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Laura Paksy-Kiss

From Romans 5:12-21 explain the use and significance


of the Adam/Christ parallel.

“The design of this section is the illustration of the doctrine of the justification of sinners on
the ground of the righteousness of Christ, by a reference to the condemnation of men for the sin of
Adam.”1 Or in more simple terms, this portion of the Scripture underlines that there is a link
between Adam, the first man and Christ, the second Adam, or the last Adam, Son of Man and they
both have an impact on the rest of humanity. In this essay I will focus upon the parallel between
Adam and Christ, on the similarities and differences between them and upon their impact on
humanity and I will argue for the vital significance of this parallel..
By this verses, Paul “has led us both down into the depths of human depravity and up into
the heights of divine mercy.”2

1A brief commentary on Romans 5:12-21

We will divide this section in three parts and let me use Stott to show the reason why: “The
text divides itself naturally into three short paragraphs, in each of which Adam and Christ are
related to each other, although with significant differences. First (12-14), Adam and Christ are
introduced, Adam as responsible for sin and death, and as 'a pattern of the one to come' (14), who is
Christ. Secondly (15-17), Adam and Christ are contrasted. In each of these three verses the work of
Christ is said to be either 'not like' Adam's or 'much more' successful than his. Thirdly (18-21),
Adam and Christ are compared. The structure now (in 18, 19 and 21) is 'just as...so also'. For
through the one man's one deed (Adam's disobedience or Christ's obedience) the many have been
either cursed or blessed.”3

a. Adam and Christ are introduced (12-14)

Paul in this section continues an argument started earlier, so he is ready to draw the
conclusion, his opening word is “therefore”. He underlines that death is not something normal to
mankind. It is an unnatural event, is the consequence of sin, that's why we feel it like a heavy
burden what terrifies most of us. Many philosophers and thinkers uphold the view, that Christianity
powered up the fear from death, not just because of the natural concern of the unknown and
unfamiliar things, but because it made death the wages of sin4 and made it even more unbearable
and dreadful, but they are forgetting that Christianity is standing alone in providing a way out of it
and giving the assurance of eternal life in body and soul as well, life as we know it, to those who
accept it.
Sin entered in the world through one man and one sin, one act of disobedience. Sin is an

1Hodge, p.142
2Stott, p. 148
3Stott, p.148
4Romans 6:23
intrusion in the world, and so is death. The pathway or gate on what sin entered in the world was a
man, and through sin death entered in the world and made man mortal. “We are like seeds that sown
in mortality, but will be raised in immortality.”5
In verse 12 Adam is not even mentioned, he is just one man. But this one man brought death
to all man. With Adam's fall the whole mankind fell and everybody is a sinner. How we know that?
We know that because everybody dies. Even those who had no opportunity to make any actual sin,
for example the new-born babies. Let's just leave this subject open for now and we will come back
to it in the second part of this essay (2.a.).
We have to ask the question than, what is sin? Is a violation of God's law. We can conclude
then, that if is no law, it is no sin, and if it is no sin, it's no death. But we can clearly see, that it was
death even in the time between Adam and Moses, who received the written Law, so it had to be sin
and according to this logic, we have to agree, that it had to be law as well, law written in the hearts.6
Paul ends this section by stating, that Adam is a pattern, a type, a prototype, a counterpart of
the one to come. “One is the figure of the other. There is a first Adam and there is a last Adam.
There is a first man and there is a second. Such is the grace of God, that even the ruin of man
teaches us about Christ, the Saviour of sinners!”7

b. Adam and Christ are contrasted (15-17)

Between the two Adams there is a parallel, but the resemblances are making the differences
even more striking. “What Adam did was destructive; what Jesus does is redemptive. (…) Death is
something we earned; salvation is something we receive as a gift.” 8 Although all mankind is mortal
because of the sin and disobedience of one man, the first Adam, the impact of the second Adam is
much greater: we get life, eternal life in God's presence by Jesus Christ., by His righteousness and
perfect obedience.
As Olyott puts it: “Our ruin in Adam is great. Our salvation in Christ is greater. (…) It is not
greater in number (…). it is greater in benefit. Christ's power to save exceeds Adam's power to ruin,
and we receive more blessings in him than we lost at the Fall. (…) Although there had been many
repetitions of that first sin, he reversed the sentence, and caused many sinners to be brought into a
right relationship with God. (…) Adam ruins all whom he represents. Christ brings justification of
life to all he represents.”9
We have to be careful in this part with the word “many”. Paul uses this word in both cases:
many died by the trespass of the one man; and grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one
man overflow to the many. We know, that not many, but everybody dies, but we also know that not
everybody is saved, but many are, so Paul is not teaching here that those who are dying are equal in
number with those who will be saved and given life, because that would mean that everybody will
be saved, because everybody dies10.
“The differences concern the nature of the two actions (15) 11, their immediate results12 (16),
and their ultimate effects (17)13.”

