When it first struck me that the formation of Adam in Genesis chapter two was at most a subset of the account of the creation of “man” in Genesis chapter one, I set off to find scriptures to invalidate the idea. After all, it seemed contrary to every version of the story in every Sunday school class I had ever heard. One of the places I felt confident that I would find scripture which refuted this rash notion was in Romans chapter five.
What I thought Romans chapter five said was that sin spread from Adam to all of mankind because we were his descendants. I thought that it said that we inherited his sin nature by virtue of our physical descent from Adam. If that were so, then the idea that not all men were physical descendants of Adam would be out the window. Adam’s main biblical role would then be the physical father of the human race, rather than the figure of Christ, who is “the firstborn of many bretheren” (Romans 8:29).
Here is the key passage from Romans chapter five:
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come .15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
Verse twelve does not say that we inherited our sin nature from Adam because we are his physical ancestors. It says that sin (God’s definition) entered the world through Adam and because of that death “passed” upon all men. Why? Was it because Adam was their ancestor? No, but rather “because all sinned.”
“Entered” in this verse is the Greek word eiserchomai and it is used in the metaphorical sense of “arise, come into existence, begin to be”. Another way to put it is to “come to life.” Sin came to life and mankind died when Adam transgressed. Paul himself used very similar language nearby, in chapter seven of Romans when he describes the role of the law and sin. Here I quote chapter seven, verses eight and nine. This time from the New International Version:
“… For apart from the law, sin was dead.9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”
If you will read the whole passage you will see what I am suggesting about how sin “entered” the world. I say the same thing Paul says about the relationship between sin, death, and the law. Before he knew the law, he had life and sin was dead. But once the commandment came, sin came to life (it entered his world) and he died. What I am suggesting is that the condition Paul describes is just what it was like for those men who lived before Adam. They were alive apart from the law. They were acting out of God’s will, but there was no law and hence no accountability.
Once Adam, as the stand-in for all mankind, broke the law then sin came to life and Adam died (as the Bible defines death). If any of them had been perfect, they would not have died, but none of them were. All of them needed the protection afforded by Adam as the stand-in for all of mankind, even as we need the protection afforded by Christ as our stand-in.
Sin sprang to life. What was once dead had existence in the world. That is what is meant by sin “entering” the world. There is no need for theologians to concoct another method of entry of sin into the world besides the one Paul describes two chapters later. Sin was dead before Adam’s failure. After that, it was alive and Adam was dead. Sin entered, became alive, in the world.
That word “passed” is from a Greek word deirchomai, which means just that- to pass through or spread through. It is used to describe events like going on a journey or the children of Israel “passing through” the Red Sea. It has nothing to do with inheritance. Paul could have used the word for inheritance, kleronomeo, if he had meant that.
Notice that Paul writes that sin entered the world but death passed through the world. Sin entered the world, but did not pass through the world like (spiritual) death did. Without law, sin was dead. There was no way for it to bring any spiritual death. But it was only waiting for knowledge of the law to become alive. It was only waiting for the failure of the stand-in in order to become animated.
When Adam chose to be his own god, sin sprang to life. It entered the world by animation, as would some creature made of stone that suddenly became viable. The stones were always there, all around, but until they had life, the creature did not exist. It did not enter the world until it came to life.
Death did pass to all men. Not that the evil deeds were greater, but our knowledge that they were evil was greater. The deeds were old. The guilt was new. The shame was new. The separation from God due to willful disobedience and a stained conscience was new.
Romans 5:12 is saying that spiritual death passed, or spread through, all of mankind when Adam sinned, not because of his sins, but because of theirs. Mankind was already doing things God disapproved of, but they were doing so in a state of innocence, like children. As it says in the next verse, “where there is no law, the penalty for sin is not imputed.” That is, it is not charged to one’s account.
The souls who died before Adam’s sin are not damned to Hell. As for the souls between Adam and Moses which are spoken of, we can only hope for their sakes and the Father’s sake that they are among the captives carried off by Christ in the oblique reference made in Ephesians 4:8.
God made the man Adam as the stand-in for all mankind, as the Second Adam Christ is also. When he was given a law, the state of innocence was over. When Adam broke the law his role as stand-in for man afforded no protection for the rest of the human race.
