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Romans 5:12 New International Version

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned

It seems that we inherit death. From what Paul says in Romans, do we inherit the sin of Adam and Eve, the consequences of their sin, or something else? Or is "inherit" not even a good paraphrase of what it means for death to "come to all people"?

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    Perhaps we might understand that sin is not a "thing". It is a behavior - one defined as a transgression of divine law (1 Jn. 3:4). In 2 Cor. 4:16, Paul speaks of our dual nature: one physical, and one spiritual. Naturally, we inherit our physical characteristics from our parents. However, each of us has been endowed with an inner being, our spirit, by the Creator. Everything He creates is flawless. After living lives of disobedience, sin and death naturally occur after we exceed a certain young age. Eventually we become accountable as sinful beings, having capitulated to lawlessness.
    – Xeno
    Jul 6 at 8:02

12 Answers 12

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We do not inherit sin, the following is copied from Xeno's comment at Polyhat's answer:

Scripture plainly teaches that sin is not inherited: “[T]he son shall not bear the iniquity of the father” (Eze. 18:20). Everyone is responsible for their own conduct (Rom. 14:12). Sinfulness begins in one's youth (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:25). Children must reach a level of maturity before they are able to choose good and evil (Isa. 7:15, 16). Little children are held up as models for those who seek the kingdom (Matt. 18:3; 19:14). The human spirit is not inherited from one’s parents; it is given by God (Ecc. 12:7; Heb. 12:9). It must, therefore, be as pure as its source.

Romans 5:12 reads:

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.

See that sin entered into the world.
A person cannot choose to do something that they don't know.
Because the knowledge of good and evil is present in the world as soon as knowledge of an evil is gathered there will be prompts to do evil which ultimately every human being will do.

Romans 5:12-19
12. Therefore, just as sin entered the world(1) through one man, and death through sin(2), so also death was passed on to all men(3), because all sinned(4).

The capability to transgress the law was present in the world because Adam disobeyed (1), anyone who transgresses the law dies(2), everyone transgresses the law(3), sinning is an action(4). If a person never breaks God's law why would they die? i.e Adam.

13For sin was in the world before the law was given; but sin is not taken into account when there is no law.

Before the knowledge of the law was present in the world, humans were transgressing the law because sin had entered the world and all are subject to it, even unknowingly (Leviticus 4).

When the law is transgressed unknowingly, when there was a realization, a knowledge of sin, then a sacrifice was required.

Leviticus 4:27 If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord's commandments ought not to be done, and realizes (an event in time) his guilt, 28 or the sin which he has committed is made known (same) to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed.

14Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who did not sin in the way that Adam transgressed. He is a pattern of the One to come.

Sin is present in the world, death through sin, everyone is subject to sin and everyone sins, knowingly (through the letter) or not, therefore everyone dies.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 26 at 13:00
  • Is sin something you ‘do’ or is it something you ‘are’?
    – Dave
    Jul 3 at 19:39
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The answer(s) to your question requires a foundation. For most, that foundation is doctrinal. It is that foundation that was established via seminaries, and the systematic theology they present. This outline will not use that foundation. I say this to advise caution, and also to alert that if your seeking an answer that ‘fits’ the traditional view - this won’t be one. Nevertheless, for consideration....

ROMANS 5:12 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

We first need a biblical definition of ‘death’. This requires forgetting our ‘modern’ definition. Death (biblically) means separation. (Reference). So what Adam ‘did’ caused us [man] to be separated.... from God. That is, caused us [man] all to be ‘dead’.

So via Adam, all are separated from God. By ‘eating’, Adam became unrighteous. Via [spiritual] ‘separation’, Adam could no longer have access to the righteousness he needed. And God cannot have ‘union’ with unrighteousness.

1 JOHN 5: 17 All unrighteousness is sin

So ‘man’ needed ‘life’. And in order to ‘get’ or ‘access’ life, man needed righteousness.

ROMANS 5:19 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.

Man is incapable of ‘being righteous’. That was never possible for man. It is only God who is righteous. We need ‘his’, and we can access ‘his’ through Christ.

This is the simple picture. The simple picture that has been somewhat ‘muddied’ by the systematic doctrine of Hamartiology.

