Most English translations have something in Romans that is an interesting turn of phrase—at least to my ears it instinctively makes sense but at the same time it in more at home in a carefully worded thesis than a casual conversation. Following the references works for me in English, but I'm having trouble explaining the thought progression in Turkish. Judging from the assortment of translations it seems I'm not the first to struggle. Unfortunately words for concepts involving relative numbers their implications are not easy to pin down.

Paul has several assorted references to quantities here:

Romans 5:15 (ESV)
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.

A couple verses later the ESV translators seem to link back to specific amounts. Or at least that's what the definite article sounds like here:

Romans 5:19 (ESV)
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.

This raises a couple questions.

  1. What sort of expressions are "many" and "the many" here? To a Greek ear would this read like a calculated mathematic reference carefully picking out a specific group? Or perhaps it's completely idiomatic and a casual way of referring to groups.
  2. Drawing on Paul's theology from earlier in the same book it seems obvious that in v15 the first "many" actually means "all". Every last blooming one. Except of course the ones for which that process has been reversed, which apparently he's no longer including in the total. The following reference to "even more", then, seems to have some literary value other than a mathematically larger sum of people affected.
  3. Are the two references to "the many" grammatically tied to specific previous groups or is the reference implied the way it comes across in English? What specifically about this sentence, would keep this statement from being interpreted in a universalist fashion, i.e. all who were sinners will be made righteous?

If we could see Paul talking with his hands describing the scene, what sort of gestures would he be using? What are the linguistic clues that tell us which group is referenced when and how specific are the relative sizes?

4 Answers 4


The Uses

All four instances of the adjective πολύς in v.15 and 19 that are used substantively to refer to "the many" people are articular masculine plural forms, three being nominative case (οἱ πολλοὶ), with the second articular version in v.15 an accusative case (τοὺς πολλοὺς) as the object of the prepositoin εἰς ("to").

Two instances of the anarthrous dative singular neuter are found in v.15 and v.17 as part of the comparison constructions there (πολλῷ μᾶλλον; "much more"), working as adjectives adding the descriptive emphasis of "much" to μᾶλλον's "more."

A final instance in v.17 is an anarthrous πολλῶν μᾶλλον (genitive plural; neuter here, since it is paired with the neuter noun παραπτωμάτων, "trespasses"). It is functioning to describe the extent of the trespasses.

Two Significant Points

First, the articular versions are all being used to contrast a group of people with the "one" (εἷς is found in the genitive singular ἑνὸς, "of one," a total of 12 times, 11 of those in v.15-19 and once back in v.12). The "one" man, whether Adam or Christ, or that man's "one" particular work, trespass or righteous act (v.18; referring back to Christ's death noted in v.6, 8, 10) are being referenced by each use.

Second, the articular versions are specifically being used where they are in juxtaposition to the references to "all" (πάντας, accusative plural of πᾶς; v.12, 18 [x2]). That is, none of the "many" are equal to "all."

Discussion of Your Specific Points

  1. "The many" is an indistinct way of referring to a group. The Greek's would easily pick up, as we do in English, the contrast of one to many. But the term allows for a flexibility of addressing a number between "one" and "all" without being too specific, nor necessarily having one reference of "the many" be of equal numerical value to another reference of "the many."

  2. The first "the many" of v.15 does not, in fact, mean "all," for two reasons. First, there is One in particular, Jesus Christ, who did not die "through" or "by" one man's trespass, but rather because He chose to die (cf. Jn 10:15-18). Second, the verb is aorist indicative (past tense), so the reference, strictly speaking, is to those who have indeed physically died already (such as v.14 emphasized, but not limited to just that group). The "much more" that follows is not a mathematical reference of a greater number of "the many," but a greater effect that occurs by the action of Christ versus Adam.

