The Perils of Assisted Reproductive Technology #5

Dad demands abortion after surrogate learns she’s having triplets

A man who paid a surrogate to have his baby became overwhelmed when he learned she was having triplets — and demanded the woman abort one of the fetuses while threatening her with financial ruin, she claims.

“They are human beings. I bonded with these kids. This is just not right,” mom-to-be Melissa Cook told The Post on Tuesday.

The woman recognizes that the triplets are human beings and that it would not be right to kill them. However, she doesn’t seem to question whether it is right for a woman to bond with the children and then give them away to a stranger she has never met.

The babies’ dad, a Georgia man, hired Cook for $33,000 to have a child by in-vitro fertilization using his sperm and the eggs of a 20-year-old donor.

Was this man planning to raise the child by himself or does he have a partner?

The dad “understands, albeit does not agree, with your decision not to reduce,” his lawyer, Robert Warmsley, wrote in a Friday letter to Cook, who has never met the sperm donor.

Note that the word “reduce” means “kill”.

Given the pressure she’s under, Cook said Tuesday that she was wavering on her decision to keep all three babies.

“I have to reduce. I’m scared. I don’t want to suffer,” said Cook, who is split from her husband and lives in Woodland Hills, Calif.

The article states that the woman is already raising four children and had a fifth child as a surrogate for someone else. Now we learn that she is split from her husband. One has to wonder if she became a surrogate for the money and now is making life or death decisions based on what is financially best for her, not the unborn.

Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, a group that opposes surrogacy, said the Cook case is the first she’s aware of in which a surrogate mom has gone public to expose the pressure she’s under to undergo an abortion.

“Why on earth would Cuomo want to set up a system like this in New York? It’s parent breeding,” said Lahl, who is seeking to help Cook.

At least 22 states allow surrogacy fee arrangements.

Why indeed.

The Perils of Assisted Reproductive Technology #4

S.F. woman who sought to have embryos preserved loses legal case

A judge ruled Wednesday that the frozen embryos of a divorced San Francisco couple must be thawed and destroyed despite the ex-wife’s desire — over her former husband’s objections — to use them to become pregnant.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo clarifies in an era of emerging reproductive technologies what happens to frozen embryos in California when one person in a dispute wants them and the other one doesn’t. The judge said that directives signed by the couple agreeing that the embryos be “thawed and discarded” in the event of a divorce must be respected.

“It is a disturbing consequence of modern biological technology that the fate of the nascent life, which the embryos in this case represent, must be determined in a court by reference to cold legal principles,” Massullo wrote in an 83-page tentative ruling. “However, only an infinitesimally small percentage of the four million frozen embryos currently in storage in the United States are destined to be implanted and brought to life.

“There must be rules to govern the disposition of the rest.”

  • Presumably, a contract between a husband and a wife that said their born children should be killed in the event of a divorce would be unenforceable. Instead of treating embryos as the human beings they are, our law treats them as property. The judge in this case says the directives must be respected. I would be interested to know if there is any legal basis on which a judge could say such directives cannot be respected because they involve the killing of a human being.
  • It is not disturbing that the fate of the embryos must be determined by legal principles, rather, it is disturbing that our legal principles do not provide a right to life for humans at every stage of development. A consistent pro-life position requires opposition to IVF.

Lee’s therapies eradicated the cancer, but her marriage to Findley did not survive. Findley filed for divorce in August 2013. Lee, wanting to take advantage of her last chance to have biological children, brought the matter of the frozen embryos to court, arguing that the agreement they had signed was not binding and violated her right to procreate.

  • Mimi Lee already had children. She successfully procreated.
  • Just imagine a man trying to tell a woman that she can’t have an abortion because he has a right to procreate.
  • Of course we don’t have a right to procreate. You have to be physically able to procreate and have a willing partner.

She testified in court that the agreement was hastily signed and that such directives are not set in stone.

Life and death decisions should not be done hastily. Perhaps the silver lining is that this woman will never be a mother.

Magnus said the courts have been reluctant to enforce parenthood on someone who does not want to be a parent and have put great weight on contractual agreements made in advance. “It’s just hard to imagine any circumstance in this case where the court would have ruled differently than it did,” said Magnus, who directs the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

The obligatory bioethicist appears. Lee and Findley were already parents. They “forced” parenthood on themselves.

“The fact that material is cryogenically preserved should not give one party the ability to force the other into unwanted parenthood or to have to relinquish their right to their biological child,” Silberberg said in a statement.

Note that embryos are considered nothing more than “material” by Silberberg, who makes the same errors concerning parenthood as Magnus.

Commentary on Romans 6:15-23

Notes (NET Translation)

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

Another charge against Paul’s gospel is that by teaching believers they are not under the law (6:14) he is encouraging moral anarchy. The law was viewed as the primary deterrent to sin so its removal would be seen as an encouragement to sin. Paul strongly rejects this claim. He is not saying Christians are free from moral norms. He “means that they are free from the power of sin, which was indissolubly connected with the Mosaic covenant. To say that believers are under grace means that they now have the power to keep the moral norms of the law (cf. 8:4; 13:8–10). Thus the freedom from the law trumpeted here does not imply that believers are free from the law in every sense.”1

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?

It is not completely clear whether Paul means by this that habitual obedience manifests a condition of slavery or that habitual obedience constitutes or leads to a condition of slavery. In light of the context, where the verb “present” again occurs in the imperative (v. 19; and cf. v. 13), the latter, with its implicit exhortation, is more likely. Christians, who have been set free from sin by their union with Christ, must recognize that, were they constantly to yield to the voice of temptation, they would effectively become slaves of sin again. The Lord Jesus made the same point: “Every person who is committing sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Without taking anything away from the reality of the transfer from one master to another, then, Paul wants to make clear that “slavery” is ultimately not just a “legal” status but a living experience. Christians, who are no longer slaves of sin, must no longer live as slaves of sin.2

Neutrality is not an option. One either obeys sin or God. “Those who think that freedom is attained by jettisoning obedience to God opt for sin as their lord.”3

17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.

The Roman Christians had transferred their spiritual allegiance from sin to righteousness.

