Sin Is a Big Deal

| Romans 5:12-14

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about the reality and consequences of sin.

Sin Defined: Genesis 3:1-6.

[1]  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?" [2]  And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3]  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’" [4]  But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. [5]  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." [6]  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  [ESV]

[1-3]  The serpent appears suddenly in the narrative. The snake is described as more crafty than any other beast. Although the origin of the snake is attributed to God (Lord God had made), there is no attempt here to explain the origins of evil. The narrative explains only the origin of human sin and guilt. There is no explanation for the serpent’s capacity to talk other than possibly that it was crafty. The substance of what the serpent says is more important than who or what the serpent is. The tactic used by the serpent was to cause doubt in the mind of the woman through interrogation and misrepresentation. First, the opponent does not contradict outright the saying of the Lord in 2:16; rather, he questions God’s motivation with the subtle addition actually say. Second, the serpent uses the name God rather than the covenant name “Lord” that has characterized the narrative of 2:4-25, where Lord God appears. Third, the serpent reworks the wording of God’s command slightly by (1) adding the negative not at the head of the clause, which with any expresses an absolute prohibition; (2) omitting the emphatic may surely eat [2:16]; (3) using the plural you rather than the singular as in 2:16; and (4) placing the clause of any tree at the end of the sentence rather than at the head as in 2:16, thereby robbing God’s command of its nuance of liberality. All of this is to say that the divine injunction in the mouth of the serpent was refashioned for its own interests which was to create doubt in Eve’s mind. The woman’s first mistake was her willingness to talk with the serpent and to respond to the creature’s cynicism by rehearsing God’s prohibition [2:17]. However, she compounded her mistake by misrepresenting God’s command as the serpent had done, although definitely without the malicious intent of the snake. The serpent had succeeded in drawing the woman’s attention to another possible interpretation of God’s command. It would seem that the serpent had heard it all differently! Now the woman changes the tenor of the original command. First, she omits those elements in the command, surely, every, which placed the prohibition in a context of liberality. At this point she still is thinking collectively with her husband, from whom, as the narrator implies, she received the command: we may eat. Second, Eve identifies the tree according to its location rather than its significance; and third, she refers to God as the serpent had done, rather than the Lord God. Fourth, she also adds the phrase neither shall you touch it, which may make the prohibition more stringent. Yet to her credit the fear of touching the fruit may have been out of deference for God’s command. For Israel touch was associated with prohibition and death or with consecration to God [see Ex. 19:12]. Finally, she failed to capture the urgency of certain death by omitting surely in her statement: lest you die.

[4-6]  With the woman lured into dialogue on his terms, the serpent directly disputes God’s command. The negative not is at the head of the Hebrew clause thus directly contradicting Eve’s claim lest you die. Any second thought the woman might have had at hearing the serpent’s bold statement is answered by the serpent’s following explanation in verse 5. The motivation for God’s command is impugned by the serpent. God is not good and gracious; He is selfish and deceptive, preventing the man and woman from achieving the same position as God. Hence the serpent made three counterclaims. First, they will not die. Second, their eyes will be opened, a metaphor for knowledge, suggesting a newfound awareness not previously possessed. And finally, they will gain what belongs to God, knowing good and evil. When set in the larger context of the story, the serpent’s words are shown to be both true and false. They proved true in that the man and woman did not immediately die physically. Their eyes were indeed opened [7], and they obtained knowledge belonging to God as the serpent had promised [22]. However, the serpent’s half-truths concealed falsehood and led the woman to expect a different result altogether. The serpent spoke only about what she would gain and avoided mentioning what she would lose in the process. Though the man and woman did not die immediately upon eating the fruit, the expectation and assignment to death were soon enough. Furthermore, they experienced expulsion from the garden, which was indicative of death. Expulsion from the garden, which represented the presence of God, meant a symbolic death for the excommunicated. Although their eyes were opened, they were rewarded only with seeing their nakedness and were burdened with human guilt and embarrassment. Although they became like God in this one way, it was at an unexpected cost. They achieved isolation and fear. The couple was cut off as well from the possibility of life, the one feature of divinity for which otherwise they were destined. They obtained “wisdom” in exchange for death. At verse 6 the account moves with a rapid pace: The woman saw, she took, ate, she gave, and he ate. Eve saw what was good. The term for good can mean beautiful and also what is moral. In this case what was beautiful proved to be an allurement to disobedience. The term good is reminiscent of the created order God declares as good. But the verbal echo of God’s earlier evaluation suggests that she has usurped God’s role in determining what is good. The temptation of the fruit is (1) its substance as food, (2) its appearance, and (3) its potential for making the woman “wise.” Eve supposes that the tree’s fruit would obtain for her wisdom, which she must have equated with the tempter’s promise of obtaining divine knowledge. The term is broad in meaning, indicating sight, insight, and also success. The transgression is the acquisition of wisdom independently of God, which is not true wisdom but actually foolishness.

