I want to share some reflections on Chapter 5, one of the more theologically significant chapters in what is arguably the most theological of St. Paul’s writings. However, as this is a website dedicated to learning how to read biblical Hebrew, this post will focus on tracing Paul’s thinking back to the Hebraic witness. Let’s begin with the Greek. The RSV is as good a place to start as any:
(5:1) Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (my emphasis)
This verse is problematic in that it is clear that Paul is referring to Genesis 15:6 taken from the Septuagint. And while this verse is translated correctly from Greek to English, the original translation from Hebrew to Greek is problematic, if not outright incorrect. In other words, it appears as though Paul’s understanding of justification arises from the Septuagint’s mistranslation of Genesis 15:6.
Verses 12-13 are significant:
(5:12-13) Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
Paul rightly understands that sin, חַטָּאת (chattat – “the sin”), is correctly expressed as estrangement or separation, in this case from God and was precipitated by Adam and Eve when they ignored God’s warning not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In the Garden of Eden allegory, the primordial couple’s expulsion is symbolic of sin (separation from God) and the loss of immortality (life in Eden).
These next two verses form the crux of Paul’s understanding that the estrangement from God and mankind’s loss of immortality were the inevitable consequence of Adam and Eve’s willful disregard of God’s words.
Now, we turn to verse 5:19 (verse 18 provided for context):
(5:18-19) Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. (19) For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (my emphasis).
The issue in verse 19 is its use of ‘disobedience’ for the Greek in verse 19. The translation from Greek to English does not reflect the Hebraic witness. More specifically, the Greek word in question is parakoes((παρακοῆς – See Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 149)) the literal meaning of which is “failure to hear” or “inattentive hearing”. With this meaning in mind, a better, more literal translation of 5:19 would read something along the lines of,
(5:19) For just as by the one man’s failure to hear God’s words the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s sacrifice the many will be made righteous (my emphasis)
Parakoes has a wide semantic range because it can convey one of three meanings:
- To fail to hear or heed (most common)
- To be indifferent to what is heard (i.e., to ignore commands, instructions, warnings)
- To disobey an order or command (least common)
In other words, Paul’s use of parakoes in 5:19 is entirely consistent with the interpretation that God did not command Adam, but warned (or alternatively instructed) him.
Now, a final note: how does the Septuagint’s Greek line up with Paul’s? It does not. Here is the RSV’s translation of Genesis 2:16, but with Septuagint’s Greek translation of וַיְצַו (vay’tzar) of the Hebrew:
(RSV) And the LORD God ἐνετείλατο the man saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;
The word used in the Septuagint’s translation of vay’tzar is ἐνετείλατο (eneteilato) literally means commanded which, as has been shown by scholars to be highly suspect.
Arguably, Paul’s understanding of Genesis 2:16 is better understood as Adam and Eve disregarding God’s words (parakoes) and not explicitly disobeying God. Of note: Paul chose the term parkoes (failure to hear/heed) instead of the more definitive eneteilato (command). This suggests that Paul’s own understanding of Genesis 2:16 was that Adam and Eve’s decision to ignore God’s warning. The larger meaning is that their willful disregard of the LORD’s words resulted in two theological consequences:
- Death entered the world (loss of immortality).
- Sin entered the world (mankind became separated from God).
The second consequence is important because the reason why God expelled Adam and Eve was not because God sought to punish them. God expelled the primordial couple because as immortal but also procreative beings, their presence in Eden (a bounded, fenced enclosure) could no longer accommodate them. In other words, the consequences suffered by Adam and Eve were brought about by their own, willful actions.
Now, go and study