Romans 5:12 – All Have Sinned
In order to correctly understand this passage, we need to first understand how the Bible is written. (Ref: Biblical Metaphors & Figures Of Speech) In particular, you need to understand what hyperbole is.
Hyperbole – an exaggeration of the size, power, meaning, and so on, of an object or phenomenon in order to emphasize that.
A hyperbole (which is an “exaggeration”, when more is said than is literally meant to make a point) is another common figure of speech form used in the Bible. We who use the English language are quite familiar with the use of hyperbole, even though we may not be as familiar with the term itself. When a teenager explains to her parent that “everybody” is going to be at the party, does she mean that literally, the world’s population of 6.6 billion people will be there? Of course, she does not. She is intentionally exaggerating to make a point. When a teacher explains to his class that “everybody” knows who the first president of the United States was, does the teacher believe all toddlers can correctly answer the question? No. Once again, the teacher is simply using a well-understood figure of speech to convey a point.
The Bible uses hyperbole on numerous occasions. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Had Jesus really told that woman everything that she had ever done in her life? No, she was using hyperbole to make her point.
To illustrate further, consider Mark 1:4-5: “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea and those from Jerusalem went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (emp. added). Taken literally, these verses would mean that John baptized every single person (man, woman, and child) in all of Judea and Jerusalem. But these verses are not to be taken literally. They are utilizing hyperbole, in which intentional “exaggeration” is employed to explain that John’s baptism was extremely popular.
To Have Committed Sinned
The very first observation that many usually overlook when they cite this passage is the phrase “have sinned”. By itself, this word biblically indicates an “act, thought, or way of behaving that has been committed against the law of God”. To say that someone has “sinned” is to say that person already committed an “act, thought, or way of behaving that went against the law of God”. To put it simply it is something in your actions (behavior) that dictates if a sin has been committed. Wow! Let’s prove this truth.
Many clergies try to use Romans 5:12, “all have sinned” to support, what has been coined, as the “original sin” or “imputed sin” theory presumed to be placed on all mankind after Adam disobeyed God. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve had this “sinful nature” (as does all of mankind) from the beginning of their creation (their ability to disobey God – a product of “free will”). (See: 8. What Is The Difference Between Sin, Sinful Nature & Sinful Flesh?)
A few verses later in Romans 5:19 Paul now states “For as by one man’s disobedience many (not all) were made sinners”. Here Paul says “many” were made sinners, in contrast to “all”, so how do we determine Paul’s intent?
If you just indiscriminately claim that this statement applies to “everyone” (all of mankind) in the literal sense it must also apply to Jesus because Jesus was also a “man”, declared so by his own indisputable testimony (John 8:40), (Ref: John 7:42; Romans 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:8) (See also: Christ and His Humanity). Holding that position would clearly contradict other scriptures that Jesus did not commit sin (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
Now we have this seemingly potential dilemma as to the grammatical correctness or intent of the passage.
Thus we have a potential debate with the above scripture Romans 5:12 and the following verses:
(Ezekiel 18:20) – “The child does not bear the iniquity of the father, but the wickedness of the wicked is upon himself.”
(2 Corinthians 5:10) – “Each one will be judged according to what he has done in the body, good or bad.” If this verse is true then this means no one will be condemned for Adam’s sin, except Adam!
(Luke 12: 47-48) – “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
(Romans 5:13-14) – “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned”
I would surmise that there is a close correlation between Ezekiel 18:20 “The child does not bear the iniquity of the Father” and Romans 5: 14 “…even over them that had not sinned”
We, therefore, need to explore how these verses best harmonize without being contradictory.
So how would a baby, who has just entered into the world, ever be given the opportunity to receive salvation if it were to die during its infancy? The Bible gives no examples of Christian-believing infants. (James 4:17 )
Because the bible is written for those who have a level of intelligence or comprehension, when an infant dies each one will be judged according to what they have done ( 2 Corinthians 5:10) so we can concede that an infant would have done the least wrong or sin in comparison to any adult who dies regardless if the adult became a Christian.
Are Babies Born With Sin?
So, today we have both death and a sinful nature that was inherited from this one act of disobedience, and with age, time, and study we learn to discern both good and evil. The question many have regards babies and whether babies are born with sin. (Romans 5:12) states “all have sinned.” If All meant ALL (as to include infants) then babies are born with sin. However, if true that would also mean all of mankind is born with sin, even Jesus Christ would not be exempt, he himself was “born” (Matthew 1:16, 2:1; Luke 1:35, 2:11), a “human child” of Mary (Matthew 1:16) and the seed of David (John 7:42; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8). Yet, the Bible tells us that this man (John 8:40) was without sin (1 Peter 2:22). Is sin actually inherent at the first breath an infant takes into their lungs? Or, does choice play a part; being a point of entry into each life?
Until Adam exercised his choice/free will to disobey God’s commandment there was no sin in his life. Once he disobeyed and his eyes were opened there were other things he came to understand were not as they should be and had to be changed.
In Adam’s life, sin was nonexistent without that choice. Once that choice was made, then discernment and accountability came into play. When an infant is born they lack the ability to choose anything for themselves, their entire existence depends on the care and nurture of others. It is not until they have the ability to choose to disobey that sin enters the picture. Even then, until they have the ability to discern right from wrong can full accountability come into play?
(Luke 12: 47-48 ) – “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
(Hebrews 5:13-14) “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Based on the word of God there are clearly different degrees of understanding and accountability. It is impossible to disobey without a choice. Disobedience comes with a price, but it is impossible to disobey if you have no knowledge that what you are doing is wrong.
The basic knowledge of right from wrong starts being learned at a very young age. How many people reading this know this scenario? “Don’t touch that, it is hot.” followed by a curious child touching the object and learning what both “don’t touch” and “hot” mean. At this point, did the child sin? Until after the lesson on what “don’t touch” and “hot” mean the child does not comprehend that touching the object is wrong. It is with this repetitive lesson. “Don’t touch that…” the child begins to understand this is an order and they are not supposed to disobey. When the child turns to the parent with a knowing look and an ornery grin and touches the object anyway, they have made a choice and they have disobeyed, they are then accountable and pay a consequence with a swat on a diaper-padded bottom, or a moment in time out. Was punishment meant to hurt the child or teach them the serious nature of the infraction? Children are taught in degrees. Choice and disobedience also present themselves in degrees.