A STUDY ON SALVATION, PART I

A STUDY ON SALVATION, PART I

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COPYRIGHT 2011 JESSE MULLINS

Greetings!  In accessing this posting you have located a portion of my completed and yet-unpublished second book, entitled Original Reason. I am posting this here as an experiment, prior to any move to publish or self-publish the work, in print or digital format. For the time being I will "host" the manuscript on my site, and if anyone doing a Web search happens to land here, as a result of a search, then perhaps the searcher will find something helpful or instructive or interesting here. I will probably arrange the various postings so that the book cannot be read in its entirety, though I might provide a means whereby a visitor can link from one section to another and read a sizeable portion of the book. As I insert these sections right now, I will probably divide the entire manuscript into six postings, each of about three chapters. Anyone wishing a bound copy of this study can obtain one by contacting me directly.  I have printed and put together some comb-bound, Kinko's style copies, and can make them available at cost (mainly shipping and handling, but with a little bit of materials cost thrown in - say $12.00 postpaid - if you email me with a request at jesse.mullins at juno.com. I am calling these "review copies," and I am making them available mainly because doing so could give me valuable feedback before I commit to publication, even if it is only self-publication. I am thinking about doing something similar with my first book, Rightly Divided, but I have paperback copies of that one available at $16.95 postpaid. Thanks! Jesse Mullins

Advance Prepublication Manuscript

Original Reason

Copyright 2011 Jesse Mullins

The reason why sin came to us by Adam is because reason came to us by way of Adam. That fact, so simple and seemingly unremarkable, so long overlooked, unlocks Christianity’s longest-running mystery—the workings of the Atonement.

By Jesse Mullins

Uncorrected Proof for Limited Distribution

Original Reason

The reason why sin came to us by Adam is because reason came to us by way of Adam. That fact, so simple and seemingly unremarkable, so long overlooked, unlocks Christianity’s longest-running mystery—the workings of the Atonement.

Published by (To Be Determined)

City, State

Original Reason: What came to us by Adam was reason, not sin

Copyright 2011 by Jesse Mullins

ISBN  X-XXXX-XXXX-X

Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations in this book are from the New American Standard.

Dedication

To my sweetheart, partner, inspiration, confidante, advisor, sounding board, and wife-girlfriend-beloved, as well as my happiness and blessedness, Kit.

Attention church congregations, religious education institutions, study groups, and publishing organizations: Special quantity discounts are available on bulk purchases of this book for educational purposes, giveaways, and gift-giving. Portions can be developed into special books, booklets, flyers, or book excerpts to fit your specific needs. For information contact the author at Jesse Mullins, 817 Elmwood Drive, Abilene, TX 79605 or at jesse.mullins at juno.com. Or consult his website at jessemullins.com.

Preface

It was through my study of the Bible’s Old and New Covenants that I arrived at the insights that filled the pages of my first book, Rightly Divided, and now of this book, Original Reason. Someone coming to this book need not worry about whether the other book should be read first. It is not necessary. It is only near the end of this book that the two books begin to show similarities of content and convergence of theme. A reader coming to this book from my first book could read three-fourths of what awaits here and never suspect that I found my starting point, and my various threads of thought, in ideas that came to me by virtue of having researched and written the first effort. This book might work as well as introduction to the earlier book, as vice versa.

As I reached the end of my first book, I thought I had fairly well exhausted not just my research but just about anything that could be said on that subject. But once that project had simmered and even fermented for a while, the juices started flowing again. At first it was just an idea for an additional chapter, to be included in a revised edition. Then it was two chapters. Then, in a strange twist, it was a flood of new ideas, all seemingly in a totally different vein. My ideas took such a leap, and the material covered such disparate topics, that it seemed to me that my newer writings were just some unrelated Biblical matters that had caught my interest. It took years before I saw all the connections, with the connections to my first book being, oddly, some of the last I was to recognize. By the time I sat down to write this book, some seven years after the release of the first book, I had 350 pages of journalings—just jottings, notes, thought-starters. Those were divided into 3 unequal portions. The largest of these, comprising nearly half my material, became the starter material for this book.

In this work, I tackle scriptural issues that, on the surface, seem far removed from the subject of Biblical covenants. But the breakthrough was a proper understanding of how Christ accomplished His earthly mission. I would not have made the discoveries I made had I not understood that everything Christ accomplished, He accomplished by obeying the Father—not by exercising or expressing His own will prior to the cross. This led me to the solution of a question that has perplexed theologians for ages.

It might seem a strange thing to say, but probably the biggest unanswered question about the Bible is also the most fundamental question anyone could ask about the Bible. And that question is, “How does God save man?”

Odd, of course, because the Bible tells us, in so many different ways, how we are saved. It tells us that we are saved by the sacrifice of Christ. By the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. By Christ “being sin for us.” By cleansing us through His shed blood. By taking the punishment that we deserved. By “ransoming” us. With so many answers, why would the question be unresolved?

