Summary: A contrast between Adam and Christ.
A man was trying to convince an acquaintance that one individual can make a lasting impression on others. After a rather heated discussion, his friend continued to doubt this principle. To prove his point, the first man declared that he would introduce a new word into the English language. That night he chalked on walls and pavements throughout Dublin, Ireland, four letters Q-U-I-Z, which he had chosen at random from the alphabet. The next morning everyone who saw this unusual expression was baffled at it. One person after another would ask, “What does it mean?” It wasn’t long until the newspapers took up the question, and eventually this strange- sounding word was on the lips of everyone. Thus the term “quiz” was incorporated into the language as a synonym for “questioning.” The originator had won his argument. He had left a lasting impression on many people by creating one new English word. - Windows on the Word, p. 85.
In Romans 5 Paul presents to us two individuals who—through one act—have had an awesome impact on the human race.
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world [mankind], and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned" (5:12).
Who is this one man? It is, of course, Adam. The story of Adam and Eve is no mere myth, folklore, or legend but an actual event in human history. Scripture puts full blame for human sin on the shoulders of Adam, the father of the human race. God had given to Adam a clear command and warning when He said, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). We are told that Adam disobeyed this command and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and, as a result of his disobedience, sin was introduced to mankind. And because of this one sin of Adam, everyone dies.
What do the words “all have sinned” mean? Do all people die because of Adam’s one sin or because of their own individual sins? What is meant here is that when Adam sinned we actually sinned with Him. How was this possible? In the Epistle to the Hebrews there is a similar idea. The author of Hebrews writes, “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him” (Heb. 7:9-10). We are told that Levi, though not born until almost 200 years later, actually paid tithes in his great-grandfather Abraham. The ancestor, Abraham, contained his descendant, Levi. Similarly, our ancestor, Adam, contained all of us, his descendants. Therefore, just as Levi did something in paying the tithe in Abraham, so we did something in sinning in Adam. God did not reveal the mechanics of how this is so, it is simply declared to be so.
"(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similtude of Adam’s transgression. . . .” (5:13-14a).
Here is Paul’s argument: (1) a penalty implies a broken law; (2) death is a penalty; (3) sin is not imputed [charged to one’s account] when there is not law [in other words, a person is not found guilty for something if there is no law against it.]; (4) Adam’s sin was the transgression of a law; so were the sins of the people of Israel under the law; (5) between Adam and the time of Moses sin did not partake of the character of transgression because there was no law; (6) yet death reigned from Adam to Moses; (7) since death is a penalty of a broken law, all men were subject to death because they transgressed God’s command in Adam. It is true that we do inherit a sin nature from our parents and that we do commit individual sins, but it is also true that Adam’s sin was directly charged to us when he sinned.
". . . who [Adam] is the figure of him that was to come" (5:14b).
Who is “him that was to come”? It is Jesus Christ. Paul writes that there are similarities between Adam and Christ.
First of all, both Adam and Christ committed one memorable act. Adam’s act was his sin of disobedience; Christ’s act was his obedience in His death on the cross.
And second, Adam’s one act of disobedience and Christ’s one act of obedience have affected all people. Verse 19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Because of Adam’s disobedience, every person is a sinner, and because of Christ’s obedience, every person is able to be right in God’s sight.