The Two Adams

Text: Romans 5:12-21

Introduction:  In science, writes Mike Horton, “a paradigm (or model of incorporating all of the relevant data) lasts only as long as it can account not only for the data that seem explicitly to infer it but for anomalies as well. The same is true in theology. A doctrine or system of doctrines must account for the whole range of biblical teaching, even offering a plausible accounting of texts that seem at first blush irreconcilable with the system. Scripture itself offers us this ‘paradigm’ or explanatory grid without our having to impose something from the outside. That paradigm is the covenant.”[1]

In the classical Reformed tradition (as expressed for example in The Westminster Confession of Faith), Covenant theology emphasizes three distinct covenants: the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. The covenant of redemption refers to the everlasting pact made between the persons of the Trinity to elect, redeem and restore a people for God’s glory. Made in eternity past, there is no human partner involved, and the Son has been made the trustee of his people. The Father elected and gave a people to the Son as an inheritance, entrusting the Son with their safekeeping. Next, there is the covenant of works, otherwise known as the covenant of nature (FOEDUS NATURAE), or the covenant of creation. It originates not in eternity but in time, and not simply between the persons of the Trinity but between the triune Godhead and the creature whom God fashioned in his own image. God relates to Adam not according to grace but according to justice, since this was the original condition in which he was created. Every such covenant had a historical prologue justifying the covenant-maker’s authority, a clear set of stipulations, and a list of both rewards and sanctions (blessings and curses) for violating the treaty. The opening chapters of Genesis follow this pattern closely, with the historical prologue—the justifying narrative of God’s authority over his creatures and his desire to incorporate humanity into his own everlasting rest in the seventh day. This is followed by stipulations (viz., not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) the narrative of violation, and the divine invocation of sanctions. The curses are consummated in the act of divine eviction from the common land that God had made his temple-garden of communion with his creation. Had Adam fulfilled the probation in the garden, God would have confirmed him and his descendants in righteousness and everlasting life forever (represented by the Tree of Life), so that there could never be a fall.

However, Adam’s disobedience not only barred him and all of humanity in him from remaining righteous and in communion with God but also aborted his enjoyment of the consummation, entrance into the Holy of Holies—not just the earthly copy in Eden, but the heavenly temple itself. He fell short of the pleasures of God’s seventh-day rest. Nevertheless, even in the middle of judgment, God promised another covenant, the covenant of grace, which he foreshadowed not only in word, but also in deed, replacing Adam and Eve’s fig leaves with the skins of a sacrifice. Through Seth’s descendants, the line of descent for the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head came down to Abraham and Sarah. With Abraham, God officially ratified the covenant of grace. As Paul emphasizes in his letter to the Galatians, God did not make this covenant with Abraham and the nation of Israel. Notice here the extent to which the salvation of those give to the Son by the Father is bound up with the intra-Trinitarian solidarity. And in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, where He speaks of Himself in the third person, we read, “For you granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those you gave Him” (John 17:2). Here again some of the most explicit Trinitarian statements coincide with explicit covenant-of-redemption statements: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (17:4-5). Furthermore, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word…I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine” (17:6, 9-10). Lest anyone interpret this as referring only to the apostles, Jesus adds, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (17:20-21). Jesus intercedes, not for the world, but for “those whom you have given me,” whether from the immediate circle of disciples or “those who will believe in me through their message.” The Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Christ to the elect; this is part of the covenant of redemption as well. So in time, he brings the elect to repentance and faith. It is no wonder, then, that when a number of people received Christ inAntioch, it is reported in the following manner:”…and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). After all, “those [God] predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified…Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (Rom. 8:30, 33). Because of this intra-Trinitarian solidarity, the Redeemer is left at the end of the story announcing upon his royal ascension, in the words of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Here am I, and the children God has given me” (Heb. 2:13). It is the reason that Christ’s sacrifice is called “the blood of the eternal covenant” (13:20), since those whom the Father gave to the Son were predestined “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:2, KJV).

