“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:12-17 ESV)
A type or typology refers to things in the Old Testament which were foreshadows of things to come. They illustrated or gave the sense of something to be fulfilled in the New Covenant in a more spectacular way. So easy ones are what Hebrews describes regarding the temple and the Levitical system. It’s not that hard to see how killing a lamb for sin in the Old Testament was a type of the death of Jesus for all our sins. Or how the high priest in the temple representing Israel to God was a type or picture of Jesus representing us as our priest to God.
So how is Adam a type? Adam was a type of Jesus by representing all of us when he sinned.
When Adam sinned, he was both a man and all men. We were all seminally in him when he sinned. It’s like an animal who is the only one of his species. Let’s use the Australian hippo (a made-up animal). There’s only one Australian hippo. Whatever that one hippo does, all the Australian hippos do. Adam was a man and all men. So, when he sinned, he did so as the representative head and the sum of the entire race.
Theologians call this federal headship and original sin. I think original sin is a poorly titled doctrine. I much prefer Grudem’s description of inherited guilt. We inherited Adam’s guilt. Our Three Musketeers might more accurately say it, One in all, all in one. When Adam sinned as the first man and head of the whole human race, we all became guilty. From that point on, God regarded us as sinners even before we existed—the whole human race including future humans. This is hinted at in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for sinners and sins that didn’t exist yet and we should be glad he did. Otherwise Jesus would have to come again and again to die for sins committed. No. He was able to die for sins not yet committed and sinners not yet alive.
Now you may argue that, but in one sense, it doesn’t matter if we are guilty through Adam’s sin or guilty through our own personal sin, either way we are guilty and rightly condemned. I think only on this side of hell will this be debated. They won’t be debating in hell, are we here because of Adam or us?
This gets to verse 14 and the reign of sin and death. While we may argue the universality of sin, the universality of death is without question. Everyone dies. Death has ruled ever since Adam. So much so that we take it as a given, but death is not the natural order. The Bible gives a straightforward answer to why death exists and why it is universal. We all sinned in Adam. We all sin in practice. The wages or payment for sin is death.
“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15–17)
If the bad news is that we all inherited guilt from our forefather Adam, the good news is that if one man can represent many other people, this means one person can represent us in dying for that guilt. If we can inherit guilt, we can inherit righteousness by the same principle.
This is the brilliance of God in how he parries sin and death into righteousness and eternal life. He takes the same principle of all for one and one for all and uses it to save us. In this case, it is Jesus who is the one and we are the all. I read somewhere that the story of humanity is the story of two men—Adam and Jesus. One’s sin brought misery. The other’s life and death brought forgiveness, justification, and eternal life for all who believe.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 494.
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