Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

Romans 5 : 12 - 21

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the latter half of Romans 5, Paul teaches that the entire human race is summarised in the two Adams. The first Adam was the federal (from the Latin foeder, < foedus, ‘formal agreement’), head of the race under the covenant of works; the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the federal head of all believers under the covenant of grace. Thus, as the sin of Adam was legally and effectively our sin, so the obedience of Christ is legally and effectively the righteousness of all believers. The federal relationship in which Adam stood to the race was the ground of the imputation of his guilt to them and the judicial cause of their condemnation. And the law that condemned them could not justify them unless an adequate reparation should be made for the wrong done, a reparation they were incapable of making because of the corruption they inherited from Adam as their natural and federal head. To provide their salvation, the needed reparation had to be made by another who was not of federal connection with Adam and therefore was free from the imputation of his guilt. Federal theology represents these requirements as being met in Christ, the second Adam, in whom a new race begins. God had entered into covenant with him, promising him the salvation of all believers as the reward of his obedience. But the obedience required of him as the federal head of his people was more than the mere equivalent of that required of Adam. His representative obedience must include a penal death. And thus his resurrection victory is also the victory of the new humanity that has its source in him. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology)

'Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned'; The Apostle Paul regarded Genesis 3 as totally, historically true. According to Paul, Adam and Eve were real people and what they did has a lasting effect to the present day. “To Paul, Adam was more than a historical individual, the first man; he was also what his name means in Hebrew – ‘humanity.’ The whole of humanity is viewed as having existed at first in Adam.” (Bruce) Paul doesn’t prove this, he simply accepts that it is true from Genesis 3 – sin entered the world through Adam. Significantly, Adam is responsible for the fall of the human race, not Eve. Death entered the world and spread to all everyone as a result of Adam’s sin. God promised Adam, 'in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die' (Genesis 2:17). The principle of death was introduced into the world when Adam sinned and it has reigned on earth ever since. Every grave is mute evidence to the spread and reign of sin since the time of Adam. Since death and sin are connected, we can know that all are sinners – because all are subject to death. Since every person is subject to death – even the smallest baby – it proves that all sinned in Adam.

But this is all problematic for us today. The above is casuistry - circular argument. The explanation for the origins of sin is not sufficient. Neither is it proven that sin causes death or that physical death is the consequence of one person’s sin. It is true that sin causes the dying of the human spirit, the expiration of the image of God in us. It is true that as far as we know there has been no perfectly sinless human life. But even if we say that all can have life through Christ, we still die, Christian and non-Christian alike. How would it be if Adam and Eve had been immortal? Would their children if they had had them been immortal too? If so, would they all still be here? Could the earth accommodate human immortality? Was it ever meant to? It is good to have an explanation for human sinfulness and finitude but only if it is a satisfactory explanation. Paul’s understanding of the origins of sin in Adam’s disobedience is not convincing and his further positing of the practised sinfulness as the cause of human physical death even less convincing.

Genesis One is evolutionary but it seems that all the animals are herbivores. Adam and Eve appear to be vegans. But what was the purpose of creating an immortal paradise on earth for two people to enjoy? There is no connection between Adam and Eve and the pattern of nature, the fossil record and the food chain. Nor is there any such connection in Noah’s ark. What did the lions and tigers eat? Paul seems to acknowledge humanity’s existence apart from Judaism (v13) and to exempt humanity, ignorant of the Law, that is God’s will and commands for humanity, or at least for His chosen people, from condemnation. They were not as bad as Adam who was not ignorant and yet who broke a specific command. And it is his sin that humanity inherited for all time. It is a severe doctrine.

Who wrote Genesis? Many Christians cite Moses. Judaism in the time of Jesus held that Moses wrote the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. European scholars over the last three hundred years have suggested that these books were actually written many centuries later. But they are vague about the sources of the books. Moses was educated as an Egyptian prince and could read and write. He probably had two sources for his own understanding of history, the oral tradition and the genealogies of the people of God. Numbers 33 : 1 – 2 and thereafter clearly indicates his capacity as a historian of contemporary events. ‘Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey.’ But this does not refer to his writing down of pre-history, that is, the creation of the world and the fall of humankind. However, it is reasonable to deduce that Moses did write down the oral tradition and the genealogies of his people. These continued anyway, independent of written records. Moses surely cannot have written about his own death in Deuteronomy 34 : 5. - 6. ‘And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is’. Some scholars suggest that this account was written by Joshua.

Fundamentalists suggest that Moses knew about the creation by divine revelation. That cannot be proved or disproved. Genesis I – 3 cannot be verified scientifically. However, these chapters accord with the human experience ever since. They are lively and relevant in the world today. They explain our condition. That is an amazing coincidence. The account of the Fall does not belong to anthropology, social history or science. It is about our relationship with God our Maker and this has its own logic, rule and dynamic. But it must also have reason and rationality or else we cannot understand it. Our relationship with God is not bound and determined by the laws of of physics and biology. Our minds cannot comprehend God. That we know anything is by God’s initiative, by revelation to chosen people throughout the ages. Does that mean that we have to accept that God created the world in six twenty-four hour days beginning on 23rd October 4004 BC as did Bishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656) of the Anglican Church of Ireland. This just does not correlate to our modern estimates of the ages of the planet earth (4.5 billion years) and of the universe (13.8 billion years).

