, and for which he dies. In the light of the apocalyptic contrast in Romans 5, Didymus depicts Christ as the reverse of the fallen condition, in order to inaugurate redemption. Didymus’ Commentary on Genesis further expounds on the origin of the fallen condition, and we can see this pattern of corruption before sin. Although Didymus speaks of Adam being incorrupt before the transgression, in his exegesis of Eve, she necessarily undergoes some state of corruption before acting out, for she heard, processed, and was persuaded of the serpent’s lie. He writes in his Commentary on Genesis, “This was the devil’s intention in tricking the woman; he leads her to think that God is jealous, and makes lavish promises with the intention of beguiling her in the word, You will be like gods, knowing good and evil (v. 5).” And, “After being enticed, at the word of the serpent she took with full consent and ate to bring the deed to completion.”42 Thus, according to an Alexandrian and Origenist perspective, she represents sense and emotion as being corrupted before the mind and reason. In other words, man is ontologically corrupted before he makes the conscious decision to put forth his hand to sin.

The closest view to original sin among the Greek writers would be Cyril of Alexandria, who describes the effects of sin being inherited, which yet still conforms to the Greek pattern of thought. For Cyril, salvation was necessary due to man’s corruption (φθορα) and passibility (παθος), and thus why Christ became incarnate so that through θεωσις and union with Christ, man would be made impassible. Sin is thus a natural result of corruption and passibility, and so if man is restored to impassibility and incorruption, redemption from the patterns of sin would be included. This would be in line with the resurrection doctrine of 1 Corinthians, in which Paul states that “what is sown corruptible is raised incorruptible.”  Thus, Cyril speaks of inherited corruption. Weaver sums up the Alexandrian position as the momentum of the effects of sin using the analogy of billiard balls. The momentum or motion of the ball is passed off from one ball to the next, but the motion is not inherently a quality of the ball, and yet “it determines the ball’s behavior, and can be transmitted by it to another ball.”43 And so the Greek position can be summarized in that sin is not a status that is transmitted to all humanity. Rather, the fallen, material nature of humanity, which itself is the result of the initial Edenic transgression, inevitably leads to personal acts of sin for which man is punished and held accountable.

The pre-Augustinian views that come closest to his doctrine are primarily the African fathers, particularly Tertullian and Cyprian. Weaver writes, “Tertullian, more than any of his predecessors, stresses the involvement of all humanity in Adam’s sin and the resultant tendency toward sinfulness that mankind has inherited.”44 And yet, even if he contends that humanity participates in Adam’s sin, he does not speak of humanity inheriting Adam’s sin. In fact, he still affirmed individual freedom and stressed the weight of individual sin, not emphasizing an inherited sinful state or its guilt. Even Tertullian speaks of an inherited corruption, which is not explicitly inherited sin, yet he still aligns with the Alexandrian tradition. We have little of Cyprian, but what he does say is in the context of infant baptism: “[the infant] has not sinned, except in that, being born physically according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death by his first birth. The infant approaches that much more easily to the reception of the forgiveness of sins because the sins remitted are not his own, but those of another.”45 Given that it is not an exegesis on Romans or Genesis, but a text on infant baptism, it should be read differently than texts that are explicitly exegetical. Still, we see that first Cyprian emphasizes that man inherits death from Adam, and then that the baptism an infant receives is for the sins of another, not his own. Does this imply that it is for the sin of Adam? Not necessarily, but it is most likely that he is referring to some concept of inherited sin.

Before we examine Augustine’s reading of the text, it is important to understand the Latin translation. Although Augustine was somewhat familiar with Greek, he was not skilled enough to exegete Scripture in Greek, so he relied completely on the Latin text.

“propterea sicut per unum hominem in hunc mundum peccatum intravit et per peccatum mors et ita in omnes homines mors pertransiit in quo omnes peccaverunt.”