To understand how we inherit this ‘separation’, you need to understand the biblical concept of ‘seed’. All are born ‘under Adam’. Of Adams ‘seed’ (singular!). Therefore we all inherit Adams ‘nature’ - separation. Via Jesus we have an option to be reborn. Born of another ‘seed’. One that allows access to the righteousness we need. But you must be reborn. Luckily this is a simple choice, but nevertheless one that must be first made.

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  • @xeno the human nature is broken. The spirit of the power of this world is ever present in all human life. All are of the devil in that sense. All are born into this paradigm. Only God can set them free and He will enable freedom for all, from which to choose life.
    – steveowen
    Jun 26 at 3:59
  • @Xeno what do ya mean, "our spirit is from God, and that it must, therefore, be perfect upon birth" We don't receive the HOLY SPIRIT @ birth, just the spirit in man that makes us not animals. The natural spirit is readily swayed from good, but can be a bed for good to grow also. Depends on what God is doing in that person.
    – steveowen
    Jun 28 at 12:23
  • @user48152 Ask yourself what Paul is saying in 2 Cor. 4:16: "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man [our physical body] is decaying, yet our inner man [our spirit] is being renewed day by day." We exist with a dual nature: 1) physical, and 2) spiritual. God instilled a perfect spirit in all of us. It was then subjected to sin and death by our deeds. God would never create an imperfect spirit within us - all that God creates is perfect. The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with this. We all possess our own spirit. Physically we are indeed the product of our parents.
    – Xeno
    Jun 28 at 20:40
  • You are making stuff up! We don’t have a dual nature, just two opposing influences- one good one bad. There is nothing perfect about any person except Christ. Paul refers to the HS, not what is in us by default.
    – steveowen
    Jun 28 at 21:16
  • 2 COR 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. So ... @user48152 .. I’m curious, what do you say was made new?
    – Dave
    Jun 28 at 21:39
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Oooo! This was one of the matters that divided the church during the reformation over which much debate occurred. The matter was technically know as "Original Sin" and the matter to be resolved here is:

  • Is "Original Sin" an inherited guilt or and inherited tendency to sin?

That is, we inherit something from Adam and Eve is not disputed - but precisely what is inherited is what is disputed. In other words, when we are born are we already guilty, or, sinfully fallen with a fallen human nature?

Those who believe that we inherit guilt from Adam and eve then insist upon child baptism and the last rights to ensure that the child is guilt free at death. [The reverse is NOT true - not all who practice child baptism believe we inherit guilt from Adam and Eve.]

Surprisingly, the Bible deals with this question directly and explicitly but before discussing this, let me remind ourselves that the problem of sin involves two aspects that also affects how we view Jesus - see the appendix below.

As the main Greek work for sin (hamartia = a missing the mark) implies, sin is any deviation from perfect righteousness. It is used in the New Testament in several different senses that can be broadly classified into the noun and verb forms. These two forms are most clearly seen in 1 John 1:8 (noun) and v10 (verb). Specifically: • Sin as a verb (Gr: hamartano) – an act of wrong-doing against God (Matt 27:4, John 5:15) or man (Matt 18:15, Luke 17:3, 4) or even one’s self (1 Cor 6:18), etc. • Sin as a noun (Gr: hamartia) – a state of being that causes wrong acts of sin (Rom 3:9, 5:12, 13, 20, 6:1, 2, 6, 7:7, etc). David lamented that he had been born is sin, sinful from the time he was conceived (Ps 51:5). This remarkable confession means that we are sinners even before we have committed any act of sin. See also Ps 58:3.

Thus, sin is both an act and a state of being: we are sinners for what we have done and what we are. As sinners we are both guilty and powerless to change; and thus depraved by sin. Rom 3:10-18, 23, 5:12-19, Jer 17:9, Heb 3:13, Eccl 7:20, Eph 4:22, etc.

Inherited What?

Of the two historical positions one can be immediately eliminated. Note the very clear teaching of Eze 18 -

17 He withholds his hand from harming the poor and takes no interest or usury. He keeps My ordinances and follows My statutes. Such a man will not die for his father’s iniquity. He will surely live.

20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. A son will not bear the iniquity of his father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of his son. The righteousness of the righteous man will fall upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked man will fall upon him.

What we inherit is the tendency to evil - we are all born with a sinful human nature which is part of the plan of salvation to fix (1 John 1:9)

  • Ps 51:5, 6 - Surely I was brought forth in iniquity; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. Surely You desire truth in the inmost being; You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
  • Ps 58:3 - The wicked are estranged from the womb; the liars go astray from birth.

It is this tendency to sin that ensure that every person sins as per Rom 3:10-18, 22-25. Romans 5 is a brilliant discussion about what we inherit from Adam - sinful human nature! this is quite unlike Jesus who inherited no such sinful tendencies and succeeded where Adam failed according to Rom 5 - He was the "second Adam" and was perfect. Indeed, if Jesus were not perfect, he would have needed a Savior Himself.

APPENDIX - Jesus' humanity

If Jesus is fully human, this creates another question – What type of human? There have been two answers to this question; either – • Fallen human nature just like our own (eg, Rom 3:10-18), or, • Unfallen human nature like Adam before the fall. In attempting to decide between these two, let us assemble the Bible evidence:

  1. Jesus was tempted in all points just as we are, Heb 4:15
  2. Jesus was also “perfect”, Luke 1:35, Heb 7:26, John 14:30 The solution is simpler that it appears. Let us contrast Jesus’ humanity with ours:
Fallen humanity = us Jesus’ humanity
We are born in sin and sinners from birth, Ps 51:5, 6, 1 John 1:8 Jesus was untainted by sin, Luke 1:35, Heb 7:26, 27, John 14:30
We have all sinned, Rom 3:10-18, 23, 1 John 1:10 Jesus never sinned, 1 Cor 5:21, Heb 9:14
Sin surrounds us, 2 Kings 17:15, Ps 40:12 Jesus came from heaven, unpolluted, John 3:31, 17:24
We inherit Adam’s sinfulness, Rom 5:12, 16-19 Jesus is the second, perfect Adam without sin, Rom 5:17-19

We should recall that the Bible teaches that we are sinners because of what we have done (1 John 1:10) and because of what we are (1 John 1:8, Ps 51:5). We have done sinful acts and have sinful natures/tendencies.

Thus, if Jesus had a sinful nature (as per 1 John 1:8 and Ps 51:5), then He would also need a saviour. Then what are we to do with the clear statement in Heb 4:15 about Jesus being “tempted in all point just as we are”? If Jesus was perfect (like Adam before sin) why or even how could He sin?

James 1:14, 15 - But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Jesus was tempted in different ways:

  • In Matt 4:3, 4, where Jesus, after fasting 40 days, is tempted, via His natural human hunger, to turn stones into bread. For any other human, this would not have even been a temptation but it was to Jesus because he had the divine power, but chose to model our complete dependence on the Father.
  • In Matt 27:40 Jesus is tempted to come down from the cross. Again, this is no temptation to ordinary humans as they could not, but Jesus could have. However, he voluntarily submitted (Phil 2:5-8) Himself to the father’s will just as we must.
  • In Matt 26:36-40 we read about Jesus’ pleas to the Father to release Him from the trial of the cross. Humanity’s fete hung in the balance; eventually, Jesus submitted by saying, “Your will be done!”
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  • @MigueldeServet - one of my few fights with this site is that it does not require downvoters to actually say what objection they are expressing, even if anonymously. Most are cowardly for not leaving a constructive comment.
    – Dottard
    Jun 26 at 11:02
  • @Dottard 2 Peter 1:4 describes the situation after Jesus Christ's first coming. Another example is Ephesians 3:19. Neither is of any help in explaining how the behaviour described at Ezekiel 18:17 would be at all possible, in overcoming the "tendency to evil", if "we are all born with a sinful human nature" ... Jun 26 at 13:57
  • @MigueldeServet - Interesting - are you suggesting that Ps 51:10 had to wait for the coming of Messiah, and that transformation into the divine image (1 Cor 3:18) could not occur before the cross? See also Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:26, etc.
    – Dottard
    Jun 26 at 22:06
  • @Dottard - No, it is you who, after claiming peremptorily that What we inherit is the tendency to evil - we are all born with a sinful human nature ... have to explain how it is at all possible that we can do any good at all, even before having been saved from our "sinful human nature" ... Jun 27 at 2:56
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We can say that we inherit sin from Adam, not the sin and guilt of Adam, but the tendency, ability to sin, that is also called the fallen state and separation from God, after Adam (which means Man) is the literary representative of mankind. However, as we all know, sin is not a metaphysical and genetic disease (as the pagans believe), but the transgression of God's will or commandment. Deviation and disobedience from the law of God is sin. (1 John 3; Ezekiel 18).

