Chapter 18 – Romans 5 Atonement Passages

Author: Kevin George

This book is a work in progress. Posts on this blog are to enable readers to examine the manuscript and make commentary. These blog posts are NOT the final version!

This chapter will review the verses in Romans 5 which relate to atonement, reconciliation, righteousness and the claims of Penal Substitution.

Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, since we have been rectified [dikaiōthentes] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this favor in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

The Greek word often translated as “justified” is “dikaiōthentes”, which literally means “to make right, to set right, to rectify, correct, or to render right”. We are justified/rectified/corrected/set right/made right by our active faith. This kind of faith is a strongly held belief, not a mere intellectual assent. Dikaiōthentes cannot be a declaration of a delegated righteousness because the verse literally states, based on the logic of Romans chapter 4, that it is our “having been set right [dikaiōthentes] therefore [oun] by/out of [ek] faith [pisteōs]” that “we have peace with God.” It is not God declaring us right first, and then we find peace, but rather us setting something right that was previously wrong which makes us have peace with God as a byproduct, the result. There is a declaration of righteousness stated in verse 19 of this chapter (and referenced below), but it takes two words, “katastathēsontai dikaioi” to make this phrase, and it is the end result of the change that comes from applying our faith in a righteous God. Sadly, the popular theology of today has conditioned people to think that the word “justified” is a mere declaration, or a position, or a status, with no corresponding change to actually living right. This violates the order of this verse and makes God a liar for declaring that a person is living right when he is not!

A great example of how Paul uses “justified” to mean “set right” is found in 1 Corinthians 6:10-11. Consider how the term “justified” in this passage actually indicates a new situation of having left sin behind, and not some imaginary legal status: “nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified [set right] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” ESV. These individuals were set right from their former way of living by embracing the name of, which is by being loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of God changing them from within. The reason to take notice is that this is not a declaration of being right based on a payment or a declaration, or trivial faith, but a genuine change from wrong living to living right.

Furthermore, notice also how the Greek “dikaiothentes”/”justified” is translated as “set free” in Acts 13:39, “and by him everyone who believes is freed [dikaiōthēnai] from everything from which you could not be freed [dikaioutai] by the law of Moses” ESV. It would have been more accurate to have used “set right” instead of “freed”, but this passage still illustrates that “dikaiothntes”/”justified” is neither a declaration nor a position, but a change of condition from not being right, to becoming right.

Verse 1 of Romans 5 is saying that it is through, or because of, “our Lord Jesus Christ” that we have embraced this faith that has set us right and enabled us to obtain peace with God. Meaning, the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s anointed, is why we heard and believed and were motivated to live lives pleasing to God.

In addition, Romans 5, verse 2 shows us that it is also by faith in Jesus that we have obtained God’s favor (grace) and is the reason we have a hope, an expectation (not a position) “of the glory of God.” Christians are often taught that we have a position, but it is really more of a promise, an expectation, a firmly held hope.

Romans 5:6-7 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for [Greek “hyper” – over, or regarding, not in place of] the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous [dikaiou] man, though perhaps for a good man one would dare even to die,”

Here Paul (the human author) writes contrary to PSA theology. Notice that in verse 7 he mentions “a righteous person”. The Greek word righteous is “dikaiou”, indicating a person of integrity, honesty, virtue, or upright living. But what is the source of this man being righteous? Was his righteousness transferred to him? No, we understand in common speech that a person can live righteously, just as Cornelius did before he heard the Gospel message (Acts 10:22, 35). If you read Peter’s sermon to Cornelius you should notice that it does not mention repentance, as he was already a faithful follower of the God of Israel and there was no need to repent; he needed to believe that Jesus was God’s Messiah, the man appointed by God to rule and judge the living and the dead.

