An Email About Romans 5, Part 2

This brings us to a hard question that’s different from the questions that were asked in the first post, but which helps explain the answers. Earlier in Romans, Paul says,

(Rom 3:23-25 ESV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

This parallels Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill —

(Act 17:30-31 ESV) 30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

— as well as Paul’s earlier sermon at Lystra —

(Act 14:16 ESV)  16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.

When Jesus came, something changed regarding those without special revelation — and yet in Romans 5, Paul repeatedly tells us that those who sinned before the Torah was revealed “died” rather than receiving “the free gift,” which is “eternal life.” So they weren’t saved. Right?

(Rom 5:14 ESV)  14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

(Obviously, “death” in Romans 5 doesn’t refer merely to physical death, as we all suffer physical death — even Jesus. “Death” refers to dying without hope of eternal life.)

But their sins were “overlooked” and “passed over” — so they were saved. Right?

I worry about these things.

So here’s what I think is the solution — and it’s based on what Edward Fudge teaches about hell.

The saved die, are resurrected, and then spend eternity alive living with God in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Today, the damned die, face judgment, suffer torment that is just and, for many, truly horrible, and then are destroyed. That is, they experience a First Death, are judged, and then suffer an agonizing Second Death. They truly die.

(Luk 12:47-48 NIV)  47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Notice how well Jesus’ teaching parallels Paul’s in Romans 5. The amount one suffers depends, in part, on how much of God’s will one knows. Ignorance will not buy you eternal life, but ignorance will affect God’s sense of what punishment is just.

(Rom 5:13b ESV)  13 … sin is not counted where there is no law.

And so, this would suggest that God would punish those who died before Moses with “fewer blows” than those who later learned God’s will and yet chose to disobey anyway.

(Mat 10:28 NIV) 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].

The word translated “destroy” is defined by Thayer’s as “to destroy i. e. to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to, ruin.” It’s also used by Matthew in —

(Mat 2:13 ESV) Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Thus, the scriptures speak of “condemnation” as not only “death” (as in Romans 5) but also “destruction.” It’s not eternal life in agony. It’s a just punishment followed by eternal death, that is, a death that, unlike the first death, will never be reversed.

For those who died before Jesus came, Rom 3:23-25 says their sins are “passed over” and Acts 17:30-31 says they’re “overlooked.” Those passages suggest no blows at all.

But they don’t mean those who died without faith or relationship with God were saved into eternal bliss. Rather, they only say that they died, suffered no punishment in eternity, and were destroyed painlessly. Or perhaps that they died and stayed dead — with no resurrection of any kind.

Thus, Paul uses “death” in Romans 5 to refer, not to physical death, but to eternal death, that is, a death that will never be undone, just as he uses “life” to refer to eternal life — a life that will never be undone.

But now God will punish all men justly unless they receive the “free gift,” which is undeserved and reserved only for those with faith in Jesus. Thus, Hitler really will suffer great pain for a very long time. The Pharaoh of the Exodus will not. But neither is he going to enjoy eternal bliss with Jesus forever. He’s just dead and will stay dead.

Today, even those who never hear the gospel and have no scriptures will be punished, but only in proportion to their knowledge gleaned from the Creation and their own moral nature. They will be judged as they judge others — at the least. I expect they’ll be judged by the moral standards of their own culture as well. That is, if stealing is considered wrong in their culture, and they steal, they know at least that much of God’s law. But they will not be judged as though they’d been taught God’s will as well as most Americans are.

How much punishment they will suffer, if any, I really don’t know. But the scriptures plainly teach that ignorance of God’s will is taken into account in determining the level of punishment suffered. Our God is a just God.

Therefore, those ignorant of the gospel don’t receive eternal life. They receive a just reward — which is not eternal, conscious torment, and may be very little punishment at all. But it is not the free gift of eternal life.

But we should not delude ourselves into imagining that the worst of sinners will not suffer much at all. Some will not — children, the mentally challenged, anyone who is not morally accountable. But adults on the whole judge others very harshly and often wish horrible fates for others — even though they do the same things — and worse. (Think of David’s reaction to Nathan’s parable.)

