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Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

Through Romans 5:12-21, we learn that not only did Adam’s transgression result in the fall of man and all creation, but that fall placed all humanity in a sinful state because of their existence in this fallen world. The analysis of this central passage reveals the one individual who operates outside of the context of the fall brought on by Adam; Jesus Christ who alone can provide justification and life for a fallen world.


When Paul reaches this portion of his letter to the church in Rome, he comes to a high point in his argument. He begins Romans by addressing the “wrath of God…against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.” (Romans 1:18, ESV)[1] He leaves no excuse for Gentile or Jew, addressing the sinfulness of both. In chapter 3, he introduces the “righteousness of God” (3:21) and the fact that it is given through Jesus Christ “to all who believe.” (3:22) Paul unifies his message to Jew and Gentile by introducing Abraham, and explains the source of Abraham’s justification, his faith in God. Paul begins chapter 5 with a continuation of his thoughts on justification and faith, explaining that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:1)

What comes next is “some of the most difficult material in all of Romans in terms of grammar and interpretation.”[2] It does not seem to fit the overall flow of the discussion, and is seen by some as a parenthetical or peripheral thought. This side trip continues all the way through verse 18. This in no way should diminish the principle presented here. While the ideas presented are challenging, they are not unique. Paul covered related ground in his earlier letter to the church at Corinth. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49) This introduction of Adam into what was a discussion on justification and faith seems out of place. However, “through proper examination it will become evident that Rom 5:12-21 is a summary statement of a major portion of the first part of the epistle.”[3] It is clear that Paul’s use of Adam, in comparison with Christ here in Romans is profound, but difficult. However, as Legaretta-Castillo writes “In order to grasp the meaning and function of Adam, it is necessary to pay attention to the literary context in which Paul introduces the contrast between Adam and Christ.”[4] 

As Paul presents his argument, he would be expected to utilize the typical kal va-homer form of argument.[5] This would say that if something is true about an inferior element of the argument, it must be true of the superior element. Paul does not. It is also not clear that Paul is relying on Old Testament texts to make his argument, which he typically would. “Paul certainly knows how to use logic and rhetoric to argue his case well, but he does not do so like a later western philosopher or logician but rather as an early Jewish Christian evangelist well trained in the art of persuasion.”[6] Paul appears to be comfortable approaching the argument in this way because there is some common understanding between himself and the reader. We must therefore look to other references Paul has made to this subject, such as the aforementioned letter to the Corinthians for additional literary context.

When Paul introduced the comparison of Adam and Christ in 1 Corinthians, it is within the context of his teaching the resurrection of Christ, and its significance as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) He continues, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (v. 22) He validates his argument of the resurrection here by using the existing traditions. These traditions were established by Jewish understandings of Adam and the impact of his disobedience, conveying the ethical implications Paul sought. As in Romans, “the story of Genesis 1-3 and its subsequent traditions intend to elicit these traditions into his letters to convey ethical and social implications.”[7] In Corinthians, the traditional understanding of the events of Genesis, particularly the creation of Adam, and his fall and expulsion from the Garden are utilized to convey these “ethical implications.” It is clear that “significant Adamic traditions predated Paul that gave him the material for the juxtaposition.”[8] It is reasonable to apply the same background to Romans. As expressed by Blackwell, “Paul’s interpretation of Adam in Gen 3 is integral to his whole point within Rom 5:12-21, and out of all others who were writing in Paul’s day.”[9]


In the first verse of this section, Moo reveals a chiastic relationship that provides insight into what Paul is teaching. The verse begins with the phrase stating that “sin came into the world” through Adam and closes with the statement that “all sinned”. The interior chiastic pair relate with death, first connecting “death through sin”, and then that “death spread to all men.” (Romans 5:12) Utilizing this chiastic tool, fully understood by his audience, Paul makes his point, “Adam's fall introduced sin into the world, and death came as a result of sin.”[10] The word “because” often used here, “because all sinned,” is based on Paul’s use of the term eph hō. This word can also be translated, “as a result,” supporting Moo’s conclusion.

Verse 13 seems to come because Paul “is convinced that something he has said in this verse requires elaboration.”[11]  This verse then introduces the concept of the Mosaic law, again. This was necessary because many Jews “believed that there could be no sin or death apart from the law.”[12]  This gave them the false impression that prior to the giving of the law to Moses, there was no sin. In verse 14, Paul dispels that belief, introducing the concept of parabasis. Parabasis is a Greek term indicating a disregard, or violation, or offense. So, even in the absence of the Mosaic law, there was the commandment of God. This short interruption in Paul’s argument seems intended to avoid a potential disagreement in his audience.

