Romans 15:12-21 The Sin of Adam The Gift of Christ

By Robert F. Turner

Righteousness through faith in Christ has been presented in the first four chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans; and man’s individual responsibility for his sin, for his condemnation, and for his response to Christ has been emphasized in clear prosaic language. Now Paul sums up this thesis in a dramatic contrast of Adam (representing sinful mankind) and Christ (the gracious response of heaven). You are urged to restudy the earlier chapters, for this summation states the same truth that has already been argued at length. The complicated wording of some scenes may pose problems, but should al-ways be interpreted in conformance with Paul’s previous material, and in the context of the total Bible teaching on these subjects.

In this dramatic presentation Adam and Christ appear upon the stage of inspiration in five closely related sequences, each showing the overwhelming superiority of God’s grace to sin and its consequence. What Adam introduced, Christ countered  and always victoriously.

Verse twelve is the key to what follows, and must be carefully considered. “Therefore” shows relation to earlier verses; “as through one man (Adam) sin entered into the world . . .” The “as” anticipates a counterpart  the contrast with Christ which will be made in verse fifteen. Through (dia) Adam sin entered, or was introduced into the world. Compare 2 John 7 where the Gnostic deceivers “entered into the world.”

Adam’s sin no more made (immediately) the people of the world sinners, than the Gnostics made (immediately) early Christians to apostatize. Nor is (the) death (viewed abstractly) of this verse the immediate consequence of Adam’s sin. Adam introduced sin into the world, but Adam did not directly produce universal condemnation. That death came through (dia) sin. Look carefully at the Greek text. It is “dia one man, sin” but it is “dia sin, death.” Adam was separated from God (spiritual death) because Adam sinned. “And so . . .” (houtos, in this manner; cf. Rom. 11:26) “death passed unto all men” (a reference to the degenerate condition of mankind, as shown in chapters one through three) “for that all sinned.” Each one’s sin is the causative ground for his spiritual death. This individual responsibility was declared in Paul’s earlier teaching (pantes harmarton, 3:23) and now here. It is to be under-stood in all which follows.

“For” (v. 13) relates what follows to verse twelve, but makes a parenthetic point. Prior to Moses, no general codified law for the identification of sin had been given. Yet, sin related death reigned (v. 14). If this sin was “in Adam” it would have been like his sin  violation of a positive precept. But Paul says their sin was unlike that of Adam’s. He has earlier shown that sin may be a violation of the individual’s moral sense of “ought” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Now, with verse 15, we see completed the contrast be-gun in verse 12. Following Adam’s example “the many” died (“for that all have sinned”), and brought upon them-selves spiritual death. But the antagonistic spirit of the sinner (first seen in Adam), is countered by the exceedingly abounding grace of God. This grace is expressed in Jesus Christ, the means whereby whosoever will (“the many”) may live. The effect is secondary in this scene; emphasis being given to that which brings about spiritual death and life.

In the second contrast (v. 16), seeing the offense of Adam, God gave a judgment (krima, decree) regarding punishment, that resulted in condemnation for all who sin. But being merciful and knowing there would be many offenses, the same God (also decreed) the free gift  Christ on the cross, “an act of righteousness” (cf. ASV f.n.)  who became the sinner’s justification (Cf. v. 18).

In verse 17, third scene, one (Adam’s) offense initiated a reign of (the) death (viewed abstractly) “for that all have sinned.” In contrast, we see saints reigning in life by one, Jesus Christ. Death reigned in the first instance, but in the second, saints “shall reign” as conquerors in Christ (Rom. 8:37). The future tense of “shall reign” contemplates ultimate glory  “the Life” far exceeding “the Death” to which sin subjects its followers.




Introduced sin in world mercy

Gift of abounding grace,

So, condemnation decreed

So, justification decreed

And The Death” reigned

And saints reign in “The Life”

All sinned, all condemned

All have redemption available

By disobedience primordial

“father” of many sinners

By his obedience (on cross) many were made righteous


The fourth antithesis (v. 18) is similar to the second (v. 16). The condemnation was initiated by one (Adam), and (the means of) justification is by one, the Christ. But here Paul stresses the universality of results. The decree of punishment (v. 16) passed on all (“for that all have sinned”), and Christ’s (one act of) righteousness was for all. In each case, all people are accountable for their own sins, and are equally invited to come to Christ for mercy (John 3:16; Mark 16:15-16).

The last contrast (v. 19) concerns the subjective and practical results of the two categories. Adam’s way was one of disobedience, while Christ’s way was that of obedience. “The many” who follow the way of Adam are “made (constituted) sinners,” and “the many” who submit to Christ shall, through him, be “made righteous.”

Throughout these comments on Romans 5 we have considered the “death” to be spiritual. This is in keeping with the earlier context of Romans, and the immediate association of our text with justification through Christ. The argument here is entirely different from 1 Corinthians 15 where mortality, the grave, and resurrection establish a physical context for that Adam-Christ contrast. “In the day” Adam ate of the forbidden tree he did  some way  “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Adam had a physical body prior to his sin. He was to reproduce (Gen. 1:28), ate physical foods (1:29), had natural appetites and desires (2:9; 3:6) prior to his sin. This natural life continued for many years. True, his sin caused his expulsion from Eden and the tree of life (Gen. 3:22). In that sense sin emphasized mortality for him and his descendants. But for us, this is an unconditional inheritance from Adam, unconditionally replaced by the physical resurrection of saint and sinner (John 5:28-29).

Sin related (spiritual) “death” is conditioned upon individual sin, and that sin is conditionally forgiven, upon obedient faith in Jesus Christ (1:5; 3:26; 5:1). The prophet Ezekiel said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son . . .” (Ezek.18:20). This so accords with the teaching of the Scriptures as a whole that we must read the sometimes difficult language of the above dramatic scenes in the light of the larger concept.

These colorful contrasts were dramatic illustrations in the midst of Paul’s arguments on law versus grace. He now returns to that theme with a summary that reads almost like a doxology. “The law entered” (v. 20) or came between the promise to Abraham (Gen.12:1-3) and its fulfillment in Christ (Gal. 3:16-29). Why? “That the offense might abound,” i.e., be the more apparent (Rom. 3:19-20; 7:13). Man sinned in the absence of a codified law; but specific, positive precepts clearly identified man’s transgressions and emphasized the futility of seeking justification via law. Paul said the Law served “to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24); and law has not lost that function to-day. So, Paul closes this section of his letter with Romans 5:21: “But where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly: that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Guardian of Truth XL: 4 p. 1
February 15, 1996