12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death [both physical, spiritual and eternal] spread to all men because all sinned—
all sinned [aorist indicative—Adam’s actual sin at one point in the past]—
What is the nature of “sinned” in this clause? This statement informs us why death passed to all men. Does this mean the actual sins of all men or does it refer to man’s sin in Adam?
“All sinned” means all sinned in Adam as their federal head and not that people sinned personally at some point in their lives. This is the reason death spread to all men. All acted when Adam acted. People “died” because of the trespass of Adam (Ro 5:15). Separation from God is due to Adam’s sin. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ep 2:1) and born into the world as children of wrath by nature (Ep 2:3).
The “sinned” here cannot be the pattern of sin caused by Adam that people commit subsequent to Adam. This sin happened at one point in the past (aorist indicative). This is the particular event in history when mankind sinned collectively in the first sin of Adam.
This sin was the original sin of Adam himself. The interpretation of ongoing sin would not accord with the parallel analogy of what Christ did once for all. The true parallel is that Adam infused his sin into his posterity and Christ infused or imputed His righteousness into His posterity. There is a counter-effect that the one man Christ has with the one man Adam. Adam’s sin was a radical corruption of man’s natural capacity.
The sin of verse 12 is the same sin of verse 18 (“one man’s offense”) and of verse 19 (“one man’s disobedience”). Thus, “all sinned” is not personal sin. There is solidarity between the “one” and the “all.” The sin of one is the sin of all.
Both Adam and his posterity die from his “one trespass” (vv. 12, 18, 19). Death and the status of the sinner all relate to the one sin of the one man. There is no intermediary of any kind.
Verses 18 and 19 show that the many are constituted sinners by one act of disobedience. Verses 15 through 19 demonstrate that only one sin caused the death of all. Paul makes this point five times. Verse 14 states that the “all” did not commit sins that resembled Adam’s sin of a conscious transgression. They died because of Adam’s sin and not because of their own.
Death is universal because sin is universal.
There is a union with Adam; the death of all is grounded in the sin of the one man Adam. God appointed Adam as the representative head of mankind. This involves the principle of imputation, which is the idea of federal representative. Original sin was imputed to every individual by representation. All men are co-sinners with Adam. We see this in “one sinned” and “all sinned” (aorist). In parallel, Christ imputes His righteousness to any who believe.
The context of this chapter relates our sin and guilt to the act of “one man.” Not once in this passage is the sin and guilt of mankind related to the act of all men.