12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death [both physical and spiritual] spread to all men because all sinned—
Now we turn to one of the most complex passages in Romans to interpret (5:12-21). I will try to break this very tight argument into smaller pieces so that it is easier to understand. The remainder of Romans five deals heavily with theology, but with chapter six we will come to the dynamics of how to live the Christian life.
We see the interplay between Adam and Christ in this basic outline of 5:12-21:
Adam’s sin and its universal impact on humanity, 12-14.
Christ’s solution to Adam’s sin for those who believe, 15-21.
In verses 12 through 21, Paul draws a comparison between Christ and Adam to bring out the universal significance of Christ’s work. The universality of justification and its availability for all who believe is the subject at hand.
Verses 12 to 14 show the universal dispersal of death by the sin of Adam; the proposition for this is verse 12.
By using these terms for violating God— “sin” (vv. 12-13, 21), “transgression” (v. 14), “trespass” (vv. 15-18, 20), and “disobedience” (v. 19)—the Holy Spirit views Adam’s act as sinful in all respects.
12 Therefore [for this cause],
The “therefore” here harks back to the first 11 verses, which refer to the certainty and benefits of justification for the believer through Jesus Christ.
Now Paul introduced the universal implication of Adam’s sin and Christ’s solution for all of humanity in verse 12 to the end of the chapter.
just as [comparison]
The as/so clauses show parallelism between Adam and Christ. Adam was the “type of the one to come” (Christ). As judgment came upon all to condemnation through Adam, so by the one act of the Savior on the cross judgment came upon all men to justification of life (v.18b).
As Adam introduced the world to sin and death, so the Last Adam introduced righteousness and life. This is the basis for sanctification that follows in chapters six, seven, and eight. The idea of unity of the many in one formulates the point of comparison between Adam and Christ. By the disobedience of Adam many were condemned, and by the well-doing of Christ many are saved.
The comparison here is of two people who are utterly dissimilar except that both are heads of their constituency. They are not two equals. The contrast is between the one sin of Adam with the one redemptive act of Christ. Note the emphasis on “one”: “one man,” “one trespass” (vv. 12, 15-19). The emphasis of this section of Romans 5:12-21 is upon the initial disobedience of Adam that is the cause of sorrow on the human race. He did not pass the test of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
All men have a corporate relationship to Adam; some have a corporate relationship to Christ.
Non-Christians only have a corporate relationship to Adam. All mankind corporately resides in Adam’s sin, and all also commit personal sins.
Christians also have a corporate relationship to Christ.
1 Co 15:22, For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
1 Co 15:45, And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
Christianity is both corporate and individually oriented. Redemption is for those in a corporate body; however, each individual enters Christ’s body by a personal decision.
Both Adam and Christ represent their constituencies by federal or representative headship. It was Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, that determined whether the soul passed to successive generations. It was Adam’s sin that was determinative of what would happen to the human race (1 Ti 2:13,14). He represents the entire human race with his sin. His first sin was to be representative of what would happen to the human race.