The historicity of Adam is one of the most debated issues in modern Christianity. There are many who simply do not believe Adam and Eve existed, even within the Church. Some scholars do not believe that the existence of a literal Adam and Eve is crucial to Christian doctrines of the Fall, and Redemption. William Dembski, college professor and senior Fellow with Discovery Institute Center for Science and culture, writes:
“The theodicy the defense of God’s goodness in view of the existence of evil developed in this book is certainly compatible with a literal Adam and Eve. But it does not require a literal Adam and Eve. What it does require is that a group of hominids, however many, had their loyalty to God fairly tested; moreover, on taking the test, they all failed.”[i]
Others believe that the Genesis account of the creation of man and the fall may be allegorical. Francis Collins states, “The real problem for the believer comes down to whether Genesis 2 is describing a special act of miraculous creation hat applied to a historic couple or whether this is a poetic and powerful allegory of God’s plan for the entrance of the spiritual nature (the soul and the Moral law into humanity.”[ii]
Peter Enns, author, former professor, and Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for Biologos, in an interview for Christianity Today reveals:
“To Peter Enns, a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is “at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains.” As he reads the early chapters of Genesis, he says, “The Bible itself invites a symbolic reading by using cosmic battle imagery and by drawing parallels between Adam and Israel.”[iii]
Scripture Teaches the Existence of a Literal Adam and Eve
Genesis 1 and 2 clearly describe Adam and Eve as literal historical people. Adam was created first from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7) and Eve was then created from a rib taken from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:18). They were distinct creations from the animals and were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15), and were given dominion over all living things (Genesis 1:28). Adam was commanded by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and was told that if he disobeyed he would die (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve were joined in marriage by God (Genesis 2:24) and told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).
Other Bible authors also reveal their belief in the existence of a literal Adam and Eve (Job 31:33) refers to Adam trying to cover his sin (Genesis 3:7). Paul (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47-49) writes about man (referring to Adam) being a living being and made from dust (Genesis 2:7, 3:19). In 2nd Corinthians 11:3, Paul warns the Corinthian church not to be deceived as Eve was deceived by the serpent (Genesis 3:6). Acts 17:26 states that every nation is made of one blood. This is only possible if Genesis 3:20 which says that the woman was named Eve because she was the “mother of all living,” refers to a real life Eve.
Paul affirms the sequence of creation—Adam first, then Eve in 1st Corinthians 11:8-9, 12, and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. He subsequently builds church doctrine on this basis, teaching that men are to be the spiritual leaders of the church. The creation sequence is also vital to Paul’s teaching on leadership and submission in marriage, which is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). If the creation sequence of Adam and Eve is not literal and historical, then the doctrines that Paul builds off it are meaningless even his calling Jesus “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Jesus affirms the existence of a literal Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:4-5 (Mark 10:6-8 also) when He quotes Genesis 1:2 7 and 2:24 as the institution of the first marriage. If Adam and Eve were merely allegories, then so was their marriage. This would certainly not provide Jesus with a foundation for real-marriage in His teaching since an allegory about marriage would represent something different.
Adam is also mentioned in several genealogies. In Genesis 5:1-5, it is written that Adam had sons and daughters, was 130 years old when Seth was born and died at 930 years old. These ages only have relevance if they are referring to a literal person. First Chronicles 1:1-27 traces Abraham’s genealogy beginning with Adam, and Jude 1:14 references “Enoch, as the seventh from Adam” who prophesied. Not many question the historicity of Enoch and Abraham, and yet they think Enoch and Abraham’s great, great grandfather was likely not a real person.
Luke 3:23-38 traces Jesus’s genealogy back to Adam. This is significant because Jesus was the Seed of Eve promised in Genesis 3:15 that would bruise or crush Satan’s head. Few question that Jesus was a real person, but then how can He be the promised physical Seed if His great, great grandmother is an allegory? It is clear from Scripture that the Bible’s authors and Jesus Himself believed in the existence of a literal and historical Adam and Eve.
