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Rom. 5:14 says:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

In what way did death reign from Adam to Moses when clearly death still reigns as I am writing this question? Why is Paul saying this?

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    Up-voted +1. Death reigns over the creature, over all flesh that came from Adam, the humanity that failed, in transgression. Life is by the second humanity. Good question. Yes, of course death still reigns : the text does not exclude that.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 13:48
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    Check out v. 13… To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. So Adam to Moses is the reference to this period where there was no formalised law, and therefore no guilt as in the post-law era after Moses. However, even in this time, death (namely the fall / judgement and the result thereof) reigned. A little segway to preclude objections to the argument that Paul begins in v. 12 and picks up again in v.18.
    – user36337
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 16:01
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    Thanks @User76451, that seems to be the answer. I am not sure that I understand what you mean with there being no guilt in the pre-law era (Adam to Moses). It seems hard to reconcile such a statement with the fact that they clearly did have guilt since God required them to sacrifice (which is an admission of both sin and guilt). I do however believe they had an oral (unwritten) form of the law from Adam to Moses, but I get what Paul is saying here.
    – user49416
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 19:51
  • "That does not imply that death did not reign just as much afterwards. But the point is that Moses stands for the giving of the law; “for the law was given by Moses.” Jn 1:17. Now since death reigns through sin, and sin is not imputed when there is no law, it is evident from the statement that “death reigned from Adam to Moses,” that the law was in the world just as much before Sinai as it was afterwards. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” 1 Cor. 15:56. There can be no sin imputed when there is no law; but wherever there is sin, there death reigns." E.J. Waggoner
    – user49416
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 20:22
  • Yes, so I think Paul is saying there was no official charging of sin to anyone’s account, as there was no official law written in stone. Nevertheless death reigned pre-Sinai, and that would not preclude oral tradition law which, as you say, is hinted at in Gen 1 - 12. Also, Paul has built his argument thus far in Romans to include an all-encompassing view of law (even saying that a person’s conscience acts as law unto that person), so in some senses they were under law pre-Moses, just not the official law. There are even unofficial issuings of law pre-Moses, take e.g. the ‘food law’ about meat
    – user36337
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 1:38

8 Answers 8

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I have found a very good answer via google search due to a comment by @User76451. I came across an article written very long ago by a man named E.J. Waggoner. He says:

The Reign of Death—“Death reigned from Adam to Moses.” That does not imply that death did not reign just as much afterwards. But the point is that Moses stands for the giving of the law; “for the law was given by Moses.” John 1:17. Now since death reigns through sin, and sin is not imputed when there is no law, it is evident from the statement that “death reigned from Adam to Moses,” that the law was in the world just as much before Sinai as it was afterwards. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15:56. There can be no sin imputed when there is no law; but wherever there is sin, there death reigns." - Signs of the Times, March 12, 1896.

This, together with the comment I referred to, have helped me understand what Paul means by saying death reigned from Adam to Moses.

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Paul is making a parallel between death & sin in this chapter. The Fall of Adam brought death & sin into the world; the atonement of Christ overcomes death & sin. For example:

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

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.(Romans 5:17-18, NASB)

In fact, a large portion of Romans chapter 5 is a chiasmus (see here). The opposite site of the chiasmus from verse 14 (quoted in OP) is verse 19:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (NASB)

The "him that was to come" in verse 14 is Christ. Christ overcame sin & death, but that does not mean that sin & death no longer exist in this world; it means they are not in control of our destiny and have ultimately been conquered(essentially, sin & death do not get the final say).

The resurrection is still a future event for most of us, but it is a promise that we can rely upon; Christ broke the bands of physical death. Full liberation from sin is still a future event for most of us as well, but it is a promise that we can rely upon; Christ offers the grace we need (though we can choose to reject it).

Sin & death do not reign; Christ does.

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I take a different approach. That death reigned from Adam to Moses - the question is why did it reign, even when there was no law and sin was not imputed to anyone and since then, No one had sinned like Adam sinned in the garden.

I think this is the point Paul is making here - that we are all subject to death because we participated with Adam in his sin (in the garden) and broke God's law given to Adam - and thus we all are now subject to death. And that is why death reigned from Adam to Moses.

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    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 12:13
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    This is correct. The author's point is that all sinned in Adam and that is how death reigned over everyone. And just as all sinned and died in Adam, all [who believe] shall be made righteous and alive in Christ. Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 16:23
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It doesn't say that death reign only from Adam to Moses.

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— 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

In Adam, the whole future humanity was corrupted with sinful nature and death. Adam in Eden received a law in a form of one commandment:

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 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.” (Genesis 2)

He broke that law. He died spiritually. Became an empty vessel that with time breaks down. He got permanently contaminated. That corruption is passed to the next generations through the seed (semen). For this reason, emission of semen makes a man and his wife unclean.

16“ ‘When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening. 17Any clothing or leather that has semen on it must be washed with water, and it will be unclean till evening. 18When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. (Leviticus 15)

That was the reason why Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus to be sinless couldn't inherit Adam's sinful nature.

So as corruption is passed physically since Adam until now, the spiritual restoration as a gift is passed on since Christ.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4)

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"Death reigned from Adam to Moses"

First of all, we all know that the death there wasn't a physical death, it's the same type of death that God warned Adam about in Genesis 2:17 (the death of separation from God). Now God is life John 1:4 and if you're not in life then you're dead so the death was the death of separation from life's source which is God.

And so that death (separation) reigned from Adam (who introduced that death through sin) to Moses (who brought about the law that made every individual guilty of sin).

When you look at vs 12-14 of that Romans he further explained. "As by one man sin entered" but sin had no grip on people because there was no law and the sting of sin is death because God and sin cannot coexist in the same place. Where God is there's no sin and where sin is there's no God as we established earlier, God is life and outside of life is death.