More than 100 years ago, the theologian James Freeman Clarke described the quandary thus:

“Now, while the scriptures say a great deal about the fact that Christ’s sufferings save us from our sins, they say very little as regards the way in which they save us from our sins…. The scriptures state the fact; the theologians have supplied the explanations. Innumerable have been the theories devised by theology to show in what way the sufferings of Christ have availed for the salvation of men—theories of imputation, theories of substitution, theories of satisfaction. He was punished in our place; he paid our debt; he was our federal head and representative; he satisfied the justice of God; he appeased the wrath of God….”

Clarke and others have decided that the Bible does not offer any conclusive answer to this question. Thus, what we find today is a proliferation of “atonement theories.” They are “theories” (not doctrine, not exegesis) because someone is always able to ask yet another unanswerable question of them, and thus no single theory ever satisfies everyone—there is always something more to be asked.

The findings shared in Original Reason are that this state of affairs came about because of a misinterpretation of a key passage in Genesis, an error compounded by further, related misinterpretations from the book of Romans. Original Reason overturns the spate of theories with a single, unassailable scriptural explanation. Along the way, Original Reason puts to rest forever the misleading and destructive 1,600-year-old doctrine known as Original Sin. Even though most churches today do not consciously subscribe to the idea of Original Sin, that doctrine colors their thinking in ways they never imagined.

This volume, like my first book, is a “detective story” of sorts—one that begins with a small, overlooked (but extremely important) detail in scripture and builds to an ever-broadening scope. When you are finished reading this book, you will truly know how Christ’s obedience to the Father became your pathway to salvation. And it will be not just a blessing for you to treasure, but an indispensible tool for leading others to their own reward.

I could say more here—so much more. But the next pages do the job of introducing the book as well as I know how. So thank you for giving your attention to some ideas that mean more to me than any others I know, short of the words of the Lord Himself. May He bless you in this journey you are about to embark upon, as He has blessed me.

Jesse Mullins

January 2010

Contents

What is Truth?.........................................................................   11

The Two Kinds of Sin…………………….…………………………………………...   15

The Two Kinds of Law……………………………….……………………………….   21

Law Entered In Alongside…………………………………………………………..   29

The Opening of the Eyes…………………………………………………………….   35

Pulling Weeds from the Garden Story…………………………………………   41

A “Necessary” Injustice……………………………………………………………..    49

Every Way From Adam……………………………………………………………..    61

Salvation’s Prescription…………………………………………………………….    71

Thinking Abstractedly……………………………………………………………….   81

Salvation as Redress………………………………………………………………….   87

One Man Obeyed………………………………………………………………....……  101

Thrice Anointed………………………………………………………………………    105

The Nature of the Second Adam……………………………………………….    113

A Necessary Paradox………………………………………………………………..   121

What is Truth?......................................................................    125

Appendix…………………………………………………………………………………   135

About the Author……………………………………………………………………..   145

WHAT IS TRUTH?

What is truth?

The words were Pontius Pilate’s, uttered in the Praetorium, the Roman garrison headquarters in Jerusalem. Before him stood Jesus, bound, bleeding, and awaiting sentence. Pilate was replying to Jesus’s remark that, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

To what do a person’s thoughts turn when one is about to condemn an innocent man to death by torture? We can gather from the accounts that Pilate was not comfortable with his role. Whether or not he had ever done such a thing before, it was becoming increasingly clear to him that he would be pressed to do so now.

So what of his remark, “What is truth?” Was he seeking enlightenment? Or was it just a figure of speech, just a manner of speaking?

Let us put it the way Francis Bacon put it some 500 years ago: “ ‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”

This was no sincere inquiry. This was merely a manner of speaking. Pilate was mentally and emotionally distancing himself from the disquieting matters at hand, seeking to give himself some cushion by scorning the discernability and reliability of truth. It was only in doing so that he could blunt whatever conscience he might have yet retained.

The irony is that, if there were ever a time when he might have gotten an answer to that question, it would have been, as Bacon implied, at this very moment, from the mouth of this prisoner.

What is truth? Jesus had already said, to his disciples, only hours before, that “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus had said that He was the truth.

We have said already that Pilate’s remark was for him merely a manner of speaking. Now what of Jesus’ remark? Let’s test it also. Was it merely a figure of speech, a manner of speaking? Did Jesus mean only that He always speaks the truth, and as such He is so truthful that He can be regarded, in some kind of loose, figurative sense, as the truth?

The Bible states clearly that the Son of God was the creator of the heavens and the earth. Let’s consider four scriptural indications and then ask ourselves what this might have to do with truth. (Words in brackets are mine:)

Col. 1:16: “For by Him [the Son] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” [1] [2]

Heb. 1:2: “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

Heb. 1:8-10: “But of the Son He [the Father] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever… (10) … And You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth.’ ”

John 1:3: “All things came into being through Him [the Son], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

All things came into being through Him. That would have to include the surrounding walls and Pilate within them. For some Bible devotees this doctrine of the Son as creator is familiar, for others it can bring surprise. All, however, are familiar with the account of the God who, “In the beginning… created the heavens and the earth.” What escapes some is the fact that that God was a God spoken of plurally—the Hebrew word being Elohim, and signifying the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit. It is only when we come to the New Testament, sometime after the Son has been brought on the scene and identified for all, that this broad reference is narrowed and applied to one member of that Godhead—the Son.

