Romans 5:14—Is it fair to judge all people because of Adam’s sin?

Problem: Death came to all people because of the sin of Adam (Rom. 5:12), but Romans 5:14 says, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam.” But, if they did not sin like Adam, why are they held accountable?

Solution: There are two types of people who may fall into this category: (1) infants, and (2) those who do not deliberately disobey God’s dictate.

First, many Bible scholars believe that infants and small children who die before the age of moral accountability will go to heaven. This is based on the following verses. (1) In 2 Samuel 12:23, when David’s baby died, he said “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” This implies that the baby was with the Lord. (2) In Psalm 139, David speaks of even an unborn baby as written in God’s book in heaven (v. 16). (3) Further, Isaiah distinguishes between those who are not yet old enough to “know to refuse the evil and choose the good” (7:15), which implies they are not yet morally accountable. (4) Jesus added, “if you were blind, you would have no sin” (John 9:41). (5) And Paul speaks of Christ’s sacrifice making all righteous (Rom. 5:19), which would cover even little children who are born in sin (Ps. 51:5). (See also comments on 2 Sam. 12:23.)

Second, we “all sinned [in Adam]” as our representative, and as a consequence the guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed to all of us. But Christ’s death cancelled this and released the human race from this judicial guilt (Rom. 5:18–19). Even so, those who attain the age of accountability are responsible for their personal sin and therefore are justly condemned.

So those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam, nevertheless still sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12). That is why death still reigned from the time of Adam and Moses. Romans 2:14–15 affirms that the Gentiles, even if they have not the Mosaic Law, still were a law to themselves. They have the Law written in their hearts and their conscience bears witness to their actions. Humans after Adam are still sinful and responsible for their actions.

Just because people do not sin in the likeness of Adam does not mean that they are not sinful. In other words, it doesn’t mean that humans are not held accountable by God for their actions. Man dies because man sins (Rom 6:23). God is just in condemning sin, and He is merciful in providing salvation for those who will receive it.

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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.