Beyond Belief
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Chapter 5 – The Two Adams:  Romans 5

The teaching of the two Adams is one of the most neglected and misunderstood doctrines of the bible.  Yet it is vitally important to our salvation because the eternal destiny of all who have ever lived is closely connected with these two men — Adam and Christ, who is the “second Adam.”

As we saw in the previous chapter, God created all mankind in one man, Adam [see Genesis 1:27-28; Acts 17:26].  Likewise, Satan ruined all mankind in one man, Adam [see Romans 5:12, 18; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22].  And God redeemed all mankind in one Man, Christ Jesus, the second Adam [see 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:3, 2:5-6].  Scripture is clear that “in Adam all die” and that “in Christ all will be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22].

It is my conviction that we can never fully understand all the implications and privileges of our salvation “in Christ” until we come to realize our situation “in Adam.”  Two New Testament passages — Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:19-23, 45-49 — explain in detail this important teaching of the two Adams.  Let’s look carefully at what they have to say.

Romans 5:12-21

In Romans 5:11, the apostle Paul states a glorious truth of the gospel.  He says that we Christians can rejoice because we have already received the atonement.  Paul then goes on to explain verses 12-21 how we have received this atonement.  He does so by using Adam as a type, or pattern, of Christ [see verse 14].  He argues that we are redeemed “in Christ” in the same way that we are lost “in Adam.”  The history of these two men — Adam and Christ — has affected the eternal destiny of all mankind.  In order to use Adam as a pattern of Christ, Paul first explains, in verses 12-14, what our situation is “in Adam.”

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” [Romans 5:12].  In this verse, Paul makes three statements about the sin problem.  He says that sin entered the world (that is, human history) through one man, Adam.  Second, he says that this sin condemned Adam to death.  Third, Paul says that this death spread to all humanity “because all sinned.”  This last phrase has generated endless controversies in the history of the Christian church.  Did Paul means that all die “because all sinned” personally as did Adam? Or did he mean that all die “because all sinned” in Adam?

The conclusion we reach has important implications for our salvation, since Paul’s purpose in discussing Adam is to use him as a pattern of Christ.  I believe that when we carefully consider this context of this passage and the logic of Paul’s argument, as well as his teaching regarding justification by faith elsewhere throughout the New Testament, we must conclude that Paul is saying here in Romans 5:12 that death spread to all mankind “because all sinned” in Adam.  Paul’s logic is that all humanity was “in Adam” when he sinned and, therefore, the whole human race was implicated, or participated, in Adam’s act of disobedience.  Hence, Paul says, the condemnation of death that came to Adam automatically passed on to every human being.  I see five reasons to believe that this is what Paul is saying in this verse.

  1. It simply isn’t true that everyone died because they have personally sinned as Adam did.  Babies, for example, die even though they have no personal sins.  The only explanation for the fact that death is universal is that all sinned “in Adam.”

  2. Grammatically, the Greek verb “sinned” in verse 12 is in the aorist tense.  This tense normally refers to an act that took place in the past at a single point in time.  Grammatically, then, “all sinned” most naturally refers to a single past historical event (Adam’s sin) and not to the continuing personal sins of his descendants over the centuries.

  3. Paul goes on to explain in verses 13 and 14 what he meant in verse 12.  He says that all those who lived from Adam until Moses died even though they “did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam” [verse 14].  Therefore, the immediate context of verse 12 contradicts the idea that all die because they have sinned as Adam sinned.

  4. Four times in Romans 5:15-18 Paul explicitly states that Adam’s sin (not our own personal sins) brought judgment, condemnation, and death to the whole human race.  Thus, the context of verse 12 clearly supports the idea that all die because “all sinned” in Adam.  In verse 19, Paul sums up his argument in unmistakable language.  He says, “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.”

  5. The logic of Paul’s argument in this passage is that Adam is a type, or pattern, of Christ, that what happened to us in Adam is undone for us in Christ.  Therefore, if we insist that verse 12 means that all men die because “all sinned” as Adam sinned, then we must make the analogy fit by arguing that all men live (or are justified) because all have obeyed as Christ obeyed.  Such an argument turns justification by faith into salvation by works, the very opposite of Paul’s clear teaching in Romans.  Paul’s analogy here is that since “all sinned” in Adam and are, therefore, condemned to death in him, so all have obeyed in Christ and, therefore, stand justified to life in Him [see verse 18].