The existence of a Literal Adam and Eve is Essential to the Christian Doctrines of Sin and Salvation
Oddly enough, atheists understand the vital relationship between the historicity of Adam, Eve, and the original sin to the purpose of Christ. On a website promoting their Christmas campaign, the organization American Atheists stated:
“Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t believe in the fable of Adam and Eve and the talking snake. You probably don’t believe that Adam literally ate a fruit, resulting in God expelling him and Eve out of the idyllic Garden of Eden. In other words, you know that’s a myth. Right so far? So if Adam and eve and the Talking snake are myths, then Original sin is also a myth right? Well think about it. Jesus’ major purpose was to save mankind from original sin. Without Original Sin, the marketing that all people are sinners and therefore need to accept Jesus falls moot. No Adam and Eve means no need for a savior. No Fall of man means no need for atonement and no need for a Redeemer. You know it.”[iv]
That atheists understand the foundational importance of a literal Adam and Eve committing original sin to the purpose of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is why they attack Genesis so much.
Paul understood this essential link between Adam and Christ and discussed it in Romans 5:12, 14-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49. Paul’s emphasis on this connection is not surprising since his audience was mainly Greeks. They did not know the Bible or have an understanding of it as the Jewish people did.
In order for them to understand their need for Christ, Paul had to take them back to Genesis so they would know what sin is (disobedience to God) and why all people are sinners (because they are descendants of Adam and Eve who committed the first sin). This allowed the Greeks to come to a realization of their sinful state and their need of salvation from their sins through Christ.
The historicity of Adam and Eve lies at the very heart of the gospel message. If Adam is not a historical person who sinned, as stated in Genesis, and we are not all sinners as a result, then Jesus died for nothing. A.B. Caneday, professor of New Testament Studies and biblical theology at Northwestern College, writes:
“If Paul holds and advocates wrong beliefs concerning Adam’s origin and historicity, how is he to be trusted doctrinally, since the doctrines he affirms and teaches are entirely inseparable from biblically stated origins and historicity. The one man, Adam, as a historical person is integral both to humanity’s impaired dominion and subjection to death and sin bound up in his disobedience and to the proclamation of God’s gracious gift of righteousness that restores dominion in life through obedience of one man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).[v]
Scripture makes it clear that the existence of a literal Adam and Eve is foundational and essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The debate surrounding the historicity of Adam and Eve is not only an attack on the truthfulness and authority of Genesis but also an attack on the gospel and the clarity, truthfulness, and authority of all of God’s Word.
Can the Bible’s theology be true if the historical events on which the theology is based are false? The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall. Scripture is clear that Adam and Eve are literal, historical people. This fact is important to the truthfulness and authority of Genesis, the gospel, and all of Scripture.
[i] William Dembski, The End of Christianity (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing).
[ii] Collins, The Language of God, p.207
[iii] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (June, 2011), p. 26
[v] A.B. Caneday, “the Language of god and Adam’s Genesis and Historicity in Paul’s Gospel, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15 (2011), p. 26-59.
Every person is affected by Adam’s disobedience; the effects of which are felt everyday because every man, woman, and child is born into original sin, and has thus received a sin nature. Only Christ through His atoning sacrifice can justify His people by removing the stain of sin and death through His death and resurrection. This paper will explore Romans 5:12-21.
The immediate context of Romans 5:12-17 is Romans 5:1-11 where Paul completes his case that God justifies sinners on the basis of faith alone, and then turns to counter the notion that although believers receive salvation by faith, they will reserve it by good works. He argues that they are bound eternally to Jesus Christ, preserved by his power and not by human effort (Isa. 11:5; Ps. 36:5; Lam. 3:23; Eph. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 10:23). For the Christian, the evidences of that eternal tie are: 1) his peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2) his standing in grace (v.2a); 3) his hope of glory (vv.2b-5a); 4) his receiving of divine love (vv.5b-8); 5) his certain escape of divine wrath (vv.9-10); and 6) his joy in the Lord (v.11). Romans 5:12-21 is one of the most enigmatic passages in the entire book, Paul sets out to show how one man’s death can provide salvation for many. To prove his point, he uses Adam to establish the principle that it is possible for one man’s actions to inexorably affect many people.
