19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
“Therefore” announces the conclusion of the comparison between Adam and Christ that Paul began in verse 12 with the phrase “Therefore just as….” In verses 18, 19, and 21 Paul completes the thought with three parallel uses of “as… so.”
Now we can tie together verses 12 and 18 to form this conclusion: “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, leading to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Craig Keener: “Adam, by seeking greater life, brought death, whereas Jesus by dying brought life.”What is a “trespass”?
As used here, it is a willful act of disobedience. Whereas Eve was deceived, Adam’s sin was deliberate as he chose to obey his wife rather than God (Genesis 3:6 and 17). Perhaps he thought the companionship and physical pleasures he derived from his wife outweighed any consequence God might impose. And if the tempter was right, he and Eve really could become equal to God. How wrong Adam was. Bruce Waltke and Cathi Fredricks explain the sobering lesson of Adam’s failure:
Could anyone ever resist temptation and completely obey God? Searching human history, we see that one did repel the devil’s temptations, not in a bountiful garden but in a wilderness with wild animals and without food. Although being in very nature God, Jesus did not cling to equality with God, and in fact he put away the divine privileges that were rightfully his. He became obedient to death and for this God exalted him above every name, and we confess him as Lord (Philippians 2:5–11). His act of righteousness gave us justification and life.“With Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”
Those rhyming words from the New England Primer taught children the letter A in the 1700s. Children back then learned not only the alphabet but core Bible truths, this one teaching the concept of corporate solidarity between Adam and all human beings. God decreed that Adam, the first man, would determine the destiny of his descendants.
As original head of the human family Adam acted as our representative, so his sin became our sin and he passed on condemnation and death to everyone after him. Adam’s guilt was imputed to mankind, and his depravity was imparted to mankind, with the result that human beings are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) until and unless they are redeemed by Christ.
Commenting on the phrases “all sinned” in verse 12 and “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” in verse 18, Douglas Moo says that the sin of “all men” is in some manner identical to the sin committed by Adam. “Paul can therefore say both ‘all die because all sin’ and ‘all die because Adam sinned’ with no hint of conflict because the sin of Adam is the sin of all. All people, therefore, stand condemned ‘in Adam,’ guilty by reason of the sin all committed ‘in him’.”
God gave headship to Adam and to Christ, and each is the head of one family of humanity. A person is either in Adam or in Christ, and there is no in between. Although corporate solidarity with Adam works to everyone’s disfavor, corporate solidarity with Christ works to the abundant favor of anyone who chooses to receive him. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
When God the Father looks at a believer he sees his beloved Son. If we are saved, our identity is in Christ. We have salvation in him, righteousness in him, eternal life in him. Such are the blessings of imputation that we derive from the Second Adam.Universalism?
In verse 18 Paul speaks of Adam bringing condemnation for “all men” and Christ bringing justification and life for “all men.” On the surface it might seem Paul affirms that everyone will be saved. But in verse 19 he shifts to “many” were made sinners and “many” will be made righteous. Likely for rhetorical effect Paul chose to use parallel phrasing, knowing that his readers would understand from the context of the entire passage that Adam brought death to “all men” and Christ brought life to “those who receive” his grace and righteousness (verse 17).
Robert Utley points out that the same parallelism is found in Isaiah 53:6 (“the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”) and 53:12 (“he bore the sin of many”). Just as the word “all” in verse 18 can’t be used to justify universal salvation, the word “many” in verse 19 can’t be used to limit the universal offer of salvation. The Lord does not wish that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), and it is up to each person to accept God’s offer.
Paul argued at length in 3:21–31 that the righteousness of God is available “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” In chapter 4 as well, justification is granted only to those who believe (see especially verses 5 and 16). Absent faith, all sinners will face judgment and will perish (2:12).