Sin’s Consequences:  Genesis 3:16-19,24.

[16]  To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." [17]  And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; [18]  thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. [19]  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." [24]  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. [ESV]

[16]  Unlike the penalties announced against the serpent and the man (the “ground,” verse 17), there is no occurrence of curse related to the woman’s suffering. Moreover, there is no cause specified for her suffering, whereas the serpent is charged with deception [14] and the man with eating disobediently [17]. This is due to the woman’s culpability through deception, in contrast with the willful rebellion of the serpent and man. Also the oracle has a gentler word for the woman since her punishment entails the salvation of the human couple [15]. Whereas the man’s action condemned the human family, Eve will play the critical role in liberating them from sin’s consequences. This is realized in part immediately since the woman gives birth to new life, but verse 15 indicates that the final conflict will also be humanity’s victory by virtue of the woman’s role as child bearer. The woman’s penalty impacts her two primary roles: child bearing and her relationship with her husband. It is appropriate punishment since procreation was central to her divine commission and because she had been instrumental in her husband’s ruin. Just as God initiates the enmity between the woman and serpent, He is responsible for the pain she will experience in the birth of that seed, which will ultimately defeat her archenemy. First, her penalty stresses the painful labor she must endure in childbirth, but the punishment also nurtures hope since it assumes that she will live to bear children. The labor or hard work of childbirth matches Adam’s labor or hard work of tilling the ground. By procreation the blessing for the human couple will be realized, and ironically the blessing is assured in the divine pronouncement of the penalty. Painful childbirth signals hope but also serves as a perpetual reminder of sin and the woman’s part in it. Second, her sin also tainted her relationship with her husband. The combination of desire and rule appears again in Genesis 4:7. In that verse the clear meaning is that sin desires to overcome and control Cain. But the challenge God puts to Cain is to exercise rule or mastery over that unruly desire. This verse suggests that verse 3:16 also describes a struggle for mastery between the sexes. The desire of the woman is her attempt to control her husband, but she will fail because God has ordained that the man exercise his leadership function. Thus the Lord affirms in the oracles of judgment the creation order: the serpent is subjected to the woman, the woman to the man, and all to the Lord. What is the nature of the man’s rule? The temperament of rule in the Old Testament is dependent on the varying circumstances in which that power is exercised. The term in verse 16 may refer to either beneficent or tyrannical rule. Thus this verse could be interpreted to mean that, as a result of the fall, husband and wife will struggle with submission and control in the marriage relationship: the wife struggling to control rather than submit to her husband and the husband seeking to exercise tyrannical dominion over the wife rather than loving provision. It is God’s design for the Spirit to overcome this unhealthy struggle for control in the Christian marriage [see Eph. 5:22-33].

[17-19]   The final word is directed against the man. Adam’s penalty also fit his crime since his appointed role was intimately related to the ground from which he was made and which he was charged to cultivate. Now the ground is decreed under divine curse on his account. The man will suffer (1) lifelong, toilsome labor and finally (2) death, which is described as the reversal of the creation process. Although the woman will die too, the death oracle is not pronounced against her since she is the source of life and therefore living hope for the human couple. It is the man who bears the greater blame for his conduct and is the direct recipient of God’s death sentence. As in the pronouncement against the serpent [14], God pinpoints the reason for the ensuing penalty [17]. Adam listened to his wife and ate of the forbidden fruit. Repeating the original prohibition verbatim from 2:17 reinforces the severity of the crime and reminds him of the dire consequences of his rebellion. Emphasis on the second person you and your sharpens God’s focus on the man’s individual fault. There is no room for avoidance now; he is caught without a word to say. Moreover, the punishment reveals that the man’s sin is the cause for the curse against the ground, resulting in its harvest of thorns and thistles. Ironically, the ground that was under the man’s care in the garden as his source of joy and life [2:15] becomes the source of pain for the man’s wearisome existence [17]. For the woman childbirth was marked with its attendant pain [16], and in the cultivation of the wild and stubborn ground the man will know the toilsome pain of deriving food from the dust. The ground will now be his enemy rather than his servant. The same expression all the days of your life occurred in God’s judgment against the serpent, where he will eat dust as his punishment [14]. This punishment also involves the dust of the ground, tying together the two crimes and their consequences. Adam’s sin has spoiled his environment, and it suffers along with him since both are of the dust. The passage has brought us full circle from creation’s bliss to sin’s burden. Nevertheless, the sentencing itself contains God’s gracious provision since the man will still derive sustenance from the ground for survival. The last word of judgment is in verse 19. Adam’s toil will be without relief until his final destiny of death. Like the woman’s painful childbirth, the man’s daily labors with their attendant woes are a perpetual reminder of sin’s rewards. Death is exactly what God had forewarned [2:17] and what the serpent had denied [3:4]. Death comes by the reversal of the man’s God-given state, that is, a living being [2:7]. This reversal is the deterioration of the body that will return to the dust from which it was made.