The Son, the Logos, made all things. Is there truth in creation, and in human reason, and in the objects of our senses? In the wetness of raindrops, the blue of sky, the grittiness of sand? Certainly there is truth. There is up and down. North and south. There are scientific laws and chemical reactions and natural ecosystems. There exists gravity, electromagnetism, microbes, souls, seashores, sunsets, harmonics, and hope. There are things discovered and things yet undiscovered. There are truths upon truths, and every truth is what it is precisely because the Son deemed it would be this way and not some other way. Had He wanted any particular truth, any law of nature, any nuance of nature, to be different in the slightest way, then those differences would be the realities we’d know instead, not knowing any other. Meanwhile, all the ugliness in the world—all the treacheries and distortions and sin and wrongness and falsehood and pain—are so not because He made them that way, but because someone, whether man or Satan, perverted the good, true things He made. But these distorted things are no longer truth, at least not truth as He conceived truth. So it remains that all truth is of Jesus Christ, and insofar as things have any truth in them it is because that truth was first in Him. When the Bible says that He is the truth, it is not just some manner of speaking. It is as concrete as any fact ever uttered. It is the ground of all other statements, all other facthood.

And though we can say that He is the truth, we cannot as easily say that the truth is Him. For He, as its source, is something more than the truth. The truth, being something drawn from Him, something derivative from him, is something less than Him. All that exists outside the Godhead itself—all the created realm—is something less than the Son, though (or because) it comes from the Son.

And yet, for all of that abundance of truth, Christ’s greatest truth was achieved not when He was wreathed in clouds of glory but when “found in appearance as a man,” having “taken the form of a bond-servant.” It was then that He “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8).

It is here, standing in this hall before Pilate, and in the hours which follow, that Christ performs an act of creation that will outlast any garrison, any Gibraltar, any galactic array. For here, He creates something imperishable. Nothing of His physical handiwork was permanent. All was perishable, is perishable, will perish. Now He executes a higher truth. In bringing salvation, He fashions the everlastingness of His future commonwealth. What He did in His first creation, He did with but a word. What He does now, He does “in bitt’rest agony.” But that’s because this new creation rises that far above the first.

This is a book about Christ and His overcoming of sin and death. While “the greatest story ever told” is our ultimate concern, we must begin with a story that appears much earlier in scripture—as early as one can get.

The Bible speaks of Adam as “a type of Him who was to come.” Conversely, Christ is called the “Second Adam.” Jesus came to the world and was what Adam should have been, but was not.

The Adam-Jesus dynamic, never fully probed or understood in the past, holds keys to a wealth of scriptural truths.

As a beginning and a sampling, let us consider just one small parallel between them:

Adam had his side opened up. Jesus had His side opened up. God took a rib from the side of Adam, and from that rib He formed woman (Gen. 2:21-22). Jesus had his side opened up when He was hanging on the cross. (John 19: 33-34: “but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break his legs. (34) But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”

When Adam’s side was opened up, God caused a sleep to come over him and he was thus (we assume) spared the suffering that would have accompanied that step. When Jesus was taken to be crucified, He was offered a pain killer, but He refused it. (Mark 15: 23: “They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.”)

When Adam’s side was opened up, that was a price he paid for his bride. When Jesus’ side was opened up, that was a price that He paid for His bride, which is the church.

Drawing upon the comparisons, contrasts, and counterpoints to be made between Christ and Adam, we will take the insights we gain and we will find in them a tool to apply to broader spheres of Biblical doctrine, opening yet more insights that have not (to this author’s knowledge) been revealed previously.

It all begins with a small, mostly overlooked Bible verse about the nature of sin. In bringing a fresh interpretation to that passage, we will not neglect the previously held opinion on it. As we revisit that opposing opinion, the evidence in its favor might seem for a moment insurmountable. But there is more to be considered than our predecessors considered. And in considering what has not been considered previously, some shining truths emerge. Truths to make God look—as if that could be possible—even wiser, fairer, and better than He has looked before.

THE TWO KINDS OF SIN

Sin, as the Bible tells us, can be categorized two ways: imputed and not imputed.

That detail, once its full implications are understood, will be for us a key to unlock all that follows here. It will give us a means of comprehending portions of the Bible as we have not comprehended them before. Armed with an understanding of why some sin is imputed and other sin is not, we will better grasp the why that goes with being “lost” or “saved.”

I have no doubt that most, if not all, who come to this book have a grasp of what makes someone “lost” and what makes someone “saved.” We become lost because we sin and our sin separates us from God. We are saved because Christ saves us. I will not dispute either of those understandings. But the insights to be gained from a study of sin and its imputation will illuminate not only these issues but many more besides.

