Romans 5 (Basic Bible Commentary)

December 2nd, 2013

Introduction to These Chapters

The relation of Romans 5:1-21 to the rest of the argument of the letter has been clarified in recent decades. Earlier scholars, under the influence of the Reformation, tended to place this chapter with the first four chapters under the general heading of “justification.” We can see the reason for doing this in light of the opening and closing verses of chapter 5, both of which emphasize rightwising.

Another scheme of dividing Romans was popular in nineteenth-century German scholarship. It tended to place chapters 6–8 under the heading of a mystical-ethical doctrine of salvation, while placing chapters 1–5 under the category of a legal doctrine of salvation.

Recent commentators, however, have correctly placed chapter 5 with the succeeding two chapters. Within this framework, Romans 5:1-11 has an introductory role in the series of amplifications of Paul's basic argument which we find in 5:1–8:39.

In particular, we see themes in 5:12-21; 6:1-23; and 8:1-39 introduced for the first time in this section. The restored relationship with God marked by peace provides the basis for future salvation despite all present sufferings. The paradoxical state of the new life is developed throughout chapters 5–8, in that the peaceful relationship with God and fellow humans is set in the context of a world in which the principalities and powers are very much present and effective.

In the second half of chapter 5, Paul sets out the contrasting realms of Adam and Christ.

A number of important themes surface in this chapter: suffering in relation to maturity; peace and reconciliation; the relation between the present experience of rightwising and the future experience of salvation; the cause of human sin and the role of Adam; and the relation between the old age and the new. Christian realism is at the forefront of this passage.

Chapter 5 may be outlined as follows.

I. Introduction to the Argument (5:1-11)

A. Peace in the midst of affliction (5:1-2)
B. Afflictions and sufferings (5:3-5)
C. Reconciliation with God (5:6-10)
D. Summary statement (5:11)

II. The Realms of Adam and Christ (5:12-21)

A. Introduction (5:12)
B. Sin in the garden of Eden (5:13-14)
C. Adam and Christ are compared (5:15-21)

Peace in the Midst of Affliction (5:1-2)

The passage opens with a succinct summary of the preceding argument from 1:16–4:25. This statement recalls the thesis in Romans 1:17 through the intricate stages of the argument in intervening chapters down to this summary. Being rightwised provides the basis of peace with God, according to the argument of our new section.

Before there can be peace, however, there must have been war. It is impossible to understand the argument of chapter 5 without recalling the extensive argument that Paul has laid out up to this point, that human beings had indeed declared war on God and that this war had been overcome by the cross and resurrection of Christ.

The rebellion of humans by suppressing the truth about the distinction between themselves and God, with its dreadful consequence of the distortion of all human life, is the presupposition of this chapter. When God forgives humans and accepts them by grace alone, the necessity for their rebellion is eliminated. We no longer have to prove ourselves. We no longer have to compete. We no longer have to play God. This is what Paul means by the gift of peace. We can stand in a firm relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:1), because we are no longer attempting to play God and to resist the truth.

The content of this peace is described in 5:2 in terms of access to this grace in which we stand. Paul refers here to the love of God conveyed to human beings through Christ who accepts us as we are. This grace enables a new relationship, so that the task of Christian faith is to stand firmly on that relationship rather than falling back into some form of self-righteousness.

This argument had a particular significance for the Roman house churches, which were competing with one another in a situation of virtual warfare. Paul does not wish to imply, however, that our peace with God and with fellow Christians means the difficulties of life have been resolved. This would produce a shallow, unrealistic faith incapable of dealing with the real world. Thus Paul contrasts the firm relationship in which we stand with the future hope of the glory of God. Such glory is going to be manifest at the end of history.

Afflictions and Sufferings (5:3-5)

In the meantime, there are sufferings that must be endured. The Roman churches had experienced such afflictions and sufferings in various ways, and in some sense were experiencing them in the present time with the return of the refugees and the difficulties that they were finding in relocating and finding places in the churches that they had left.

