“A” is for Adam “in whose fall we sinnéd all”

My GD class was hinting around last week that there is a firm distinction between the terms “sin” and “transgression” when talking about Gen 3. Of course, Gen 3 makes no claim about the event, either way. And it seems to me that such terminological precision is not a feature of Paul’s original comparison of Christ and Adam in Rom 5:12-21. When Paul does make a distinction it is transgression, not sin, that is the stronger term.

So turning to Romans, we find that in Rom 5:12-21 alone, Paul uses no less than four different words to describe the Adam event:

v. 13: Adam’s transgression (parabasis)

vv. 15, 17, 18: trespass (paraptōma) of one man (AV = offense)

v. 16: one man’s sin (hamartanō) (a participle; AV = by one that sinned)

v. 19: one man’s disobedience (parakoē)

Now I haven’t stared at this for all that long, but it just doesn’t look like Paul is trying very hard to be precise. One thing that does strike me, however, is that three of the four terms used (transgression, trespass, and disobedience) all imply that Adam’s offense involved receiving and intentionally ignoring a divine injunction.

Looking more closely at Rom 5:12-14, we can see a simultaneous use of sin and transgression that will allow us to judge Paul’s thought when he chooses to make a distinction:

“Therefore, just as Sin entered the world through one man, and through Sin, Death, and so death spread to all human beings, with the [logical] result that all have sinned—

up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, even though sin is not accounted when there is no law;

yet Death held sway from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in a way similar to Adam’s transgression—who is a type of the one who was to come.”

Verse 12 is a piece of work. I have written the first references to “sin” and “death” with initial capitals to indicate that in these instances Paul is writing as if sin and death were personified. The references to sin and death which are not capitalized refer to personal, actual, sin and to the physical death of individuals.

So Sin came onto the world stage as a result of the Adam event and because Sin came, Death also came. To Paul, these two forces are tyrants who dominate human beings and mar human existence, but they are not invincible. God has broken their power through the resurrection of Jesus.

The next clause is always sticky – it’s got the [in]famous “Rom 5:12 eph ho,” (with the result that…) which is both difficult to translate and very important for comprehension. I’ve simply followed Joseph Fitzmyer, but you can certainly take your best shot. The point is probably that since Death came onstage, everyone has died. Because we know everyone has died, we can logically conclude that all have sinned.

(N.B. What is not being said is that there is a causal connection between death and sin. D(d)eath does not cause sin.)

Turning now to vv. 13-14, we find that Paul implicitly divides world history into two phases: from Adam to Moses, and from Moses to Christ. In the period from Adam to Moses, people sinned, but it was not charged to their account. There was no transgression (parabasis) because there was no law, in agreement with Rom 3:20 and 4:15.

Finally, in v. 14, Paul writes that Death “held sway” (lit., reigned), and that it exercised it’s baleful influence over those who had sinned (hamartano), despite that fact that they had not done what Adam did.

Here then, is the distinction between sin and transgression. Transgression (parabasis) is the formal aspect of an evil deed as a violation of a law, or precept. Adam had been given a precept which he disregarded, therefore, he transgressed. Those who lived from Adam to Moses did not do as Adam had done, because they did not violate a precept. Nevertheless, we know they sinned because we know they died.

And so we see that Paul is not all that concerned with terminological precision when he talks about the Adam event, but that he can distinguish between sin and transgression when he wishes to. When he does so, transgression seems to carry greater censure.

32 Replies to ““A” is for Adam “in whose fall we sinnéd all””

  1. The title is a line from a Puritan primer that I’ve seen quoted in a couple of commentaries on Romans. Fun dudes, those Puritans.

    AV = Authorized Version = King James Version = pretty inscrutable in Romans. Try the RSV (Revised Standard Version) or the NAB (New American Bible).

    Glosses are from BDAG = Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, 3rd edition.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Consecutive Meaning of eph ho in Romans 5:12,” NTS 39/3 (1993).

