When Paul compares Adam to Christ by analogy in Romans 5, is he teaching about a husband’s authority over his wife, implied by “Adam’s federal headship,” as some Christians believe? Or is it about something else? With the analogy here, like any analogy, one must ask, “What is the point the author is making?” To read more into the analogy than Paul makes explicit is to risk substituting a private opinion for the direct teaching of God’s Word. So what is the analogy really about? Cranfield’s commentary on Romans (1:281) highlights the point of the analogy: “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.”
Does Paul by this analogy intend to teach that Eve was not as involved as Adam in precipitating the fall? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Paul emphasizes the seriousness of being “led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by comparing it to the one deception in human history that had the most disastrous consequences, Eve’s deception that caused the fall of humanity. In 1 Timothy 2:14-15 he writes, “the woman being thoroughly deceived fell into transgression, but she will be saved through the Childbirth if they remain in faith and love and holiness with propriety.” Here Paul explicitly identifies Eve’s deception as the cause of her fall into transgression.
Paul’s association of “she” with “they” in 1 Timothy 2:15 associates Eve with her descendents. It teaches that because of her transgression they need salvation, and their salvation comes through her seed, prophesied in Genesis 3:15. Christ is her seed, who crushes the head of the serpent, Satan, and brings salvation to her descendents. Paul expresses Christ’s incarnation as “the Childbirth,” the unique birth without human father implied by the prophecy of “her seed” in Genesis 3:15. This is the only instance of “seed” in the Pentateuch with a feminine suffix (see my Man and Woman, One in Christ, pages 417-41). Thus, not only is Jesus the second Adam, he is the seed of the woman predicted in Genesis 3:15, who overcomes the fall precipitated by the sin of both Eve and Adam.
The Genesis account makes it inescapably clear that Eve did participate in the fall. The narrative of Genesis 3 emphasizes that both the woman and the man disobeyed God’s command, and that this caused the fall. Furthermore, God addresses both woman and man, in that order, stating the consequences of their transgression.
It should be clear from Paul’s other statements about Eve’s participation in the fall, as recorded in Genesis, that Paul in saying, “just as sin entered the world through one man,” did not exclude Eve from culpability in the fall. This would be reading something into the analogy that contradicts both Genesis and Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:14-15. The specific term Paul used to identify “the one man,” is anthropos, which highlights Adam’s humanity, not aner, which would identify a male human being.
Genesis 5:2 identifies “Adam” as the name of the original couple: “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Adam” when they were created.” Furthermore, in the Hebrew of Genesis 1:26-27, “Adam” identifies both the man and the woman together, “let us make mankind (Adam) in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule.” Their plurality is emphasized by the corresponding plurals contrasting God as “us” and Adam as “them.” As reflected in the NRSV, the first unambiguous reference to Adam as the original man’s name is Genesis 4:25, after the creation and fall narratives.
Paul explicitly refers to Adam as a “type” of Christ in Romans 5:14 and explains this in verses 15-19 as what we would call an “antitype” or opposite: one brought death, the other life; one brought transgression, the other righteousness; one brought condemnation, the other justification. Scripture identifies many “types” of Christ. Adam being a type of Christ does not mean that Eve could not also be a type of Christ. Eve, like Adam, may be regarded as an antitype of Christ since her transgression precipitated the fall. Furthermore, Eve may be regarded as a type of Christ, for God promised through her seed to overcome the serpent, Satan. The most natural reading of 1 Timothy 2:14-15 identifies both her transgression leading to the fall, quoting from Genesis 3:13, and salvation from the fall through her promised seed, predicted in Genesis 3:15, expressed to Timothy as “the Childbirth.”
It is possible that Paul intended “one man” in Romans 5 to refer to the Adam identified as “them” in Genesis 1:26-27, or he may have focused on “Adam” because the singular name makes a more direct counterpart for the one man (anthropos) Jesus Christ in 5:15, who brings the opposite, salvation from that fall. In either case, it should be clear that Paul did not intend this analogy to deny the participation of Eve in the fall, since both Paul elsewhere, and the narrative in Genesis he is citing, explicitly affirm Eve’s role in the fall.
Paul does not highlight either Adam or Christ as male here, which he could easily have done simply by using aner, as he does in Rom 7:2-3. Instead, he highlights the humanity of both by referring to both as “the one man (anthropos)” in 5:12, 15, and 19.
Nor are the results of the transgression identified in 5:12 leading to the death of all “men” (anthropoi) limited to males, but apply to all of humanity. Similarly, 5:18 states, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all humans (anthropoi), so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all humans (anthropoi).”
Paul says nothing in Romans 5 about “Adam, not Eve” or “male, not female.” Indeed, he chose the gender inclusive terms anthropos and anthropoi, and his use of “Adam” in 5:14 may follow its use in the Genesis narrative to refer to the original couple. If he had intended to highlight gender, he could have used aner to identify the male gender, but he did not.
Finally, we need to beware of extrapolations, like federal male headship, that are not clearly taught in Romans 5. “Adam’s federal headship” is not a biblical expression. Neither “federal” nor “headship” are words that occur in the Greek, here or anywhere else in the Bible. Romans 5 mentions nothing about the authority of Adam or of husbands, nor does it mention “head” or “headship.” It is about the universal consequences of Adam’s sin and the universal consequences of Christ’s sacrificial death that satisfies the penalty for the sins of all, and his provision of life to all who trust in him, as Paul teaches elsewhere. It is inappropriate to draw conclusions regarding a hierarchy of authority in marriage from a passage that is not about a hierarchy of authority or about marriage. This passage stresses the universality of the consequences of Adam’s sin for all people, women as well as men. It says nothing about the authority of men over women, whether in society, the church, or the home.