My Facebook friend 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. This is despite the fact that Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit. The Köstenbergers use 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 (Greek: typos) 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. 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 descendants were a race of sinners, while all followers of Jesus are a new, redeemed race.
Adam also makes a useful type because his name is the Hebrew word for “humanity/human being” (’ādām). For example, in Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 5:2 in the Hebrew text, men and women together are identified as ’ādām (“humanity”). While I’ve seen some question if Paul used the word “Adam” for the first couple, it is more likely 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 (an adult male person); he is most commonly referred to as an anthrōpos (a human being). Similarly, in Genesis 2 of the Septuagint, Adam is rarely referred to as a male person but is repeatedly referred to as the anthrōpos (the Greek translation of the Hebrew ’ādām).
The word anthrōpos occurs several times in Romans 5:12-21 in reference to Adam and to Jesus where unfortunately it is often translated as “man” in English Bible versions. “Man” is not an incorrect translation, especially as both Adam and Jesus were men, but it obscures the more general sense of “human.” The Greek word anēr (adult male person) 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 3:6 tells us Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit; she disobeyed God’s command and sinned moments before Adam. Genesis 3:11-13 tells us that God questioned Adam and Eve individually and held each accountable for their own actions. Furthermore, they each will suffer the consequences of their own actions in their own ways.
God did not hold Adam solely responsible for bringing sin into the world, and neither does Paul who mentions Eve’s transgression when it suits his message (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:14 CSB). We err if we think Paul was making the point in Romans 5:12-21 that sin and death came only through Adam. Paul’s intention in Romans 5 was not to state that sin entered the world through Adam only and not through Eve also.
Adam is a type and symbol in Romans 5:12-21, as well as in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. Adam was used as a foil to help Paul highlight the work of Jesus our Saviour. Cranfield writes, “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.”
It is a mistake to read too much into Paul’s use of Adam as the Köstenbergers have done. Romans 5 has nothing to say about their idea that God gave Adam more authority than Eve, or authority over Eve. Rather, in Romans 5, Adam functions as a representative of humanity.
Finally, let’s remember that 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 to make certain points in his letters.
 I don’t have access to the book Krysta is reading, but this quote from another book co-authored 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.)
 “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.
 Morris, Romans, 234.
 In the Septuagint, ’ādām is translated as anthrōpos in Genesis 1:26-27 and in Genesis 5:1a, etc, but is transliterated as “Adam” in Genesis 5:1b, 5:2b, and in verses 3, 4, and 5, etc. You can check the inconsistency of translation/transliteration of ’ādām in Genesis 5:1-5 in this edition of the Septuagint. Furthermore, there is some variation among the different editions of the Septuagint as to which verses in Genesis chapters 2 and 5 contain the translation or the transliteration of ’ādām.
 The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament and was Paul’s “Bible”.
 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.
 C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1985), 115.
 A.W. Pink explains the doctrine of federal, or Adamic, headship, here. I don’t agree with everything Pink says, but I want to point out that he never mentions Adam having authority.
John Walton writes that “Paul treats Adam as an archetype when he indicates that all have sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12). In this way, all are embodied in the one and counted as having participated in the acts of that one.” Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 75.
Andrew Bartlett states that Adam is a representative of humanity in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5.
We can express the basic idea by saying: Adam was created first and all have their source from him; he sinned; his fall is seen as representing the fall of all humanity. … In 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 Paul is speaking of Adam’s representation of humanity, not of ruling over humanity. Nor is he saying anything about Adam as ruler of his wife.
Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (London: IVP, 2019), 80.
A Note on Hosea 6:7
Hosea 6:7a is occasionally brought into conversations about Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. This verse is sometimes translated as “But like Adam, they transgressed the covenant.” However, this verse may not be about Adam, but about humanity more generally. (The Hebrew word adam can mean humanity or man in a generic sense.) Some translations reflect this understanding and translate adam as “men” referring in general to people (e.g., KJV, CJB, JPS Tanakh). Furthermore, the Septuagint does not mention Adam but has hōs anthrōpos (“like/ as humanity”).