    NTS = New Testament Studies

  2. Didn’t you already show that hamartano and parabasis are both used to describe Adam’s deed? I think I am inclined to agree that Paul isn’t being systematic here, but that would mean that the distinction b/t sin and trasgression you are pointing out isn’t a theologically meaningful one for Paul. Am I missing something?

  3. Taylor, it seems to me that the crucial phrase in Mogget’s argument that “transgression” sometimes carries greater weight than “sin” is:

    “Death held sway from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in a way similar to Adam’s transgression.”

    Here, Adam’s transgression seems to be held up as a kind of extreme prototype of sin; the worst, most consequential sin is sin that is similar to Adam’s transgression. So, as far as I can tell, there’s really no support in Paul for the conclusion that Adam’s decision was not sinful — or even perhaps the correct choice — as we currently teach. I think that’s okay, too. We have a meaningful textual basis for that idea in the Book of Mormon, and we only get into trouble if we require all revelations in all time periods to be the same. Otherwise, we can simply conclude that the author of Paul’s epistle had different light on the Fall than we do.

  4. RT- I agree that this verse implies that you can sin similar to Adam’s transgression or not similar to Adam’s transgression, but that doesn’t mean that there is a difference b/t sin and transgression. The meaning of verse wouldn’t be any different if Paul had said that you can sin similar to Adam’s sin or not similar to Adam’s sin.
    He is not speaking of a distinction between Adam’s transgression and other sins as a difference in kind, only in degree.
    Since two verses later (16) Paul speaks of Adam’s sin, I don’t think that he is working with any systematic distinction here. He seems to take them as synonyms.

  5. Mogget,

    That’s just awesome. Rad post.

    The “sin” vs. “transgression” thing has always annoyed me. The only thing that could possibly point to it in Genesis 3 is the fact that God said he “commanded” them not to eat of the fruit, and yet they did. But it’s very curious that the author doesn’t mention “sin” of any kind. Was this section written by P or someone else? If it wasn’t P, then chances are he’s just leaving the sinfulness of the act lying beneath the idea that God commanded them not to partake, and yet they did (allowing the reader to put two and two together).

    Taylor, good comment. I don’t think Paul has any strict lines drawn between the different uses of the terms either. His vocabulary patterns allow for him to do this occasionally.

    I think the distincion between sin & transgression is made in the church in order to avoid appearing to have an “original sin” doctrine, which isn’t all that sinful, really. The way Protestants describe original sin is virtually the same way we describe the effects of the Fall. I blogged this a while back (can’t find link) — Idiot Mormon’s Guide to Orthodox Christianity.

  6. Taylor, that’s exactly my point; it seems that the Rom. 5:12-14 quotation has Paul using “transgression” as a particularly extreme degree of “sin.” Other texts, of course, use the term differently.

  7. For me, at least, I don’t view Adam’s act as being sinful because he didn’t have knowledge of good or evil. We believe that one is not culpable for breaking the law in ignorance. So, while he broke the law, he did not sin.

    Is this a uniquely Mormon take on the fall? I quite regret the trend of recent to turn the fall into a lauditory act, that is just incoherent. But the innocence of Adam and Eve, seems quite rational.

  8. while he broke the law, he did not sin

    I wonder whether the author(s) of the pentateuch would agree. It seems like the ancient Israelite may not have made the distinction like Mormons do. Lest we forget that Adam did know that he should not have eaten of the fruit — he was commanded not to eat of it (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:11). So in a sense, he did have a knowledge of what he wasn’t supposed to do. It wasn’t experiential knowledge, but knowledge nonetheless. I guess one could liken it to the WoW. I’ve never smoked hasheesh or dope (although my behavior sometimes intimates otherwise), and I know it’s evil to partake of those things (like the fruit of the tree), but I don’t need to experience the partaking of those harmful substances to know that it leads down a path of evil. Is it experiential knowledge? No, but it is knowledge.