I.          Paul’s Argumentation:  With A FORTIORI arguments, arguments characterized the Pauline “much more’s,” the author of the Epistle to the Romans has set forth the grace of God that abounds and reigns over sin through the righteous act of the sinner’s representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. At least five times in the chapter, the apostle has used the expression, “much more” (cf. vv. 9, 10, 15, 17, 20). The concept expounded by Paul reaches its climax in the statement of verse twenty, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Paul has traced man’s fall to the one sinning act of Adam, the first man. As a direct result of Adam’s transgression four things have come to pass:

A.        In the First Place:  Adam’s sin was imputed immediately to every member of his posterity, that is, to every member of the human race. Thus, every individual became guilty of Adam’s sin and, therefore, of condemnation and death, (cf. Rom. 5:12).

B.        In the Second Place:  Adam’s nature became corrupted, and he passed on his corrupt nature to every member of the race. After Adam, all men are born in sin (cf. Eph. 2:1-3), inheriting a corrupt nature from the first man.

C.        In the Third Place:  As a consequence of Adam’s fall, all men are unable to respond savingly to the Word of God and the gospel (cf.Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14).

D.        Finally:  Eternal punishment has come as the consequence of Adam’s sin (cf. Gen. 3:17-19; 2:16- 17). Man is now “under foreign domination.” Yet, Paul says, Adam is a type of Christ. As one reads the chapter it, becomes evident that Adam is a type primarily by contrast. The master-thought of the section is the unity of the many in the one. In Adam’s case, it is the unity of the many in a representative who fell. In Christ’s case, it is the unity of the many in a representative Who overcame, including in His victory all who are in Him.

II.         The Epic Contrast Between the Two Representative Men:  In the preceding clause, the final one of verse fourteen, when Paul said that Adam was a type of Christ, it might have been expected that he would introduce a comparison of the two men. The “but” of verse fifteen indicates that he is to stress the contrast between the two. On notes the negative way in which he does this, using the pattern of  “not. . . so” (cf. vv. 15, 16). The first thing he says is that the offence of Adam is not like the free gift of righteousness (cf. vv. 17, 18, 20, 21). In Adam’s case, the one offence has resulted in the death of many. In Christ’s case, however, the one individual is responsible for the gracious gift of righteousness from God. The “much more” of the verse may have a further significance. It is possible that Paul intends to indicate by its use that the work of Christ does not merely restore that which was lost by Adam. It provides more. The offence of Adam is called a falling beside (PARAPTOMA, lit. to slip, to fall to one side). It is very fitting for a description of the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. The “much more” and the “abounded” support the idea that Christ has done more than restore man to Adam’s relation of God in the Garden. The “many” who died and the “many” who have received grace are not co-extensive, otherwise we should have the apostle teaching universalism. The many who receive grace are the people of God, the company for which Christ as a representative stood. The “for” of verse seventeen introduces an explanation, which is probably primarily related to the first part of verse sixteen rather than the last part. There is again on Adam’s side one offence, followed by the reign of death (cf. v. 14). On Christ’s side there is the one man, Christ, but it is through Him that those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life.

As one can see, there is an important new fact added in this reiteration of the principal thought of the section. The apostle refers to those “who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life. As one can see, there is an important new fact added in this reiteration of the principal thought of the section. The apostle refers to those “who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.” In the words there is a hint of how the work becomes the possession of those for whom it was intended. They are the “receive” it. In other words, it becomes theirs by the appropriation of faith. The faith, we learn in other passages of the Word of God, is also won by the one act of atonement on the cross (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29, etc.). Incidentally, the expression, “the gift of righteousness,” makes it quite clear that justification is something that becomes ours by grace. It is not the product of works (cf. 4:5). The expressions in the Greek test, through the one (Adam) and through the one, Jesus Christ, give added emphasis to what is the one real point of comparison between Adam and Christ, namely, the fact that each man’s action is determinative for the life of the many to whom they are related. One other thing should be noted in the seventeenth verse. The one offence of Adam led to a reign of death, that is, all men died. The act of Christ, however, does not merely restore the pristine condition. Those who receive the gospel (justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone) shall become kings in life themselves.