Being judged as we judge others promises a fate less than Hitler’s, I’m sure, but it will be awful for most. Indeed, how many ordinary, “nice” people have wished for the extermination of an entire race or ethnicity at some point? Who wants to answer for that?! I think we’re likely all murderers in God’s eyes!

(Mat 5:22 ESV) “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Therefore, this understanding of God’s justice should not for a moment reduce our desire to save the lost. Justice will be a very unhappy fate for most people — a fate that we Christians also deserve.

The whole point of Paul’s discussion is that the “free gift” is a gift and not deserved.

And so, you see, Fudge’s approach, called “conditionalism,” makes excellent sense of these otherwise very, very difficult passages. They cease to be a mystery and become a declaration of God’s incomprehensible grace — which is exactly why Paul wrote them.

At this point, we should be shouting praise!

(Amazing alto in that group!)

PS — This understanding should also dramatically impact our understanding of civil law. You see, if we persuade our legislatures to forbid, say, fornication and put up billboards teaching the world that fornication violates God’s law, well, we’re doing a good job of imposing a much greater punishment on the lost. But are we helping anyone find the free gift of eternal life?

What’s the point of making the damned suffer more? The goal is to get them entirely out justice and into grace — and that doesn’t require a mere change in morals. It requires a change in kings — who will then change their morals. But changed morals will not help them find Jesus. Indeed, Romans 1 argues quite to the contrary. (We too readily accept the premise that Jesus can’t compete with sin on a level playing field.)

Of course, God’s justice and grace are not the only considerations in the making of laws. We should ban murder out of love for those who’d otherwise be murdered and so who’d be prevented from finding Jesus! Christians should indeed be concerned about civil law.  But we just can’t reflexively impose God’s laws on the damned and pretend that we are somehow expanding God’s Kingdom that way. We aren’t.

We have to think about what we do much more carefully. God’s mission isn’t to force people to obey him on penalty of jail or fines. It’s to draw people to his sacrificial love so that they’ll delight in submitting to his rule.

Until we understand that, we really need to get out of politics and lobbying.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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26 Responses to An Email About Romans 5, Part 2

  1. David Himes says:

    For a number of years, I worked for the Republican Party in Washington. To no one’s surprise, I often got questions about how the abortion debate would impact one election or another. Ater some thought, I noted at the debate builds walls between people. And the more you debate, the higher the wall go.

    Ultimately, you are faced with this choice. You can talk to someone about their relationship with God, or abortion. One or the other, but not both. Which do you choose?

    The problem with abortion is more than taking life — it’s the selfishness or self-centeredness that leads someone to conclude that abortion is the “best” course of action.

    My point is not to start a conversation on abortion, but rather just to reinforce and endorse, Jay’s point.

  2. Dan says:

    Jay, I know a poor argument begins with “I think” or “I could never believe” but in this case I am at that point. One reason I left traditional church of Christ thinking and allowed myself to open my mind to what scripture teaches about grace is that the strict legalism just didn’t make sense from a point of view in which one considers God to be loving , kind, and merciful being who although demanding justice; makes a way of righteousness for a sinful mankind.

    I can accept the idea of “conditionalism” with those who sinned a little being punished with few stripes (although I would hardly call eternal death a few stripes. Is it possible the “few stripes” are for believers who sinned? … and the grace of God is that we are not punished with eternal death though we deserve it? After all, we are told that God chastens His children. Why believe He only chastens them in this life?)

    My stumbling block, which is to me a huge mountain which I cannot climb over, is the concept that babies, children, and the mentally challenged would be eternally destroyed. Would this include miscarried babies? Infants who die at birth? Two year olds going through their disobedient stage that is so well known to all parents that it is called ” the terrible twos”? Does it include the infants or young children in the family of Korah who God himself slew as the earth opened beneath them? Does it include the mentally challenged who cannot grasp the concept of God but are perceptive enough to know that some behaviors are permitted and some are not permitted? Why does God love a sinner like me more than a 6 year old, a 15 year old or a 25 year old mentally challenged man or woman who hugs and kisses every one with whom they come into contact? Is your answer simply, ” God will have mercy on whom he has mercy”? Are these people simply the broken vessels at the potter’s wheel to be discarded and burned?

