This is the story—true story (though critics will claim it’s religious fanaticism gone further amok)—of two men. The first, the first man (there had to be a first, right?—unless somehow “the Big Bang” explosively produced a horde). To this first man we’re all connected; from him we all descend. To the second man (the God-man!), some are connected. He is the progenitor of a new creation.
Paul introduces the first man as the means through which sin entered the world, thus explaining why humanity is estranged from God and needing the reconciliation of which he’s just written: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved (from God’s wrath) by his life” (Romans 5:10).
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(5:12).
“Therefore” is the Greek dia touto, literally “on account of this”: “On account of this (of believers’ rescue from God’s wrath) . . . ” (5:1-11). With “just as” Paul begins to compare the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s grace. But he breaks it off (hence the dash ending this verse), not to pick it up until 5:18. In other words, “ Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”
Before we get there, we should note that by “sin” Paul doesn’t mean specific acts but sin as a power (see 3:10), entered the world through that first man. And death (as the consequence of sin—death as physical expiration and death as separation from God) entered the world through sin.
Thus, the Bible’s answer as to why we die, why we can’t conquer death, is sin against the Creator. Adam chose to disbelieve and disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).
Consequently, claims Paul, “ . . . death came to all men, because all sinned.” Implicitly, “all sinned” because of the Adam-connection. But what is the connection? Some commentators/theologians explain that Adam was “the federal head” of the race, thus representing us all in his sin and subsequent death. Others explain that Adam’s progeny were all present in him; thus all sinned and all die.
I’ve always favored the view that says we all get Adam’s immoral “genes”. That is, we inherit a sinful, depraved nature from our forefather and all sin and all die. (This, I just learned is known as “the Roman Catholic view” and is held by many Wesleyans and Arminians.) Whatever. Choose your view. Paul is obviously saying that we’re all connected in some way to Adam and all have sinned as he did and so death comes to us all.
” . . .for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (5:13).
Again, sin is more than acts of breaking God’s law. It’s the power of evil that “was in the world . . . before the law was given.” But sin is not marked down as a rebellious transgression against God’s law “when there is no law.”
“Nevertheless, death 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 was a pattern of the one to come” (5:14).
Despite the absence of law-breaking (because God had not yet revealed his law) death ruled from Adam’s time to Moses’ (when God issued his law). Humans sinned, but not “by breaking a command, as did Adam” (“You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden . . . lest you die”—Genesis 3:3).
Adam was not only the means of sin and death entering God’s creation, he also was “a pattern of the one to come.” By “pattern” (Greek, tupos) Paul means Adam was a prophetic symbol who pictured Jesus Christ long before he came.
But in what sense was Adam a “pattern” of Christ? Adam’s one disobedient act impacted the entire human race. Christ’s one act of obedience impacted the “new human race”—all who would believe in him
“But the gift 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! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 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. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 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” (5:15-19).
A pattern Adam may be, but his trespass and Christ’s gift, though alike in impact, are poles apart in results. Paul emphasizes this with phrases like “how much more did God’s grace and gift . . . overflow to the many!” And “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life” (5:17).
The contrast is severe.
Connected to Adam one “dies by the trespass of the one man” (that statement seems to support the belief that somehow we are guilty for Adam’s sin); one stands condemned under God’s judgment following Adam’s “one sin”; one lives under the reign of death; one stands condemned with “all men . . . as the result of one trespass”; one lives among “the many [who] were made sinners . . . through the disobedience of the one man . . . “
Connected to Christ, one receives “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ” (that is, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross); one has “the gift” that “brought justification”; one receives “God’s abundant provision of grace and . . . the gift of righteousness (that allows one to reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”; one receives “justification that brings life”; one is “made righteous”.
Actually, using “one receives” throughout my comments on 5:15-19 isn’t accurate. Often Paul uses “the many”—“the many died by the trespass of the one man”; “the many were made sinners . . . the many will be made righteous.” “ . . . the many” is merely stylistic. None are not sinners (“all have sinned”—3:23). And only “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life.”
“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20,21).
Paul finishes this paragraph by a word about the law’s purpose and about the super-abounding nature of God’s grace in Christ. The law doesn’t change the Adamic nature of humans; it only reveals humans’ sin and makes humans increasingly aware of it. This what Paul means by, “The law was added so that the trespasses might increase.” But the more sin increased (both in realization of sin and the practice of sin), God’s grace multiplied “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Despite the power of sin reigning over Adam and his progeny (all of us), God’s grace must and will reign through Christ’s righteousness to bring eternal life to many.
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It’s not fair! That’s how I first respond to this two-men story. Why should my family tree traced all the way back begin with Adam? Why should I be connected to him, so that I’m cursed with a bent toward sin, or am born with a sinful nature, or have Adam’s guilt imputed to me? Why should death reign over me because of Adam? Why should his disobedience make me a sinner? Nobody asked my opinion. Nobody recorded my vote. It’s not fair.
On the other hand, look what else God has done. He’s given me the free gift of justification. He’s given me the free gift of righteousness so that I will reign in life. He’s given me grace and the free gift of grace that abounds. Even though God’s law increases my sin, God’s grace abounds all the more. He’s given me grace that leads to eternal life. All this because of the second man in the story. I’m connected to him. Not by my works, just by grace through faith. And that’s not fair either. That’s grace.