III.        The Formal Comparison Between the Two Men:  The word, “therefore” (lit., consequently, then), is used to introduce the formal comparison between Adam and Christ. The text is related to verse twelve, really forming the conclusion to the comparison that is begun there. The opening clause, “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation,” repeats the content of the original protasis (opening clause) of the comparison in verse twelve. The expression, “the righteousness of one,” is probably incorrect. The noun (DIKAIOMATOS) should be rendered in this case as righteous act, giving the rendering, the righteous act of one, the reference being to the atoning death of Christ on the cross. What does Paul mean by saying that the free gift came “upon all men” unto justification of life? Can we really say that all men are, have been, or are to be justified? That is hardly true, going against all that Scripture teaches in many places. Can it mean that the free gift has come to all men potentially, or that it is offered to all? The context is as usual, helpful in determining the meaning. In the immediately preceding verse the apostle has pointed out that they reign in life who “receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness.” In other words, the free gift comes “upon all men,” that is, upon all men who received abundance of grace. The same type of thought is found in 1 Cor. 15:22, and there, too, Paul limits the force of the “all” who are made alive by the phrase “in Christ.” In verse nineteen, another analogy is introduced by way of explanation (“for”) of the inward causes of the two facts of verse eighteen, condemnation and justification. The analogy is indicated by the words, “as . . .so.” The reference to disobedience and obedience locates the transgression and the obedience with reference to the revealed will of God. Adam disobeyed it, while Christ obeyed it. Cranfield thinks that the constitution of men as sinner by Adam’s disobedience is to be understood in the sense of men becoming sinners by inheriting sin natures and living sinful lives. Adam’s misdeed is simply the means by which sin obtained entrance into human life. On the other hand, in the case of Christ’s obedience, we receive the status of justification by the righteousness of His life. One can see that he does not see a parallel between the two men’s actions.[2] The verse, however, surely intends the reader to see such a parallel. If that is so, as Moo and others point out,[3] then the word “made” is to be understood forensically. Shedd, after pointing out that the verb never means to make, says it means, “to place in the class of,” referring to a declarative act.[4] It is based upon causative acts of the first sin of Adam and the obedient act of Christ.

IV.       The Function of the Law:

A.        The Statement of it (Rom. 5:20):  The reason for the giving of the Law is now set out by Paul. In the words of Shedd, “The question naturally arises: If sin and death occurred in the way that has been described, previous to the Mosaic law, and without its use, then why its subsequent introduction?”[5] Or, to put it in another way, a last Jewish objection might arise at this point in the argument, “Did not the Law deal with sin and righteousness? Paul, you are giving Adam and Christ as the source of both. Where does the Law fit into this picture?” The word translated “entered” (PAREISELTHEN) in verse twenty means to enter alongside, like an actor, who does not occupy the front of the stage, and who appears there only to play an accessory part.[6] The important subject is not the Law, but sin. The point is that, if sin is to be effectively dealt with in mankind, it must become manifest among men as the exceedingly vicious and wrong thing that it is. Thus, the purpose expressed here is an intermediate purpose of God, not and ultimate purpose. The manifestation of sin is for the ultimate purpose of the salvation of men. Actually the Law was given for three purposes at least, namely, that the sin of men might become fully manifest, that its inherent ungodly nature might be seen, and that it might increase in quantity, as men sought to defend themselves in their sin against the attack of the Law. “But,” the apostle says, “where sin abounded (in Israel), grace did abound much more.” The sins of the religious, to whom revelation has come, are infinitely more heinous than the sins of the irreligious, or pagans. Paul, however, may have had in mind the abounding sin of Israel in rejection of the Law in the sense of disobedience to it, and also the climax of sinfulness in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Grace, nevertheless, did much more abound, in fact, superabound, as the Greek intensive verb (HUPERREPERISSEUSEN) suggests, for it is by the cross that grace comes to man.