Incidentally, I cannot recall ever having heard or encountered any lesson, sermon, document, or discussion that drew any significant application from the simple fact that there are two kinds of sin.

As was remarked, there is a “why” to be understood in the matter of sin and its imputation. That “why” speaks to matters of salvation, forgiveness, justification, free will, and human reason. It speaks to the matter of why sin brings spiritual death. Ultimately, it speaks to the matter of why Christ’s obedience saves lost sinners. I do not believe that that understanding heretofore has been grasped in its entirety.

Our key text is simple and possibly familiar, and, frankly, on the face of it we will not gain any immediate insight:

Romans 5:13: “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

For those who might be inclined to object that the “law” referenced in Rom. 5:13 is the Law of Moses, not the law of sin and death (which is how we treat it below—as the law of sin and death), that objection is explored in detail at the beginning of the next chapter.

At any rate, our key text will shed light, but only as we consider it in context. That context has to do with the story of Adam and Eve.

So let us examine that account, but in a manner consistent with the way we look at the rest of the Bible. I hope to demonstrate that such has not previously been the case. It seems that we have viewed the Edenic account through a lens that we do not bring to the rest of the Bible, and have done so without any valid scriptural reason.

The story of Adam and Eve is a story of people who go from a state of being spiritually alive to a state of being spiritually dead. The same thing happens today: people are born spiritually alive and then at some later point they lose their spiritual lives. If we take our contemporary, Christian-era understandings of spiritual life, as well as of sin and sin’s consequences, and relate these to the story of Adam and Eve, we will see that the resulting picture makes sense, and that it does so in a more internally consistent way, as well as in a more Biblically consistent way, than does the prevailing interpretation.

We are familiar with how Christians view spiritual life and death today. All infants are born spiritually alive. Christians—at least those who do not believe in original sin—do not regard infants or children as being “lost” or spiritually dead. There comes a time for the developing youth, however, when spiritual aliveness cannot long remain. That comes when the youth reaches what we call the “age of accountability.” It is only after someone reaches the age of accountability that we say that sin brings spiritual death. In other words, it takes a sufficient degree of mental maturing and intellectual development for an individual to become “accountable” (that is, answerable for his or her own moral conduct). When the individual has arrived at the age of accountability, then any sin committed by that individual brings spiritual death. The individual is then “lost.” Christians consider this step (sin and spiritual death) inevitable and inescapable for anyone who has reached a state of accountability (Rom 3:23). The person then remains in that lost state until, perhaps, he or she becomes “saved.” If the individual later undergoes the conversion process and becomes a Christian, he or she is then “spiritually alive.”

It is not necessary to think of pre-adolescent children as being “sinless.” They do commit sins, but the important point to keep in mind is that they are not held “accountable” for sins. The sins are there—they are just not imputed to the child. Our English word “impute” comes from the Latin word imputare, which means “to charge, or to reckon.” To say that a sin is imputed to a person is to say that the person is held accountable for (or “charged with”) the sin.

It might seem strange, then, to speak of a sin as being “not imputed.” If a deed were sinful, why wouldn’t we be accountable for it? The very word “sin” seems to imply accountability.

But we can understand these matters if we stop to think of the word “sin” as simply a “wrong.” Some wrongs carry penalties, and ought to. Some wrongs do not. Every schoolchild knows that some classroom misbehaviors will result in harsh punishments—suspension from school, for instance—and some misbehaviors will incur nothing more regrettable than a mild verbal admonition, or a warning. Many of us have heard it said that the word “sin” means “to miss the mark.” It means to err, to go astray. We can understand how some errancy can be more serious than other errancy. We can also understand how it is that the chronological age of the sinner can make a difference in whether a penalty should apply.

Thus, we are right to think that a child can commit a sin, so long as we recall that the sin likely is one that is not imputed. Children’s sins are not imputed because law—in this case, the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2)—does not apply to children. The law does not apply to them because of their lack of understanding. When we talk about someone reaching the age of accountability (which a pre-adolescent probably has not reached), we are saying that that someone is accountable to law.

As our text indicated, “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” We must be careful here. The verse does not say “there are no sins when there is no law.” Rather, it says, “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” So the implication is that there can be sins without law. But… sins without law? It can sound contradictory. We are helped, though, when we remember that there are two kinds of sin—imputed and not imputed. And it helps to remember that there is a phase in everyone’s life when “there is no law.” That phase corresponds to the years when the person has not yet matured intellectually into a state of moral accountability. For that person (presumably a child but maybe an older and child-like or mentally disadvantaged person), “there is no law.” (That is, no law of sin and death.)

Thus, “sin is not imputed [i.e., one’s sins are all non-deadly sins] when there is no law [i.e., when the individual has not yet become subject to law].”