The book of Romans takes the form of a theological treatise framed by an epistolary opening (1:1-17) and closing (15:14-16:27). The opening contains the usual prescript (1:1-7) and thanksgiving (1:8-15) and is concluded with a transitional statement of the theme of the letter: the gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness, a righteousness that can be experienced only by faith (1:16-17). In Romans 1:18-4:25 Paul sets forth the gospel as the righteousness of God by faith as the theme. Paul gives this theme by explaining why it was necessary for God to manifest his righteousness and why humans can experience this righteousness only by faith. Sin, Paul affirms, has gained a stranglehold on all people and only an act of God, experienced as a free gift through faith, can break that stranglehold (1:18-3:20). In Romans 5:1-8:39 Paul sets forth the gospel as the power of God or salvation. Romans 9:1-11:36 addresses the gospel and Israel. In Romans 12:1-15:13 Paul explains the gospel and the transformation of life. Romans 15:14-16:27 is the conclusion of the book of Romans. The author of Romans is Paul (Romans 1:1).
Commentary on Romans 5:12-24
Explanation of Romans 5:12
The phrase “therefore” in Romans 5:12 connects what follows with what has been declared namely, that believers have been reconciled to God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (vv.8-11). Paul begins the analogy of Christ with Adam, the common principle being that, in each case, a far-reaching effect on countless others was generated through one man.
The phrase “just as sin came” refers not to a particular sin, but to the inherent propensity to sin that entered the human realm whereby men became sinners by nature. Adam passed to all his descendants the inherent sinful nature he possessed because of his first disobedience. That nature is present from the moment of conception (Ps. 51:5), making it impossible for man to live in a way that pleases God. Satan, the father of sin (1 John 3:8), first brought temptation to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7).
Genesis 3 is important to Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-21, because Adam was much more than the first husband; he was the first human. Adam stood as the head of the human race. There was much more to Adam’s original sin than meets the eye. It is abundantly clear that this one man, Adam, brought sin to the human race by his disobedience. One sin, by one man, made the entire world guilty of sin.
The phrase “through one man” emphasizes that when Adam sinned, all mankind sinned in his loins (Rom. 5:18; Heb. 7:7-10). Since his sin transformed his inner nature and brought spiritual death and depravity, that sinful nature would be passed on seminally to his posterity as well (Ps. 51:5). Paul with the phrase, sin came into the world does not speak of sins (plural), but of sin, (singular). In this sense, sin does not represent a particular unrighteous act but rather the inherent propensity to unrighteousness. It was not the many sinful acts that Adam eventually committed, but the indwelling sin nature that he came to possess because of his first disobedience that he passed on to his posterity. Just as Adam bequeathed his physical nature to his posterity, he also bequeathed to them his spiritual nature, which henceforth was characterized and dominated by sin.
God made man a procreative race, and when they procreate they pass on to their children, and to their grand children their own nature—physical, psychological, and spiritual. Mankind is a single entity, continuing a divinely ordered solidarity. Adam represents the entire human race that is descended from him, no matter how many subgroups there may be. Therefore when Adam sinned, all mankind sinned, and because his first sin transformed his inner nature, that [now depraved] nature was also transmitted to his posterity. Because he became spiritually polluted, all his descendants would be polluted in the same way. That pollution has, in fact, accumulated and intensified throughout the age of human history. Instead of evolving, as humanists insist, man has devolved, degenerating into greater and greater sinfulness.
Adam was not originally subjected to death, but through his sin it became a grim certainty for him and his posterity. Death has three distinct manifestations: 1) spiritual death or separation from God (Eph. 2:1-2; 4:18); 2) physical death (Heb. 9:27); and 3) eternal death (also called the second death), which includes not only eternal separation from God, but eternal torment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Sin entered the world through one man, so also death, the consequence of sin, entered the world through that one man’s sin.