Other translations have “Adam” as a place name, rather than as the name of a person (e.g., NIV, CEV, GNT, NET, NRSV, TEV) (cf. Josh. 3:16 which mentions a town named Adam). It depends on how to translate the preposition attached to the Hebrew word adam (= k’adam, כְּאָדָ֖ם) in Hosea 6:7. And note that Adam in Hosea 6:7 parallels Gilead mentioned in Hosea 6:8. Here are some English translations of 6:7 to compare. For more information, see NET note 19 on Hosea 6 here.
You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month.
Become a Patron!
Does Romans 5 Teach Adam’s Federal Headship …?
Are Gender Roles Rooted in Creation?
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
More articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3
29 thoughts on “Is Adam solely responsible for the first sin?”
I am always amazed at how many use that verse to try to prove that the male is somehow more responsible here, yet will turn and try to blame the female in the next breath. Very sad how far some will go to prove male “headship,” even if they must undermine Scripture to do so.
Yes, the Fall is the man’s fault when complementarians want to assert the notion of male authority over women (cf. Romans 5:12-21). But the Fall is the woman’s fault when complementarians want to assert the notion that women should not have authority over men (cf. 1 Timothy 2:14).
Confusing, isn’t it? This is just one example of the logic of some complementarians, and their flawed interpretations.
Exactly – which makes this the more bizarre to me. Do they not notice they’re doing this? Or do they just not care?
It makes me nuts that translations that are touted as “literal” (e.g., the NASB) almost inevitably translate anthropos as man. So, so, SO much gets lost in translation when you do that. For example – in Romans 5 – Adam is a type of human – the type of all of us. And Jesus is how we can (all of us) now be human because of what he’s done for us.
It annoys me that anthrōpos is translated as “man” in numerous verses. One of the worst cases of this is 1 Timothy 2:5 which the NASB translates as, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”
The NRSV translates it as, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,”
Jesus is our saviour and mediator because he became human, not because he became a male human.
Yes. I was studying 1 Timothy recently and noticed that little gem. It’s all over. I think the problem is in a backward looking view of English more than anything. There are folks, even folks that I respect, who cling to “man” and “mankind” as representing all of us. The problem is though, that if I say “man” 100% of people will picture a masculine person. “Mankind” might be slightly more inclusive. Since language is meant to communicate, they just need to give in and agree with us that “man” doesn’t represent all of us because 1/2 of us are female. Convincing them of this is beyond my skill level though.
I keep telling you to use the Douay-Rheims catholic Bible.
The Douay-Rheims translation of 1 Timothy 2:5 is just as misleading as the NASB:
“For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus:” (DR)
I always thought the reason why it was Adam and not Eve was because of the type of sin or how they came to sin. Eve was deceived but Adam was not. He knowingly partook and stood there silent while Eve was deceived. He made no effort to point out the serpent’s deception.
There is a difference in why they sinned, but this is not spelled out in Genesis 3. We simply do not know what was going through Adam’s head when he took the fruit and ate it. I’ve written about this here: https://margmowczko.com/adams-excuse-blame-genesis3/
At this point in time, I am reluctant to make too much of a distinction between Eve and Adam’s sin, because I don’t think the Bible does, except to indicate that Eve heeded the serpent rather than God, and Adam heeded Eve rather than God. But I keep learning, so watch this space. 🙂
They both sinned.
Great post once again. There is nothing in the Bible that says Adam is entirely responsible for the sin. Both Adam and Eve are equally held accountable for their disobedience. Some Complementarians have claimed Adam was more at fault since they suppose him to be the leader and Eve the follower. Others have used Eve’s sin justify chauvinism against women in the Christian faith. But God punished both of them for their sins. God Bless.
