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III.2. Romans 5:12-21. The Second Adam.

St. Paul had spoken, at the end of the passage we have just been reading, of our being 'saved by (or 'in') Christ's life.' And this brings him to what is truly the central point of his theology — the life in Christ by the Spirit: the thought that the glorified Man, with all the power of the divine life at work in Him, though He is hidden from sight, is still perpetuating His life by His Spirit in that society which He has established to be His body. It stands to reason that if real fellowship in the life of Christ is the privilege of the Christian, this must be a greater thing by far than any preparatory gift of acquittal or justification, which indeed has its value simply in virtue of that to which it admits us. St. Paul then loves to contrast the new humanity of believers in Christ, the life in Christ, in all its moral characteristics, with the old humanity, enslaved to sin, as it existed substantially identical in its bondage under the outwardly differing conditions of Gentile and Jewish society. And as that old life of our race had a unity which St. Paul believed was due to a common origin in the first man Adam, so he thought of Christ as a second Adam — the 'last Adam' — a spiritual progenitor from whom was to be derived another human race by spiritual generation with a better unity of its own; or rather a new spiritual progenitor from whom the whole of the old race might gradually derive, by spiritual regeneration, a new life, which should penetrate and spread, and oust the corruption of the old humanity, till the whole was redeemed and ushered into the glory for which it had been originally destined.

And here, in the passage we are now to read, St. Paul develops the thought of the influence of Adam and his sin upon the human race, and draws from it an argument for the deeper and greater influence of the New Man upon the same race, reconstituted under a new head.

Adam's sin — the disobedience of the one man — had a disastrous effect upon his race as a whole. It introduced sin, and through sin its penalty, death; and it passed to all mankind — the penalty, because also the sin. All men sinned in fact, and all died. This can be stated without exception. It is quite true that where there is no special law to instruct men, they may sin ignorantly, and therefore without its being imputed to them as guilt; yet the sin is there all the same, and its presence, before the Mosaic law was given to enlighten men, was marked by the reign of death, even in the case of persons innocent of any actual sin like Adam's. Sin then, as marked by death, exists universally, apart from any knowledge of it or even any actual offence, as the effect of Adam's transgression upon his whole race. But to Adam corresponds in the divine purpose Christ. He is the new head of the race — to transmit the free gift of life, as Adam transmitted the penalty of death. His life was one summary obedience: one perfectly acceptable object to the eyes of God. And there flows from it an abundant river of the good favour of God — which is also the good favour of the man Jesus Christ — and of the gift by which that good favour shows itself, the gift of righteousness extending on into an eternal life. Therefore we may argue a fortiori[1] from the influence of Adam to the influence of Christ — [a fortiori, because, though God has been, so to speak, constrained to punish us, His whole desire is to do us good; and the method of diffusion which He has allowed to operate for evil, we can be much more sure He will set to work for good][2]. We see the trespass of the one generating universal death, and we are sure that the counter influence of Christ is as universally diffusive and incomparably more powerful. We see the one man's offence appealing to God for judgement and producing a condemned race; but we see, on the other hand, a multitude of sins appealing to the divine compassion to let loose the free gift which shall make for acquittal. If the consequence of the transgression was inevitable, and a reign of death followed, so much more certainly must the divine gift, abundant as it is, bring about the triumph of eternal life. If the one fault diffused itself in universal condemnation, so the one act which meets the divine approval must diffuse itself to produce universally an accepted life. One disobedience made the whole race sinners: one obedience shall make the whole race righteous. The law came in parenthetically to the world of sin and death to let actual sin, like Adam's, have its full and fatal scope. But the greatness of the sin only magnifies still more the greatness of the remedy which divine goodness supplies, that the sovereignty of sin in a world of death might be swallowed up in the sovereignty of divine goodwill working through righteousness to life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, for that all sinned: — for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come. But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgement came of one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass the judgement came to all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came to all men to justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous. And the law came in beside, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly: that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

1. St. Paul in this section, as also in part in his speech at Athens, teaches, as matter which can be assumed and need not be emphasized, that God made 'of one' (Adam) 'every nation of men[3]'; that Adam, by actual transgression of a divine commandment, introduced sin, and with sin death which is its punishment, into the world of man; and that as a result all men sinned. This universal sin he would, no doubt — as in chapter i, so here — ascribe in part to men's own wills. In this very chapter he asserts that what finally 'abounded' was actual 'transgression' like Adam's[4]. But this is not the whole account of the matter. Prior to all question of actual sins; prior to all question of knowledge or consequent responsibility, death was universal, and death marked the inward reign of sin. Men in the mass were, through Adam's sin, constituted sinners[5].

St. Paul then, assuming here as elsewhere[6] the narrative of Gen. iii as true in substance if not in form, teaches (1) the unity of our race as derived from Adam; (2) the original transgression of Adam, as being partly the example of subsequent sins and partly the source of a moral corruption, which since his fall has been inherent in our race independently of any actual sins; and (3) the introduction of death into the human race as the punishment of sin.

On the other hand, the common idea of an imputation of Adam's guilt to his descendants he expressly does not teach. Sin is not imputed or reckoned as guilt to the individual apart from the knowledge necessary to constitute responsibility[7]. It is extraordinary how the idea of imputed guilt can have come to be ascribed to St. Paul when he expressly guards against it. What the descendants of Adam inherit is an actual inherent weakness or sinfulness. Again, St. Paul does not attempt to analyze the actual sin of the world so as to discriminate between the factors of inherited weakness on the one hand and reiterated acts of rebellion on the other; but he recognizes both. His language indeed here, and in chapter vii, would be satisfied by a very moderate doctrine of the effects of original sin, that is, of the transmitted effect of sin, considered apart from its repetition. There is no warrant whatever in St. Paul for the idea that one man's sin resulted in the total depravity of human nature. Once more he is content, as usual, to teach generally and without exactness. Thus he does not consider the exceptions to the universal law of death recorded in the Old Testament — Enoch and Elijah — though he, no doubt, recognized them. That in spite of these exceptions he still states the law with such universality: 'Death reigned from Adam to Moses even over them that had not sinned[8]' is a warning not to understand St. Paul's universal propositions with an exactness only applicable to those of a schoolman or a modern man of science.

2. So much for the substance of St. Paul's teaching; and now what is to be said as to its sources? St. Paul states his doctrine of original sin as if it were a commonplace which he could assume and argue from. Now the Book of Genesis certainly spoke of a primaeval disobedience in our first parents, and of the infliction on them, as a penalty for their disobedience, of conditions of strife and pain and death. But the idea of the transmission of sinfulness does not seem to be suggested. Moreover, this narrative made remarkably little impression on the Old Testament literature as a whole[9]. The doctrine, however, of the introduction of death through the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve is found again in the apocryphal literature: thus, 'God created man for incorruption, ... but by the envy of the devil death entered into the world[10].' From a woman was the beginning of sin; and because of her we all die[11].' To Adam you gave your one commandment, which he transgressed, and immediately you appointedst death for him and in his generations; and there were born of him nations and tribes, peoples and kindreds, out of number[12].' 'Adam sinned, and death was decreed against those who should be born[13].' This was also the prevalent doctrine of the Rabbis represented in the Talmud. The idea of an inheritance of moral corruption — but not specially associated with Adam's fall — may be found in the cry of the Psalmist, 'In sin has my mother conceived me!' perhaps also in other passages of the Old Testament, and in our Lord's teaching, as recorded both by the Synoptists and in St. John's Gospel[14]; but as connected with Adam's sin it does not, so far as can be ascertained, appear for certain in Jewish literature till we get to the Second Book of Esdras, a Jewish Apocalypse later than St. Paul. There it is taught that there was originally a seed of evil, 'a wicked heart,' in Adam as he was created, side by side with the good in him, and that he by his sin gave it preponderance in the race[15] — a form of teaching not by any means identical with St. Paul's. On the whole, then, it remains a matter of some doubt what exactly was the source where St. Paul got the certainty and completeness of his doctrine of 'the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam.'

