By Norman Midgefte
In the King James Version, Romans 5:14 reads, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come.” In the American Standard Version, the phrase under consideration reads, “the likeness of Adam’s transgression.”
By definition the word, “similitude,” means, “that which is made like something, a resemblance” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
So what does it mean to sin, but not to sin after the similitude of Adam’s transgression? Since God did not tell us, it must not be important for us to know but human curiosity wonders. There had to be differences for it says so. What could they have been? The context or some other source must give us the answers if we are to have them.
To begin with, here are four things about the sin of Adam that no one could ever duplicate.
To begin with Adam was the first man to experience sin and its consequences. This within itself is not earth shaking but simply a historical fact. No one else could be first.
Secondly, no one but Eve ever lived under the same law Adam did of being forbidden to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. No one else could have ever committed this specific sin since he was never given this prohibition nor had access to the tree.
Thirdly, when Adam sinned he suddenly had a knowledge he had not had before. Something about his mind changed. Genesis 3:7 says, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” That had not concerned them before. Then God said in verse 22, “Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” Since Adam’s day this no longer happens when man commits his first sin.
And fourthly, Adam’s sin brought physical death to the human race. The sin of Adam and the sins of each one who has lived since has resulted in spiritual death. But only the sin of Adam brought on himself and all humanity physical death. Genesis 3:23, 24 shows this to be the reason he and Eve were driven from the garden. If we never sinned, we would still die physically. We all have Adam to thank for that.
Now in addition to these four differences there are two others from the vantage point of those who followed Adam. Cain, for example, violated God’s laws concerning worship and sacrifice (Gen. 4:1-5). The transgression of Adam did not involve this.
In Genesis 4:6-8 Cain violated a moral law of God and killed Abel. God had warned him to deal with his feelings against Abel for, as he said, “sin coucheth at the door” (4:7). Violence against others was also prevalent in the days of Noah (Gen. 6:10, 11). Adam’s sin was different in that it was not directed at another and in this sense was not immoral in nature.
The sins of those following Adam could be different from his in all these ways but all these considerations are secondary to the real point of Romans 5:14. When you look at the context, beginning in verse 12, you will observe these five important facts.
1. Adam introduced sin into the world. In Genesis 2:16 God gave him a specific, positive command not to eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He knew what God had said but chose to disobey. From this act the world was introduced to sin and to the penalty for sin, death.
2. Next, the people involved were those who lived between the times of Adam and Moses. While all in every generation have sinned, verse 14 shows that only the patriarchal dispensation is under consideration here.
3. We know that during this time there were laws from God to which men were accountable. Where there is no law sin is not imputed (v. 13). Since all sinned during this time God’s law existed. The condition of the world at the time of Noah makes this clear (Gen. 6:1-8).
4. Some, including Albert Barnes, have argued that the difference between the sin of Adam and the sin of others was that Adam had a revealed and positive law given him, and all others had only the “law of nature or of tradition.” This is not true. Was it a positive law or a law of nature that instructed Noah to build the ark, or instructed Abram to leave his hometown, Ur, for some foreign and unspecified destination, or commanded Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice (Gen. 6:14; 12:1; 22:2)? It was not nature or tradition. It was positive law. Others besides Adam had positive law during the patriarchal age. Since all sinned, all had specific laws from God they were expected to obey.
5. Finally, whatever their sins, they were all as serious as Adam’s because they all bought death (v. 14). There-fore, the contrast being made between the sin of Adam and the sin of all others had nothing to do with the spiritual consequences for spiritual death came to all. Some might have said, “Since I did not commit a sin like Adam’s, my guilt is less.” That was not true.
The main point in this whole context is not to show which specific sins were like or unlike the sin of Adam, but to show that all sin brings the same consequence, death. Paul did not say that no one committed a sin like the sin of Adam between the time of Adam and time of Moses. He only said that those who committed other kinds of sins were just as guilty and subject to death as Adam. Sins relating to worship and sacrifice (Gen. 4) and sins of a moral and social nature (Gen. 6: 1-11) made one just as guilty before God as a sin like Adam’s. If those people violated God’s positive laws or God’s laws relating to worship or morality, it did not matter. Death awaited. Whatever sin could be committed in the similitude of Adam’s bore no greater consequence than any other infraction of God’s law. This seems to me to be his message when he said, “Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.”
Guardian of Truth XLI: 4 p. 21-22
February 20, 1997