And therein we have a specimen of God’s wisdom and grace. There is fairness in it. A law of sin and death—a law with a penalty so severe as to entail spiritual death—is a law that is too severe to apply to a child who has not developed sufficient intellectual grasp to comprehend the stakes. The “age of accountability” and the “law” arrive simultaneously, and the reason should be clear: law is accountability. To say that someone is under law is to say that that person is accountable. The law of sin and death thus applies to the individual when the individual comes of age intellectually. The steps can be broken down as follows:

1.  Arrival in the world in a condition of spiritual aliveness.

2.  Early life in the world as a sinner who is not held accountable to a law of sin and death, and (thus) as someone whose sins are of the not-imputed kind. (Some might call this condition one of “sinlessness,” but anyone who held that view would not be taking into account the fact that there is more than one kind of sin. There is also unimputed sin. This detail—which might seem trivial—will serve us well later.)

3.  Arrival at a state of higher intellect and wisdom.

4.  Arrival (simultaneously) at a corresponding accountability to the law of sin and death.

5.  Continued sinning, but now while under a law whereby sins are imputed, and hence deadly, to the lifelong sinner.

6.  Spiritual death.

7.  (Perhaps) a conversion experience that restores a person to spiritual life.

If I were to say that all of those steps (or at least steps 1-6) applied to Adam and Eve, and in this same order, I can imagine that it might elicit some skepticism. Some would reply that Adam and Eve were innocent and sinless before they tasted of the forbidden fruit. But the Bible tells us that they indeed were sinners before they tasted of that fruit. I know that must sound surprising, but the statement is there. We will visit that passage and it will form an important detail in helping us to understand the broader implications of this story.

Another contention that might be raised is the idea that Adam and Eve incurred spiritual death before, or at the same moment as, they gained a knowledge of good and evil.

But the Bible does not support that view, either. And there are discernible, even necessary, reasons why the Bible does not support these views, as we will see.

Now that we have considered the prevailing understanding of spiritual life and death as we experience them today, let us reacquaint ourselves with the story of Adam and Eve. The entire account is found in a handful of verses in Genesis 2 and 3:

Gen. 2:15: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (16) The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; (17) but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”

At this point the narrative relates the story of the creation of the woman. In Chapter 3 the story of their disobedience begins.

Gen: 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’ (2) The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; (3) but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.” ’ (4) “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely shall not die! (5) For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (6) When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (7) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. (8) “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (9) Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ (10) He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.’ (11) And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ (12) The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave me to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ (13) Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ ”

The Lord God proceeds to issue his curse upon the serpent and upon woman and man, ending with the pronouncement, ‘For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ ”

And finally, in verses 21-24, we find:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. (22) Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— (23) therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. (24) So he drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Thus ends the Genesis account of the disobedience at the tree, but we find more discussion of this matter when we come to Romans Chapter 5, and it is there that we turn in this journey.

THE TWO KINDS OF LAW

In titling this chapter “The Two Kinds of Law,” the idea is not to suggest that the Bible deals with only two kinds of law. Rather, the idea is to focus on the laws that dominate conversations when Bible scholars debate the meaning of scripture in the Book of Romans.

These laws, arguably scripture’s most oft-cited, are the law of sin and death (which among teachers and commentators sometimes goes by other names, such as “God’s moral law”) and the Law of Moses, also known as the Old Law. In the texts under consideration, where the word “law” appears, these are the only two choices possible. The “law of the Spirit of life in Christ” (to take that just as an example) could not fit this context, nor could any other law. Whether the Bible elsewhere gives sanction to any other law that affects (or once affected) human beings is a question that might prompt vigorous debate, but the issue is beyond the scope of this book. We are concerned here with just those two aforementioned laws.

In our key text (Rom. 5:13), in most if not all popular translations, the word “Law,” as it appears there, is capitalized. When the capitalized version of the word is encountered in the Bible, it is, by common consent, taken to signify the Law of Moses.

As a way of making “legal” distinctions, that works fine. But for translators to have applied the capital letter here in Rom. 5:13—to call this the Law of Moses—is problematical, as we will see.

Nevertheless, to give the idea its due, we should consider, first, the capitalization question. The “Law of Moses” interpretation has the force of habit on its side, for one thing. That habit is reinforced by the fact that in these English translations the word “the” appears before “Law,” thus lending additional ammunition to the idea that this is indeed “the Law of Moses.” As a practice, this translational convention is supposed to be based on what the translators found in the Greek manuscripts themselves. If the translators encountered the definitive form (that is, the Greek equivalent of our term “the Law”), then that is how they should have expressed it in English—as “the Law.” And we are to take that as meaning, logically, “the Law of Moses.” Conversely, if the translators encountered the generic form (the Greek equivalent of our term “law”), then that is how they should have expressed it in English—as, simply, “law.” So in these generic usages the term in question is supposed to be expressed in English without the “the” and without the capital L. Just as “law.” And it is intended to signify the law of sin and death. Now, all that we have covered here is the approach that translators have applied in their English versions of the New Testament. Just the same, judging purely from what we know about these standards, and given the fact that our specific word in question is translated as “the Law” in Romans 5:13, it would seem that our contention (that it refers to the law of sin and death) is not tenable.

