While perusing Romans, I found that most of the questions I could have asked strayed too far into the arena of theology. However, I finally stumbled across some verses that caught my attention in a more literary way. Romans 5 raised a question in my mind about the function that Jesus served within the context of the solution of salvation, so to speak. Romans 5:18-21 states:
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So the question I ask is this: Does Jesus Christ serve as a sort of deus ex machina in this scenario? First, we must establish what function a deus ex machina serves within literature. Deus ex machina is defined as being “a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” Or, as this website shows, the attributes of a deus ex machina can be delineated through a few key points:
2.) Deus ex Machina are sudden or unexpected. This means that even if they are featured or referenced earlier in the story, they do not change the course of nor appear to be a viable solution to the plotline they eventually “solve”.
3.) The problem a Deus ex Machina fixes must be portrayed as unsolvable or hopeless. If the problem could be solved with a bit of common sense or other type of simple intervention, the solution is not a Deus ex Machina no matter how unexpected it may seem.
In this case, the problem that requires solving is the referenced transgression of Adam: his failure in the eyes of God perpetuated the dilemma for which the arrival of Jesus must provide a solution. As the above requirements state, Jesus does not worsen the situation in any way, and indeed, his sacrifice can only improve things for the plight of those who are condemned through sin. So in that way, Jesus does serve as a solution for an otherwise hopeless problem; as stated throughout the New Testament, salvation is impossible without Jesus Christ. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that the transgression of Adam can be made right. So on those points, Jesus does fulfill the requirement of being a deus ex machina.
However, one of the stipulations of deus ex machina is that it is sudden and unexpected in its arrival to solve the problem. There were numerous prophecies that foretold the arrival of the Messiah long before Jesus’ arrival. Although some doubted Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah, the concept of the Messiah itself was a long-held belief of the time. So in that way, Jesus does not fulfill the stipulations of being a deus ex machina.
As demonstrated, although Jesus does not fulfill all of the requirements for being a deus ex machina figure within Romans, he does meet a surprising number of those requirements. This is also interesting because the concept of deus ex machina had its origins in the ancient Greek theatre and was popular amongst both Greek and Roman plays, so in some ways, it was a contemporary of Jesus’ time. While Jesus does not match every single one of the requirements in order to be a deus ex machina, I do think it serves as an interesting device in illustrating the way in which he provided a solution for a perceived problem.