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First Corinthians 15--Adam and Christ

Sep 16, 2017

Having established the doctrine of resurrection in general, Paul then shows what Jesus actually accomplished in His resurrection. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22,

21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

Adam brought death; Christ brought life. More specifically, Adam’s sin brought mortality to all; Christ’s righteousness brought immortality to all. Adam’s sin was imputed to all men, because all men and, indeed, all of creation, was under Adam’s authority.

By the law of headship, those under Adam’s authority were affected by his sin. By the same law, those under Christ’s authority were affected by His righteous act. Those being affected by Adam and Christ were not consulted, for the actions of the two heads were done apart from the will of those under them.

So we became mortal, not because we sinned, but because Adam sinned. And we are saved, not because we were righteous, but because Christ was righteous. In both cases, the acts of the authoritative head were fully imputed to those under their authority.

Comparing Adam with Christ

The comparison between Adam and Christ is discussed in greater detail in the fifth chapter of Romans. Romans 5:12 says literally,

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through [Adam’s] sin, and so death spread to all men, because [eph ho, “on which, by which”] all sinned.

Paul says that it all started with “one man” who sinned. When Adam sinned, the penalty for sin entered into the world. That penalty was death. This did not mean that he immediately dropped dead. It meant that he was no longer immortal. In other words, he received mortality—the assurance that he would grow old and die.

Further, this mortal condition came not only upon himself, but upon all of his descendants, as well as permeating the entire estate which had been entrusted to him when God said in Genesis 1:26, “let them rule.” Take note that it was not Adam’s sin that spread to all men, but rather Adam’s death, or mortality. Paul says that “death spread to all men.” To put it in legal terms, Adam’s sin was imputed to all, and so all had to pay the penalty for Adam’s sin. Hence, all became mortal.

In more common language, Paul says that we were all blamed for Adam’s sin, and so we all have had to pay the same penalty—death.

Then because mortality brought weakness to all of us, having lost the glory of God, we all sinned as well. Paul says literally that death spread to all men by which all sinned. In other words, we sin because we are mortal; we did not become mortal when we sinned. No one has been born immortal, and it is possible for even the most innocent unborn baby to die before he has sinned.

The Second Death

The final step in this, of course, is that when we ourselves sin, then there is an added penalty which John calls “the second death” (Revelation 20:6, 14). John is the only one who uses this term in Scripture, but it is a term found often in the Targum. In its section on “Resurrection,” The Jewish Encyclopedia says,

“This lasting doom is called ‘second death’ (Targ. Deut. xxxiii.6; Targ. Isa. xiv. 19; xxii. 14; lxv. 6, 15, 19; Jer. li. 39; Rev. xx. 6, 14).”

The Targum was the translation and explanation of the Scriptures, made necessary after the Babylonian captivity. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, but after spending 70 years in Babylon, the Jews spoke Aramaic, the language of Babylon. Hence, it was necessary to translate and explain the Scriptures. So also, Ezra 4:7 says that “the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated [tirgam] from Aramaic.”

So the Targum shows that the rabbis in the first century referred to the final judgment as “the second death.” Essentially, in Revelation 20 John uses the term precisely as it was being used in Judaism, offering no alterations or corrections to its common usage.

Yet a second death implies that there is a first death as well. The first death, quite obviously, is mortality—that judgment which was imposed upon all men because of Adam’s sin. The second death is the judgment for one’s own sins, for John tells us in Revelation 20:13, “they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”

We know that the only reason there is a second death is because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Yet Paul also tells us that the reason we sin is because we are mortal, and mortality is a judgment, not for our own sin, but for the sin of Adam. If God had not imputed Adam’s sin to us, we would not have been made mortal, and we would not have sinned on account of mortality. Hence, by following the logical chain of events, we can see that Adam’s sin is the origin and cause of our own sins.

The Temporary Injustice

It is inherently unjust for the children of Adam to be put to death on account of the sin of their father, according to biblical law. Deuteronomy 24:16 says,

16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.