But the strange thing is that, in this portion of the book of Romans, the translations of this term (“law”) are not faithful to the Greek, as the Greek-to-English translators long ago switched the lower case “laws” for Cap L “Laws.” Moreover, the experts of today know it, and so did Greek scholars of ages past. What are we to make of this? As a translational matter, it cannot but call attention to itself as a most peculiar circumstance.

Consider, for instance, what the late Homer Hailey (1903-2000), an influential minister and Bible commentator, had to say on the issue:

“In order to understand properly what Paul is saying in the first eight chapters of Romans, one must distinguish between ‘law’ and ‘the Law,’ a distinction lost by the translators. By actual count the first eight chapters of the Roman letter contain 30 instances in which the definite article ‘the’ has been inserted before ‘law’ where it did not appear in the original. This has very definitely led to confusion as to what Paul is saying.” [3]

Hailey, obviously, was bothered by the situation. So how is the situation explained by someone who is not so bothered? We can turn to Burton Coffman, another commentator, who had this to say about the translators’ handling of the word “law” in Romans 5:20 (“And the Law came in besides, that the trespass might abound…”):

“Paul used ‘law’ here [in the Greek—JFM] without the article; but the translators are correct in supplying the article [changing it to “the Law”], for it cannot be doubted that the Law of Moses was Paul’s subject, not merely here, but everywhere this term is mentioned in Romans.”[4]

It seems that Coffman, who like Hailey was a respected Bible authority, says that the apostle Paul, whose writing was inspired by God, made a mistake and that the Greek-to-English translators caught that mistake and corrected it.

Certainly if Homer Hailey could be bothered by what he perceived had been done in translation, then some of us today, seeing the odd, non-literal translation so confidently upheld, could be equally bothered.

But our objective here was, first, to give the “Law of Moses” position its due. And so continuing with that in mind, let us further examine our key verse, meanwhile looking also at the following verse, for broader context, all the while trying to see it through Coffman’s eyes.

Rom. 5:13: “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law. (14) 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.”

Setting aside the translators’ unorthodoxy, it’s not so hard to see why Coffman said what he did: that “law” here meant “the Law of Moses.” We ourselves have all heard, all our lives, that Adam and Eve were sinless until they ate from the tree of knowledge. And yet here we see this verse telling us of sin being in the world before there was law. How could that be, if we are talking about the law of sin and death? I don’t believe anyone questions the idea that the law that Adam broke was the law of sin and death. Certainly it was not the Law of Moses. Our reason tells us that law ought to precede sin, not follow it. One must sin against something, and that something would seem to be the law. Without law, sin cannot be imputed—our own verse says that very thing. Moreover, we know that God issued a prohibition to Adam—wouldn’t that qualify as law? It was a commandment, a “Thou shalt not…” So if we are looking for a law that would not have been instituted until the “sin in the world” had begun, then it would seem that we should be looking for some Law that came later than the law of sin and death. The Law of Moses would be the obvious choice.

As these reasons stand, Coffman’s view would seem justifiable.

And all of this being so, we would also be obliged to admit that the explication that was shared in the previous chapter—regarding this very verse—could not hold up. That argument went like this: “But sin is not imputed [i.e., the sins are all non-deadly sins] when there is no law [i.e., when the individual has not yet become subject to law].” Our interpretation might sound fine when applied to a modern day individual. But taken in the different context that Coffman and others insist upon, it wouldn’t serve.

So, that much we will say for the other side. But now we have given that side its due. It is time to delve into matters that have not previously been considered.

Those matters arose, for me, some years ago as I was reading in the aforementioned book[5] by Homer Hailey. Hailey was pinpointing the moment of beginning for the law of sin and death.

“For the purpose of identification we speak of this as God’s universal moral law [italics his],” Hailey wrote. “It is identified by some as “Adamic law”; though when Paul speaks of it, he refers to it simply as law or, as in Romans 8:2, “the law of sin and of death”—that is, the moral law, the violation of which is sin, bringing death to the violator.

“This universal moral law is the expression of God’s own character and will…,” Hailey continued. “From whence did it come, and when did it become effective?”

Understanding the misunderstood 5th Chapter of Romans, understanding the dynamic of sin and human reason, understanding justification, understanding spiritual life—it all begins with understanding when and why law “entered in.” With an incorrect view of the onset of law we will never understand the “why” of so much of scripture. We can understand what we are obliged to believe and follow in order to be saved. We can understand that the right response will give us forgiveness, even Heaven. But we cannot fully and completely grasp the faith-building “why” of our salvation unless we understand when and why law “entered in.”

Perhaps Hailey was not aware of all the ramifications that we will address in this book. But certainly Hailey was right to be deeply interested in determining which law was under discussion here, and when exactly it took effect.

To grapple with the matter, he turns to the section of Romans 5 that has occupied us. As he does so he takes pains to make clear that the context here has nothing to do with the Law of Moses. “In Romans 5, the verses between 15 and 17 set forth a comparison not of what came through Adam and Moses or through Christ and Moses, but of what came through Adam and Christ,” he writes.

That’s important, and it runs contrary to much opinion about this pivotal section of Romans.

Yes, Moses’ name does appear, once, in this 5th Chapter of Romans. He is mentioned in verse 14 (“death reigned from Adam until Moses”) but from verse 15 to verse 20 (the last of the verses here that will be critical to us), the discussion entirely revolves around Adam and Christ, focusing on how Christ counterpoints Adam. That’s the entire issue. The mention of Moses in verse 14 does nothing to shift the context away from the Adam-Christ relationship. The only reason Moses’ name was inserted at all is because the apostle Paul wanted to indicate how long [spiritual] death reigned. And so we are told that “death reigned to Moses.” There is an interesting reason to share as to why death did not reign past Moses, and it is a matter that I will be writing about, but not before my next book. Regardless, Moses’ time simply marks the end of “death’s reign.” Death is brought on by sin, and sin is disobedience to law (I John 3:4), so we are left to decide which law was broken at the outset of “death’s reign.” Was it the Law of Moses or the law of sin and death? It ought to be clear. We cannot regard it as a violation of the Law of Moses when we clearly see that the verse says “death reigned from Adam to Moses.” Since the reign of death began in Adam’s time, the onset of that reign of death could not be connected to the Law of Moses, which would not be in place for thousands of years from Adam’s time.

Hailey, for his part, makes his case by turning to one of our passages under scrutiny, Rom. 5:20, which he quoted from the very literally precise American Standard Version (“And law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly”). Making note of the fact that the Greek word for “law” here should not be translated with “the” before it, and that it thus is not a reference to the Law of Moses, Hailey remarked that the phrase “come in besides,” means “to enter in addition, come in besides” (Thayer).

But… “beside” what? What did the law of sin and death “come in beside”? Hailey indicates that we must stay with the context, and the context here is the disobedience of Adam. It is the disobedience of Adam that marks the point in human history when the “law of sin and death” entered into the world.

Wrote Hailey: “Law came in with, along side of, the trespass of Adam which Paul is discussing, ‘the one man’s disobedience’ (Rom. 5:19a), not those under Moses’ law, ‘that the trespass (Adam’s) might abound’ (Rom. 5:20b).”

As I read that line, it struck me that, strange as his very-literal interpretation might sound, he had hit upon the crux of the matter. I was surprised that he stopped there, not saying more and, more importantly, not giving the “why” of the matter. That “why” seemed obvious to me. Perhaps he did not perceive the “why.” But it exists. Our reason can tell us why the law would “enter in alongside” the trespass.

Why? Because Adam’s and Eve’s eyes were opened, and they were made “wise,” and could know good from evil. Law—accountability, responsibility—had to enter in, or else there would have been something categorically unjust about this fresh state of affairs. This man and woman were enlightened. They were no longer the “un-wise,” unknowledgeable individuals they had previously been. Law, being accountability, does not “enter in” until an individual is mentally equipped to answer to that law. But once someone is equipped to be accountable for his or her actions, there is something wrong if that accountability does not attach to him or her.

Imagine Adam and Eve as we consider pre-adolescents today. If the yet “unfallen” Adam and Eve were not “wise” and if they were without knowledge of good and evil (which also might be expressed as “right and wrong”), then they bear closer comparison with our pre-adolescents of today than they do with fully reasoning adults of today. We do not think it right that pre-adolescents today should be under a law of sin and death. In fact, we say outright that our children are not under that law. Whether we talk about our children or we talk about Adam and Eve, we are talking about the exact same law. It’s that law that brought spiritual death to Adam and Eve, and yet when we consider that law with regard to our own children, we say that our children are not liable to it until they have reached accountability—in other words, not until their eyes are opened. It is only then, sometime down life’s road, somewhere beyond childhood, that our children grow into what we deem the age of accountability. And it is then that the law of sin and death applies to them, and as soon as they have sinned thereafter, they die spiritually, becoming “lost.” We understand this state of affairs. We understand the logic that undergirds this state of affairs. Law should not “enter in” to individuals who are not mentally advanced enough to grasp the responsibilities that go with that power.

Or to look at it a different way: We would not think it right if society’s older, “accountable” youth could skip through life bearing nothing more burdensome than the mild dutifulness we expect of a toddler or a small child. If a small child knowingly takes risks or performs acts that bring grievous damages or consequences on those around him or her, we might reprimand the child but we do not hold the small child to the same level of culpability to which we would hold an adult or even an “accountable” youth. For us not to expect, or for any justice system not to allow, the law to “enter in” as the youth grows into greater mental maturity is to be unjust to the individual and to the world at large. When a knowledgeable, aware, intelligent youth can get away with a similarly harmful misdeed and expect no more blame than we’d bring to a 4-year-old—there is something seriously wrong. Knowledge brings power and it also brings accountability.