There are two key things about the Latin translation of Romans 5:12 that affect Augustine’s doctrinal development. The most important is “in quo,” which translates the ambiguous ἐφ’ ᾧ discussed above. Although the original επι of ἐφ’ ᾧ means either “upon” or a sense of cause and reason, the Latin translation in reduces a broad locative and logical preposition to a very limited semantic possibility of “within.” And so all the ambiguity of ἐφ’ ᾧ is eliminated. In quo is not properly translated as “because,” or “upon anything.” Without this semantic range, Augustine had to establish what was the antecedent of quo—in what have all sinned? He knew it was not sin, because he knew enough Greek to recognize that grammatically αμαρτια is feminine and the antecedent of quo is necessarily masculine. The only other options were death and man. If death is only understood in the physical sense, then it is a difficult reading to support. Thusly, Augustine concluded that all men sinned in Adam, sharing in Adam’s sin and guilt. The second problem with the translation is that it is highly likely that the text Augustine was working with had the second reference to death—mors— left out, and so it would appear that sin, not death, passed upon all men.46 And so for Augustine, his doctrine was completely validated by the Latin text, especially against the individualistic doctrine of Pelagius.

According to the context of apocalyptic traditions, the greatest concern with Augustine’s reading and the resultant Latin tradition is not the doctrine or interpretation itself, but rather the forced and artificial limiting of the interpretive possibility paired with the accompanying shift in perspective that focused on individual men rather than a cosmic metanarrative. Theodore of Antioque, a rough contemporary of Augustine, wrote of this doctrine as a heresy. He did not know of it directly as Augustine’s but through Jerome. The points of this “heresy” are articulated as such: 1) mankind sins by nature, not by will, 2) infants are not exempt from sin, 3) no one has ever been righteous, 4) even Christ himself was not pure of sin and thus was incarnate only in appearance, and 5) marriage, sexual desire, etc. are the result of fallen and sinful nature.47[48] By this reception,48 the consequences of the original sin paradigm upon the text are already manifesting contemporary to its development. Due to Augustine’s reading of Romans, Adam’s sin is not his own, but must be shared with all individuals of humanity, and thus it is a nature that men must repent of. Practically, it is then a foundation for infant baptism, for individual infants necessarily require the forgiveness of Adam’s sin that they have inherited, whereas among the Greeks there was a continued debate on the validity and necessity of the practice. Human righteousness would be of particular importance for interpreting Genesis as it would affect understanding of the imago Dei, which was a central focus of Greek soteriology. If no one has ever been righteous, than neither were Adam and Eve before they sinned.49 Which then leads to the fourth point: if no one has ever been righteous, then neither could Christ had been born free of sin and corruption. And so the natural conclusion for a Greek theologian would be that Christ was either not pure of sin, or not actually incarnate. And thus this would affect soteriology, for the incarnation of Christ is critical for the functionality of salvation and θεωσις.50

The issue of sin and death as coming from Adam is not an independent, separate idea from the rest of theology. For even if treated in isolation without consideration for the metanarrative, it will affect the whole of a theological system. Christology is dependent on it, which is exactly why Paul spends chapter 5 of Romans comparing Adam and Christ. According to Paul, the salvation of Christ is dependent upon his identity as a descendent of Adam and inheritor of humanity. If Christ as human receives sin, than he cannot be redeemer. By Alexandrian logic, he must then have not been truly human if he was to be truly pure of sin. What happened in Genesis 3 is the reason for Christ and the opposite of his work. If Christ as Messiah is not free from that fallen condition, how can he be the cosmic redeemer? And so Adamology via Pauline theology is critical for soteriology and Christology. When all of these factors are considered with the apocalyptic metanarrative, the individual is a participant, and thus included, but not the focus.


