The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Does Rom 5:17 restrict the 'all men' in Rom 5:18?

I met up with a friend who has just finished reading Talbott’s Inescapable Love of God. One of his objections was about this statement on page 62:

Rom 5:18 NIV:

My friend says that the verse before (Rom 5:17 NIV), i.e. the immediate context, does restrict the second ‘all men’:

He puts forward that the ‘all men’ are those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace.

What do people think?

Does anyone have Neal Punt’s Unconditional Good News, so they can post the context of the quote on page 14?

I would appreciate any help with this question :sunglasses:

Alex ~

i wouldn’t say that Romans 5:17 neccesarily restricts the next verse. perhaps Romans 5:17 hones in on the present life and on those who are now saved, whereas Romans 5:18 looks forward to a time when all men will be justified through Christ, and given life through Him.

Hi Alex,

Here’s my take:

When Adam sinned and death began to reign through his trespass, all men were not yet partakers of that death. Even now, all men are not yet partakers. So with the free gift–all men do not yet partake of the life it brings, but life through faith is coming to all as surely as death through sin came and is coming to all.

The fact that all have not yet received it does not nullify the prophecy that life is given to all, just as all were made subject to death.


Hi Alex,

The blessings come only to those who receive them (and God will make sure that all will.)

It reminds me of Philippians: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good purpose.”

Only I can believe, and only God can kindle that belief.


Your only option is to over-ride the “those” of verse 17 is to qualify it with a larger argument, that’s the approach AllanS suggests. Grace’s suggestion is misleading because verse 17 like verse 18 clearly has a forward-looking perspective.

I’m glad you see that you can’t remove verse 18 from it’s context. I think 1 Corinthians 15 is much easier for the Universalist argument than Romans 5. The surrounding context in 1 Cor 15 is much more supportive of a universalist reading than the surrounding context of Romans 5, as your dilemma with verse 17 illustrates.

I shouldn’t be helping you because I disagree with you and actually belong to the other side but because your my cousin and I want a fair fight, I’d suggest this approach agree that Talbot is shaky on Romans 5 and move to 1 Cor 15.

Looking forward to the updates!

“Those who receive” is how the blessed category is described. The debate is over whether all will recieve, not whether one is saved without receiving. Right?

I’d say the exegetical math still adds up:

Who are “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (as the NIV puts it)?

“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

There may be weaknesses to an exegetical conclusion of universalism in and near those verses, but not from “those” in verse 17: that word doesn’t have to be read in a universalistic way, but neither does it have to be read against all men eventually being justified in the new life of Christ. It’s only saying what no one denies (universalist or otherwise): that those who do receive God’s gift of righteousness reign in life through that one man, Christ Jesus.

Put another way: Paul hugely stresses that “all men” need salvation, and “all men” are condemned; but to apply the same stress of totality in “all” for the second half of his sentence (which the rhetorical structure of its construction would seem to invite), arrives at a prophecy of final universal salvation (even though all men do not yet accept that salvation). Arm and Calv theologians are both well aware of this. The question is whether we have positive ground for reading that second “all” as being less than total, unlike the first “all”. Appealing to “those” in verse 17 is of no use against the totality of the “all” in 18b, since that all could easily be describing those.

True, the “those” in verse 17 probably refers to those currently accepting this salvation. But no one anywhere, at any time (least of all St. Paul), has construed this to mean that the “those” is restricted only to those currently accepting salvation at the present time he was writing the epistle! The “those” is clearly meant to be open to future addition after the immediately present time (otherwise there would be exactly no point to continue acting as ambassadors for reconciliation to God, exhorting people “Be reconciled to God!”)

If it’s open to future inclusion, then it cannot be used to exclude future inclusion in the next verse, especially when Paul is explicitly drawing a consequential comparison on the same topic. The “all men” in 18b has to be restricted some other way.

(I wish I could link to a comment thread I was on last year, where a very gung ho and oppositional pair of guys, one Calv and one Arm, were taking shots at one another over this verse and its context, stridently pointing out to one another that there was no defense against universalism there (specifically no answer to me! :wink: ) if each other guy’s distinct precepts were granted. I doubt I can find that thread again, though…)

It’s also worth pointing out that Paul goes on in verse 19 to say much the same thing again, this time using “the many” instead of “all men”, for both sides of the rhetorical comparison: (NASB) “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

We know very well from other contexts (including immediately nearby) that by “the many” Paul means “all men” in totality, when he’s talking about sinners anyway. So why wouldn’t he mean “all men” by “the many” in just the same way in the second half? And the repetition of the same point in different words not only super-emphasizes whatever Paul is trying to say, but the explicit variation of “the many” definitely meaning “all men” in the first halves of each verse, adds major weight to “all men” and “the many” meaning all men, not only many (and certainly not only a few) in both verses.

Plus, verse 19 makes explicit that the action of the Father and the Son not only has resulted but also will result in the future. (And the future tense to be accomplished is clear there in the Greek, too, btw.)

Moreover, St. Paul’s whole rhetorical thrust ever since verse 12 (at least) has been to compare how much excessively greater the salvation of God in Christ is, compared to sin. “But not as the offense is the grace” as he says in verse 15; and he doesn’t mean by this that the sin overcomes the grace, but rather (v.20b) “Where sin exceeds, grace hyperexceeds!”

It’s theoretically possible, of course, that an appeal to some other context elsewhere might restrictively shape what this portion of scripture can mean. But any exegesis of this passage (or frankly anywhere else in the Bible) that amounts to sin hyperexceeding grace, is an exegesis I would be rather scared to try making myself. :wink:

And yet, when I did my best to defend either annihilationism or eternal conscious torment, before I became a universalist, I was constantly trying to argue, one way or another, that sin somehow hyperexceeds grace. One of the big turning points for me came when I realized that I was getting “but not as the sin is the grace” completely backward in the direction of its meaning. All that time, I had been trying to defend the idea that grace isn’t like sin because sin hyperexceeds the grace of God… and thinking about that now, I just want to scream in horror… {sigh}

Thanks heaps everyone (including Luke!) for helping, I hope this will put my friend’s mind at ease :slight_smile:

Alex graciously sent me an email in which he asked for my response to the question that he has posed here. So, because I address his question in Chapter 12 of Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, I thought I would reproduce a paragraph here. But bear in mind that this was first published in England and therefore includes the British spelling of “judgement.”

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Thanks Tom! Unfortunately, I only got through the first chapter of Universal Salvation? The Current Debate before my younger brother Tom borrowed it to read :slight_smile:


I respectfully disagree. Here’s why: Through one man ( Adam) Spirtual death( the sin nature) and eventual physical death were passed down to his descendants. ( Rom 5:12) God’s grace presented a gift to “be received” not imposed like the spiritual death or sin nature. The sin nature was imposed on mankind whether you wanted it or not.

Rom 5:17…The two words “which receive”, that right there tells us this whole thing is a choice. Its not going to just happen. You don’t just get to heaven, its a choice. These two words " which receive" prove it is not an imposed inheritance that will eventually happen to all humans (as the sin nature we inherited with Adam was)…but a choice.

Rom 5:18… Paraphrasing: The single act of one man ( Adam) brought the judment down on all humanity. The single act of one man ( Jesus) made available upon all humanity unto justification of life. The one act of Adam was imposed on mankind. The one act of Jesus must be recieved by choice.

Thanks for your contribution. But may I ask, as gently as possible, whether you have read my remarks above on Paul’s use of “lambano” (to receive)? If so, I wonder how you would respond to them. In particular, how would you respond to John Murray’s claim (in his commentary on Romans) that Paul almost never used this term in a way that implies choice? Also, see Romans 13:2 for a context in which “lambano” could no more imply choice than a boxer’s having received severe blows to the head implies a choice to get knocked down. More to the point, perhaps, does a newborn baby who receives life choose to be born?

Don’t get me wrong, however. You and I are in full agreement that our choices are an essential part of the process whereby God reconciles us to himself. Indeed, I think Paul himself makes this very point elsewhere. But so far as I can tell, this was not the point he was making in Romans 5:17.

I’ll look forward to your reply.


Thanks for your reply, Tom.

The word “receive” is in the active voice, which means its something YOU do. The word “receive” should have been translated ACCEPT, not receive. Or it should have translated TAKE. Its the Greek word “Lambano” which literally means to take hold of.

Now, there is a gift from God to you. God is not going to zap you with it. He laid it out there and said “Take it” Its a free gift and that gift is a clearance of all guilt. When you accept that, then you’ve got it. If you don’t accept it, you don’t have it. Notice, a prerequisite to reingning in life is receiving, or taking, or catching hold of the free gift which is clearance of guilt.


For what it’s worth, I was surprised to hear from Tom that the verb there is in passive form; I always treat it as being active. (It doesn’t make any difference to my exegesis of the contexts either way.) But I haven’t studied the comparative formation there yet, so reporting on what I turned up this morning:

The verb at 5:17 is {lambanontes}. At 13:2, the verb is {lempsontai}. It’s third-person plural either way, but obviously the form is extremely different. (The text for both verbs is considered stable in transmission, by the way, including no TR variation.) The 13:2 verb seems to be future third-person plural (it’s very close to the basic future {lempsomai}), but I’m not good enough at Greek grammar to tell which is active or passive myself. The 5:17 form, although it looks simpler, is very different from any of the basic Greek forms for this verb found in Black’s list at the back of his Greek primer. (It may be relevant that he treats all those forms, including apparently the basis for 13:2, as active form, i.e. “take”.) Checking a table in Black’s a bit further, I can confirm that -mai is middle-passive first-person singular, and -ntai is the middle-passive third-person plural.

