This morning I want to look at one of the key doctrinal
passages in all the New Testament: Romans 5:12-19. This is
the key text in all of Scripture for the doctrine of original sin.
In other words, this passage deals with the question of how
and by what means the sin of Adam tainted the entire human
race. This is one of the most difficult doctrines in Scripture,
but it's a very, very important doctrine to understand if you
want to have a good grasp of gospel truth. It's been almost
ten years since we looked at the doctrine of original sin, and
that's unfortunate, because that doctrine is hugely important
and frankly not easy for the fallen human mind to receive. So
I want to revisit Romans 5 with you today. When we're
finished this morning, I hope you'll have a better
understanding than ever about our relationship to Adam in
his sin, and what the Bible has to say not only about the guilt
and corruption we inherited from Adam, but more
importantly how the mechanism works by which the
righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.
Let's approach this passage from the larger context of
Romans 1-4. Paul's entire epistle to the Romans up to this
point has been taken up with arguing that we are
justifiedCthat is, we are accepted by God as righteousCnot
Romans 5:12-19 2
because of anything worthy in us, but solely because Christ's
righteousness is imputed to us. The apostle Paul spent most
of the three opening chapters arguing that all humanity is
hopelessly sinful and fully deserving of God's wrath. So that
when God pours out His wrath on sinners, He is perfectly
righteous to do so.
Then, starting with verse 21 of chapter 3, Paul begins to
talk about another aspect of God's righteousness. In verse 22
of chapter 3 he calls it "the righteousness of God through faith
in Jesus Christ for all who believe." I like the way the New
King James Version says it: "the righteousness of God,
through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe." He's
speaking of the righteousness that is imputed to believers.
And in the passage that followsCmoving into chapter 4Che
explains that. Romans 4:6: "God [credits believers with]
righteousness apart from [our] works." In other words, Paul is
describing a righteousness that is imputed to believers, which
gives them a right standing before God, clothing them in the
utter perfection of Christ, who fulfills the demands of the law
on their behalfCso that even though we are sinners, we are
brought into perfect harmony with the demands of divine
justice, and we can stand before God, fully justifiedCnot
because of anything we have done to earn it; not even
because of what God has done in us; but only because of
The Two Adams 3
what Christ has done for us. According to Romans 3:28, we
are "justified by faith apart from works of the law."
In other words, a righteousness that is totally alien to us, a
righteousness that exists completely outside of us, is imputed
to us, and it is on those grounds that we are
justifiedCcompletely apart from any good works or merit of
And then, throughout Romans 4, Paul expounds on this
concept that righteousness is imputed to us. Do you
understand the concept of imputation? It's a legal reckoning.
The gospel teaches that the sins of the elect were imputed to
Christ, and although he was actually innocent of those sins,
He paid the penalty for them. And in a similar fashion, His
perfect righteousness is imputed, or reckoned, to people who
are not actually righteous. (Romans 4:5, "[he] justifie[s] the
ungodly.") And even though they have no righteousness of
their own, they get credit for Christ's righteousness. That's
what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says that
"For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin . . . so that in him
we might become the righteousness of God."
Moving quickly through Romans 4, notice, first, that the
apostle Paul says faith is the sole instrument of our
justification. Chapter 4, verses 3-5:
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God,
and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Romans 5:12-19 4
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as
a gift but as his due.
5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him
who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as
So, he says, this justification is acquired through faith alone.
In no sense is our justification dependent on any works we
do. FaithCnot circumcision, not baptism, not any other ritual,
but faithCis the only instrument by which we lay hold of
justification. And continuing in chapter 4, Paul also cites
David to prove that all the Old Testament saints, both before
and after Moses, were dependent on a righteousness that was
imputed to them. So justification by faith is the only way
anyone was ever saved. And the only way any of us can ever
be saved is through a righteousness that is imputed to our
All this, by the way, completely debunks Roman
Catholicism and every other deviant form of Christianity.
Every cult and every false religion portrays our standing with
God as partially dependant on some work we must do.
Scripture is very clear that our justification is all Christ's
work, and we contribute nothing to it. Even our faith is not
meritorious in and of itself; faith is simply the instrument by
which we lay hold of the promise, and faith itself is a gift
The Two Adams 5
The rest of Romans 4 is dominated by an ingenious
argument Paul makes to show that in Genesis 15:6, Abraham
was declared righteous, and he was not circumcised until at
least 14 years later, in Genesis 17:24. In fact, Genesis 17:24
says "Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was
circumcised." So his circumcision was clearly not the reason
or the ground or even the instrument of his justification.
Justification is by grace through faith alone, period.
Turning then to Romans 5, the apostle Paul begins to
outline the benefits of justification. Now, let me say this: you
cannot understand the theology of the apostle PaulCor for
that matter, the theology of Christ HimselfCuntil you
understand this concept of justification as a legal reckoning.
Our guilt was reckoned to Christ; His righteousness is
reckoned to us; that is the whole basis upon which we are
That means, for one thing, that justification is an event,
not a process. A right standing with God is something we
enjoy right now, not something we merely hope for and look
forward to in the far-off future. Eternal life is the present
possession of all who trust Christ. Think how often Christ
Himself emphasized this truth. John 5:24: "Truly, truly, I say to
you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has
eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed
from death to life." In Luke 18:14, speaking of the Publican
Romans 5:12-19 6
who begged God for mercy because he was a sinner, Jesus
said, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified." He
promised eternal life to the thief on the cross the moment the
man repented. All of this underscores the reality of
justification as an event, not a process. It is a once-for-all
legal declaration, not a long course of advancement. It's not
something we obtain gradually or progress in; we are fully
justified the moment we believe.
And in Romans 5, when the apostle Paul begins to
expound the benefits of justification, he also stresses the fact
that justification is a once-for-all, settled, completed fact for
all believers. He never portrays it as an ongoing process or a
future hope, but always as a finished transaction.
Just look at these verses at the beginning of Romans 5,
because this will help you get into the immediate context of
our passage. Paul says that because we are justified, we have
peace with God (v. 1); access and a standing in God's grace
(v. 2); a reason to rejoice in our trials (vv. 3-5); and complete
reconciliation with God (vv. 5-10). All those are present
possessions for the believer. They are benefits of our
justification that we enjoy right now. Christ has already
obtained these things on our behalf.
And in the midst of all this, Paul keeps touching on the
truth that Christ is our representative, our substitute, our
proxy as far as divine justice is concerned. He says, for
The Two Adams 7
example, in verse 9, that we are "justified by his blood . . .
saved by him from the wrath of God." Verse 10, "we were
reconciled to God by the death of his Son . . . saved by his life."
All those expressions mean that in view of God's justice,
Christ is our representative. He stands at the bar of divine
judgment as our proxy. And the full merit of His
righteousness is ours by imputation.
Now think about the implications of all this. If we're
honest, I think we have to admit at some point that this
whole idea of merit-by-proxy runs counter to our intuitive
sense of justice. Is it right to appraise one man by the merits
of another? How can justice punish or reward one moral
agent according to the actions of another?
In fact, this is the very moral dilemma that makes the
doctrine of original sin so hard to deal with. Let's just put the
hard question on the table: How can God hold you and me
guilty for Adam's sin?
But when you find yourself asking that question,
remember that the very same question that lies at the heart of
our justification: How can God punish Christ for our sins?
and how can the merit of Christ's righteousness be imputed
And those are precisely the questions the apostle Paul is
dealing with in this very context. To show how Christ's
righteousness can count as merit for you and me, he goes
Romans 5:12-19 8
back to the example of Adam and how we inherited his guilt.
Paul is using the imputation of Adam's guilt as an illustration
of how Christ provides redemption. And that is what brings
the doctrine of original sin into the passage we're concerned
with this morning. This may well be the hardest passage in
the whole New Testament.
