The Two Adams (Phil Johnson)

Romans 5:12-19   |   Sunday, August 31, 2014   |   Code: 2014-08-31-PJ

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

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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

our own.

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

from God.

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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

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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

to us?

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

brought justification.

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

between them.

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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

"in Adam."

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

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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.

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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

negative one:

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! 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

upon us?

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

Adam did.

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And that is the whole gist of the passage we are studying

this morning:

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.


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

made alive.

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

for salvation.

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."