  9. Dave,

    Death before the fall — Love it, man. I think the whole Creation/Fall narrative in Genesis isn’t supposed to be taken as historical reality anyway. Many Mormons come out of the temple, methinks, with the idea that they saw in there just exactly what happened with Adam, if indeed there really was an Adam at all. I know there are a gzillion quotes from brethren and this and that which would make what I say here terribly unorthodox, but that’s just the liberal in me who is reading the book of Genesis under what I believe to be the way it was intended to be read. Strict historical accounts? Probly not.

    What the author of Genesis is getting at, I think, is setting up the Fall as a way of explaining just why life stinks so bad for the ancient Israelite (because of sin), and then leads the reader (quickly too!) into the patriarchal narratives and there he SLOWS DOWN considerably (especially in the Joseph cycle) in order to show, by way of the Abrahamic covenant, just how the ancient Israelite ought to live, and how the reader ought to live as well. The creation/Fall stories seem to be illustrating that yes, God is sovereign and devised all this, but the author also wants to pull us away from that stuff very quickly and dwell on more humane topics.

    Go ahead, fry me up.

  10. To my knowledge, there is no Jewish doctrine of the Fall. Adam and Eve are treated in Jewish commentary in a manner similar to the way we would describe five-year-olds: as naughty kids. There is something of this also in Lehi’s discussion of the Fall in 2nd Nephi 2, although the Book of Mormon does directly deal with the Fall. The distinction that he draws between things that can act and things that are acted upon is used to explain Adam and Eve’s existence and the necessity of evil in an Eden narrative.

    I think that David is right in that the author of Genesis is spending a lot of time trying to explain how the world (and, later, how Israel) came to be. We need explain how we came to be separated from and different from God in order to accomplish this. That is what the first 11 chapters of Genesis seek to do.

  11. Geez, I go to the temple and things get all exciting around here.

    My point is two-fold: (1) in that list of “sin” synonyms, we seen the various words used for rhetorical effect, not precision. Nevertheless, there’s a definite tilt toward the idea that Adam did something he was told not to do. (2) When Paul wishes, he can draw a contrast. In both instances, however, one must always read these words in their immediate context instead of “cutting and pasting” definitions culled from elsewhere.

    So sin (hamartano) has a very wide moral range from an innocent mistake to a major deliberate naughty. Transgression (parabasis), on the other hand, is narrower. It indicates that the transgressor deliberately did something he was told not to do. There can be a difference.

    But both must be read in context every time, so you know where Paul’s putting it on the moral spectrum, because Paul could theoretically use “sin” for a major naughty as well. In this case, he’s using it to describe all those naughty things done by folks who didn’t have the Law between Adam and Moses, some of which were quite naughty, but they weren’t done against a commandment from God on the matter. The idea that there is a distinction between sin and transgression as used in v.14 is locked up in the phrase “even over.”

    we only get into trouble if we require all revelations in all time periods to be the same.

    I’m in love!

    I caught a whiff of “no death before the fall” in your exposition

    Did it smell good? 😉 I’m not sure I understand the “no death before the fall” thing in all its ramifications. I haven’t been around here long.

    As far as the idea of a literal Adam goes, I’m probably closer to David J on this one. In a previous life, I was a physics professor — astrophysics, actually. And David J — I thought you were kidding!

    So, while he broke the law, he did not sin.

    Good. This is precisely what needs to be opened up. There is a distinction between how we (Mormons) use the words “sin” and “transgression” and the way Paul uses them. And we can have it both ways, as long as we don’t read our definitions back on Paul. Otherwise, Paul won’t make sense.

  12. Now here’s Elder Oaks:

    “It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression, but eternally….”

    Mogget: transgressed used as per Paul. Note however, the softening. “Transgressed the limits of Eden” as opposed to God’s commandment on the matter. And that’s okay — it’s a modern reading and it’s fine.

    “Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: ‘I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin…This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin.”