Knoch lists 13:2 as being middle-voice form, but doesn’t list the form of 5:17. (Which is unusual as an oversight for him; usually Knoch lists form for every verb.) But though he doesn’t formally list the verb form, he does translate 5:17 in a generally passive sense, and seems to translate 13:2 in an active sense. (He consistently uses the English word “obtain” for translating this verb in a passive sense, using “receive” to translate the completely different Greek verb {dechomai}. “Obtain” is usually an active English verb, so he may have chosen it to allow for reader translation either way, even though he himself explains in his concordance he means it to represent the passive form of {lamb-}.)

Green’s Textus Receptus, which uses Strong’s coordination (and treats both forms as being 2983), also translates the forms of 5:17 and 13:2 passive and active respectively in both of his literal translations of the passages. (Green features two different literal translations, which is why I really like using his reference work for cross-checking things. :smiley: Even though it’s the TR. :wink: )

AMG’s Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study version of the NASB (1970s translation unfortunately, not the more updated one) sometimes lists the form of the verbs, but doesn’t in either of these verses. Nor does it cross-reference with Strong’s in either case. It translates both verbs as “receive”, which is typically passive (although I do recognize, and often apply myself, an important active meaning to “receive”.)

So far, my research can confirm that the form at 13:2 is definitely passive (specifically middle-passive voice); but the form at 5:17 is very different. The suffix there, as I can tell from Mounce’s Master Participle Chart, could be present active for some verbs, but can also be used for passive on other verbs. I can’t tell yet from the charts (very possibly due to ineptitude on my part) which form {lambanontes} is supposed to be; but (before going to some other in-text comparative examples of the same verb) there’s definitely some weight in favor of it being active: it’s hard to believe that a middle-passive third-person plural, as 13:2 definitely is, would look so completely different just by being present (or some other tense) instead of future. But then again, they would have to look different somehow in order to distinguish future from some other tense!

Anyway, I think there’s a pretty good chance {lambanontes} is supposed to be a present active nominative plural participle. It’s definitely being used grammatically as a plural participle, and the -ontes suffix there (without changing the vowel of the root) fits that better than anything else, even first aorist passive participle which is the next closest version I can find: but that suffix is -entes, not -ontes.

If so, that means Knoch and several other translators are getting it wrong. It really should be ‘accept’, if not ‘take’, i.e. an active meaning for ‘receive’.

(However, God knows they all have more Greek in their little finger than I do in my whole body, so… :wink: )

The online interlinear at seems to corroborate that evaluation. And I’m pretty sure it’s based on Knoch’s work.

But to me the activeness or passiveness of the verb doesn’t seem greatly relevant to a universalist understanding of the passage. Either way works for me. I concur with the view that salvation requires active choice on the part of the one being saved.


Interesting. Because Knoch definitely treats that instance as being passive (even though he doesn’t formally mark it that way).

I still want to find other examples of the 5:17 usage in the NT, especially Paul’s epistles (the 13:2 is quite settled I think), and do a contextual comparison check there. That could add more weight one way or another.

Ditto. :slight_smile:

As does Tom, obviously. He just didn’t think Paul was talking about that at 5:17.

I suspect the tendency to translate 5:17 as passive instead of active (if in fact the grammar is active), is an attempt to fit the topical parallelism pretty much everywhere else in chapter 5, where the action of God in salvation is being stressed, not human responsibility. There’s no necessary rule saying Paul cannot switch up his rhetorical structure in the middle of his presentation, though, especially if (as most of us agree, including everyone commenting in this thread on this verse so far) Paul does affirm elsewhere human responsibility in salvation. Paul could have been trying to keep that section from looking like he was denying human responsibility.

(I do the same kind of thing sometimes, when I’m focusing on something important in my writing but suddenly I remember I don’t want people to think I’m thereby denying something else that’s also important–even if what I haven’t been talking about there isn’t as important as what I have been talking about! :laughing: )


While your disagreement (so far) was respectful enough (despite having apparently not read Tom first before your first comment), that doesn’t mean you can sneak back onto the forum around a year-long temp-ban for being extremely disrespectful (after around 6 months of us tolerating your disrespect).

If you happen to be someone named “Lee” (per your public email registration) posting from BA’s internet address, I strongly recommend you reply to the adminstrative email we’ve already sent you and clear up the bizarre situation as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, other members deserve to know that you’re posting from BA’s specific internet location, and so you’re very probably BornAgain/Aaron37, before deciding how and whether to reply to you.