B.        The Purpose of it (Rom. 5:21):  The Law set in motion a purpose that leads to the reign of grace through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, our Lord. Where sin reigned and ruined, now grace is to reign and bring to life. The phrase, “through righteousness,” is to be noted. God does forgive sin, but He does it righteously. To teach that He forgives sin because of tenderness of heart, like an indulgent grandfather forgives a grandson who has done something wrong, is to pervert the doctrine of divine grace. Nor does He pardon, as does a governor who exercises clemency. That type of pardon would detract from the work of Jesus Christ. God forgives men only because the Son, the divine Substitute, has paid the full penalty for their sin. All that God does in pardon and forgiveness is done righteously. Those who possess the pardon of God have a right to heaven, and no angel can bar us from entering. The grace of God is seen in the gift of the Son who made the righteous pardon possible.[7]



[1] M. S. Horton “Classical Calvinism” in Four Views on Eternal Security ed. J. M. Pinson, (Zondervan, 2002), p. 29. The following analysis of Covenantal theology is adapted from Horton, pp. 30-33.


[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans I (T&T Clark, 1979), p. 289. More recently T. R. Schreiner has adopted this position, cf. his Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 1998), p. 289.


[3] Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Moody, 1991), p. 359.


[4] W.G.T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary Upon the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (rpt. Klock & Klock, 1977), p. 139.


[5] Ibid., p. 143.


[6] F. Rienecker and C. Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 1982), p. 360.


[7] Cf. once again, I am indebted to the late S. Lewis Johnson, “An Exercise in Exegesis and Theology” New Dimensions in New Testament Study  (Zondervan, 1974), p. 315.

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life

by J. I. Packer

Dr. Packer has had a long-standing passion for the Puritans. Their understanding of God and His ways with man has largely formed his own spirituality and theological outlook. In A Quest for Godliness, the esteemed author of Knowing God and a dozen other books shares with his readers the rich world of Puritanism that has been so influential in his own life.

Dr. Packer masterfully uncovers the hidden treasures of Puritan life and thought. With crystalline clarity he reveals the depth and breadth of Puritan spiritual life, contrasting it with the superficiality and deadness of modern Western Christianity.

Drawing on a lifetime of study, Dr. Packer takes the reader on a survey of the lives and teachings of great Puritan leaders such as John Owen, Richard Baxter, and Jonathan Edwards. He offers a close look at such subjects as the Puritan view of the Bible, spiritual gifts, the Sabbath, worship, social action, and the family. He concludes that a main difference between the Puritans and ourselves is spiritual maturity–the Puritans had it; we don’t.

In a time of failing vision and decaying values, this powerful portrait of Puritans is a beacon of hope that calls us to radical commitment and action when both are desperately needed.

A Quest for Godliness is a profoundly moving and challenging exploration of Puritan life and thought in a beautifully written book. Here is J. I. Packer at his very best.


“In A Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer paints a vivid portrait of Puritans–their piety, church life, and social impulse–providing a model of passionate, holy living for today’s often-complacent church. Packer’s characteristically lucid style and penetrating insights into Christians of old send a vibrant challenge to those of us who follow Christ in this last decade of the twentieth century. I heartily recommend this book.” Chuck Colson

“Dr. Packer has blended theology, biography, history, and practical exhortation in a book that is a delight to read. But even more, the book speaks to our contemporary church situation and causes us to search our hearts and examine our ministries. Whether you are just getting acquainted with the Puritans or are a long-time friend, A Quest for Godliness will instruct and inspire you. Here is solid spiritual food that contributes to maturity.” Warren W. Wiersbe

Paperback; 368 pages

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