The reign of death is the dominion of sin that leads to hell, not every single person faces this death or hell, as he already explained in Romans 2, that even the Gentiles are justified by their righteousness, despite having no law; The doers of the will of God are justified (2:13), on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (2:16), this is the gospel of Paul. Adam represents transgression, not the dominion of sin, that is Satan. All humans (including Christ) are children of Adam, not the children of the devil. The children of the devil are only those living in willful sinning, and lawlessness, defying God and resisting the Holy Spirit. God does not send people to hellfire for the guilt of being created as human, else God would himself be at fault. Adam represents the maturity from childhood to adulthood, gaining the moral conscience and ability to sin.

We know that not literally all are condemned, but only those who are the sons of the evil one. Rom 5:12: so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned does not mean the absolute everyone, but a general statement, as he says in v15 by the trespass of the one the many died (because of their own sin); not all died. It shows the universality of sin and salvation, as 1Cor 15:22 which means that as many may die following Adam's transgression, so as many in Christ may also be made alive. We are not given the choice between Adam and Christ; but Satan and God. Paul is only saying that as many sinners have died, as though ignored by God to their fate (Rom 1:24) and in the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), this is the gospel of Christ, that he came to destroy the works of the devil (not the work of God), to save sinners from their ungodly ways to himself (Luke 15). Paul says, that as many may have died in their sins without the knowledge of God's word, but many more will be saved through the Gospel.

God creates man pure, the seed sown by God is good, it depends on them on which ground to fall, or whether to become the seed of God or the weed of devil. Parable of Seed sower and the weeds (Matt 13).

Eccl 7:29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
Ezek 28:15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. (ESV)

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The idea of inheriting death is often misunderstood because Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Nobody can inherit a wage because a wage is received only when work is done. The person does the work, and the person then receives their wage. Those are the terms of the contract. If the person does no work, they receive no wage.

People who die prove by the very fact of dying that they have done something to earn death – they have sinned. And the longer people live, the greater a body of sinful work they build up. Yet even if nobody else can see their sin, God sees it and so that person must die. Conversely, if any human never sinned, they would never die as a result of sinning. That is why Jesus’ death could only happen when he gave himself over to sinful men who, he knew, would undeservedly put him to death. Also, that is why Jesus had to arise in triumph from the grave, because death can only claim sinners. He was the only human ever to do that for he was the only sinless human. Consequently, he received the keys of death and hell, having triumphed over those captors of the sinful.

That is why people are spoken of in the Bible as being “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:1 & 5) prior to receiving spiritual, new life, through the faith of Christ Jesus. Every human suffers from this “deadness” due to trespasses and sins. Only Jesus (who never trespassed nor sinned) never died as a consequence of such. Now, I am actually working backwards (as is my wont), so let me go right back to the beginning, the first sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, as you ask about due to what Romans 5:12 states.

The original sin committed in the Garden of Eden has had unavoidable consequences for every human born since then. Adam sinned and fell from sinless perfection. Every aspect of his being became corrupted due to his sin. In Adam, we sinned and fell, becoming corrupted ourselves. Thus, we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and are evil from our youth up (Genesis 8:21). Therefore, death reigns over all (Romans 5:12) "because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".

“The whole of human nature was ethically perverted so as to become wholly contrary to God. Thus every part of that which constitutes man’s created nature was polluted and corrupted… The ‘total’ in ‘total depravity’ refers to the extent of the damage rather than the degree. Let us illustrate. Take a glass of water. Stir in a teaspoon of deadly poison. The whole glass of water is ruined. But it could be ruined even more by adding another teaspoon of poison. However, one teaspoon spreads the poison throughout. So it is with the effects of Adam’s first sin : it has poisoned the whole of human nature. But this does not mean that a particular man is as evil as he can ever become.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, p 55, G.I. Williamson, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1964)

Only 1 drop of the chemical C8 (used to turn metal surfaces non-stick, as in cooking utensils) in an Olympic-size swimming pool of water would make that water too dangerous for humans to swim in as they could swallow even a tiny bit of that water.

The doctrine of original sin thrashes out the matter of how Adam is our federal head - so that we all sinned, in Adam (even before we were born.) Hebrews 7:10 is intriguing with respect to “being in the loins” of a forefather centuries before being born.

The Bible is clear about the corporate aspect of human existence. We are never viewed as individuals in isolation, each separately created by God, but as an organic unit created in one human pair, man having the power to beget in his own likeness and image. Adam and Eve were the 'root of all mankind'. Therefore, we are members one of another. God has made 'of one blood all nations' (Acts 17:26).

