A thoughtful gracEmail subscriber writes: “It is true that we are sinners as a result of Adam’s sin — he was the doorway through which sin entered the world. Adam has become our father in a physical sense, and also in a figurative sense in regards to sin. This is similar to the person described as ‘the father of those who play flutes’ (Gen. 4:21). We do not inherit sin — we are influenced and corrupted by the sin brought into the world through Adam.”
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I understand your point. However, I believe that Paul is saying more than that Adam introduced sin into the world and that we were corrupted by its presence and influence. I say this for two reasons — both found in Romans 5:12-21. The first reason is Paul’s own explanation in verses 13-14 of the statement he had just made in verse 12 that “all sinned.” The second reason is Paul’s larger contrast in this passage between the conduct of Adam and Jesus and the contrasting effects of the conduct of both men.
Paul begins by stating that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned –” (v. 12). What does Paul mean in saying that “all sinned”? Does he mean that we all sinned in our own experience (something other Scriptures certainly say)? Or does he mean that we all sinned in Adam as our representative? Paul does not leave us to guess. He immediately explains what he means in verses 13-14, beginning with the introductory word “for.” Sin was in the world during the period from Adam until the Law of Moses, Paul continues. However, God does not count sin against people unless they violate his direct law (v. 13). Yet “death reigned” through the period from Adam to Moses, even though the people living then had no direct law from God and had not violated God’s direct command as Adam did (v. 14). The only explanation, Paul seems to say, is that we all sinned in Adam our representative.
The second reason I believe that Paul is saying that we sinned in Adam our representative is that throughout these verses Paul contrasts what happened to us through Adam and because of what he did, and what happened to us through Christ and because of what he did. We see such contrasts in every verse from verse 15 through verse 21 except for verse 20. Just as we sinned in Adam, we were made righteous in Christ. Adam’s sin made us sinners (who prove that by sinning personally as soon as we learn how), but Christ’s obedience set us right with God. Jesus Christ is the second or last Adam — the representative and head of a new humankind. And for that we may heartily praise God!