Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Is Adam solely responsible for the first sin?

Is Adam solely responsible for the first sin? (Adam in Romans 5)

Krysta asked a question on facebook yesterday about a point made by Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger in their 2014 book “God’s Design for Man and Woman”. Their point is that Romans 5:12-21 says Adam is the first human being through whom sin entered the world, and this indicates that God holds Adam ultimately responsible and accountable for the first sin.[1] This is despite the fact that Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit. The Köstenbergers use their interpretation (or emphasis) of Romans 5 to then claim that God gave Adam authority over Eve. I was going to reply on facebook, but my answer got too long, so I’ve posted it here.

Typology, Type, and Antitype

To understand Adam’s role in Romans 5:12-21 we must recognise that Paul is using the device of biblical typology in this passage. Paul plainly says as much in Romans 5:14b: “Adam, who is a type (tupos) of the one who was to come” (NRSV). Jesus is the “one who was to come” and is the antitype in Paul’s carefully constructed teaching.

In typology, the antitype is always more important and decisive than the type.[2] The antitype is also usually clearer to understand than the type, the type being an Old Testament example, pattern, or analogy that prefigures or foreshadows the messianic antitype. This foreshadowing is often imprecise in some aspects, as in the case of Paul’s use of Adam. Nevertheless, Adam makes a useful type for Paul’s teaching on Jesus, as Adam was the first human and all his descendents were a race of sinners, while all followers of Jesus are a new, redeemed race.[3]

Adam also makes a useful type because his name is the Hebrew word for “humanity” and “human being” (adam). In Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 5:2 men and women together are identified as adam in Hebrew.[4] So it is possible Paul may have been using the word “Adam” for the first couple. It is much more likely, however, that he used the figure of Adam, and not Eve, because he could make neat comparisons and contrasts between the two men, Adam and Jesus, with great rhetorical effect.

Adam and Jesus: Humans (anthrōpoi)

Interestingly, Jesus is rarely referred to in the Greek New Testament as an anēr (i.e. an adult male person); he is most commonly referred to as an anthrōpos (i.e. a human being). Similarly, in Genesis 2 of the Septuagint,[5] Adam is rarely referred to as a male person, but is repeatedly referred to as the anthrōpos (the Greek translation of adam).

The word anthrōpos occurs several times in Romans 5:12-21 in reference to Adam and Jesus where unfortunately it is often translated as “man” in English, obscuring its more general meaning of “human”.[6] The Greek word anēr (adult male) is entirely absent in this passage.

In Romans 5:12-21 the disobedience and trespass of the anthrōpos who brought condemnation and death is contrasted with the obedience and righteousness of the anthrōpos who brings the gift of justification and life. Paul was not ignorant that Eve sinned first, yet he seems to have decided that the rhetorical force of using Adam, the anthrōpos in Genesis 2 in the Greek scriptures, was more persuasive in making his main points about the anthrōpos Jesus Christ.

Limited Symbol vs Universal Saviour

It is important to keep in mind that types are prophetic symbols, and they are often used without being entirely accurate, and without having a perfect correspondence in every detail. Strictly speaking Adam was not the first person to sin and thus bring sin into the world. Genesis 3 tells us Eve sinned moments before Adam. Genesis 3 also tells us that God questioned Adam and Eve individually and held each accountable for their own actions. God did not hold Adam solely responsible for bringing sin into the world, and neither does Paul who mentions Eve’s deception and transgression when it suits his message (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:14).

Adam is a type and symbol in Romans 5:12-21, as well as in 1 Corinthians 15. Adam was used as a foil to help Paul highlight his real points about Jesus and eternal life. “Adam is only mentioned in order to bring out more clearly the nature of the work of Christ. The purpose of the comparison is to make clear the universal range of what Christ has done.”[7]

Romans 5 has nothing to say about the Köstenberger’s idea that God gave Adam authority over Eve. Nothing whatsoever.

It is a mistake to read too much into Paul’s use of Adam as a type. The Genesis account is our primary source for information about Adam and Eve. Genesis 2-3 should inform our understanding of the first couple and their sin, more so than Paul’s secondary use of these figures in his letters.


