Romans 5:12–21, Lesson 8. The Race Exists Between Two Men.

Key Notes: Was Adam a real person? Sins of early times. Corporate reality. Original sin. Individual responsibilty. Universalism. Adam's' trespass and Christ's gift. Pelagius' error of free choice.

This short passage has kept theologians scratching their heads for two millennia. The basic premise is very simple: Jesus fixed what Adam ruined. From there it gets complicated. We will speak of the “death of Adam”, universal salvation, free will, original sin, corporate identity and representative headship. The text is very important and cannot be made simple. Some of the explanations will be illustrations or analogies rather than clear statements.

An outline may help:
5:12–14 Adam and Christ are introduced; Christ is the antitype of Adam
5:15–17 Adam and Christ are contrasted—“not like” and ”much more”
5:18–21 Adam and Christ are paralleled—“as”… “so also”

The gist of the passage is 5:12,
"Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin,
and so death spread to all men because all men sinned--"
jumping to 5:18,
"Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acqaauital and life for all men. "

A key word is “one.”  It is used a dozen times, because one man, Adam, is being compared to one Man, Christ.

Is Adam a real person or is he Everyone?

His adventures, the names of his children and the age of his death are given in Gen. 2–5.
His origin anchors Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3:38.
Jesus refers to Adam’s son, Abel. Matt. 23:3.
John uses Adam’s son, Cain, as an illustration. I Jn. 3:12
Paul draws a parallel between Adam and Christ.

Biological sciences since Darwin have rejected the Biblical narratives. One book summarizing the years after evolution became popular is entitled “The Death of Adam.” (J.C. Greene, Mentor Books,’59). Christians maintain their belief in a literal Adam because their understanding of Christ, sin and salvation is bound up with it. If we think a race of humans gradually emerged from the Neanderthals, the sin of Adam is meaningless, since a climactic act of a singular individual is required. That is what the Bible affirms.

5:12   “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all men sinned. Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

..."sin is not counted when there is no law yet death reigned from Adam to Moses...." How are we to understand this? Paul previously said "For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression." (Rom.4:15). And he told the Athenians "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands men everywhere to repent...." (Acts17:30). Simply, there is sin that was implicit, based on "the law written in the heart" (Rom.2:15) that God treated with patience. There is sin that is explicit and rebellious, that will incur greater wrath. Jesus said " shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you..."--Chorazine, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Jesus also suggested greater and lesser punishments based on degree of responsibility in Luke12:47–48.

Paul does not explain the process by which sin from Adam and death spread to all men. We know that the wages of sin is death. (Rom.6:23). We understand that all men sin. (Rom. 3:9–20). But Paul says that “all men sinned” --past tense. This implies that everyone sinned when Adam sinned, that we were all there. How else can we explain that no one is free from corruption? It is the origin of sin in Adam and his descendents – “original sin” – --that Paul has described.

The idea that a distant ancestor might be hurt or benefited by someone acting many years before is certainly a Biblical concept with which we are familiar.
*Levi is credited with paying tithes to the priest, Melchizedek, hundreds of years before he was born (Heb. 7:9), in the person of Abraham, his great grandfather. Gen.14:17–21
* Simeon’s clan lost its tribal identity in Canaan because of his violence and deceit. Gen. 49:6–7
* Joseph’s faithfulness saved Jacob’s family and preserved the nation for 400 years in Egypt. Gen. 50:19–26
*The Amalekites cruelly harassed Israel in the desert. (Ex. 17:8–14). Their punishment was ordered 400 years later. I Sam.15:2–3

We live in the same reality:
* Andrew Carnegie’s fortune has benefited American education for almost a hundred years.
* Huntington’s disease can plague generations who have no choice in their parents.
* Thomas Jefferson’s illegitimate offspring still embarrass his ancestors 200 years later.
* Einstein, Oppenheimer and others invented the atomic bomb. The whole world lives under the shadow of this weapon of mass destruction, although we had nothing to do with it. It was the work of a very few. And none of us knew how the bomb would be used, but we are all held accountable as Americans.
* Arthur Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin and we are all the recipients of the blessing, although we may not know his name.
* Edison is credited with inventing the light-bulb. It has lighted the world. We cannot do without it, although we did not contribute to its invention.

We can give a name to this phenomenon: corporate reality…We are all in this together.
That is not, however, an explanation, only a description. In Romans 6 Paul will go on at some length to describe our relationship to Christ using a similar concept: union with Christ. He will not explain that either, although we will dimly perceive what he means.

Original sin:

  1. It is not sexual sin, although Psalm 51:5 speaks to the contrary: “In sin my mother conceived me.” Sexual sin was not Adam’s problem.
  2. It is not inherited; that would be passive. “All men sinned.”  That is active.
  3. It is not simple imitation. Many who followed him sinned in different ways. 5:14
  4. Is sin imputed? That would appear to be unfair (see next). The word “sin” and “not imputed” are used in the same sentence three times in Scripture (Rom. 4:8, Rom. 5:13; II Cor. 5:19). It appears that in all other cases sin is imputed.

