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Romans 5:18-19 (NLT translation):

¹⁸ Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. ¹⁹ Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

Why didn't Paul write "all became sinners"?

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The Greek word πολλοί (polloi) translated as "many" in Rom 5:19 should not be interpreted as "less than all", but is another way of saying "all humanity" or "the multitudes". The word choice may be influenced by Paul's possible allusion to the justification of the "many" in Isa 53:11-12 (ESV):

¹¹ Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
   by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
     make many to be accounted righteous,
     and he shall bear their iniquities.
¹² Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
     and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
   because he poured out his soul to death
     and was numbered with the transgressors;
   yet he bore the sin of many,
     and makes intercession for the transgressors.

New Covenant Commentary on Romans by Craig S. Keener said that “The many” in this context refers to all who are defined by their relationship to either Adam or Christ.:

The phrase refers to the elect at Qumran (1QS 6.6–21; cf. Dan 12:3; Marcus 1956), but is here used also for the “many” in Adam (5:19a), parallel with “all humanity” (5:18); the phrase can refer to “the multitudes” (e.g., Epictetus Disc. 1.2.18; 1.3.4; 2.1.22). It is not impossible that Paul alludes to the justification of the “many” in Isa 53:11–12 (though “many” is frequent in the LXX).

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  • How does this answer the question about guilt which you never mention? – Dottard Jan 29 at 10:02
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    @Dottard The OP seems to focus the question only on the contrast between "everyone" in v. 18 and "many" in v. 19. Until the OP modifies / comment on the question to ask about our own guilt vs. inherited guilt, I think my answer is sufficient. One potential issue I came across is well explained in this article. – GratefulDisciple Jan 29 at 19:45
  • While this is a very good answer - it does not actually address the question of how we inherit Adam's guilt or not. – Dottard Apr 11 at 21:21
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The "many" is in contrast to "one" - the emphasis is that the actions of one can affect many. Using "all" here would detract from the point.

He already made the point in verse 18 that Adam brought condemnation for everyone. The point of verse 19 is that the actions of one person can affect others, and that just as Adam's actions can make other people sinners, so Christ's actions can make other people righteous.

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There are two answers to this question which depends on whether one answers from a Catholic or Protestant perspective. I will attempt to give what the Scriptures actually say.

1. Sinners for what we have DONE and what we ARE

Note the instruction in 1 John 1:8, 10 -

8 If we say we have no sin [Noun], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

10 If we say we have not sinned [Verb], we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us.

Note that here sin is both a noun and a verb; that is, we are sinners because of what we are and because of what we have done. The fact that we are sinners before we even did anything is also expressed in Ps 51:5 -

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

David is saying that we all have sinful tendencies and enjoy what we should not (see also Paul's discussion in Rom 7). According to Rom 3:23 - we have all sinned (done something wrong) as well.

2. Who is Guilty?

Note that while we are all sinners at birth before we did anything wrong, we are still innocent of committing sin (but it usually does not take long!). However, we do not inherit Adam's sin as guilt because this is a firm law in the Torah:

Deut 24:16 - Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

See also Eze 18:20. Thus, whatever we inherit from Adam it is not his guilt for we had no part in that guilt.

3. What we inherited

The condemnation we inherited from Adam is the sinful tendencies not the guilt. That is, we inherited a fallen human nature that is naturally attracted to sin.

The word translated "condemnation" in Rom 5:18 is κατάκριμα (katakrima) which only occurs three times in the NT and all in the book of Romans, namely, Rom 5:16, 18, 8:1. Note the extended passage in Rom 5:16-19 -

16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one offense, resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the gracious gift arose from many offenses, resulting in justification.

17 For if by the offense of the one, death reigned through the one, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then, as through one offense [o]the result was condemnation to all mankind, so also through one act of righteousness [p]the result was justification of life to all mankind.

19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul is contrasting the sinful nature of man inherited from Adam with the righteousness of the second (perfect) "Adam" namely Jesus Christ.

He concludes this lengthy discussion in Rom 8:1-3 by using the same word:

Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,

CONCLUSION

We do not inherit guilt from Adam but do inherit sinful flesh (= human nature) from Adam. However, being a sinner by nature (as opposed to action) makes just as much a sinner as by action and in need of salvation. This is one of the distinguishing features of Jesus - he was perfect in all senses and was untainted by sin (Heb 7:26), did not have a sinful nature and thus, did not need a savior Himself.

Back to Romans 5:15-19

This passage in Rom 5 has a repeated structure contrasting the first and second Adam as follows:

Rom 5 ref First Adam Second Adam = Jesus
V12 Sin passed to ALL men Sin reigned until Jesus
V15 MANY (= all) died (compare Rom 3:23) Grace abounds to MANY (= all)
V16 One sin brought condemnation The gift brings followed many trespasses brought justification
V17 One man's trespass death reigned Those who receive grace, righteousness reins in the life
V18 One trespass brought condemnation for All men
V19 Disobendience of one man the many (= all Rom 3:23) were made sinners Obedience of one man the many (= all, Rom 3:24) wil be made righteous

This is confirmed by similar teaching elsewhere:

  • Rom 11:32, For God has consigned everyone to disobedience so that He may have mercy on everyone.
  • 2 Cor 5:14, For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died.
  • 2 Peter 3:9, The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.
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    v18 "the result was condemnation to all mankind"... sounds like guilt to me. Rather than simply the fallen nature you suggest. and v19 we are made sinners. This denotes guilty as! – user48152 Jan 29 at 3:12
  • @user48152 - that is OK - if you believe we must confess Adam's sin to be forgiven of his sin because we are guilty of his sin that is up to you. – Dottard Jan 29 at 3:49
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    This is not bad as an interpretation of Rm 5:12-19, but it doesn't explain the core of the question: why "many" and not "all"? – Pavel Jan 29 at 9:52
  • @Pavel - I believe the "many" (v15) does mean "all" - V12 & 18 says, "all', see also Rom 11:32 and 2 Cor 5:14, Rom 3:23, 24, 2 Peter 3:9, etc. – Dottard Jan 29 at 9:57
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    Expand this comment and edit it in your answer and it will make it really answer what the OP really asked. – Pavel Jan 30 at 8:15

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