A tree in a desert in Africa.

The Tragic History of the First Sin and Resulting Death, As Told in Romans

Last time we studied from Romans we took great encouragement by God’s love being shown through Jesus’ death for us while we were yet sinners. His sacrifice was an incredible event, and with the resulting resurrection, we have great hope today. As the passage continues, Paul goes on to discuss another action that had a great impact on us all. That being the sin of Adam and death that follows to this day.

This is understandably tragic, but something we need to recognize as fact. The reason is so that we truly appreciate the grace that is available in Christ. That great blessing is something that I will explore soon, but before going there, we need to examine some concepts related to sin and death. Both of these topics are brought up in Romans 5:12-14.

Sin Entering Into the World and Death Passing On to All of Us

In the prior paragraphs, I purposely used words such as “event” and “fact.” While there are some who do not speak of the early chapters of Genesis as being historical, the apostle Paul does not join them in doing so. At the beginning of this portion of Scripture he treats the sin of Adam as something that happened as recorded. He writes,

Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death passed to all men because all sinned. 

Romans 5:12

This is an obvious reference to Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. He and his wife had a perfect world with no pain, suffering, or death. They also enjoyed complete communion with God. However, after their transgression, sin entered the world. This came through the actions of one man, Adam. Paul never gives the impression that he considers any of Genesis as being inaccurate. Rather, he affirms the Biblical record. He recognizes that there was actually a person we know as Adam, a garden in which he and his wife lived, a law given by God, and a breaking of that command which resulted in sin entering the world.

As we know, a consequence of that was the death of both Adam and Eve. Now, if you recall the words in Genesis, this didn’t seem to happen. They didn’t just fall over and die after they sinned. This is remarkable because the Father told Adam that he would die on the day that he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). It’s possible that God was being merciful to him and his wife, and didn’t kill them instantly when they sinned.

However, there may be another way of thinking about it. We may understand their death as not being physical, but rather spiritual. After their sin, they had a sudden fear of God and hid from Him (Gen. 3:8). They actively separated themselves from God. He called to the man, and in so many words, interrogated them shortly thereafter. The Lord then declared His punishment against the serpent, Eve, and Adam (Gen. 3:14-19).

Both of them were separated from God spiritually when they sinned, but they were also forced out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22-24). Their spiritual separation was followed up with a physical separation. A great division had occurred. They no longer had communion with God. Due to their own sins, they lost their perfect home with God. They subsequently lived the rest of their physical lives dealing with the struggles of each day without being in His presence. After living several hundred more years, Adam died physically (Gen. 5:5).

All of this helps us understand the consequences of sin and that we can die both physically and spiritually. Unfortunately, it is likely that mankind was not the only ones who died during that time. The animal kingdom may have faced its first death too. After God pronounced His curses on Adam, Eve, and the serpent, He clothed the first family with animal skins. The text reads, “Yahweh God made coats of animal skins for Adam and for his wife, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). While the verse doesn’t explicitly say that an animal was actually killed at that point, I consider it a reasonable conclusion based on what we are told.

Turning back to Romans 5:12, the end of it reiterates the notion of death. Not only did sin enter the world, but death did as well through it. The constant reality of death is something that we all face. None of us are immune to it, and we are even worthy of it because all of us sin. This truth is explored repeatedly in Paul’s writings, and especially here in Romans. He already said that all have sinned in Romans 3:23. At the end of the sixth chapter he will also make his famous statement that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

The Reign of Death 

As much as we may want to avoid it, such sentiments remind us that we cannot avoid death. It passes to all of us because we have all sinned (Rom. 5:12). We cannot outrun it or keep it at bay forever. Eventually, the cold hand of death will catch up to us and we will die physically. I describe it that way for a reason. If we turn back to our passage, we’ll see that death is personified:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those whose sins weren’t like Adam’s disobedience, who is a foreshadowing of him who was to come.

Romans 5:14

Paul speaks of how death reigned from Adam until Moses. Those who followed Adam, such as his sons and daughters, and their offspring after them, all suffered under the reign of death. It was like Death was sitting on a throne of those he killed through sin. Surprisingly, at this point, the apostle Paul doesn’t teach that it is because the people inherited Original Sin. He describes the sins committed after Adam as not being like his. He says, “…whose sins weren’t like Adam’s disobedience.”

This makes sense because none of his children had access to the Garden of Eden. Nor were they given that singular command that was broken by the first family. They did their own sins that were different from Adam and Eve’s. Despite that, such transgressions still rightly resulted in death. None at the time could defeat or stop such an outcome. They were powerless under the grip of death.

Thankfully, through the grace of God, that would change. 

Jesus As the One Who Would Come and Abolish Death

At the end of verse 14 there is a reference to “him who was to come.” From this we recognize Adam as a foreshadowing of someone who would come in the future. For Christians, this is commonly understood to be Jesus Christ, and I totally agree with that assertion. What I want to remind us about here is not necessarily the Lord and His connection with Adam. We’ll take a look at that relationship later.

In the meantime, what impresses me about this verse is that even while Adam and Eve were still in the Garden, the Almighty already had the plan of salvation in mind. He knew that sin happened, and there wasn’t a complete way for Adam and Eve, and their descendants, to be in fellowship with God following it. Nonetheless, He gave a prophecy of the One Who would come after Adam. He did so when He spoke to the serpent saying,

Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above every animal of the field. You shall go on your belly and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. 15 I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:14-15

At the end of the passage the Lord says, “He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” This is a veiled picture of the death and resurrection of Christ. The words don’t say what literally happened, but they give us the sense of descendants of the serpent and the woman wounding each other. Although the text isn’t immediately clear, it is obvious that bruising one’s heel is far less damaging than having the same done to one’s head. When Jesus died, Satan could have thought that he won. God in the flesh was slain and could no longer forgive people of their sins. However, three days later He rose from the dead. He was resurrected, and defeated death and the devil. The serpent’s head was bruised. In the death and resurrection of the Lord this prophecy from Genesis 3 was fulfilled.

Such an awesome fulfillment could only be achieved by the power and will of God. After so many centuries, Jesus Christ abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Good News (2 Tim. 1:8-10). Through Him, we can have a life with God again and be in His presence forever. We no longer have to dwell on the consequences of sin and death constantly, and instead follow in the steps of the Lord and righteousness. The history of sin and death is tragic, but Jesus Christ gave us the way to return back to God.

Image Used

A Barren Tree in a Desert in Africa by katja from Pixabay.