Arminian Today

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The “Many” and the “All” of Romans 5

Dr. Jack Cottrell holds that the doctrine of original sin as taught since Augustine is not biblical.  He holds that people are born in a state of grace and are not guilty of Adam’s sin and thus are not born sinful.  He holds that all sinners will be judged by God but they will be judged for their own sins and not for the sin of Adam.  Even John Wesley acknowledged that none will be found guilty of Adam’s transgression but their own.

Romans 5 is a debated passage over the doctrine of original sin.  I would say that most orthodox scholars hold that Romans 5 teaches the doctrine of original sin or inherited sinfulness.  While Arminians are not as quick to say that all people inherit Adam’s sin, Arminianism does hold that all people inherit Adam’s sinfulness.  Thus Arminianism has held that people are born dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) because of Adam’s sin but people are not born guilty of Adam’s sin but merely the results of Adam’s sin.  Calvinists hold that people are born both depraved and inherit Adam’s sin and thus babies are guilty of sin at the moment of conception (they also explain the necessity of the virgin birth as such).

Dr. Cottrell’s analysis of Romans 5 is fascinating.  It is very extensive and would take many posts on this blog for me to work through it.  However, I just want to focus in on one issue here and that is the issue of Paul’s use of “many” and “all” in Romans 5.  For example, in Romans 5:12 we read:

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.

None deny that “all” here means all.  In Romans 5:15 Paul uses the phrase “many died through one man’s trespass” and none doubt that “many” here means all.  The problem is the end of Romans 5:15.  Let me quote the entire verse:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Now if the many at the beginning means all (v. 12) then why does the many at the end of verse 15 mean anything less than all?

The Calvinist answer is that if we make the “many” here become all (as in all) then we must hold to universalism or at best we must deny limited atonement (which cannot be done).  The all in Calvinism is “all” but the “many” in their view is only the elect.  Thus Adam’s sin brings condemnation to “all” but Jesus’ work brings salvation only to the elect or the “many.”

The Arminian answer is that Christ’s sacrifice was provided for all sinners (John 3:16) but only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved.  The only way to escape judgment for your sins is to place your faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Thus the “all” of Adam’s transgression comes to all and the work of Christ has been given for all.  The “many” and the “all” are used interchangeably by Paul the Apostle here in Romans 5.

Dr. Cottrell believes that the only universalism that one can derive from Romans 5:12-21 is that Christ’s saving work on the cross cancels out the work of Adam.  Thus he holds that people are not born in a state of depravity or born sinful but rather that Paul’s point is that Romans 5 is teaching that Jesus cancels out the fall of Adam.  While death is still here with us from Adam, this too, writes Cottrell, will soon be vanquished by the power of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:13-14).

He goes on to write that we now can view sin in four stages.

  1. Original Sin.  The only thing we receive from Adam’s sin now is death.  We are born in a flesh that will die.  The sin of Adam has been canceled out by the work of Christ.
  2. Original Grace.  All infants and young children are here as well as those who mentally never develop (handicapped).  While here people are in a state of salvation through the universal work of Christ until they reach an age of accountability that only God knows.
  3. Personal Sin.  This is the state people are in after reaching the age of accountability and lose the original grace into which they were born.  Those in this stage are lost because they sinned against a holy God and violated His just laws in the same way that Adam and Eve did.  Those who die here are condemned for their own sins.
  4. Personal Grace.  This is a term only for believers.  Those in Christ Jesus through faith are in a state of personal grace and are redeemed from both sin and death (John 5:24-25; 11:25-26).  Both sin and death have no power over the believer (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  However, this applies only to those who believe and is not based merely on past belief.  This is present active relationship with Christ (1 Peter 1:5).

Let me add here in closing that Dr. Cottrell would not label his view as Pelagian.  He would actually label it “pre-Augustinian.”  He holds that his view was held by most of the early Church Fathers before Augustine and his debates with Pelagius.  It was only after Pelagius that the Roman Catholic Church adopted the original sin view and the Western Church began to teach that people are born universally condemned for Adam’s sin.  The problem with the original sin view is that many believe that they can’t turn from their sins (since they are born sinful and this is the best they can hope to do) and thus they continue in their sins despite the preaching of the gospel to them.  Many Christians likewise hold that even if saved by the work of Christ from sin, they still must live a life of sin.  I heard a radio preacher just yesterday describing himself as a “miserable sinner” and he went on to say that this was the best he could do and hope for in this life.

I rejoice that the atonement of Christ is a great work from God!  While I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from those who hold to Cottrell’s view about why children sin, I do agree that the work of Christ is for all.  Christ shed His blood so that all can be saved.  I also agree that each person will be judged for their sins and not the sin of Adam.

Wesley preached:

Satan has stamped his own image on our heart in self-will also. “I will,” said he, before he was cast out of heaven, “I will sit upon the sides of the north;” I will do my own will and pleasure, independently on that of my Creator. The same does every man born into the world say, and that in a thousand instances; nay, and avow it too, without ever blushing upon the account, without either fear or shame. Ask the man, “Why did you do this?” He answers, “Because I had a mind to it.” What is this but, “Because it was my will;” that is, in effect, because the devil and I agreed; because Satan and I govern our actions by one and the same principle. The will of God, mean time, is not in his thoughts, is not considered in the least degree.

We sin because we want to sin!  We sin because we are children of the devil (John 8:44).  Jesus called people “evil” (Luke 11:13) and He said that out of the heart comes evil (Matthew 15:19).  However, Jesus did say that some people are good and others evil (Matthew 12:35).

In reality, we need Christ.  That is the bottom line.  All sinners need Christ.  All saints need Christ.  We need to exalt the Lord Jesus to every nation and to every sinner.  Jesus is our only hope!

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  1. Excellent expose`; bless you brother!

    Steve Orwig

    11/16/2014 at 10:30 PM


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