If any of them had been perfect, it would not have mattered that the stand-in had failed. They would not have needed Adam’s protection. But because they had their own sins, they did need it, just as we need the protection of the Last Adam. At that point, death reigned. They were condemned, even before the law was given, because, as Paul points out earlier, they had a conscience, a sort of natural law put in their hearts, so they are without excuse.
Prior to the Garden no man was ever asked to live as a person who had faith in God rather than themselves. Adam was the “first man” who had that fateful choice. God decided to take man from a state of innocence to a state of responsibility. He did it with what is still the key question- do we have faith in God to determine what is good and evil, or do we wish to decide that for ourselves?
To give mankind the best possible odds, God did not start accountability with each person, from lowliest to most privileged. He started at the top. He started with the best man on earth, the one with the most ideal circumstances and possessing the greatest privilege: The one who had received the breath of God which is the Holy Spirit and the one who had daily fellowship with the LORD. The one with a spouse created of him and for him. That one would be the stand-in for mankind to see if man would, for an age, be liberated or mired.
Should he pass the test, then that one would be the one in whom God would reconcile creation to Himself. That one would begin, with his wife, a Royal Priesthood, and a Holy Nation that would take His glory to the ends of the earth. Then a Millennium of peace would be ushered in, ending in a New Heaven and a New Earth. I say that this was what God wanted the First Adam to do, because it is what the Last Adam is doing and has done. I will offer more scriptural proofs as we go on.
I remember thinking in my prior misunderstanding how unfair it seemed that we would all be condemned to have a sin nature because of the choice of Adam and Eve. But now I see that we always had that nature, and only the absence of law kept sin out of our lives. The way God choose to do it gave us the best possible odds, and humanity still blew it. This creation, which was never made to be eternal, came built in with the capacity to trust ourselves more than God. Not that God is the author of sin, but He authored choice. It is the wrong choices, the choices outside of faith, which are sin.
Man was always in need of reconciliation. From the day the first man was made and from the moment we ourselves are born, we needed to be re-connected to our Creator to produce righteousness. We can’t do it on our own. Man did not just get saddled with a sin nature when Adam came along. We had one, but we were not penalized for it. We sinned from the start, but since sin was dead in the absence of law, we were let off the hook. In the beginning the penalty for sin was not imputed because as it says, there was no law. We were not held accountable until God gave the man, Adam, a law. This command not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil embodied the very choice every man must make between faith in God or faith in self (or anyone or thing else) to determine right from wrong.
As Paul said of the idol worship of the pagans in Acts 17:30: God winked at wrong-doing (idol worship in that example) in the times of ignorance, but now calls on us to repent. God’s revelation to man is progressive, and the more we know about who He is the more responsible we are to live in that knowledge. Israel was held to a higher standard than the heathen nations around her. Christians are expected to have a higher standard than the faithless. God had given man dominion over the earth. In Adam, God began the process of progressive revelation to man.
Mankind always needed reconciliation, and Adam was the figure of He who was to reconcile us. Even as Christ was the royal representative on behalf of the whole human race, his foreshadow Adam was meant to be also. Adam was given every chance to make the right choice. God did not pick a representative stand-in for the human race who had poor circumstances. Rather, he had ideal circumstances. He had it “as good as it gets”.
Even as Christ came from a special place of fellowship with God the Father, Adam had a special place of fellowship with God- the Garden of Eden planted by the LORD God Himself with every pleasant tree that gave good fruit. There would be no deflections about poor environment or a disadvantaged upbringing that some men still use to hide behind or obfuscate the truth. The truth is that man cannot be righteous in himself even in the best of circumstances. Adam and Eve did not make the choice of faith. They made the choice of self.
And so, as verse 14 says “death reigned from Adam till Moses.” Mankind went from a state of innocence to a state of sin, and their stand-in now afforded no protection. Until the Law of Moses came there was no other law to keep in order to obtain right-standing with God through obedience to law. Man had still not, and most still do not to this day, learned the lesson that it is faith God desires. Even the first law, the commandment to Adam, was about faith. If our faith is truly in Him, our obedience will in time follow. If it is not, then no matter how determined our efforts are to be righteous by following the law, we will fail.