A person lives righteously because he chooses to do so, due to the belief, the faith that directs his mind, will, and emotions. Jesus said, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat. 9:13), and, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7 ESV). Notice that Jesus did not come to call the righteous! This indicates that there are people who are righteous and do not need to repent. This does not mean that they never sinned, but that they turned away from lives of sin to live right, just as Jesus commanded the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” It does not mean that the person achieves a status of impeccability, an inability to sin, but rather that the person stops being sinful as a normal, habitual way of life.

Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” ESV.

In verses 7 and 8, the word “for” in the phrase “died for” is the Greek word “hyper” which means “over”, indicating “because of”. Meaning, “Christ died because of us.” This “hyper” is not a substitution, a payment, or a satisfaction, but causational. Since this verse is indicating the love God had for us, the “hyper” should be understood as “for the sake of”, meaning “Christ died for the sake of us.”

Granted, even under the PSA model Christ died “for our sake”. But the point in bringing this verse forward is to show that the word “for” is not substitutionary or a payment. In every instance in which the word “for” is used relative to Christ’s death, the Greek does not allow for that interpretation, and it is indicative of a biased translation. A substitutionary Greek word would be “anti” or “gar”, and this word is never used in reference to Christ dying for us.

Romans 5:9 “Much more therefore, having now been justified/corrected/set right [dikaiōthentes] by his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath.”

The Greek word for “justified” in this verse is “dikaiōthentes”, the exact word used in verse 1 of this chapter! It indicates, not a declaration as in verse 19, but “to rectify, to make right, to set right, or to render right.” It is the life and death of Christ, the blood covenant which he made, which sets us right, which changes our direction by active faith to repentance and sets us on the path of righteousness. Because of having been set right in our ways, we will be delivered from the wrath of God for He has appointed a day when He will judge the world “through that man” Jesus (Acts 17:31). There is a future declaration of righteousness, but this does not occur until Romans 5:19.

Romans 5:10-11 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” ESV.

Notice it says, “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”, and not, “God was reconciled to us by the death of his Son.” The statement is very clear. It is the death of Jesus that reconciles us-to-God, not God-to-us! Penal Substitution Atonement insists on having this backwards, denying or ignoring direct statements such as this in verse 10. By what mechanism does the death of Jesus reconcile us to God? First, the injustice of it shocks the conscience of every moral person and should have the effect of leading the listener to want to never sin again, and then the blood covenant of Christ is available to agree to if the listener chooses to stop sinning altogether. Turning from sin and to God enables reconciliation: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” Isaiah 55:7 KJV.

Furthermore, now that we have been reconciled, we will be saved/delivered (future) from the wrath, or judgment, mentioned in the previous verse, not have been saved (past tense). And, this saving from judgment is said to be by the life of Jesus, not by his death! Paul is demolishing PSA over and over. How is it that we are being saved by the life of Jesus? It is because we serve a risen Lord, a risen Savior who is alive, resurrected, and this proof of resurrection motivates us to stay on the path of righteousness according to his teaching, thereby maintaining our reconciliation with God.

Verse 11 again repeats the doctrine of verse 10 about us being reconciled with God because of Jesus. It is not God being reconciled through Jesus. This is a repetition in case the reader missed it the first time.

Romans 5:15-16 “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification” ESV.

Verse 15 tells us that the resulting grace/favor (Greek “charis-ma”, “charis” is favor and “ma” is the end result) from God is not like Adam’s trespass because even though many have died as a result of the trespass, and death is the natural downward progression of life as a result of sin, the favor, “charis”, of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ is greater, stronger than death, because it results in righteous living and resurrection, and it has spread to many.

Notice also that it was one (1) man, Adam, who caused the trespass, and it was one (1) man (Greek “anthrōpou”), Jesus, through whom God’s favor came. That is 1:1, or 1-to-1. One human and one human, two human persons. God created one human who brought sin and death, and later another human brought righteousness and life. This same claim is restated in 1 Corinthians 15:21, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.”

