Paul’s Adam and the Gospel (RJS)

Chapter seven of the new book by Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins moves on to look explicitly at the way Paul uses Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, with emphasis on Romans 5. There is no question but that these are key passages in the dis-ease with evolution and common descent in the church. Other factors play a role, but this tops the list.

Enns puts forth an argument that Paul, in his day, age, and context, had no reason to doubt the story of Adam and Eve as a historical description of the origins of humanity. In his Christological reading of the history of Israel and his conviction from the Spirit that there was now no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ, Paul was inspired to see a universality of the gospel stemming from the universal fatherhood of Adam. The problem  and the solution at the focal point of the gospel are the same for both Jew and Gentile. It is possible, but rather unlikely Enns believes, that Paul saw Adam and Eve and the garden narrative as figurative. First century Jews did not read scripture with the literal-historical biases of modern generations, but Paul still would have no reason to dismiss a unique biological head of the human race.

The questions for us then are Does this matter? and What is Paul’s Spirit-given message?

There are several important points as we begin this discussion.

First – Christ is at the center. Paul’s preaching and teaching is Christ-centered and should be read with this in mind at all times.

Israel’s story, including Adam, is now to be read in light of its climax in the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, Paul’s understanding of Adam is shaped by Jesus, not the other way around. (p. 122)

This is one of the major points that Enns emphasizes in his book, and it is something he takes very seriously. Paul’s teaching though, is not only Christ-centered but resurrection centered as is made explicit in 1 Cor. 15.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Second – Paul was a first century Jew. Paul used the tools available to him to develop and describe his new-found understanding of the work of God through Christ.

Paul also sees death as the universal reality – and domineering enemy – of the human drama (cf. Romans 5:14). As a child of Israel’s traditions, Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma as Adam and his disobedience. (p. 123)

Paul understood that sin and death are universal and self-evident problems impacting all of humanity everywhere over all time. On the other hand …

Paul’s understanding of Adam as the cause reflects his time and place. Although Paul interprets this story in his own distinct what for his own distinct purposes, the Israelite tradition handed to him provides the theological vocabulary by which he can express his unique theology. (p. 124)

Third – The Historicity of Jesus is not at stake. The argument that acceptance of a historical unique individual Jesus, God’s Messiah is coupled to the acceptance of a unique historical Adam, progenitor of the entire human race, is total nonsense. Enns doesn’t put it quite so bluntly – but I do. The summary Enns gives, however, puts it all on the table.

Unlike Adam, Christ was not a primordial, prehistorical man known only through hundreds and hundreds of years of cultural transmission. The resurrection of Christ was a present reality for Paul, an event that had happened in Jerusalem about twenty-five years before he wrote Romans.

… For Paul, the resurrection of Christ is the central and climactic present-day event in the Jewish drama – and of the world. One could say that Paul was wrong, deluded, stupid, creative, whatever; nonetheless the resurrection is something that Paul believed to have happened in his time, not primordial time.

This historical resurrection is the singular focus of Paul’s writing and missionary activity, God’s climactic statement of his love for and presence in the world. It is the recent event that Paul claims to bear witness to along with more than five-hundred others who saw the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-8). It is the event to which Paul applies his conscious theological acumen and without which nothing he says makes any sense at all. In other words, the resurrection is not a cultural assumption that Paul makes about primordial time, as he does with Adam. It is for Paul a present-time reality, an actual historical event. (p. 125-126)

Paul “knew” Adam through scripture. He knew Jesus through his experience on the Damascus road and through the witness of the apostles and those who walked, talked, learned from Jesus during his life and after his resurrection.

Fourth – Paul’s use of Adam in Romans 5 is shaped by the argument that he is making in this letter. Enns sees this through the insights of the new perspective on Paul. In the letter to the Romans Paul is focused on making an argument for the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles in the people of God. Romans isn’t a treatise for personal salvation, the people Paul is speaking to are already Christians. Romans is an argument for the unity of the church and the inclusion of all on equal footing.