Now I'm going to read the whole passage, beginning with
verse 12. And as I read, I want you to notice several things:
First, it will be immediately clear to you that the apostle is
drawing an analogy between Adam and Christ. Pay attention
to that analogy. You will notice that sometimes he seems to
be making a comparison; other times it looks like he is
making a contrast. Actually he is doing both things. He is
showing that the means by which Adam's guilt comes to us is
the same as the means by which Christ's righteousness comes
to us. That is the comparison. But at the same time, he
emphasizes that the results of the two reckonings are
precisely opposite. That's the contrast.
Second, notice that verse 12 breaks off mid-sentence, and
verse 13 starts a new sentence with a whole new point. In
fact, verses 13-17 are one long parenthesis. Those five verses
are a slight digression. Something interrupted Paul's
thought-flow, and he injected verses 13-17 to lay a better
foundation for what he was planning to say. (The King
James Version and the New King James Version actually
The Two Adams 9
include parentheses to make it clear that verses 13-17 are
parenthetical.) That's important. If you miss the flow of
Paul's logic, you'll miss the meaning of the whole passage.
Basically, this is how to read the passage: Paul begins a
sentence in verse 12 that he never finishes. The parenthesis
of verses 13-17 is a little logical detour interjected into what
he was beginning to say. But then he returns in verse 18 to
restate what he began to say in verse 12, and this time he
finishes the sentence. If you don't see that pattern in his
logic, the passage won't make good sense.
Now I'm going to read the passage, starting with verse 12:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one
man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all
men because all sinned--
13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was
given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over
those whose sinning was not like the transgression of
Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many
died through one man's trespass, much more have the
grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man
Jesus Christ abounded for many.
16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's
sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought
Romans 5:12-19 10
condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses
17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned
through that one man, much more will those who receive
the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness
reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all
men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and
life for all men.
19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were
made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many
will be made righteous.
Now, let's look at this systematically, from two sides. First
we'll look at the comparison Paul is making between Adam
and Christ. Then we'll take note of the contrast he makes
The Two Adams 11
1. THE COMPARISON
Obviously, from where most of us sit it is a lot simpler to
see contrasts than comparisons between Christ and Adam.
And yet unless you see that both Adam and Christ fulfilled a
similar kind of headship, you will have difficulty
understanding any of this. So let me begin by saying
thisCand this is Paul's main point of comparison between
Christ and AdamCeach of them stands in a role of headship,
representing an entire class of people. Adam represents the
class of people who are "in Adam." Christ represents all
those who are "in Christ."
This same parallel between Adam's headship over the
human race and Christ's headship over the redeemed race
comes up repeatedly in Paul's writings. In 1 Corinthians
15:22, Paul writes, "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall
all be made alive." Then he even refers to Christ as "the last
Adam" in 1 Corinthians 15:45: "'The first man Adam became a
living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit." So
there's such an exact parallel between Adam and Christ that
the apostle in essence refers to Christ as the Second Adam.
Now the importance of this parallel can hardly be stressed
too much. Paul is saying that there is a correspondence
between the way we fell into sin in Adam and the way we are
redeemed from that sin in Christ. And unless you understand
the fall, you cannot understand redemption. That is why I
Romans 5:12-19 12
always stress the importance of the doctrine of original sin.
Your understanding of what it means to be "in Christ" is to a
very large degree dependant on what you think it means to be
And everyone is either "in Christ" or "in Adam." There's
no middle ground. All in Adam die; all in Christ are made
alive. All in Adam are clothed in guilt; all in Christ are
clothed in righteousness. And the whole point of the passage
we're concerned with this morning is this: The means by
which we become partakers of Christ's righteousness is an
exact parallel of how we became partakers of Adam's guilt.
Our relationship to Adam in his fall explains our relationship
to Christ in His redeeming work.
In fact, Paul says in a phrase at the end of verse 14 that
Adam "was a type [or a figure] of the one who was to come."