Verse 16 speaks of judgment and righteousness, and once again violates the PSA model. The resulting decision (“kri-ma”, “kri” is decision and “ma” is the end result) of Adam’s sin is a judicial condemnation (“kata-krima”, “kata” is down, “krima” is the end result, meaning the resulting decision laid down as a judicial ruling). This judicial ruling was death, but the resulting favor, “charisma”, is “ek pollon”, meaning “out of many” trespasses and into “eis” right results (“dikaio-ma”, right result).

So, if someone was fluent in Greek, they would read verse 16 as saying something like, “And what was given is not like the one given through [Adam] having sinned, for truly the resulting decision of one [sin] was a judicial condemnation, but the resulting favor is to come out of trespasses and into a right result.”

This verse is telling us that God’s gift of Jesus (John 3:16) leads us out of living in sin and into right living. It is not at all about God adjusting some heavenly ledger which declares someone to be righteous when they are still actively living unrighteously, continuing to offend God. Unfortunately, most of the Greek lexicons are skewed due to their authors holding to Augustinian/Calvinistic/Lutheran PSA thinking and are not being honest with the definition of words that relate to PSA. They are projecting their theology into their definitions by claiming that the word “dika” and its derivatives are saying that God is declaring something to be right even though it is not right. They make God to be condoning sin. It is one thing to forgive past sin, it is a far different thing, a perversion, to declare someone presently living in sin to be right.

Romans 5:17 “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” ESV.

Verse 17 is saying that verse 16 is demonstrated to be true because we can observe it in the lives of those around us. The verse, more accurately translated, states, “Though one man’s trespass caused death to rule, much more those receiving abundance of favor [“charis”], and a gift of right-ness in this life, will reign through the one, Jesus Christ.”

Sadly, most Bible versions scramble the end of the verse to make it say something that does not include righteousness in this life, as is directly stated in the Greek text (you can verify this using an interlinear that keeps the words in their original word order). Translations typically say something like, “…reign in life”, when the text more literally states “righteousness receiving in life, will reign through the one, Jesus Christ.” This looks like a deliberate word switch to deny the teaching of right living in the present. There is one translation, the Literal Standard Version, which translates this word order correctly except for a misplaced comma which should be placed after “in life”, not after “righteousness: “…much more those who are receiving the abundance of grace and of the free gift of righteousness, in life will reign through the one—Jesus Christ” LSV.

Romans 5:17 is stated again by Paul in different words in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age ESV.

Those who teach PSA like to point to the phrase “gift of righteousness” in Romans 5:17 and claim that this is a righteousness transferred from Jesus to us. However, the context refutes this claim on at least two counts: 1) This gift of righteousness must be received, and the Greek word in this verse is “lambanontes”, which is “to take, seize, or lay hold of”, and thereby requires active participation by the receiver to accept it, and 2) The word “righteousness” is “dikaio-syne”, “dikaio” means “right”, “syne” is “together”, or “with.” Therefore, “dikaiosyne” is “right-ness”, or being right. So we can see that this offered gift of rightness is not transferable in a literal sense, rather it is a gift of righteousness that requires participatory action to be received and applied in this life, and is not a positional status. A transfer as taught by the PSA model is a passive event on the part of the recipient for the sake of cleansing an imaginary heavenly legal or accounting ledger, and that does not work in this verse!

Paul also uses this same “dikaiosyne”, rightness, word in Romans chapter 6:13-14, “Neither yield ye your members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness [dikaiosynē] unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you…” KJV. This rightness is something that we have under our control and can be used as an instrument in service for God, not something that we can transfer to God, or God to us.

The same “dikaiosyne” word is also not a declaration when used in the reverse sense in Romans 9:31-32, “but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness [“dikaiosyne”], did not attain it….because it was not by faith, but as by works.” This is a righteousness which can be attained if it is pursued in the right manner, by active faith (not mere mental assent) because it depends on whom the person chooses to follow, and is not achievable by mere legal compliance with regulations. By not attaining this dikaiosyne, this righteousness, Israel did not go through a reverse transfer of righteousness (imputation in reverse), rather, they failed to reach out and grasp the righteousness that God offered because they preferred compliance to a list of rules and regulations more than having a heart that was pure and pleasing to God, a godly-honoring faith that produces right living.