And thus, it is important to consider interpretive communities when evaluating any text, because they tell us how the text has been read and how it has continued to be read. Over time they create layers of intertext that need to be sifted through for proper explication. As presented above, almost all Catholic and Protestant scholars are affected by Augustine, for they inherit an interpretive tradition in which the sin and guilt of Adam is native for all mankind. However, this would be unthinkable for the Greek fathers. And yet, modern scholars, even reading the Greek text, do not arrive at the same reading of the early fathers. There is a unified reading from different readers of the Augustinian tradition, but various readings among those in the Orthodox Church who eschew Augustine’s doctrine. As Stanley Fish would contend, it makes an objective reading inaccessible. The reader cannot read the text without presuppositions, and based on that they will read into the text what they have been taught, not necessarily what the text says. It complicates obtaining the “intended” reading, and in a Fishian sense, there is now only the reader’s experience of this text. And it is a text that has shaped Latinate Theology for 1600 years—how we see sin, Adam, and Christ.

*Thanks goes out to Professor Layton, who so graciously supervised this paper and all the hours of Greek reading that went into it. And especially to my dearest Blake, without whom I would not have found my love for theology and the Patristic writings.

Genevieve Scheele received her BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures, BA in Comparative literature, and MA in Religion from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently working on her MA in Classics at UIUC. Her research interests are the intertextuality of the New Testament text; the relationship between Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; and the hermeneutics and exegesis of the early Church.

She is most particularly interested in the impact of native language upon interpretation and theological traditions, especially as manifested in the theological differences between the “Eastern” and “Western” churches. Her current project is on Gregory of Nyssa’s Contra Eunomium II, examining language theory and epistemology.

Works Cited

Beker, J. Christiaan. Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1980.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Theology of the New Testament. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1951.

Campbell, Douglas. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U.K.: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2009.

Cranfield, C. E. B., and W. Sanday. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Limited, 1975.

Dahl, N.A. “Christ, Creation, and the Church.” The Background of the New Testament and it’s Eschatology: Studies in Honour of C.H. Dodd. Ed. W.D. Davies and D. Daube. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1956. Pages 422-443.

De Boer, Martinus C. “Paul’s Mythologizing Program in Romans 5-8.” Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8. Ed. Beverly Roberts Gaventa. Waco: Baylor University Press. 2013. Pages 1-20.

Erasmus, Desiderius, and Robert D. Sider. New Testament Scholarship: Annotations on Romans. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1994. Print.

Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1982.

Frei, Hans. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 1974.

Fredriksen, Paula. “Paul and Augustine: Conversion Narratives, Orthodox Traditions, and the Retrospective Self.” Journal of Theological Studies, N.S. 37 (1986) p3-34

Myer, Benjamin. “A Tale of Two Gardens: Augustine’s Narrative Interpretation of Romans 5.” Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8. Ed. Beverly Roberts Gaventa. Waco: Baylor University Press. 2013. Pages 39-58.

Origen & Scheck, T. P. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 1–5. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010. Project MUSE.

Rondet, Henri. Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background. New York: Alba House. 1972.

Sanders, E.P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1977.

Seidman, Naomi. “Translation.” Reading Genesis: Ten Methods. Ed. Ronald Hendel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. 2010. Pages 157-175.

Weaver, David. “The Exegesis Of Romans 5:12 Among The Greek Fathers And Its Implication For The Doctrine Of Original Sin: The 5Th-12Th Centuries, Pt 2.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29.2 (1985): 133-159.

Weaver, David. “Exegesis Of Romans 5:12 Among The Greek Fathers And Its Implications For The Doctrine Of Original Sin: 5Th-12Th Centuries.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29.3 (1985): 231-257.

