A Commentary by John Stott
Paul has called Adam the type or prototype of Christ (14). But he has no sooner made this statement than he feels embarrassed by the anomaly, the impropriety, of what he has said. To be sure, there is a superficial similarity between them in that each is one man through whose one deed enormous numbers of people have been affected. But there indubitably the likeness between them ends. How can the Lord of glory be likened to the man of shame, the Saviour to the sinner, the giver of life to the broker of death? The correspondence is not a parallel, but an antithesis. So before returning to the solitary similarity between them (18-21), Paul elaborates their dissimilarities. ‘Adam and Christ stand there’, writes Anders Nygren, ‘as the representative heads of the two aeons. Adam is the head of the old aeon, the age of *death*; Christ is the head of the new aeon, the age of *life*’. So the structure of each of verses 15-17 embodies a statement that Christ’s gift is either *not like* Adam’s trespass (15-16) or *much more* effective than it (15-17). The differences concern the nature of the two actions (15), their immediate results (16), and their ultimate effects (17).
First, the nature of their actions was different. *But the gift is not like the trespass* (15a). This succinct assertion is almost a text for the rest of the paragraph. Adam’s *trespass* was a fall (*paraptoma*), indeed ‘the fall’ as we call it, a deviation from the path which God had clearly shown him. He insisted on going his own way. With it Paul contrasts Christ’s *gift *(charisma)*, an act of self-sacrifice which bears no resemblance to Adam’s act of self-assertion. It is this enormous disparity which Paul elaborates in the rest of the verse: *if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and* consequent *gift* (presumably of eternal life, 6:23)…*overflow* in rich, undeserved abundance *to the many!* (15b).
Secondly, the immediate effect of their actions was different. *Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin* (16a). The words are almost identical to those which introduced the previous verse. But now the emphasis is on the consequence of each action. In the case of Adam God’s *judgment brought condemnation*; in the case of Christ God’s *gift brought justification* (16b). The contrast is absolute. Yet there is more to the antithesis than the two words ‘condemnation’ and ‘justification’. It is that God’s judgment *followed* only *one sin*, whereas God’s gift *followed many trespasses*. The secular mind would have expected many sins to attract more judgment than one sin. But grace operates a different arithmetic. ‘That one single misdeed should be answered by judgment,’ writes Charles Cranfield, ‘this is perfectly understandable: that the accumulated sins and guilt of all ages should be answered by God’s free gift, this is the miracle of miracles, utterly beyond human comprehension.’
Thirdly, the ultimate effect of the two actions is also different (17). Once more *the one man* Adam and *the one man Jesus Christ* are juxtaposed, and so are the end results of their actions, which are now said to be *death* and *life*. But this time the contrast is subtly modulated in order to highlight the superiority of the work of Christ. On the one hand, we are given the stark information that *death reigned*, not now temporarily from Adam to Moses (14), but permanently. ‘The world is a place of cemeteries.’ On the other hand, we are not told that through Christ ‘life reigned’. The words *how much more*, together with the reference to *God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness*, alert us to expect a greater blessing. Even so we are not prepared for what follows, namely that the recipients of God’s abundant grace will themselves *reign in life*. Formerly death was our king, and we were slaves under its totalitarian tyranny. What Christ has done for us is not just to exchange death’s kingdom for the much more gentle kingdom of life, while leaving us in the position of subjects. Instead, he delivers us from the rule of death so radically as to enable us to change places with it and rule over it, or *reign in life*. We become kings, sharing the kingship of Christ, with even death under our feet now, and one day to be destroyed.
Tomorrow: Romans 5:18-21. c). Adam and Christ are compared.