Adam is an archetype, prefiguring Christ. He's like a
prophetic foreshadowing of ChristCa living picture of the
one who was to come. Adam stood in relationship to the
human race as Christ stands in relationship to the redeemed
race. He is the firstborn in His position and His standingCthe
representative head of all in His class. The Greek word
translated "type" spoke of a die, or a pattern, from which a
coin was struck. And Paul is suggesting that the nature of
Adam's headship over the human race is an exact pattern of
The Two Adams 13
the headship of Christ over the redeemed race. They are like
coins struck from the same die.
What is the nature of that headship? There have been a
couple of ideas set forth about this. One suggests that Adam
is the literal father of the race, and he is our head merely
because we are his offspring. According to this view, we
inherit Adam's guilt because we were in him in seminal form
when he sinned. In other words, we descended from him, and
so his seminal relationship to us, the fact that we are his
offspring, is the primary thing that makes us the heirs of his
guilt and his sin. This idea is called seminal headship, and
those who hold this view point to Hebrews 7:10 for biblical
support. Keep a marker here in Romans 5 and turn to
Hebrews 7 for a moment.
Here the writer of Hebrews is making the point that
Melchizedek belonged to a higher order of priests than Levi.
And this is the argument he makes, verses 9-10: "One might
even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes
through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor
when Melchizedek met him." Levi, who was the offspring of
Abraham, in effect paid tithes to Melchizedek when
Abraham met him and paid those tithes. So that proves
Melchizedek is greater than Levi.
Romans 5:12-19 14
Those who hold to the seminal headship of Adam make a
similar argument: We all were in Adam's loins when he fell;
therefore we fell in him.
Now that's one fairly common explanation of Adam's
headship over the race. That is the seminal headship view. I
think it's the wrong view, partly because it makes mincemeat
of Romans 5, and partly because it results in some other
fairly serious theological difficulties. One is this: If we share
Adam's guilt because we are related to him seminally, why is
it just this one, original sin of Adam's that we inherit? If we
are guilty because of our seminal relationship, why do we
talk about Original Sin at all? Why are we not held equally
guilty for everything Adam did wrong, along with everything
every one of our ancestors has ever done wrong? If we fell
into sin because we were in Adam's loins when he sinned,
why doesn't God also hold us responsible for every wrong
thing our own fathers did before we were born? If I'm guilty
along with Adam because I was in his loins when he ate the
forbidden fruit, why am I not equally guilty for every sin
every one of my ancestors ever committed? If you held to the
seminal view consistently, you'd have to say that we must be
piling up guilt from every wrong thing our ancestors do
while we are in their loins. So in a sense, you and I would be
far more guilty in God's eyes than Cain and Abel were.
The Two Adams 15
And let me say this in passingCI don't believe Hebrews 7
is teaching that Levi really paid tithes to Melchizedek in
Abraham. This is symbolic and poetic language, merely to
stress the fact that if Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek,
and Levi descended from Abraham, then Melchizedek's
priesthood must have been superior to Levi's. I don't think he
is suggesting that Levi is really credited with Abraham'
actions just because he was still in his loins. Again that
would entail a view where every one of us is guilty for every
evil action of our forefathers before we are born, and
Scripture flatly denies that. Ezekiel 18:20: "The son shall not
suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the
iniquity of the son."
But an even bigger problem with the seminal headship
view is that it destroys the parallelism Paul is making here in
Romans 5. We have no seminal relationship with Christ.
There is no parallel sense in which we were ever in His loins.
So under the seminal view, Adam is our head in one senseCa
physical, literal senseCand Christ must be our head in some
totally different, spiritual sense.
Paul is expressly teaching here that the respective roles of
headship held by Adam and by Christ are perfectly parallel.
Adam stands (with respect to those "in Adam") in precisely
the same role of headship Christ takes (with respect to those
"in Christ"). The result is 180 degrees different. "in Adam all
Romans 5:12-19 16
die . . . in Christ shall all be made alive." They are the parallel
heads of their respective racesCAdam, the head of the fallen
race; Christ the Head of the redeemed race.