  3. The references to "the many" are not tied to specific previous groups in v.15. Again, it is indistinct. However, the second reference in v.19 does tie back to v.17, where one must receive grace and the gift of righteousness (the latter only coming by faith, so Romans 4) in order to be included as one of "the many" who "will be made righteous" in v.19.

So here is how it works out that Christ's effect is "much more" than Adam's:

  • Adam sinned, so the penalty of death is upon all men (v.12), and many have already died because of it (v.15), and all but Christ were made sinners (v.19; Christ was made to be sin for us, but was not made a sinner [2 Cor 5:21; cf. Rom 8:3; 1 Jn 3:5]).

  • Christ incarnated in order to die (Heb 2:14), to partake of the penalty of mankind (1 Pet 3:18), and was obedient to the death of the cross (Phil 2:8). In v.15 it outlines this payment was an expression of the grace of God, which v.18 clarifies had an effect upon all men (just as Adam's affected all men) by giving justification for life, that is justification for all men to be resurrected from the penalty of death. So at this point, Christ's work equals Adam's work in effect, as all people will be resurrected (cf. Jn 5:29; Acts 24:15). But His work also opened the door for a further gift by grace (v.15), the gift of righteousness (v.17), given to many men (v.19), that is, those that would believe. So Christ's work becomes "much more" in its effects than Adam's, because it also brings righteousness to believers, and ultimately for them, reigning in the resurrected life (v.17) eternally (v.21).

    For a more detailed discussion of this passage arguing these points and more, see pages 288-321 of "Pananastasism—A Penal Substitutionary Model of a Definite Universal Atonement" (Ph.D. Diss.; Piedmont International University, 2015).


"The many" allows an indistinct number between the "one" and the "all" found elsewhere in verses 12-19. The "much more" does not expand the number of people, but rather the greater effect (both reversing and improving) by the work of the "one" man Christ over the "one" man Adam.

  • (+1) I follow your first point in #2, but, the verb is aorist indicative (past tense), so the reference, strictly speaking, is to those who have indeed physically died already? I wouldn’t expect the aorist to entail that.
    – Susan
    Nov 10, 2015 at 9:12
  • @Susan: As Daniel Wallace notes in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, "In the indicative, the aorist usually indicates past time with reference to the time of speaking (thus, “absolute time”) ... There are exceptions ... but they are due to intrusions from other linguistic features vying for control" (554). So why not "expect the aorist" to be referring here to past deaths, since that is the usual use of the indicative? Paul is still alive (writing), and his readers are alive, so Adam's effect has not run a full course yet. I believe that is part of the point of his "the many" in v.15.
    – ScottS
    Nov 10, 2015 at 13:16
  • You're killing me man! This question was actually not for myself so much as a Turkish pastor friend of mine who doesn't speak English at all and is trying to preach through Romans. I posed the question based on a combination of his misunderstandings and my own inability to succinctly defend exactly why this bit meant what I thought it meant. Thanks for addressing the specific misconceptions, that did make it a lot easier to sit down and talk through. However working through 30 pages of your [very specifically worded] paper trying to translate the gist of it into Turkish was a bit taxing.
    – Caleb
    Nov 13, 2015 at 11:56
  • @Caleb: not as taxing, I suspect, as it was for me to research and write it :-). Glad it was a help.
    – ScottS
    Nov 13, 2015 at 14:11

Romans 5:15 (KJV)

But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many (1. G4183 masculine, singular) be dead, much (2. G4183 neuter, singular) more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. (3. G4183 masculine, plural)

In this verse the Greek adjective, given as Strong's G4183, occurs in three different forms.

  1. The first occurrence is masculine singular, and rendered "many" in the KJV and ESV without an article, even though one is present in the Greek, viz οἱ πολλοὶ (hoi polloi). Many newer translations, like the NIV and NASB, leave the Greek as it is, rendering the expression more consistently as "the many".

