Grammar and Theology in the Interpretation of Rom 5:12 -- By: Brian Vickers

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 27:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: Grammar and Theology in the Interpretation of Rom 5:12
Author: Brian Vickers


Grammar and Theology in the Interpretation of Rom 5:12

Brian Vickers

Much of the material in this article originally appeared in Brian J. Vickers, “The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness: A Study of Key Pauline Texts” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003), 116–35. A revised version of that dissertation, in which this material will also appear, is being published as Jesus’ Blood ‘and’ Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation (Wheaton: Crossway, [due October] 2006).

The history of the interpretation of Rom 5:12 is a mix of grammatical and theological discussion. A few interpreters may try to resolve the debate solely on the basis of grammar and a few others solely on theological grounds, but grammar and theology converge in the centuries-old debate over the meaning of this text. The lion’s share of the debate surrounds the meaning of the phrase ἐφ᾿ ᾧ. This discussion boils down generally to whether ἐφ᾿ ᾧ functions as a relative referring back to an antecedent (then there is the debate over what serves as the antecedent—this will not play much of a part in this discussion), or if it is a conjunction, typically translated as “because.”1 While this may sound like a purely grammatical debate, there are theological issues at stake. The other grammatical issue surrounds the interpretation of καί οὕτως, though this receives less attention. However, at least one interpretation of this verse essentially reads καὶ οὕτως (“and so” or “and in this way”) as if it were οὕτως και (“and so”) even though it is almost universally recognized that this is not a comparative clause with a completed protasis. Theologically, the main issues or questions surrounding this text are (1) our relation to Adam, that is, are we connected to him primarily on a representational basis, or is the emphasis on our “real” or “seminal” connection to Adam, and (2) are we guilty of Adam’s sin, our own sin, or both, and what are the implications for each conclusion.

One of the difficulties in a study such as this is that a particular grammatical reading of Rom 5:12 may be held by people with different theological or conceptual interpretations of the verse.

Likewise, interpreters with similar conceptual or theological views may have different understandings of the grammar and syntax of this verse. The goal...

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