Romans 5:19—If all are made righteous by Christ why aren’t all saved?

Problem: It is agreed by scholars that in Paul’s contrast between the “one” and the “many” here, that “many” means all. For the “many” were “made sinners” by the “one” (Adam’s) sin, and Paul had already concluded that “all have sinned [in Adam]” a few verses earlier (Rom. 5:12). But if all were “made sinners” means all actually became sinners, then why doesn’t all “will be made righteous” in the same verse mean that all will be saved? (Rom. 5:19)

Solution: There are two broad answers to this question—universalism and particularism. That is, those who claim this verse as proof that all people will eventually be saved and those who believe only some will be saved. Since the Bible clearly rejects universalism (see comments on Col. 1:20), we will focus here on the two general responses of particularists.

The Potential View: Some scholars believe Paul is simply referring to being “made righteous” by Christ’s death in a potential sense. That is to say, by the Cross all people are made savable, but not all people will be saved. Those who hold this position point to the fact that the parallel is not perfect, for we were “made sinners” in Adam without our personal free choice. Nevertheless, we cannot be “made righteous” in Christ without freely receiving the “gift” (5:16–17).

The Judicial View: According to this position, all persons were “made sinners” and “made righteous” in the same sense—judicially. That is, both Christ and Adam were our legal representatives. And while in Adam all his race were before God made sinners officially, nonetheless, in Christ all are officially made righteous, though not actually and personally. And just as every person, when they come to the age of accountability (see comments on 2 Sam. 12:23 and Rom. 5:14), must personally sin to be personally guilty, even so everyone must personally accept Christ to be personally saved. Christ removed the official and judicial guilt that was imputed to the race because of Adam’s sin. This does not mean that everyone is actually saved, but only that they are no longer legally condemned.

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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.