Romans 5 is a wonderful passage. Paul contrasts the universality of the effect of Adam’s sin with the universality of the effect of Jesus’ sacrifice, highlighting that Jesus’ sacrifice is far more effective than Adam’s sin because it not only overcomes the effect of Adam’s sin but also overcomes the effect of all sin since then. Adam’s sin plunged all of humanity into sin and death. Even Jesus suffered death and took upon himself our sin though He had not personally sinned. Jesus was even tempted in all ways as we are to sin, though not committing sin. Now if Adam’s sin plunged all of humanity into sin and death, the only way for the sacrifice of Christ to exceed that is to effect the reconciliation of all humanity into righteousness and life as vs. 18 says.

And Verse 17 does not contradict this principle; rather, it only highlights that those who receive this grace will triumph over sin and death through Jesus. It does not limit grace, but highlights the effect of grace on those who receive it, especially those of us who are privaleded to receive it in this life!

“For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” NLT

Also, you know, we did not choose to be born into sin and death; that was accomplished for us by the sin of Adam. It wouldn’t make sense then for our birth into righteousness and life being contingent upon us “choosing” such. In fact, the only way for a dead person to “choose” anything is to first be raised to life. Choice is only an option for those who are alive, not dead.

People also try to use Paul’s use of the word “many” as a means of Limiting the Grace, Limiting the Atonement spoken of in this passage. But the word “many” is not used to Limit the number spoken of but to highlight the magnitude of the All which is being spoken of. “All” can be “few” or “many”. All/many of humanity was effected by the sin of Adam. Many and All are interchangable. “Many” is not meant to communicate “some”, but “all”. At least, that’s what the context indicates.

It also helps to recall who is writing this - Paul. Did Paul have a choice in his salvation? It’s likely that he had heard the Gospel numerous times before his conversion and had increasingly rejected it - to the point of persecuting the church. And yet though he set his will, his volition against Jesus, Jesus appeared to him and changed his heart and mind, sovereignly choosing Paul to be His. Did Paul choose Jesus? No, Jesus chose him. And in being chosen, Paul received grace.

Concerning my claim, following John Murray, that in Romans 5:17 Paul was using “lambano” in a passive sense, Aaron37 wrote: “The word ‘receive’ is in the active voice, which means it’s something YOU do. The word ‘receive’ should have been translated ACCEPT, not receive. Or it should have been translated TAKE. It’s the Greek word ‘Lambano’ which literally means to take hold of.”

Hi Aaron,

Thanks for your comment. You are certainly right about this: In Romans 5:17 we encounter a present active participle form of “lambano,” namely “lambanontes.” But this has no relevance, so far as I can tell, to the claim I have made above. When a very conservative New Testament scholar of John Murray’s stature claims that Paul was here using “lambano” in a passive sense, he was not confusing the active voice of a verb with its passive voice. The Walter Bauer Greek/English lexicon translated by Arndt and Gingrich lists two groups of meanings for “lambano”: (1) those in which it is used “more actively,” and (2) those in which it used “more passively.” In the first kind of case, it can mean something like “to take hold of, grasp”; in the second, it more likely means something like “receive, get, obtain,” as when one obtains, or becomes the recipient of, God’s mercy, grace, pity, peace, or judgment. Nor does this passive sense of the word have anything to do with the grammatical difference between the active and the passive voice. According to Strong’s Concordance, its voice in Romans 13:2 is middle deponent, which is not something I remember from the little bit of Greek I once knew. But according to Strong, “The middle deponent forms in almost all cases are translated as being in the active voice.” So for all practical purposes, we can think of it as being in the active voice here too.

Now the important point is that Paul typically used “lambano” in the second more passive sense (which in no way requires the passive voice). When he said in his letter to the Romans that “we received [active voice] grace and apostleship” (1:5), he had in mind those who had become recipients of grace and apostleship; when he said in I Corinthians 3:14 that a Christian leader whose tested works survive “will receive his reward,” he had in mind someone being the recipient of a reward; and when he spoke in Romans 13:2 of those who will receive judgment in the future, he had in mind those who will incur judgment, not those who will take hold of it in a context where they might choose to refuse it.

So although I fully agree with you that, as we encounter it in Romans 5:17, the “word ‘receive’ is in the active voice,” I cannot agree that this is therefore something one does. When a boxer receives (active voice) a severe blow to the head, is this something that he does to himself? When a newborn baby receives (active voice) life, is this something the baby freely chooses for itself? Because the English “receives,” like the Greek “lambano,” is often used in such a passive sense (even when it is not grammatically in the passive voice), I can appreciate why you might want to change the standard translation from “receive” to “accept.” But do you really believe that the major translations are all mistaken in this regard?


But Tom, regardless of the fact that Christians receive a gift in verse 17, verse 17 nonetheless introduces a sub-category of people that is distinct from the universal reign of death at the beginning of that verse. There is no reason to suggest that the second half of verse 17 does not qualify the second half of verse 18 particularly given the fact that the Paul bounces back and froth between two contrasting threads through this entire section.