Is Adam greater than Jesus?

“Are you saying that Adam is greater than Jesus?” This is a comment I often hear from those who preach universal salvation. It usually comes at the end of a conversation like this:

Me: Jesus died and rose again so that we might have new life, His life. Repent and believe the good news!
They: No, everyone is already saved, already righteous, already alive because Jesus died. His was a finished work. Your faith-works add nothing to it.
Me: I agree that His work was perfectly perfect and cannot be improved upon. But grace only comes through faith.
They: Yes, but not our faith – His faith. All the key verses on faith actually refer to the faith of Christ.
Me: I’ll grant that the righteousness of God comes to us on account of the faith of Jesus Christ. That’s Romans 3:22. But read the rest of that verse. It comes to “all who believe.”
They: Keep reading: “There is no difference.” It makes no difference whether you believe or not – we’re all righteous.
Me: If it makes no difference, then why did Jesus, Paul et al. challenge us to believe the good news? Paul told Timothy that his transformation from “worst of sinners” served as an example for those who would believe on Jesus and receive eternal life. Grace unmixed with faith is worthless. That’s Hebrews 4:2.
They: So you’re saying Adam did a greater work than Jesus?
Me: What?
They: Adam’s sin killed everyone – whether they believe Adam or not. That’s Romans 5:12. Are you saying that new life is only given to those who put their trust in Jesus? If so, then you’re elevating Adam above Jesus. You’re saying that first Adam did a greater work than last Adam.

If you have ever had a conversation with someone who believes in universal salvation, chances are you’ve heard something similar to this. Is Adam greater than Jesus? This is the trump card, the final word, because how could anyone say Jesus did an inferior work to Adam?

How did last Adam do a greater work than first Adam?

This is one of the most profoundly important questions you could ever ask. It is so important that I have written a study note to help you answer it. The note is an easy-to-read study of the ten verses of Romans 5:12-21.

So how did last Adam improve upon first Adam? In this post I want to briefly look at the traditional and wrong answer to this question and then, in my next post, I will give you Paul’s far better answer from Roman’s 5. I plan to upload the next post on Good Friday. If you can’t wait that long to hear some stunningly good news about God’s purposes for your life, read the study note.

So, what was last Adam’s greater work? To kick off, here is the wrong answer: “Jesus raised everyone from the dead. Everyone is now saved, righteous, and seated with Christ. They may not know it but it’s true nonetheless.” This is the main claim of those who preach historical reconciliation. Everyone has been made alive. A variation on this is: Everyone will be made alive. This is the view taken by those who preach ultimate reconciliation or universalism.

These two claims appeal because of their symmetry: Adam killed everyone; Jesus raised everyone. Perfect! The world is back in balance. These claims also appeal to some because of their sovereignty: King Adam’s trespass brought condemnation for all; King Jesus’ act of righteousness brings life for all. It sounds good – but wait a second. Where is faith in this equation? Faith doesn’t come into it. And this should be a warning sign that something is not quite right.

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (Joh 5:24)

Without faith in Jesus, no one crosses over from death to life. Whoever believes has eternal life; whoever does not believe is condemned already (Joh 3:15,18). Not everyone believes in Jesus. So why do some claim that all have been made alive? Because of what Paul says here:

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (Rom 5:18)

Does Paul say that all men will be given new life?

In Romans 5, Paul makes a number of comparisons between the “one trespass” of first Adam and the “one act of righteousness” of last Adam. Look carefully at how  he compares the effects of each…

Affected by Adam Affected by Jesus
v.15 The many The many
v.18 All men All men
v.19 The many The many

Who died as a result of one man’s trespass? “The many.” To whom does grace now overflow? “The many” (see v.15). And again, who were made sinners as a result of Adam? “The many.” And who will be made righteous on account of Jesus? “The many” (see v.19). It’s the middle verse – verse 18 – that is the source of contention. There are two ways to read this verse:

How some read it: “All men now live; everyone has been (or will be) raised to new life.”
What Paul said: “Life has come and is now freely available for all men.”

Read v.18 in context and you will see that Paul never says anything that could point to universal salvation. If life had come to “all men”, then Paul is in error by saying that only “many” are the beneficiaries of grace in v.15 or that only “many” will be made righteous in v.19. But if Paul is correct in those verses, then those who argue that “all now live in Christ” are in error.

Jesus spoke plainly. “Only those who believe in me cross over from death to life.” So believe! Don’t be like the Pharisees who “refuse to come to me to have life” (Joh 5:40). If you refuse Jesus, how can you claim to have His life? This is not a pre-cross, post-cross distinction. Jesus has always been the Father of the Everlasting and the Author of Life. Long after the cross, Paul said that his radical transformation from sinner to saint would serve as an example for those who would believe (1 Tim 1:16). Wherever he went Paul challenged people to turn to God and have faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21). He would be horrified to learn that his words are now being twisted to dismiss faith.