So accountability—which is law—must increase or otherwise “enter in” at the point when the individual has the faculties to adequately appreciate, and answer to, the terms of that law.

For the past 2,000 years, Christian society, whether it has employed these terms or not, has taken the position that, whenever a youth’s eyes are opened, the law of sin and death “enters in alongside.” That change, coupled with the individual’s next sin, brings spiritual death. It’s what we mean when we say that a person becomes “lost.”

The same was true for Adam and Eve. Like children today who do not have sufficient knowledge of good and evil to be responsible for their spiritual lives, Adam and Eve were not accountable to a law of sin and death until after their eyes were opened, and that was something that occurred after they tasted the fruit.

The Bible does not say that the act of tasting the fruit was what cost them, directly, their spiritual lives. What God said was, “In the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die.”

That is not a statement that the eating of the fruit would directly cost them their lives. It is a statement that their lives would be lost in the day that they ate the fruit.

(Incidentally, some might contend that the life that Adam and Eve lost at the moment they disobeyed at the tree was their biological life. But in the strictest sense, that loss of biological life came, or at least began, sometime later, when God forbid them access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22). Again, we can recall that God’s words to Adam were, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Italics mine). Adam did not lose his biological life in that day. But Adam did die a death in that day—for God said he did. At any rate, for the purposes of this discussion we will, for the moment, set aside biological life as a topic and restrict ourselves to considerations of spiritual life—or spiritual death.)

We are not exactly told that God confronted them the same day, but whether He confronted them the same day or not, they still definitely sinned between the eating of the fruit and His confrontation of them. Nevertheless, there is some suggestion that the confrontation came the same day, for scripture records their disobedience and then says, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking the garden in the cool of the day.”

Further, as remarked, we know they were sinning after the opening of their eyes. For one, they hid from God. For another, Adam distorts events—we know that he and Eve made and donned clothing before they heard God walking. But he tells God that he (1) heard God in the garden, and (2) hid himself, “because [he] was naked.” That was a lie—Adam altered the sequence of events. Also, Adam tries to shift blame onto Eve.

In the moment just as their teeth broke the skin of the fruit, when their minds were flooded with mental capacity—when they could see everything about their world just as you and I can, when they could see instantly the fact of their nakedness—did they in that precise moment, recognizing the fact that they had been sinning all along, did they in that precise moment fall to their knees and repent and seek mercy from God? No, in their sinfulness, they sought to hide. Those were the choices—be honest and repent, or be deceptive and hide.

But do we even need to cite these incidences? Sin, as Jesus tells us, can be a mental act, or even an inclination of the heart (Matt. 5:27-28: “ ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; (28) but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart’ ”). It is also possible that man’s heart is so inclined that he sins daily if not hourly. (Gen. 8:21: “…and the Lord said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth…”)

Regardless, one’s intentions need not always take the form of deeds for one to be deemed sinful. And, as mentioned earlier, Adam and Eve were sinners before they even arrived at the tree.

Our indication for that comes in Romans 5, a chapter wherein the context is the disobedience of Adam and Eve. In Rom. 5:13 we find: “For until the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”  Sin was in the world before law was in the world. When was law in the world? It entered in when Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened—which happened instantaneously when they tasted the fruit. Adam and Eve were sinners before the law entered in, but those prior sins had not been imputed to them, because Adam and Eve were not of sufficient awareness and enlightenment that they should be held accountable—on penalty of spiritual death—for their sins. Their earlier sins, then, were like the sins of children or pre-adolescents today—real sins, but unimputed sins.

The distinction between imputed sins and unimputed sins is vital to understanding the ways of God. Armed with this understanding, we can see how there indeed could be sins (unimputed sins, that is) before there was law.

So now we can read our verse (Rom. 5:13) as follows (parentheses mine): “For until the law (until the law “entered in alongside” the disobedience at the tree), sin was in the world (Adam and Eve were sinners), but sin is not imputed where there is no law (those early sins were not imputed to them, and so they remained spiritually alive, and in the good graces of God, until their eyes were opened and they sinned a subsequent sin).”

FOR PART II, GO HERE. FOR A MENU TO OTHER ARTICLES ON THIS SITE, GO HERE.


[1] The reference in Col. 1:16 to “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” is not to earthly beings, for that would be a small thing in this context, but to heavenly beings. These are references to the highest ranks among the angelic order. (For a quick study on this matter, see Eph. 1:21, 3:10, 6:12, Col. 2:10, 2:15, Rom. 8:38)  .

[2] Biblical quotations throughout—unless indicated otherwise—are from the New American Standard (NAS).

[3] Hailey, Homer, The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God (Nevada Publications, Reno, Nev., 2nd Edition, 1998), p. 31

[4] James Burton Coffman, Commentary on Romans (Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, 1973) p. 198

[5]Hailey, Homer, The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God (Nevada Publications, Reno, Nev., 2nd Edition, 1998), pp. 33-34.

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