    Mogget: not used as per Paul. President Smith is taking “sin” to be more serious than “transgression.” In v.14, those who sinned are those without the law and they did not have it “accounted” to them, while Adam, who had a commandment, did. Again, not a problem unless the reader tries to read this back onto Romans. Then he/she will be understandably confused.

    “This suggested contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith:’We believe men will be punished from their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.‘”

    Mogget: Paul, if he were using the distinction of v. 14, would have said “We believe that everybody, including Adam, will be punished for their own transgressions.” Both men are saying the same thing: you have to know the law to incur guilt. And of course, Paul was not into the dogma of original sin, at least as it was formulated at Tridentine or by Augustine in the Pelagian controversy.

    “It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law. Some acts, like murder, are crimes, because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin — inherently wrong–but a transgression–wrong because it was formally prohibited.”

    Mogget: At this point, Elder Oaks and Paul are not talking about the same thing. Paul’s not comparing eating the fruit to killing somebody, he’s comparing doing wrong by not obeying God’s commandment to doing wrong while not having God’s commandments. There’s a moral issue involved for both men, but it’s not the same issue. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with Elder Oaks’ formulation, as long as it’s not read back on Paul. If it is, massive confusion will ensue.

    “These words [sin and transgression] are not always used to denote something different..”

    Mogget: ‘zactly.

    “…but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall”

    Mogget: I agree. Let’s just not conflate the two readings.

  13. J,

    Can’t speak for other denoms, but for the Prots I know, they would say it’s a Mormon thing. My take above is mostly based on the readings I’ve done on Genesis. That they (Adam & Eve) were commanded not to do something is inherent in the text, and my example above about experiential vs. instructional knowledge is how it’s explained by Prots (and some rabbis), and when I first heard it, I admit I felt liberated, happy, warm and fuzzy, Holy Spirit-ized, etc. etc.

    Naive of the difference between good and evil? I don’t see how that’s possible, especially in light of Adam & Eve’s resistence to temptation prior to eating of said fruit–the version we have in holy places is very clear that they knew something was wrong with eating the fruit, and Adam even quotes God’s commandment to Satan in retort. So does Eve. Moreover, Eve does this in the Bible, but adds the injunction that they were not even to touch the fruit, let alone eat it. So yeah, knowing the difference between good and evil in the garden, to this block-head of an exegete anyway, is evident. That knowledge wasn’t given to them by way of their own experience, but by way of instruction. Eve later states that it’s better to learn by one’s own experience, and I tacitly agree with that, but it would have been much nicer to figure all this out in a paradisical state rather than in the world where the Fall has created problems like body odor, athelete’s foot, and parking tickets.

    So maybe this whole Mormon debate between “transgression” verses “sin” is EXTREMELY indicative, to me anyway, of the desire to avoid the doctrine of original sin. There’s no other reason to make the distinction between the two terms. It’s like the divine investiture doctrine: just a way of covering our tracks later on once we discovered trinitarianism in the 1830 edition of Book of Mormon (oops, did I write that?).

    So everyone gather ’round the gallow’s pole while we hang David J for heresy…

  14. If you want to quote GAs, especially to illustrate biblical concepts, direct your web browser here.

    I don’t believe I actually clicked on that link. I will never trust you again!

    is the idea that Adam and Eve where naive of the difference between good and evil strictly a Mormon conception?

    I’ve never heard it in any other forum than an LDS one, unless it was presented as David J explained — experiential knowledge. The same is sometimes argued of Cain. He didn’t get capital punishment because he had no experience with death.

    That said, I really doubt it’s always been only Mormons. It would certainly be a good joint project for a church historian and an exegete to trace those the rise and expansion of those ideas. For my money, they were around in 18th/19th century theology somewhere.

  15. the desire to avoid the doctrine of original sin.

    Do you understand all the interest in avoiding peccatum originale? I don’t think I do. I’m going to go back through some theology notes for a few minutes and see what I find.