What about Adam’s work?

“But Adam’s sin brought death to everyone! If all don’t now live, then you are elevating Adam above Jesus. You’re saying the work of first Adam is greater than the work of last Adam.” This sort of statement completely misses the point of the cross. No one is condemned on account of Adam’s sin. God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to condemn sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3). Since sin itself has been condemned, no one can be condemned for Adam’s sin. His sin, along with yours and mine, were done away with at the cross. Every single one of us faces the same choice Adam had; either we will receive the life that God freely offers us or we will condemn ourselves through unbelief. No one is lost through Adam’s unbelief but their own.

Those who spurn the love of their heavenly Father repeat the mistake of their earthly father. In choosing the self-life over Christ’s life they reap Adam’s reward. But again, their undoing is their doing, not Adam’s. Look at the cross and you will see that Jesus has taken Adam’s work completely out of the equation. Adam’s sin brought condemnation to all but there is now no more condemnation except that which we put on their own heads (Joh 3:17). Jesus doesn’t condemn anyone.

Jesus did not suffer and die to resuscitate the human race and put everything back the way it was. If Jesus merely raised those whom Adam killed, then His would not be a greater work but an exactly comparable work. Yet Paul says of Jesus’ gift, How much more! Jesus is the Great Redeemer and redemption always leaves you better off than when you started. Last Adam’s greater work achieved far more than merely reversing the effects of first Adam’s fall. As CS Lewis said, “Out of the Fall comes not a fix but a new creation.” As we will see in the next post, what Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection was something far beyond the wildest dreams of unfallen Adam. What Jesus now offers you is infinitely superior to what Adam lost.
Related posts:
– Is Jesus Savior of the world?
– Are we completely forgiven?
– First Adam vs. last Adam

39 Comments on Is Adam greater than Jesus?

  1. 1st adam acts independently(self) & took death for humanity but last adam(christ) acts dependly(father)& gave life to humanity.1st adam corrupted the blood which is life &last adam shed his holy precious blood {life}for humanity in exchange &died as as a corrupted sinner. giving is always greater than is on the higher level than last adam is greater than first.

    • God is much more complicated than we can imagine. try understanding quantum physics and explain it to me. if you cant do that and even mathematicians can’t, why are you trying to simplify God?
      1jn 2:2 says “he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world”. do i declare by this verse that all are saved? no. but it means that i really dont know everything about this thing call faith. i come from an asian culture and my parents were committed members of a japanese religion. i was told by christians they are in hell so i need to move on and make sure my kids don’t go there. how am i supposed to get over the fact that my loving, good parents are in hell suffering eternal pain and agony, even right now? a wise christian counseled to trust god in doing what is right. yes, i will put my faith in jesus who saved a woman caught in the act of adultery and saved her from the laws requirement of stoning, who said a tax collector as one who will be justified over the theologian pharasee, the one who pointed out a samaritan [who had perverted the scriptures] in answering an expert of the law, the question “what must i do to inherit eternal life. [luke 10:25-37]. go and do like wise. by the way – will the universalist go to hell because of this doctrine but have accepted christ as savior and allowing his deeds show his faith?

  2. “What Jesus now offers you is infinitely superior to what Adam lost.” ( LOVE!) : )

  3. My basic understanding was simple. “Adam made all sinners. Jesus made all righteous”. But why say “The gift is not like the trespass Rom 5:15”? I found the answers in verses Romans 5:16,17 paraphrased : Not just like how Adam made all sinners and Jesus made all righteous (gift received by faith). No. The gift will cause you to reign in life! Meaning when you sin, you cannot be called sinner again. Death can never reign in you again. there is much abundance of grace over sin.

    long post sorry 🙂 – grace and peace

  4. Excellent post Paul, very well said. What the “universalists” don’t understand is that it has always been about faith, even before the fall of the first Adam. It was Adam’s choice to not (believe / have faith in) what God said regarding the tree that initiated the “curse”. It is through our own decision of faith that we are spared from the curse. For those who receive salvation, we have been saved from the penalty of sin, we’re being saved from the power of sin, and we will be saved from the presence of sin.

  5. WOW!! Thank you for all your time & effort in providing such great help in understanding this issue!! It seems to be another gospel-You have it (salvation/life) but you are going to lose it if you don’t become aware of it? After reading/studying your last study notes (which are all so well done), our friend would still argue that this “potential gift”-potential Life, is not as great as an actual gift because to him it’s having it already (w/o faith) that makes it greater. It’s like the emotion involved in this statement is what decides the issue for him. It just wasn’t making sense to me & reconciling it the rest of scripture; but in the end guess we are both saying there is still believer and unbeliever and only the believer receives the value/benefits of what Christ has done. For if Christ is preached, God takes care of the miraculous results!
    Just found your website and enjoying reading.

  6. God gave all authority in/over/of the earth to man. Adam (and Eve – one person, one vote!) sinned and in so doing handed said authority to Satan. When Jesus arrived (as a man), the electorate was much larger than the initial 2 people, and there had been generations between times and generations to come. But in doing what no other man could do (fulfill the law), he consolidated the vote (all men in all times) by giving himself (payment for all sins in all times) and won back the authority lost by Adam, making it available for all who would accept this redeeming work. Jesus’ work is greater!

  7. Mike Laabs // April 4, 2012 at 5:16 am // Reply

    Truth! Awesome! Thank Paul!

  8. Andre van der Merwe // April 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm // Reply

    It’s the small details that the Universalists (and Trinitarians) miss in the scriptures:

    Rom 5:17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will THOSE WHO RECEIVE the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

    Awesome post Paul. Thank you for pouring yourself into this and for searching the scriptures for yourself, not conforming to the beliefs of these big shot main stream people.

  9. First, I’m not a Universalist. I believe that “in Adam all died and in Christ ALL were made alive.” I also believe that faith changes things, and that faith is a gift of God. I believe God gives everyone a measure of faith. All of that is scriptural… so the big question is… if Christ made everyone alive, and we all have a measure of faith, and faith changes things… why aren’t all going to live in the presence of God forever? The answer, all don’t want to live in God’s presence forever! Some are afraid of God, and still aren’t convinced that He loves them. Some see other “so called Christians” and decide – I want no part of their God. They have the measure of faith they’ve been given, but they suppress the truth and walk away from God.

    The good news is He loves and forgives us all… there is nothing that we need to do to be welcomed into His presence, except walk in. He paid the entry fee, He forgave the debt, He illustrated the exemplary life, He did it all… the only question is will we believe that it is done. I do believe that Jesus’ work on the cross Universally Reconciled all creation. But He’ll wait patiently for us to believe that. As long as we reject that reconciliation, we’ll walk farther and farther from Him and as we do (He’s there), but He somehow allows us to separate ourselves from His manifest presence and as we separate we create for ourselves hell.

    I think CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a great book that may make this easier to understand… but reading CS Lewis isn’t the answer, listening to the Spirit of God is.

    • Hi Josh,
      (Please keep comments <250 words.) It seems you share the views of Robert Capon who says that all are saved (or "safe") unless they subsequently choose to become unsaved. I have four problems with this: (1) it’s not in the Bible, (2) forgiveness doesn’t equal salvation, (3) unless you choose to be reconciled, you are not in fact reconciled, (4) 1 Cor 15:22 does not say “in Christ all were made alive” but “all will be made alive” and then it tells us who the “all” are – those who belong to Him. More here. I agree the Great Divorce is a wonderful book, but since the narrator starts in hell and is urged to repent so that he may enter heaven, it is at odds with your view. I will never tell someone who has rejected Christ that they are saved. I will tell them the Good News of God’s love and reconciling work and encourage them, as Paul did, to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).

      • I’m not familiar with Capon, but I don’t believe that all are saved… I believe all are invited into that reality. The gates of the Kingdom of God will never close and all have a free admittance paid by Christ. We decide to come into His presence or to continue to run from Him. Some may run forever… Hence eternal separation from God. Read again my friend I didn’t say anything like what you described. We are safe because He is good, but many are presently living in hell on earth… So that’s not saved. “The good news is He loves and forgives us all… there is nothing that we need to do to be welcomed into His presence, except walk in (believe).”. It is all about faith.

      • My apologies Josh – I read more into your comment than there was. I agree that God has forgiven everyone and, from His side, He has reconciled us to Himself. But I don’t agree that all are reconciled or that all were made alive. I would say it’s all about grace but grace unmixed with faith is worthless (Heb 4:2).

    • Yes, God is a gentleman, and He respects our right to choose to reject Him through unbelief and be separate from Him. The absence of His presence is Hell.

      • Brandon // April 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm //

        Oops, I forgot to add.. we still have to first accept that reconcilliation He accomplished before we can experience the benefit of it. We have to demonstrate faith, and while God is the source of our faith, not all acknowledge Him, and not all have faith.

    • Kristen Adam // August 22, 2013 at 4:44 am // Reply

      I agree with you here! Thanks for this.

