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Q&A

Does Romans 5:12 indicate that death came to all people because all sinned, or that all sinned because death came to all people?

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There are varying translations of Romans 5:12. For example:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (KJV)....

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 (ESV)....

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

Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to everyone, because {of which} all sinned (EOB)....

I read the following in an article by John S. Romanides[1] (below footnotes renumbered and retained from original article):

From what has been observed, the famous expression, eph'ho pantes hemarton [(ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον)], can be safely interpreted as modifying the word, thanatos [(θάνατος)], which precedes it, and which grammatically is the only word which fits the context. Eph'ho [(ἐφ’ ᾧ)] as a reference to Adam is both grammatically and exegetically impossible. Such an interpretation was first introduced by Origen, who obviously used it with a purpose in mind, because he believed in the pre-existence of all souls whereby he could easily say that all sinned in Adam. The interpretation of eph'ho [(ἐφ’ ᾧ)] as "because" was first introduced into the East by Photius,[2] who claims that there are two interpretations prevalent—Adam and thanatos [(θάνατος)]—but he would interpret it dioti ([διότι,] because). He bases his argument on a false interpretation of II Corinthians 5:4 by interpreting eph'ho [(ἐφ’ ᾧ)], here again, as dioti [(διότι)]. But here it is quite clear that eph'ho [(ἐφ’ ᾧ)] refers to skenei [σκήνει] ([ἐφ’ ᾧ (σκήνει) οὐ θέλομεν ἐκδύσασθαι], eph'ho (skenei) ou thelomen ekdysasthai). Photius is interpreting Paul within the framework of natural moral law and is seeking to justify the death of all men by personal guilt. He claims that all men die because they sin by following in the footsteps of Adam.[3] However, neither he nor any of the Eastern Fathers accepts the teaching that all men are made guilty for the sin of Adam.

From purely grammatical considerations it is impossible to interpret eph'ho [(ἐφ’ ᾧ)] as a reference to any word other than thanatos [(θάνατος)]. Each time the grammatical construction of the preposition epi [(ἐπί)] with the dative is used by Paul, it is always used as a relative pronoun which modifies a preceding noun[4] or phrase.[5] To make an exception in Romans 5:12 by making St. Paul use the wrong Greek expression to express the idea, "because," is to beg the issue. The correct interpretation of this passage, both grammatically and exegetically, can be supplied only when eph'ho [(ἐφ’ ᾧ)] is understood to modify thanatos [(θάνατος)]—kai houtos eis pantas anthropous ho thanatos dielthen eph'ho (thanato) pantes hemarton [(καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν, ἐφ’ ᾧ (θάνατο) πάντες ἥμαρτον)]—"because of which" (death), or "on the basis of which" (death), or "for which (death) all have sinned." Satan, being himself the principle of sin, through death and corruption involves all of humanity and creation in sin and death. Thus, to be under the power of death according to Paul is to be a slave to the devil and a sinner, because of the inability of the flesh to live according to the law of God, which is selfless love.[1:1]

Essentially the verse can be read one of two ways:

  1. Death passed to all human beings because all sinned
  2. Because death passed to all human beings, they all sinned

(I've moved the "because" to the beginning of the clause translation in #2 for clarity).

Which is the most natural reading of the original Greek text (and why)? Are both readings valid translations? How has this verse historically been understood and interpreted?


  1. John S. Romanides, "Original Sin According to Saint Paul", St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. IV, Nos. 1 and 2, 1955-1956. ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Amphilochia, Heroteseis, 84, Migne, P.G.t. 101, c. 553-556. ↩︎

  3. Ecumenius, extracts from Photius, Migne, P.G.t. 118, c. 418. ↩︎

  4. Rom. 9:33; 10:19; 15:12; II Cor. 5:4; Rom. 6:21. ↩︎

  5. Phil. 4:10. ↩︎

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2 comments

What's the main difference? Death by or through sin? curiousdannii‭ 7 months ago

Death passed to all human beings because all sinned / vs. / because death passed to all human beings, they all sinned. laserkittens‭ 7 months ago

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