A word study of “dikaiosyne” will reveal how the word is used in the Bible, and it is never something that is transferred.

Romans 5:18 “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” ESV.

The word “justification” is again used by the PSA teachers to claim a declaration of being right, with no regard to the individual actually being just, or right. This verse can be translated more literally as, “So then just as by one trespass to all men it is unto condemnation, so also by one act of righteousness to all men it is into rightness (or, rectification) of life.” The last word for justification or rightness is again “dikaiō-sin”, meaning “rightness”. This is referring to a person living a right life according to God’s desire, becoming pleasing before God. It has nothing to do with a person actively living in sin while being declared to have a right standing.

Romans 5:19 “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made [katestathēsan] sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made [katastathēsontai] righteous” ESV.

PSA advocates use this verse for two claims, 1. a sin nature, and 2. being declared righteous. The first one has to do with the phrase “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners”, particularly the “made sinners” part, claiming it has to do with our makeup, our design. However, the Greek word for “made” in this verse is “katestathēsan” which means “to place down as in making a judgment call or ruling, a declaration or designation.” This is a declaration that declares all men sinners, as a category. The declaration has nothing to do with being made sinners by design or force or genetics, as that would make God to be an evil creator. God has declared that humans are sinners as a group characteristic, but this is not a change in our nature, our core design. We are sinners because we choose to sin, not because we are designed to sin or born with sin. If Paul wanted to say “made” in the sense of “create” he could have used the Greek word “ektisthe”, but this is never used in any reference to our sinfulness.

The second phrase used by PSA advocates is “katastathēsontai dikaioi”, “made righteous”, and in this verse we see the closest they ever come to getting the Bible to teach what they claim. The word translated “made” is “katastathēsontai”, which means “will be declared” or “will be designated”. Just as in the previous phrase, the word translated “made” has to do with a declaration, and in this second case it is still a future event. The word “righteous” is “dikaioi”, which is “to be just, right, or innocent.” So, finally, in this one verse there is actually a phrase that states that a declaration of being right will (future tense) apply to those who follow Jesus Christ. However, the context of all the preceding statements that lead to this final declaration of being right are stating that the person lays hold of right living because of what God has given us through Jesus Christ. This declaration is the end result of believing in God, following God’s Messiah, and therefore actually living right. God can declare us righteous because we are living right in the present, according to the active faith that is in and from Jesus Christ! To take these two words out of their context and claim a permanent judicial declaration of righteousness as a status or standing, even while actively engaging in sin, is to deliberately be deceptive and leads to bad theology, which leads to bad living that is not pleasing to God.

Romans 5:20-21 “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” ESV.

These verses are an additional final point in this chapter, and they show that the righteousness Paul is writing about is actual righteousness – living right before God and men. Paul points out that God had law enter society so that our sinful offences would increase, not to literally make us more wicked, but that our sinfulness be laid bare, exposed. However, along with this increase of sin was an increase of favor from God because through Jesus we can go contrary to the prior sinful lifestyle and live lives of righteousness, leading unto eternal life. “You who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart …and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” Romans 6:17-18.

Conclusion:

Romans 5, when carefully examined in its original language and textual context, lays out Paul’s argument that right living is the result of those who become genuine followers of Jesus Christ. This right living results in God declaring that they are righteous. It is their faith in Christ that changes their sinful hearts to become followers of God. If there is no change to right living, then they are not following. There is no Penal Substitution doctrine or transfer of righteousness to our account in this chapter. We are accounted, considered, righteous when we are following our Lord and Master Jesus Christ as he leads us in a life that is pleasing to his God and Father.