Now verses 13 and 14 make sense.  In these verses, Paul is simply proving what he stated in verse 12:  that all die because “all sinned” in Adam.  He does this by looking at a segment of the human race, those who lived from Adam until Moses.  To be sure these people were sinning, but since God had not yet explicitly spelled out His law until He gave it to mankind as a legal code through Moses, He could not justly condemn these people to death for their personal sins.  This is what Paul is saying in verse 13.  Nevertheless, they were dying, as Paul points out in verse 14.  Why?  His answer is that they were dying because all humanity stands condemned to death in Adam.

In spite of what seems to me to be the clear evidence of Romans 5, some still feel they can harmonize Paul’s logic in these verses with the idea that all men and women die because all have sinned personally as did Adam.  They do so by insisting that the death Paul says we receive “in Adam” is only the first, or “sleep” death.  We receive the “second” death — eternal death — they say, as a result of our own personal sins.  Such reasoning will not stand the test of Scripture, no matter how convincing it may sound.  Paul uses the word death twice in Romans 5:12, once to refer to Adam and next to refer to humanity, Adam’s posterity.  In other words, Paul says the same death that came to Adam passed on to all humanity.  What death was that, the first death or the second?

Before the Fall, Adam surely knew nothing about the first death.  Therefore, the death sentence pronounced on Adam when he sinned was the second death — eternal death.  It was good-bye to life forever.  Had there been no “lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” [Revelation 13:8], Adam would have forfeited his life forever the day he sinned, and mankind would have died eternally in him [see Genesis 2:17].  It is this death — the second death — that has passed to all mankind “in Adam.”  In Adam, the whole human race belongs legally on death row.  It is only in Christ that we can pass from eternal death to eternal life [see John 5:24; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 2 Timothy 1:10; Revelation 20:6].

We must be very careful at this point not to go beyond what Scripture says.  We must not teach that in Adam all humanity also inherits his guilt.  This is the heresy of “original sin” introduced by Augustine and adopted by the Roman Catholic Church.  Guilt, in a legal sense, always includes personal volition or responsibility, and God does not hold us personally responsible for something in which we had no choice.  Only when we personally, consciously, deliberately, persistently, and ultimately reject the gift of eternal life in Christ does the guilt and responsibility of sin and the second death become ours [see John 3:18, 36; Mark 16:15; Hebrews 2:1-4; 10:14, 26-29].

Once Paul has established our situation in Adam [see Romans 5:12-14], he goes on to show how Adam is a type, or pattern of Christ [see verses 15-18].  He argues that, just as Adam’s sin affected all humanity for death, likewise, what Christ did as the second Adam also affected all humanity for life.  When Adam sinned, Paul says, he brought the judgment of condemnation and death to “all men” [meaning all mankind, or all people].  In the same way, when Christ obeyed, He not only redeemed humanity from the results of Adam’s sin, but, much more, He cancelled all our personal sins (“many trespasses”) and brought the verdict of “justification that brings life” to all men [verses 16, 18].  This is the unconditional good news that the gospel proclaims.

In verse 19, Paul adds another dimension to the problem Adam’s sin caused for us.  It “made” all men into sinners.  This means that, in addition to condemnation and the death sentence that we receive “in Adam,” we are also born slaves to sin and are, therefore, incapable, in and of ourselves, of producing genuine righteousness [see Romans 3:9-12; 7:14-25].  But in the second half of verse 19, Paul reminds us that, because of Christ’s obedience, we will “be made righteous.”  Notice that Paul uses the future tense here — “will be made righteous” — indicating that this applies to those who receive Jesus Christ [see verse 17].  To demonstrate that Adam’s sin has made us slaves to sin, God gave His law [see verse 20; Romans 7:7-13].  In other words, Paul is clear that God did not give us His law to solve the sin problem but to expose it.  The law showed how Adam’s one sin (“the trespass,” verse 20) has produced a whole race of sinners.  Again, the good news is that, although sin multiplied through Adam’s fall, God’s grace in Christ has increased all the more [see verse 20].

This brings us to the next important point concerning Romans 5.  Notice that, in this chapter, Paul mentions two things in connection with our situation in Christ that he does not apply to our situation in Adam.  First, Paul refers to what God accomplished “in Christ” for all humanity as a “gift” [verse 16], something freely given to us.  This means that, although all have been legally justified in Christ’s doing and dying, justification is still a gift.  Like any gift, it belongs only to those who accept it.  Only those who by faith receive God’s gift of justification will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s obedience.  Paul makes this clear in verse 17.

