Sin Came Through One Man – Romans 5:12-14

apple-two-bitesIn order to show how justification “works,” Paul alludes to Genesis 3, Adam’s rebellion against God in the Garden. Genesis 3 indicates the penalty for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is death, and Genesis 5 demonstrates that result since all of Adam’s descendants die. This is the only genealogy which includes the phrase “and then he died.”

Sometimes there are discussions of whether Paul was referring to Adam him as a name or the first human. In verse 12 he uses the word for man, in verse 14 he uses the proper name. The current discussion of a “historical Adam in the “misses the point that for Paul Adam existed. He completely accepts the story of genesis 2-3 and would not consider anything other than a real Adam.

Does death come to all because all people sin (or personal, actual sins)? Or do all people die because of Adam’s sin?  How is Adam’s sin passed along to his descendants? The difficulty with Romans 5:12 is the meaning of the phrase ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον. How should the preposition ἐφʼ be translated in this context? Fitzmyer has eleven possibilities, Longenecker reduces this to four viable options (Fiztmyer, Romans, 413-17; Longenecker, Romans, 587-8):

  • “In whom,” referring Adam.
  • “On the basis of which,” referring to sin. The NIV 2011 seems to follow this option, “and in this way death came…”
  • “Because of this,” equivalent to a causal conjunction.
  • “For this reason” or “so that,” equivalent to a consecutive conjunction, this seems to be what the ESV has done, “so that death spread…” In addition, by translating the verb “spread” the ESV gives the impression sin is like an epidemic spreading throughout the human race.

As a result of Adam’s rebellion, “death spread to all men.” The verb διέρχομαι can refer to crossing through a territory or moving toward a destination. Occasionally it can refer to passing through something like a sword (Luke 2:35). Longenecker points out the word “death” in 5:12 has an article. Paul is personifying death as a malevolent enemy of humanity (Longenecker, Romans, 587). Adam’s rebellion against God unleashed a powerful enemy into the world, one that will overcome all humans.

Paul’s view of the effect of sin on humanity differs from some other voices in Second Temple texts. Sirach 25:24 shifts the blame from Adam to Eve: “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.” Notice the title of this post refers to one man, Adam. For Paul in Romans 5, only Adam is responsible for sin. 2 Baruch 54:15, for example, connects Adam’s sin and the death of all of his descendants. Yet a few lines later, the writer says Adam is not the cause of our sin, because each person becomes “their own Adam.”

2 Baruch 54:15 For, although Adam sinned first and has brought death upon all who were not in his own time, yet each of them who has been born from him has prepared for himself the coming torment. And further, each of them has chosen for himself the coming glory.

2 Baruch 54:15 Adam is, therefore, not the cause, except only for himself, but each of us has become our own Adam.

Paul’s claim is therefore that all humans somehow participate in the sin of Adam and are therefore destined to die. He does not build a theological statement compatible with later, post-Reformation theology. As a Jewish thinker, Paul understands that all people participated in the sin of Adam without working out the details of the doctrine of imputation.

For Paul, those who are “in Adam” die; those who are “in Christ” will live. All people are “in Adam” by default. The problem is how one becomes “in Christ.”


13 thoughts on “Sin Came Through One Man – Romans 5:12-14

  1. Hi Phillip. I hope you had a great weekend. I just want to ask you if you have the book The Gospel According to St. Mark by C.E.B. Cranfield. If so, I would like to chat with you about a paragraph in this book. Thanks


  2. I agree that sin came through Adam and all humans are subject to having sin in their lives, because of Adam. I know there is possibility that some people may say, but Eve ate the apple first! (Gen 3:6). I believe since they became one unit or one person (Gen. 2:23-25). The claim saying sin came through Adam is the same as claiming it came through Adam and Eve or just Eve. I believe Paul recognizes Adam’s name, because in the time that the Romans was written people understood that the father or the head of a family begins things. Since Adam is the father of all humanity, sin entered through him, because it occurred during his life time and him and Eve were the only humans on the earth.


  3. You can tell from Romans 5:12-21, and also verses like 1 Cor. 15:22, 45, 1 Tim. 2:13, that Paul believed that Adam existed, and we can even read about how Jesus believed in Adam’s existence as well when he alludes to it in Matt. 19:4-6. Rom. 5:12-21 is a very confusing section to look into. Douglass Moo states that we all die because we all sin, not because only Adam sinned. According to Paul, we sinned when Adam did. We are genetically tied to Adam (vv. 12, 18, 19) (Moo). The phrase “death spread to all men” makes it sound like a disease, that we cannot do anything about, which is sort of true in a way. Moo also explains that the word for Adam is “human being”, so Paul could be referring to humans in general (Moo). I do not think we can ever know for certain what Paul means in this passage with 100% clarity. However it seems that Paul does believe that we all sinned along with Adam. Sin is the problem, as you mentioned. It is important to remember though that this passage happens to present to us the wonderful hope of salvation and God’s righteousness, not just the problem of our sin.

    Moo, Douglass J. Encountering the Book of Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Print.