[24]  God drove the man and woman out of the garden. Entrance to Eden’s garden was guarded by cherubim, who are known from the Old Testament as winged, composite beings associated with the presence of God. Their golden images formed the covering of the sacred ark and decorated the curtains of the holy of holies. Carved cherubim also adorned Solomon’s temple and dominated the most holy place. Accompanying the cherubim is a flaming sword that turned every way perhaps indicating the judgment of God. The cherubim are placed at the east entrance to the garden to guard the way to the tree of life. What pitiful irony that Adam, who was once put there to care for the garden, now is guarded from it.

Everyone Sins:  Romans 5:12-14.

[12]  Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– [13]  for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14]  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.  [ESV]

[12]  This verse begins a new section, linked to the preceding with a therefore. It is because of the reconciliation Christ has brought about that the evil Adam introduced into the world has been overcome, and more than overcome [see 5:20]. Paul enters a detailed comparison of Adam and Christ in 5:12-21. All mankind is affected by what Adam did. Over against that Paul sets the saving work of Christ. Just as Adam was the head of a race of sinners, so Christ is the head of a new race, the redeemed people of God. Paul says that sin came into the world through one man. Twelve times in verses 12-19 we have the word one; repeatedly Paul refers to one man Adam (and to one sin of that one man), and opposes to him the one man Jesus Christ and His one work of grace. The one man and his sin and the one Savior and His salvation are critical to the discussion. Paul personifies sin as a mighty force of evil which used Adam as its instrument. Death is also personified, and seen as using sin as its point of entry. It is sin that brought death. The consequence of Adam’s sin and the death that it brought into the world is that death spread to all men. Adam was one man and he did one act. But the result spread to all his posterity. All sinned means here that all humanity sinned in Adam. The aorist tense of the verb sinned points to the one act of Adam’s sin. Paul would have used the present or imperfect tense if he was thinking of the continuing sins of all people. Consider the fivefold repetition of this truth: many died through one man’s trespass [15], the judgment following one trespass [16], because of one man’s trespass, death reigned [17], one trespass led to condemnation for all men [18], by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners [19]. Thus Adam was the representative of all the human race; when he sinned, the entire human race sinned in him. This does not mean that our sinful nature or our many actual sins are unimportant to Paul. Nor does it mean that he is indifferent to the importance of individual responsibility. It simply means that these things are not what he is talking about here. He is concerned with what Adam did and its results. He is saying that Adam’s sin involved us all in a situation of sin and death from which there is no escape other than in Christ.

[13-14]  Paul breaks off his construction and proceeds in a different direction. But what he says is connected with the preceding, and he links it up with the word for. Sin was in the world before the law was given. It is usually held that law here means the law of Moses. Thus Paul is saying that sin was present in the world from the time of Adam to the time of Moses when God gave His law to Moses. But before the law there was a difference, for sin is not counted or imputed where there is no law. One cannot be a lawbreaker if there is no law to break. Despite this, sin was indeed present in the world during this time period. The only sin that provides the explanation for this is the sin of Adam and the participation of all in that sin. Far from sin not being imputed, death reigned. Death is personified and regarded as supreme over mankind from the time of creation right up to the time of the giving of the law. Death was just as potent in the absence of that law as in its presence. There is an impressive absoluteness about reigned. Death’s sovereignty was complete. Even introduces a clause that shows that there were no exceptions. Those who had not sinned in the way Adam did were yet under death’s dominion. Paul is saying that they were not lawbreakers like Adam since there was no law to break. But they still died due to Adam’s sin. Thus Paul is saying that it is not necessary to be an exact imitator of Adam to be a sinner in Adam’s likeness. His sin had effects on the totality of mankind. Adam is spoken of as a type of the one who was to come. He was the first man and thus the head of the race. He was a type or pattern of Christ who initiated a new race, the race of the redeemed, as their head. Just as all humanity is involved in the sin of Adam; so are all the redeemed involved in the righteousness of Christ as their head or representative.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Note the craftiness of the serpent in his approach to Eve. What was Eve’s first mistake? What should she have done? What, in effect, was Adam and Eve telling God when they chose to eat the fruit? What do we learn here about dealing with temptation?

2.         In 3:14-24, we are told the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. Describe how God reveals His justice, mercy and grace in these verses. What effect did their sin have on the created order?

3.         In Romans 5:12-21, Paul is teaching two doctrines: Federal Headship and Original Sin. All mankind have Adam as their Head, meaning that when Adam sinned all mankind sinned. Thus every person is deemed a sinner before God at birth. And anyone who has been around small children can see the effects of this sinful nature even before the child reaches the so called “age of accountability.” How does Paul prove his point concerning Adam as our Head in these verses? In verses 15-21, Paul then shows the benefits that all of the redeem realize because they now have Christ as their head. Make a list contrasting the effects of Adam’s sin with the benefits of now being in Christ. Praise God that you have received this free gift.


Genesis, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter-Varsity.