I have been interacting with an Arminian recently who asserts, among many other things, that Rom. 5 especially verse 12 does not teach the Reformed teaching of Original Guilt through the imputation of Adam's sin to us sinners. While I have addressed his eisegesis in the meta in that post, I would like here to present a brief positive exegesis of Rom. 5: 12-19 and show that the plain interpretation of Scripture do teach the doctrines of Imputation of sin and Original Guilt.
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 — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
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. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:12-19)
A striking feature, and in fact, the important thing to notice in this passage is the parallelism made between Adam and Christ, as they are compared and contrasted in many different ways. The end of verse 14 in fact informs us that the parallelism made is one of typology — Adam as the type and Christ ("who was to come") the antitype.
The entire passage therefore is governed by the concept of typology. Adam therefore is or did something which is then compared or contrasted with how Christ is or did that same thing. Whatever the interpretation of the text is, failure to read it as typology would render the interpretation necessarily errant.
The passage starts off with the mention of death coming into the world because of sin. Breaking this sentence in verse 12 down into logical form, we would have the following argumentation:
Premise 1: Sin entered the world through one man
Premise 2: Death comes with sin
Premise 3: All sinned
Conclusion: Death came to all men
Expanding the argument:
Premise 2: The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)/ Death comes with sin
Implicit premise 1a: Sinlessness merit eternal life (cf Gal. 3:12, Rom. 2:6-7,11)
Intermediate conclusion 1a: If and only if sin is real, then death must occur.
Premise 1: Sin entered the world through one man
Intermediate conclusion 1b: If and only if sin entered the world through one man, then death must occur.
Implicit premise 1c: If sin entered the world through one man, then all have sinned
Intermediate conclusion 1c: If and only if all have sinned, then death must have came to all men.
Premise 3: All sinned
Conclusion: Death came to all men
The argument as follows is valid and sound, which shows us the force of Paul's argumentation in verse 12. Paul is saying that all have sinned, and therefore all men die. Yet even here the fact of the "one man" in which sin entered the world came into focus. According to Scripture therefore, sin entered the world through that "one man" resulting in the fact that all of us die because sin has entered the world of our existence.
Verse 13 is a short digression into the relationship between sin and the law, stating that the law did not create sin since sin was already present before the giving of the law (the Ten Commandments and the laws at Sinai). Rather, the law showed sin to be sin (so that it becomes counted as sin), echoing Paul's later teaching in this regard as seen in Rom. 7: 8-10.
In verse 15, the parallelism starts to be mentioned and contrasted. Adam's sin ("one man's trespass") caused many men to die, whereas in Jesus Christ, the "free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ" abounded for many [unto life]. Verse 16 makes it even more explicit that the original sin of Adam was in Paul's mind, since it is through that ONE sin that condemnation follows, and death came which reigned in all of us (v. 17a). In Jesus Christ however, his free gift "follow[ed] many trespasses" (thus noting the fact that it is not because of men's righteousness that the gift was given) which brought justification. In verse 17b, Jesus Christ is the one who through His grace and His free gift cause those in Him to have life.
The contrast is thus formed as follows:
|One trespass||One gift|
|Brought condemnation||Being justified|
It must be here noted that all men are considered to be under the federal headship of either of these two heads. Adam brought death to many through his trespass, while Christ brought life to many through His free gift.
Rom. 5:18 continues the line of thought in the previous section. Adam brought condemnation and death to all men through his trespass, while Christ brought justification and life to all men through His righteousness. This modifies the chart as follows:
|Act:||One trespass||One gift of righteousness|
Verse 19 in Rom. 5 sums up the teaching of federal headship in the entire passage, by contrasting what we get by being in Adam, and being in Christ. Adam's original sin caused the many to be made sinners. Conversely, Christ's obedience caused the many to be made righteous. The parallelism is remarkable, and show forth the contrasts the two heads bring to those under them.
There are a few outstanding issue to be sorted out here, which we shall do now.
The first issue is the use of "many" and "all" in the passage. Just because the word "all" is used does not mean that all men everywhere are saved by Christ, neither does that necessarily mean that "all" men are sinners just because the quantifier "all" is used. Rather, the word "all", just like the word "many", is used as a quantitative modifier of the class they are describing. The Scriptures therefore do not teach Universalism based upon some sophomoric misinterpretation of the Greek word panta and its derivatives as used in this passage.
All men are sinners, not because the word "all" is used to modify "men", but because "all men" belong to the class of being "in Adam". The fact that we have all died proves that to be the case. Contrary to Arminian thought which states that we die solely because we actually sin, the Scriptures even in verse 12 itself teaches that sin and death entered the world through Adam (not separately through us), while verse 15 explicitly states that we first died in Adam even before committing any actual sin. Adam's "one trespass" caused our deaths because all of us have sinned in Adam as our federal head. While actual sins do cause death, a fact which the Arminians do admit, Adam's sin caused our death even before any one of us have committed any actual sins.
We all sin in Adam as our federal head, and therefore we all possess this Original guilt. Adam's sin is thus imputed to us, or considered to our account. Likewise, following the parallelism, Christ is the new federal head for all true Christians who are in Him (εν χριστω). Christ's righteousness is imputed to us and therefore we have His righteousness as ours.
As a parallelism, the manner in which the two are compared and contrasted must be the same. Therefore, a change in the mode of the transmission of Adam's sin would necessitate a change in the mode of the transmission of Christ's righteousness. The Arminians change the transmission of Adam's sin into purely a genetic transmission of a sinful nature. For the parallelism to hold, they must likewise consistently admit that the transmission of Christ's righteousness is a actual giving process, which is the process of infusion. In infusion, Christ's righteousness is not credited to men, but truly and ontologically given to men such that they are actually righteous. It is here that we can see the error of Romanism and semi-Pelagianism come to the fore. Embrace of the Arminian heresy with its attendant error of the denial of original guilt would cause original sin to be merely a sinful nature, which should make Christ's righteousness to believers an infused or actual righteousness, and there we go back to the faith-and-works religion of Romanism. After all, if you are actually righteous, then you must act righteous (works) otherwise you are not in Christ and thus not saved. Justification in such a system as Rome's is therefore through faith and good works, otherwise euphemistically stated as "a living faith" or "faith which works through love".
Rom. 5:12-19 therefore teaches 1) the federal headships of Adam and Christ, 2) Original guilt, 3) the imputation of Adam's sin to his seed, and 4) the imputation of Christ's righteousness to his seed. A denial of Original guilt, when interpreted in the light of the parallelism of Rom. 5:12-19, would necessarily result in the embrace of the heresy of infused righteousness and such would further necessitate a denial of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. It is no wonder therefore that the Synod of Dordt spoke for the Church of Jesus Christ in denouncing the heresy of Arminianism in her Canons, seeing the pelagianizing tendencies within her false teachings. Historically, the person of Remonstrant theologian Conrad Vorstius (who apostatized into Soccinianism — a form of incipient universalism at best) is more than sufficient to prove such tendencies inherent within Arminianism itself.
ADD: For the exegesis of Rom. 5:12 :
The preposition "so" indicate that whatever comes after is a conclusion from what comes before, while the word "because" indicates that whatever comes after this preposition is a premise for the one that comes before that prepostion. Therefore, the agument would be as follows:
Therefore, just as (P1) "sin came into the world through one man", and (P2) "death through sin", and so (C) "death spread to all men" because (P3) "all sinned". (Rom. 5:12)