While Adam's descendants derive their nature from Adam, they do not actually become existing persons until the time decreed by God. God has ordered human life by the principle of representation so that one person may act for another in such a way that the act of the one is regarded as the act of another. For example, the father is the head of the house, according to divine appointment. If he moves to another country and there establishes legal citizenship for himself, he also establishes the same for his children that are born there. Also, the civil ruler of a nation represents all of it. If this ruler embarks upon an act of war, then the nation, and every citizen, is at war. And another nation would regard itself as at war, not with the ruler of that nation alone, but with the whole nation too. So, the sinful act of Adam, rebelling against God, was the act of all men because he represented them. Therefore, the guilt of his sin was imputed (regarded as theirs) as it was also conveyed to them. But his subsequent sins were NOT laid to the charge of other men. As a president ends his term of office, and then no longer acts for others, so Adam terminated his representative actions with that one sin. By that one act he (and we) become corrupt and guilty. Thereafter, all acts of Adam were to his own account, as all our own acts are to our own account.

Adam became wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body, and thus it followed that continual transgressions proceeded out of this condition. All other sins are the natural consequences of that first 'original' sin (Matthew 15:19). But when the Son of God became fully human, as Jesus Christ, he remained without sin and remained the representative head of all humanity. He died to save from original sin, and the individual sins of those turning in faith to him. The above four paragraphs are culled from The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, pp 56-58, G.I. Williamson (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1964).

This means that the answer to your question benefits from first approaching the matter of how death is the wage sinful humans receive, and then seeing how the first sin of the first man, Adam, acted as a poison all humanity suffered from, due to Adam being our federal head.

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    Regarding the chemical C8 and its use in Teflon and other products, after reading this article I'm wondering if I should throw out the non-stick pans I use: theintercept.com/2016/03/03/…
    – Lesley
    Jul 3 at 13:24
  • @Lesley Such pans are the least of your worries, according to that article. Even many of the newer chemicals designed to replace C8 are also toxic and do not break down. Truly, as the Bible warns, we reap what we sow: "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." - Hosea 8:7
    – Anne
    Jul 3 at 14:55
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We inherit:

  1. a sinful nature; both of the mind (character) and of the body; and
  2. death as a consequence.

Even if we never sinned even once (impossible, but for the sake of discussion), we would still have inherited death on account of Adam's sin because God removed our access to the Tree of Life, and it is necessary for us to eat of this tree to maintain our longevity.

"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken." (Genesis 3:22-23)

Worse than dying from sin would be to live forever as an immortal sinner, so God had to take away our access to the Tree.

Since we have all sinned, we have all come under the penalty of the law, which says death is the punishment for sin. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Many look at a sweet, innocent-appearing, baby and think that surely this child has not yet sinned. But the Bible does not make exception: it says plainly that "all have sinned."

Sin requires a conscious choice, a choice to transgress God's law. Before a fetus has a mind, it cannot make a choice, so, in God's estimation as shown in the Biblical reckoning, the unborn cannot be considered as separate souls. Interestingly, babies were not even counted before they reached a month in age (see Leviticus 27:6). By this time, as most parents realize, their child is able to scream out his or her selfish demands.

Although sin is a choice, it may not always be done knowingly. Sins of ignorance do exist. It might properly be said that the "innocent" child has not knowingly sinned, but the law says nothing about whether one knows the law or not: to transgress it is to sin, regardless of the reason. Naturally, sins of ignorance may not be as weighty as other sins; but even the smallest of sins incurs the death penalty per the law.

We do not pass under the penalty of death for sins committed by anyone else, though. This would not be just. We are under the death penalty purely on account of our own sins. We inherited our sinfulness from Adam, but, in sinning, we incur the death penalty for ourselves.

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezekiel 18:20)

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Do we inherit the sin of Adam and Eve?

Under the heading Results to mankind as a whole, the article "Sin, I" in the Insight on the Scriptures explains how this is possible:

Romans 5:12 states that “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Compare 1Jo 1:8-10.) Some have explained this as meaning that all of Adam’s future offspring shared in Adam’s initial act of sin because, as their family head, he represented them and thereby made them, in effect, participants with him in his sin. The apostle, however, speaks of death as ‘spreading’ to all men, which implies a progressive rather than a simultaneous effect on Adam’s descendants.