With the principle of sin, or parabasis put to rest, Paul moves on the central argument, reintroducing it briefly in the last portion of verse 14. He states that Adam was a “type of the one who was to come.” The Greek word utilized here is typos. This word can be interpreted to mean “a person who refigures a future person.” The idea presented in typos is also present in Romans 6:17. Where a pattern of teaching is used. Paul utilizes this principle often. In Philemon (3:17), 1 Thessalonians (1:7), II Thessalonians (3:9), and in 1 Timothy (4:12). This principle of utilizing a typos as a method of instilling additional meaning a context is significant, and in this case in particular. “When considering the typology of Adam, the first Adam is the Old Testament reality that corresponds to the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, as the Eschatological man.”[13]

While there are similarities between Adam and the “one who was to come,” Christ. Verses 15-17 detail the contrast between the two. Where Adam brought death, judgement and condemnation which were just, Christ brought justification, as explained in verse 16, “but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” God’s grace is fully on display, in contrast to Adams transgression, and the condemnation that comes to all through sin. Paul “emphasizes in this manner that the judgement following the one sin ended in condemnation, while on the other hand the free gift following the many trespasses/sins ended in justification. By using the antithesis one-many, the author emphasizes the great dissimilarity between and excellence of Christ's deed as compared to Adam's.”[14]

Paul concludes this section by returning to where he began in verse 12. In verses 18 and 19 a series of comparative statements beginning each with “as one” and ending with “so one”. “As one trespass…so one act of righteousness,” and “as by one man’s disobedience…so by one man’s obedience.” This idea that because of Adam’s sin, all would be sinners requires further consideration. All are not guilty of Adam’s sin, but the Greek term used here kathíēmi, translated as “were made” in verse 19, actually carries the connotation of “to cause to” or “appointed to” be sinful. Just as through Christ all will be appointed to righteousness.[15] The use of “the many” in verse 19 is a characteristic of Hebrew occurring in Greek, a Semitism, that means “everyone.” Everyone must be considered in light of Paul’s earlier statement, in verse 17, that he is referring to “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” As Tulga wrote, “In Adam death is passed on to his posterity; in Christ life is passed on to all who believe.”[16]  It is logical to consider that the justification offered in a free gift of grace to those who receive it.[17] The conclusion of this argument by Paul is that “as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness” (v. 21)


Romans begins and ends with Paul’s stated purpose of visiting the church in Rome and his eventual trip to Spain. Understanding the full context of this letter must be in light of this fact. In addition, the fact that Paul has been involved with issues involving the church in Corinth, that only now allow him to complete the mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles to the west. This includes Rome, and ultimately Spain. Since many Jewish Christians were returning to Rome after the expulsion by Claudius, they likely brought word to the church in Rome concerning the issues in Galatia, Philippi, and Corinth. They may have had some opposition to Paul, and this letter was written in part to overcome these objections. This Jewish involvement, as it had in other churches was also introducing a greater reliance on obedience to the law as a means of justification. The disunity these opposing views had created in other congregations in Paul’s responsibility weighed heavily on Paul.[18] As he addresses these concerns at the church there in Rome Paul first states his authority clearly, basing it on “the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” (Romans 15:15-16)

Paul’s primary purpose in writing this letter to the Romans was to minister to the church in Rome, because of the ministry given to him by Christ. Paul’s authority for speaking clearly and forcefully to them derives from this calling. He speaks of being “called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1) and reminds them of this calling at the conclusion of his letter saying that it was “written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God.” (v. 15:14) Paul is clear that whatever he has said was what Christ asked him to teach, he said “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience.” (v. 18) Everything taught in this letter should be viewed as fitting within this mandate.

