15 March 2012

Romans 5:12-21

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned." (v. 12)


Examination essay titles often begin 'Compare and contrast ...', and that is what Paul is doing here with Adam and Christ. He begins a bold statement in verse 12, which he hardly dares to finish until some explanatory work has been done, and so the assertion is not completed until verse 18.

In brief he claims that in the same way as death came into the world through the disobedience of one man, Adam (Eve seems forgotten), so life has come through the obedience of one man, Christ. If the question is 'Can the actions of one individual affect the standing of all people?', Paul's answer is 'Yes'. And he uses the example of Adam bringing death to provide a foundation on which to assert that, in the same way, Christ brings life. One man's act of disobedience has affected the entire human race, because as a result death came into the world and death is a universal experience. Now, in the resurrection of Christ, death has been overturned and this too has universal consequences (see also 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). It is significant that Paul has moved from talking about 'us' and 'we' to talking about all humanity; what Christ has accomplished does not just concern believers, but is as universal in its effects as was the sin of Adam, only in this case, the effects are to bring life, rather than death. Frequently in this letter Paul uses expressions such as, "How much more?" (egRomans 11:1224). He points out the similarities between Adam and Christ; both archetypes for humanity, but also that there are vast dissimilarities, Jesus Christ was "one man" (vv. 17, 18, 19) but is also "Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 21).

Paul is aware that his readers may be thinking, 'What about Moses?' Wasn't Moses the one to rescue Israel out of the chaos of disobedience by the bringing of the law? Paul's conclusion is a heartfelt 'no'; the law given through Moses was not the answer to sin, rather it made a bad situation worse. Whereas Adam only had one command to obey, those under the law had 613 times the opportunity for disobedience, "trespass multiplied" (v. 20)! The law could not bring life, rather it contributed to Adam's "dominion of death" (v. 21); only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can eternal life be obtained.

To Ponder

Many Christians now do not believe in a literal Adam (or Eve). To what extent is such a belief important to you?

"Jesus Christ is Lord" was perhaps the earliest creed of the Christian Church - is anything more important than this for Christians today? If so, what, and why?

If the law only causes sin to abound, what regard should we pay to the law, and even to the Ten Commandments?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers' tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where Andrew is superintendent minister.