‘From the heart’ is an expression found only here in the NT. What Paul appears to be emphasizing is that their obedience was not merely outward conformity but really ‘from the heart’, perhaps alluding to the promise of Jeremiah 31:33: ‘”This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time”, declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”‘.4

Paul refers to a pattern of teaching (typos didaches).

Many interpreters think that Paul alludes to a “rule” or “pattern” of early Christian teaching. There is good reason to think that this is the case, but he may also want to suggest a contrast with another “pattern” of teaching. Godet thinks Paul contrasts his own “gospel” with the pattern of teaching that the Romans had already heard. But a more likely contrast is that between the “form” of Christian teaching and the “form” of Jewish teaching. Paul would then imply that Christians, while no longer “under the [Mosaic] law,” are nevertheless bound by an authoritative code of teaching. And Paul may have an additional reason for using typos. Most of the Pauline occurrences of this word refer to believers as “examples” to other believers. In these verses, typos includes the active connotation of a pattern that “molds” others. Similarly, in this verse, it is likely that typos includes the idea that Christian teaching “molds” and “forms” those who have been handed over to it.5

The phrase “entrusted to” usually refers to the passing on of Christian teaching (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3), but in this verse it is the Roman Christians who are handed over to the teaching. It is as if they have been transfered from one master (sin) to another (righteousness).

Verse 18 includes the first mention of freedom in the letter. For Paul, freedom is not autonomous self-direction but deliverance from powers that prevent us from becoming what God intended. This is why freedom can involve being enslaved to righteousness and God.

19 (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The slavery analogy is what is put in human terms. Weakness of flesh refers to human limitations in understanding things. Paul apparently felt an analogy to everyday life was necessary to get his point across.

Paul recognizes that his language could be interpreted to mean that Christian experience bears the same marks of degradation, fear, and confinement that were typical of secular slavery. But, while shorn of these characteristics, life in the new realm of righteousness and life does mean that a person is given over to a master who requires absolute and unquestioned obedience; and to make this point, the image of slavery is quite appropriate.6

Offering themselves as slaves to righteousness, Paul says, will lead to holiness. ‘Holiness’ may be understood here as a state to which yielding one’s members to righteousness leads, a state acceptable to God and making one fit for his presence. Alternatively it could be understood as a process, so that yielding one’s members to righteousness, itself a process, finds expression in another process, sanctification. This may be one of those occasions where Paul implies both aspects: yielding one’s members to righteousness not only leads to the process of sanctification but also results in a state of fitness for God’s presence. Jewett puts it this way: ‘Although it [holiness] is ordinarily interpreted as an individual virtue, the second person plural imperatives throughout this pericope point to a new form of social life as the primary embodiment of holiness’.7

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness.

To be a slave to one master (sin) means to be free from another master (righteousness).

21 So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death.

The expected answer is that they reaped no real benefits (lit. fruit) from being slaves to sin. Looking back, they are now ashamed of their former way of life.

22 But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life.

In this, the last of the antitheses in this chapter, Paul confronts us with the ultimate “powers” that dominate the two respective “ages” of salvation history: sin and God. Behind believers’ subservience to “grace” (vv. 14, 15), “obedience” (v. 16), “pattern of teaching” (v. 17), and “righteousness” (vv. 18, 19), and embracing them all, is their ultimate allegiance to God.8

Sanctification is seen here as the intermediate condition between what was true of believers before they were converted and what will be true of believers at the resurrection, where they will inherit eternal life. Sanctification is then something that is supposed to lead to eternal life, not merely happen when one obtains eternal life, just as iniquity in this life leads to death. Holiness of heart and life is what God expects, indeed requires of his people. When one becomes a slave of God, a slave who obeys God’s call and will, the process of sanctification, of cleansing, has begun in that human life. It is something that must continue, as the believer continually must submit his faculties to be used in a right and righteous manner. One must present oneself to God as a living sacrifice daily. The promise given here is that believers have been freed from the bondage to sin, but freed for service and obedience to God.9

23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In everyday life the opsonion (payoff/wages) provided sustenance for life, but the wages of sin are just the opposite. The word “wages” implies that the penalty sin exacts is merited. On the other hand, eternal life is not a wage (something deserved) but a gift of God. The words “in Christ Jesus our Lord” “indicate that God’s gift of eternal life is granted to those who are united with the Lord Jesus Christ, to those who were united in his death and resurrection.”10


Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.

  1. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6734-6736 
  2. Moo 1996, 398 
  3. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6744-6745 
  4. Kruse 2012, 281 
  5. Moo 1996, 401–402 
  6. Moo 1996, 404 
  7. Kruse 2012, 284 
  8. Moo 1996, 407 
  9. Witherington III 2004, 174 
  10. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6933-6934 

Commentary on Romans 6:1-14

Notes (NET Translation)

1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?

Paul answers a series of rhetorical questions in chapters 6-7 (6:1-3, 15-16; 7:1, 13, 24) that may have arisen from his argument in chapter 5 (5:20: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”). The question in verse 1 is: “if sin is what prompts God’s outpouring of grace, then does it not follow that the more we keep sinning the more grace will abound?”1

2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Paul’s purpose in 6:1-14 is “to demonstrate that acceptance of his gospel does not lead to moral anarchy.”2 This is not merely a hypothetical question, for Paul was accused of preaching a gospel that encouraged sinful behavior (3:7-8). The following verses indicate that we die to sin at our baptism/conversion (6:3-4).

