3) Adam, the Law and the Messiah: (A) Briefly discuss your understanding of the basic message of Romans 5:12–21. Why is “the gift not like the transgression” (5:15)? (What is the logic of this section? What is the basic contrast Paul is establishing between Adam and Christ? Can you ‘chart’ the basic comparisons and contrasts?)
(B) Then, discuss how you think this very dense summary of the meta-narrative of Adam and Christ relates to what has been said before in the argument of the letter. (How does the description of humanity in 1:18–2:16 relate to what Paul says about the story of Adam? What is the role of the Law [Torah] in each narrative, Adam’s and Christ’s? How does the mention of Law here recall earlier parts of Paul’s argument [e.g., in Rom 2:12–16, 23–29; 3:9–20; 4:1–12, 14–16]? In what ways are the both continuity and [radical] discontinuity?)
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3A&B.  The function of the basic message of Romans 5:12-21 is to usher in the subsequent 6-8 chapters by construing the human dilemma as a condition for which God has provided a suitable solution.  This is necessary insofar as interpreters of Romans all observe that the character and content of chapters 5-8 vary greatly from chapter 1-4, and thus a deeper dive is in order to answer the basic question of “why is that the case?”  The answer is simply that while Paul has made bold statements about Jesus (Chris-event) being the answer to the human dilemma, he has not yet explained how that is the answer.[1]
By laying the foundation of the condition/solution equation, Paul reaches for the language of participation, by which he compares two figures, Adam and Christ, because now redemption entails exchanging one’s participation in one condition (Adam) for participation in another (Christ).[2]  The logic must be vetted further, however, since Paul himself found that the deeper he dove, the more he found:  “non-human” participants such as sin, death, law, grace.  Beyond this, those “non-human” participants were doing things that humans do (enter, spread, multiply, receive, reign; NRSV: “exercise dominion).[3]
The passage, according to Keck, does not define the actors (i.e. “participants”) on the stage of uncovering the how; rather, their identities are disclosed by what they do.  Just as the human condition is the result of what happened in Adam, so freedom from that condition is the result of what Christ did.[4]
The words at the end of verse 14, “Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come” indicates Adam, as the first man, is a type/pattern/foreshadowing of Christ – who would come much later in history.  The question is, why did Paul insert those words there, where he did, when he did?  Why would he say this immediately after saying, “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam?”  Which is really to say, the personal sins of Adam’s descendants were not the root cause that brought their death, it was their union with Adam in his sin.
I believe it is preciselybecause that is the very point Paul wants to make about Christ and how we are justified in Him.  Just as those who are in Adam die because of his sin imputed to them, so also those who are in Christ livebecause of His righteousness imputed to them.   Moreover, just as it is not at root the personal sinning of those in Adam that brought about their condemnation, so it is not at the root of personal goodness of those who are in Christ that brings their justification.  It’s a beautiful analogy/reciprocity/arrangement/”God thing” and again, the point of Paul saying these words exactly here is to signal that justification comes to us not on the ground of our obedience, but on the ground of Christ’s obedience and our union with him by faith alone.
To expound a bit further, verses 15-17 aim to show how Christ is not like Adam.  I just discussed my take on how they correspond, but I also believe we need to realize that the similarity and correspondence are meant to also highlight the difference and the superiority of Christ and His work (alone).  And I don’t mean the obvious that Adam/sin/condemnation/death are different from Christ/righteousness/ justification/life (is “duh” appropriate in this kind of class?); I mean Paul is saying that the “positive” (Christ) side of this equation and correlation is much more than just an equalizer or negating “opposite.”  It’s an exponential imbalance and it has to be so that we can fully understand the superiority of Christ’s work.

“But the free gift is not like the transgression.  For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (5:15).  The real parallel throughout this verse, in my opinion, is “the one” and “the many.”  Many are in Adam and may die because of his (one man’s) transgression.  Many are in Christ and many experience grace because of His (one man’s) grace.  This is perhaps a minor point, but it is simply:  judgment came because of one man; salvation comes because of one man…there was one way for all men to fall (in Adam) and there is one way for all to be saved (in Christ).  It’s the singularity of Christ and his grace and righteousness that I believe Paul wants us not to miss. 

But it’s Paul, so c’mon – there HAS to be more.  I think he also wants us to see what is not singular or parallel between Adam and Christ in verse 15.  We understand that the gift of righteousness is not (obviously) like the transgression.  Check.  Got it.  But when they are contrasted, righteousness – as in the grace that gives it – is far more certain and far more paramount than transgression.  To Paul, “much more” is a much more of certainty, not a much more of quantity.  “Much more [certainly], having been reconciled, shall we be saved.”
The comparing and contrasting of Jesus and Adam is clearly to draw our attention to the triumphal mark in Jesus.  Paul had to delay the unfolding of this a bit instead of lead with it because he knew some of the hearers would disagree with the severity of his interpretation.[5]  But once Paul masterfully interrupted his narrative and clarified, he built his crowning edifice:  only by Jesus’action – and not by anyone’s observance of the Torah in either narrative – can Adam’s dead and condemned offspring receive justification and eternal life.  So much more indeed.


[1]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 143.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
[2]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 145.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
[3] Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 145.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005
[4]Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 145.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005
[5] Blackwell, Ben C., Goodrich, John K., Maston, Jason. Reading Romans in Context, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Page 84. Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2015.