Romans 5:12 is one of the harder passages of Scripture to understand. It comes in a context where Paul is describing justification by faith and reconciliation to God. Then, drawing parallels between Adam and Christ, he makes this statement:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
The main question revolves around the final clause of the sentence: “because all sinned.” The question is this: how is Paul describing our relationship with Adam? What does Adam’s first sin have to do with our current sinfulness? Here are a few possible views:
- Arminian view. This is the view that we didn’t sin in Adam, but rather simply inherited Adam’s corrupted nature. This view would say that because of Adam’s sin we’re all born with a defect that makes us prone to sin, though we are not actually guilty because of Adam’s sin. In this view, the “because all sinned” in verse 5:12 means that all sinned because we were made corrupt, not because we actually sinned in Adam.
- Federal headship view. This is the view that when Adam was the representative head of the human race, and when he sinned, we were all represented in his sin. Like a commander in chief who declares that his country is going to war and the citizens have no choice but to be represented by him, so when Adam chose to go into sin, he made all humanity sinners by representing them.
- Augustinian view. This view states that all humanity was actually in Adam when he sinned, and thus sinned with him. In the same way that Levi while in the loins of Abraham was said to have paid tithes to Melchizidek, so we, in the loins of Adam, actually participated in his sin.
From my perspective, the Federal headship view makes the most sense. Adam, the federal head representing humanity, sinned and thus made all humanity guilty. I would also include the aspect of the Arminian view that emphasizes the transference of the corrupt nature. Thus, all sinned in Adam because they were represented by him, and all sinned because Adam passed on the pollution of his sin to his children.