Romans is a master work, written by a dedicated and knowledgeable disciple of Christ. “Moving steadily backward through history, he described contemporary Gentiles and Jews (Rom 1-3), briefly evoked the exodus (“redemption,” 3:24) and God’s patience throughout the Mosaic era (3:25-26), then focused on Abraham’s life (Rom 4). Romans 5:12-21 is the lethal climax of Paul’s reverse trajectory: Adam is the root-source of our predicament.”[19] More than a simple letter, Romans serves as a treatise on the gospel. “It is not an overstatement to say that Romans 5:12-19 is an epic of salvation for humanity, for in it one finds the core of Pauline Christology and soteriology.”[20] Paul provided an overarching review of the gospel. “To treat Romans as some sort of theological treatise involving merely abstract and logical constructs will not do.”[21] Looking at Romans in a chiastic light, a pattern is revealed, with our section centrally located at its heart. The obedience of faith, and Paul’s intended journey to Rome serve as its introduction and conclusion in Romans 1:15 and 15:32. Jews and Gentiles are together under God’s judgement in Romans 1:16-2:29 and together in service in Romans 12:1-15:7. The principle of righteousness by faith is mirrored in Romans 3:1-4:25 and Romans 9:1-11:36. The focal point of the chiasma is Romans 5:1-8:39 and focuses on God’s love to those free from the law of sin and death.

In Romans, Paul teaches the good news of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, God made it possible to overcome the power of sin and enter into an eternal relationship with Him. “But the individuals who experience the power of the gospel belong to different ethnic groups—Jews and Gentiles—and Romans has a lot to say about how the gospel relates to both these groups.”[22] Paul declares that he was called to the gospel and that this gospel was promised beforehand. Ultimately the gospel is about God’s Son, Jesus. In this letter, and within the context of gospel teaching, Paul uses Romans to call Gentiles to “the obedience that comes from faith.” (1:5) With the knowledge that Romans 5:12-21 fits within the context of Paul’s presentation of the gospel, the central importance of Christ’s justification, through His resurrection gains great importance.  


The Book of Romans can speak to the church of today. There are those we would consider “strong” and those we would consider “weak.” The word translated as strong, dunatos in Greek, can also be translated as “powerful”, or “able”. While the word “weak”, or astheneó, can be translated as “powerless” or “impotent”. In Romans 14 and 15, Paul is telling those without power to stop judging those with power. And the powerful should surrender their power and reconcile with the powerless. The most important thing to Paul is that people stop arguing and understand that it is only through Christ that any of them are justified, not through their power, or through their powerlessness. Only Christ can justify, as our passage in Romans explains. This would have been an important message to the church in Rome, with the return of the Christian Jews and the Gentile Christians who had been left during Claudius’ expulsion. Divisions would have been exacerbated, and the need to reconcile would have been great. The same is true in the church today.

The specific application of Romans 5:12-21 echoes this sensitivity. The passage is often, understandably used to point to the historical reality of Adam. As Lita Cosner wrote, “Paul’s argument depends completely on a historical individual man called Adam, who committed a real sin bringing real death.”[23] Barrick refers to Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-19 and stresses that “without a historical Adam—and consequently a historical fall into sin—there is no need for a historical second Adam, namely, Christ Jesus, to undo Adam’s sin and its consequences for Adam’s children.”[24]

This same Adam, as a historical figure, is the foundation upon which many other doctrines are built and understood: God’s role in creation, the history of humankind, the impact of the knowledge that we are created in God’s image, the nature of sin and how it entered the world, the introduction of death into God’s perfect creation, the necessity for salvation to allow man’s reunion with God, the inherent reliability of God’s word in Genesis, and the authority and validity it implies about the rest of Scripture. If the reality of Adam’s existence, and the fall brought on by his sin, none of the events that followed make any sense, and the argument Paul presented has no validity.

This passage is also utilized to support the concept of “original sin.” While the concept is generally accepted, its acceptance does not necessarily imply consistent understanding of the meaning of the term. In Romans 5:12, Paul is clear that death came into the world through sin. The term translated here as “through” is the Greek word dia. This word can mean through, but it can also mean “by reason of” or “because of.” The difference is subtle, but the impact is significant. Either “Sin caused death,” or “because of sin, there is death.”[25] In one instance sin is the disease, and the disease is fatal. In the other, sin resulted in a world where death was one of the diseases in it, and it brings death to all the inhabitants of this world. Adams sin introduced both spiritual and physical death. Adam died spiritually the day he sinned in the Garden and was dying for the rest of his life physically. Each of his descendants enter the world dead spiritually and dying physically. Only Christ was able to overcome both deaths brought into the world by Adam. We learn that “original sin, the image of God, redemption in Christ, and the reliability and inerrancy of Scripture, as well as how biblical history itself is to be understood, are all connected to Adam’s existence as the father and representative of the human race. Therefore, to reinterpret Adam is not without serious consequences.”[26]

"Existence came from God; death came by Adam; and immortality and eternal life come through Christ." Bruce R. McConkie

Paul’s letter had much to say to the church in Rome, and it has much to say to us today. We face many of the same challenges. Division enters the church as sides are taken on issues in the world, and issues of faith. Paul’s letter encourages unity. And as a means of expressing that unity, Paul always sought to direct Christians to the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and the importance for all of Adam’s descendants who will believe. A review of this letter, while it can be a challenge, is rewarded by the principles it teaches, and the foundation it is for deeper belief in Jesus Christ.  We see in Paul’s words a testimony of Jesus Christ and His ability to justify and save this fallen creation.