The Christian’s death “to sin” is the main point of Rom. 6. But what does this death “to sin” mean? Grammatically, the “to” probably carries the idea of “disadvantage”: the believer has died “to the detriment of sin.” And Paul uses the verb “die” because (1) it creates an immediate tie with the death of Christ, central to the believer’s own “death to sin”; and (2) it connotes a decisive and final break in one’s state of being. The idea, then, is of a decisive separation from sin. This separation could be a separation from the penalty due because of sin, but the context demonstrates that Paul is talking not about the penalty, but about the power, of sin (cf. v. 6b: “that we should no longer serve sin”; v. 14a: “sin shall no longer have lordship over you”). It is better, then, to view the separation as a separation from the “rule” or “realm” of sin, sin being personified, as throughout this chapter, as a power that rules over the person outside Christ.3

In these verses sin is a power, not merely an act of sin:

That sin is a power is clear from the way it is described. Sin enters the world through Adam and exercises its sway over all people (Rom. 5:12–19). Sin “reigns” (ἐβασίλευσεν, ebasileusen) in death (5:21). Those outside Christ are “slaves” to sin (δουλεύειν, douleuein, to serve, 6:6), but believers have been liberated from the sin that enslaved them and are now enslaved to righteousness (6:16–18, 20, 22). Believers must not let sin “reign” (βασιλευέτω, basileuetō) over them (6:12). They are not to present their bodies “to sin” (τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, tē hamartia, 6:13). Sin no longer “rules” (κυριεύσει, kyrieusei, v. 14) over them. Sin is a power from the old age that was introduced into the world through Adam. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to separate sin as a power from specific acts of sin. Sin’s reign over people leads them to commit specific acts of sin, and thus the two concepts are finally inseparable. Indeed, in 6:15 the focus is on the acts of sin when the question is posed, “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” But again such acts of sin reveal that one is still enslaved to the power of sin (cf. 6:16–23).4

3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Paul expects the Romans to already know this information. Water baptism was/is an initiatory rite undergone by a convert. Baptism functions as shorthand for the conversion experience as a whole. In Paul’s day unbaptized Christians were practically non-existent. Therefore, these verses are saying all Christians have participated in the death and burial of Christ for all Christians have received baptism. Being baptized into Christ Jesus means to be united with Christ and to come under his sphere of influence and lordship (cf. Gal 3:27). Being baptized into his death means receiving what Christ did for us vicariously in his death.

4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.

“Death is not seen here as an event, as we might speak of the time of death, but rather as a state which one enters.”5 The Christian is transferred from the state of death into the state of life by the resurrection of Christ. The “glory” of the Father refers to his power.

The reference to baptism has been understood sacramentally, meaning that baptism itself communicates the power to overcome sin. Verse 3 links dying with Christ and baptism, while burial with Christ is said to occur “through baptism” (διὰ βαπτίσματος) in verse 4. A sacramental understanding is flawed because it emphasizes baptism rather than the historic and definitive death and resurrection of Christ. Paul’s main concern in this text is not baptism; it is never mentioned again after verse 4. What animates the discussion is the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection for believers. But does not Paul say that Christ’s death becomes effective for believers διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος? The issue here is how strictly one should interpret the prepositional phrase. I would suggest that later theological formulations have led many to read this phrase in a sacramental fashion. Paul’s intention in introducing baptism is not to emphasize “how we were buried with Christ, but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ”. The emphasis is not on baptism as the means of God’s activity, although this is not excluded, but on the occasion of his work. Paul probably refers to baptism because it symbolizes dying and rising with Christ. Yet to separate baptism from other dimensions of the conversion experience is mistaken. For Paul baptism, faith, reception of the Spirit, repentance, and confession of Christ are one complex of events that all occur at conversion. Paul refers to believers as baptized because unbaptized Christians would be an anomaly.6

5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.

The Christian is united with Christ in the likeness of his death. Colin Kruse says this “probably means that Paul has in mind people being identified with Christ’s death at baptism.”7 Some understand this verse to be saying that believers share Christ’s resurrection life now while others understand it to be saying that believers will share Christ’s resurrection life on the last day. Schreiner states that the latter option is the most natural way to take the verb (cf. 6:8).

If believers are united with Christ’s resurrection only in the future, then how can his resurrection affect their behavior now? The best solution to this difficulty is to realize that the death and resurrection of Christ as eschatological events transcend time. This is not to deny that they were historical events rooted in time and history. Nonetheless, as eschatological events they penetrate and affect the present lives of believers. Thus those who are baptized (i.e., converted) experience the impact of Christ’s death and resurrection in their present existence. Believers are enabled to walk in newness of life because the power of Christ’s resurrection has become theirs by virtue of their union with Christ. Through Christ’s resurrection the power of the eschaton has entered the present evil age. This does not mean that believers have experienced fully the age to come, for they still await the resurrection of the body (Rom. 8:10–11, 23–25). Nonetheless, the glorious power of the resurrection (6:4) has grasped those who belong to Christ, enabling them to walk in the newness of the eschaton. Here is a prime example of the already–not yet tension that permeates Paul’s eschatology.8

6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Our “old man/self” is who we were prior to conversion, when we were in solidarity with Adam.

“Our old man” is not our Adamic, or sin “nature” that is judged and dethroned on the cross, and to which is added in the believer another “nature,” “the new man.” Rather, the “old man” is what we were “in Adam”–the “man” of the old age, who lives under the tyranny of sin and death. As J. R. W. Stott puts it, “what was crucified with Christ was not a part of me called my old nature, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.”9

The old self was under God’s condemnation and died in God’s sight in Christ’s death by crucifixion. “‘Body of death’ or ‘body of sin,’ as the earlier reference to the desires of the flesh makes evident, is a reference to the body insofar as it is affected by sin and its punishment–death.”10 We are free not to sin, though the possibility of sinning still exists.

If believers have died to sin by being baptized into Christ, if our old person has been killed at the cross, and the body of sin has been destroyed, then how is it possible for believers to sin at all? Does not the metaphor of death suggest that sin is impossible for believers, just as it is impossible for a corpse? Some would appeal to the exhortations against letting sin reign (cf. vv. 12–14) to demonstrate that sin is still possible for believers. But the real key is to discern the already-but-not-yet character of Paul’s thought. Then we can discern what Paul intends in saying that believers have died with Christ, the old person has been crucified, and the body of sin has been destroyed. Believers are enabled to walk in newness of life now because of Christ’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the resurrection for them is still future (6:5, 8). Since the resurrection is still impending, believers are not liberated in every respect from the present evil age (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20–28). They will still experience death, which is the consequence of the sin introduced by the first Adam. But they are guaranteed victory over death because they are incorporated into the second Adam. So too, believers will not experience perfect deliverance from sin in this age, so that they never sin at all. What has been shattered is not the presence of sin but the mastery of sin over believers. Paul uses a number of expressions to show that he is speaking of sin’s dominion being broken instead of perfect sinlessness. As sons and daughters of Adam we were slaves to sin, but now we are free from its tyranny (v. 6). Death no longer “rules” (κυριεύει, kyrieuei, v. 9) over Christ. Believers must not “let sin reign” (βασιλευέτω, basileuetō, v. 12). There is the assurance that sin will not “rule” (κυριεύσει, kyrieusei, v. 14) over those in Christ. Believers were previously “slaves” (δοῦλοι, douloi) to sin (v. 16), but now they are “free” from its slavery (v. 18; cf. vv. 20, 22). From this we can conclude that Rom. 6 teaches that believers are not free from the presence of sin, but they are free from its power, tyranny, mastery, and dominion. The already–not yet character of Paul’s eschatology shows that believers have already been liberated from the mastery of sin, but they have not yet reached the eschaton. They still battle the presence of sin until the day of redemption.11

7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

This verse explains the connection between death (“crucified with Christ”) and freedom from sin (“no longer serve sin”) that is the main point of v. 6. Precisely how it does so is, however, debated. On one view, “he who dies” is “the one who has died [with Christ]” and “has been justified” has its usual Pauline sense, “acquit from the penalty of sin.” On this, the “theological” interpretation, Paul is pointing to justification through participation in Christ’s death as the basis for the freedom from sin enjoyed by the believer. But there are difficulties in taking “justify” in this sense here. Paul does not connect our dying with our justification anywhere else. To avoid this problem, it has been suggested that “the one who dies” is Christ, who through his death secured justification for himself and others. But this introduces a shift in subject for which the context has not prepared us. For these reasons, it is likely that “justified from sin” means “set free from [the power of] sin.” “The one who dies” could still refer to “the one who has died with Christ,” but this would make v. 7 virtually repeat v. 6. It is more likely, then, that Paul is citing a general maxim, to the effect that “death severs the hold of sin on a person.” Paul’s readers may have been familiar with similar sayings, known to us from the rabbinic writings. His purpose, then, is not to prove v. 6 but to illustrate his theological point by reference to a general truth.12

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

In saying we believe we will also live with him, Paul seems to have the resurrection on the last day in mind instead of the present life in Christ. “But this future life of resurrection casts its shadow into the believer’s present experience, and it is clear from the sequel that Paul wants us to see the present implications of this promise of future resurrection life.”13

9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

The Gospels and Acts report some individuals being raised from the dead (Mk 5:21-24, 35-43; Lk 7:11-17; 8:40-42, 49-56; Jn 11:1-44; Acts 9:36-42), but all of these people would die again. Christ’s resurrection is different. It is resurrection to eternal life and so he will never die again. Those who belong to Christ will share in his resurrection.

But Paul’s focus in this verse is on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for Christ himself. Christ’s resurrection means that he “no longer” dies; “death no longer has lordship over him.” This language shows again that Paul is viewing matters from the perspective of the two ages of salvation history. Christ, in coming to earth incarnate, came under the influence of the powers of the old age: sin (cf. v. 10), the law (cf. Gal. 4:4), and death. Because of this Paul can say that Christ is no longer under the lordship of death. Just as the general resurrection will bring “death” to an end (Rev. 20:11–15), so Christ’s resurrection ends the power of death over himself, as well as anticipating the defeat of death in all those who belong to him.14

10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Christ “died to sin once for all” by being an atoning sacrifice for human sin. His death “once” was sufficient to deal with human sin for all time.

Thomas Schreiner notes:

By saying that Jesus died to sin Paul does not imply that Jesus was himself sinful. Instead, as the second Adam he voluntarily experienced death as the consequence of sin, so that he might break sin’s dominion.15

Douglas Moo adds some important additional points:

While, however, it is true that Christ did not need to be freed from sin’s power in the same way that we need to be, a close parallel between the situation of Christ and of the Christian can be maintained if we remember that Paul is continuing to speak of sin as a “ruling power.” Just as death once had “authority” over Christ because of his full identification with sinful people in the “old age,” so that other ruling power of the old age, sin, could be said to have had “authority” over Christ. As a “man of the old age,” he was subject to the power of sin–with the critical difference that he never succumbed to its power and actually sinned. When these salvation-historical perspectives are given their due place, we are able to give “die to sin” the same meaning here as it had in v. 2: a separation or freedom from the rule of sin. And this transfer into a new state was for Christ final and definitive: “once for all.” The finality of Christ’s separation from the power of sin shows why death can no longer rule over him–for is not death the product of sin (Rom. 6:23, etc.)?16

Colin Kruse understands the phrase “but the life he lives, he lives to God” to mean that the relationship between the Father and the Son that was broken at the crucifixion was restored at the resurrection so that Christ lives again to God, as he did before the crucifixion. Douglas Moo understands the phrase to mean that Christ’s resurrection has given him new power to carry out God’s will.

11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s meaning, then, appears to be something like this: As Christ died for our sins once for all, so we ought now to count ourselves dead to sin in the sense that we are released from its tyranny as a result of what Christ has done (cf. 6:14); and as Christ now lives in a restored relationship with God following his death on the cross, so we are to count ourselves ‘alive’ (lit. ‘living’) to God in Christ.17

Why should the believer need to reckon himself or herself dead to sin, if in fact the old person has already been crucified, is dead and buried? The answer is of course that the believer still lives in a mortal body which is not immune to sin and temptation. Even if the control center of the personality has been changed and is being renewed, the external part of who one is has not yet been renovated, a change which will not happen until the resurrection of believers. The inner-outer tension still exists. Furthermore, people may become so habituated to sin that they find it hard to believe that they are actually free now. Therefore, there must be a conscious effort to continually reckon oneself dead to sin, no longer subject to its enticement. This in no way denies the inward change Paul has already spoken of. Indeed, it is precisely because of the inward change that the believer is able, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s grace, to reckon self dead to sin, despite still living in a vulnerable body. The physical body is indeed the weak chink in the Christian’s armor, which is why it is that Paul spends so much time exhorting his converts about the sins of the flesh.18

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.

