Romans 5:12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned– 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Romans 5:12 is common fare in Orthodox analysis of St. Augustine and why Orthodoxy tends to emphasize the mortality rather than sin as being what has become part of the human condition since the time of the Fall. Orthodox will sometimes phrase this as a discussion on the differences between original sin and ancestral sin. It is clear in the Romans 5 text that it is death which spreads to all humans as a result of the sin of Eve and Adam. Salvation is thus focused on overcoming the power of death; the Orthodox sing “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life” (no mention of sin in this theme setting hymn of Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ). Death is the final enemy not sin; it is death which reigns over humans after the first sin. Orthodoxy tends to emphasize the overcoming of death in its liturgical and Eucharistic life more than the juridical settling the score for sin as is sometimes emphasized by those in the Augustine-Anselm tradition. We baptize all in order to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ which defeats the power of death in our lives. “Death where is your sting? For Christ is risen and you are overthrown” says Chrysostom on Pascha night. Rather than viewing the death of Christ as the re-establishment of justice in the universe, the Orthodox tend to view his death and resurrection as the plan of salvation and liberation for all who were enslaved by death. When the Tubingen theological successors to Martin Luther first made contact with Orthodox Patriarch Jeremiah II in the 16th Century , they were savvy enough to change in their letters all references of “justification” to the word “salvation” knowing that this would make greater sense to the Greek Christians.
Romans 5:13, I see commented on less often. However it makes a significant claim – sin was in the world before the law (Torah). Sin is not merely disobedience of commandments. Sin is a struggle within humans regarding choosing good as versus choosing evil. That choice was there from the time God first created humans with free will. But, St. Paul says, where there is no law, there is no accounting of sin. Sin was not all that significant where there was no law; death however reigned over humans throughout human history even before there was the law. Sin is given the status of some kind of power in the world which existed even without any law being given. Adam’s sin was unique in Paul’s thinking, but death found its way into every human life, no matter what kind of sin they committed – and in fact everyone did sin. Adam’s sin was unique because Adam was a type (Greek: typos) of the Savior. Adam’s one sin is significant not because the guilt of it is spread to all of us, but because it set the pattern for how the Savior would save us. Adam’s sin spread mortality to all humans, Christ’s death will give life to all. Adam’s sin is thus not more deadly than any other sin, all sin leads to death, Adam and his sin are significant only because they are “types” – the pattern of what is wrong with all humans. The Adam and Eve story are thus not so significant because of their literal details, but because they represent all of us. They are the story of us. Their story is your and my story. An over literal reading of Genesis 3 misses the very point and claim which St. Paul is making. We all sin in Adam because they are typical of every human being. The story of Adam and Eve is thus not so much the story of the first human beings, but the story of each and every human being. It is a story that helps us focus on what is wrong with humanity, so that we can understand the significance of Christ, and to know how to unite ourselves to Him in the salvation which He accomplished for the world through His death and resurrection.