It is a representative headship. Some call it federal
headship. Adam stood at the head of our fallen race as a
representative for us all. Christ stands at the head of the
redeemed race in an identical kind of headship. He is our
representative. He acts as an agent, or a proxy, on our behalf.
And Adam was acting in a similar capacity when he fell into
This very same kind of representative headship is actually
quite common in the affairs of men. Let me give you a
couple of examples:
! I am the executive director of Grace to You, and at
times I act as a representative on behalf of that whole
organization. I can enter into contracts that affect
everyone in the organization. If I agree on behalf of the
organization to provide our radio broadcast for a
certain radio station, I actually obligate people on our
staff to make and supply the recordings. I act on their
behalf, and they become responsible to fulfill whatever
agreement I have made on behalf of the entire
organization. That's a positive example. Here's a
The Two Adams 17
! When Hitler invaded Poland, he thrust his whole
nation into war. When he escalated the war and began
dropping bombs on London, every German town and
every German citizen became a potential target of
Allied reprisals. The atrocities Hitler ordered against
Europe's Jewish population brought guilt and shame
and a reproach on Germany that still exists to a degree,
even two or three generations later. Federal headship is
a weighty responsibility, because if you make bad
choices or do evil things, many people might suffer
because of the actions of one.
And those are just a couple of earthly examples of how
federal headship works. It's really quite a common thing.
You fathers often act as the representative heads of your
families. And the elders of this church sometimes act as
representative heads for the body. I recently read the story of
a man who ran up a large debt and then abandoned his wife
and went into hiding. Because she was covenanted to him in
marriage, she is still legally obligated to repay his debts,
even though she took no active part in spending the money.
So this concept of headship is actually more common in
human affairs than you might think.
But how does it apply to Adam? In what capacity did
Adam represent the whole race? How did his sin bring guilt
Romans 5:12-19 18
Consider this: When creation was complete, and prior to
the fall, Adam and Eve literally were the entire human race.
Adam was given total freedom to eat any fruit in the garden
of Eden, with just one simple restriction. Now it should be
obvious from the nature of that arrangement that this was a
test. The human race, in its glorious, innocent, unfallen state
was being given a very easy test.
And Adam was our representative in this test. The first
and most perfect of all of us, he is frankly the one we would
have chosen had we been permitted to select a proxy for the
test. He was the prototypical human, better, smarter, more
honorable than any of his offspring. He was the fitting and
obvious choice (and the only choice at that time) to act as
head and stand as a representative for the whole human race.
The test was a simple test of obedienceCan easy test by
any measure. Adam was provided with a world of delights
and told he could eat every fruit in the entire gardenCexcept
one. Anything he wanted to do, he was free to do, but he was
not to taste the fruit of that one tree. And then acting in his
role as the representative of our race, he failed that simple
test, he ate the forbidden fruit, and that plunged the entire
race into sin. Because he acted in the capacity of our
representative head, we fell when he fell. Both guilt and
corruption passed to the whole human race because of what
The Two Adams 19
And that is the whole gist of the passage we are studying
Romans 5:12: "Sin came into the world through one man,
and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because
all sinned." Both the context and the grammatical
construction of this verse means that we all sinned in Adam.
We inherit both guilt and corruption from his act. Verse 18
proves we inherit his guilt, because "one trespass led to
condemnation for all men." And verse 19 proves we inherit
corruption from Adam's act: "by the one man's disobedience
the many were made sinners." This is true because Adam was
acting as our representative before God when he fell into sin,
and so we fell with him. We don't fall into sin individually,
on our own, but we are born sinners. And this explains why.
When Adam fell, he was acting as our representative and our
Notice what Paul is saying: the headship of Adam exactly
parallels the headship of Christ. Both of them acted as
representatives for many othersCAdam acting for all in
Adam; Christ acting for all who are in Christ.
You have heard me speak often of "substitutionary
atonement." Here is the whole basis for that principle: What
Christ did to redeem us, He did as our substitute and our
proxy. He fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf. Then He
died in our place and in our stead to pay the price of our sin.