[1] All Bible references are English Standard Version unless specified otherwise.

[2] B. Witherington. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI.  2004. 145.

[3] David Paul Seemuth. Adam the sinner and Christ the righteous one: The theological and exegetical substructure of Romans 5:12-21. Marquette University. 1989. 5.

[4] Felipe de Jesus Legarreta-Castillo. Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Fortress Press, 2014. p. 2.

[5] Seemuth.10.

[6] Ben Witherington. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI.  2004. 30.

[7] Seemuth. 10.

[8] Timothy A. Gabrielson. "Primeval History According to Paul: "In Adam" and "In Christ" in Romans." Dissertations (2009 -). Paper 619. Marquette University, 2016. 16.

[9] Ben C Blackwell. Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. 2019. 80.

[10] Douglas Moo. The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan. 2016. 181.

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid. 182.

[13] Laurie Schweinsberg. An Investigation of Paul’s Us of the Word “type” in Romans 5:12-21: Comparison, Contrast, or Both? Master’s Thesis, Liberty University. 2007. 39.

[14] H A. Lombard. "The Adam-Christ 'Typology' in Romans 5:12-21." Neotestamentica 15 (1981). 85.

[15] Moo, 183.

[16]Chester E. Tulga. Studies in Romans. Cleveland: Union Gospel, 1930. 99.

[17] Moo. 191.

[18] Colin G. Kruse. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2012. 50.

[19] Blackwell. 86.

[20] Soon Ho Hong. An Investigation of the Connections Between Adam as a Type of Christ and Christ Himself: An Exegetical and Structural Approach to Romans 5:12-19. Master’s Thesis, Liberty University. 2010. 82.

[21] Witherington. 30.

[22] Douglas J. Moos and Walter Elwell. Encountering the Book of Romans (Encountering Biblical Studies): A Theological Survey. Baker Academic. 2014. 22.

[23] Lita Cosner. “Romans 5:12-21: Paul’s view of literal Adam,” Journal of Creation 22(2) 2008. 107.

[24]William D. Barrick.  “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View,” Four Views on the Historical Adam. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. 33.

[25] Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves. Adam, the Fall an Original Sin. Baker Academic. 2014. 275.

[26] Barrick, 36.951): 346.



Barrick, William D.  “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View,” Four Views on the Historical Adam. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Blackwell, Ben C. Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.

Cosner, Lita. “Romans 5:12-21: Paul’s view of literal Adam,” Journal of Creation 22(2) 2008.

Gabrielson, Timothy A. "Primeval History According to Paul: "In Adam" and "In Christ" in Romans" (2016). Dissertations (2009 -). Paper 619. Marquette University, 2016.

Ho Hong, Soon. An Investigation of the Connections Between Adam as a Type of Christ and Christ Himself: An Exegetical and Structural Approach to Romans 5:12-19. Master’s Thesis, Liberty University. 2010.

Kruse, Colin G.. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2012.

Legarreta-Castillo, Felipe de Jesus. Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Fortress Press, 2014.

Lombard, H A. "The Adam-Christ 'Typology' in Romans 5:12-21." Neotestamentica 15 (1981)

Madueme, Hans and Reeves, Michael. Adam, the Fall an Original Sin. Baker Academic. 2014.

Moo, Douglas J. The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Schweinsberg, Laurie. An Investigation of Paul’s Us of the Word “type” in Romans 5:12-21: Comparison, Contrast, or Both? Master’s Thesis, Liberty University. 2007.

Seemuth, David Paul. Adam the sinner and Christ the righteous one: The theological and exegetical substructure of Romans 5:12-21. Marquette University. 1989.

Strong, James. The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson. 2010.

Tulga, Chester E. Studies in Romans. Cleveland: Union Gospel, 1930.

Witherington, Ben. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI.  2004.

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