Chapter 19 – 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 justified [dikaiōthentes] by [ek] faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoiced 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 righten, to rectify, to correct, or to render right”. We are justified/rightened/corrected/set right/made right because of 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 starts with “Therefore…”, based on the evidence of Romans chapter 4. Chapter 5 starts by saying that it is “having been set right [dikaiōthentes] by/out from [ek] faith” that “we have peace with God.” It is not God declaring us right first, and then we find peace, but rather our faith causing us to set something right that was previously wrong which makes us have peace with God as a byproduct, the result. Sadly, the popular theology of today has conditioned people to think that the word “justified” is a mere declaration, a position or a legal/forensic 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”. These individuals were set right from their former way of sinful living by embracing the name of Jesus, 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 living wrong 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]. It would have been more accurate to have used “set right” or “rightened” 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 5:2 shows us that it is also by faith in Jesus that we have obtained God’s favor (grace) and is the reason “we rejoiced in hope of the glory of God”. This is 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 [“hyper” – over, or regarding, not in place of] the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous 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”. Here 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 for him 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). 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 have 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.”

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, not a payment, nor 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/rightened 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 “to righten, 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).

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.”

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 apply 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; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:7

Furthermore, now that we have been reconciled, we will be saved/delivered (future) from the wrath, or judgment, mentioned in the previous verse. It does not say, “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 he demonstrated what right living looks like, and also 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. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment [krima] following one trespass brought condemnation [katakrima], but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.”

Verse 15 tells us that the resulting grace/favor (Greek “charis”) 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 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. One human 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 can be read in two different ways, but both violate the PSA model. Most Bibles will render the Greek word “krima” as “judgment”, which is acceptable, and “katakrima” is translated as condemnation, which is also acceptable. However, further research on these terms also reveals that “krima” indicates a decision process (which results in a decision or a judgment). And, “katakrima” is actually “kata-krima”, where “kata” is down and “krima” is the decision, meaning the resulting decision is downward, degenerating. Regardless of the preferred translation terms, the end result of God’s favor [charisma] is to come out from [ek] many trespasses and into [eis] correction, justification, being set right. This is not an external legal or forensic status, but an actual correction of behavior, out from making bad decisions and degeneracy, into a condition of being set right, corrected, and this is a favor from God due to what Jesus has done.

So, if someone was fluent in Greek, they could 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 unto [eis] a downward decision (kata-krima, a move toward degeneracy), but the resulting favor is to come out of trespasses (or degeneracy) into being set right.”

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/Reformed/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. While most are not doing this intentionally, they make God to be ignoring 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.”

Verse 17 is saying that verse 16 is demonstrated to be true because we can observe it in the lives of those around us. This 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 rightness 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.”

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 to us from Jesus. However, the context refutes this claim on at least two counts: 1) This gift of righteousness must be received, and the Greek word translated as “gift” 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, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” 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 judicial declaration, nor an external, extrinsic facade when used 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 in faith, 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 of unrighteousness), 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 serious word study of “dikaiosyne” will reveal how the word is used in the Bible, and it is never something that is transferred.

Romans 5:18-19“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation [katakrima] for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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.”

These two verses use some unusual Greek words which can allow multiple translation possibilities. The Greek word “katakrima” is used, just as in verse 16 above, and then we have the Greek words “katestathēsan” and “katastathēsontai”, and these are the only two uses of these word in the entire Bible. “Katestathēsan” and “katastathēsontai” are words combined from “kata”, meaning down, and “hístēmi”, meaning to stand. The full word has to do with setting something down in sequential order, or an arrangement. In the case of this passage, the disobedience led to an arrangement by which many sinned, and the obedience led to an arrangement by which many were rightened. These words indicate a progression, an arrangement which leads to a condition.

Most Bible translations have the word “made” in Romans 5:19, “made sinners” and “made righteous.” This is not necessarily erroneous, however it can imply that the recipient is passive. The words “katestathēsan” and “katastathēsontai” indicate a progressive order which leads to the result of sin or righteousness. The result is not a declaration or a status or a position, as it is the conclusion of the progression, the arrangement set in place due to one man’s sin and another man’s righteousness. This is a sequential idea which may be compared to the process of sanctification due to following after righteousness, or the process of degeneracy in the case of following after sin.

Here is this author’s translation, further explained below: “So then, just as by one trespass a degeneracy [katakrima] [applied] to all men; thus also, by one act of righteousness [it is] unto all men unto a rightenningof life. Just as by one man’s disobedience many were ordered, arranged, resulted [katestathēsan] [to be] sinners,so by the obedience of one shall many be ordered, arranged, resulted [katastathēsontai] [to be] righteous.”

A paraphrase may be as follows: “So then, just as one rebellion led all men to degeneracy, so also by one act of righteousness all men are led into a right regeneration of life.”

In this passage we see that both trespasses and righteousness are actions which affect one’s life, sequentially ordering it, directing it, toward what is wrong or what is right (as in, “the one practicing righteousness is righteous” 1 John 3:7). We also see that following Adam’s sinful order is contrasted as the exact opposite of following the righteous order of Christ. Paul is not claiming that sinners are being declared righteous while still actively living in their sin, as this would be a false claim. The claim is that due to the righteous life of one man, many have been influenced to change their lives to also live right, with the result that they are ordered into rightness and are granted life instead of death. (The down-order [katestathēsan] is a sequential idea, which may be compared to the process of sanctification in the case of following after righteousness, or the process of degeneracy in the case of following the order of error or sin.)

PSA advocates use these verses 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”, which has to do with putting something in a sequential order where one thing leads to a consequence of something else, not a sin nature. Sin started when Adam chose to sin, not because we are designed to sin or born with sin. If Paul wanted to say “made” in the sense of “created” he could have used the Greek word “ektisthe”, but this is never used in any reference to our sinfulness. If “made sinners” means “made to have a sin nature”, then “made righteous” should also mean “made to have a righteous nature”, but both of these claims would involve stretching the text beyond its intended meaning.

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.”

These verses are an additional final point in this chapter, and they show that the righteousness Paul is writing about is actual righteousness in practice – 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 righteously, 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.


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. 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 considered righteous when we are actively living right by following our Lord and Master Jesus Christ as he leads us in a life that is pleasing to his God and Father.