“Getting saved” may be part of the application of Romans, but if one makes it the whole message, much of Paul’s argument will be missed. Instead the focus of Romans is that the death and resurrection of Christ put Jew and gentile on an even footing. They reveal the heretofore unrealized fact that together Jew and gentile make up one people of God because they are both saved from the same plight (sin and death) by the same solution (Jesus’s death and resurrection). (p. 130)

Adam is used by Paul to demonstrate the universal nature of both the problem and the solution. The problem, Enns argues, is the inevitability of death and suffering and the universal and inescapable sinfulness of all mankind, the solution is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future hope of resurrection and new creation. To make his point Paul invests Adam with a reading that is unique to Paul, not the intent of the original author of Genesis, the way the story was read in the Old Testament, or the way the story was interpreted by his contemporaries. Paul’s approach to scripture is, however, consistent with the practices of his day and with the way the Hebrew scriptures were read and interpreted by other NT authors (see, for example, the book of Matthew).

What conclusions should we draw? There are a number of important ideas in this chapter of The Evolution of Adam. I find much of what Enns has written to be insightful and helpful. I struggle however with part of the conclusion that he seems to draw. It is enough, Enns argues, that we recognize the deep truth of the universal nature of sin and death. Paul effectively and truthfully understands and describes the solution to this problem – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of living memory in his time. I have a hard time, though, letting go of the importance of a fall in Paul’s thinking. It is not just that we are incapable of righteousness before God, but that we have corporately and universally rebelled against  God.

I agree with Enns that attempts to rescue a historical Adam through a federal headship (as John Stott did in his Romans Commentary) or description of Adam as a neolithic farmer as Denis Alexander prefers are somewhat farfetched and involve a little more contortion than would seem reasonable. This is not the Adam of scripture but an Adam of theology. Does our theology really demand it? For some the answer appears to be yes. This kind of model may then be the best way forward. I don’t agree, but I am open to listen to arguments for the theological importance of retaining such a historical Adam.

I have more sympathy (although it seems Enns does not) with a view such as that put forth by CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain that there was a real fall of some sort among the first humans, those who can be said to carry the image of God. The fall must, I think, have been foreseen by God and inevitable in his good creation. We did not derail God’s plans for his creation. And we should always remember that evil in the form of the serpent, later interpreted as Satan, was present in the Garden. However we interpret the story of Genesis 3, nothing in scripture teaches that evil and rebellion originated with humans. Whether a universal fall was the original intent of the story or not is another point to be argued. The view of Adam as Israel is also worth consideration.

I agree completely, however, with the point that our view of Adam is a secondary issue. The primary issue is Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of God. Paul’s point, and indeed the point of the entire New Testament, not to mention the preaching and teaching of the early church, is unabashedly Christ-centered. Christ is seen in everything. We can be more or less completely wrong about Adam, but as long as we are focused on Christ we won’t go far wrong.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20)

This chapter raises many important questions we could discuss. There are no easy answers I fear. A simple retreat to an ancient understanding of human origins, neglecting the persuasive evidence for an old earth, evolution, and common descent, is an option an increasing number of us find untenable. The way forward requires that we wrestle with both the science and the theology.

What do you think?

Is a historical Adam necessary to the gospel Paul preaches and teaches?

Does the view of Adam as a tool Paul uses to make an important point about Jesus seem reasonable?

Is the fall an important component of Christian doctrine and theology?

Has Enns accurately identified the problem that Christ came to solve?

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  • mike

    Looks like there’s another book I’m going to need to get. Sheesh, all it takes is money.
    I appreciate this discussion. I have some misgivings about how folks today view Adam, original sin, the fall, 7 day creation, and the like. I agree 100% that Paul’s focus was on the reality of Christ and his work in redemption history. Do I need to have an actual, living and breathing Adam at the headwaters of human history? No. But, that’s something that would take longer than a blog post to deal with. As far as your question about the fall and doctrine/theology, I tend to agree with Michael Heiser’s approach. Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of his conclusion, the arguments seem sound. His work on this can be found at:
    Thanx for this review. It’s good to know that others are revisiting some long standing positions that may need revision.

  • AT

    I really appreciate this discussion around Paul’s use of Adam but I believe a literal fall is essential. Without a literal fall, the problems of pain multiply.

