The Imputation of Sin
Rom 5:12-14 “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: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”
This concerns the imputation or (charge) of sin upon mankind in Romans 5:12-14; which is part of a lengthy parenthetical statement (verses 13-17). First, “imputed” is the Greek word “ellegeo,” and is used only one other time, in Philemon 1:18. In its two usages in the NT it appears to mean the charging of specific, defined debts to the debtor’s account.
To a degree it sounds like Paul is contradicting himself in this passage. Obviously, that is not the case. Tentatively, it sounds like Paul is stating a general principle (notice it says, “is not imputed,” not “was not imputed”), that specific sin is not charged to the sinner’s account when there is no law to define that sin.
“Nevertheless…” (verse 14), ante-Mosaic men died because of sin, showing that the penalty for their sin was in effect, even if a clear catalog or record of their sins as spelled out in the Law was not brought against them.
It regards something similar to the idea that you can’t hold somebody accountable for something they didn’t know was wrong. If there is no law in general (or even no Mosaic Law in particular), you can’t be charged with breaking it. However, Paul clearly argues in verse 14, that because mankind’s sin preceded the Law, we are ‘all guilty’ despite no legal imputation.
So, in effect, we all broke the “first law” or “offence” (“…thou shalt not eat of it…”) when Adam and Eve broke it.
and thus, “…all have sinned.”