There have been many creation myths in human social history. There were plenty in the middle east in Biblical times. Marduk was the God of Babylon regarded as the God of Water, Agriculture, Justice, Medicine, and Magic. Today indigenous peoples’ creation myths are being given respect, usually to balance Christian and western influence over recent centuries. But there is false equality. For example the Maori creation myth states that ‘In the beginning Ranginui (the sky) and Papatūānuku (the earth) were joined together, and their children were born between them in darkness. The children decided to separate their parents, to allow light to come into the world. After this, the children became gods of various parts of the natural world.’

These myths did not progress mankind. They were not rational. They were imaginatively contrived. The Jewish account of creation is a moral one. It can be rationally interpreted for modern times. It relates to the human condition in every age. It can make sense, even today. Above all, the history of the People of God, the Jews is extraordinary. The contribution of Moses to the world is significant in world terms in itself and through Christianity’s global presence and influence. Jews have contributed masses of good things to humanity in the understanding of God, in science, technology, medicine and the arts. Israel is the only democracy in the middle east. This did not just happen. Jews represent the moral aspect of our relationship with our Maker. Christianity represents the reconciliatory aspect of our Maker’s relationship with us. Both describe human nature past and present.

The rational literary prophets of the Old Testament including Isaiah and Jeremiah understood the essentially moral relationship of God with His people. Christianity represented a quantum leap forward in understanding this. The European Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment all sprang from Christian sources. The human beings recognised as outstanding in the 20th century were Christians, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II and Desmond Tutu. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were inspired by Christianity. Those recognised as the worst human beings ever to have lived were not Christians, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot. In the 21st century Queen Elizabeth II’s Christian faith has elevated her in the eyes of many throughout the world. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, although using Orthodox Christianity as a cover and as a pretence, is proving to be one of worst human beings ever to have lived. Xi Jinping of China might become the very worst this century. The point is that we are justified in reinterpreting the Adam and Eve story for the times we live in. There is progressive revelation throughout the Bible and it continues.

Can we understand the death through Adam, life through Christ teaching of Paul in any way that makes sense to us today but which does not diminish the seriousness of the case being made against Adam and for Jesus Christ? Paul was adhering to the wisdom of the time. Moses wrote Genesis. Adam and Eve were real people. Sin came into the world through Adam’s disobedience and was the cause of human mortality. Where does sin begin? We do not know. We experience invasions of the mind, unwelcome thoughts, astonishing suggestions just as Eve did. Jesus encountered evil in a direct, targeted and personalised way. Evil exists and some humans exercise its seductions to the great harm of others. Mass murderers, serial killers, multiple rapists, child abusers all show forth the realities of evil suggestion. The Adam and Eve story does not explain the origins of evil but it testifies to its presence and inclinations in the human mind.

A Jewish man went to his tailor to order a new jacket. ‘How long will it take?, he asked. ‘Six days’, the tailor replied. ‘Six days – the Lord made the world in six days’, said the customer. ‘Yes’, replied the tailor, ‘Look at the world – and look at these jackets.’ The world is in turmoil. Humanity is clearly sin inclined and sin practising. There is much disease, dishonesty, immorality, theft and violence throughout the populace. Some is socially, nationally, internationally and globally organised. There is also a sickening imagination to the expression of sin made known through the media and on the internet. We learn of new varieties of crime every day. There is a direct connection between the sin of Adam and present human practice.

The search for knowledge itself was not forbidden to Adam but the search for the knowledge of good and evil was. This is clearly connected to the self-discovery of sexuality. It cannot be about eating various types of fruit. That is allegory. Otherwise why does the text say ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.' (Genesis 3 : 7) Primal innocence remained in the human community. The Luo of Kenya went about completely naked until the second half of the twentieth century. Such innocence can still be found among some remote tribes along the Amazon river and in the jungles of south east Asia. What was the cause of the tension between human sexuality and God? It has persisted throughout Christianity, especially from Augustine who thought that sin is transferred from generation to generation through sexual congress. Yet there is no other area of personal living which humans make such a mess of and the present times clearly illustrate this fact. Sex is never to be a free for all. Extreme liberalism is not Godly. It is misuse of the gift of procreation.

It is very difficult for us today to accept that Eve’s seduction by an external evil entity, followed by Adam’s disobedience is the cause of human mortality. The punishment is disproportionate. Did God really create Adam and Eve immortal? How does this square with the injunction God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1 : 28) Birth and death are part of the order of creation at every level. But it is natural for any human being to ask ‘Why must I die?’ It would have been logistically impossible for immortal human beings to be fruitful and multiply given earth’s size and scarce resources.

If Paul’s universality of application seems harsh and unwarranted, his universal application of grace, forgiveness and eternal life answers all the questions; ‘so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Not condemnation but forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Not immortality on earth but eternal life in heaven is the new deal. Christianity expresses the drama of human consciousness in relation to our Maker. It is in principle inclusive, universal. That is the wisdom of God and we must just bow before it.

Robert Anderson 2017

To contact Robert, please use this email address: