Romans 5:12—Does this statement imply that we were only potential humans before we were born, not actual human beings?

Problem: According to this text, “all [human beings] sinned [in Adam].” But, we were not yet even conceived, let alone born, when Adam sinned. Therefore, we could not possibly have been actual human beings. Hence, we must have been merely potential human beings.

Solution: For several reasons it is evident that this text does not prove that unborn human beings are not fully human. First, the passage is not speaking about an embryo in the womb, but about the way all humans were in Adam, the head of the human race.

Second, the fact that we were all genetically, representatively, or potentially in Adam, and therefore responsible in his sin, reveals that there is a corporateness about human nature. That is, there is a unity in humanity, so that we cannot separate off one member from another (cf. Rom. 14:7), no matter where we are located.

Third, the very fact that we are all declared sinners from conception (see comments on Ps. 51:5), by virtue of being in Adam, reveals that even from the point of conception one is considered to be part of the actual human race, not merely a potential human being.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.