Verse 12 makes it clear that believers are not immune to temptation or incapable of sinning. The “mortal body” is our present body that is subject to death. It probably refers to the whole person, not the body as distinct from the mind/soul.

In characterizing the body as “mortal,” Paul is reminding us that the same body that has been severed from its servitude to sin (6:6) is nevertheless a body that still participates in the weakness, suffering, and dissolution of this age. Until we are fully “redeemed” (8:23) and “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53), we will continue to be subject to the influences of this age; and the believer must not let these influences hold sway. The Christian is no longer “body of sin” (6:6) or “body of death” (7:24), but he or she is still “mortal body.”19

In verse 12 the “desires” are those desires in conflict with the will of God. The “members” in verse 13 refer to any human capacities, not just the limbs or parts of the body. Paul exhorts the reader to continually choose righteousness over unrighteousness.

14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

The phrases ὑπὸ νόμον [under law] and ὑπὸ χάριν (hypo charin, under grace) are best understood in a salvation-historical sense. They refer to different eras in God’s redemptive historical plan. The term ὑπὸ νόμον designates the Mosaic era as a whole, while ὑπὸ χάριν describes the new age inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The logic of verse 14 is as follows: If you were still under the era of law, then sin would rule over you; since you are under the age of grace, sin cannot have dominion over you. I conclude from this that Paul is saying that to live under the Mosaic covenant was to live under the power of sin. I have remarked several times that the history of Israel would suggest this thought to Paul. Israel was sent into exile during the Mosaic era because it did not obey the law. Indeed, Paul would have seen that the promises remained unfulfilled since Israel was still under Roman domination. The prophets themselves acknowledged that Israel had not kept the law in the Mosaic age and needed a new covenant (e.g., Jer. 31:31–34). That living under the law was living under the power of sin is also apparent from other ὑπό phrases in Paul. Those who rely on works of the law are “under a curse” (Gal. 3:10). Galatians 3:21–25 suggests that those who are “under sin” are also those under the law, “under the pedagogue.” Those “under law” needed to be redeemed from their slavery by the death of Christ (Gal. 4:3–5). Those who are led by the Spirit “are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18), and thus those who are under the law are apparently not led by the Spirit but subjugated to the power of sin. First Corinthians 9:20 is no exception, for Paul makes plain that he is “not under law,” although he agrees to live under the law in some situations for the salvation of fellow Jews. So too, that Jesus was “born under law” (Gal. 4:4) is the exception that proves the rule. He had to be born under the law in order to redeem those in slavery.

In Rom. 6:14 Paul connects liberation from sin with liberation from the Mosaic era because these were inseparable in his theology. The Mosaic era was the age in which sin dominated. Now this does not mean that there was no grace in the Mosaic era, nor does it imply that all Israelites lived under the power of sin. Paul was well aware of the OT remnant that included prophets and godly people such as Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and Daniel. What we have here is a generalization. Paul describes what was generally the case in the OT economy, not what was invariably the case. What struck him was how signally Israel failed, not the small numbers who kept the law. The promises to the nation as a whole were unfulfilled because Israel did not keep the law. Moreover, because Paul is speaking in a redemptive-historical fashion, it would be an error to conclude that believers need not obey any commands since they are under grace. Paul’s point is that Israel did not keep the law as long as they were under the law (i.e., the Mosaic covenant). Now that believers are under the power of grace they are enabled to keep the moral norms of the law by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4). This is precisely what both Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31–34) and Ezekiel (11:19–20; 36:26–27) foresaw occurring when the new covenant became a reality.20


Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.

  1. Witherington III 2004, 156 
  2. Kruse 2012, 258 
  3. Moo 1996, 357 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6195-6205 
  5. Witherington III 2004, 158 
  6. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6306-6318 
  7. Kruse 2012, 262 
  8. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6362-6371 
  9. Moo 1996, 373–374 
  10. Witherington III 2004, 160 
  11. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6452-6470 
  12. Moo 1996, 376–377 
  13. Moo 1996, 377 
  14. Moo 1996, 378 
  15. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6535-6536 
  16. Moo 1996, 379 
  17. Kruse 2012, 266-267 
  18. Witherington III 2004, 162 
  19. Moo 1996, 383 
  20. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6643-6667 

Commentary on Romans 5:12-21

Notes (NET Translation)

12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned —

The words “so then” form a connection with 5:1-11. Douglas Moo understands the transition in 5:12 as follows: “in order to accomplish this [namely, that God has promised to save all those who are justified and reconciled through Christ], there exists a life-giving union between Christ and his own that is similar to, but more powerful than, the death-producing union between Adam and all his own.”1 The phrase “just as” introduces a comparison that is broken off and not completed until 5:18-19 (although hinted at in 5:15-17).

The comparison is probably broken off for two reasons. First, Paul explains that those who lived in the era between Adam and Christ were sinners, even those who did not have the Mosaic law. Second, before finishing the comparison between Adam and Christ, Paul wants to emphasize the dissimilarity between the two. Verses 15–17 in particular highlight the contrast between Adam and Christ.2

In this verse, “world” (kosmon) probably means humanity. Sin entered humanity when Adam ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3). In 5:12-8:13 sin is personified as a power that holds sway in the world outside Christ (cf. 5:14, 17, 20-21; 6:2, 9, 12-14, 16-17, 20, 23; 7:8, 11, 13).

Death, at least for human beings, entered through sin. Both physical and spiritual death are in Paul’s mind. Verse 14 seems to refer to physical death. In verses 16 and 18 “condemnation” is used in the same way as death is here. In verse 21 death is contrasted with eternal life.

Death has spread to every single person. The precise meaning of the final clause of v 12 is debated. Thomas Schreiner provides the following interpretation:

When Paul says “all sinned,” he indeed means that every human being has personally sinned. Nevertheless, we should not read a Pelagian interpretation from this, for the ἐϕʼ ᾧ phrase explains why all human beings have sinned. As a result of Adam’s sin death entered the world and engulfed all people; all people enter the world alienated from God and spiritually dead by virtue of Adam’s sin. By virtue of entering the world in the state of death (i.e., separated from God), all human beings sin. This understanding of the text confirms the view of scholars who insist that original death is more prominent than “original sin” in this text. The personal sin of human beings is explained by the sway death holds over us. Such an interpretation is also supported by the notion that death is a power that reigns and rules over us now (Rom. 5:14, 17) and that culminates in physical death. Moreover, Paul says specifically in 5:15 that human beings “died” because of the trespass of Adam. Our alienation and separation from God are due to Adam’s sin, and thus we sin as a result of being born into the world separated from God’s life. The notion that we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13) should be interpreted similarly. This phrase does not mean that first we commit trespasses and sins and as a consequence die. Rather, the idea is that we are born into the world (“children of wrath by nature,” Eph. 2:3) separated from God, and our sins are a result of the spiritual state of death. The entire context of Eph. 2:1–10 supports this interpretation, for God remedies the situation by granting life to those of us who are dead and as a result of his life we do good works. The parallel is remarkable: the consequence of death is trespasses and sins, whereas the result of life is good works. Ephesians 4:17–18 confirms my interpretation. The reason Gentiles live in a way that displeases God is because they are separated from his life. In other words, the result of spiritual death is a lifestyle of sin.3

13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law.

“Since Paul himself has said that there is no transgression without the law (4:15), he must answer the question how those who never had the law can be guilty of sin.”4 Sin, as distinct from transgression, was in the world in the interval between Adam and Moses. In one sense, God clearly did account for sin before the law was given to Moses. For example, he banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, he brought the flood, he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and he brought plagues upon Egypt. What Paul means is that God did not reckon such sins as willful violations of a known law (i.e., transgressions).

14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.

The existence of death from Adam to Moses is evidence that sin was in the world because death is the penalty for sin. Adam transgressed God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). The other sinners between Adam and Moses did not sin in the same way because they did not disobey a direct command from God. A “type” (typos) is something or someone who prefigures something or someone else. Adam prefigures Christ. Adam brought death to all, Christ brought life to all. “The reference to ‘the coming one’ (τοῦ μέλλοντος) should be understood from the perspective of Adam. In other words, from Adam’s standpoint in history Jesus Christ was the one to come; no statement about the second coming of Christ is intended.”5

15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

The typological relationship between Adam and Christ is qualified. The “gracious gift” is the act of Christ. The phrase “how much more” means that the enjoyment of the gift and grace of God is more certain to the believer than the death that came through Adam.

16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification.

In this verse, “judgment” refers to a judicial verdict. This verdict led to condemnation, meaning physical and spiritual death (5:12, 17). The accumulated sins of the ages are answered by God’s “gracious gift” of providing his Son as the atoning sacrifice for sins (3:25).

17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!

In m. Makkot 3.15 Rabbi Hanina says: “If a sin of one sinner causes his death is it not logical to assume that a meritorious deed of one man causes his life to be given!” In the Mishnah the sinner and the practitioner of the meritorious deed could be any man. In contrast, Paul identifies the sinner as Adam and the practitioner of the meritorious deed as Christ.6 The believer reigns in life now (6:4) and will reign fully at the consummation.

18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people.

Paul does not believe that Christ’s death and resurrection give all people a right standing with God apart from a faith response. Rather, Christ’s death and resurrection put all people in a position to have a right relationship with God. Christ’s gift must still be accepted (5:17). Universalists understand this verse to be saying that all will eventually accept Christ’s gift and be granted eternal life (even if this is after physical death). They believe that this must occur for the comparison between Adam and Christ to stand. The condemnation of Adam is reversed in Christ.

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.

What does it mean that many were made sinners by Adam’s disobedience? Douglas Moo writes:

Debate surrounds the exact meaning of the verb Paul uses here. Some argue that it means nothing more than “make.” But this translation misses the forensic flavor of the word. It often means “appoint,” and probably refers here to the fact that people are “inaugurated into” the state of sin/righteousness. Paul is insisting that people were really “made” sinners through Adam’s act of disobedience just as they are really “made righteous” through Christ’s obedience. This “making righteous,” however, must be interpreted in the light of Paul’s typical forensic categories. To be “righteous” does not mean to be morally upright, but to be judged acquitted, cleared of all charges, in the heavenly judgment. Through Christ’s obedient act, people become really righteous; but “righteous” itself is a legal, not a moral, term in this context. Since this “being made righteous” is put in the future tense, Paul may have regard for the final declaration of justification at the judgment. It is more likely, however, in light of vv. 17 and 18, that Paul uses the future tense because he has in view the continual, discrete acts of “making righteous” that occur as people believe.

In both parts of the verse, then, we are dealing with a real, though “forensic,” situation: people actually become sinners in solidarity with Adam–by God’s decision; people actually become “righteous” in solidarity with Christ–again, by God’s decision. But there is one important difference, plainly hinted at in the emphasis on “grace” throughout vv. 15–17: while our solidarity with Adam in condemnation is due to our solidarity with him in “sinning,” our solidarity with Christ in righteousness is not because we have acted righteously in and with Christ. While Rom. 6 suggests that we were in some sense “in Christ” when he “obeyed even unto death,” that obedience is never accounted to us as our own. In other words, while we deserve condemnation–for “all have sinned”–we are freely given righteousness and life. It is this gratuitous element on the side of Christ’s work that enables Paul to celebrate the “how much more” of our “reigning” in life (v. 17) and that gives to every believer absolute assurance for the life to come.7

Thomas Schreiner believes Paul is saying every human is born with a corrupt nature inherited from Adam and that we all enter the world alienated from God. We are all sinners by virtue of being in corporate solidarity with Adam, who functioned as the head of the human race. Adam’s sin is imputed to his descendants. In a similar fashion, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers.

The phrase “the obedience of the one man” refers to Christ’s obedience unto death on the cross (Phil 2:8).

20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more,

The law has a subordinate and secondary role in salvation history. Many Jews may have thought the law restrained, erased, eased, or neutralized sin. Paul states that just the opposite is the case. “The piling up of sin in Israel via the law does not indicate malevolence in God toward his people. It shows that the problem introduced into the world through Adam is not remedied through the law.”8 The first clause of the verse could be taken to mean that the law came for the purpose of increasing sin or that the law came with the result that sin increased. The second option is more likely. How did sin increase? First, the law revealed what sin is (7:7). Second, the law made it possible for the sinner to willfully break God’s commandment (4:15). Third, the law may have given sinful humanity more ideas on how to rebel against God (7:8).