  10. God will protect your right to free will all the way to hell. – A. Wommack

    • Amen, that’s exactly it. He won’t force Himself on anyone. He might pursue us relentlessly at times, but it’s up to us to choose to embrace Him.

    • for sometime, I used to think Andrew Wommack is boring. boy was I wrong. his messages are really full of real meat, and not some junk food other preachers serve.

  11. Patrick KWH // April 15, 2012 at 6:19 am // Reply

    “Since sin itself has been condemned, no one can be condemned for Adam’s sin. His sin, along with yours and mine, were done away with at the cross.” That means children who die before they know right from wrong go to heaven. Am I right?

  12. Andre van der Merwe // January 25, 2013 at 12:13 am // Reply

    Rom 5:18 Therefore as by one offense sentence came on all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came to all men to justification of life. (MKJV)

    a “SENTENCE” is something that is forced onto you if you are guilty. It is non-negotiable. You have no say in the matter.

    a “FREE GIFT” is something that you choose to receive. You have the right to reject a gift.

  13. One thing I always had thought Jesus said Not all that call me lord shall enter heaven, so I always thought How would someone bring that in with all will be saved etc…. I mean would we really have to change the text to say not all that call me Lord shall enter Only for a certain unknowed period of time etc…

  14. Please comment on ‘Trinitarian Theology’ with relation to Universalism.

    • I have no comment to make on Trinitarian Theology except insofar as some Trinitarians preach historical reconciliation, or what I call inclusionism. Inclusionism (all were included, therefore all were saved) differs from universalism (all will be saved). I discuss inclusion in full in my study notes.

  15. Tim 1 4 10 for for this we both labour and are reproached, because we hope on the living God, who is Saviour of all men — especially of those believing.

    Now Paul,if he is the saviour of all men ,why here is there a special mention to those who believe,why does it not read ,who is the saviour of those who believe?

  16. And to all the Christians who say they drummed up there own faith can they explain these scriptures:
    John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
    Romans 3 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
    Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

    Grace is given and faith. Deep down Christians believe there is something inside them that makes them smarter then others in believing God , giving credit to themselves for believing ,and selling God short.

  17. it’s so hard to figure out who the trinitarians,universalists,and inclusionist are these days. they say they’re none of those things but when you listen to them it sure sounds like they are. why won’t they admit it if they’re convinced it’s the truth? it’s like they’re trying to trick you into their circle. they do alot of fancy word work and twisting of the scriptures. many are saying we should throw our bibles out. the bible can’t be depended on they’re telling’s weird what’s going on .

  18. 1 Peter 3:19-20 is a sizable monkey wrench…it clearly says Jesus went and preached to people who had been disobedient in the days of Noah, when only a few were saved…so these people who were the ones destroyed in the flood, Jesus goes and preaches so they can get out of prison…which I understand happened after his resurrection (Matt.27:53) some even appearing in Jerusalem…the word “prison” also has as its root the idea of kindred, race, or tribe…now the standard boilerplate theology is this was believers that had died prior to the cross…but the verse clearly says they were disobedient…so they were not people of faith.

  19. Grace does not come through faith, faith comes through Grace.

  20. Rom5:18b “so,one act of righteousness into all men into justification of life”. I just wanted to clarify it is not “for” all men but “into” all men in my Greek intelinear.

  21. Ugwuoke George Chinonso // October 28, 2016 at 3:58 am // Reply

    The truth is that all must be saved but all are not yet saved.God is reconciling all to him through Christ. You don’t even understand what you are saying. Paul used many and all talking about Jesus and adam. He said many died through Adam sin and free gift to so many people through the grace of Jesus.You read this and you are saying another thing ok from what you are saying all human race didn’t die through Adam it was many not all that die through his sin because paul used many. Am happy because bible is clear because any thing said about Adam using many ,the many or all in the same vs he use it to Jesus.THE all and many you are saying means that you donot have understanding please please please am begging you to stop decieving people with your wrong teaching.

  22. Just wondering, if you must be a “believer” in order to be saved, then there are some people that have no hope of ever being saved. For example, the severe brain damaged people that cannot think, mentally impaired, people that do not have the mental capacity to understand the concept of “belief” or those individuals in a permanent vegetative state. Also American Indians, indigenous tribes around the world before missionaries that were never told that they were supposed to “believe” in Jesus. Also, babies and children that die before they can talk and understand.
    Also, the billions of people that were born before Jesus. Also, all aborted babies. All these people have no way to “believe” in or put their “faith” in Jesus. People with Alzheimers. They will all go to hell because they have not the capacity nor the knowledge to “believe”. Please explain.

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