    By adding an article, Paul is making an adjective into a noun (a common practice in the English language - see Merriam-Webster for examples), which allows him to separate humanity into two identifiable sets - "the ONE" and "the MANY".

    enter image description here

  2. The second occurrence is gender neutral with no article, so Paul is using the adjective in its normal way, as adding information to the noun (GRACE).

  3. The third occurrence is masculine plural, and again Paul has made an adjective into a noun by including an article.

    If you like, this use of the plural could have been rendered "the manys" or "the many, many", but that would be clumsy. English has no means of doing the same thing as the Greek. I think the notion being expressed here, though, is to suggest that the gift of grace is not only available to the many of Paul's own time, but also to the many, many, many, ... in times to come.

A couple of verses back in Romans 5:12, Paul uses "pantas" (Strong's G3946) to refer to ALL men - each and every one of them - however, he needed something different here.

  • I absolutely LOVE the graph (+1). Can you explain to us why then everyone does not receive the free gift of eternal life, if (in fact) Jesus had died for the sins of all people (that is, for "everyone else")? Thanks.
    – Joseph
    Nov 9, 2015 at 6:44
  • Thanks, Joseph. As I see it, the well into which the water of life flows is in full view of everyone who has heard the Gospel. The Enemy is bent on obscuring it, of course, but God knows exactly what he's up to, and uses His people, those who drink from it, to advertise its whereabouts. There are many who know where it is, but they see no profit in drinking from it because it has no power to quench the kind of thirst they have.
    – enegue
    Nov 9, 2015 at 7:41

Rom. 5:12 "...through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to ALL men, because ALL sinned" [emph. added]

Rom: 5:15 (picking up his thought again after explaining sin/law) "...the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression the MANY died, much more did the grace of God and and the gift by the grace of the one Man abound to the MANY." [Emph. added]

Aren't ALL and MANY being presented as equal in these two verses?

Again: Rom. 5:18 "...through one transgression there resulted condemnation to ALL men (mankind), even so through the one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to ALL men (mankind)"

Rom. 5:19 "For as through the one man's disobedience the MANY were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One MANY will be made righteous."

Again: Aren't ALL and the MANY being presented as equal in these two verses?

That is, since Paul is using an ongoing series of contrasts and equalities, I see MANY and ALL as equal throughout.

  • I couldn't find any situation where "many" meant "all" in this lexicon: logeion.uchicago.edu/%CF%80%CE%BF%CE%BB%CF%8D%CF%82 Nor do I see where you see "many" that means "all" in Romans. -1
    – Ruminator
    Nov 27, 2018 at 0:51
  • Paul contrasts 'one' against 'all' in two places you mention. Then he balances 'many' against 'many' in two other places. These are different concepts. First - the consequence of one man's sin was one to all. Second - the comparison of Christ's faithful sacrifice compared to Adam's unfaithful transgression.The wording is different and I think you are confusing the two concepts together.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 4, 2018 at 14:50

The following graph attempts to illustrate the meaning of "the many" in Romans Chapter 5. Please note the yellow highlighted areas, which correspond to the four instances where the phrase "the many" occurs in Romans 5 (NASB translation). Please note how the Apostle Paul juxtaposes Adam with Christ Jesus, and flip-flops the causes-and-effects of obedience versus disobedience.

Please click the image in order to enlarge for better viewing.

enter image description here

In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul juxtaposes Adam with Christ Jesus, and flip-flops the causes-and-effects of obedience versus disobedience. That is, the first Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, while the second Adam later obeyed God in the Garden of Gethsemane (i.e., Jesus had said, "not my will, but your will be done," and so rather than let the cup pass from him, he had accepted the will of his father).

In this regard, the disobedient first Adam had already catapulted the entire human race into spiritual separation from God through his disobedience. All human beings ("the many") are thus born into the state of spiritual death (top left-hand box in the graph). This spiritual death made "the many" to be sinners or transgressors against God (bottom left-hand box in the graph). That is, all human beings commit transgressions as individual acts of disobedience.