    I can see that it’s not what Paul’s saying and I don’t know any Catholic exegete who think that’s what Paul was saying either. Of course, what the theologians say will be another matter.

    But what I’m really curious about is why we seem to be so hot about it.

  16. Whoa! FPR goes pink! I feel so… feminine.

    But what I’m really curious about is why we seem to be so hot about it.

    Me too. I think it’s because original sin clashes with the PofGP, in which Adam is viewed as a prophet (something that makes us look very cultish), and Eve’s decision to eat of the fruit is mentioned as this wonderful blessing because it opened the door to Jesus and salvation. So they ask “How can something so good be the original sin?”

    Then there’s the Articles of Faith problem. Didn’t JS say that we would each be punished for our own sins and not for Adam’s sin? Sounds like JS was attempting to slam original sin, but I don’t think he understood original sin correctly. I tested this out on some Prots I know, and they use the term “original sin” the same way we say “effects of the Fall,” and the same ones also don’t believe that the sin that Adam did will be on our shoulders, so to speak. I wrestled with this for a while because if I projected what they were saying back onto the Articles of Faith, it made the AsofF look like JS misunderstood the doctrine of original sin, in which case I (reluctantly) agree. Very complex stuff.

    But we Mormons do that. It seems like no matter what our mainstream Christian neighbors say and do, we tend to take the polar opposite view.

    (Enter lame and nonplussed discussions about how Mormons ought to be considered Christians…)

  17. Dang. What just happened? It was black and white, then I hit a hot link and now it’s red. And where did everything go?

  18. Christianity, since Augustine, has read Adam and Eve as being in open rebellion (to one degree or another). I tried to explain the Jewish approach above and I have no idea what the Muslim approach would be. Mormons are unique, but I think that we are likely closer to the Jews on this than other movements.

    “So yeah, knowing the difference between good and evil in the garden, to this block-head of an exegete anyway, is evident. That knowledge wasn’t given to them by way of their own experience, but by way of instruction. ”

    This is the thing that makes the Jewish approach appealing, at least to me. I imagine a small child (humble, submissive) being told not to do something. Because they respect and love their parent, they agree. Someone comes along and says that it is fun to do, that their parents won’t really mind, and that there won’t be any punishment. What would your small child do (especially if you told them specifically not to do it and never really explained why)?

    I just don’t see willful disobedience here so much as I see creatures not yet ready to act for themselves and, therefore, paying too much attention to the influence of others. I think that the LDS distinction would be entirely unnecessary if it weren’t for this point (For that matter, I am not entirely sure that it is necessary, anyway).

  19. It would certainly be a good joint project for a church historian and an exegete to trace those the rise and expansion of those ideas. For my money, they were around in 18th/19th century theology somewhere.

    This is a very safe bet, Mogget. 19th-century Christian theology was wildly diverse, far more so than the situation today. And there are very few Mormon ideas for which a 19th-century parallel can’t be found. Most elements of our religious language and our theology were used by someone somewhere during the 19th century. (Although I don’t know specifically about Adam and Eve; I haven’t looked at that in particular.) But you’ve got to be careful about saying these sorts of things — people will think you’re an anti-Mormon! In this regard, it’s helpful to bear in mind that parallels don’t necessarily indicate causation, and that God may well have guided other, non-Mormon 19th-century thinkers to discover gospel truths in a way that foreshadowed and perhaps prepared people for the Restoration.

  20. So, I am a bit confused. John C., you invoke the child analogy, which to me is indicative to the no knowledge of good and evil and would seem to contradict David J.’s emperical versus intellectual knowledge. I like the child analogy, because it fits well with my conceptions of emergent free will and accountability.

    On the other hand, emperical knowledge has fundemental value, e.g., the need for Christ to expiate in order to succor His people.

