I mentioned almost a month ago that I would be writing a bit on the Adam-Christ juxtaposition as a main theme in the Epistle to the Romans (read my thoughts on 1.18-32 here). Obviously, I have not done this. I thank Martin Luther for prodding me to resume.
Last week I was reading his “Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans” (read here). As I came to the place where he begins to address the fifth chapter something Luther wrote stopped me. It is well known that he was a bit consumed with the Law-Grace antithesis in this epistle, but it seems like (to me) he missed the main points in favor of a supporting point.
As regards 5.12-21 he writes, “Next St. Paul makes a digression, a pleasant little side-trip, and relates where both sin and justice, death and life come from. He opposes these two: Adam and Christ. What he wants to say is that Christ, a second Adam, had to come in order to make us heirs of his justice through a new spiritual birth in faith, just as the old Adam made us heirs of sin through the old fleshy birth.”
A digression? I think not. No, the Adam-Christ juxtaposition is not a lapse in Paul’s train of thought. He does not suddenly mention Adam because he forgot his main subject and he had a sudden thought he wanted to relay in the meantime. This is the cord that holds the epistle together.
If in 1.18-32 we see the Apostle using language that sounds like it is about Adam to explain the sins of the human race then it should be no surprise to us that in 5.12-21 he unpacks this very idea. In 5.12 he makes two important points: (1) Sin entered the world through Adam (ancestral sin) and (2) it spreads because everyone sins.
In other words, we all are Adamic in part because we all act like Adam.
In 5.14 Paul makes sure everyone understands that it does not matter if one sinned “in the likeness of the sin of Adam” or not, the point is that they sinned like Adam did. It is not the “type” of sin, it is simply sin.
This is why it is interesting that we see humanity’s fall away from God as seemingly describing Adam in 1.18-23, yet in vv. 24-32 Paul runs off a long list of offenses common in the pagan, Gentile world.
So did Paul make “a digression” like Luther says? No, Luther just didn’t realize that what Paul said in black and white in 1.18-32 has now been colored by 5.12-21. Paul’s vague reference to humanity’s falling away in 1.18-22 is showed to be Adam and likewise the list of other sins in 1.23-32 is highlighted by Paul’s emphasis that it doesn’t matter if the sin was like Adam in how it was done, merely that it was sinning, like Adam.