Second, Paul repeatedly uses the expression “much more” when pointing to the blessings we receive through Christ’s obedience.  In Christ, much more has been accomplished than simply undoing the damage we inherit from Adam.  For example, by His death, Christ not only liberated humanity from the condemnation of death resulting from Adam’s one sin.  Much more, He redeemed us from our own “many [personal] trespasses and brought justification” [verse 16].  In Christ, not only do we receive eternal life, but much more we shall “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” [verse 17].  This is superabundant grace.

Thus Paul concludes “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” [verse 20].  As sin rules our lives from birth and results in death, Paul pleads for us to let grace now take over and reign in our lives, producing righteousness, until eternity is ushered in [see verse 21].

What conclusions, then, can we draw concerning our salvation from Paul’s argument of the two Adams in Romans 5?

  1. Whether I am reckoned a sinner and condemned to death or whether I am declared righteous and qualify for eternal life has to do with the history of Adam or of Christ.  On the basis of Adam’s disobedience I am reckoned a sinner; on the basis of Christ’s obedience I am declared justified or righteous.

  2. If I belong to the humanity produced by Adam, I am made a sinner and am condemned to eternal death.  If, however, I belong to the humanity initiated by Christ, I am declared righteous and qualify for eternal life.  In other words, my eternal destiny rests upon which humanity I choose to belong to.

  3. All of us by creation are “in Adam.”  This is the hopeless situation we inherit by birth into the human race.  Hence we are “by nature objects of wrath” [Ephesians 2:3].  But the good news is that God has given us a new identity and history “in Christ.”  This is His supreme gift to humanity.  Our position “in Adam” is by birth.  Our position “in Christ” is by faith.  What God has done for the whole human race in Christ is given as a “gift,” something we do not deserve.  That is why the gift is referred to as grace or unmerited favor.  To be experienced, this gift must be received, and it is made effective by faith alone.

  4. Adam and Christ belong to opposite camps that cannot be reconciled.  Adam is equated with sin and death, Christ with righteousness and life.  Consequently, it is impossible for anyone to belong, subjectively, to Adam and Christ at the same time.  To accept Christ by faith means to renounce totally our position in Adam [see 2 Corinthians 5:17; 6:14-16].  Baptism is a public declaration that we have died to sin (our position in Adam) and have been resurrected into newness of life (our position in Christ).  [See Romans 6:1-4, 8; 2 Timothy 2:11.]

  5. Thus, the human race can be divided into two groups:
    1. the Adamic race, made up of many nations and tribes [see Acts 17:26], and
    2. believers who are all one in Christ [see Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 3:27-28; Ephesians 4:11-13].
    Because of the gospel, we have the choice to belong to either of these two groups.  We may retain our position in Adam by unbelief, and reap the results of his sin.  Or, by faith, we may become united to Christ and receive the benefits of His righteousness.

This is Paul’s teaching in Romans 5 regarding the two Adams.  In the next chapter, we will examine what he has to say on this subject in 1 Corinthians 15 and then draw some conclusions for our own experience.

Key Points in Chapter 5
• The Two Adams:  Romans 5 •
  1. In Romans 5, Paul says that men and women have already received the atonement.  He supports this statement by using Adam as a pattern of Christ, whom he calls the “second Adam.”  Paul’s argument is that we are redeemed “in Christ” the same way we are lost “in Adam.”

  2. For Paul, “in Adam” means that all humanity stands condemned to death because we were all corporately “in Adam” when he sinned.

  3. Likewise, for Paul, “in Christ” means that all humanity has been justified because we were all corporately “in Christ” when He obeyed and died.

  4. Paul does not mean that all humanity inherits Adam’s guilt.  This is the heresy of “original sin.”

  5. In Romans 5, Paul mentions two things in connection with our situation “in Christ” that he does not apply to our situation “in Adam”:

    1. What God accomplished for us “in Christ” is a free gift.  Although we all have been justified corporately in Christ’s life and death, justification is still a gift that belongs only to those who accept it.

    2. In Christ, much more has been accomplished than simply undoing the condemnation we inherit from Adam.  God’s grace will abound in our lives to reign and produce righteousness.

  6. Paul’s argument in Romans 5 concerning the two Adams can be summed up as follows:  on the basis of Adam’s disobedience, we are reckoned as sinners; on the basis of Christ’s obedience we are declared justified.
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