    Jay, this is a terrible thought for me. If, in fact, I believed it to be true I think I might turn against God. One of the bravest things I have ever read in scripture is the voice of Job who said in his suffering, “though He slay me , yet will I trust Him!”. I have not been tested as Job was, but I pray daily for that sentiment to be active in my life. However, I’m not sure I could say ” though he slay my crippled, mentally challenged son and destroy him in hell, yet will I trust him.” Even as father Abraham took Isaac upon the mount to sacrifice him before the Lord he did so with the faith that God would restore him from the dead (Heb. 11:19). He had great faith, but his faith permitted him to believe that good things remained in store even for the son he was about to slay.

    What mother would slay their mentally challenged child in our culture today? If a human mother would not do such a thing due to her compassion and love for the one she created, why would we believe that God, who has far more compassion and love, would do such a thing? And why would we believe that God’s plan for one who cannot believe is eternal fire and death? ………… rather than believe these things I find it easier to believe that God would reincarnate their souls into a functioning body and brain to give them a chance to receive God’s grace through faith.

    OK,………. so ask me where the scripture is for this belief, Jay. I don’t know……… I can only say John 3:16. Does He love only those of us with minds to believe? or does He love the whole of mankind? ….. even those human creatures who are victims of Satan’s (and Adam’s and Eve’s) evil sin and who are forced to live in an imperfect world with imperfect bodies and minds Are you saying God is willing to concede these souls to Satan without any chance of their redemption? Is this a done deal? …… Did Satan automatically win their souls with that little gambit in the garden of Eden?

    Jay, Jay, my dear friend, who helped me understand grace, Jay, my brother……. I cannot accept it. I cannot accept that God gives up that easily on the disabled after he literally moved heaven and earth for a worm such as I…… Conditionalism? ….yes, sure…..I can see it…. Degrees of punishment and reward? ….yes….. of course……,, it’s right there in the Bible. the second death? ….. it makes sense what Edward says…………. the helpless forsaken? not my God!! not my redeemer, of whom it is said “God is love”……

    If I am wrong I will miss seeing you in heaven. I know it will be lovely. It will have all the good things and good people that this earth should have had. It will be fine and pure. I would like to see it. I would like to see you there. I would like to see my grandparents. I would like to meet Jesus…… But I will, I must, ask God to let me die in hell. I will hold in my arms my mentally challenged son. I could not stand for him to be afraid and die all alone. I could not allow him to be surrounded by Satan and all the evil people of the earth. I could not bear it! But something makes me believe that God loves my son even more than I do and that He could not bear it either… ………… an emotional argument short on support? …. yes, I plead guilty. but my poor and very flawed faith causes me to say “I know that my redeemer lives and with everlasting kindness will have blessed mercy on the helpless” (Job 19, Psalms 41)……….. and if you are right, please ask God to have mercy upon my son and let him not be afraid……… God bless, Dan

  3. Rich constant says:

    would you please do me a favor.
    and print out for me gal. 2:16 -21
    No explanation
    Just the way you exagete from what paul,is saying.
    and then if you would be so kind, do the same thing to romans3:27b, if you like you can send me an email
    thanks and blessings richard constant

  4. richard constant says:

    sorry for that jay
    that would be romans 326 b

  5. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for your very thoughtful post. I’m working on a reply which I hope to post in the morning.

  6. abasnar says:

    A different, less common approach to this question was held to by the ECF – maybe a bit disturbing: Christ’s descent into Hades.
    Christ preached the Gospel to those who have never heard it before, so “they souls in the prison” would get a chance to believe and be saved. Not in the sense of a “second chance after death” but as a “first opportunity” to hear and respond to the gospel.

    This solves two problems:
    a) No will will be condemned without haveing had the revelation of God
    b) No one will be saved without having responded by faith to the Gospel

    Irenaeus for instance wrote:

    It was for this reason, too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His advent there also. And He declared the remission of sins received by those who believe in Him.

    The reason I prefer this approach is its antiquitiy. I distrust modern theories that are unprecedented in church history and have high regards for the consensus of the earliest church fathers.


  7. Pingback: One In Jesus » An Email About Romans 5, Part 3 (The Age of Accountability)

  8. Dan says:

    Alexander, that thought has also crossed my mind. thank you, God bless, Dan

  9. Jay Guin says:


    I covered Gal 2:15-21 is some depth in these two posts. I don’t know whether these are responsive to your question. Let me know if they’re not.