The phrase “because all sinned” means that because all humanity existed in the loins of Adam and have through procreation inherited his fallenness and depravity, it can be said that all sinned in him. Therefore, all humans are not sinners because they sin, but rather they sin because they are sinners.
There are two possible exegetical answers to the phrase “death spread to all men” that have been proposed throughout church history. The first explanation that has been offered would be a case of imitation (All sinned like Adam), and the second a case of participation (all sinned in and with Adam). The first explanation is associated with Pelagius, the early fifth-century British monk, who denied original sin, taught a form of self-salvation, and was opposed by Augustine. In Pelagius’ view Adam was simply the first sinner, and everybody ever since has followed his bad example. Moreover, Paul’s actual language could justly be understood in this way. His two words all sinned (pantes hemarton) are precisely those which he has used in 3:23 when affirming that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.
As John Murray has written, verse 12 of itself is compatible with a Pelagian interpretation, and if Paul had entertained the Pelagian view he could have stated it admirable well in these terms. If Paul meant that death passed upon all because all men were guilty of actual transgression, this is the way he would have said it. At least no more suitable way could be considered.’
Consequently, many have held this position, not least because of the difficulties inherent in the alternative view. For example, C.K. Barret writes straightforwardly: ‘That is, all men sin (3:23), and all men die because they sin.’ Other scholars make much of the use of Adam in the literature of Judaism. 2 Esdras: ‘A grain of evil seed was sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning, and how much wickedness that it brought forth unto this time!’ (2 Esdras 7:118.) ‘In the light of contemporary and near contemporary Jewish thoughts,’ writes John Ziesler ‘it is more likely that Adam is Everyman (and Everywoman), so that to say that Adam sinned is a way of saying that everybody sins. Everyone is his or her own Adam.’ Others, wanting to preserve a stronger link between Adam’s sin and the sinning of his posterity, have stressed the transmission of his depraved nature to them: “If they sinned, their sin was due in part to tendencies inherited from Adam.”
The phrase “all sin” refers to the sins all people have themselves committed after they were born. Such personal sinning has been going on throughout the centuries. This interpretation gives to the word “sinned” the meaning it has everywhere else in Paul’s epistles. Paul teaches that death spread to all men because all sinned, which means that death was transmitted to all men, without exception. Sinned translates a Greek aroist tense, indicating that at one point in time all men sinned. That, of course, was the time that Adam first sinned. His sin became mankind’s sin, because all mankind were in his loins
Explanation of Romans 5:13
The phrase “sin is not counted” means that though all men were regarded as sinners (Rom. 5:12), because there was no explicit list of commands, there was no strict accounting of their specific violations. “Where there is no law” refers to the period from Adam to Moses, when God had not yet given the Mosaic Law.
Explanation of Romans 5:14
“Yet death reigned” means that even without the law, death was universal. All men from Adam to Moses were subject of death, not because of their acts against the Mosaic Law (which they had not been given), but because of their own inherited sinful nature. “Of Adam” refers to those who had no specific revelation as did Adam (Gen. 2:16-17) or those who had the Mosaic Law (Rom. 5:13), but nevertheless sinned against the holiness of God, (i.e., those who “sinned without the law” (2:12).
“A type of the one to come” refers to Adam and Christ who were similar in that their acts affected many others. The point here is mainly one of contrast, in the sense that Christ’s influence for good far outweighs Adam’s effectiveness for evil: the free gift is “not like the trespass. This phrase serves as a transition from the apostle’s discussion of the transference of Adam’s sin to the crediting of Christ’s righteousness.
Explanation of Romans 5:15
Paul uses the word “many” with two distinct meanings in v.15, just as he will the word “all” in v.18. He has already established that all men– without exception– bear the guilt of sin and are therefore subject to death (v.12).