While the mass of mankind sought a law, a list of rules to follow in order to earn right-standing on a basis of our own choosing, one man got it right. In Ur of the Chaldees, one descendent of Adam we now know as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. That is not to say that he was righteous, but God counted it as righteousness. Abraham did what his ancestor Adam failed to do. He believed God. And from this descendent of Adam would come another- Moses the lawgiver.
Once Moses came, God gave man The Law. Man at last had his list of rules he so coveted. A way he might keep score or have some basis of negotiation with which he might bargain with his Maker. Death did not have to reign. Righteousness could come through following the law, if anyone could do it.
But of course man can’t do that. Death reigned from Adam until Moses, but it reigned even still. That is because the law, meant to give a way to back to life, instead produced more death. But the point of all of that death, produced by more law springing more sin to life, was to make it clear to man, to all of us, how guilty we are. It was to show how hopeless it is to count on our own works to be righteous. It was for the purpose of driving us to God’s real goal: Grace obtained by faith. Let’s look at that bit of Romans chapter five:
19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
When there was no law, it was easier for men to kid themselves in the period between Adam and Moses. They might be tempted to think that though Adam failed, they would not have in the same circumstance. In the absence of law, they might concoct their own law and their own rationalizations when they broke it. All were locked up under sin when Adam fell, but they might not see the true depth of their sinfulness absent the law. And so law was given. It put man under even more sin. It made men more aware of their sinfulness because they then had a Divine standard to which to compare their actions.
Though this enumeration of rules bound man up in sin, it also allowed man a way of escape. For if the law could be kept by a new stand-in then we might be protected, even as they were protected in the absence of law. They were protected by their ignorance of God’s requirements, but we are protected because our stand-in not only fulfilled the requirements, but paid the debt for our failure to do so in His own Person. This is another way in which the free gift of God is greater than the offense. Let’s take another look at verse fifteen:
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
Here Paul compares the spread of grace to the spread of death and says that grace was spread on different and better terms. If man was in perfection instead of just innocence before “the fall”, then this makes no sense. Why did the grace of God abound “more” than the spread of death? They are on the surface quite symmetrical. Through the offense of one, death spread to the many. Through the obedience of one, grace abounded to the many. So why is the second better than the first?
The answer for the spread of grace being better is simple: Death spread to the many, but those many were already in sin, it’s just that sin was dead before Adam’s choice brought sin to life. The grace abounds more because not only does it spread by God’s gift rather than our own works, but it pays the penalty for sin whereas before sin came to life there was no penalty to pay but the potential for one to spring up was always there. The spread of sin unleashed the potential of sin that was already latent. It did not “make” the sin. The free gift took away the penalty for the sin- it removed its “potential energy” to take life.
It is the difference between living on a field of land mines which have never been activated vs. having someone detonate all of the mines safely for you. Once the mines are activated, your situation is worse, but the potential for them to cause you trouble was always there, even before activation.
The problem of the land mines becoming activated is a problem, but the solution of someone safely detonating all of them for you is a blessing which is better than the original problem of the mines coming to “life”. Not only is the “activation” threat gone, but the underlying thing that was activated is also rendered harmless.
I might add that the idea that the spread of the gift was similar to the spread of the offense makes no sense if sin was inherited by blood in the one case but not the other. The comparison makes better sense if we accept what the Bible says about who Adam was in Romans 5:14, a figure of Christ. The symmetry works if we lay aside our traditions that are not really found in the Bible (that he was the physical father of all humans). Adam was meant to be humanity’s champion and redeemer, because he was a figure of Christ. He was our stand-in. If any of us could have hoped to make it, it was Adam.
What does this say about the doctrine of Original Sin? It doesn’t change the bottom line. Mankind, disconnected from God, is inherently prone to sin. It only changes the reason why this is so. It is not so because Adam was our forebear, it is so because connection to the Creator is the only way we can be righteous. We have to abide in the vine.
Creation was designed to be disconnected from God, yet have the ability to re-connect with Him. Until that re-connection is made we choose with an imperfect moral compass. Only the absence of law in the beginning, not early man’s moral perfection, kept sin out of the world as a live force. Even the best of our motives will be mixed, tainted with sin. Christ came to reconcile the creature to the Creator.