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This is the verse in question and how David Bentley Hart translates it...

Romans 5:18-19

Greek

Ἄρα οὖν ὡς δι᾽ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατάκριμα, οὕτως καὶ δι᾽ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς· ὥσπερ γὰρ διὰ τῆς παρακοῆς τοῦ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἁμαρτωλοὶ κατεστάθησαν οἱ πολλοί, οὕτως καὶ διὰ τῆς ὑπακοῆς τοῦ ἑνὸς δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται οἱ πολλοί.

DB Hart

So, then, just as through one transgression came condemnation for all human beings, so also through one act of righteousness came a rectification of life for all human beings; for, just as by the heedlessness of the one man the many were rendered sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be rendered righteous. [1]

NKJV

18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

Hart translates it this way in favor of universal salvation.


How should Romans 5:18-19 best be interpreted and translated?

Based on this, is Hart’s “πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all humans)” in Romans 5:18-19 viable in favor of universal salvation?

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    "Many" will be made righteous (not all). Universal forgiveness is not the same as universal salvation. Having faith is how one receives the free "gift" of salvation. Universal forgiveness is complete. Salvation comes upon believing in that forgiveness (through Christ's death, burial, and resurrection) 1 Cor 15:1-4. Commented Feb 28 at 18:55
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    Consider a sinking ship with 10 people on board: Jesus Christ appears in a rescue boat to offer safety to all 10 people. He is then the Savior of all 10. Let's say 8 of the people believe that He will take them to safety, but 2 of them decide to attempt swimming to shore on their own, as they do not believe that Jesus Christ can safely deliver them. Christ was the Savior of all 10 people, but especially to the 8 that got in His boat. 1 Tim 4:10 "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." Commented Feb 28 at 20:20
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    Can you cite which Greek text you are using? MGNT? SBLGNT?
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28 at 22:07
  • As far as I know, the NABRE is the official and best translation. 😊
    – deEr.
    Commented Feb 29 at 10:05

4 Answers 4

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First, David Bentley Hart's translation of the NT is quite useful - he is an excellent translator, and his translation of Rom 5:18, 19 is quite accurate and faithful to the Greek. However, I cannot endorse all of Hart's theology, especially here as he makes a logical leap.

The Bible certainly teaches universal atonement (see appendix below) but NOT universal salvation. Indeed, the passage in Rom 5:12-20 makes this point several times using different language; but Paul's point is the same - Christ's atonement at the cross was universal atonement.

That is, while the atonement for sin of the Bible is universal inasmuch as it is provided for all people ( Luke 23:34, John 1:29, John 3:16, Acts 7:60, 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 3:9, Heb 2:9, 1 Tim 2:3, 4, Rom 3:23, 24, 5:8, 10, 15, 18, 2 Cor 5:18, 19, Titus 2:11, Isa 53:6), this does not imply that all people will be saved.

The main weaknesses of Universalism can be seen by observing the following:

  • The Bible has many references to the final destruction of the wicked such as Ps 37:28, 92:7, 94:23, Prov 14:11, 2 Thess 2:8-10, Matt 5:29, 30, 10:28, 2 Peter 2:3, 3:6, 7, Rom 9:22, Phil 3:19, Ps 68:2.
  • The wicked are destroyed because they reject God and choose to be destroyed. Contrast the two groups at the second Advent of Jesus:
    • o Isa 25:9, “In that day they [the righteous] will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’”
    • o Rev 6:16, “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us [the wicked] and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’”
  • Universalism ignores the numerous people who want nothing to do with God; those who have deliberately and decidedly rejected God; those who knowingly lead lives in direct opposition to God, Rom 1:18-22.
  • Universalism makes almost no room for character development in God’s salvation/reconciliation process. That is, if a person rejects God’s offer of atonement and saving faith, then there is neither enduring nor persevering in the Christian life. Indeed, there can be no Christian life. Why would God force people into heaven?

APPENDIX - Universal Atonement

The Bible teaches universal atonement (but not universal salvation).

  • John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  • John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave …”
  • John 12:32, “I [Jesus] … will draw all people to myself.”
  • John 12:47, “… for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
  • Acts 17:30, “God … commands all people everywhere to repent.”
  • Rom 3:23, 24, “… for all have sinned … and all are freely forgiven...”
  • Rom 5:8, 10, “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, …”
  • Rom 5:15, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s [Adam’s] offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to the many.” [Note the same word, “many” applies to all people.]
  • Rom 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all people, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all people, resulting in justification of life.”
  • Rom 11:32, “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
  • 2 Cor 5:14, “…we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
  • 2 Cor 5:18, 19, “…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ …”
  • 1 Tim 2:3, 4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 1 Tim 2:6, “[Jesus Christ] gave Himself as a ransom for all people.”
  • 1 Tim 4:10, For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
  • Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to all people.”
  • Heb 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours [Christians to whom John writes] only but also for the whole world.”
  • Isa 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray … and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
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  • +1. Wonderful to read. Plus you make a strong point. I appreciate it!
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 29 at 6:30
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δι ενος δικαιωματος, Romans 5:18, can only mean 'by one righteousness'. Many try (for traditional and doctrinal reasons) to make it mean 'by the righteousness of one', in order to propagate the idea that Jesus kept the law on behalf of others.

