By Robert F. Turner
The righteousness of God through faith 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. Now Paul sums up this thesis in two ways: (1) the “straight” prosaic condensing of matters found in verses one through eleven; and (2) a dramatic presentation of Adam and Christ in what might be called, “The Great Contrast,” verses twelve through twenty-one. You are urged to restudy the earlier chapters, for these summations state the same truths that have already been argued at length. Any questionable problem of the “Great Contrast” should be interpreted so as to conform to the previous material, and not used as a basis for reinterpretation of previous chapters.
“Therefore being justified by faith-” rather than by “law.” It has been established that all have sinned, hence none can claim “freedom from guilty” on the basis of law (cf. Gal. 3:10-12). “Faith” is used in the sense of trust, and the contrast is not between believing that Jesus is Christ and the works of faith, but between trusting in Christ for forgiveness and trusting in ones self to obey law perfectly, so as to need no forgiveness. God is just in condemning all (being no respecter of person, and rendering to every man according to his deeds); but Jesus Christ has satisfied both the justice and the mercy of God by dying on our behalf. We are justified (our sins being forgiven, we are pronounced “free of guilt”) if we individually demonstrate our faith, as did Abraham. (We must “believe . . . and diligently seek” – Heb. 11:6).
It is Christ’s self-sacrifice that appeases the judicial wrath of God. Hence, our “peace with God” is through Him, the object of our faith. God’s mercy, and gift of love, is available unto all; but we individually “have access” to this grace and its hope as we individually trust in Him. (Note: Christ is the means, forgiveness is the operation, and faith is the condition upon. which the individual is blessed.) (Background and vv. 1-2.)
With such hope in Christ, we can rejoice in tribulations also, for patience (endurance, for His sake) produces further approval on God’s part; and this, in its turn results again in hope. The Holy Spirit’s testimony to God’s love is by no means purely subjective. It is further explained by reference to the unselfish sacrifice of Christ for us, even while we were yet sinners (vs. 3-8).
Verses nine and ten are a rewording of the conclusion stated in chapter four, verse twenty-five. Christ was delivered for our offenses, raised again for our justification; we are justified by His blood, save through Him; reconciled by His death, saved by His life. In each case there was death, then life – the resurrected lie of Christ. It is pure fantasy to imagine that the “life” of verse ten refers to His perfect life before death, which is supposedly “imputed” to us. The Hebrew letter repeatedly puts the death and life of Christ, in this order, as the means of our redemption. It is in His resurrected life that Christ is our King, High Priest, Advocate, Mediator, etc. “Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25, emphasis mine). Man is reconciled to God through the death and resurrected life of Jesus Christ our Lord. (v. 11)
The sordid story of man’s sin has been told (1:18 3:18); proving the inadequacy of law alone to produce righteousness (3:19-23; see 7:10-24 and 8:3); and we have been told that all who manifest complete faith (trust) in Christ are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24 – 4:25). This has been summarized in the first eleven verses of chapter five, with emphasis upon God’s love, and the blessings that love brings. to unworthy man. But Paul does not stop here. The awfulness of sin, and the magnitude of God’s grace is such that he again summarizes what has been said: this time by a dramatic presentation of the contrast in Adam and Christ. They appear upon the stage of inspiration in five sequences, each showing the overwhelming superiority of God’s grace to sin and its consequences. What Adam introduced, Christ countered and always victoriously. The details (complicated wording) of some scenes will continue to pose problems, but the message and conclusion of the drama is unmistakable. Keep this concept in mind as we study the script.
Verse twelve is the key to what follows, and must be carefully considered. “Therefore-” showing continued summation; “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 (did) 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 universal “death” of this verse the immediate consequence ~of Adam’s sin. Adam introduced sin into the world, but Adam did not produce the death. Death came through (dia) sin. Look carefully at the Greek text. It is “did one man, sin” but it is “did sin, death.” Adam was separated from God, (spiritual death) because, _Adam sinned. “And so . .” (hontos, in this manner; see 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 ground (causative) for his spiritual death; thus individual responsibility is declared in the initial arguments, in the first summation, and in this preface to the dramatic summation: “The Great Contrast.” It is therefore to be understood in the interpretation of that which is to follow. Note: “all have sinned” (pastes harmartos) both here and in Romans 3:23.
“For” (v. 13) relates what follows to verse twelve. Before the Law of Moses sin was in the world, and death reigned because of sin (v. 14). This death is sin-related (spiritual), not flesh-related (physical). But no positive, codified law existed in the period under consideration. Therefore, (I) the sin of the period was not like Adam’s (it would have been identical if inherited) and (2) this is a repeat reference to the sins of Gentiles who violated their moral sense of “ought” (2:14-15) and stood justly condemned. In this summary, as in the initial presentation, Paul shows that both Jews (with codified law) and Gentiles (with no codified law) were sinners.
The first of the five contrasts (v. 15) was begun in verse twelve with “as through one man.” Now, “Not as the trespass, so also is the free gift;” contrasting the offense against heaven, with the charisma (free gift) of heaven. Individual responsibility, established in verse twelve, must prevail in this verse as well; so that one ignores the immediate context if he separates the later from the first part of the contrast. The many die – by participating in the offense against heaven; and the many live – only to the extent they participate (trust) in the free gift. The effect is secondary in this scene; emphasis being given to that which brings about spiritual death and life. The antagonistic spirit of the sinner (all sin is “against God,” Gen. 20:6; 39:9; 2 Sam. 12:13; Psm. 51:4; Lu. 15:21) is countered by the abounding grace of God.
