Reconciled Through Christ in the Letter to the Romans

Reconciled Through Christ in the Letter to the Romans

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Romans 5 is, in fact, not one segment of Paul’s argument, but two rather different arguments. Romans 5:1–11 is Paul’s first effort at explaining the Christian life as a result of the Christ-event previously described. Up to this juncture, Paul has largely been describing Jews and Gentiles outside of Christ, finishing with Abraham, a Jew who happens to be the paradigm for and prequel to the sort of faith he will predicate of Christians. Along the way, he has also described the means by which we can have right standing with God, and indeed can have our faith credited as righteousness, like Abraham’s. In the reiteration of the thesis statement and its amplification in Romans 3:21–31, Paul also explains the objective basis on which this right standing comes—the atoning work of Christ. As it turns out, faith or trust in God is not enough to produce right standing with God. There had to be a divine intervention to make this condition possible.

Romans 5 will focus on the benefits or results of having right standing with God for those in Christ. Then Paul will once again turn to a more broad discussion, using the rhetorical device called synkrisis, or comparison. In Romans 5:12–21, Paul will compare and contrast the first Adam and the last or eschatological Adam, namely Christ. It is really not a surprise that in a letter to a largely Gentile audience, Paul’s focus is not on the story of Israel, but on the more universal story of Adam and his offspring. This is a story that included Gentiles and Jews alike from the start. (The story of Israel and its offspring will be dealt with in Romans 9–11.) When Paul wants to talk about the intersection of the broader story of humanity in general and the more specific story of God’s people, he allows the story of Christ to do the heavy lifting and provide the intersection point. It is through Christ that Gentiles become part of the story of God’s people, having always been part of the story of humanity descended from Adam.

Romans 5:12–21 is actually more of a contrast between the first Adam and the last Adam, and it makes clear that Paul believes God began the human race over again with Christ—who is Adam gone right, in contrast to the first Adam. This then sets up the discussion in Romans 6–7 about the fallout from Adam’s sin—namely, more sin, more death, and more need for the Law; a story that not only describes Israel’s experience, but rather the experience of all those in Adam. This then leads to the final argument for Paul’s case in Romans 8, where Christian life in the Spirit is explained in detail, a description that is partially prefigured in the description of Christian life in Romans 5:1–11.

Did you enjoy this entry? Discover our OneBook: Daily-Weekly Bible studies, of which this entry is a part. The OneBook: The Letter to the Romans by Ben Witherington study leads learners to grow in knowledge and faith as they begin to discover the enormous breadth and depth of the scripture contained therein. Over the course of twelve-weeks, this poignant study will guide students toward holy love, revealing more of Christ through deeper understanding. Order the book and video studies from our store here.


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