Dan Popp
Adam, Jesus, and you
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
January 10, 2011

In Adam's fall, we sinned all.

That opening line of a children's primer was the first sentence printed in the New World. I think it's still true that if we can learn to read the Bible, we'll learn to read — really read and understand — the printed word. One of the lessons in such a curriculum would be to read actively. We would learn to mentally interrogate the writer: What do you mean by that?

An important question for active reading is, "What, dear author, are your underlying assumptions — what 'goes without saying?'"

And something that's always taken for granted by Jesus and his apostles is that the Old Testament stories are not metaphors or myths, but history. Jesus treated the destruction of Sodom, Noah's flood, Jonah's fish tale and all the other biblical accounts as if they are reliable narratives. Jesus is a Scripture "literalist."

Here in Chapter 5 of the most important book, Paul wants to explain one of the most important things: how God's rescue plan works. And it's essential to his explanation that Adam is not an allegory, but the counterpart to the very real, flesh-and-blood Nazarene. Resuming at verse 12:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned — for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. [NIV]

I've interrupted the apostle in mid-parenthesis to consider the way that sin entered the world. The devil didn't barge in uninvited. He and his soul-poison came "through the front door," says one commentator. The legal steward of the planet gave Evil permission to speak.

There are a couple of things going on here. First, we have a basis for the Christian doctrine of "original sin." When Adam sinned he became a sinner, and his mutated, misshapen nature was passed to all his offspring like defective DNA. "In sin my mother conceived me," cried David (Psalm 51:5). But here in Romans we also see positive action on our part: all sinned. So if you worry about being judged for Adam's sin and not for your own — don't.

Now, there are different types of sin. Those who didn't know the Ten Commandments could not transgress the Law; they didn't intentionally disobey a word from God, as Adam did. But they did miss the mark. And don't forget that these folks had at least fragmentary knowledge of right and wrong: the infamous law unto themselves of Romans 2:14 that turns out to be an instrument of damnation, not of salvation. The proof that they sinned is that they died. Yet death exercises dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgressions of Adam.... [RSV]

...who is the figure [type, foreshadowing, pattern] of him that was to come. [KJV, Mon, TCNT, NIV]

Yes, in the great story of the good news Adam "stands for" Someone else, but he is not a mere literary device. Abraham was a type of everyone who has faith, but no serious person claims that Abraham was a fictional character. If I say, "You're another Mother Teresa," I'm not equating the compassionate nun with Spiderman.

Now we'll see the beautiful symmetry between the first Adam, and the "Last Adam," Christ.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. [Mon]

is redundant with free, but you see this pair often when referring to the good news. God's offer of life is most emphatically — capitalize, underscore, italicize, highlight — free. "And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." (Rev. 22:17b NASB) Adam stole; Jesus gave.

For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in a declaration of "Righteous." [NIV, NASB, YLT]

The apostle writes in another letter: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22, NKJV)

For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. [NKJV]

If to reign in life means that Christians are never supposed to have any problems (as some teach today) then Paul was on crack when he wrote, only a few verses above, that we rejoice in our sufferings! Clearly these postmodern preachers are mistaken, at best. Down to verse 20, please:

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. [NIV]

Paul has told us very plainly what God's written code of conduct does and does not do. It puts its hearers under condemnation (2:12, 3:19 and 3:28); it saves no one (3:20); it increases lawbreaking and brings the wrath of God (4:15). In the very strange verse above, we learn that God introduced the law so that sin might flower! But the law entered in order that the offense might abound, according to the literal rendering.

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. [KJV]

I feel fairly safe in saying that man's most wicked day was the day we murdered the only sinless man that's ever walked among us. And He was executed because of the Law! "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God," cried the Jewish leaders (John 19:17b NASB — see Leviticus 24:16). If the law came in to increase transgression, then "mission accomplished." There could be nothing more sinful than deicide. But this all-out assault of human evil looks puny in comparison to the overwhelming ocean of grace it released. But where sin was thus multiplied, grace immeasurably exceeded it. [NEB]

That's where Chapter 5 ends. But a final thought about Adam:

It doesn't make any sense to believe in the Last Adam, and not in the first one. Christian Darwinism is an oxymoron. If there was a long accidental progression of simians becoming sapiens, at what point did the monkey-man obtain a soul? And how — accidentally? This mangled-up view envisions non-creatures with fractions of a spirit who are partially moral beings, vaguely responsible for obeying No One's command to do nothing in particular — then somehow failing that non-duty.

If there was no personal God giving a literal command to an individual human being, then nothing else follows, including and especially a Savior.

© Dan Popp


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