On account of this law, King Amaziah of Judah did not execute the sons of those who had murdered his father (2 Chronicles 25:3, 4). Hence, the legal question arises when Paul says that we have all been made mortal on account of Adam’s sin. By biblical law, which expresses the character and nature of God Himself, and which defines His own sense of justice, this situation cannot stand forever. For God to sentence all men to death for Adam’s sin and then hold them accountable when mortality makes them too weak to resist their own sin is inherently unjust.

There is only way for God to be justified—that is, for God to be true to Himself. And we see the solution to this problem in 1 Corinthians 15:22,

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

When Christ was sent to earth to die for the sin of the world, He reversed the original problem that had come into the world through Adam. Even as Adam’s sin brought death to all men, so also Christ’s righteous act brought life to all men. The scope of the problem became the scope of the solution, for only in that way could the inherent injustice of the problem be rectified fully.

If Adam’s sin brought mortality to all men, but Christ’s righteous act brought immortality to only a few, the problem of injustice (as defined in Deuteronomy 24:16) would have been only partially rectified. But Paul says plainly that “in Christ all will be made alive.” He leaves out no one who received death from Adam. Death was imputed to all men, and life is likewise imputed to all men. Christ is the solution to Adam.

Just as mortality was imposed upon all men without consulting the will of any man, so also the immortality from Christ’s death and resurrection is imposed upon all men apart from their will. Yet, as Paul shows later, the deeds of men will certainly be judged at the Great White Throne judgment in what is known as “the second death.”

Man’s liability for his own sin, however, is subordinate to God’s greater liability for imposing mortality upon them, thus making them weak and ensuring that they would all sin. Man will indeed be judged, but only on the level of his limited liability. In other words, his judgment will not last forever, but will be temporary, limited to an age (aionian). In the end, God has held Himself responsible for the destiny of all men and for the creation as a whole. For this reason, He provided the ultimate solution to the problem of sin by sending “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) to reverse the curse of the first Adam.

Taking Responsibility

The injustice of sentencing children to death for the sin of their father has been fully reversed by another injustice—the injustice of Christ’s crucifixion. Essentially, God took full responsibility for His creation and for Adam himself, for as the Creator, He owns all that He has created. An owner is always responsible for that which he owns.

It begins with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God created all things; therefore, He owns all things. Because He owns all things, He is responsible for all that He owns. Therefore, when Adam sinned, God could not simply blame Adam, for the wisdom of God could have figured out a way to prevent sin. God has never been short of wisdom, nor, in fact, did He devise a plan for creation that would make Him a loser in any way.

The laws of liability, which express God’s nature, tell us that if a man digs a pit, he owns it. If he leaves it uncovered and another man’s ox falls into the pit and is killed, the owner of the pit cannot blame the ox for its stupidity or for ignoring the warning sign. The owner must pay for the damages, simply because he is the owner of the pit. (See Exodus 21:33, 34).

If an ox gores a man, the owner of the ox is held liable, along with the ox itself (Exodus 21:32, 35, 36). Punishing the ox for its “sin” does not reduce the liability of its owner. Any “free will” factor that the ox might have is irrelevant to the law. The law concerns itself only with the law of ownership. The owner is responsible for the ox, and the owner also is given the right to discipline his ox. But these are two separate things, and disciplining the ox does not reduce the liability of the owner.

So also is it with that which God owns. Adam was God’s ox. The ox sinned, and God judged the ox—but this did not relieve God of the ultimate responsibility for that which He had created. So Jesus Christ came to earth in order to pay the damages caused by His ox. That is the law.

Meanwhile, however, God judged the ox as well, but as we have shown already, man’s liability for his own sin is limited, because his own sin is caused by a deeper and more fundamental problem—mortality. Therefore, Jesus came to die for the sin of the world (1 John 2:2), so that this deeper problem could be resolved.

The result, Paul says, is that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive.” Or, as Paul said in Romans 5:18,

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Even so, not all are immortal, nor do we see the results yet of Christ’s “act of righteousness.” The results are still progressing through the ages of time. Christ’s act has rectified the root of the problem (Adam’s sin), but the problem of each man’s own sin has yet to be resolved by the second death. The purpose of divine judgment is to deal with this (lesser) problem as well. As we will see, the divine plan calls for two ages yet to come, called “the ages of the ages,” during which time all things will be put under the feet of Christ.


This is part 103 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in First Corinthians


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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones