Chrysostom on Romans 5:13

From Farrell’s God, History, and Dialectic.

But for Chrysostom, and indeed for all of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers of First Europe, salvation is tied to the total humanity of Christ, from his seedless and virginal conception to his Crucifixion, Ascension, Heavenly Intercession, and Second Coming. It is this “recapitulationalist” view of the Economy of Salvation and its “physicalism” that therefore distinguishes the exposition of St John Chrysostom on the doctrine of ancestral sin

(GHD, 187)

Chrysostom places “justification by faith” as an opposite of “death and sin.” For Chrysostom death includes the separation of body and soul. It is not merely legal or mentalist, but physical. When Chrysostom turns to the economy of salvation, he deals with what Adam and Eve’s progeny inherit from them as a result of their sin. He answers,

How then did death come to prevail? ‘Through the sin of one.’ But what means (the last phrase of Romans 5:12) ‘for all that have sinned?’ This: he having once fallen, even they that had not eaten from the tree, did from him, all of them, become mortal.”

Second Europe had subtley reinterpreted Genesis’s “in the day you shall eat of it you shall surely die” to mean “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die and your progeny shall inherit your guilt and be culpable for it.”

(GHD, 188)

Romans 5:13 states that “until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law.”

Chrysostom denies that this passage means “before the giving of the Table at Sinai.” He asks, “How does one explain the presence of death if death is the reward of sins imputed by the Law given at Sinai?:

The phrase till the Law some think he used of the time before the giving of the Law— that of Abel, for instance, or of Noah, or of Abraham— till Moses was born. What was the sin in those days, at this rate? Some say he means that in Paradise. For hitherto it was not done away, (he would say,) but the fruit of it was yet in vigor. For it had borne that death whereof all partake, which prevailed and lorded over us. Why then does he proceed, But sin is not imputed when there is no law? It was by way of objection from the Jews, say they who have spoken on our side, that he laid this position down and said, if there be no sin without the Law, how came death to consume all those before the Law? But to me it seems that the sense presently to be given has more to be said for it, and suits better with the Apostle’s meaning. And what sense is this? In saying, that till the Law sin was in the world, what he seems to me to mean is this, that after the Law was given the sin resulting from the transgression of it prevailed, and prevailed too so long as the Law existed. For sin, he says, can have no existence if there be no law. If then it was this sin, he means, from the transgression of the Law that brought forth death, how was it that all before the Law died? For if it is in sin that death has its origin, but when there is no law, sin is not imputed, how came death to prevail? From whence it is clear, that it was not this sin, the transgression, that is, of the Law, but that of Adam’s disobedience, which marred all things. Now what is the proof of this? The fact that even before the Law all died: for death reigned, he says, from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.


Chrysostom’s portrayal of the relationship between sin and death is the reverse of the order in which second Europe portrayed it: death is the cause of sinful actions of those born after Adam and Eve, and even if one were sinless personally, one would still be subject to the law of death, the literal “falling apart” of one’s nature, that resulted as an affect on that nature of Adam and Eve’s sin. The guilt and culpability of their sin was not imputed to their posterity, but the corrupting consequence to human nature was transmitted. Death was both physically and morally corrupting to human nature, since the soul and body were designed in their natural state to be together.

GHD, 189)

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