Paul himself has experienced more than his share of sufferings in his missionary travels. It is the presence of the old age with its suffering and trouble that makes for the necessity of hope (5:1, 5). The peace that Paul has in mind, therefore, is a dynamic, forward-looking one, requiring hope for its fulfillment.

Some have inferred from reading verses 3-5 that Paul was something of a masochist who offers a positive justification for suffering. He does not, in fact, suggest that suffering comes from God or is particularly to be welcomed. Instead, he suggests that the Christian is able to rejoice in sufferings because he or she is sure of God's love (5:5).

Within this context, sure of God's love, no suffering can separate us. And when we hope in the future fulfillment of God's plan, suffering can be received positively. It is within this context that Paul suggests that suffering produces endurance. To gain such positive benefits from suffering requires the foundation of the love of God and the peace with God who sustains us during troubles.

Reconciliation with God (5:6-10)

In verses 6-10 Paul moves on to set forth his powerful doctrine of reconciliation. The premise of this section is that humans are in fact sinners (verse 8) and God's enemies (verse 10).

Paul develops this basic idea in a somewhat awkward manner, developing a comparison in verse 7 which he has to qualify in the second half of that verse. The basic point is easy to understand: God conveys love to humans despite their rebellion by means of Christ dying for the ungodly.

In verses 9-10 Paul lays out the basis for the hope of future salvation. While Paul speaks of reconciliation and rightwising as a current or past experience, he consistently in this chapter reserves salvation for the future. We encounter this for the first time in 5:2, where participation in the glory of God is placed in the context of future hope rather than present experience. We see this even more clearly in verses 9 and 10, where rightwising and reconciliation are contrasted with the future salvation. We encounter the same kind of contrast in 5:17 and 6:8.

Paul probably makes a distinction between present suffering and future fulfillment in order to insert a note of realism into early Christian enthusiasts. These people believed that, with the dawn of the new age and the gift of the spirit, they were already participating in the resurrected life. This would imply that troubles would be completely eliminated and that evil had been overcome.

Paul's contention in 5:1–8:39 is that the Christian life must be lived out against the threats of a still-fallen world. He does not wish to deny that regeneration has already occurred and that the new life is presently available. What the reservation implies, however, is that the fulfillment is yet to come. The Christian life makes no sense in the context of troubles and afflictions without the principle of hope. Any Christian who loses sight of this will remain terribly vulnerable in times of persecution and natural disaster. The peace that we have with God sustains us through persecution and trouble but does not relieve us from them. Salvation in the final sense is a future hope for Paul.

Summary Statement (5:11)

This argument is summarized in verse 11, where the present rejoicing in God centers in the firm relationship that has been established through Christ. Reconciliation is a reality no matter what troubles this world may lay upon us. In the conclusion of this sentence, the themes that will be dealt with through the rest of the next three chapters are stated. Not until the end of chapter 8 will Paul return and offer the resolution of the problem of remaining faithful as well as hopeful in a world where evil continues at times to predominate.

The Realms of Adam and Christ (5:12-21)

With 5:12-21, Paul opens up some of the most provocative and highly debated topics in his letter—the origin of sin and the relation between the realm of Christ and the realm of the fallen world.

Introduction (5:12)

In verse 12, a paradoxical thesis is stated. Like several of the other heavy sentences in Romans, this one remains incomplete. The first portion of this sentence stands firmly within the tradition of the Adam speculation of ancient Judaism. This concept suggests that evil came into the world through the first man and woman, and that the fate of the subsequent inhabitants of this globe was decisively determined by the actions of their ancestors.

This deterministic picture, however, is altered with the final words of verse 12 in which the contradictory viewpoint is suddenly stated: because all have sinned. Paul states the paradoxical view that humans are all responsible for their deeds regardless of what Adam did. According to Paul, each human being sins in his or her own behalf. Here we have, side by side, two paradoxical sides of the doctrine of sin, the one deterministic, and the other voluntary. Paul means to hold both of these views in tension.