Romans 5:12-19 20
His role in redeeming us perfectly mirrors and effectively
reverses Adam's role in plunging us into sin. Notice how
many times the apostle Paul draws this parallel in our
He starts to draw the parallel in verse 12: "Therefore, just
as sin came into the world through one man . . . " but he
doesn't complete that sentence. In fact, as I pointed out
earlier, everything from verse 13 through verse 17 is a
parenthetical section. Then in verse 18, he comes back to
what he was about to say in verse 18 and this time he
completes the thought: "Therefore, as one trespass led to
condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to
justification and life for all men." Notice the parallel: sin and
judgment came upon those who are in Adam in the very
same way that righteousness comes upon all who are in
In verse 15, he draws the parallel between Adam and
Christ again: "if many died through one man's trespass, much
more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that
one man Jesus Christ abounded for many."
And again in verse 16: "the judgment following one
trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many
trespasses brought justification."
And verse 17: "If, because of one man's trespass, death
reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive
The Two Adams 21
the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign
in life through the one man Jesus Christ."
And verse 19: "as by the one man's disobedience the many
were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will
be made righteous."
Again and again, Paul states that the relationship between
Adam's sin and those who are in Adam is the very same
relationship between Christ's righteousness and those who
are in Christ. Adam acted as the agent and representative of
all who are in him; and Christ likewise acted as the agent and
representative of all who are in Him. When Adam failed, we
failed in him; and when Christ died, we died in him.
2. THE CONTRAST
But now let's look at the contrast between Adam and
Christ. While they both stood at the head of their respective
peoples as federal head and representative, the results of
their headship could not be more different.
The best summary of the difference is actually found
outside this passage, in 1 Corinthians 15:22. I quoted it
earlier: "as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made
alive." And here in Romans 5, Paul breaks this same truth
down into several aspects. Let's just go through the contrasts
he highlights here:
Romans 5:12-19 22
! Verse 15: "But the free gift is not like the trespass."
Adam committed an offense that resulted in death for
many; but Christ provided a gift of grace that resulted
in life for many.
! Verse 16: "The free gift is not like the result of that one
man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass
brought condemnation, but the free gift following many
trespasses brought justification." (Do you see the
contrast there? With Adam as the representative head,
one guy sinned, and many were condemned. But with
Christ as the representative head, one sacrifice atoned
for the offenses of the many and justified them all.)
! Verse 17: Because of one man's offence death reigned
. . . [but all who are in Christ shall] reign in life.)
! Verse 18: "one trespass led to condemnation for all men,
so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life
for all men."
! And verse 19: "as by the one man's disobedience the
many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience
the many will be made righteous."
So let's sum up all these contrasts: Adam disobeyed; Christ
obeyed. Adam's headship brought condemnation to the
people he represented; Christ's headship results in
justification for those whom He represents. Adam brought
guilt and corruption on his people; Christ brings grace and a
The Two Adams 23
free gift to His people. Adam's headship brought death to
everyone in Adam; Christ's headship brings life to everyone
in Christ. As in Adam all die; even so in Christ shall all be
Now let me comment on something that people inevitably
ask about. Look at verse 18: "Therefore, as one trespass led to
condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to
justification and life for all men." There are some who want to
try to make this verse teach universalism. Notice the words
"all men." Occasionally someone will suggest that the "all
men" who were judged in Adam refers to each and every one
of Adam's offspring. So, they reason, when Paul says "one
act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all
men"Cdoes this suggest that each and every person will be
justified? No. Remember that this passage is describing the
representative headship of both Adam and Christ. The first
"all men" means "all who are in Adam." The second "all
men" means all who are in Christ.
There's one more difficulty presented in this passage that I
want to clear up. Verses 13-14: "for sin indeed was in the
world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where
there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even
over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of
Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."
