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Frank Thielman: The two paragraphs, however, are closely tied together logically and thematically. Logically, 5:12–21 advances the argument of 5:1–11 by explaining an important implication of the reconciliation that believers have experienced through the atoning death of Christ. “Because of this” costly act of reconciliation (5:12), the disaster of sin and death that Adam brought on all humanity has started to be reversed. Through the death of Christ (his “righteous act” or “obedience” [5:18, 19]), believers already experience the free gift of God’s grace (5:15), justification (5:16, 18, 19), and life (5:18, 21), although through the use of the future tense in 5:17 (“will . . . reign in life”) Paul shows that the reversal of the consequences of Adam’s transgression is not yet complete.

Thematically, 5:12–21 continues to emphasize the generous nature of God’s grace and love that played an important role in 5:1–11. In 5:5 Paul had spoken of God’s love as “poured into” believers’ hearts, emphasizing its lavish nature, and in 5:7–8 he had described God’s love as so great that Christ died for believers while they were sinners. In the same way, Paul’s qualification of his comparison between the universal effects of Adam’s trespass and Christ’s righteous act in 5:12–21 focuses on how God’s grace does not simply meet the disastrous effects of Adam’s sin measure for measure but overwhelms it with an abundance of grace (5:15–17, 20). . .

In this paragraph Paul demonstrates an important consequence of God’s gracious initiative to reconcile people to himself through the death of Christ. The atoning death of Christ has reversed Adam’s introduction of sin and death into the world. This reversal, moreover, does not merely correct Adam’s misstep and its consequences but overwhelms them with the lavish grace of God. God has decisively defeated the power of sin and death and brought the era of their reign to an end. Now the era of the eternal reign of God’s grace has begun.

Thomas Schreiner: Thus the view that Adam functioned as the covenant head of the human race is most satisfactory (S. Johnson 1974: 312–13). Adam as the head of the human race sinned as our representative, and we are sinners by virtue of being in corporate solidarity with Adam. Many theologians have explained the connection in terms of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his descendants.  This explanation accounts for the wording of the text, which repeatedly attributes death and condemnation to Adam’s one sin. It accounts for the analogy between Adam and Christ, for just as Adam functions as the covenant head of the human race, so too does Christ. Finally, it also explains why only Adam’s first sin was imputed and not the rest of his sins. It seems that the corporate solidarity of the human race is undeniable. We are all affected by the sins and actions of our ancestors, and this is supremely and particularly the case in terms of our relationship to Adam. Thus all people inevitably sin because they enter the world alienated from God.

Douglas Moo: These verses highlight Christ’s power as the “second Adam,” who more than reverses the dire consequences of the first Adam’s sin, to ensure that those in him will have eternal life (vv. 20–21). This argument functions naturally as the basis for what Paul has said in verses 1–11: Our hope of sharing God’s glory is certain because we are in Christ, who has guaranteed life for us. This appears to be the best reading of the sequence of thought in chapter 5. We can therefore paraphrase the opening words of verse 12: “in order to accomplish what I have just taught [e.g., the certainty of salvation]….”

Christ is like Adam in that what he did affects all people. But, unlike Adam, who brought death, Christ brings life. Therefore, all who belong to Christ can be confident that they are under the “reign” of grace, which brings eternal life (v. 21). . .  The power of God’s grace operating through the work of Christ means there is a “how much more” in the quality of what Christ accomplishes in comparison with what Adam has done (v. 17). Christ more than cancels the effects of Adam’s sin—he enables those who have received the “abundant provision of grace” and “the gift of righteousness” not just to experience life but to “reign in life.”


A.  (:12) Sin and Death Invaded the World Through Adam

  1. Entrance of Sin and Death

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world,

and death through sin,

  1. Spread of Sin and Death

and so death spread to all men,

because all sinned—

What is the nature of our Solidarity with Adam? 

