Examining the Calvinist’s Fallacy of Equivocation/Amphibology in Romans 5:18

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Romans 5:18)

Romans 5:18 is the conclusion of an argument that begins back in verse 12. In the King James Version of the Bible, verses 13-17 are placed in parenthesis presumably to indicate that they form the exposition of verses 12 and 18. So, verse 12 contains four premises that form a Sorites (i.e. a cumulative chain of syllogisms), verses 13 through 17 are the details and development of these premises, and verse 18 is the conclusion of the argument.

In Romans 5:12, Paul reveals four premises/propositions:

  1. By one man sin entered into the world
  2. and death (entered into the world ) by sin
  3. so death passed upon all men,
  4. for that all (men) have sinned

All propositions come in one of four categories: All, None, Some and Some not. Putting the four Romans 5:12 propositions into categorical form, one comes up with the following:

Proposition 1: ALL sin-that-has-entered-this-world IS sin-that-has-entered-this-world-through-the-first-sinner (the actions of the first man).
Proposition 2: ALL death-that-has-entered-this-world IS death-that-has-entered-this-world-through-sin (the sin of the first sinner).
Proposition 3: ALL men ARE men-upon-whom-death-has-passed-upon.
Proposition 4: ALL men ARE men-that-have-sinned.
Proposition 4A: ALL men ARE men-that-have-inherited-sin-from-Adam-the first sinner. (That the reader already knows this proposition is assumed)

Proposition 3 & 4 constitute the conclusion to Propositions 1 & 2; yet, I’ve broken them apart to make each proposition easier to digest. Proposition 4 is an enthymeme. In logic, an enthymeme is an argument in which the conclusion is given but one or more premises are missing because they are implicit, or taken for granted. Proposition 4A is the assumed proposition needed to understand Proposition 4.

Lastly, the reader should understand the word “men” to mean “all created men” since none of the above propositions apply to the God-man Jesus.

Next, in Romans 5:18, Paul’s conclusion consists of two propositions:

Proposition 5: by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation

Proposition 6: by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life

Putting these propositions into categorical form, one comes up with the following:

Proposition 5: ALL men ARE men-upon-whom-the-judgment-unto-condemnation-(which was caused by the offense of one person)-have-come

Proposition 6: ALL men ARE men-upon-whom-the-free-gift-unto-justification-of-life-(which was obtained by the righteousness of one person)-have-come

In Romans 5:18, Paul appears to employ a biblical literary device called a parallelism. He does this undoubtedly to clarify, accentuate and emphasize his argument’s conclusion.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines a parallelism as:

“The use of identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses or phrases.”

E.W. Bullinger’s Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible designates this specific kind of parallelism as an antithetic parallelism; and defines it as “when the words are contrasted in the two or more lines, being opposed in sense the one to the other.” In this case, the “equivalent syntactic constructions” are: “by…one” and “…upon all men.” In other words, Paul claims that Proposition 6 is patterned after Proposition 5 so as to be dependent upon the meaning of the prior proposition’s constructions. Specifically, the phrase “upon all men” in Proposition 6 is expected to have the same meaning as the corresponding phrase in Proposition 5. If “upon all men” does not really mean so in Proposition 6, then the intent of the parallelism is violated. Incidentally (and perhaps consequently), some1 have tried to argue that “all men” in Proposition 5 implies all men that belong to Adam, whereas “all men” in Proposition 6 implies all men that belong to Christ. However, the problem with this line of argumentation is that it violates a rule of logic which prevents the introduction of new terms in the conclusion which do not appear in the preceding premises. The term “that belong to” does not appear nor is it implied in any of the conclusion’s premises.