Yes, I think stating that Adam was the responsible one because he was the supposed leader is reading much more into the text than is actually stated.
Romans 5:19 says by ONE disobedient man many were made sinners; by ONE obedient man many are made righteous.
Romans definitively answers the question of why it is sound doctrine to say God holds Adam primarily responsible for the initial sin.
Moreover, the scriptural principle that the conception of the baby Jesus did not involve the male spiritually tainted seed is one of many examples of the biblical pattern of male primary responsibility assigned by God by spiritual design though it may be intellectually counterintuitive and undesirable by some humans.
Paul does indeed say that “For just as through the disobedience of the one person the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one person the many will be made righteous.” The apostle is using the first human as a foil to highlight what Jesus did for humanity. It is important to understand why and how Paul uses Adam. Adam is a type. I’m sorry that you do not understand this important point.
Another reason Paul used Adam in his teaching is to show the universal reach and spread of death. And the only time Adam is mentioned by name in Romans 5 is in verse 14: “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a type of the one to come.”
Paul’s intent is to show that death affected every human being from the very beginning, death affected even the very first human, Adam, who died. This point would have been lost if Eve was used in Paul’s argument
Also, nowhere does scripture say that male seed is somehow spiritually tainted. In Romans 5:12, Paul states that “just as sin came into the world through one person, and death through sin, and so death spread to all people, because all sinned” (cf. 1 Cor 15:21-22).
We don’t know the exact mechanism that causes sin and death to be passed on and spread. What we do know is that everyone has sinned. Everyone has fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness. We all need Jesus as saviour. Only Jesus offers eternal life in the place of death (Rom. 6:23). However, we do not need to be saved from Adam and Eve’s sin but from our own sin. (Women are sinners too.)
Perhaps a better way of understanding the spread of sin and death is to compare it with the spread of a contagious disease.
Thanks for responding!
The use of the word man instead of human is used in the KJV since it was understood in the translators days and now that the word man is generic for human being in this context and some other contexts.
Indeed, the word Adam in Hebrew is used for humankind precisely since all humans including the female derive from the male Adam.
So Paul is not using the word Adam as used in Genesis 1:26-27. He is using it as used in Genesis 2:7. Context informs as to whether the general or specific is meant; this includes Romans 5:12, 14 where the person is clearly the specific human the male Adam.
This generic use of the word man is biblically consistent that Paul speaks of the male Adam as you rightly conclude.
So even if the KJV translators had used the word human, that would not have changed the truth that Paul speaks of the male Adam in Romans 5.
Moreover, the use of the numerical word one and the use of the numerical word many in contrast to one another establishes that Paul is not including the numerical two (couple Adam and Eve) but rather only the male Adam.
You say “Nevertheless, Adam makes a useful type for Paul’s teaching on Jesus, as Adam was the first human and all his descendants were a race of sinners, while all followers of Jesus are a new, redeemed race.”
Your own words point to the appearance of the biblical principle of the taint of the male Adam seed. For you say Adam was the first human and all his descendants were a race of sinners. Now then this all necessarily includes Eve as she came from this first human, the male Adam.
So then it is by God’s spiritual design that he has established primary responsibility for human race sin as a whole though he yet holds each person responsible for his/her own sin.
Therefore it is by God’s spiritual design that the taint of sin (sin nature) is inherited from the male.
By God’s spiritual design, if Jesus had come through the male Adam, Jesus would not have been holy from the womb. It is as God designed it for his own consistent plan/purpose.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and 45 support the observation that Paul in Romans 5 refers to the male Adam:
21For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Hi Chaucery, it seems we are in disagreement in how to interpret Paul’s words in Romans 5.
I don’t dispute that Adam was male when he sinned, but maleness is not the issue (or the language) in Romans 5. There is no verse in the Bible that shows sin/death is spread by men and not by women. The Bible does not indicate there is a taint on male seed but not on female ova. What it does say is that “all have sinned.”
