Paul's Epistle to the Romans

 (18) Headship of Adam
Romans 5:12-14


12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all 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 those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.



12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world. Genesis 3 makes it abundantly clear that this one man, Adam, brought sin to the human race by disobedience. It was not the sins of Adam’s lifetime, but the one original sin which allowed death, sin’s close ally, to enter the world with it. On no less than five occasions in verses 15–19 the principle of one sin by one man is stressed. One act of disobedience to God was sufficient to allow sin to enter and filter through the entire human race, because all sinned

And thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. Death comes to all of us because all have sinned—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

You and I are sinners in four different ways:
1. We are sinners because we commit acts of sin.
2. We are sinners by nature (sin doesn’t make us sinners, but we sin because we have that nature.
3. We are in the state of sin. God has declared the entire human family under sin.
4. We are sinners by imputation. That is, Adam acted for the human race because he was the head of it.

We are condemned in Adam, but we can be redeemed in Christ. Today we remain greatly affected by Adam’s sin, since we have inherited a sinful nature from him. It is true that all of us have committed individual acts of sin as well, but that is not the thought here. Paul’s point is that Adam’s sin was a representative act, and all his posterity are considered as having sinned in him, because we inherit his sinful nature when we are born. Someone might object and say that it was Eve and not Adam who committed the first sin on earth. That is true, but since Adam was the first to be created, headship was given to him. So he is seen as acting for all his descendants.

Death spread to all men. When the Apostle Paul says here that death spread to all men, he is referring to physical death, even though Adam’s sin brought spiritual death as well. Verses 13 and 14 will bear this out.

When we come to this passage of Scripture, certain questions inevitably arise. Is it fair that Adam’s posterity should be designated sinners just because he sinned? Does God condemn men for being born sinners, or only for those sins which they have actually committed? If men are born with a sinful nature, and if they therefore sin because they are born sinners, how can God hold them responsible for what they do?

Bible scholars have wrestled with these and a host of similar problems and have come up with a surprising variety of conclusions. However, there are certain facts that we can be sure of.

  • First, the Bible does teach that all men are sinners, both by nature and by practice. Everyone born to human parents inherits Adam’s sin, and then there are also the sins he commits by his own deliberate choice.
  • Second, we know that the wages of sin is death—both physical death and eternal separation from God.

But no one has to pay the penalty of sin unless he wants to. This is the important point. At enormous cost, God sent His Son to die as a Substitute for sinners. Salvation from sin and its wages is offered as a free gift through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Man is condemned on three grounds: He has a sinful nature, Adam’s sin is imputed to him, and he is a sinner by practice. But his crowning guilt is his rejection of the provision which God has made for his salvation—“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

But someone will ask, “What about those who have never heard the gospel?” This question is answered in part, at least, in chapter 1. Beyond that we can rest in the assurance that the Judge of all the earth will do right—“Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). He will never act unjustly or unfairly. All His decisions are based on impartiality and righteousness. Although certain situations pose problems to our dim sight, they are not problems to Him. When the last case has been heard and the doors of the courtroom swing shut, no one will have a legitimate basis for appealing the verdict.

13 For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

For until the law sin was in the world. Paul will now demonstrate that Adam’s sin immediately inundated the whole world and had a lethal effect on its inhabitants. He first points out that sin was in the world during the period from Adam to the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. But during that time there was no clearly revealed Law of God. Adam had received a clear oral commandment from the Lord, and many centuries later the Ten Commandments were a distinct written revelation of divine law. But in the intervening period men did not have a legal set of laws from God. Therefore, although there was sin during that time, there was no transgression, because transgression is the violation of a known law. But sin is not imputed as transgression when there is no law forbidding it. I think this is the reason why God did not exact the death penalty from Cain when he murdered his brother. It was a horrible thing to do, but at that time God had not said, “Thou shalt not kill.” (Ex 20:13). Later on we find that the generation that was destroyed at the Flood was saturated with sin—“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). But none of them broke the Ten Commandments—because there were no Ten Commands then. But they were judged because they were sinners.

But sin is not imputed when there is no law. Before the Law of Moses was given, physical death confirmed the presence of sin in Adam and his descendents. Paul has already stated, “Where there is no Law there is no transgression” (Rom 4:15). This doesn’t mean that sin does not exist unless there is a Law. It means that sin does not have the character of being a transgression apart from the Law, and therefore sin is not taken into account, as such. Adam’s sin was charged to his account and also to his descendents, because he broke an explicit stated command of God.

Imputation. Attributing or reckoning of guilt or righteousness on the basis of a prior, event or the acts of another person. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer who is justified on that basis, just as the original sin of Adam was imputed to all later generations who were condemned on that basis.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam. God had clearly instructed Adam of what to do, and what not to do. He commanded Adam to eat of all the trees in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said, “For in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen2:15-17). Adam ate the forbidden fruit; he transgressed God’s command, God’s Law—and he reaped the penalty…he died. He died spiritually the moment he ate; he was cut off for the time being from fellowship with God. Eventually, he died physically. If Adam had not sinned, he would be alive today. Adam’s descendants lived and multiplied through the centuries from Adam to Moses…and even though they were not under Law, they died. This shows that the descendants of Adam died because they had all sinned against the Law of God in the act of Adam while they were still in his loins—“who is the figure of the one to come.”Death did not take a holiday during the age when there was no law. With the single exception of Enoch, death held sway over all mankind. You could not say that these people died because they had transgressed a clear command of God, as Adam did. And they didn’t die because of their sinful acts against the Mosaic Law (which they did not yet have). Why then did they die? The answer is implied: they died because they had sinned in Adam, that is, they died because of their own inherited sinful nature.  If this seems unfair, remember that this has nothing to do with salvation. All those who put their faith in the Lord were saved eternally. But they died physically just the same, and the reason they died was because of the sin of their head, Adam. In his role as representing mankind, Adam was a type (symbol) of Him who was to come—that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the succeeding verses Paul will develop the subject of these two heads—Adam and Christ—but more by contrast than by similarities. He will show that: 

In Christ the sons of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.

Who is a type of Him who was to come. Here Adam is contrasted with Christ and he is said to be a “type” of Him that was to come. The only Old Testament character to be called explicitly a type of Christ is Adam. It’s here the contrast between the first Adam and the Last Adam begins.

Death reigned. The word death is used in a threefold way in scripture.
1. Physical death—refers only to the body, and it means a separation of the spirit from the body. This death comes to man because of Adam’s sin.
2. Spiritual death—is separation from and rebellion against God. And we inherit this nature from Adam. We are alienated from God and we are dead in trespasses and sins: And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph . 2:1;NKJV). That is the picture that Scripture presents.
3. Eternal death—is eternal separation from God. And, unless man is redeemed, eternal death eventually follows: "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Rev. 21:8; NKJV).

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