3. The more important question for us, however, is not where St. Paul derived the materials for his teaching, but whether it is true — whether it can hold in the light of modern anthropology. And to this question only a partial answer — the answer that appears to be most necessary — will be attempted here[16].

We are in our generation rightly anxious if we are asked to accept any professedly historical statement for which we feel the evidence is doubtful. We know that from the point of view of history the origin of our human species is lost in dense obscurity and uncertainty. And it relieves many consciences to realize that, if St. Paul states his argument in a form which implies the historical character of the narrative in Genesis iii, all that is necessary for his argument is to assume (1) that the human race is organically one, and can be dealt with as one; (2) that sin is universal in our race; (3) that at least the sting or curse or bondage of death is due to sin. If we realize that this is all that need be allowed in order to give us full fellowship in St. Paul's religious teaching, we shall be able to investigate the further truth of his teaching, from a scientific and historical point of view, with a free mind.

And the three propositions stated above are not reasonably open to doubt, (1) That our race is one species, and derived from one source, is the conclusion of the modern ethnologist as much as of St. Paul[17]. The general theory of evolution has effectively counteracted the previous tendency to postulate the existence of various independent races of men.

(2) There are many professors of psychology who deny the existence of moral freedom and consequently of sin in St. Paul's sense at all. As I have already pointed out, this is the real battle-ground between theology and science. But granted the reality of moral freedom and of sin, i.e. of something which need not and ought not to have been committed, it is impossible to deny that, below the innumerable sins of which human history is full, there exists deep in our nature an 'ineradicable taint' — a morbid tendency to do wrong — a bias or propensity to evil — which is the heritage of our race; which indeed men may become unconscious of by acquiescing in sin, but of which they become painfully conscious again as soon as they are awakened to a moral ideal. The late Dr. Mozley collected a remarkable series of passages from what he calls 'worldly philosophers and poets' — notably Byron and Shelley — testifying to the belief in universal sin[18]. This of course we may say is only the inheritance of animal tendencies from an animal ancestry; but if so, it is exactly what our higher spiritual nature might and ought to have subdued long ago and brought into subjection. Its presence with us and in us now is the result of sins innumerable — innumerable wilful preferences of the lower to the higher nature, which have let it loose and given it force. It is, in the strictest sense, the inheritance of sin in the race.

(3) The New Testament frequently reiterates the assertion that Christ has robbed death of its sting or delivered men from its bondage. And this is also expressed (both by St. Paul and by our Lord Himself, as reported by St. John) by saying that Christ has 'abolished death[19]' or that the believer shall never die[20]. But if Christ has abolished death, then there is at least a certain sense in which sin has been the cause of death. The essence of death, according to this use of the word, lies not in the physical transition from one state of existence to another, which is no more death than it is birth. Death means destruction, ruin and collapse. And what is called death — the death of the present body — has only gathered about it such terrible associations because men have become corrupt, and godless and therefore short-sighted in their estimate of life. In the moral sense then in which Christ abolished death, sin certainly introduced it for man.

Now there is, I think, reason to believe more exactly with St. Paul than is involved in these three positions[21]. But I feel sure that any one who accepts these three positions — no one of which any believer in God and morality can well reject — may find himself in complete practical fellowship with St. Paul's religious thought and with the whole argument of this epistle.

Humanity, in spite of all its racial differences, is a great unity: it is, if not 'of one' individual, yet 'of one blood,' and it is as a whole infected with sin; this is in effect the doctrine of the 'old Adam.' And because it is one, and universally tainted, therefore Christ can deal with it as one, in order to accomplish its restoration. And all St. Paul's argument holds good. God has made humanity one, and so one that what each does tends to affect all. Thus it has come about that the force of sin — the wilful refusal of the higher life and choice of the lower — has passed in its effects into the moral fibre of our race, and weakened and corrupted the whole. God tolerates this, for man must be, and must be dealt with as being, one and free. But God desires the well-being of man. He hates sin. It has all but baffled His purpose for man. Therefore, if He has tolerated the use which sin has made of the organic unity of the human race, He can much more be trusted to use that same unity for the purpose of good. As man is one in sin, so we can be one in righteousness: as the old Adam has been universal, so can the new. As sin has been propagated physically, so Christ can spiritually propagate the new humanity. The forces of recovery shall spread and permeate more radically than the forces of evil, and shall finally triumph.

Of course, in view of all the deep racial differences between, for instance, Europeans, Chinamen, and the races of India, to believe in the unity of humanity in any real sense at all is a great act of faith. But it is an act of faith in which science encourages us, and not least the comparative study of religions. Our religious instincts and faculties are found in very different degrees of development, but they are fundamentally the same. And it is an act of faith to which Christ and Christianity fundamentally commit us, though it is probably true to say that since New Testament times the brotherhood of men has been practically found to be the most difficult of Christian dogmas.

4. It is not inopportune, in view of recent controversy, to call attention in this connection to the fact that St. Paul's doctrine of Christ as the second Adam of necessity involves in some form His miraculous birth. St. Paul indeed says nothing about Christ's nativity of the Virgin as an event in history; but he conceives of the Christ as a fresh start in humanity, a new man, who yet drew the substance of His humanity from the old stock, for He was 'born of a woman,' and 'of the seed of David.' There is thus physical continuity between the old Adam and Christ, and yet, from the moral point of view, the break is complete. The inheritance of sin which has followed, and must according to natural law follow, physical descent, is quite cut off. Christ is man of our old substance and yet new man, wholly free from any taint of sin. This involves a new creative act upon the humanity of Christ in its source. It involves something strictly miraculous conditioning the continuity of His descent from David. There is continuity, and yet a break in continuity. And this is exactly what the strongly-attested fact of the Virgin birth — whatever be the physiological account which is to be given of it — is calculated to supply. It presents us with a Christ born of a woman, of the substance of our nature, and yet only so constituted by a new creative act of God.

5. It will of course be noticed that the drift of St. Paul's argument in this passage is directly towards universal salvation, for 'the many' means 'the whole mass.' This is the case in other places where he is considering what we may call the natural tendency and scope of the gospel, 'As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' But there are passages of a different tendency in St. Paul's epistles, where he is considering the human attitude towards the purpose of God; and there he appears to emphasize strongly the power of the human will to refuse the light and turn God's blessing into a curse. If the 'savour' of the apostle's preaching is to 'those who are being saved a savour proceeding from life and tending to life,' even eternal life, it is for the wilful who are perishing in their wilfulness 'a savour as from death and tending to death': for they shall 'suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his might[22].' What this eternal destruction means, and how it is to be harmonized with the vision of unity, we cannot precisely tell. Verily, 'we know' but 'in part.' But at least we must recognize that St. Paul asserts both sides of the picture: and that the 'terror' and the hope are not dissociable.

6. We must also notice, before we leave the passage, that the application of the word justification receives a certain extension. As the 'grace' of God is associated with a 'gift of righteousness[23],' that is to say, of real fellowship in the life of God, so the preliminary 'justification of sinners,' in which the divine grace first of all conspicuously shows itself, is to pass into a 'justification of life' (or 'a justification taking effect in life'); that is to say, the actual life is to become acceptable. God begins with accepting sinners and dealing with them as if they were righteous if only they will believe. But it is in view of a moral process which is to produce a new life, and is to end in making acceptable not themselves only, in spite of their lives, but their life itself. The object of the justifying faith is, and must be, as we saw, a living person. It is Christ who was 'raised again for our justification.' And the living Christ can be satisfied with nothing short of a living fellowship between us and Himself in His own life and spirit.

[1] An a fortiori argument means an argument with a 'still more' in it: — If something is so then still more something else.

[2] The words in brackets are the suppressed premise in the argument — suppressed, but none the less evident.

[3] Acts xvii. 26.

[4] ver. 20.

[5] ver. 13, 14, 19.

[6] 1 Cor. xi. 3; 1 Tim. ii. 13-15.

[7] Rom. iv. 15; v. 13.

[8] Much more (the argument implies) after the law had been given and sin could be 'imputed' as sin again.

[9] The references in Hos. vi. 7, Isa. xliii. 27, Job xxxi. 33, are not certainly, or even probably, to Adam. There is an obscure but interesting reference in Ezek. xxviii. 14-16, in which 'the fall' seems to be treated as representative of Tyre's fall, and presumably therefore of all situations in which divine gifts and vocations are squandered and lost.

[10] Wisd. ii. 23, 24; cf. Rom. v. 12.

[11] Ecclus. xxv. 24. The first clause need not mean more than 'she was the first to sin.'

[12] 2 Esdras iii. 7.

[13] Apoc. Baruch xxiii. 4, and elsewhere. In parts of this book the penalty of Adam's sin is regarded as being not death, but premature death: see liv. 15, lvi. 6, and Mr. Charles' notes.

[14] See Matt. vii. 11; John ii. 25; iii. 3, &c.

[15] 2 Esdras iii. 21, 22; iv. 30; vii. 48.

[16] The matter is to be dealt with more at length in app. note E.

[17] See E. B. Tylor in Encycl. Brit. ii, s.v. ANTHROPOLOGY, p. 114: 'The polygenist view (i.e. the doctrine of a plurality of origins) till a few years since was gaining ground. Two modern views, however (i.e. the belief in the antiquity of man and the development of species), have tended to restore, though under a new aspect, the doctrine of a single human stock.' Cf. Darwin, Descent of Man (2nd ed.), p. 176: 'Those naturalists who admit the principle of evolution ... will feel no doubt that all the races of men are descended from a single primitive stock.' See also Keane in app. note E.

[18] Mozley's Lectures and Theol. Papers (Longmans), pp. 157 ff.

[19] 2 Tim. i. 10.

[20] John vi. 50; viii. 51.

[21] See app. note E.

[22] 2 Thess. i. 7-10; 2 Cor. ii. 16.

[23] ver. 17.

From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore D.D. Reprinted in 1900. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.

Insights of the past for the present

To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore


1: 1-7. Salutation

1: 8-17. St. Paul's Introduction

1:18-3:20. Sin and Condemnation

1:18-32. Judgement on Gentiles

2:1-29. Judgement on the Jews

3:1-8. Jewish Objections

3:9-20. Universal Condemnation

3:21-4:25. Justification by Faith Only

4. The True Seed

5-8. Consequences of Justification

5:12-21. The Second Adam

6:1-14. Living by Dying

6:15-23. The Perfect Freedom

7:1-6. Freedom by Union with Christ

7:7-25. The Function of the Law

8:1-11. Life in the Spirit

8:12-17. The Life of Sonship

8:18-30. The Hope of the Creation

8:31-39. Christian Assurance


Knowledge of the Holy - A.W. Tozer

The Pursuit of God - A.W. Tozer

The Dwelling Place - A.W. Tozer

Plumber of Lisburn - A.W. Tozer

Spiritual Power Vows - A.W. Tozer

Root of the Righteous - A.W. Tozer

Essays - A.W. Tozer

Fourfold Gospel - A.B. Simpson

Gospel of Healing - A.B. Simpson

Life of A.B. Simpson - C&MA

Mark Gospel 1/4 - A MacLaren

Mark Gospel 2/4 - A MacLaren

Mark Gospel 3/4 - A MacLaren

Mark Gospel 4/4 - A MacLaren

Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice

To the Romans - R.V. Foster

To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore

To the Corinthians - J.S. Riggs

To the Philippians - R. Rainy

To the Galatians - Luther

To the Hebrews - H.C.G. Moule

To the Hebrews - T.C. Edwards

Wisdom of James - A.T. Robertson

Epistles of John 1/2 - W. Alexander

Epistles of John 2/2 - W. Alexander

Kingdom of Heaven - E. Burbidge

Deuteronomy - C.H. Mackintosh

Religion and Theology - J. Tulloch

The Being of God - St Anselm

The Existence of God - St Anselm

God Became Man - St Anselm

The Other Wise Man - H. Van Dyke

First Christmas Tree - H. Van Dyke

A Christmas Carol - C Dickens

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