|HM#143 - What
Did Adam’s Sin Do to Us?
Romans Chapter 5
By Allon Maxwell
In his second epistle Peter says that Paul wrote “some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
I think he must have had Paul’s epistle to the Romans in mind …… especially chapter 5! If the Jewish Peter didn’t find it easy, consider how much more difficult it must be for those of us now faced with translating Paul’s 2000 year old Hebrew idiom, written in Greek, to the vastly different thinking patterns of 21st century Aussie English!
This short article can’t attempt to deal with the whole chapter, and will concentrate mainly on those “difficult” sayings about the effects of Adam’s sin on the rest of us.
“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” (Romans 5:12 RSV)
This verse has been widely and illogically misinterpreted to say that when Adam sinned, his nature was changed from “something” which was neither mortal nor immortal, to the condition which we now call mortality. This mortality is alleged to have been the punishment for his sin. (1) It is further claimed that this same sentence of mortality was “inherited” by all his posterity as a direct consequence of Adam’s sin.
(1) Some even go so far as to say that since Adam’s death 930 years later was THE punishment for his sin, he is eternally lost, without hope of any future life beyond the Resurrection! And some go even further still to say that since Adam has already had his punishment, he won’t even rise from the dead at the last day when Jesus returns!
Illogical? Yes!! Think carefully. How can something be neither mortal or immortal? The two terms are mutually exclusive. If something is immortal it can NEVER die. (Luke 20:36; John 11:26) If it is mortal it can die. And there is no possible logical “in-between”.
So what was Adam when he was created? Clearly he was NOT immortal. Otherwise the threat of death is meaningless. So he must already have been in a condition where a threat of death can be regarded as a deterrent to any potential disobedience. That only leaves mortality! Adam must have been created mortal. And since he was already mortal BEFORE he sinned, the sentence, whatever it was, could not have involved a change of nature from something else to mortality.
Everything else in our understanding of Romans 5 revolves around that fundamental conclusion.
WHAT DID PAUL REALLY MEAN BY “DEATH”?
It comes down to a proper understanding of what Paul meant by “DEATH” in this chapter.
The Scriptures speak about death in different ways, to mean different things.
a. There is “natural death”, which occurs to all eventually because they are born with mortal bodies which cannot live forever. (Numbers 16:29)
b. there is the “second death” in the “lake of fire” which is the PENALTY of sin, and follows the Resurrection and Judgment at the return of Jesus from Heaven. (Revelation 20:13-15)
c. there is the “spiritual death” in which the living are spoken of as though they are dead because their sins have caused a separation from God. (Ephesians 2:1)
Of course the end result of the first two is the same. Life ceases! The difference between them lies, not in the end result, but in the REASON why they happen.
The first one is a natural event which happens to all, saints and sinners alike, because of the mortality we are born with …… BEFORE we sin. It can be reversed!
The second is the cutting short of a viable life which, without the intervention of the judge, could otherwise continue for some finite time. It can never be reversed. It is forever! (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
This “second death” cannot possibly have anything to do with the “natural mortality” of infants who never had an opportunity to sin! Nor can it have anything to do with the “natural mortality” of those who live and die outside the scope of responsibility for their sins and will never rise from their graves.
So which of those two constitute the threat made against Adam? And what was it that “spread” to all of us?
Paul says that it is a death which spread to all men because all men sinned. Clearly, the death Paul is speaking about is not “natural mortality”, which is already “there” BEFORE we sin, but a personal death sentence incurred by each individual who commits sins of his own!
That “death” is the “second death” (Rev 20:13-15) which will happen to resurrected unrepentant sinners on Judgment Day.
REVISITING EDEN - WHAT REALLY DID HAPPEN TO ADAM?
In Ezekiel 33:14 we learn that the man to whom God says “thou shalt surely die” does not die – IF HE REPENTS!! Instead he LIVES!
Of course this cannot be referring to "mortality". Clearly, Ezekiel’s man who “lives” instead of dying is still mortal. He will still eventually die the “common death of all mankind”. (Numbers 16:29) BUT that is not the penalty which he has escaped through repentance. If he truly repents he will never suffer that. God does not forgive and still punish!! What a terrible injustice that would be. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12)
Have you noticed that what God says to those men in Ezekiel is what he had also said to Adam more than 3000 years before? “You shall surely die”. (Genesis 2:17) (2)
(2) For more about the meaning of the Hebrew phrase “MUTH TEMUTH” translated as “surely die” see also my article: “MUTH TEMUTH - You Shall Surely Die” available online at:
And have you noticed that Adam’s threatened death was supposed to take place in the very same day as the offence was committed. ……… “In the day that you eat”
And have you noticed that it didn’t happen!! Adam did not experience the threatened penalty ”in the day”, Instead he was allowed to live on …… just like those other sinners in Ezekiel who turned from their sins.
How could that be? Learn from Ezekiel. It’s all about repentance and forgiveness!
Clearly, since God deals with all men equally (Ezekiel 18 & 33) what God says about sinners, through Ezekiel, tells us WHY that first sinner Adam did NOT die in the very same day that he sinned. Rather he LIVED ….. and LIVED …… and LIVED ...... until he was 930 years old! Only after nearly 1000 years did he at last return to the dust from which he was made, to await resurrection and judgment! And from that we learn that just like those other men in Ezekiel, Adam also must have taken advantage of the promise of a future Savior and forgiveness based on repentance. Instead of suffering his threatened penalty, he received his life back and “lived” for the centuries long duration of his mortal probation!
ORIGINAL SIN – SIN NATURE – SIN IN THE FLESH
Another seriously mistaken teaching which some read into Paul’s words in this chapter, says that as a result of his sin, Adam’s newly created mortal nature became infected with “something” variously called “original sin”, or “sin nature”, or “sin in the flesh” -- which is supposed to have been transmitted to all of his descendants as a resident evil quality which makes them naturally inclined to evil, and therefore inevitably powerless to obey what God commands.
Some versions of this also claim that we are all worthy of death simply because we are born, through no fault of our own, with this inherent evil quality. (That is one of the reasons why Infant Baptism was “invented”. It is supposed to cancel the alleged guilt of “original sin”.)
Of course this all amounts to a terrible slander against God ……… bordering on blasphemy!
Think about it. Can it possibly be true that God commands men to obey, knowing that it is inherently impossible for them? And can it be true that God then punishes men for the sins they were powerless to avoid?
That would accuse him of the most awful injustice!! And it would deny of God’s own claim that He does NOT punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)
Praise God!! He is NOT like that at all!! He does NOT condemn the righteous for the sins of their fathers! (Ezekiel 18:5-18) Every man is accountable only for his own un-repented sins. (Ezekiel 18:20) And we are promised that we can – in these mortal bodies -- and in this life:
“Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24 RSV)
ADAM IS A TYPICAL CASE!!
“Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (Romans 5:14 RSV)
Who or what is this “one” that Paul refers to, of whom Adam is “a type”?
Actually Paul didn’t use a specific word for “one” in his Greek text. Literally what he said was:
……… “who is a type of the (?) coming”
Proper translation to English requires the insertion of a word in that parenthesis which I have inserted before “coming” (which isn’t in the Greek text, but is implied by the Greek Grammar) to define who or what is coming. The translators have chosen to add the word “one”, leaving it to readers to work out for themselves who or what or which “one” Paul is talking about.
It makes the best sense if we regard the “one coming” as NOT any a specific “one person”, or “one thing”, but the “class” or “group” of mankind in general from which each of us is a generic example. Most likely, Paul is saying that Adams’s sin was a TYPE of “the general class of sin” committed by the “general class of men” who were to come after him, by which each of us would individually incur our own guilt and liability to penalty.
The bottom line is that what happened to Adam is TYPICAL of how God deals with the rest of us when we too sin like Adam!
Adam sinned ….. and incurred a penalty …… which however, he did NOT suffer! Instead He was promised a Savior, and his life was restored. On Judgment day we shall learn how Adam used his renewed probation. THAT is the “type”.
When we COPY Adam’s example by committing our own sins, “not (exactly) like the transgression of Adam” (verse 14) God deals with us in the same way he dealt with Adam. Just like Adam we incur the same death penalty for ourselves. And just like Adam, when God seeks us out and confronts us with our guilt, if we repent, our judgment is also postponed to Judgment Day, while we live out our own restored probation. That is the “antitype”.
SO WHAT DOES PAUL MEAN –
“by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners”? (Verse 19)
Clearly the great weight of Scripture tells us that Adam’s transgression can only have been personal to himself. No sin committed by Adam can affect OUR personal relationship with God.
God does not put any man to death for the sins of his ancestors. (Ezekiel 18:14)
We are “made sinners” by our own actions …… when we copy Adam’s disobedience.
AND WHAT DOES PAUL MEAN –
“by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”? (Verse 19)
Clearly the righteousness of Jesus is PERSONAL to himself. It cannot affect OUR personal relationship with God if it exists only in Jesus. It can only make US truly righteous and it can only restore US to personal relationship with God, if we copy HIS righteousness and make it OUR OWN by following his commandments.
It cannot possibly mean that the righteousness inherent in Jesus is somehow credited to our account because he has done it for us, and that therefore we don’t need to be righteous! God is NOT interested in any mere pretence that a man can be regarded as righteous just because someone else has done it for him …… allegedly vicariously! There has to be a change by which we actually become righteous.
It would therefore seem reasonable to paraphrase verse 18 as something like:
“Therefore as by (COPYING) the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by (REPENTING AND COPYING) the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (KJV)
What did Adam’s sin do to us?
First ….. what it didn’t do. As we have seen above, there is no Scripture to support the view that Adam’s sin, caused us to be born with some mysterious inherited and inherent evil quality of nature which makes it inevitable that we will sin. Nor did Adam’s sin cut US off from relationship with God. Each of US individually does that for ourselves when we make a freewill choice to sin like Adam.
It did however result in us being born outside the Garden of Eden. When Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden and denied access to the “Tree of Life” so were all his unborn children.
Praise God!! That isn’t the end of the story!! Before Adam was driven from the Garden, God had promised a way back. A savior was promised who would die to pay the ransom required to redeem Adam from the penalty of his sins. (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6) Of course,as we learn from Ezekiel, there would have been conditions, which are clearly spelled out by Ezekiel. (which Adam must have met in order to survive the day)
The same salvation from the penalty of OUR sins is offered now to all Adam’s descendants, on the same terms of repentance and renewed life in obedience to the Savior “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”. (Revelation 1:5 RSV).
That is the heart of the message in Romans 5!
“Grace will reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)