But this negative purpose in the law is not, of course, God’s final word. The law remains God’s law, a gift given to Israel with an ultimately positive salvation-historical role. In showing sin to be “utterly sinful” (Rom. 7:13), the law reveals the desperate situation of people apart from grace. But, as Paul has emphasized throughout this paragraph, God’s grace is more than sufficient to overcome the increase in the power and seriousness of sin brought by the law. For in that very place where sin “increased,” grace “super-increased.” Paul’s purview is salvation history, considered in its broadest dimensions, and his point is simply that the law’s negative purpose in radicalizing the power of sin has been more than fully met by the provisions of God’s grace. However deep in the power of sin Israel may have sunk, God’s grace was deeper yet. How many times, after reminding Israel of her blatant, repeated sin, do the prophets yet proclaim the willingness of God to forgive; indeed, his settled purpose to bless his people, in spite of themselves. In Christ, of course, we find the fulfillment of the promise of God’s “superabounding” grace.9

21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In order for the parallelism to work best, we should identify the sin and death with the sin and death of Adam and the righteousness with the righteousness of Christ.

What does it mean to say “sin reigned in death”? Perhaps Paul refers thus to the notion that since we are all going to die, there comes a certain fatalism into human thinking. Sin becomes the attempt to have as much pleasure as one can while alive–to eat, drink, and be merry knowing that death is coming. The hovering cloud of death leads those under it to look for diversions and ways to distract themselves from the inevitable and also ways to spit into the prevailing wind. As Ecclesiastes suggests, what is the point of being good if it all ends in death? Thus the reality and finality of death cause sin to reign in human life. Therefore, to deal with the human sin problem Christ also had to deal with the death problem. Eternal life had to be on offer if the reign of sin was to be ended. Once again we see what a very negative and highly theological view of death Paul has.10

Douglas Moo has a different take on the phrase “sin reigned in death”:

Paul often thinks in terms of “spheres” or “dominions,” and the language of “reigning” is particularly well suited to this idea. Death has its own dominion: humanity as determined, and dominated, by Adam. And in this dominion, sin is in control. But those who “receive the gift” (v. 17) enjoy a transfer from this domain to another, the domain of righteousness, in which grace reigns and where life is the eventual outcome.11


Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.

  1. Moo 1996, 318 
  2. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5524-5526 
  3. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5664-5678 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5716-5717 
  5. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5741-5743 
  6. Kruse 2014, 249 
  7. Moo 1996, 345–346 
  8. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 6007-6008 
  9. Moo 1996, 348–349 
  10. Witherington III 2004, 151-152 
  11. Moo 1996, 349–350 

Suggestions for Apologetic Readings

Bryan left the following comment:

Hi Jayman, this is off topic, but I was wondering what books or even articles online you think best argue for the existence of God and/or the truth of Christian[ity], such that an open minded skeptic might be persuaded. Thanks a lot.

I thought other readers might be interested in my answer. The following list is not exhaustive, and was created by simply skimming through my books. The comments are open to additional suggestions.

Many Christian apologists may be tempted to only list the books near the end of my list. However, I think some of the “odd” books listed can lay a foundation to build upon.

My list begins by establishing a Thomistic metaphysical foundation. This is a difficult subject for the beginner so I’ll try to list the books in a recommended order:

If Thomas Aquinas was largely correct on metaphysical matters then his natural theology follows and monotheism is true. Atheism, agnosticism, deism, and polytheism are no longer live options. His metaphysical thought also ties into ethics:

A couple other books that argue for God’s existence are:

Before getting to Christianity itself, I also recommend the following books that argue that belief in miracles is possible in light of the evidence:

And, finally, book recommendations for the Bible itself:

Review: Christianity Is Not Great: Chapter 21

I asked Jonathan MS Pearce to look over my reviews of the first five chapters of Christianity is not Great so I thought I would return the favor and review his chapter in the book. Chapter 21 is entitled: “Tu Quoque, Atheism?” — Our Right to Judge. He asks: “Do we nontheists have an epistemic right to judge Christians, to assign moral value to their actions? Are we throwing around accusations of harm without having our own foundation upon which to base them, as many Christians claim?”

Pearce’s first answer is that it doesn’t matter because Christians themselves are often critical of the actions of other Christians (past and present). It is true that we Christians can be self-critical of our actions, but this answer isn’t a true answer to the questions posed above. Perhaps Christians have a right to judge their own actions because they have a foundation on which to make such judgments, while non-theists have no such foundation.

The author’s second answer is that the book is testing the hypothesis that God is love. He asks: how is the fact that Christianity and Christians have contributed harm to the world coherent with the existence of an all-loving, morally perfect God? Allegedly this makes the problem of evil an even bigger problem than it otherwise would be. He then goes on to say that we can use the morality of the Bible to judge the actions in the Bible and in extra-biblical history. Pearce needs to explain what is meant when we say God is love in order to show that it is logically incompatible with the fact that Christianity and Christians contributed harm to the world. It is not clear to me what the alleged incompatibility is supposed to be or why this makes the problem of evil a more difficult problem. However, I can agree with the statement that the atheist can use the morality of the Bible to judge actions in the Bible and in extra-biblical history.

Pearce’s third answer is to affirm that atheists do have a right to judge Christians. This is the main focus of the chapter:

I will start by defining the relevant terms then briefly critiquing the main concepts of Christian ethical systems, with particular reference to the idea that (the Judeo-Christian) God himself appears to be a moral consequentialist. This refutes the claim of his acolytes that he is needed to ground morality. I will show that most philosophers are nontheistic and hold to a variety of nontheistic moral value systems that do not necessitate a god and invariably undermine Christian morality. I will go further to argue that morality indeed presupposes atheism in order to make sense.

Defining Our Terms

The author provides a couple definitions. He defines morality as a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons. He defines objective morality as facts about what constitutes moral behavior that lie in the nature of the agent’s action, regardless of cultural and individual opinion.

On Christian Theories of Ethics

This section is only intended to cover two major Christian ethical theories.