The apostle uses the word “many” in a twofold sense. In its first use (“the many died”) it indicates all of Adam’s physical descendants. At the close of that same verse (“overflow to the many”) it indicates all those who belong to Christ. In Romans 5:12 has shown that Adam was responsible for bringing into the world two evils: sin and death. The apostle deals with both of these in turn: Adam’s sin or trespasses (vs. 15-16), and with death (vs. 1). He understands them as being intimately related, and therefore at times mentions both in one breathe.
It is understandable that Paul can say that by reason of Adam’s trespasses the many died. These may are those designated in Romans 5:12 as “all mankind” In connection with the work of God in Christ, for God’s children this evil has been more than canceled out. For them God’s grace and his gift of salvation has changed death into it’s very opposite. Death became a gain (Phil. 1:21). Moreover as to sin, when grace entered, it more than merely returned man to his former state of innocence, it bestowed on him righteousness (verse 1), and life (verse 18), that is, everlasting life (verse 21). The phrase “much more” means that Christ’s one act of redemption was immeasurable, greater than Adam’s one act of condemnation.
Explanation of Roman 5:16
“The free gift” refers to salvation by grace. Judgment following one trespass refers back to Romans 5:12. Condemnation is the divine guilty verdict, and is the opposite of justification. Many trespasses refers to the fact that Adam brought upon all men the condemnation for only one offense—his willful act of disobedience. Christ, however, delivers the elect from condemnation of many offenses.
Again, in Adam’s case a single sin was involved, a sin that resulted in condemnation. In Adam, all human beings are sinners in the sense they are accounted guilty for his sin. Christ, by his work of redemption, however, made provision for the forgiveness not only of that one sin but also of all those that followed from it. His sacrifice sufficed for them all, and in fact was efficacious for all the sins committed by those who, by sovereign grace, were to place their trust in him. For them condemnation was replaced by justification.
Explanation of Romans 5:17
“Death reigned” means that Adam’s sin brought universal death—exactly opposite the result he expected and Satan had promised: “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Christ’s sacrifice brought salvation to those who believe.
“Reign in life” means unlike Adam’s act, Christ’s act has–and will–accomplish exactly what he intended (Phil 1:6): spiritual life (Eph. 2:5). To reign in life through Christ is to have power over sin. Paul says this in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.“ Believers know from experience as well as from Scripture that they are still plagued with sin, clothed in the sinful rages of the old self (Eph. 4:22). Sin is no longer the natural master of the believer. In Christ the believer is no longer a victim of sin but victors over sin (1 Cor. 15:57).
Explanation of Romans 5:18
“Condemnation” refers back to v.16. One act of righteousness is not a reference to a single event, but generally to Christ’s obedience (v.19; Luke 2:49; John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38), culminating in the greatest demonstration of that obedience, death on a cross (Phil. 2:8).
Justification for all men does not mean that all men will be saved; salvation is only for those who exercise faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22, 28, 4:5, 13). Rather, like the word “many” in 5:15, Paul is using “all” with two different meanings for the sake of parallelism, a common practice in the Hebrew Old Testament.
All those who will be made alive are “those who are Christ’s,” that is, those who belong to him. Through this answer proves that when Paul uses the expression “all” or “all men” in connection with those who are (or will be) saved, this “all” or “all men” must not be interpreted in the absolute or unlimited sense. This still leaves question answered, namely, “Why does Paul use this strong expression?” To answer this one needs to read the entire epistle. It will then become clear that– among other things– Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of the Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles. Paul emphasizes here that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, as it concerns salvation. All men are sinners before God, all are in need of salvation. The way to be saved is the same for everyone.
Paul emphasizes the fact all are sinners before God in order to demonstrate how it is that one trespass resulted in condemnation for all, but that one act of righteousness resulted in justification issuing in life. The point Paul makes regarding this shows that justification not merely overturns the verdict of guilty, setting aside the sentence of doom, but also opens the gate to eternal life.
Explanation of Romans 5:19
“Made righteous” refers to one’s legal status before God, and not an actual change in character. Since Paul is contrasting justification and condemnation throughout this passage, he has not yet introduced the doctrine of sanctification (chs. 6-8) which deals with the actual transformation of the sinner as a result of redemption.