[1] I don’t have access to the book Krysta is reading, but this quote from another book coauthored by Andreas Köstenberger expresses much the same idea: “. . . it is the man, not the woman, who is primarily held responsible for the rebellious act . . .” This quote is followed by a reference to Romans 5:12-14 and verses in Genesis 3. Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Second Edition) (Wheaton: Crossways, 2012) 27. (Their italics.)

[2] “We must not press this [typology] to mean that Adam was the decisive person and that Christ conformed to the pattern Adam had laid down. Always for Paul, Christ is the decisive one.” Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 234.

[3] Morris, Romans, 234.

[4] In the Septuagint adam is translated as anthrōpos in Genesis 1:26-27, but transliterated as “Adam” in Genesis 5:2.

[5] The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament and was Paul’s “Bible”.

[6] Anthrōpos is used twice in Romans 5:12; once in Romans 5:15 (but implied several times in verses 15-17); the plural of anthrōpos is used twice in Romans 5:18; and the singular is used once, and implied once, in Romans 5:19.

[7] C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1985) 115.

Further Reading

Biblical Typology
Does Romans 5 Teach Adam’s Federal Headship . . . ?

Related Articles

Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
More articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3

Posted August 9th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Christian Theology, Equality and Gender Issues, Gender in Genesis 1-3, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

28 comments on “Is Adam solely responsible for the first sin?

  1. Cassandra Wright says:

    I am always amazed at how many use that verse to try to prove that the male is somehow more responsible here, yet will turn and try to blame the female in the next breath. Very sad how far some will go to prove male “headship,” even if they must undermine Scripture to do so.

    • Marg says:

      Yes, The Fall is the man’s fault when complementarians want to assert the notion of male authority over women (cf Romans 5:12-21). But the Fall is the woman’s fault when complementarians want to assert the notion that women should not have authority over men (cf 1 Timothy 2:14).

      Confusing, isn’t it? This is just one example of the logic of some complementarians, and their flawed interpretations.

      • BA says:

        Exactly – which makes this the more bizarre to me. Do they not notice they’re doing this? Or do they just not care?

        It makes me nuts that translations that are touted as “literal” (e.g., the NASB) almost inevitably translate anthropos as man. So, so, SO much gets lost in translation when you do that. For example – in Romans 5 – Adam is a type of human – the type of all of us. And Jesus is how we can (all of us) now be human because of what he’s done for us.

        • Marg says:

          It really annoys me that anthropos is translated as “man” in numerous verses. One of worst cases of this is 1 Timothy 2:5 which the NASB translates as, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”

          The NRSV translates it as, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,”

          Jesus is our saviour and mediator because he became human, not because he became a male human.

          • BA says:

            Yes. I was studying 1 Timothy recently and noticed that little gem. It’s all over. I think the problem is in a backward looking view of English more than anything. There are folks, even folks that I respect, who cling to “man” and “mankind” as representing all of us. The problem is though, that if I say “man” 100% of people will picture a masculine person. “Mankind” might be slightly more inclusive. Since language is meant to communicate, they just need to give in and agree with us that “man” doesn’t represent all of us because 1/2 of us are female. Convincing them of this is beyond my skill level though.

          • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz says:

            I keep telling you to use the Douay-Rheims catholic Bible.

          • Marg says:

            The Douay-Rheims translation of 1 Timothy 2:5 is just as misleading as the NASB:
            “For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus:” (DR)

  2. raswhiting says:

    Thank you for this teaching on types and antitypes.
    In footnote 4, you state, “Anthrōpos is used twice in Romans 5:12; once in Romans 12:15 (but implied several times in verses 15-17);…”
    I presume you meant to say, “…once in Romans <>…

    By the way, the Common English Bible translates anthropos as person or people in this passage.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for spotting the typo. And thanks for pointing out that the CEB uses the word “person” in Romans 5. I was disappointed that the NRSV doesn’t use the word “person” in Romans 5; especially as it mostly uses the word “human” in the Genesis account for Adam.

  3. Ashley says:

    I always thought the reason why it was Adam and not Eve was because of the type of sin or how they came to sin. Eve was deceived but Adam was not. He knowingly partook and stood there silent while Eve was deceived. He made no effort to point out the serpent’s deception.

