Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

“Brings life for all”

There is a translation issue here in Romans 5:18, but the translation issue is not the real issue. A woodenly literal translation is offered by Wright: “so also through the righteous act of the one unto all people unto acquittal of life.” Thus, Christ’s act of righteousness (either his whole life or his quintessential act of dying for others) brings an acquittal of life “unto all people” or “for all.” Really? For “all”? What is the last word and the word after that, as McLaren expresses it?
“All” is exactly what Paul says. But, in Romans 5:19 he narrows it to “many”. Some find a way out of a kind of universalism in this verse but going there doesn’t help because the “many” who will be made righteous in 5:19b counterbalance the “many” who were made sinners by Adam’s sin. If only “many” were made sinners, then perhaps all those “many” were also made righteous.
So, the “many” and the “all” of Romans 5:19 and 5:18 are the same.
So, what do we say? Let me turn to my friend and former colleague, Doug Moo, who because his son’s high school basketball invariably beat my son’s team I like to find something to disagree with him about. On this one it would be hard.
1. Paul uses justification language for the individual sentence not for the overall impact of the atonement.
2. Paul is not talking here about potentials and availability but of realities.
3. Paul is speaking here of two groups: the “in Adam” and the “in Christ” groups.
4. Paul narrows the “in Christ” to those who have the gift and who have life.
5. Paul’s other passages deserve to be consulted: Romans 8:32; 12:17, 18; 14:2; 16:19.
And to Jimmy Dunn, my PhD supervisor, who contends the “all” here is a way of saying “Jews and Gentiles” and not just Jews. It refers to all those who belong to the “in Christ” epoch that has been ushered in through Christ. Though Dunn then suggests he wouldn’t be surprised if some didn’t explore that universalistic logic of Paul’s language.
Tom Wright: “Our minds instantly raise the question of numerically universal salvation, but this is not in Paul’s mind. His universalism is of the sort that holds to Christ as the way for all” (529).
What is decisive for you? Do you think Paul is consistent, and if so do you think these two verses have to be balanced in a kind of “potential for all” way? Or, do you think Paul is probing here for an idea that he only partly grasps and that the logic of grace in this passage leads to universalism?
I’m hoping Mike Bird and Ron Fay and Dave Tombis can weigh in.

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Ted Gossard

posted June 30, 2006 at 9:48 am

I certainly take it as a potential for all passage. But you helpfully, Scot, put it in terms of those in Adam and those in Christ. Paul’s concern here is not addressing universalism as Wright says.
Verse 17 does seem to attach conditionality here. This life in Christ is for those receiving it.
Previously Paul made it clear that wrath and indignation awaits those who are self-seeking and whose works are evil (Rom 2) as compared to glory, honor and peace for those who do good.

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Terry Tiessen

posted June 30, 2006 at 2:19 pm

From a pre-pub manuscript I recently read on Arminian theology, I note that classic Arminians take the all in Christ as universal but then limit its application to the original guilt that all humans incur in Adam. Thus, what the atonement by Christ accomplishes for everyone is deliverance from original guilt.
As a five-point Calvinist, I find this classic Arminian perspective more coherent than the common four-point Calvinist proposal that everyone actually becomes guilty in Adam but that they only become provisionally justified in Christ. (Millard Erickson, on the other hand, posits a more coherent parallelism in his proposal that we participate in Adam’s sin when we appropriate it by our first act of conscious disobedience and that we participate in Christ’s life-giving when we appropriate it by faith. I have spelled out my concerns about Erickson’s proposal in _Who Can Be Saved?_, p. 78)
I am currently best satisfied with the orthodox Calvinist understanding of parallel headships of two corporate entities, in Adam and in Christ. All who are covenantally in Adam sinned and died in him and all who are covenantally in Christ are made alive by the obedience of Christ. This preserves the parallel between Adam and Christ and treats the actions of both of them as effective for those who are “in them.” We all start life “in Adam,” but by God’s grace a great number of us (perhaps most of the race) are enlivened by being united with Christ.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for this.
I would only add that one need not be Calvinist to see federal headship in this passage. I would think a solid recapitulation theory of Christ’s work would do the same. No? I can’t imagine Paul thinking anyone being made alive without “faith.”

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posted June 30, 2006 at 4:37 pm

Mr. » “Brings life for all” – from Jesus Creed

[…] “Brings life for all”: […]

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Terry Tiessen

posted June 30, 2006 at 8:33 pm

I agree that faith is necessary for the experience of life (tho’ this is a point at which Neal Punt takes issue with me) but of course I see faith as God’s gracious gift to those whom he has chosen in Christ. It is a gift that Christ obtains for us by his atonement and is the first sign of life, which is inevitably followed by the obedience that demonstrates that it is a living faith, as James so strongly insists. Thus faith is instrumental in our justification but it is being in Christ that is foundational.

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