  4. It is interesting to see that scholars, and authors of other Second Temple Texts, come to a conclusion that does not coincide with what Genesis 3 and 5 have to say. I am curious if Paul was the only one in their day to understand Adam’s role in how sin spread throughout the world, or if others also understood. Regardless if the scholars and authors of old understood sin properly or not, Paul cared more about getting the truth about sin known to as many as possible. He wanted them to understand that because Adam, the original representative of mankind sinned, now all humanity is connected to sin in some form as we live out our lives. This declaration that sin spread through the world from one man, Adam, and is still being passed down to this day is supported by Romans 5:12. However, the proceeding eleven verses of the chapter tell of how through one man, Christ Jesus, grace and reconciliation are available to all people. Just as through one man sin entered the world (as 5:12 mentions), so then we needed one man to redeem the world. Jesus being pure and without sin, was the only one who could have become an atoning sacrifice for all humans. There is no way for sin to be overcome within the human body unless we come to Jesus in repentance, asking to be cleansed of our sins. So many people get too caught up in whose fault sin is, whether judgment for our sins is fair or not, and concerning whether or not works are necessary to be worthy of the gift of salvation.Instead of focusing on the whose faults and what ifs, people need to pay attention to the fact that the we have all been offered a free gift thanks to Jesus, and that we cannot do anything by ourselves to rid ourselves of sin, nor do enough works to bail us out of the judgment waiting for all unsaved sinners at the end of their lives. Once we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are then alive in Christ. We are no longer living under the reign of sin, but under grace. Moo points out that Romans 5 is concerned with the fact that, “who we were in Adam has been done away with when we were crucified with Christ”(98). This shows once again that the affects of these two men, have a direct affects and connection to the rest of humanity. While we are “Adamic people” we are stuck living in sin’s trap, but once we become “Christian people” we are then transformed from a sinner into one cloaked with righteousness (Moo 99). Only through Christ could we be justified. Paul was using the reference to Adam to explain why Christ doing what He did was so important.


  5. We are all sinners, evil and condemned under Adam because of his disobedience, yet we can be made alive, have salvation and be forgiven in Christ. Two completely different options, yet Adam and Christ are often times compared. Adam brought sin and death into the world and Christ brings life. It took one man to mess everything up and one man to fix it all (Romans 5:12). It has often been a bother to me knowing that because of one mans bad decision and disobedience, we all must suffer. It does not seem fair, but God had a plan in everything that took place. After reading this post and the comments, it is interesting and eye opening to read what others think on this matter. Was Paul the only one in that time that truly understood Adam’s role in the story, that through his disobedience sin entered the world? Thanks to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, we are all able to come freely to Christ and find life, freedom and peace. Moo states that believers can have confidence and a sense of peace that one day they will share the glory of Christ (Moo, 1827). We do not need to stay stuck and get caught up in the fact that Adam messed things up and look to blame him or anyone else, instead we can have a hope that Christ is coming back for us. We are all born evil and sinful, but we do not have to stay that way. There is an easy answer and solution to the “problem of how one becomes in Christ” stated above, it is to believe in Christ and accept him into your life as the one in complete control. Once you have taken this step, there is no limit to the amazing things he will do in your life.


  6. I love the examples that Paul uses to relate to the audience of the book. In chapter 4, he used the Old Testament character of Abraham to relate both to the Jews and Gentiles to drill home his topic of justification by faith. Now, in chapter 5, to show how justifications works, Paul also connects the Old Testament to his preaching with the use of Adam. In this passage of Romans, we are reminded of Adam’s disobedience towards God and also of how sin came into the world. As you mentioned in your article, “As a result of Adam’s rebellion, ‘death spread to all men.’” Paul uses the example to show that Adam’s decision effected all men. In contrast, the decision that God made to send his son Jesus into the world to die on the cross for our sins, effected all men as well. Just as we “died” through Adam, we are alive in Christ! Although, we come into the world and do not have a choice to be effected by Adam. We are born with a sin nature. Since God is just and merciful, he gave us an option to accept what Christ did for us on the cross. We can either accept it and believe in him, and pursue a relationship of love for what he did, or we can decide to live our own life in sin.


  7. I think looking at Adam brings a new yet well known perspective to the table. We are all “in Adam” when we start this life in the fallen world we are a part of. This is why we need grace and we need to remember that we can be forgiven of our sins. We belong to sin because we are born into it which is unfortunate but if we accept God’s love, grace and compassion we can accept Jesus and no longer be “in Adam.” We will still sin and fall short but we then will have the gift of salvation and once we have that we can begin to live a more Godly lifestyle because we are no longer just in “in Adam” but we are in Grace. I love that Paul uses a story that people can relate to when reading Romans and still helps those people to understand who they were but now who they can be in God.


  8. Interesting point regarding Sirach and his shifting the blame towards Eve. The centrality of Adam’s sin in Paul’s thought in Romans and 1 Corinthians makes Paul’s arguments in 1 Timothy 2 about Eve all the more strange. I imagine other second temple voices also preferred to emphasize Satan’s role in the fall as in Wisdom 2:24.


  9. Since we are all have sinned we all fall short of the Glory of God. But I also understand and believe that sin started because of Adam. Even though Eve ate it first it could come down to the man being responsible for those actions as well simply because they are one together. Like i said earlier even though they both started the fall of sin for every one after we are responsible for what we do. Death comes to all people now because of it, that is set in stone. Unfortunately as the article states is that with Adam going against God with his disobedience he has now unleashed a powerful enemy on this earth that is looked at as inevitable. The question that i now early think about when i read this article is when it says “For Paul, those who are “in Adam” die; those who are “in Christ” will live. All people are “in Adam” by default. The problem is how one becomes “in Christ.” Does this mean if we have Jesus in our Heart we are saved meaning we live because we will go to Heaven or is there anyone meaning to this? I understand when it says by default when we are born we are “in Adam” because of sin. But the way to get out of it is by accepting Christ as your personal savior. That is what I want to know.


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