Paul is trying to hold together here doctrines that have been perceived to be absolutely opposed to one another, not only in ancient Judaism but in modern thought as well. Paul holds the view that both sides of this antithesis seem equally true. This paradox needs considerable discussion, because for the most part Christians have tended to take one side or the other, but rarely have they taken both sides.

Sin in the Garden of Eden (5:13-14)

In these verses, Paul reviews the traditional teaching of the sin of the first humans in the garden of Eden. He refers to this sin repeatedly as the effort to become like God. In these verses Paul contends that sin preceded the giving of the law, following in this regard Jewish theology of the ancient period as well as the biblical record.

In order to understand this argument, some perspective must be provided for the figure of Adam. While many people in the ancient world conceived of Adam as a historical figure, he is used here more in the sense of an archetype. He is the figure that does what others later do, functioning therefore as a kind of pattern.

Many modern people are more comfortable with understanding the Adam figure as a mythical narrative than as a historical account. As history, the story of the first man and woman causes problems with modern science. But as story, as true story, it reveals the depth of the human dilemma. The Adam figure continues to exercise a profound influence on the human mind.

Adam and Christ Are Compared (5:15-21)

In the rest of chapter 5 Paul develops an elaborate series of comparisons between Adam and Christ, the one clearly a historical figure, the other a kind of abstract pattern. But both exercise a very real power: Adam in a sense ruling the fallen world, and Christ offering a new existence under grace. Behind the contrast between Adam and Christ stands the long tension between the church and the world, the old age and the new.

In the five elaborate comparisons, Paul succeeds in setting forth the distinctive shape of the new age, marked by grace, the free gift, rightwising, life, acquittal, obedience, righteousness, and grace. The old age, in contrast, is marked by the trespass, judgment, condemnation, death, disobedience, and sin.

Paul thought it necessary to develop this contrast at length in order to make plain that the life of righteousness is lived out next to the realm of unrighteousness. Paul thinks of the world as dramatically shaped by two power spheres, the sphere of sin and the sphere of Christ. Each has its ethos and each has its adherents. The life of affliction that is to be lived in faith must take the realm of Adam seriously.

In the final two verses of chapter 5, the themes are stated for the succeeding chapters. In verse 20, Paul deals with the issue of law coming in to increase the trespass. This topic is developed extensively in chapter 7. In verse 21 he deals with the realm of grace reigning through righteousness which states the major theme for chapter 6, the new life in Christ.

Paul's overarching theme, therefore, is that grace is victorious over sin. Christ's realm is greater than Adam's realm. This is what gives Paul the capacity to respond to suffering in a positive way and to remain hopeful about the future of the mission of God's word.

The Message of Romans 5

In chapter 5 we encounter one of the pervasive themes in Pauline theology, namely the overlapping of the two ages. The age of Adam, marked by sin and death, is counterpoised against the sphere of Christ, marked by rightwising and life. Particularly from verses 15-17, we gain the sense of these two ages in tension, with Christians caught between. We are members of Christ's age but still conscious of the pervasive impact of the old world.

This feature of Pauline thought has manifested itself throughout Romans. His very mission plan to go to Spain seems to have been shaped by this sense of end-time urgency. The thesis of Romans, that the righteousness of God is revealed at the present time, strongly suggests the dawning of a new age. The hope expressed in this passage of the glory of God being manifested in believers breathes the spirit of the fulfillment of history toward which Paul was working. The overlapping of the ages produces an element of tension which is crucial to understanding Pauline thought.

This vital sense of life as a constant struggle is what provides the element of realism that we detect from the opening lines of chapter 5 and which will be the major theme to be traced through the end of chapter 8. Evil is a reality. The old world is still in effect, even though the new world has dawned. The frequent use of battle metaphors in Christian hymns speaks to this underlying truth, that the Christian life of righteousness involves a struggle for righteousness. It involves a constant battle against the old age.

excerpt from: Basic Bible Commentary in the Ministry Matters Library

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