Christian Natural Law Theory

I object to the title of this section because one does not need to be a Christian to be an adherent of natural law theory. Pearce seems to realize this but does not appear to understand the natural law position. He asks:

Of course, such a theory sounds nice, but what does it really mean to have something written on our hearts? What is the ontology of such morality? These fundamental philosophical questions remain unsatisfactorily answered.

When Paul speaks of the work of the law being written on pagan Gentile hearts he is merely saying that pagan Gentiles possess the moral norms of the law (see Commentary on Romans 2:1-16). The moral ontology of natural law is based on formal causes and final causes as described in the works of, for instance, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. These fundamental philosophical questions are answered and Pearce does not interact with them at all to show that they are unsatisfactory.

Divine Command Theories

Note the plural (theories) for this section title.

One kind of divine command theory says that we obey God’s moral commands because it is prudent. We obey God’s commands in order to inherit eternal life and avoid hell. Pearce asserts that this commits the appeal to force fallacy. The appeal to force is not always a fallacy and I’m not sure it’s a fallacy here. It seems to fit the author’s definition of morality as a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons. If a rational person believed obeying God led to eternal life (a most excellent state of being) would he not obey God? Would this not be the agreed upon code of conduct of all rational persons?

A second kind of divine command theory says that we follow God’s commands because God is good. Pearce writes: “If God is good then we have a sort of tautology and cannot have any independent appreciation of the value of his goodness. But if there is an independent criterion then I have no need of God for a moral judgment.” I’m not sure such a divine command theorist can’t take a both/and approach. We follow God’s commands because they are good and we know they are good based on some independent criterion. God’s commands help us to better identify and adhere to this independent criterion.

Pearce also criticizes divine command theories because the commands of God are not always clear. There is some truth to this but I think it can be overstated. We also have to consider that there are difficult moral questions. We may all agree on basic moral principles but disagree on, say, whether country A should go to war with country B. I’m not aware of any ethical theories that will offer crystal clear moral advice for every situation. The ethics put forth by atheists will have the same problem.

On Atheist Ethics: What Philosophers Think

This section summarizes the results from the PhilPapers survey in order to lay out options for atheist ethics.

But the important result is as follows: 72.8 percent of philosophers are atheists, 14.6 percent being theists. A huge majority of philosophers deny the existence of a god of any kind. And yet we have just learned that some 67.7 percent believe in deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics. So, clearly, many philosophers believe that you do not need to believe in a god to coherently hold a moral philosophical worldview.

But note that 27.7% of philosophers are moral anti-realists, meaning they deny the truth value of moral statements. This group of philosophers cannot attack the actions of Christians because they do not believe there is any truth to whether Christians have been good or bad. An atheist can say that the arguments for the existence of objective morality are no better than the arguments for the existence of God and reject both kinds of arguments. A significant minority of atheist philosophers have no foundation from which to judge Christian actions.

Some Moral Theories That Atheists Can and Do Hold

In this section the author briefly describes three moral theories an atheist could hold: virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequentialism. The three need not be mutually exclusive and a theist could could hold one of these positions too. It is strange that Pearce mentions virtue ethics positively since the Christian natural law theory panned earlier in the chapter can be seen as a kind of virtue ethics! Perhaps that is a danger in looking at morality through the theism/atheism debate.

God Is a Consequentialist

The precise theme of this section is hard to pin down. We seemed to have moved from judging Christian actions in history to judging God. The following quote may be the most important in the section:

Theodicies seek to provide answers as to why such suffering exists. Indeed, the job of a theologian in response to all of the examples given in this book is to defend God, and to justify his actions and inactions, with various consequentialist theodicies. If people are being used in service of a greater good then they are being used as a consequentialist means to an end.

All of the suffering described in this book can be morally permissible only if God is a consequentialist. And if he is, then he has no need of himself for his own morality. He can be judged quite easily by an atheist, thank you very much.

In the previous section Pearce seemed open to the idea that one could marry virtue ethics to consequentialism. In this section he does not seem to explore what relationship virtue ethics might have to theodicy. Perhaps God’s actions and inactions create an environment where mankind can grow in virtue. It is not clear to me that, in such a scenario, man is being used as a means to an end.

But let’s suppose consequentialism is true. In one sense an atheist could render a judgment on God; he can give God a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The problem is that God is omniscient and can quite simply tell the atheist he is wrong.

Morality Presupposes Atheism

The argument put forth in this section is intended to show that theological individualism (TI), the existence of God and the existence of intense suffering, together with our obligation to prevent it, are not mutually compatible. Pearce lays out the argument from Stephen Maitzen as follows:

  1. If God exists and TI is true, then, necessarily, all undeserved, involuntary human suffering ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer.
  2. If, necessarily, all undeserved, involuntary human suffering ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer, then (a) we never have a moral obligation to prevent undeserved, involuntary human suffering or (b) our moral obligation to prevent undeserved, involuntary human suffering derives entirely from God’s commands.
  3. We sometimes have a moral obligation to prevent undeserved, involuntary human suffering, an obligation that does not derive entirely from God’s commands. Two subconclusions follow from the three premises just established:
  4. So: It isn’t the case that, necessarily, all undeserved, involuntary human suffering ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer. [From (2), (3)]
  5. So: God does not exist or TI is false. [From (1), (4)]
  6. If not even God may treat human beings merely as means, then TI is true.
  7. Not even God may treat human beings merely as means. It remains, then, only to draw the argument’s final two inferences:
  8. So: TI is true. [From (6), (7)]
  9. So: God does not exist. [From (5), (8)]

One response is to deny that TI is true. Pearce thinks that TI must hold if God has the attributes that theists claim. But why? If the theist believes that God is Goodness Itself (as opposed to being good because he performs actions A, B, and C) then he seems free to reject TI.

A second response, based off an idea from Randal Rauser, is that (2a) does not follow. It could be that God arranges things so that human suffering that does occur is to the net benefit of the sufferer and that God causes a Good Samaritan to intervene to prevent some cases of suffering from going on for too long.

A third response is to insist that our moral obligations do entirely derive from God’s commands. Those who believe otherwise are simply wrong.