Additionally, the apostle goes on to speak of death as ruling as king “from Adam down to Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of the transgression by Adam.” (Ro 5:14) Adam’s sin is rightly called a “transgression” since it was an overstepping of a stated law, an express command of God to him. Also, when Adam sinned, it was of his own free choice, as a perfect human who was free from disabilities. Clearly, his offspring have never enjoyed that state of perfection. So, these factors seem out of harmony with the view that ‘when Adam sinned, all of his as yet unborn descendants sinned with him.’ For all of Adam’s descendants to be held accountable as participants in Adam’s personal sin would require some expression of will on their part as to having him as their family head. Yet none of them in reality willed to be born of him, their birth into the Adamic line resulting from the fleshly will of their parents.​—Joh 1:13.

The evidence, then, points to a passing on of sin from Adam to succeeding generations as a result of the recognized law of heredity. This is evidently what the psalmist refers to in saying: “With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps 51:5) Sin, along with its consequences, entered and spread to all the human race not merely because Adam was the family head of the race but because he, not Eve, was its progenitor, or human life source. From him, as well as from Eve, his offspring would inescapably inherit not merely physical characteristics but also personality traits, including the inclination toward sin.​—Compare 1Co 15:22, 48, 49.

Paul’s words also point to this conclusion when he says that “just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were constituted sinners, likewise also through the obedience of the one person [Christ Jesus] many will be constituted righteous.” (Ro 5:19) Those to be “constituted righteous” by Christ’s obedience were not all immediately so constituted at the moment of his presenting his ransom sacrifice to God, but they progressively come under the benefits of that sacrifice as they come to exercise faith in that provision and become reconciled to God. (Joh 3:36; Ac 3:19) So, too, progressive generations of Adam’s descendants have been constituted sinners as they have been conceived by their innately sinful parents in Adam’s line.>

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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Main question - Do we inherit the sin of Adam and Eve based on Romans 5:12?

Romans 5:12 New International Version - Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned

I will not repeat what has been said by agarza & Austin below, as they provide a good analysis regarding sin

The passage above at first reading implies: Adam sinned when he disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree, as a result all descendants of Adam inherit the sin of Adam, which means that all human beings are born with this original sin.

Paul further says:

“Therefore, as by the offense of one [Adam] all men were taken to condemnation; so also by the Justice of one [Jesus] many shall be made just.” (Romans 5:18–19)

“For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead [on judgement day] has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (Corinthians, 5:21-22)

“And without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9/22) Summary; the above few passages imply that death came to all people due to inherit sin of Adam & Eve and that Jesus died for our sins with his blood

The above is the obvious reading of the passages at first glance.

However, should the statements be taken literal / non-literally / hyperbole / rhetorical

To answer this we would have to have a comprehensive analysis of all relevant passages.

“The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” [Ezekiel 18:20]

“Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). (We may well wonder how “for of such” could be “the kingdom of heaven” if the unbaptized are hell.)

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10/14–15)

Deuteronomy 24:16 - 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.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Matthew 18:3 - 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 4/17, as we are told about Jesus: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

Genesis 8:21 - 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Isaiah 7:15-16 - 15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.

Ecclesiastes 12:6-8 - 7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Hebrews 12:9 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? (Spirit is not inherited by the parents & clearly babies are not born in sin)

Leviticus 5/11 - 11But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, he may bring a tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He must not put olive oil or frankincense on it, because it is a sin offering.

Sub question - death came to all people because all sinned?

Ecclesiastes 9:2-4 - 2 Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike. It comes to good and bad people alike. It comes to “clean” and “unclean” people alike. Those who offer sacrifices and those who don’t offer them also die. A good person dies, and so does a sinner. Those who make promises die. So do those who are afraid to make them. 3 Here’s what is so bad about everything that happens on this earth. Death catches up with all of us. Also, the hearts of people are full of evil. They live in foolish pleasure. After that, they join those who have already died. 4 Anyone who is still living has hope. Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

Conclusion

Based on the above it is unlikely that Paul literally meant that we inherit sin, but was more hyperbolic language and how to earnestly follow Jesus as a saviour and avoid sin.

Otherwise, R 5:12 would be contradicting much of the other passages and could even be read as – implying that Jesus was born with sin, which clearly cannot be right.

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Does Romans 5:12 say that we inherit the sin of Adam and Eve?

Yes, but perhaps not the way you think.: Part of the reason it is so hard to make sense of verses like Rom 5:12 may be that we, the religious, tend to over define our terms.*

Broadening our Understanding Sin:
To unpack how sin may have been passed on, or inherited, from Adam, it may do us well to revisit the definition of sin. Sin, hamartanó in Greek and chata in Hebrew, is defined in both languages as to miss the goal, to error, or to fail. And so Sin is failure. Pure and simple.

We are familiar with the concept of sin in terms of moral error or moral failure, but sin can also mean practical error or physical failure. For example, in Judges 20:16, Benjamite warriors were commended because they could sling a stone at a hair and not sin (normally translated as miss). But it wasn't their moral character that was being praised, but their hand-eye coordination that yielded a stunning lack of physical sin. Their aim simply functioned as purposed.

Sin in Romans 5:
We struggle to properly interpret verses like Romans 5:12 because we are only thinking of sin in terms of moral failures and ignore this other more practical aspect to sin that manifests in physical error that the Bible also has in view. Failure is a profoundly practical and physical problem, and when enough errors accumulate in the body - death. This is why in Romans 5:14, Paul explains that

"...death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam..."

We know from observation that you don't have to commit a moral failure the way Adam did to die. You just have to be born under the curse inherited from Adam. You're already subject to sin. The physical errors that will eventually kill you. This physical corruption is what is inherited. No moral sin required. No need to rationalize how infants who die may have somehow incurred moral guilt. Besides, as many answers have already shown from the scriptures, moral sin cannot be transferred from one person to another, but physical sin can and is.

Physical Sin in the Torah:
When looking back at the Torah, isn't it clear that this physical dimension of sin is also what God had in mind when he instituted the Levitical laws? For it was not only for moral sin that a sin offering must be made... Consider how, in addition to skin diseases (Lev 14) and abnormal bodily discharges (Lev 15) and other non-moral issues, a sin offering was required whenever a woman gave birth (Lev 12). Her flow of blood was symptomatic of physical error that mars even the beauty and wonder of procreation. And so David writes how he was conceived in a state of sin (Psalms 51:5). Did he not have the Torah in mind when discussing his imperfection from birth? Indeed it is not just us who receive physical corruption as a birthright, but all of creation has suffered under bondage to corruption (as Paul describes in Romans 8:20-21), because of the curse of Adam in Gen 3:17-19.

Physical Sin and The Gospel:
This matter of physical vs moral sin goes straight to the heart of the gospel of Christ. Jesus did not come to deal just with the moral problem of sin, but also the physical sin. See Romans 5:10

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Jesus 1st dealt with the moral problem of sin through the reconciliation achieved through his death on the cross, affording us forgiveness with God. The physical problem of sin was dealt with by his resurrection life. Because he has been given a new incorruptible body, we, who belong to him, shall too be physically transformed to be free from sin and death. Indeed our full adoption as sons (Rom 8:23) and our inheritance into the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50-53) depend on the physical resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:50-55 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable... 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

God is so thoroughly committed to dealing with the physical problem of sin, and the death that results, that he will bring about a whole new creation, a New Heaven and New Earth, to put an end to sin in any form:

Revelation 21:1-8 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

All God needed to execute his plan was a New Adam to trailblaze the Way (John 14:6, Heb 12:2) for humans, God's fallen images, to again fully participate as his ruling representatives (2 Tim 2:11-12, Rev 1:6, Rev 3:21) in His Kingdom of the New Creation - Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Conclusion
Both moral and physical sin are major issues in the scriptures. Moral sin cannot be inherited, so it is thus the physical sin that we inherit from Adam because of the curse that affected all creation resulting from his moral transgression. It is because of this physical sin that all die for all physically sin (even babies). It is this inherited sin, binding all to corruption and death, that Christ was aimed at abolishing along with moral sin.