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  1. Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.
  2. Lateran Council.
  3. Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in this Class? 166–167.
  4. Beker, J. Christiaan. Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought. 139.
  5. Campbell, Douglas. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. 28–29.
  6. Beker, 136.
  7. Rondet, Henri. Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background. 28; Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho ch. 88.
  8. Beker, 138.
  9. Beker, 137.
  10. Beker, 144.
  11. Beker, 144.
  12. Dahl, N.A. “Christ, Creation, and the Church.” The Background of the New Testament and it’s Eschatology: Studies in Honour of C.H. Dodd. Ed. W.D. Davies and D. Daube. 423.
  13. Dahl, 429.
  14. Dahl, 428.
  15. Dahl, 426.
  16. Dahl, 423.
  17. Dahl, 430–31.
  18. Dahl, 438.
  19. De Boer, Martinus C. “Paul’s Mythologizing Program in Romans 5-8.” Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8. Ed. Beverly Roberts Gaventa. 1.
  20. Seidman, Naomi. “Translation.” Reading Genesis: Ten Methods. Ed. Ronald Hendel.
  21. Erasmus, Desiderius, and Robert D. Sider. New Testament Scholarship: Annotations on Romans.
  22. Benjamin Myers “A Tale of Two Gardens: Augustine’s Narrative Interpretation of Romans 5.” Apocalyptic Paul. 39.
  23. Myers, 40.
  24. Fredriksen, Paula. “Paul and Augustine: Conversion Narratives, Orthodox Traditions, and the Retrospective Self.” Journal of Theological Studies, N.S. 37 (1986) 27.
  25. And thus the endless debates over the extent of salvation, such as limited vs. unlimited atonement.
  26. Beker, 68.
  27. Campbell, 495.
  28. Campbell, 35.[\note] He argues that this later interpretation is actually a doctrine that Paul would have denounced (and did). Instead, he argues that the apocalyptic gospel of Paul is a cosmic redemption in which men are utterly helpless to participate without [something from?] the messianic redeemer.28Campbell, 66.
  29. Erasmus, 144.
  30. Bultman, 231.
  31. Bultmann, 228.
  32. Bultman, 203.
  33. The only fathers who came up with anything close to such a doctrine were the other African fathers such as Tertullian and Cyprian. This is no doubt significant, but the reason for it is unclear.
  34. Weaver, David. “From Paul To Augustine: Romans 5:12 In Early Christian Exegesis.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 27.3. 188.
  35. Weaver, 190; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho ch. 88.
  36. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:18.
  37. Origen & Scheck, T. P. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 1–5. 313.
  38. Origen, 317.
  39. Weaver, David. “The Exegesis Of Romans 5:12 Among The Greek Fathers and Its Implication for the Doctrine of Original Sin: The 5Th–12Th Centuries, Pt 2.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29.2, 195.
  40. Weaver, 140.
  41. Blind, D. Commentary on Genesis. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016. Project MUSE, p 82–83.
  42. Weaver, 29.2, 148.
  43. Weaver, 27.3, 192.
  44. Weaver, 27.3, 193.
  45. Weaver, 27.3, 201.
  46. Weaver, David. “Exegesis of Romans 5:12 Among the Greek Fathers and Its Implications for the Doctrine of Original Sin: 5Th–12Th Centuries.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 29.3. 243. See also Photius of Constantinople. Bibliotheca. Codex 177: Theodore of Antioch, “Against those who say that men sin by nature and not by intention.”
  47. Which is technically a reception (Theodore’s) of a reception (Augustine) of a reception (Paul) of a reception (Genesis).
  48. This theology is again evidenced in Augustine’s commentary on Genesis, in which he contends that Eve already had pride upon which she acted.
  49. The final note is tangential to the topic at hand, but the declaration that all sexual activity is sinful would also be alien to Greek theology.
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Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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  • Thanks for the insightful article! I have also suspected that the influence of Augustine has hindered many from reading the Scriptures like the earliest church fathers. Here’s my favorite quote: “almost all Catholic and Protestant scholars are affected by Augustine, for they inherit an interpretive tradition in which the sin and guilt of Adam is native for all mankind. However, this would be unthinkable for the Greek fathers. And yet, modern scholars, even reading the Greek text, do not arrive at the same reading of the early fathers.”

  • “And due to intertextuality, Augustine’s exegesis of Romans 5 has determined how the Church reads the figure of Adam in the book of Genesis.”

    Question: is the influence of Augustine due to intertextuality? Isn’t it, rather, the persuasive power of Augustine’s argument?