Explanation of Romans 5:20
Although the Mosaic Law is not flawed (Rom. 7:12), its presence caused man’s sin to increase (7:8-11). Thus it made men more aware of their own sinfulness and inability to keep God’s perfect standard (7:7; Gal. 3:21-22), it also served as a tutor to drive them to Christ (Gal. 3:24).
Paul has been speaking about Adam and Christ, type and antitype. Adam transgressed a specific command, and this happened before the promulgation of Sinai’s law. At Sinai the Mosaic Law came in besides “in order that the trespass might increase.” This was the divine intention in giving this law.
This cannot mean that God became the cause of sin’s increase. It means that God’s will and purpose that in light of his demand of perfect love man’s consciousness of sin might become sharpened. A vague awareness of the fact that all is not well with him will not drive a man to the Savior, so the law acts as a magnifying glass, and causes sin to stand out in all its heinousness and ramifications. Moreover, this increase in the knowledge of sin is very necessary. It will prevent a person from imagining that in his/her own power he/she can overcome sin. The more he/she, in light of God’s law, begins to see his own sinfulness and weakness, the more he/she will thank God for the manifestation of His grace in Jesus Christ. The result is where sin increases, grace increases also.
Explanation of Romans 5:21
Romans 5:21 is the final summary of the analogy of Adam and Christ. Here, Paul teaches the sin of Adam viewed as the representative of mankind whose guilt, due to the solidarity of the human race, is imputed to all of mankind, a fact to which all the person sins of human beings bear witness. When Adam fell, it seems as if sin was about to triumph completely. However, according to God’ plan, grace intervened, and in the case of all God’s children, triumphed over sin. Sin brought condemnation and death; first of all physical death, but also spiritual and eternal death. Sin and Death are personified: Sin being, as it were, the sovereign; Death, his Viceroy. For the moment it seemed as if Sin would be able to claim the victory. Grace meet sin head-on and defeats it. Righteousness is not a righteousness provided by man but a righteousness imputed by God. It was through this righteousness that grace triumphed over sin.
When the sinner is clothed with the righteousness provided by God, he is on his way to everlasting life (Romans 5:18), the glorious life in the new heaven and earth; a life which, in principle, is given to him even here and now. Apart from the immeasurable marvelous sacrifice of “Jesus Christ our Lord,” a sacrifice revealing a love which, in all its dimensions, surpasses all human understanding, grace would never have been able to conquer sin and death. The unifying thought, that ties together the seven concepts in Romans 5:21 is this, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” namely, the grace embodied in the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and revealed to mankind through Him.
Theological Point: Adam as a historical person
The issue of whether Adam and Eve are historical persons is a vital issue because it has bearing on the believer’s biblical and theological understanding of God, the Bible, creation, marriage, sin, and salvation. The consequence of Adam and Eve not being historical persons is that the creation record in Genesis is undermined, the institution of marriage (which God established) defamed, and the reason Jesus came to die for sin torn from the biblical record. Those who are advocate that Adam and Eve are not historical persons minimize God’s Word which teaches that Adam and Eve. The issue of Adam and Eve is important, not only because ideas have consequences, but because the foundation upon which the scientists built their argument. A believer who believes in a biblical worldview understands that Adam and Eve are historical persons.
Ideas have consequences, and those consequences are evidenced in how one understands Genesis 1-3. A literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 will help the believer to have a proper understanding of God, His Word, and the person and work of Jesus Christ. If one takes Genesis 1-3 any way other than literally, then it will result in a faulty understanding of the Bible and in asking the wrong questions, such as the scientists are asking about whether Adam and Eve are real persons. Understanding Adam and Eve as historical persons is important because Paul explains in Romans 5:12-21 that Adam and Eve were, in fact, real persons.
Theological Point: Jesus the Representative Head of His Elect People
At the dawn of human history, Adam stood as the representative head of all people who would ever live. By one act of disobedience, he brought sin, death, and condemnation to the human race (5:12). Christ, on the other hand, stood as the representative of another race of people—a chosen race (1 Peter 2:9). In His one act of obedience, He prepared a “free gift” (v.15) that brings justification (v.16) for His people.