We may object that no one should be held responsible for another person’s evil deeds. The Bible agrees. At the time of the attacks on Jerusalem by Babylon, Israel was saying that it was not fair that they should pay for the sins of their parents. The Bible teaches individual responsibility. Hear Jeremiah:

“…when… they say to you ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God,’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken Me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods…and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to Me; therefore I will hurl you out of this land….’” (Jer. 16:10–13).

Ezekiel devotes a chapter (Ezek.18) to this issue, confirming that people are punished for their own actions.
"What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine, the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sins shall die.” (Ezek.‘:2–4)
“If a man is righteous…he shall surely live, says the Lord God.” (Ezek.‘:5–9)
“If he begets a son who is a robber…his blood shall be upon himself.” (Ezek.‘:10–13)

5:15–21   In this paragraph, Adam’s trespass and Christ’s gift are contrasted. The verbs tell us what happens without explaining.

The free gift abounded much more than the trespass.

The trespass brought condemnation; the free gift brings justification.
Because of one trespass, death reigned; those who receive the free gift reign in life.
Trespass brought condemnation; an act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life to all.
One disobedience made many sinners; one obedience will make many righteous.
Law increased the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
As sin reigned in death, grace might reign in righteousness to eternal life.

Does the passage teach that all will be saved?

If grace abounds more than sin ( Gr.“superabounds” 5:21), will most people be saved? “One man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” (5:18) but " more more will those who receive the abundance of grace...reign in life" (5:17)

Certainly Jesus’ word is against universalism.

“Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk. 13:24)
“…the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:14)
“When the son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Lk.‘:8)

When Paul says, “…one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men” (Rom. 5:17), I understand him to say that one man’s act of righteousness leads to the opportunity of acquittal and life for all men.
When Paul says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” (I Cor. 15:22),  I understand that he is saying all humans will be resurrected—but not necessarily to eternal life: some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt, as Daniel says. Dan. 12:2

I believe that the abundance of grace necessary to overcome sin is qualitative, i.e. able to overcome the deadly effects of sin, rather than quantitative, i.e. 99% of the world being saved. Adam enjoyed a piece of fruit and flicked his finger at God. The Son of God had to die on a cross to counter that act of defiance. Overcoming sin is much more difficult than starting it. For example, the insidious effects of smoking a pack of cigarettes daily for 40 years may not be felt, other than the cough and the pleasurable relaxation. But getting rid of the addiction may be agonizing. And the treatments to get rid of cancer of the lung will be a crisis—painful and exhausting and more expensive than the cost of the cigarettes.

In spite of Scripture’s revelation, many of us really believe that we are responsible only for our own actions and that we can go a long way toward saving ourselves, since we have free will. That dampens divine election as well as cutting out original sin. Pelagius is the father of all such. He was a devout and moralistic teacher (~ 400 AD) who took issue with Augustine’s emphasis on original sin and predestination.

He taught that:

1. Man has freedom of choice. This gift of God ought to be used to fulfill God’s purposes….
2. Each person enters the world with a will that has no bias in favor of evil.
3. The fall of Adam has no direct effect on each human’s ability to do the right and the good….
4. Every individual is directly created by God and therefore does not inherit from Adam either evil or a tendency to evil.
5. Surely God forgives each person his or her own sin….
6. He would not hold any of us responsible for the act of someone else.
7. The only effect of Adam’s sin upon his descendants, then, is that of a bad example.
8. Progress in holiness is made by merit alone….
9 .…and God’s predestining of persons is based entirely upon His foreseeing the quality of their lives.
10. One might conclude that it is possible to live without sinning.

And Pelagius did indeed draw that conclusion. Would God have commanded, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy” (Lev.’:2) if sinlessness were not a possibility for human beings? Think of Socrates, Buddha and Gandhi. Not everyone needs salvation.
(Christian Theology. M.J. Erickson; Baker,’85, p.909–910)

This is Pelagianism, and it is a prevalent heresy. Actually it is a set of errors, as listed (1–10) above. Augustine took up the case against Pelagius and developed the doctrine of predestination. Secular educators who believe that education will make people good are Pelagians. There are various watered-down versions of sinfulness (semi-Pelagian) that are taught by Christians. I think “free will” is the key to Pelagius’ error.

An attempt at making a simple solution to the complex passage of this chapter is rather like making diagrams of the Trinity but this AaBb outline summarizes the text.

       A. Through Adam sin came into the world. Through sin death fell upon all men.
We are a part of all that Adam was. We were “in his loins” (natural headship). He is our representative (spiritual head).

        a. When we are infants we demonstrate the sin nature. When we are of age, we affirm the sin nature. Then we are guilty of our own sin as well as his, and we are lost. [Infants, however, are not morally accountable and are under the Atonement.]

  B. Through Christ’s obedience to death, life came to all.
He is our representative (spiritual head). He undid the curse.

        b. When we come of age and accept His free gift of righteousness by faith, Christ’s righteousness is put to our account and we are saved. If we refuse the gift, we are lost. (This part of the argument is implied but not stated here. It is consistent with what Scripture and Paul teaches elsewhere.)

We may protest that Adam cannot fairly be our representative. We weren’t there and had nothing to do with his rebellion and whatever bad consequences it had for the human race.
Then we must also acknowledge that Christ cannot fairly be our representative either. We weren’t there and had nothing to do with the Cross and the saving consequences it has for the human race.

Thank God for His free Gift.