Is Adam solely responsible for the first sin? (Adam as a Type in Romans 5)

Krysta asked a question on facebook yesterday about a point made by Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger in their 2014 book “God’s Design for Man and Woman”. Their point is that Romans 5:12-21 says Adam is the first human being through whom sin entered the world, and this indicates that God holds Adam ultimately responsible and accountable for the first sin.[1] This is despite the fact that Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit. The Köstenbergers use their interpretation (or emphasis) of Romans 5 to then claim that God gave Adam authority over Eve. I was going to reply on facebook, but my answer got too long, so I’ve posted it here.

Typology, Type, and Antitype

To understand Adam’s role in Romans 5:12-21 we must recognise that Paul is using the device of biblical typology in this passage. Paul plainly says as much in Romans 5:14b: “Adam, who is a type (tupos) of the one who was to come” (NRSV). Jesus is the “one who was to come” and is the antitype in Paul’s carefully constructed teaching.

In typology, the antitype is always more important and decisive than the type.[2] The antitype is also usually clearer to understand than the type, the type being an Old Testament example, pattern, or analogy that prefigures or foreshadows the messianic antitype. This foreshadowing is often imprecise in some aspects, as in the case of Paul’s use of Adam. Nevertheless, Adam makes a useful type for Paul’s teaching on Jesus, as Adam was the first human and all his descendents were a race of sinners, while all followers of Jesus are a new, redeemed race.[3]

Adam also makes a useful type because his name is the Hebrew word for “humanity” and “human being” (adam). In Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 5:2 men and women together are identified as adam in Hebrew.[4] So it is possible Paul may have been using the word “Adam” for the first couple. It is much more likely, however, that he used the figure of Adam, and not Eve, because he could make neat comparisons and contrasts between the two men, Adam and Jesus, with great rhetorical effect.

Adam and Jesus: Humans (anthrōpoi)

Interestingly, Jesus is rarely referred to in the Greek New Testament as an anēr (i.e. an adult male person); he is most commonly referred to as an anthrōpos (i.e. a human being). Similarly, in Genesis 2 of the Septuagint,[5] Adam is rarely referred to as a male person, but is repeatedly referred to as the anthrōpos (the Greek translation of adam).

The word anthrōpos occurs several times in Romans 5:12-21 in reference to Adam and Jesus where unfortunately it is often translated as “man” in English, obscuring its more general meaning of “human”.[6] The Greek word anēr (adult male) is entirely absent in this passage.

In Romans 5:12-21 the disobedience and trespass of the anthrōpos who brought condemnation and death is contrasted with the obedience and righteousness of the anthrōpos who brings the gift of justification and life. Paul was not ignorant that Eve sinned first, yet he seems to have decided that the rhetorical force of using Adam, the anthrōpos in Genesis 2 in the Greek scriptures, was more persuasive in making his main points about the anthrōpos Jesus Christ.

Limited Symbol vs Universal Saviour

It is important to keep in mind that types are prophetic symbols, and they are often used without being entirely accurate, and without having a perfect correspondence in every detail. Strictly speaking Adam was not the first person to sin and thus bring sin into the world. Genesis 3 tells us Eve sinned moments before Adam. Genesis 3 also tells us that God questioned Adam and Eve individually and held each accountable for their own actions. God did not hold Adam solely responsible for bringing sin into the world, and neither does Paul who mentions Eve’s deception and transgression when it suits his message (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:14).

Adam is a type and symbol in Romans 5:12-21, as well as in 1 Corinthians 15. Adam was used as a foil to help Paul highlight his real points about Jesus and eternal life. “Adam is only mentioned in order to bring out more clearly the nature of the work of Christ. The purpose of the comparison is to make clear the universal range of what Christ has done.”[7]

Romans 5 has nothing to say about the Köstenberger’s idea that God gave Adam authority over Eve. Nothing whatsoever.

It is a mistake to read too much into Paul’s use of Adam as a type. The Genesis account is our primary source for information about Adam and Eve. Genesis 2-3 should inform our understanding of the first couple and their sin, more so than Paul’s secondary use of these figures in his letters.


[1] I don’t have access to the book Krysta is reading, but this quote from another book coauthored by Andreas Köstenberger expresses much the same idea: “. . . it is the man, not the woman, who is primarily held responsible for the rebellious act . . .” This quote is followed by a reference to Romans 5:12-14 and verses in Genesis 3. Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Second Edition) (Wheaton: Crossways, 2012) 27. (Their italics.)

[2] “We must not press this [typology] to mean that Adam was the decisive person and that Christ conformed to the pattern Adam had laid down. Always for Paul, Christ is the decisive one.” Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 234.

[3] Morris, Romans, 234.

[4] In the Septuagint adam is translated as anthrōpos in Genesis 1:26-27, but transliterated as “Adam” in Genesis 5:2.

[5] The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament and was Paul’s “Bible”.

[6] Anthrōpos is used twice in Romans 5:12; once in Romans 5:15 (but implied several times in verses 15-17); the plural of anthrōpos is used twice in Romans 5:18; and the singular is used once, and implied once, in Romans 5:19.

[7] C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1985) 115.

Further Reading

Biblical Typology
Does Romans 5 Teach Adam’s Federal Headship . . . ?

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