    • Well, I argue the former point in this paper. Of course Augustine’s argument is persuasive. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have held sway for 1700+ years. And I would not say that Augustine is completely wrong. But he’s not completely correct either, at least not according to the Greek text of scripture and the Apocalyptic worldview that characterized the Apostles and early Church Fathers. If Augustine’s view is prioritized in full, the Apocalyptic view is neglected. The Apocalyptic view needs to at least be considered and reconciled to Augustine’s teaching, if one is going to retain the Augustinian position.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful response to my comment. It was much appreciated. In your original article, near the beginning, it was stated:

        “As Hans Frei discusses in The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, premodern (or precritical), readers understood the Bible as a metanarrative of which they were a part.”

        I think I know where the assertion is coming from, since I, too, have found it helpful at certain times and in certain situations, to make the distinction between modern and critical and pre-modern and uncritical. However, I have found it equally helpful to exercise caution when evaluating the work of Christian scholars who lived before the modern era, which began, depending on one’s reckoning, either with the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Many pre-modern, uncritical readers of the Bible were excellent interpreters of scripture.

        Both Renaissance and Enlightenment ideals, let’s not forget, were no friend to Christian beliefs and practices, since both movements were centered on man and his reason, in deliberate contradistinction to Christ and his wisdom. Therefore, when I categorize pre-modern biblical readers as ‘uncritical,’ as opposed to critical, I cast pre-modern biblical readers into the role of unthinking or unreflective or injudicious characters; when I do so, I am in danger of sympathizing with a worldview that was self consciously at odds with the Christian worldview.

        But we needn’t look to distant times to make our case. More recently, modernity, which was the philosophical heir of the humanism of both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, demonstrated its true allegiance by its relentless assault on the word of God contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The clashes between Modernity and Fundamentalism that erupted so often in the early decades of the previous century, in both the Church and the public square, proved this point beyond a shadow of a doubt. The acrimony which modernity in the U.S. directed towards basic biblical teaching was palpably manifest in newspaper editorials, books, and most famously the Scopes court case. Why, the modernist agenda made its way even into motion pictures. The 1939 RKO production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame features a character who ridicules simple church folk for believing they can draw basic teaching from the Bible. The fact the character is King Louis XI may add humour to his words, but it also shows who had won the clash in this particular part of the culture wars, at least in 1930s Hollywood.

        Although the Christian Fundamentalists of the previous century were naive in their zealous defense of the basic teachings of Scripture, they were correct in seeing the Modernity as a genuine threat to biblical doctrine. Gresham Machen’s insightful little book, Christianity and Liberalism, provides a cogent analysis of the spirit of modernity in the modern American church. Although Machen certainly was not a fundamentalist himself (he loved Christian liberty more than the strictures of Fundamentalism allowed), nonetheless he recognized the movement had its merit. Through its trenchant struggle with modernity, Fundamentalism showed there was no genuine, long-lasting, substantive compatibility between modernity’s worldview and biblical doctrine. Motivated by this conviction, Machen argued that modernity, expressed as Christian liberalism, wasn’t simply another branch of the Christian tree (as Christian liberals were asserting as they simultaneously dismantled every major doctrine taught by the word), it was an entirely different tree. Let that statement sink in. Liberalism, which was the religious version of modernity, was a different tree from biblical Christianity. In this light, the portrayal of pre-modern biblical scholars as uncritical and modern biblical scholars as critical in their respective approaches to the biblical text and the enterprise of interpretation has captured with the accuracy of photo-realism the essence of the problem. Pre-modern scholars were not critical of the Bible, but in a necessarily good way, while modern scholars are critical of the same text, but not necessarily in a good way.

  • How do the Fathers read Romans 5:19? It would seem to me that it is relevant here in how 5:12-13 is understood.

  • So, you imply that the bible isn’t really God’s word at all… There is no objective meaning or truth to it, since it is contingent upon our interaction with it. And what about the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling understanding? You suggest a pretty small and impotent God, if He is unable to communicate clearly with His creation, don’t you think?

Written by Tavis Bohlinger