    • Marg says:

      There is a difference in their sins, although this is not spelled out in Genesis 3. We simply do not know what was going through Adam’s head when he took the fruit and ate it.

      At this point in time, I am reluctant to make too much of a distinction between Eve and Adam’s sin, because I don’t think the Bible does, except to indicate that Eve heeded the serpent rather than God, and Adam heeded Eve rather than God. But I keep learning, so watch this space. 😉

    • Steve says:

      I’ve been thinking about Adam and Eve in the garden as types recently. Adam as a type of Christ and Eve as a type of us, the church. We, Eve, were deceived by Satan taking the fruit and eating it, thereby committing sin. Christ, Adam, willingly took the fruit from Eve, which is symbolically Christ bearing our sin for us. I’m not suggesting this has to be seen in this way or this way only, but it opens up what Jesus has done for me and all of us. Perhaps that’s not a correct way of seeing the passage, but I find the thought interesting. More and more, I’m trying to see Christ in all of scripture.

  4. judy says:

    How do you know which Adam Paul is referring to? I believe he means Gen 5:2…”He called their name Adam”….

    Yes as in that Adam, all die..the Adam’s family.

    • Marg says:

      I don’t know with 100% surety which Adam Paul is referring to here; he may even have deliberately used ambiguity. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

      The key for me is the word anthrōpos. In Genesis 2 of Paul’s “Bible”, Adam, and not the woman, is repeatedly called anthrōpos, and Jesus is repeatedly called anthrōpos in the New Testament.

  5. Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz says:

    They both sinned.

  6. Great post once again. There is nothing in the Bible that says Adam is entirely responsible for the sin. Both Adam and Eve are equally held accountable for their disobedience. Some Complementarians have claimed Adam was more at fault since they suppose him to be the leader and Eve the follower. Others have used Eve’s sin justify chauvinism against women in the Christian faith. But God punished both of them for their sins. God Bless.

    • Marg says:

      Yes, I think stating that Adam was the responsible one because he was the supposed leader is reading much more into the text than is actually stated.

  7. Krysta says:

    Marg! This article is so helpful! You have such a gift of explaining things and clarifying the truth from the mumbo jumbo! I figured Paul referred to Adam as a kind of picture of mankind but didn’t know how to explain it really. So thank you for explaining it so clearly and going into such detail! You rock! Your ministry is such a blessing! Thank you for walking in your gifting and sharing it with us. I meant to read this much earlier but I was away on vacation. Now that I’m jet lagged and can’t sleep it affords me the perfect opportunity to catch up on your new articles.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for your encouraging comment Krysta!

    • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz says:

      Adam was more to blame because he wasn’t fooled by the Serpent. Eve was.

      • Marg says:

        I’m not sure that the Bible indicates that one or the other was more or less to blame. While we know a little about Eve’s reason, the Bible is silent about Adam’s reason for eating the forbidden fruit

        • VelvetVoice aka Susan Donroe says:

          These two sins being the only ones committed at the time, wouldn’t they both be equal sins? Most comps say ‘all sins are equal’.

          • Marg says:


            It seems to me that complementarians pin enough blame on Eve so as to disqualify all women from being teachers, but they pin most of the blame on Adam so that he becomes the “federal head” of all sinful humanity (cf Romans 5). They twist the story to limit women and give authority to men, even though both Eve and Adam sinned. This obsession with authority distorts their interpretation of other biblical stories and even their view of Trinity.

  8. Ashley says:

    On your article about Ha’adam, Ish and Ishshah, I went to your link that showed Genesis in Hebrew. When I went to Genesis 3:9, I saw what looked like when God was asking Adam where he was, that He was actually talking to Ha’adam, or both Adam and Eve. Am I correct?
    *I ask because most pastors I hear use this scripture to prove that God holds Adam accountable as the head.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Ashley,

      The man is still called ha’adam in most of chapter 3, but he is now post surgery and definitely male.

      The Hebrew word translated “to him” in Genesis 3:9 is a preposition with singular masculine pronominal suffix, so strictly speaking God asked the man, not the couple, “Where are you?” (Although, I can still imagine that some might argue the point.)

      However, asking someone “Where are you?” and holding someone responsible for the first sin are not the same thing.

      God individually questions both the man and the woman, and holds them both responsible for their individual actions.

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