According to Paul, Jesus stood in the place of all God’s chosen race. Adam represented all mankind; Christ represented all the elect. If Christ had died for all men, then justification and life would accrue to all men. This is defined as universalism, the teaching that all men eventually will be saved. Christ died specifically and exclusively for all who would actually receive His righteousness. On the basis of the actions of “one,’ ‘many” are constituted either sinners or righteous. Adam is the representative head as well as the physical root of all, and all sinned and fell when he sinned. In contrast, ‘by the one man’s obedience’, those whom Christ represents are “made righteous” in Him. Christ is the representative Head, as well as the spiritual root of the new humanity. Through His resurrection they are given new birth and a living hope (1 Peter. 1:3; Eph. 2:1-10). Either the atonement is limited in its effect—that is, Christ died for all, but not all are saved—or it is limited in its scope: Christ did not die for all, but all for whom He died are saved. That is to say, either the atonement is unlimited/limited—unlimited extent/limited effect—or limited/unlimited—limited extent/unlimited effect. The latter is true; it had a limited extent with an unlimited effect. There is an unlimited application of the limited atonement of Christ. There is an unlimited application of the limited atonement of Christ. His one act of obedience accomplished all that He intended—the salvation of God’s elect.
Application for Churches
Original sin or “inherited guilt” means that all member of the human race were represented by Adam in the time of testing in the Garden of Eden. As the representative of mankind, Adam sinned, and God counted all of humanity guilty as well as Adam. God counted Adam’s guilt as belonging to man, and since God is the ultimate judge of all things in the universe, and since his thoughts are always true, Adam’s guilt does, in fact, belong to man. God rightly imputed Adam’s guilt to mankind.
Original sin and imputation are important to the local Church because these theological truths provide a biblical and theological framework, in which the Church can proclaim the Gospel to the nations. Original sin and imputation are important to the proclamation of the Gospel, because it challenges the hearers, on one hand, to deal with their sin by taking responsibility of it, and to realize that the source of forgiveness is not themselves, but another—Jesus Christ who alone is righteous. Imputation and original sin are fundamental aspects of the Gospel, and therefore affect the ministry of the local church as it seeks to minister to people who inherited Adam’s guilt but now have received the righteousness of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.
Application for individual believers
Evangelicals of all persuasions believe that man receives a sinful disposition, or a tendency to sin, as an inheritance from Adam. In addition to the legal guilt that God imputes to man because of Adam’s sin; man inherits a sinful nature because of Adam. This inherited nature is called original sin.
The imputation of Adam’s guilt to man is important because it confirms that man in his nature lacks spiritual good before God, which means in man’s actions are totally unable to do spiritual good before God. This is extremely uncomfortable for the postmodern men to hear because they view themselves as sovereign. The fact is that in terms of man’s legal standing before God any one sin– even what may seem like a very small sin– makes one legally guilty before God, and thus is worthy of eternal punishment. Adam and Even learned this in the Garden of Eden, where God told them that one act of disobedience would result in death (Gen. 2:17). Paul affirmed this in Romans 5:16, “And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” This one sin made Adam and Even sinners before God, no longer able to stand in his holy presence.
Scripture affirms the universal sinfulness of mankind. “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3) David says, “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:2). In the New Testament, Paul has an extensive argument in Romans 1:18-3:20 showing that all people, both Jews and Greek, stand guilty before god. He says, “What then? Are we Jewsany better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;” (Rom. 3:9-10). He is certain that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23). James, the Lord’ brother, admits, “for we all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2), and if he, as a leader and an apostle in the early church, could admit that he made many mistakes, then the believer should also be willing to admit that. John the beloved disciple said: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10). The true measure of man’s responsibility and guilt is not man’s ability to obey God, but rather the absolute perfection of God’s moral law and His own holiness (which is reflected in that law). “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).
When a Christian sins, his or her legal standing before God is unchanged. He or she is still forgiven, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Salvation is not based on the merits of man, but is a free gift of God (Rom. 6:23), and Christ’ death paid for all of man’s sins– past, present, and future— Christ died “for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), without distinction. In theologically terms, the believer keeps his/her justification.
Moreover, believers are still children of God and still retain membership in God’s family. John teaches this in 1st John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.“, and 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’ children now” The fact that the believer has sin remaining in their lives does not mean that they lose their status as God’s children. In theological terms, believers keep their adoption.
When believers sin, even though God does not cease to love them, He is displeased with them. Paul tells believers that it is possible for Christians to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30); when believers sin, they cause Him sorrow and He is displeased with them. The author of Hebrews reminds believers that “The Lord disciplines him who he loves” (Heb. 12:6), and that “the Father of spirits disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:9-10). When believers disobey God, God the Father is grieved, much as an earthly father is grieved with his children’s disobedience, and he disciplines us.
Hebrews 12, together with many historical examples in Scripture, shows that God’s fatherly displeasure often leads to discipline in the believers Christian lives: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Regarding the need for regular confession and repentance of sin, Jesus reminds believers that they are to pray each day, “Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:12).
When believers sin as Christians, it is not only their personal relationship with God that is disrupted. Their Christian life and fruitfulness in ministry are also damaged. Jesus warns believers, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). When believers stray from fellowship with Christ because of sin in their lives, they diminish the degree to which they are abiding in Christ.
The New Testament writers have much to say about the destructive consequences of sin in the lives of believers. In fact, many sections of the epistles are taken up with rebuking and discouraging Christians from sin that they are committing. Paul says that if Christians yield themselves to sin, they increasingly become “slaves” of sin (Rom. 6:16), whereas God wants Christians to progress upward on a path of ever-increasing righteousness in life. If the believer’s goal is to grow in increasing fullness of life until the day they die and pass into the presence of God in heaven, to sin is to do an about-face and begin to walk downhill away from the goal of the likeness to God; it is to go in a direction that “leads to death” (Rom. 6:16) and eternal separation from God, the direction from which the believer was rescued when they became Christians. Peter says that sinful desires that remain in the believers hearts “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11)- the military language correctly translates Peter’s expression and conveys the imagery of that sinful desires within believers are like soldiers in battle and their target is the spiritual well-being of the people of God. To give in to such sinful desires, to nurture and cherish them in one’s hearts, is to give food, shelter, and welcome to the enemy’ troops. If the believer yields to the desires that “wage war” against their souls, they will inevitable feel loss of spiritual strength, some diminution of spiritual power and loss of effectiveness in the work of God’s Kingdom.
Understanding Romans 5:12-21 has huge implications for the believer’s understanding of sin, redemption, and the Christian life. Pastors, teachers and those involved in Christian ministry need to understand Adam as a historical person because this affects how they will minister to people who like themselves have been affected by Adam’s disobedience, and thus received a sin nature. Only Christ can take what is meant for evil, and turn it around for His glory, and make all things new.
In Romans 5:12-21 Paul teaches that Adam’s disobedience affects everyone ever born, but Christ’s ministry of reconciliation grants man the ability to be reconciled to God. While death has reigned; the death and resurrection of Jesus is infinitely greater than death. The death and resurrection of Jesus defeated death and now He (Jesus) grants His people a hope rooted in Himself, for His glory to proclaim to the nations that they may dwell in the refuge of His joy forever.
 John Murray, The Epistle to The Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1959), 182.
 C.K. Barret, The Epistle to The Romans (New York, Harpercollins, 1989), 11.
 John Ziesler, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (London, Scm Press, 1993), 147.
 Arthur Headlam, William Sanday, A Critical And Exegetical Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans
(Montana, Kessinger Press, 2007), 134.
 William Hendriksen, Romans (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980), 180.
 Atonement in The Pauline Corpus “The Scandal of the Cross” by Richard Gaffin in The Glory of the Atonement, Edited Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James III, (Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 2004), 149.