Furthermore, the spread of death, and not just sin, is an important point to keep in mind. “Death/died” is mention six times in Romans 5:12-21. The problem of sin and death was solved by Jesus’ death (Rom. 5:6-8, 10).
The universal problem of sin and death, beginning with the very first person Adam, which is replaced by grace, justification and eternal life in the person of Jesus, is the issue. Paul uses typology to explain the extent of the problem and the efficacy of the solution. As with all types, however, there is not 100% correspondence between the type and the anti-type.
I am taking an OT Survey Class, CASKET EMPTY and when we talked about Adam + Eve’s sin, Dr. Kaminski noted that Adam was held more responsible because the command not to eat of the Tree was given to him directly from God and not to Eve. (Gen. 2: 16-18) Eve didn’t exist yet. Also, by my personal reasoning, it had to be Adam and Eve who sinned or Jesus would not have died for “all”. God Bless!!
I don’t see it the same way as Dr Kaminski. I see no evidence in God’s questions or in the punishments recorded in Genesis 3 that God held Adam more responsible.
And while Eve did not exist (or had not yet been removed from the body of ha’adam) when God spoke the command about the forbidden fruit in Genesis 2:16-17, Eve did know about the command. We are not told how she learned about the command. We are not told if she learned it directly or indirectly. The text doesn’t go there. (I write about Eve’s quotation of the command here.)
Marg! This article is so helpful! You have such a gift of explaining things and clarifying the truth from the mumbo jumbo! I figured Paul referred to Adam as a kind of picture of mankind but didn’t know how to explain it really. So thank you for explaining it so clearly and going into such detail! You rock! Your ministry is such a blessing! Thank you for walking in your gifting and sharing it with us. I meant to read this much earlier but I was away on vacation. Now that I’m jet lagged and can’t sleep it affords me the perfect opportunity to catch up on your new articles.
Thanks for your encouraging comment Krysta!
Adam was more to blame because he wasn’t fooled by the Serpent. Eve was.
I’m not sure the Bible indicates that one or the other was more or less to blame. While we know a little about Eve’s reason, the Bible seems silent about Adam’s reason for eating the forbidden fruit
These two sins being the only ones committed at the time, wouldn’t they both be equal sins? Most comps say ‘all sins are equal’.
It seems to me that some complementarians pin enough blame on Eve so as to disqualify all women from being teachers, but they pin most of the blame on Adam so that he becomes the “federal head” of all sinful humanity (cf. Romans 5). They use the story to limit women and give authority to men, even though both Eve and Adam sinned.
If man is the “federal head”, why do women need to accept Jesus and confess their sins? A man should do this for them, if male headship were the correct Biblical model. But the Bible is so clear that each person is held accountable for their own choices. I (thankfully and joyously) have so much unlearning to do. I am so glad for the confidence and assurance I receive from the knowledge that God has spoken to and loved and guided me my entire life- without a human male interpreting or being the conduit for those interactions. I press on…
Well said, Jennifer.
On your article about Ha’adam, Ish and Ishshah, I went to your link that showed Genesis in Hebrew. When I went to Genesis 3:9, I saw what looked like when God was asking Adam where he was, that He was actually talking to Ha’adam, or both Adam and Eve. Am I correct?
*I ask because most pastors I hear use this scripture to prove that God holds Adam accountable as the head.
The man is still called ha’adam in most of chapter 3, but he is now post-surgery and definitely male.
The Hebrew word translated “to him” in Genesis 3:9 is a preposition with a singular masculine pronominal suffix, so strictly speaking God asked the man, not the couple, “Where are you?” Still, the man and woman are pretty much a package deal. They are one flesh.
Whichever way we want to understand it, asking someone “Where are you?” and holding someone responsible for the first sin are not the same thing.
God questions the man and the woman individually, he holds them each accountable for their own actions, and each will suffer sorrowful toil (Hebrew: itstsabon). I see no hint of greater or lesser blame in Genesis 3.