The next contrast (v. 16) is that of the judicial sentence or decrees of God. Condemnation is contrasted with the decree for “an act of righteousness” (see footnote, A.S.) i.e., Christ on the Cross, as God’s plan for justification. Again, upon first reading it is easy to conclude that this justification is that of the sinners, considered subjectively. But the drama has not come to that yet. The means of justification is under consideration here. One man’s offense brought about the judgment “Condemnation;” and foreknowledge of the “many offenses” which would follow brought about the decree or award of a Savior. “God so loved the world that He gave . . . .” And it was the “many offenses” for which Christ would die – not one offense that would be “imputed” to the many.
In verse seventeen, the third contrast is death versus life; perhaps more accurately, the death and the life, considered abstractly. One sin of Adam introduced sin (abstractly) into the world, and “death through sin” (v. 12). But Christ “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). With Adam’s sin “The Death” began its dominion over its subjects; but Christ is Life (Jn. 1:4; 14:6 and all who receive Him will reign in Life through Him. Death reigned in the first instance, but we may be more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. The future tense of “shall reign” (in Christ) contemplates ultimate glory (cf. 8:17, 21). “The Life” far exceeds “the Death” to which mankind has been subjected.
In the next contrast (v. 18), both the condemnation and the justification are universal; the first because “all have sinned,” and the second because the “one act of righteousness” (A.S., referring to Christ’s crucifixion) is the universal remedy for sin, available to “whosoever will.” Contrast is found in the terrible end of sin, and the marvelous and embodied in the righteous act of Christ on behalf of the world (See Rom. 6:23).
And 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” (hoi po11ol, masses). who are caught up in the way of Adam are “made (constituted) sinners,” and “the many” who submit to the way of Christ will be “made (constituted) righteous.” Again, the future tense is used (cf. v. 17) regarding the righteous. Expositor’s Greek Testament comments, “It is because Paul conceives of this justification as conditioned in the case of each of the polloi by faith, and as in process of taking place in one after another that he uses the future.” If the last contrast seems anticlimactic it may:b .that Paul sees the application yet in process. Also, he had At to make a climactic summary outside the Adam-Christ contrasts, which binds this part of his letter to that which has gone before. The Adam-Christ contrasts, now ended, were dramatic illustrations in the midst of Paul’s arguments on Law versus Grace, so he now returns to that theme with a summary that reads almost like a doxology.
“The law entered” (v. 20) or came between that Abrahamic period of justification by faith (Ch. 4:) and the Christian dispensation – between the promise and its fulfillment (Gal. 3:16-f). Why? “That the offense might abound” i.e., be the more apparent (3:19-20; 7:13). Man sinned in the absence of a codified law, but specific, positive precepts clearly identified the transgression and emphasized the futility of seeking justification via law. It also made graphic the need for forgiveness (cf. “to bring us to Christ” Gal. 3:24). “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” (v. 21).
In Romans And Corinthians
Throughout these comments on Romans Five we have considered the “death” of this text to be spiritual separation from God. We believe the context, including Paul’s closing statement, warrants that interpretation. But there are two Adam-Christ contrasts in Paul’s writings, and that of the Corinthian letter (t Cor. 15) is so clearly physical that a brief comparative study is in order. An Adam-Christ contrast or comparison in different letters, and on different subjects, does not warrant mixing the points or their application.
In Corinthians, the context is physical death and physical resurrection, from first to last. But in Romans the context is salvation from sin, and the only references to resurrection (1:5 and 4:17) are in relation to the soulredemption theme. In Corinthians, Adam represents mortal man: a natural body (v. 44) of the earth (v. 47, 49) with flesh and blood (v. 50). These things are not sinful within themselves, but would have been inherited from Adam had he never sinned (Gen. 2:7). Adam was to reproduce (Gen. 1:28), eat physical foods (Gen. 1:29), had natural appetites and desires (Gen. 2:9; 3:6), before the first sin. To partake of Adam’s nature as set forth in the Corinthians letter simply meant to be mortal. True, as a consequence of Adam’s sin we are separated from the “tree of life” which maintained life in Eden; hence, we die. But the Corinthian letter makes no reference to this, nor is it a part of the lesson there.
But the Roman letter deals with Adam as the first sinner, hence representative of sinful man. Here, to partake of Adam’s nature means to rebel against God, to be disobedient. As Adam was the primordial “father” of sin, Christ is the “Author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). The Romans and the Corinthian Adam-Christ comparison or contrasts are not only in different parks; they are distinctly different ball games. One partakes of Adam’s physical or mortal nature through no choice of his own, and can do nothing about it. But Paul makes it clear in Romans that to partake of the spirit of Adam is a responsible sin, for which we must give account.
In Corinthians, Christ is held forth as our hope for release from the bondage of physical death; but in Romans spiritual death is under consideration, and it is contrasted with eternal life in Christ Jesus.
- What characters are discussed in the Great Contrast?
- What is the “life” of verse 103 Prove your answer.
- What two things have broken into or entered the world against God’s original will and what impact have they had on humanity?
- What is contrasted inverse 15 and what does this have to do with free moral agancy or personal responsibility?
- What two decrees of God are contrasted inverse 16 and what is the ground or cause of each?
- What is contrasted in verse 17?
- If the last part of verse 19 means that the personal obedience of Christ is imputed to us, then by parallel the first part must mean what?
- By the obedience of Christ in death, God makes or declares men.
- Why did the law enter and how did this help in bringing men to obey the gospel?
- In what ways is 1 Cor. 15 like Romans 5, and in what ways unlike?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 1, pp. 12-15
January 4, 1979