  21. J,

    John’s comment above reads as a blend of the two, and I dig it. I know that Restoration scripture teaches (quite clearly, actually) that the Fall was necessary and wonderful, but sometimes I think the Bible is trying to say something else about it. Maybe Augustine and others have a point. Could they (Adam & Eve) have lived happily ever after in the garden? Again, there’s a bzillion quotes and Restoration scriptures to say “no,” but the Bible and the traditions from it also have a voice, and a very logical one too.

    For me, the author of Genesis is saying something quite simple:

    1. Everything was great.
    2. Then it all fell, and it’s not God’s fault.
    3. But God loves these people, so he’ll fix it. How?
    A). The flood, but that didn’t work, so
    B). make them covenant themselves to God, which works fine.

    Messianism bolts nicely on top of this over-simplification, albeit somewhat of a later phenomenon in Judaism.

  22. But you’ve got to be careful about saying these sorts of things

    Oui. Folks can get quite tense about this stuff in the wider NT world as well. The conflation of Son of Man / Messiah is found in 1 Enoch before it shows up in the Synoptics…

    Christianity, since Augustine, has read Adam and Eve as being in open rebellion (to one degree or another

    A point to which I have not given sufficient thought. Paul’s argument in Rom 5 is very tame compared to that of Ben Sira or 4 Ezra — he merely finds Adam guilty, but does not compare Adam’s transgression to others. And since Augustine the denunciation has been fierce.

    the child analogy, which to me is indicative to the no knowledge of good and evil

    I liked John C’s choice of a 5-6 year old child. A child that old does know that it ought to do what it’s told, but it’s not really capable of understanding all the ramifications. Paul’s point is quite clear that Adam incurred guilt, but in the larger argument he’s not pressing the point beyond what’s needed to make the required comparison with Christ.

    Anyway — good discussion and thanks to all for the enlightening replies. Sorry I wasn’t around for more of it, but it was a really tough weekend.

  23. John C., you invoke the child analogy, which to me is indicative to the no knowledge of good and evil and would seem to contradict David J.’s emperical versus intellectual knowledge.

    J, my point wasn’t that these are contradictory, but rather that they coincide. Little kids know they are not supposed to touch the hot stove (they’ve been told a thousand times), they just don’t really understand why until they touch it (I hope this makes clear my understanding of the intellectual/experiential divide). I think that the Lehi material leads us to believe that Adam and Eve only had intellectual knowledge (which is easily swayed); but that after the Fall, they could have (and actually had) experiential knowledge, which is what makes them agents.

  24. This is a bit confusing for me. I don’t think the child analogy meshes with the other. While a child of 5 or 6 knows what their parent tells them, they have no intellectual knowledge of good or evil. You can train an animal, but the animal has no intellectual knowledge. I’m not saying children are animallic, however, intellectual knowledge that the stove is hot requires knowledge about the physical mechanics of the system. Something that the child doesn’t have. The child doesn’t have intellectual knowledge, the child has faith in her parents.

  25. While a child of 5 or 6 knows what their parent tells them, they have no intellectual knowledge of good or evil.

    If this is true, then I’d probably have to change my stand, at least with respect to Paul’s point. I’m no expert, I’ve just seen 5-6 year old kids act in a manner I interpreted as “guilty.” But you may be quite correct.

    In any case, Paul’s point requires that Adam know enough to incur guilt — to transgress. I suppose that the Jewish outlook, which is sans Paul, could stick with the child-like approach.

  26. What I meant to say was that the only reason that Adam and Eve knew it was bad, was because God told them it was bad (this is what I meant by calling it intellectual, as opposed to experiential, knowledge). Perhaps instructional knowledge would have been better.

  27. I think the distinction is important as it relates to culpability. I think we are accountable (as agents) for intellectual and emperical knowledge. I don’t know that we can be held accountable for for anything else, no?

  28. Sebastian,

    It’s late, I hit the wrong set of keys and I deleted your post. I am very sorry. It looked quite detailed and probably took some time. My apologies.


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