13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
Verses 13 to 17 contrast the one man’s (Adam’s) sin with Christ’s obedience. The consequent actions of these two men have far-reaching effects on humanity. As peace with God was lost through one man, so it was gained through another.
Verses 13 and 14 give an explanation of what Paul said in verse 12. All die because one sinned. The sin of all is the sin of one; there is solidarity between the one and the many. That is federal representation; both Adam and Christ represent people as their federal heads.
Before the fall of Adam, God dealt with Adam and Eve on the basis of love. After the fall, He dealt with them on the basis of justice. His justice had to be satisfied before He could relate to the human race. Adam’s sin brought the age of innocence to a conclusion because he broke ranks with God. Spiritual death became the status of man.
The “for” indicates that verses 13 and 14 are designed to substantiate verse 12.
sin indeed was in the world before the law [Mosaic] was given,
The word “sin” in the singular refers to the principle of sin, whereas “sin” in the plural refers to the practice of sin. The principle of sin is our sin capacity, and this is what is referred to here.
Sin as a principle entered into the world by Adam’s one act of sin. The entire human race entered into Adam’s sin seminally by this one act. Adam’s one sin was different in kind from the sin of those who lived between Adam and the giving of the Mosaic law. Adam’s act of sin did involve a known directive revealed by God (2:17) but not an explicit commandment such as the Mosaic law. Violation of an explicit commandment is a “transgression” (which did not occur until years later under the Mosaic law). Violation of a known overt law of God increases the rebellion. This is what we call a “transgression” as over against a simple sin. Adam’s sin was not equal to a transgression (4:15; 5:14).
Men did not die spiritually before the law because of their personal sin but because of the principle of sin derived from Adam’s sin.
God did not hold people accountable before the law in the same sense as He held those who had the Mosaic law. However, those who died during the pre-Mosaic period did so because of Adam’s sin. All men universally participate in Adam’s sin. This imputed sin resulted in their death both physically and spiritually. Before the Mosaic law men were sinners but they were not aware of its significance. They committed sins but not transgressions.
Mankind sinned in Adam, who transgressed the law of not eating of the tree. This parlays our penalty or sentence of death to the sin of Adam. We are born into a state of spiritual death because of Adam’s sin.
Between Adam and Moses all men died physically because they were dead spiritually already in Adam. God did not impute to their account sins that they themselves committed; they did not die because of something they did. They died because of the sin of Adam; his transgression was passed on to them. The sin of one became the sin of all. Those whom God saved He saved because of His grace (vv. 18ff).