Justification by Faith Contrasted (5:12-21)

Lesson ▪ 2002-03
Tags: Romans 5:12-21; Justification; Sin; Atonement; Condemnation; Adam; Jesus Christ
Excerpted from God’s Righteousness Revealed: An Exposition of Romans
Related Resources: Sin, Grace, and Works: An Exposition of Ephesians 2:1-10


In the latter half of chapter 5 Paul continues with the subject of justification, contrasting it on various counts with the condemnation that God pronounces on all mankind because of sin. In the process, he addresses a significant question he has overlooked until this point in the letter: Why does every member of the human race practice sin?

The passage consists of a number of comparative statements, each of which employs one of two formulas: “as . . . so” (vv. 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21) or “if/where . . . much more” (vv. 15, 17, 20). In addition, verses 13-14 depart from this structure to address an issue that would likely have been significant to the Jewish members of Paul’s audience.

“as . . . so”

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men . . . (v. 12)

[so by one man, Jesus Christ, died to give the gift of righteousness leading to eternal life] (this argument is supplied from the following verses)

But not as the offence (v. 15)

so also is the free gift (v. 15)

And not as it was by one that sinned . . . for the judgment was by one to condemnation (v. 16)

so is the gift . . . but the free gift is of many offences unto justification (v. 16)

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation (v. 18)

even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life (v. 18)

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners (v. 19)

so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (v. 19)

That as sin hath reigned unto death (v. 21)

even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 21)

“if/where . . . much more”

For if through the offence of one many be dead (v. 15)

much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace . . . hath abounded unto many (v. 15)

For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one (v. 17)

much more they which receive . . . the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ (v. 17)

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded (v. 20)

grace did much more abound (v. 20)

Paul attributes the universality of sin—and hence the universal need for his doctrine of justification—to Adam’s disobedience to God’s command in the garden of Eden (v. 12 [Adam is not named until v. 14]; cf. Gen. 2-3). The remainder of the passage explains how the condemnation of the world relates to Adam’s sin.

Interestingly, Eve, not Adam, was the first human to sin (Gen. 3:6), yet the entrance of sin into the world is attributed to him. Not only did Adam sin deliberately rather than through deceit (1 Tim. 2:14), he acted as a representative of the human race. Thus Paul contrasts Adam’s fall with Christ’s work of redemption, stating that the former is a type of the latter (v. 14) Both Adam and Christ performed as representatives of mankind (E. F. Harrison). This is the sense of 1 Corinthians 15:22, which states: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”15

In verses 13-14 Paul addresses the relationship between sin and the law. Sin is not imputed in the absence of the law; nevertheless, death prevailed over sinful mankind from Adam until Moses received the law. So, while the pre-Mosaic race may not have sinned by transgressing a written law, they still suffered the penalty of sin.

In verses 15-21 Paul analyzes the similarities and differences between Christ and Adam. Points of comparison are as follows:

  • The benefits of Christ’s gift are more certain than the negative outcomes of Adam’s sin (v. 15).
  • Adam’s one sin led to judgment and condemnation; Christ’s gift provides justification in response to many sins (v. 16).
  • Adam’s offense caused death to reign; those who receive the gift of righteousness will reign in life through Jesus Christ (v. 17).
  • While condemnation comes upon all mankind by default, justification must be accepted as a gift (v. 17).
  • Adam’s offense led to universal condemnation; Christ’s righteousness provided (the possibility of)16 universal righteousness (v. 18).
  • Adam’s disobedience conferred on humans the status of sinners; Christ’s obedience confers righteousness (v. 19).17
  • The entrance of the law revealed the depth of sin, yet God’s grace surpassed it (v. 20).
  • Sin reigned in death; by contrast, grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life (v. 21).


[no application developed for this passage]


15 So close is the typology between Adam and Christ that the Savior is referred to as “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45).
16 The extent of justification is clearly indicated in v. 17: It applies only to those who accept the gift. This is clearly consistent with the remainder of Paul’s teaching in Romans.
17 As Moo points out, just as righteous behavior does not make one righteous in God’s sight, one’s status as a sinner is not primarily a product of sinning. Rather, both are the product of imputation (345).