A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 5:12-21 2). The two humanities, in Adam and in Christ.
So far Paul has surveyed both the universal extent of human sin and guilt and the glorious adequacy of God’s justifying grace in and through Christ. In doing so he has led us both down into the depths of human depravity and up into the heights of divine mercy. He has also indicated his readers’ involvement (whether Jews or Gentiles) in both the guilt and the grace. On the one hand, he has ‘made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are *all* under sin’ (3:9), whereas on the other he has declared that Abraham is ‘the father of us *all*’ through faith (4:16). Here then are two communities, one characterized by sin and guilt, the other by grace and faith. Anticipating verses 12-21 a little, we may say that the former is in Adam and the latter in Christ.
Moreover, Paul has identified himself with the new, believing community by his consistent use of the first person plural. Having been both justified (1) and reconciled (11), all of us are enjoying peace with God, standing in grace, rejoicing in present sufferings and future glory, assured of final salvation, and exulting in God through Christ by whom these blessings have become ours (1-11).
*Therefore*, Paul continues. The word must not be overlooked. It shows that the next verses (12-21) are not alien an intrusion into the argument, or an isolated section unconnected with what precedes or follows, or even a parenthesis, but a logical development, indeed a conclusion of his thesis thus far and a necessary transition to what comes next. The two links between the two halves of Romans 5 (1-11 and 12-21) may be mentioned.
The first is that Paul has attributed our reconciliation and salvation to the death of God’s Son (9-10). This immediately prompts the question how one person’s sacrifice could have brought such blessings to so many. It is not that (in Winston Churchill’s famous saying) so many owe so much to so few; it is rather that so many owe so much to only one person. How can that be? Paul’s answer is contained in his analogy between Adam and Christ, For both demonstrate the principle that many can be affected, for good or ill, by one person’s action.
A second possible clue to the link between the two halves of Romans 5 is that both conclude with the expression ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (11 and 21). Determined as he is to honour Jesus Christ as the only mediator of all our blessings, Paul presents Adam and Christ, the respective heads of the old and new humanities, in such a way as to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of the work of Christ.
All students of verses 12-21 have found it extremely condensed. Some have mistaken compression or confusion. But most have marvelled at the almost ‘mathematical precision’ of Paul’s writing, and have admired its craftsmanship. It may be likened to a well-chiselled carving or a carefully constructed musical composition.
The text divides itself naturally into three short paragraphs, in each of which Adam and Christ are related to each other, although with significant differences. First (12-14), Adam and Christ are *introduced*, Adam as responsible for sin and death, and as ‘a pattern of the one to come’ (14), who is Christ. Secondly, (15-17), Adam and Christ are *contrasted*. In each of these three verses the work of Christ is said to be either ‘not like’ Adam’s or ‘much more’ successful than his. Thirdly, (18-21), Adam and Christ are *compared*. The structure now (in 18,19 and 21) is ‘just as…so also’. For through the one man’s one deed (Adam’s disobedience or Christ’s obedience) the many have been either cursed or blessed.
Tomorrow: Romans 5:12-14. a) Adam and Christ are introduced.