Romans 5:12-19 24
Now, what does the apostle Paul mean when he says "sin
is not imputed when there is no law? Some have suggested that
this means people were not actually counted as guilty of any
sin before Moses brought the commandments down from the
But that is contrary to what we know from Scripture; it is
contrary to common sense; and it is contrary to the very
point Paul is making here. Let's analyze these two verses.
Paul starts with a plain statement of his point: until the
law sin was in the world. There was indeed sin prior to the
giving of the law, and people were held accountable for their
"But sin is not counted where there is no law." Some people
read that and conclude that if sin cannot be imputed in the
absence of law, people must not have been accountable for
their actions before Moses brought the tablets down from
Sinai. But Paul's point is exactly the opposite: "Sin is not
counted where there is no law"; Sin was clearly taken into
account before Moses; therefore there must have been some
kind of law. After all, God judged Sodom; He judged the
whole world with a flood; and in fact, every person who ever
lived from Adam to Moses died. And that is the ultimate
proof that they were sinners, and sin was indeed imputed to
them: they died. Verse 14: "death reigned from Adam to
The Two Adams 25
Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the
transgression of Adam."
In other words, the universality of death proves the
universality of sin. Even people who do not sin against a
direct, clearly-revealed commandment of God, the way
Adam did, still sin against their own consciences. They
violate the law written in their hearts (Romans 2:15). And
thus they prove their complicity with Adam by violating
whatever moral principles they hold to. So the ultimate proof
that sin was in the world even before Moses' law was
inscribed on tablets is the fact that death reigned during that
time. Not one person escaped, because not one person is
exempt from having participated with Adam in his sin. If
human history teaches us anything, it teaches us this: sin is a
universal reality. And the greatest proof of that is the
universality of death. That is Paul's point in verses 13-14.
Now let's tie all this up and conclude. I began by pointing
out that verse 18 teaches that in some sense, and to some
degree, each one of us is tainted by guilt from Adam's sin.
Some degree of guilt from Adam's original sin is imputed to
each one of us.
How can someone else's guilt be justly imputed to us?
Two reasons: One, as we have seen, Adam was acting as our
representative head when he fell; and two, our own actions
prove that we are in every sense in agreement with, and in
Romans 5:12-19 26
complicity with, Adam's rebellion against God. And so God
imputes to us the guilt that Adam incurred. We are justly
held guilty along with him.
There are always people who want to resist this truth and
complain that this sort of legal imputation is unfair and
unjust, no matter how much biblical evidence you set before
them to show that Adam's sin did indeed result in the fall of
the entire human race.
But consider this: without this doctrine of legal
imputation, we would have no hope of salvation. Christ was
able to pay the penalty for our sins because the guilt of those
sins was imputed to Him. If you rule out the imputation of
guilt from one person to another, you destroy the very notion
of atonement. And in a similar sense, this doctrine of
imputation explains how the merit of Christ's righteousness
can be imputed to all who are "in Christ." And this is the
only way that while we are yet sinners, God can justify us
and bring us into a perfect, right relationship with him.
So in an important sense, the doctrine of Original Sin is
based on the very same principles as the doctrine of
justification by faith. That is why Paul brought the subject up
in this context to begin with. One doctrine explains the other.
and if you do not embrace the justice that imputes guilt from
Adam to you, you will never be able to embrace the doctrine
of justification by faithCwhere our guilt was imputed to
The Two Adams 27
Christ and atoned for; and His righteousness is imputed to us
That is the gospel. Throw away the doctrine of original
sin, and you undermine the very foundation of the gospel.
Understand the doctrine of original sin, and a host of vital
doctrines fall into place. It explains why we have this sinful
bent. It reminds us that we cannot save ourselves. And most
important of all, it makes sense of the doctrine of
justification by faith. Like every other vital truth in Scripture,
it points us to Christ, the second Adam, who made the only
possible atonement for our sin and who provides us with the
righteousness we need for a right standing with GodCby
faith alone. "For if by the transgression of the one, death
reigned through the one, much more those who receive the
abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in
life through the One, Jesus Christ."