Before continuing, one note is necessary -- the key difference between both figures here was that the one man (first Adam) was a living soul (1 Cor 15:45) and the other man (second Adam) was a life-giving spirit, who existed as eternal life (1 Cor 15:45). This difference helps to understand how each man, respectively, affects "the many."

For example, the second Adam comes into the world and dies for the sins of the entire world. He dies for the sins of the entire world because he is not under the curse of spiritual death, and so he had never sinned (2 Cor 5:21). As the second Adam he absorbs the transgressions of the entire world in his own body (2 Cor 5:21). So as the second Adam, he tastes death "for all men," since he dies for the sins of the entire world (1 Jn 2:2). Thus grace abounded to "the many" (top right-hand box in the graph).

In this respect, then, those who believe in Jesus Christ are not only forgiven of their sins, but they are "born again," because while they once were dead spiritually (as unbelievers), they are now made alive anew with eternal life (Jn 3:5-7). That is, the sinner receives righteousness through faith, which results in the free gift of eternal life -- thus "the many" are made righteous (please see the bottom right-hand box in the graph). This does not mean that believers become sinless people, but that they do not "practice" unrighteousness (1 Jn 2:29; 1 Jn 3:10; Rev 22:11; inter alia). As biological descendants of the first Adam, believers still exist in bodies descended from the first Adam while on this earth.

Again, the sins of the ENTIRE world were condemned and nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). In another place, the Apostle Paul wrote that Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom "for all" (1 Tim 2:6). Another passage indicates that the desire of "God our Savior" is that "all men" be saved (1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9). The Apostle John says that Christ Jesus died "for the sins of the whole world, and not just for the sins of believers" (paraphrase of 1 Jn 2:2). Finally, the writer of the Book of Hebrews indicates that Christ Jesus tasted death "for everyone" (Heb 2:9). These passages indicate that all peoples are eligible to hear the good news of the gospel message because their sins were atoned for at the cross. If they do not receive the free gift of eternal life available through the gospel message, however, they will not have the righteousness to escape the last judgment.

Thus the "justification of life" to "the many" (please see top right-hand box) means that all human beings are promised resurrection. In this regard, at the last judgment it is not the "books of sins" that are not opened, but the "books of (dead) works." In other words, sins are not the basis of the indictment at the last judgment, but the spiritual death, which was the source of dead works, which includes self-righteousness -- that is, without righteousness and eternal life through Jesus Christ, the Lake of Fire is the destiny of the unsaved, whose names are not found in the Book of Life (Rev 20:14). The reason this judgment is called "the second death" is because these persons receive resurrected bodies (because their sins were atoned at the cross). However, what lacks at the last judgment is their eternal life, which would have come through righteousness by faith. Thus these persons suffer "the second death" when thrown into the eternal Lake of Fire forever.

  • 1
    Do you have any exegetical sources that argue Rom 5:18 "justification of life" refers to resurrection? That is precisely my view taken in my dissertation (pages 306-312), but in my research, I did not find anyone arguing that (not that I looked at every commentary on earth). The general view in Protestant circles is "justification" refers to the declared righteousness of believers and the "life" refers to the eternal life they gain from that. While I spend those pages refuting that, I would be interested in knowing if I have an exegetical ally (or allies) on my reading that I failed to find.
    – ScottS
    Nov 13, 2015 at 19:11
  • 1
    @ScottS - This view appears in the writings of Torrey in addition to Spieq and Ernst, and finally is alluded to by Jonathan Edwards.
    – Joseph
    Nov 14, 2015 at 4:28
  • Thanks. Torrey is a good source, and Edwards. I'm not seeing the connection to resurrection in Spieq and Ernst.
    – ScottS
    Nov 14, 2015 at 4:57
  • @ScottS - Hmm. Here is one more from Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary.
    – Joseph
    Nov 14, 2015 at 6:07
  • To keep the comments cleaner, I replied in the Library..
    – ScottS
    Nov 17, 2015 at 0:22

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