Question: Lucia was asking about sin and death only being around since Adam. Genesis for Ordinary People highlights Romans 5 and talks about sin being in the world before the law that Adam was given, but what about I Corinthians 15:21-22 which says, 'For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.'?
Answer: The NIV calls Adam "a pattern of the one to come" (Rom 5:14) informing us that Adam is a symbol, a representation. So it's good to remember that what happened in the garden of Eden is not fiction or a parable, but we can view it as a representation - a microcosm or model of what was happening in the wider world. God used it to show us that since we have fallen we all fall short of the mark he sets.
Adam represents Christ because Christ became a man - "a pattern of the one to come." Adam also represents humanity, hence ‘Adam’ can be singular or plural, i.e. Adam the man or the generic name of the human race - "Then God said, "Let us make mankind ('adam' in Hebrew) in our image" (Gen 1:26).
There are two Greek words that mean 'man,' - anēr, which refers to a single male individual and anthrōpos, which is the generic term that has the general idea of 'mankind'.
So we can interpret I Corinthians 15:21-22 as the King James Version does by saying, “For since by man (anthrōpos) came death”, “man” being all humans. We can also view it as one man too, Adam in the garden who disobeyed, but also as all men everywhere at every stage of human history because, since our fall we all miss the mark.
Physical death was there for those before the fall as a teacher of what spiritual death is. Had living creatures not died then God saying, "the day that you eat of it, you will surely die” (Gen 2:17) would make little sense, with no one sure what death was or looked like.
The word used in Greek for “man” in 1 Cor 15: 21 is “anthropou“; in Galatians 3:15 the same word is translated as “human” – “Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant” – So we see how the word "man" can be used to mean a man or man in general. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, "Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices." The first humans endowed with God's image were upright but they went in search of many schemes. Adam, the man, tells our story.
Adam teaches humanity what we need to know and that is "we are sinners" We all fall short.
In Genesis 3 we get to hear the dialogue between the serpent and the woman. Eve is tempted and falls into the trap. She eats from the tree that God had told Adam not to eat from, gives some of the fruit to her husband and he eats it too. This isn’t the first sin that we read about in Genesis, the first sin is committed by the serpent when he tempts the woman. and then it is the woman who sinned before Adam, then Adam himself sinned. This is a good picture of us all because we have all sinned. But sin goes even further back and we don’t read about that until we get to the new Testament.
Romans 5:12–13 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.”
So the lesson there is that sin was already in the world but until we had a specific law, men couldn’t see it for what it was. The first law that we read about is when God told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘you are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”
The Scripture we read from Romans 5:12-13 tells us that sin was in the world before this command— “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given,” but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
So here is the first man who is given a specific law to follow but he breaks it. The law reveals what is in the heart of man. God has granted us free will and each man has turned to his own way. The book of Romans goes into some detail telling us that it is the law that highlights sin.
Adam is representative of us all, not only those who were after him but those who were before him too. That’s why he’s called Adam; his name also means “man,” which can be used as a singular or plural word. Men and women need saving. God steps in and starts putting the great plan of man’s salvation into effect right here with Adam and Eve. Sin entered the world through one man, though we know it was in the hearts of men before Adam broke the law God gave him. But it wasn’t known as sin until there was a command. Romans 7:7 says, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” And verse 13 continues, “in order that sin might be recognized as sin.”
So Adam let us see the debt we are all in, and through Adam's line God sent a second Adam to pay what is owed.