Death is experienced by all men because of Adam’s sin. This is the reality of our existence as fallen people in a fallen world. This section of Romans 5, specifically verses 12-14, establish several critical points. One man is responsible for human beings having to experience physical death. Just as through one man sin entered the world, his one sin also brought death.
Interestingly enough, this verse affirms the reality of Adam’s existence. Meaning, that Paul here confirms the fact of Adam being an actual historical individual. Adam is not a fictional character or mythical allegory. He was the real and verified first person to ever exist. Jesus refers to him in an historical context as well. The truth is, if Adam were not historically real, the legitimacy of Paul’s comparing him to Christ is lost.
Adam Is Our Federal Head
Adam is the “federal head” of the human race. He represented all of humankind. What he did affects and effects all of us. We experience physical death by virtue of his representing the entire human race when he first sinned. We do not die as a result of personal sin but as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Death through Adam. Although this is a fact, it does not justify concluding that this necessarily leads to a doctrine of original sin. Original sin as a concept is found in this passage, but it is clearly not Paul’s point nor the doctrine he is teaching!
Don’t Forget The Context!
We cannot forget the context of Paul’s teaching. In fact, he is counting on the fact that we have remembered what he has already taught us. In anticipating an argument his Jewish readers would have jumped to, Paul is making it clear who he is talking about.
Jews may have concluded that since people died between Adam and Moses – before the Law was given – that this proves death comes from Adam and not personal sin (death through Adam). But this is an invalid argument. Why? Because there was law between Adam and Moses. Paul argues this in chapter 1:18-32. Therefore, the proof of death through Adam is not demonstrated by those who died during that period of time.
Instead, what proves his point is that babies (i.e. infants, children, and the mentally handicapped) in all times, sometimes die. These obviously can’t die as a result of personal sin because they are unable to commit such sin. (Personal sin is the result of personal decision; “in the likeness of the offense of Adam” v. 14.) Therefore, their death must be the result of Adam’s sin. Death through Adam.