Various attempts to explain our link with Adam’s sin:

  • 1)  Seminal / Genetic View — stresses our natural, physical, genetic descent from Adam
  • 2)  Representative (Federal) View — Adam acted as our representative

Regardless of whether we view Adam primarily as our representative or as the father of our genetic makeup, etc.; we are indeed connected to him.  When he sinned, it had a dramatic, unravelling effect upon all of us.  In effect, after Adam sinned, what we would choose to do would be completely predictable–all of us would want to choose sin just like Adam.  Therefore, because of Adam’s sin, in effect we all are sinners by nature and choose to practice sin and deserve to die.

Thomas Schreiner: Murray (1977) proposes an interpretation that fits with a Reformed and Augustinian reading of the text.  He claims that the words ἐφ᾽ ᾧ should be rendered “because,” supporting the Augustinian case on different grounds grammatically and exegetically. Taking ἐφ᾽ ᾧ as causal, he understands Paul to say that “death spread to all because all sinned” (5:12c–d). The words “all sinned,” however, should not be understood to say that all sinned personally and individually. When Paul says “all sinned,” he means that all sinned in Adam. Death spread to all people without exception because everyone sinned in Adam. Adam’s sin was their sin, and Adam is their covenant or federal head. . .

The fundamental weakness of Murray’s interpretation of 5:12–14 needs to be unpacked. His understanding of 5:12–14 rests on the premise that the sins of those who lived between Adam and Moses were not counted against them (5:13). They died because of Adam’s sin, not their own. However, such a reading doesn’t fit the narrative in Genesis (chaps. 6–9), and Paul was well acquainted with these stories. The prime example is the generation of the flood. The entire generation, apart from Noah and his family, perished in the flood. Those destroyed by the flood were judged, condemned, and died for their own sin. We have no indication that the sin assessed against them was Adam’s sin.  The same point could be made about the judgment at Babel (Gen. 11:1–9; cf. here Feuillet 1970: 486; Laato 1991: 134). . .

When Paul says that sin is not counted against those who have no law (5:13), he doesn’t mean that those who don’t have the law are judged only on the basis of Adam’s sin. Those without the law clearly perish because they violate moral norms.  Murray’s interpretation doesn’t fit with what Paul teaches elsewhere or with what we find in the OT. . .

Paul affirms that the sin of individuals leads to death, but against Pelagius he also teaches that individuals come into the world condemned and spiritually dead because of Adam’s sin. The latter part of 5:12 must not be separated from the first part of the verse. Sin and death entered into the world through Adam, and hence people sin and die because of both Adam’s sin and their own sin, though the sin of Adam is fundamental and typological. Five times in 5:15–19 Paul emphasizes that death and condemnation are the portion of all human beings because of Adam’s one sin.  It simply won’t work exegetically to limit death to personal and individual sin when Paul communicates repeatedly and forcefully that human beings experience death and judgment because of Adam’s sin. The parallel between Adam and Christ rules out a one-dimensional solution (cf. Calvin 1960: 112).

B.  (:13-14a) Sin and Death Reigned before the Mosaic Law

  1. (:13)  Sin Was in the World

for until the Law sin was in the world;

but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

  1. (:14a)  Death Reigned

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses,

even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam,

The illustration that proves the point — What was the situation before the law from the time period from Adam until Moses? (when there was no clear, direct, outward command from God; Eve’s sin was not as significant because she derived from man and because she did not get the command directly from God.)

Frank Thielman: Paul’s primary point, however, is that in the period when people only had an internal and somewhat vague sense of what God required (2:14–15), and before anyone had been “entrusted with the oracles of God” (3:2), they still sinned against God and received the penalty of death.

Thomas Schreiner: So, when Paul says that their sins were not reckoned or counted against them, he isn’t teaching that their sins were not counted against them in any sense.  They were punished for their sins, since they experienced the reign of death because of their sins.  Paul’s point is that their sins, though still punishable by death, were not technically counted against them in the same way as sin was counted against Adam.  In Rom. 5:12–14 Paul considers both the sin of Adam and the sin of those who lived between the time of Adam and Moses. In both cases sin led to death, but Adam played a fundamental and typological role that those who followed him did not play, and hence Adam’s sin and death are the fountainhead for the sin and death that ensued. As A. Hultgren (2011: 226; cf. also 227) says, Adam is “positioned as the head of humanity.” Adam and Christ are the typological heads, and their fundamental role is explicated in the following verses.

