Studies in the Epistles of Paul
Christ and Adam
In the next section of this chapter, Paul makes a contrast between Adam and Christ. His question is, How can one person bring salvation to the whole world? Paul shows that in God’s way of doing things, one person can indeed have that much effect on others. “Therefore,” he begins in verse 12, and he follows it with a comparison — “just as such and such…” — but he does not finish the thought until verse 18. He first has to tell us how he reached his conclusion.
So verse 12 introduces to us what he wants to say: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…..” He’s going to say that just as sin entered the world through one person, salvation also entered the world through one person, and just as Adam brought death to all who followed him, Christ brought life to all who follow him.
Death is a consequence of sin (Genesis 2:17). Paul may be thinking of physical death, or of spiritual death. Either way, Christ brings life after death, life that reverses the results of sin.
This section of Romans 5 has been important in Christian theology because it teaches that all people are counted as sinful because Adam sinned. This is the doctrine of original sin. These verses say that Adam’s sin affected all humanity (for a summary, see Table 1). But Paul’s main point is the contrast between Adam and Christ (Table 2). In verse 12, Paul says that everyone sinned — that’s in the past tense. We all sinned when Adam sinned, because his sin counted for all his descendants. Because of what he did, we all sin and die. And since what Adam did affected everyone, it should be no surprise that what Christ (our Creator) did could also affect everyone.
Christ and Adam
In verse 13 Paul explains how he reached his conclusion: “Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, sin reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come” (verses 13-14).
People before Moses sinned, breaking unwritten laws. But Paul is connecting their sin with Adam. The people were counted as sinners not only because of their own sins, but also because of what Adam did. Adam was a pattern of a future man — Jesus. There is more contrast than similarity, as Table 2 shows.
“But the gift [of God] is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (verse 15). The grace of Christ is a total reversal of the sin of Adam. Everyone died because of Adam’s transgression, but because of Christ, everyone can live. Everyone was judged guilty because of Adam’s sin; everyone can be judged righteous through faith in Christ.
Adam brought sin and death to all humanity
his sin caused the death of all his descendants
because of Christ, grace overflows to all
judgment on Adam’s sin condemned everyone
grace brought acquittal to all, even after many sins
death reigned over all because of Adam’s sin
with grace, people reign in life through Christ
his sin condemned all people to death
one act of obedience brings life to all people
one sin made many sinners
Christ’s obedience will make many righteous
“Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification” (verse 16). The contrast is partly in the numbers: one sin produced condemnation for all people, but even after a tidal wave of sins, one man brought justification for the same people. Judgment said we deserved death, but grace said we were acceptable to God.
By being joined with Christ, we can be counted as righteous. Adam causes our condemnation, but the same principle (one person representing others) says that Jesus brings us salvation — not by our own works, but because of what Jesus did.
Paul gives another illustration in verse 17: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Because of the sin of Adam, death reigned over all humanity. It is even more certain, Paul says, that everyone can be saved through Christ, because he brings superabundant grace. Adam’s sin put us into bondage, being ruled by sin and death. Christ’s grace reverses that, moving us from being a slave to being a ruler: We reign in life through Jesus Christ. By being united with Christ, we have been brought from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life. Instead of being dominated by the results of Adam’s sin, we are dominated by the results of Christ’s righteousness.
In verse 18, Paul finishes the thought he started in verse 12: “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” Just as Adam brought guilt and death to everyone, Christ brought justification and life for everyone. The extent of God’s grace is even more astonishing than the extent of the condemnation.
Verse 19 is similar: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Through the sin of Adam, everyone was made a sinner. In a similar way, but with opposite results, all who trust in Christ are made righteous — given the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Just as we receive guilt from Adam, so also our guilt is given to Jesus, and his death counts for ours. We were represented by Jesus on the cross, just as we were represented by Adam when he sinned. The bad news is more than reversed in Jesus Christ: he has brought justification for everyone who believes. With Jesus, we are given more than Adam ever had.