Moreover, in logic, the logician must use a term or phrase univocally. Meaning, if a term or phrase appears in both the premise(s) and conclusion of an argument, it must have the same meaning in each of those locations. Violating this rule is referred to as committing the fallacy of equivocation. When this error involves a phrase (and not just a single word), it is referred to as an amphibology. Calvinists who deny the universal nature of Christ’s redemption must commit this fallacy in Romans 5:18 in order to avoid compromising their position. It has been demonstrated above that the word “men” in Romans 5:12 (the argument’s premise) refers to all (created) men without exception. Yet, many Calvinists maintain that in Romans 5:18b (the argument’s conclusion), the word “men” can only refer to “elect men” therefore the Calvinist equivocates on the word “men” or on the phrase “upon all men.” Note that the Calvinist must commit this fallacy elsewhere in Scripture; for instance, in 2 Corinthians 5:14 and Romans 3:21-23.  Incidentally, accepting Romans 5:18 as it literally appears (and as logic compels us to) does not make one a Universalist (as some Calvinists assert2) since Romans 5:18 is not stating that: “all men whom the free gift has come upon are men who are thereby saved.” A gift is offered and must be received otherwise it becomes something other than a gift.

From the above explanation, it is easy to see that the Limited Atonement of Calvinism (at least as represented in this blog) necessarily involves a contradiction and therefore cannot be true.

To conclude, I’ve included an excerpt from Dr. David Guzik’s commentary on Romans 5 that may help the reader to conclusively grasp the meaning of Paul’s argument:

The free gift came to all men: Does this mean that all men are justified by the free gift? Without making a personal choice, every person received the curse of Adam’s offense. Is it therefore true that every person, apart from their personal choice, will receive the benefits of Jesus’ obedience? Not at all. First, Paul makes it clear that the free gift is not like the offense – they are not identical in their result or application. Second, over three verses Paul calls the work of Jesus a free gift, and he never uses those words to apply to the work of Adam. It is simply the nature of a gift that it must be received by faith. Finally, Paul clearly teaches throughout the New Testament that all are not saved.

In what sense then did the free gift come to all men? It came in the sense that the gift is presented, but not necessarily received. – The Guzik Commentary on O.T. and N.T.



  1. See the Romans 5:18 commentary in John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
  2. Day 3 – Arminianism (Dr. Michael Brown) vs. Calvinism (Dr. James White), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBxvJRo0WMk (Start around minute 49)




8 thoughts on “Examining the Calvinist’s Fallacy of Equivocation/Amphibology in Romans 5:18

  1. Don says:

    Yes, the gift is presented to all men, but it must be received. It is a gift effective to “whosoever will.” Acts 10:43, “everyone who believes into Him receives.”

  2. br.d says:

    Let [E] represent” “things which EXIST because God decrees them to EXIST, past present or future”. Let [HNI] represent: “human neurological impulses”.

    A Calvinistic Syllogism:
    Premise 1: ALL [HNI] that come to pass are [E]
    Premise 2: ALL [HNI] that do NOT come to pass are NOT [E] (contrapositive of 1)
    Premise 3: God saw that the [HNI] were only evil continually, except for Noah and his family

    Conclusions: 1) Man has no choice about what [HNI] are [E] or NOT [E]. 2) Man has no control over what [HNI] are [E] or NOT [E]. 3) God created a world in which NO evil [HNI] have [E], except for Noah and family. 4) God repented, judged, and condemned to extinction the [HNI] that he [E], with which man had NO choice and NO control over.

  3. br.d says:

    Correction: I believe Conclusion 3 should be: God created a world in which NO evil [HNI] have NO [E], except for Noah and family.

  4. br.d says:

    Hi James, on your question about demonstrating Premise 1 from scripture, premise 1 is a foundational proposition within Calvinist theology. That proposition is what distinguishes Calvinism from alternative Christian theologies. One would want to refer to Calvinist literature to find the historical proof-texts for it. I post the syllogism to show the logical consequence that is entailed in it. The article above on equivocations is excellent, because it confirms, the power of Calvinism is the power of equivocal language. Analyzing Calvinism’s equivocal use of language, logic and scripture, is the key to fully understanding Calvinism. Blessings!

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