In Rom. 5:13–14, then, we see that the power of death is so great that it exercises its dominion over people even if no law exists. In addition, violating a commandment revealed by God increases the seriousness of sin in the sense that the sin is now more defiant and rebellious in character (Calvin 1960: 119; Westerholm 1988: 183–84). This point accords with the Pauline conception that sin increases (5:20) and takes on a sharper profile (7:7–11) through the law.

  1. (:14b) Adam = Type of Christ in Terms of Federal Headship

who is a type of Him who was to come.

Frank Thielman: Adam is merely a “type” of Christ, corresponding to him only in the sense that both were human and what both did affected all humanity.


A.  (:15) Superior Effects of the Gracious Gift

  1. Christ’s Gift Different from Adam’s Transgression

But the free gift is not like the transgression.

  1. Different in What Respect?  Life-Giving Rather that Death Damning

a.  Adam’s Transgression Damned Many to Death

For if by the transgression of the one the many died,

b.  Christ’s Gift Brought Life to Many

much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.

Frank Thielman: The first difference is a contrast of certainties: if it is certain that Adam brought sin and death into the world, then it is much more certain that God has brought justification and redemption to the world through Jesus Christ (5:15). . .

Lying beneath this premise is Paul’s conviction that God is not only just but that he is especially merciful (cf. 5:6–8). God was just in punishing Adam and his progeny for their sin, but since he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6; cf. Rom 9:15), it is even more certain that he has been gracious to believers through the redemptive death of Jesus Christ. If he, as a gracious God, punished Adam’s sinful misstep with death, believers can rest assured that God’s free gift of Christ’s sacrificial death has reconciled them to God (5:9–10).

Thomas Schreiner: The grace of Christ is not merely undeserved favor. It is also a power that reverses the consequences of Adam’s sin. It overflows to such an extent that it triumphs over what Adam introduced into the world. As a result, believers, who have received this grace, can be certain that sin and death will never triumph over them. They (sin and death) have been decisively defeated by Jesus Christ.

S. Lewis Johnson: Now here in this passage, that “all” or “many” in this case is limited by the context. When he says, “The grace which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto the many,” that is limited by the statement in verse 17, “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned by one, much more they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ.” So the many, is the many who received the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the offense has abounded unto the many, “all,” in death, but the grace of God has abounded to the many who receive the abundant grace of God that is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

B.  (:16) Superior Effects of the Gracious Gift

  1. Christ’s Gift Different from Adam’s Transgression

And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned;

  1. Different in What Respect?  Justification Rather than Condemnation

a.  Adam’s Transgression Resulted in Condemnation

for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression

resulting in condemnation,

b.  Christ’s Gift Resulted in Justification

but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions

resulting in justification.

Frank Thielman: The second statement of difference contrasts Adam’s ability to bring disaster on all humanity through a single sinful blunder and God’s ability to bring lavish blessing to humanity despite the countless sins he had to overcome in order to do this (5:16).

C.  (:17) Summary: Superior Effects of the Gracious Gift

  1. Adam’s Transgression Resulted in Death Reigning

For if by the transgression of the one,

death reigned through the one,

What does it mean for something to reign or rule?

Illustration: smallpox reigned over early settlers until vaccine discovered.

Thomas Schreiner: What is the evidence that all are condemned through Adam and all are righteous in Christ? The evidence for universal condemnation is the reign of death over all people in Adam, and the evidence for the gift of righteousness is the reigning in life that becomes a reality through Jesus Christ.  The reign of death was inaugurated through Adam’s transgression. Adam was intended to rule the world for God, but by virtue of his sin both he and all his descendants were alienated from God, and instead of Adam ruling the world, death ruled over him. Here Paul assumes that the human race is a unity, rejecting any notion that people are separate from Adam. They enter the world spiritually dead and destined for physical death because of Adam’s one sin. Clearly, Adam is the fountainhead for sin and death in the world (cf. 5:12a–b).