cAdam and Christ are compared (18-21)


ci

5Sproul, p.105
6Romans 2:15
7Olyott, p.70
8Sproul, p.107
9Olyott, pp. 70-71
10Paul here is not arguing for universalism, that “the life won by Christ will be as universal as the death caused by
Adam” – Stott, p. 158
11 Adam's act was a fall, a trespass, a self assertion, Christ's gift was an act of self-sacrifice.
12“In the case of Adam God's judgment brought condemnation; in the case of Christ God's gift brought justification
(16b). The contrast is absolute. Yet there is more antithesis than the two words 'condemnation' and justification'.
It is that God's judgment followed one sin, whereas God's gift followed many trespasses.” - Stott, pp. 154-155
13The end result of their action is death on the one hand and life on the other hand.
Paul brought our attention first to the contrast between Adam and Christ, so we can keep in
mind their antithesis while we are looking to the similarities. One act of one man determined the
destiny of many. In this sense Adam is the first Adam and Christ is the Second Adam. Through the
first Adam we are all sinners and we are condemned, through the second Adam we are made
righteous and we are justified. The first one is a trespass through disobedience, the second a gift
through obedience. “Look at yourself in Adam; though you had done nothing you were declared a
sinner. Look at yourself in Christ; and see that, though you have done nothing, you are declared to
be righteous. That is the parallel.”14 But more about this later on in this essay.
We have to take a look at the law, what was given so that the trespass might increase. Here
Paul is not saying, that the law made the world worse and increased sin. The law is holy, so it can
not be the cause of sin. The law shows sin in it's real dimension. The demands and expectations are
now crystal clear, written in black and white, so everybody can understand it and be without excuse.
Sin abounded. Not because or as a consequence of the law, but the law was the measure what
showed the real weight of sin and this way, the contrast between sin and grace is more obvious. Sin
increased and grace abounded all the more. It was a reign of sin and death but now, for us,
Christians, grace is reigning.

2An explanation of the usage and significance


3of the Adam/Christ parallel.

a. The one man Adam is the source of all sin and death, our condemnation

Why is this passage important and why is the parallel so significant for us? Let me answer
with the words of Lloyd-Jones:
“What are the subjects that are dealt with in this vital section? First, the doctrine of Original
Sin. (…) Secondly, it is a most important passage with reference to the historicity of the first three
chapters of the Book of Genesis. (…) Thirdly, it is a most important section in terms of what is
known as the 'Covenant Theory' which teaches that God always deals with man through a covenant,
through an agreement. (…) For these reasons – the doctrine of original sin, the historicity of
Genesis covenant theology – it is plain that this section of the Epistle is absolutely vital to a true
understanding of the doctrine of redemption. (…) Paul seems to stand back and take a grand view
of the whole panorama of Redemption. There we were in Adam; here we are in Christ.”15
So we will deal first of all with the problem of the original sin and how was transmitted to
all mankind, and this will shed light on the question of Adam's headship and secondly with the
historic existence of Adam and the importance of this in the light of the life and work of Jesus
Christ.
“The relationship between Adam's act of disobedience and subsequent human sinning is the
question of original sin, a phrase which has two related meanings. First, it simply refers to Adam's
sin in Eden, the original sin. Secondly, the Bible teaches that Adam's sin involved the entire human
race.”16
So, Adam was the first man who ever sinned, and fell, but this was not only his fall, it was
The Fall, through him the entire human race is considered to be sinner and we are condemned as
such and earned our mortality. Through Adam's sin death begun his reign on mankind. “The words
'and death by sin' shows clearly that he is speaking by original sin; for if death comes by sin, then
also the little children have sinned who die. So this must not be understood in the sense of actual
sin.”17 We can conclude than, that we somehow inherit Adam' sinful nature.
In a more simplistic way, we can present 3 main views about the transmission of the original
sin from Adam to all of us and I won't talk about the theories that denies totally or in part that there
14Lloyd-Jones, p.247
15Lloyd-Jones, pp. 181-182
16Milne, p.141
17Luther, p.77
is a connection between Adam's sin and the sinfulness of the human race18.
−The realistic theory, holds the view, that we made the disobedient deed in Adam, we were
participating in him, all men actually sinned in and with Adam. “Individual men are not separate
substances, but manifestations of the same substance; they are numerically one. This universal
human nature became corrupt and guilty in Adam, and consequently every individualization of it in
the descendants of Adam is also corrupt and guilty from the very beginning of its existence.” 19 Sin
is communicated by the process of birth. “Realism interprets Paul's reference in Romans 5:12 in a
literal manner. 'All sinned in Adam' means that all were present and involved when Adam sinned:
universal generic human nature, which encompasses the individual, personal natures of everyone,
was present in some way 'in Adam', so that when he sinned every man and woman sinned with
him”.20
−The federal view, or as Berkhof names it the doctrine of the covenant of works21 involves
immediate imputation and implies that Adam represented his descendants as the natural head of
them, and that of the representative head of the entire human race in the covenant of works. “The
ground of this imputation is the union between Adam and his posterity. This union is not a
mysterious identity of person, but, 1.'Natural, as he is the father, and we are the children. 2.Political
and forensic, as he was the representative head and chief of the whole human race. The foundation,
therefore, of imputation is not only the natural connection which exists between us and Adam, since
in that case all his sins might imputed to us, but mainly the moral and federal, in virtue of which
God entered into covenant with him as our head.'” - Hodge cites Turrettin22
−The theory of mediate imputation. This theory denies the direct imputation of Adam's sin to his
descendants, but they derive their innate corruption from him. “They are not born corrupt because
they are guilty in Adam, but they are considered guilty because they are corrupt. Their condition is
not based on their legal status, but their legal status on their condition.”23
While the realistic and federal view doesn't necessarily exclude each other, we have to
consider the federal view of much importance. If the federal headship is not working in Adam's
case, it is not working in the case of Jesus either.

