Angel Manuel Rodríguez
Why does Paul say that sin came into the world through Adam, when Eve was the first one to sin?
Eve’s involvement in the entrance of sin into the world has been a matter of discussion since ancient times. Jewish literature tends to ignore her role, although in some cases she is blamed for the problem of sin. We also find the idea that Adam was responsible for her transgression, and hence accountable for the coming of sin. Today the most common explanation is that Adam stands in Paul’s theology as the representative of the human race, and, as such, what he did impacted all humans. I will examine some of the biblical evidence, the nature of Adam’s sin, and offer a suggestion for your consideration.
1. Adam and Eve: Eve is mentioned in only two passages in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13, 14. Paul fears for the Corinthians that “as the serpent deceived [exapatao¯, “to lead someone to accept false ideas”] Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted [phzeiro¯, “ruin, corrupt”] from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The false teachers are like the serpent, and believers could be like Eve. They should not follow her example. Her sin consisted in being led astray from her commitment to God, and the result was inner corruption. Her sin was not inevitable; therefore she was accountable for it.
In 1 Timothy 2:13, 14, Paul illustrates the danger of listening to false teachers by referring to the experience of Eve. When they were created, Adam was created first, then Eve. But it was Eve who was “deceived” (apatao¯, “to deceive” or “mislead”). Priority in creation is contrasted with priority in sinning in order to indicate that deception is not inevitable. Adam was not deceived; consequently, Eve did not have to sin. Therefore her deception, and that of the Ephesians, is inexcusable.
2. The Sin of Adam: In spite of the fact that the sin of Eve is affirmed, Paul claims that “sin” (hamartia) came into the world through Adam (Rom. 5:12). His sin is called an “offense” (verse 15; paraptoma, “wrongdoing”), because he ate from the fruit; and an act of “disobedience” (verse 19, parakoe¯, “unwillingness to listen”), because he violated a divine command. But the sin that came into the world is not the same as the sin committed by Adam. Paul personifies sin as an evil power that, as a result of the sin of Adam, entered the world to rule over it with deadly power (Rom. 6:12). Because of this, Paul uses Adam to designate the natural condition of the human race: In the fallen Adamic condition of the human race all will perish (1 Cor. 15:21), but in the new Adam all will find life. The contrast is significant: Life in Adam ends in death, while the death of Christ ends in life through the resurrection. The natural life, represented by that of Adam, will perish, while the life-giving power of Christ brings a new life (verses 44-49). The evil that came into the world is opposed by Christ who came from heaven to defeat it.
3. Adam and Dominion: Paul’s ideas are based on Genesis 1:28 (cf. Rom. 6:16; 8:18-23). Here is my suggestion for your consideration: According to Genesis, God entrusted the dominion of the planet to both Adam and Eve. In order for sin to rule over the world it would have been necessary for both of them to surrender their dominion over it. The sin of Eve was not enough for dominion to be lost. As long as one of them remained faithful to the Lord, sin/evil would not have had dominion over the world. Even though Eve sinned first, it was only when Adam sinned that sin/evil came into the world and enslaved it. The results of Adam’s trespass were in a way more serious than those of Eve’s.
Paul was right that sin as a ruling power came into the world through Adam. But thanks be to God for the New Adam, Christ Jesus, who liberates us from the enslaving power of sin (Rom. 6:8-11) and will finally liberate creation itself (Rom. 8:18-23).
Angel Manuel Rodríguez served as director of the Biblical Research Institute prior to his retirement.