So that separation from God reigned from Adam to Moses even over them that didn't sin after the similitude of Adam who was the figure of him that was to come and like we also establish, Moses represents the law and the law ended when Jesus Christ came and that was where the reign of death ended. Adam introduced sin which brought about the separation (death).

Until Moses sin had to hold over any man but then death reigned before and after the law was introduced by Moses. And Jesus is the end of the law and the end of that death, hence the phrase "death reigned from Adam to Moses"

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    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 13:05
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    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 13:41
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Why does death reign from Adam to Moses?

As the original post asks, how can 'death reign from Adam to Moses' if we still see death during all of humanity's existence?

The topic of "Sin, I" in the Insight on the Scriptures helps us to see what the apostle Paul is really talking about:

Sin and Law. The apostle John writes that “everyone who practices sin is also practicing lawlessness, and so sin is lawlessness” (1Jo 3:4); also that “all unrighteousness is sin.” (1Jo 5:17) The apostle Paul, on the other hand, speaks of “those who sinned without law.” He further states that “until the Law [given through Moses] sin was in the world, but sin is not charged against anyone when there is no law. Nevertheless, death ruled as king from Adam down to Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of the transgression by Adam.” (Ro 2:12; 5:13, 14) Paul’s words are to be understood in context; his earlier statements in this letter to the Romans show that he was comparing those under the Law covenant with those outside that covenant, hence not under its law code, while he demonstrated that both classes were sinful.​—Ro 3:9.

During the approximately 2,500 years between Adam’s deflection and the giving of the Law covenant in 1513 B.C.E., God had not given mankind any comprehensive code or systematically arranged law that specifically defined sin in all its ramifications and forms. True, he had given certain decrees, such as those given to Noah following the global Flood (Ge 9:1-7) as well as the covenant of circumcision given to Abraham and his household, including his foreign slaves. (Ge 17:9-14) But concerning Israel the psalmist could say that God “is telling his word to Jacob, his regulations and his judicial decisions to Israel. He has not done that way to any other nation; and as for his judicial decisions, they have not known them.” (Ps 147:19, 20; compare Ex 19:5, 6; De 4:8; 7:6, 11.) Of the Law covenant given Israel it could be said, “The man that has done the righteousness of the Law will live by it,” for perfect adherence to and compliance with that Law could be accomplished only by a sinless man, as was the case with Christ Jesus. (Ro 10:5; Mt 5:17; Joh 8:46; Heb 4:15; 7:26; 1Pe 2:22) This was true of no other law given from the time of Adam to the giving of the Law covenant.

So, yes we do see death as existing today but during the time from Adam's sin until the Law given by Moses, there was no way for mankind to redeem itself and become reconciled to Jehovah God.

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

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    Not so sure about the idea that there was no way for man to be reconciled to God pre-Mosiac law. Are you implying that the Mosaic law is a vehicle for reconciliation? That’s not what Paul says…? People were reconciled to God pre-Law, through faith (Heb 11). It’s the same vehicle today. The only difference is that they trusted a promise that they couldn’t see and we trust a promise that we see in history, viz. the atonement of Jesus (Hebrews again of course).
    – user36337
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 1:48
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    I agree with @User76451, the vehicle (faith) remains the same in both cases (then and now) and that they did look to a promise (root) and we to the flower and fruit (Jesus).
    – user49416
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 3:48
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This is and odd statement “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses”

It needs to be understood through the concept of dispensations

Dispensation 1 - Adam fell and started our journey on this earth

Dispensation 2 - Enoch gathered the righteous on the earth and brought them to the Father.

Dispensation 3 - Noah cleansed the earth and started a spiritual reboot of man.

Dispensation 4 - Abraham brought in the concept of an eternal covenant between God and man

Dispensation 5 - Moses brought in the concept of a set of laws that if lived point us to Christ

Dispensation 6 - Christ was the fulfillment of the law of Moses and the grantor of the covenant of Abraham, and the cleanser of man through the atonement, and the gatherer or way back to the father, and the fixer of the death brought into the world from Adam.

All things were made right through Christ

The time (dispensation) of Moses did not end until Christ began so death did reign from Adam through the dispensation of Moses or to the time of Christ

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    – agarza
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 14:35
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"Death" has multiple meanings. Biologically both a coward man dies and a courageous man dies, but as Shakespeare says, "cowards die many times before their [biological] deaths", that is to say, one can have a dead soul, as soul irresponsive to divine actions upon it, the actions of mercy, justice, truth, love, hatred of all bad and ignoble things - and such a soul is dead soul notwithstanding that this dead soul can belong to a prosperous businessman who in his body is healthy as a trout, or to a popular politician, who hurls lies now and again without a taint of shame.

When there is a choice to die biologically but survive as a good man, then the humanity's experience shows that good man choose this biological death to rescue their soul's goodness, like does Socrates. And what they rescue, is their true self, that continues to live and thrive in Christ even after the biological death of the body. That's why we pray to saints who are living and joyful in the presence of God even when their corpses are lying here, albeit venerated in a due way.

But even the man of greatest nobility, even prophets, cannot vanquish death without Christ, only He through His death on the Cross and Resurrection vanquished the power of sin altogether, and since sin is the foundation of death (Romans 5:12-19), then also death.

Exactly this is the death Paul speaks about, which reigned from Adam to Moses and further, from Moses to Christ who eventually conquered it. Paul simply names Moses, because Moses gave the Law, and lest some could erroneously think that this Law could heal the sin and death in us, Paul highlighted the relative significance of Law, as not vanquisher, but as only a "noticer", so to say, of sin.

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