14 April 2016

Romans 5:12-21

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (v. 18)

Psalm: Psalm 71:15-24


Today's passage is one that has been enormously influential in the history of Christian theology. Paul turns from his celebration of what God has done to an exploration of how and why God has done it.

Paul assumes that his readers will understand that the breach between God and humankind that Jesus died to heal was recorded in the narrative of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The Genesis account of Adam's disobedience is explained as somehow involving all humankind. The human condition was one in which sin and death had the upper hand.

God addressed that by sending a 'second Adam'. The idea of the work of Christ reflects and undoes what happened with Adam depends on a reading of the Hebrew Scriptures known as 'typology'. Adam is 'a type of Christ' - that is to say, Adam shares the features of Jesus and somehow prefigures him. It is an idea that Paul uses elsewhere (in 1 Corinthians 15 and implicitly in Philippians 2); these sorts of typologies were to be extremely important in Christian writing in the early Church. Here Paul does not discuss the detail of what Adam did; what matters is the consequence of the action of both the first and second Adam. As Adam caused alienation from God, Jesus brought about reconciliation. Adam left a legacy of sin and guilt; Jesus offers forgiveness and grace. But Paul is clear that the two are not equal. Grace is much more abundant and much more powerful than sin; the results of Adam's disobedience have been more than outweighed by Jesus' obedience.

To Ponder

  • We presume that Paul thought that Adam was an historical figure but that is not a position that many modern Christians would share. How does your own understanding of the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis affect your reading of this passage?
  • Have you heard preaching that depends on typology? To what extent do you find it a helpful way to relate the Old and New Testaments?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..