Without a doubt Romans 5:12-18 is one of the most misunderstood passages of the New Testament and a false understanding of this passage provides the very foundation for the myth of "Original Sin." Let us look first at Romans 5:12:
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Ro.5:12).
From this we can understand the following: (1) Sin entered the world when Adam sinned and that sin brought about spiritual death. (2) Adam's sin was somehow responsible for bringing spiritual death to all men. (3) This death came to all men because all have sinned.
What this verse does not tell us is exactly "how" Adam was responsible for bring death to all men. However, the verse which follows was written in order to explain how that came about:
"...even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: for until law sin was in the world; but sin is not put to account when there is no law" (Ro.5:12-13; DBY).
These verses are speaking of "law" in a "universal" sense because the "deaths" being considered are also "universal" in nature: "death passed to all men." The only universal law that has been in effect since Adam is the law which is written in the heart of all men, the same law of which the "conscience" bears witness:
"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness" (Ro.2:14-15).
When Adam ate of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" he had the knowledge of the law written in his heart and his "conscience" bore witness to that law. His very nature had changed. The Lord said: "Behold,the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil " (Gen.3:22). Man now had a "conscience" of the law written in his heart.
Clarence Larkin wrote: "Adam and Eve had no conscience before the 'Fall.' Conscience is a knowledge of 'Good' and 'Evil,' and this Adam and Eve did not have until they had their eyes opened by eating of the 'Fruit' of the 'Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil' " (Larkin, Rightly Dividing The Word [Rev. Clarence Larkin Est.], 19).
Dr. Renald E. Showers writes that "Genesis 3:5 and 22 indicate that mankind obtained its awareness of good and evil as a result of eating the forbidden fruit. In other words, the human conscience began when man rebelled against God...Paul indicated that the conscience is the awareness of good and evil which exists inside human beings. It condemns people internally when they do something in the category of evil, and it commends them internally when they do something in the category of good" (Showers, The Second Dispensation, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute).
We also read the following in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy:
"The Edenic covenant is tied to the dispensation of innocence, whereby God tested man to see if he would live by God's conditions. God told man not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). The dispensation ended in man's failure--Eve was deceived (1 Timothy 2:14) and Adam deliberately disobeyed. As a result, the first man had personal and experiental knowledge of good and evil. What seemed like a simple, limited act of eating fruit ended in a broad, conscious knowledge of right and wrong. In the next dispensation, the descendants of Adam were responsible for this new awareness of sin" [emphasis added] (The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, ed.Tim LaHaye & Ed Hindson, [Eugene: Harvest House, 2004], 86).
All of Adam's descendants would thereafter be born in Adam's likeness and image, also having a "conscience", or an inborn knowledge of God's law:
"And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth" (Gen.5:3).
So Adam was responsible for death coming unto all men because he was responsible for bringing "law" unto all men. When all men after Adam sinned against the law written in their hearts they died spiritually--"and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."
If Adam would have obeyed the Lord then he would have remained in a state of "innocence" and "law" would not have come upon his descendants: "when there is no law, sin is not imputed." This princle is illustrated in the following verse:
"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (Jas.4:17).
God will not impute sin into a person's account unless that person first knows the difference between what is good and what is not.
Therefore we can understand that if sin is not imputed into anyone's account then there would be no spiritual death.