  1. Christ’s Gift Resulted in Righteousness Reigning in Life

much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Righteousness assures us of reigning in life; no reason to fear death; we will be everything God wants us to be–not by our own efforts but by God’s grace’

  • Christ’s Gracious Gift of Righteousness is a Surpassing Gift
  • Christ’s Grace must be Received


A.  (:18) Destiny of Condemnation vs. Justification

  1. Destiny of Condemnation through Adam

So then as through one transgression

there resulted condemnation to all men,

  1. Destiny of Justification through Christ

even so through one act of righteousness

there resulted justification of life to all men.

Frank Thielman: Paul’s use of “all” in both sides of the comparison does not mean that every human being will experience the life that comes from justification just as every human being is subject to sin and death. This is clear from the role that human faith plays in Paul’s description of the gospel throughout 1:16 – 5:11, most recently in 5:1–2 where faith is the necessary condition of justification and access to God’s grace.

What, then, did Paul mean when he described Jesus Christ’s righteous act as bringing life-giving justification to all human beings? He meant that God had graciously offered the benefits of Christ’s righteous act to every human being in the gospel. As Calvin put it, “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all.”

B.  (:19) Destiny of Sin vs. Righteousness

  1. Destiny of Sin through Adam

For as through the one man’s disobedience

the many were made sinners,

  1. Destiny of Righteousness through Christ

even so through the obedience of the One

the many will be made righteous.

Illustration: row of dominoes — first one falls and that leads to all the others falling in predictable fashion;

in reverse video, if the last falled domino were to rise upright, so would all the others in

that same row.


A.  (:20a) The Law Increases Sin

And the Law came in that the transgression might increase;

Magnify = make sin and grace more abundant and more clear

Why did God give the law (His commandments) if we are unable to keep it?

  • To provoke our sinful nature to evidence itself more specifically and clearly in defined acts of transgression; to make our sinfulness more abundant and more clear
  • To provide the opportunity to demonstrate God’s surpassing, abundant, victorious grace — Grace Triumphs Over Sin

(The Christian’s freedom from the dominion of sin, the law and death are developed in chaps. 6-8)

Grant Osborne: The law was added (5:20) to help people see their sinfulness, to show them the seriousness of their offenses, and to drive them to God for mercy and pardon. This was true in Moses’ day and in Paul’s day, and it is still true today. Sin is a deep rupture between who we are and who we were created to be. The law points out our sin and places the responsibility for it squarely on our shoulders, but it offers no remedy.

B.  (:20b-21) Increased Sin Highlights Surpassing Grace

but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

21 that, as sin reigned in death,

even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Frank Thielman: Immediately after the main verb, however, Paul returns to God’s purposes in giving the law. The effect that the toxic mixture of sin and law had on rebellious human beings did not lie outside the gracious purposes of God. God intended that the law should increase the trespass so that, precisely in this context, his grace might “superabound” (cf. 5:6–8, 10; Col 2:14–15).

Thomas Schreiner: The election of the Jews as God’s people was designed to reverse the impact of Adam’s sin, and most Jews believed that the law’s role was to restrain the sin that Adam introduced into the world. By contrast, Paul maintains that God’s intention in giving the law was to increase sin, and to increase it particularly in Israel. The piling up of sin in Israel via the law doesn’t indicate malevolence in God toward his people. It shows that the problem introduced into the world through Adam is not remedied through the law. These verses anticipate Rom. 9–11. Sin reached its climax in Israel so that God’s grace would be discerned more clearly in his mercy both to gentiles and to Israel. The end of the story, therefore, is not the triumph of sin. The story ends with the victory accomplished by grace, a grace that fulfills God’s righteousness and promises through the last Adam, Jesus the Messiah.

Grant Osborne: No matter how much people sin, God’s grace is greater. There are occasions of insight in life when people realize in a new way the reality of their sinfulness. Sometimes, reflecting on the commandments reminds us of our tendency to fall. Our consciences also flare with guilt from time to time. At other times, a loving friend may confront us with a sinful act or habit. When our awareness of sin increases, we need to ask God to help us see that his grace is always greater in its capacity to forgive than our capacity to sin.