b. The one man Jesus Christ is the source of all righteousness and life, justification.

To have a better understanding of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we should take a look
to the penalty of sin. Berkhof is talking about natural and positive penalties. Natural punishments
are those, which derives as natural and necessary consequences of sin and man is not saved from
those consequences by repentance and forgiveness. The positive penalties of sin are shown often in
the Bible, they are clearly stipulated punishments attached to the transgression of the Law.
In more common terms we can talk about the actual penalties of sin, which are: the
sufferings of life, the death of the body, the spiritual death and the eternal death as a culmination of
spiritual death.
By his fall Adam made a gap, a separation between man and God and he earned for him and
for us the penalties, the punishment enumerated above. By His death and resurrection Jesus made a
bridge through this gap and provided a way to God. To do this, He had to be at the same time Son

18Such as: Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism and early Arminianism, the New School or New Heave theory, the
Theology of crisis
19Berkhof, p. 241
20Milne, p.141
21“Federalism argues, that in view of the parallel drawn between Adam and Christ (…), our universal solidarity
with Adam is of the kind which Christ has with those he redeems, i.e. representative, or federal, headship.
Commonly today federalism means a particular political system; theologically the term derives from the
covenant that God made with the human race in Adam (…). This covenant (often called the 'covenant of
works') Adam breached by his sin, with dire consequences for those he represented. In Christ the covenant
was renewed, and under it his perfect righteousness becomes means of blessing and salvation for all those he
represents”. Milne, p.141-142
22Hodge, p. 179
23Berkhof, p. 243
of Man, he had to be born under that law we broke, He had to have the same nature as we do and
Son of God, because no mere creature's blood could wash away our sins. He had to be totally and
fully human and yet without sin. By His awful death on the Cross He who had no sin became sin
for us, He died for us, He took upon Himself our sins. But He did not just take our sins away, He
gave us His righteousness, He justified us and made us suitable for life in Him. We didn't do
anything for it, we can not do anything to earn it. Is a gift, it's God incomprehensible love toward
us.
Justification is God's judicial act, by which He declares that the demands of the Law were
satisfied and the guilty one, the sinner is declared righteous on the grounds of Jesus Christ's
righteousness, His righteousness is imputed on us. He took our sins upon Him and gave us instead
His righteousness, so we can have eternal life in Him.

Conclusion

If we deny the historicity of Adam, we throw out our only way of salvation and our only
hope. If Adam is just one man who did something wrong and we are “washing our hands from his
sin”, than Jesus has to be another solitary figure who has nothing to do with us. If Adam does not
represent us, neither can Jesus. It is true, that we have to humble ourselves and have to admit that
we are sinners and we are going to be held accountable by our Creator, but only this way we can
have a cure from our sins and a cure from the penalty of sin: death by our Saviour and mediator,
our advocate who made us righteous. He justified us and He released us from the chains of death by
his own death. He took upon Himself the penalty we deserve for our sins, so we can put on His
righteousness in order to live. In the Jesus Christ Superstar musical is said by Jesus “To conquer
death you only have to die.”24 Well, to conquer death, to defeat death He had to resurrect, not only
to die. Dying is not enough, Adam died, we all die. He lives and gives us eternal life in Him.
He is the second Adam and in the same time the Last Adam. His work is perfect, His
redemption is complete.

Bibliography

1. Berkhof, L.: Systematic Theology, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005
2. Hodge, C.: A Commentary on Romans, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989

24JESUS: Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand,


Nor the Romans, nor the Jews,
Nor Judas, nor the twelve
Nor the priests, nor the scribes,
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself,
Understand what power is,
Understand what glory is,
Understand at all,
Understand at all.
If you knew all that I knew, my poor Jerusalem,
You'd see the truth, but you close your eyes...
But you close your eyes.
While you live your troubles are many, poor Jerusalem.
To conquer death, you only have to die.
You only have to die.
3. Lloyd-Jones, M.: Romans - An Exposition of Chapter 5, Assurance, London: The Banner of
Truth Trust, 1971
4. Luther, M.: Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, London: Oliphants, 1965
5. Milne, B.: Know the Truth, Nottingham: IVP, 2009
6. Olyott, S.: The Gospel As It Really Is, Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2010
7. Sproul, R.C.: The Gospel of God, Fearn: Christian Focus Publication, 2005
8. Stott, J.: The Message of Romans, Nottingham: IVP, 2009