In Romans 1-4, Paul argued that Jews and Gentiles—all of humanity—have sinned against God. Since God judges impartially, all are guilty before Him. Only by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection can anyone be made right before God. And since neither Jew nor Gentile has a claim on God, no nation can boast over another. In Romans 5, Paul personified biblical concepts, contrasting righteousness, life, and grace with sin, death, and the law. These themes surface again in Romans 8, suggesting that Romans 5-8 should be read as a unit.
Throughout Romans 1-4, Paul emphasized the severe consequences that sin had brought to humanity. Nonetheless, as Paul looked back and compared the actions of Adam and Christ, Paul declared that the degree of consequence of Jesus was greater than that of Adam. Thus, after generations of trespass, Christ’s one sacrifice was sufficient to cover the sin of all who humbly trust in Him—with the result that they might “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). Thus, the solution to the historical problem of sin arrived in the gift of Christ—and resulted in the reign of righteousness, life, and grace for all who believe apart from works of the law (Rom 5:18-21). Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners provides “life-giving justification for everyone” (Rom 5:18)—both Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s reflection on Adam, Moses, and Jesus in Romans 5 gave his audience a survey of the Old Testament from a Christian point of view.
(1) In Rom 5:5, Paul described the pouring out of God’s love by the Holy Spirit in language Ezekiel used to prophesy of the day of restoration when the Lord would cleanse His people and put His Spirit within them. Ezekiel prophesied to Israel in the time of the Babylonian exile. The prophet proclaimed both judgement and restoration. Ezekiel proclaimed that the Lord would restore His people by cleansing them with clean water and pouring out His Spirit upon them (Ezek 36:24-27). In Ezek 37:14, the prophet recorded the declaration of the Lord concerning the future of His people, saying, “I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD. I have spoken, and I will do it.” In Rom 5:5, Paul echoed Ezekiel’s language to describe the experience of those who receive the righteousness of God by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. For Paul, the hope that Ezekiel prophesied had been realized by sinful Jews and Gentiles through their belief in Jesus.
(2) In Rom 5:12-21, Paul referenced Adam’s sin to explain the origin of sin and its sway over all peoples. Paul argued that all human sin finds its roots in the sin of Adam recorded in Gen 3:6. Adam’s sin resulted in death (Gen 2:17; 3:3, 17-19) and a death sentence for all of humanity (1 Cor 15:22). Paul proposed that the mortality of all people from the time of Adam to the time of Moses was evidence that sin dominated humanity even before the law was given at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20). Through Adam’s sin, all people were condemned. Historically speaking, all that Paul wrote about human sin in Romans 1-3 was the result of Adam’s transgression in Eden.
(3) In Rom 5:12-21, Paul noted that the Mosaic law was not able to curb sin but only multiplied it. Through Moses, God issued the law to Israel. Near the end of his life, in Deut 30:1-2 Moses recognized Israel’s ability to keep the law and even predicted the exile. “The law came along to multiply the trespass,” Paul wrote in Rom 5:20. Paul had only to look at Deuteronomy, Moses’ final instructions on the Plains of Moab, as evidence that Israel had failed to keep God’s commands from the earliest period of the nation’s history. Paul’s frame of mind in Rom 5:12-20 anticipates Rom 7:1-12 where he wrote that the law was not to blame for Israel’s covenant failure. Sin so corrupted humanity that the law was of no use for righteousness. In Gal 3:19-26, Paul noted that the law was intended to curb sin until the coming of Christ but in each instance of Israel’s failure, the law multiplied Israel’s sinfulness.