A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 5:18-21. c). Adam and Christ are compared.
Having completed his contrast between Adam and Christ, Paul now develops the comparison. His sentence structure is no longer either ‘not like’ or ‘how much more’ (as in verses 15-17), but ‘just as…so also’ (as in verses 18,19,21). Not that contrast and comparison are mutually exclusive. Even while painting the contrasts in verses 15-17 (between trespass and gift, condemnation and justification, death and life), Paul did not forget the comparison (the one affecting the many). So now in verses 18-21, while emphasising the parallel, he will not overlook the contrasts. Yet his ‘just as…so also’ structure in each verse is intended to highlight the similarity between Adam and Christ: the one act of the one man determined the destiny of the many.
Verse 18 takes up the immediate results of the work of Adam and Christ, as in verse 16, namely condemnation and justification. Yet the emphasis is on the parallel: *just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men*.
Verse 19 takes up the nature of their actions, as in verse 15, though using different language. There it was trespass and gift; here it is disobedience and obedience. yet again the emphasis is on the parallel that *just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man* (obedience ‘to death – even death on the cross!’, Phil. 2:8) *the many will be made righteous*. The expressions ‘made sinners’ and ‘made righteous’ cannot mean that these people actually became morally good or evil, but rather that they were ‘constituted’ legally righteous or unrighteous in God’s sight. Hodge writes: ‘The disobedience of Adam…was the ground of their being placed in the category of sinners’ and ‘the obedience of Christ was the ground on which the many are to be placed in the category of the righteous’. Dr. Lloyd-Jones clarifies the situation further for us: ‘Look at yourself in Adam; though you had done nothing you were declared a sinner. Look at yourself in Christ; and see that, though you have done nothing, you are declared to be righteous. That is the parallel.’ Professor Dunn adds that, since ‘righteous’ (*dikaios*) was ‘such a favourite self-description of devout Jews’, Paul may be emphasizing that ‘the many’ who will be finally acquitted will include Gentiles as well. He is ‘denying the limited nationalism of the normal Jewish hope’.
Verse 20 is a digression, but a necessary one. Paul has been developing his analogy between Adam and Christ. His Jewish readers may have been asking if there was any room in his scheme for Moses. ‘Ought we not to distinguish three ages, ruled by the names of Adam, Moses and Christ?’ But no, that would be ‘a complete misunderstanding of the role of the law. Adam and Christ are…such total opposites that they leave place for no third.
What then was the purpose of the law? It *was added so that the trespass might increase* (20a). Part of what Paul meant by this he has already explained in previous places. The law reveals sin (3:20; cf. 7:7, 13), defining and displaying it The law turns sin into transgression, since ‘where there is no law there is no transgression’ (4:15; cf. 5:13; Gal. 3:19). In Romans 7:8 Paul will add that the law even provokes sin. These statements must have been shocking to Jewish people, who thought of the Mosaic law as having been given to increase righteousness, not to increase sin. Yet Paul says that the law increased sin rather than diminishing it, and provoked sin rather than preventing it.
God, however, had made ample provision for the increase of sin by the increase of grace, for *where sin increased, grace increased all the more* (20b). If, as some exegetes believe, the ‘trespass’ (20a) is an allusion to the specific sin of Adam, and if its ‘increase’ is its spread and intensification across history, reaching a ‘hideous climax’ in the rejection of Christ at the cross, then God’s abounding grace will refer to ‘the divine self-giving of the cross’. This allusion to grace introduces Paul’s third comparison between Adam and Christ, in which he takes up the alternative ultimate issues of life and death. It is true that verse 21 contains no explicit mention of Adam, but he lurks behind it all the same in the reference to sin and death. Once more the contrasts are not forgotten, as grace and life are set in antithesis to sin and death. But the emphasis is again on the parallel which compares two kinds of ‘reign’. God’s purpose is that *just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life* (21).
Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression ‘the reign of grace’. For grace forgives sins through the cross and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life. Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things. Grace satisfies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ. Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun. And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom. So when we are convinced that ‘grace reigns’, we will remember that God’s throne is a ‘throne of grace’, and will come to it boldly to receive mercy and to find grace for every need (Heb. 4:16). And all this is *through Jesus Christ our Lord*, that is, through his death and resurrection. The same reference to the mediation of Jesus Christ also concluded the previous paragraph (verse 11) and will conclude the next three chapters (6, 7, and 8) as well as this one.