    The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, Gal 2:15-21, Part 1

    The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, Gal 2:15-21, Part 2

  10. guestfortruth says:

    Jay wrote ““Today, even those who never hear the gospel and have no scriptures will be punished, but only in proportion to their knowledge gleaned from the Creation and their own moral nature. They will be judged as they judge others — at the least. I expect they’ll be judged by the moral standards of their own culture as well. That is, if stealing is considered wrong in their culture, and they steal, they know at least that much of God’s law. But they will not be judged as though they’d been taught God’s will as well as most Americans are.”
    Jay, The book of romans is directed to brothers the city of Rome “Jews and gentiles” and we learn from them and in chapter Romans 2:11-15 ” 11 For there is no partiality with God.
    12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)” This looks like what you wrote but is applied for the people before the Gospel.

  11. Alabama John says:


    How I feel like you.

    Wonderful post and wish I could write as well as you.

    To think God would not consider those that because of circumstances, location, or mental condition not obedient enough to allow entry into Heaven is beyond me.

    So many I have seen that were far better than me in their lives, lived by the scriptures and loved God that were told they couldn’t be saved regardless because they couldn’t be baptized or some other outward act because of nonavailability.

    Some need to lift their head from their books and see the real world. I’m convinced God sees it very well.

    Thank God we’ll stand before Him and not man who always has an agenda of some kind to promote.

  12. Alabama John says:

    Guest for truth,

    “but is applied for the people before the Gospel.”

    That is true of what you posted in cultures as well as individuals before they received the Gospel.

    Regardless of where else in the world the Gospel is available and being preached.

    God will not hold anyone responsible for not following what they did not know.

    Would you punish your child for doing or not doing something that you knew the child wasn’t aware of???
    We are Gods children, He is our father! Amen.

  13. guestfortruth says:

    Alabama John,

    During the Patriarchal Age (Hebrew 1:1) ” 1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” Talking about the jews nation before the Law. for those whom did not recive special revelation (gentiles) the vesus that explain this is Romans 2:14 ” 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, ” some biblical people find favor (grace)in the eye of God and they live according the oral tradition of the patriachs. In the Lord’s church we don’t teach that the babies, or mentally affected are lost and are suffering in hades (tartarus) Before they know between the good and evil they are pure and save and if they die they are in paradise where lazarus is and all the faithful men of God since the creation. Jesus said in luke 18:16 “But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”. Babies and mental disables are not accountable for sin before they know between right and wrong. They are an example for our spiritual life.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    I agree with your reading of Romans, except I don’t believe that Paul was speaking “before the Gospel.” If you read Acts 17:30 and Rom 3:25, Paul seems to clearly announce that before the Gospel, sins for those apart from the Torah were “passed over” or “overlooked.” I think Rom 2:11-15 is speaking of people who haven’t heard the gospel after Pentecost.

    That passage is not written in the past tense. Rather, Paul is making the point that he concludes with —

    (Rom 3:23 ESV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    The reason “all have sinned” is that even those who never heard God’s special revelation through the scriptures “have the law, by nature.” Therefore, they need a Savior and they need grace.

  15. Alabama John says:

    I also agree.

    I see Romans 2 as being still true today as much as in the past.

    If you individually are “before the gospel” for whatever reason, then Romans 2 still applies.

    When that was written, there were peoples in other parts of the earth that this applied to for thousands of years before and also after Romans 2 was written.

  16. guestfortruth says:

    Don’t mix apples with pears. Are we talking about Romans 2:14? We should not take out of context Acts 17:30 to support your bias, If you see the apostle Paul was teaching to the philosophers (Epicureans “materialistic”, and stoics “pantheists”) and the people of Athens, from the 1st. century about the UNKNOW GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. Paul is explaining that God winked at (past tense) for them in the audience, but now (Christian Age) commanded all men everywhere to repent. Now, when the Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans to jews and gentiles in the church of Christ at Rome in chapter 3:25, the whole chapter is talking about the responsibility of the Jews V.2-3 , even some of the Jews did not believe. in versus 9 Paul says “for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; because by the law is the knowledge of sin as mentioned in V. 20. when our Lord Jesus die on the cross his blood cover the imperfections of those under the patriarchal age (with especial revelation “torah” and not especial revelation “gentiles”)Romans 3:26-29 some of them found grace (favor) by faith under the eye of the Lord and also under the law, for those that live according to the law under the mosaic age. as mentioned in Hebrews 11:1-22. my point is that you affirm that Today “but only in proportion to their knowledge gleaned from the Creation and their own moral nature. They will be judged as they judge others — at the least. I expect they’ll be judged by the moral standards of their own culture as well. What about those things morally Right but Religiously wrong? Are you sure is going to use that criteria to judge the people from this Christian Age? That is, if stealing is considered wrong in their culture, and they steal, they know at least that much of God’s law. “ This is not possible because in the Christian Age (Since Christ die on the Cross until the end of time ) under the law of Christ (grace) and all are amenable to the law of Christ (gospel of Christ) by faith. Because there is not excuse now, that we have the Gospel of Christ the whole revelation of God and that was what the inspired Apostle Paul told to the Athenians and also is telling to the church of Christ in Rome.

  17. guestfortruth says:


    Are we under the Christian Age? from the cross until the end of times?

    and Why my posting is not posted?

    guestfortruth, on June 22nd, 2011 at 9:33 am Said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  18. guestfortruth says:


    Does acts 17:30 is talking about overlooked sin? This version is clearer about this passage, you see God wink at the ignorance of people from the past. because they did not have knowledge of the Gospel. as the Athenians people who has the oportunity to hear the Gospel. But this passage is not saying that God overlooked peoples sins.
    see with your own eyes:
    “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times (NLT)

  19. Jay Guin says:


    If God didn’t overlook their sins, merely their ignorance, why does Paul say God “now commands all men to repent”? Repent from what?

  20. guestfortruth says:

    If you read the whole context of the situation with the Athenians . They were worshipping ignorantly (without knowing him) as mention in Acts 17:23 “for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” if you notice the Christian Age was on progress as it is today. This biblical age is determinate by the scripture until the end of times. Our secular History has created different classification during this age and according to secular history we are in post-modern times but, is still under the Christian Age. Of course our righteous God wants that everybody be save and is a command as mentioned in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Repentance of what? Their sins. Romans 3:23 “ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”. We are debtor to the world as mentioned by the inspired apostle Paul in Romans 1:14 “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.” We have the Gospel of Christ to save the souls. That is for what Jesus die on the cross, he did not die for our mortal bodies. We need to have in mind what the apostle paul said in 1 Cor.9:16 “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”

  21. Jay Guin says:


    I have no idea what I said that you disagree with. Could you maybe quote a sentence or two that I wrote that you disagree with? Sorry for being so dense.

  22. guestfortruth says:


    It is about this assumption “But their sins were “overlooked” and “passed over” — so they were saved. Right? What the scripture teaches in Romans 2:14 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,” things that I have been talking with Alabama John is the other posting.

  23. Jay Guin says:


    I didn’t say they were saved. I said they died and weren’t punished. They didn’t go to heaven nor did they suffer in gehenna. They just died and ceased to exist.

  24. guestfortruth says:

    Is this first century teaching of Jesus about death? Did Jesus teach that the soul ceased to exist? Have you done a good exegesis about this or are you just following the modern interpretation from modern theology from Edwards et al?

  25. Jay Guin says:


    Yes, this is the first century teaching of Jesus about death.

    Yes, Jesus did teach that the soul of the damned would cease to exist — that is, that it would be destroyed.

    (Mat 10:28 ESV) And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    Yes, I did good exegesis on this. Look in the series “Surprised by Hell” and “The Age of Accountability.”

    I have no idea what you mean by “modern theology,” but I came to my conclusions by myself. I only later read Edward Fudge’s work and learned much more about the truth of the matter.

    I suggest you conduct a serious study on the meaning of “soul” in the NT. I think you’ll find it illuminating.

  26. guestfortruth says:


    What do you have to say about this testimony from the Old Testament .

    In Genesis 35:18 Says ” 18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni;[a] but his father called him Benjamin.”

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