But the same construction - exactly - is used further up the page in Romans 5:12 δι ενος ανθρωπου meaning 'by one man'. If the above mistranslation were correct we would have to render this one 'by the man of one' which is ridiculous.

The word for righteousness used in Romans 5:18 is dikaiomai (not the usual dikaiosune) which means a 'demonstrated righteousness' as may be seen from the occasions of its usage in the New Testament writings.

So 'by the one demonstrated righteousness' actually refers to the righteousness of God (see its usage ten times over in the NT) which is a matter of God demonstrating his righteousness upon his own Son, not sparing him but judging sins and sin in him in order that Divine Righteousness should be satisfied in regard to all that is not right in his sight.

But this benefit does not come down to the whole world, to all mankind, in a supposed 'universal salvation' since Paul shows specifically in Romans 5:12-21 and in other places that the benefit is to 'all' but that 'all' is all that under the Headship of Christ, ressurected and ascended to the right hand of God.

'Upon all humanity' needs to be defined properly, now that Christ is risen from the dead and become Head over the Church which is his body : this being another humanity than the first humanity, which first humanity was under the headship of the man of sin and death.

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    +1. Thank your for you answer!
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 29 at 6:34
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Let me affirm that I also abhor how the scriptures are sometimes twisted to fit into someone’s theological ideas. This method of interpretation results in both smugness and blindness to the truth of God’s Word. Distorting some scriptures always seems to lead to distorting others in support. Thus, I’d much rather take a position of firm unresolution, but remaining open to future enlightenment.

As I study and mature, I’m continually discovering resolution of difficult passages that seem to contradict others. Often, hermeneutical factors of context, ancient culture, and language are critically important. As Peter warned us

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. – 2 Peter 3:14-16 ESV

Here, Paul uses a series of "poetries of parallels" and kal v’chomer arguments, beginning in verse 12. The literal Greek (using English word order and punctuation) in the repetitive series reads

12 On account of this, as if through one man, sin entered into the world, and through sin, death, and thus to all men death went through, because by which reason all sinned.

15 But shall not as the transgression, so also be the favor? For if in the transgression of the one [Adam], the many died, to many more the favor of God and the gift by favor in the favor of the one man, Jesus Christ, to many abounded.

17 For if in the transgression of the one man [Adam], death reigned; how much more the ones receiving the abundance of the favor and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 It is so then as through one transgression it was unto all men for condemnation, so also through one right action it was unto all men for justification of life.

19 For as the disobedience of the one man, many were established as sinners, so also by the obedience of the one man, many will be established as just ones.

These arguments establish the efficacy of Christ’s obedience and death to be conferred to the justification of many other humans, not just himself.

Again, these quotes are from the literal Greek.

Then in chapter 6, Paul goes on to demonstrate how Christ’s resurrection is a victory over sin and death, and how believers should also reject sin and consider ourselves dead in Christ to be able to be resurrected to eternal life in Christ. Thus, in context, forgiveness is universally available, but salvation remains a gift that needs to be accepted (and trusted) as Mark Vestal aptly put it.

As Jesus told Nicodemus

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:16-18 ESV

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  • Of course, I have to upvote that. Well said!! Commented Feb 28 at 20:46
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    Thank you! I liked the distinction between something being made possible and that possibility being instantiated into reality. I also liked your upvote. ;-)
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 29 at 0:06
  • +1. Thank you for your answer with clarity.
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 29 at 6:33
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All three quotations, the Greek original and two English ones given in the OP are about universal salvation so clearly as to erase any penchant in anyone to even engage in a futile inquiry about it.

Another issue is why there is "all" in the first clause and "many" in the second clause? Easy:

Christ died for all and opened through His death on the cross and the resurrection gates of the Kingdom of Heaven to all without exception, for in Himself He took all sin of mankind, healed and blotted out the great wound of sin and death that beset humanity from the time of Adam's fall.

However, since acceptance of this universal salvation accessible to all without exception is pending on a human freedom, so it is also granted that not everybody will automatically, so to say, choose to be saved, and therefore "all" in the second part of the clause is changed to "many" with this due reason.

St Paul is not extreme Augustinian or Kalvinist with their fatalism, no way!

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