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  • “The physical problem of sin was dealt with by his resurrection life.” no, this was accomplished through his death. Heb 2:14 ( you even quoted this in Rom 5) But useful answer tho.+1
    – steveowen
    Jul 6 at 8:18
  • @user48152, Heb 2:14 says that Jesus broke the power that Satan has with respect to death. He broke this power through his death by, as Rom 5:14 says, reconciling us to God. But, as Rom 5:14 also says, it is his life, his resurrection life, that actually save's us. Heb 7:25, says that Jesus is able to utterly save those who draw near to God because he always lives, and 1 Cor 15 says that we cannot inherit the kingdom unless we participate in the resurrection that Christ did (50-55). Indeed we are still in our sins if Christ had not been raised (v:17). I hope that helps. Thanks for the upvote.
    – Austin
    Jul 17 at 5:17
  • I guess we live because he lives, but first sin had to be dealt with. There is a sequence to all stages of salvation. I think the bible is clear which goes with what. Perhaps there’s a q in there somewhere.
    – steveowen
    Jul 17 at 5:38
  • @user48152 I agree with the assessment of stages. I think there is much confusion regarding the whole counsel of the Gospel because the complexities of the concepts as they relate to their multiple stages are not well understood.
    – Austin
    Jul 17 at 5:41
  • @user48152, I will say one more thing. I believe the power of Christ's death is that it enables His resurrection. Once he is made perfect through suffering he is qualified to become the High Priest and King of the New Creation providing a Way for us to escape the moral and physical corruption of the old creation. Because we are no longer bound to the corruption (sin) of the old created order, the devil loses his power. But the whole point of his death is to enable the thing that actually saves us, the royal priesthood of Christ and the New Creation (including the regenerative resurrection).
    – Austin
    Jul 17 at 5:49
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This is the essence of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§7 The Fall) says:

416 By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.
417 Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin".
418 As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence").

Comment

I seriously doubt that you will ever hear Pope Francis mentioning (let alone quoting) these paragraphs ...

Edited to add (23:40 CET)

It is dubious, to say the least, that Paul, in Romans 5:12 (see at NET Bible), intended to afferm not only that Adam introduced sin in the world, but also (or mainly) that his first sin actually changed human nature, causing it to become more prone to sinning ("because all sinned") than Adam and Eve had been. This is the footneote 2tn appended by NET Bible to the verse:

The translation of the phrase ἐφ᾿ᾧ (eph’hō) has been heavily debated. For a discussion of all the possibilities, see C. E. B. Cranfield, “On Some of the Problems in the Interpretation of Romans 5.12,” SJT 22 (1969): 324-41. Only a few of the major options can be mentioned here: (1) the phrase can be taken as a relative clause in which the pronoun refers to Adam, “death spread to all people in whom [Adam] all sinned.” (2) The phrase can be taken with consecutive (resultative) force, meaning “death spread to all people with the result that all sinned.” (3) Others take the phrase as causal in force: “death spread to all people because all sinned.”

As can be seen, the position that Adam's sin changed human nature, making it (more) prone to sinning, is not even considered.

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    What is your comment meant to imply? Also please note that the answers to this question are expected to provide an exegetical account of the passage, looking at the greater context in Romans, not a theological account such as the one given in the Catechism.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 25 at 15:18
  • @curiousdannii This answer at least gives a useful ref from the NET notes, unlike some others who often make spam answers having no idea about immediate context and exegesis.
    – Michael16
    Jun 26 at 9:31
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I took suggestions from the above note and am editing this post . I understand the very constructive criticism and thank you for that!

The original question had to do with Romans 5:12

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

I agree with you Tony that we do inherit the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin.

There are so many scriptures in Romans that bear witness to the truth that sin lives in our flesh. Of course many of us know through experience the power of sin that rises up when we try to do good on our own.

Here's how we know sin lives in us.

Romans 7:13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

Romans 7:11 For sin seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

Romans 7:17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

Sin is missing the mark of God's perfection. Just as a little leaven will ruin the whole loaf so even one act of disobedience ruins God's creation and brings corruption which eventually brings death.

I once heard that sin is like a voice inside our head that disguises it's self as I...Like I have to be number one!

Adams one act of disobedience resulted in him missing the tree of life and instead brought Gods words to life in him which resulted in death. Genesis 2:17. "But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Romans 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man,

God is a God of hope and I can't help but put a few scriptures in that change everything for man.

Romans 5:14 says Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come.

Here's a couple verses that are the opposite of what Adam did but show what Christ did for all. Of course this is for another question.

Romans 5:18 So then, just as one trespass brought condemnation for all men,

so also one act of righteousness brought justification and life for all men.

1 Corinthians 15:23 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

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Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

John 9:1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

No, children do not inherit the sin of their parents.

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  • Please give an exegetical explanation of Romans 5:12 - without it you haven't really answered the question.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 16 at 12:24

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