    Chesterton described our world like the scene of a cosmic shipwreck where the shards of a previous hope can still be felt. I can’t help but believe that this is not the way that God created the world and I believe God gave us a ‘chance’ – human depravity and brokeness weren’t pre-written into the story.

    As for a literal Adam – I still hold to some sense of a literal Adam but also hold to a belief that he represented Israel. Some passages about Adam seem clearly symbolic and others seem more literal – so I opt for a messy blend. at some point in history there were original humans who were bestowed with human ‘souls’ and a sense of morality. These original creatures had an opportunity at relationship with God. They rebelled.

  • I think I would disagree the idea that in Adam was a literal, once for all, “fall” that has been passed down in a concrete literal way. I just can’t see “the fall” as the defining moment that God’s plan went wrong, that we screwed it all up, or that Satan thwarted the good intentions of God, requiring God to come up with a plan B.

    I believe that it has all been made to plan, that God never changes and that sin is necessary for the glory of God to be fully known.

    Can light be distinguished as such without contrasting darkness? Would we be drawn to bask in the warmth of the sun if we never felt the cold of its absence?

    Is it possible that Adam and Eve, who/whatever they are, walked with God, but could not fully know him as Love until he sought them in their shame, clothed their nakedness, and fed their hunger?

    Certainly they fell. But the fall doesn’t seem to be enforced separation from God and this his ensuing wrath passed down to all regardless of faith or action, rather it is the common experience of all and those who rise from their fall in humility and love will, with christ, be resurrected to the original fully human state, but will truly know God because they have known his absence.

  • Stuart B

    I heard a question posed to Enns recently that had me thinking.

    If Paul believed, for the reasons outlined above, that Adam was a historical description of the origin of reality, but we take it as metaphor, could he have also been wrong about the end of the world?
    If the writers of the New Testament were expecting a historical resurrection to occur within their lifetime, is it possible that their cultural presuppositions led them to this conclusion? If the origin and the fall of humanity are not based on historical events does that leave open the possibility that the eschaton and restoration is not either?

    Of course I don’t think the biblical narrative makes sense without a physical resurrection at the end. But using Enns approach, is this a valid question? How do we distinguish what is a cultural assumption and what is a historical one? (I’m asking genuinely as a layperson here!)

  • D. Foster

    Aside from the precise details of how it happened, it seems clear that the basic message of Genesis 3 is that (a.) the relationship between Mankind, God and the Earth was once in balance, (b.) Mankind did something to disrupt that balance, and (c.) Mankind is still experiencing the ramifications of that event both in our relationships to God, to one another, and to the Earth itself.

    The story of Adam and Eve is figurative, not literal. But the figure has a concrete referent: that there is something wrong with the world, aside from what humans are doing in it. “Adam’s Fall” in Genesis 3 meant something when the author(s) wrote it. What is it? I asked this to John Walton (author of “Lost World of Genesis One”) and he said that since the Bible doesn’t tell us, we just don’t know.

    I don’t buy that. This was a myth written for a bunch of simple peasant farmers, not a philosophical treatise. I’d like to see Genesis 3 dusted off and explored a little bit more.


  • Joel

    I have a difficult time understanding how a historical fall would be even possible with common descent. Is it possible that the “fall” could have been the transition to self-consciousness? Obviously, many animals display behaviour that would be considered immoral by human standards – say a wolf killing a competitor to retain alpha status. We don’t condemn the wolf; it’s necessary for the pack to survive. Would we look at pre-modern humans the same way as the wolf? If so, then the transition to our current level of awareness could be a kind of falling from a faultless state. There’s no “perfect” world in this scenario, but it could still be considered good.

  • Matt


    Thanks as always for your post. You write: “I have more sympathy (although it seems Enns does not) with a view such as that put forth by CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain that there was a real fall of some sort among the first humans, those who can be said to carry the image of God. The fall must, I think, have been foreseen by God and inevitable in his good creation. We did not derail God’s plans for his creation.”

    I share your “sympathy,” and that said, what do you make of physical death in this scheme? I do not (as I know you do not) have a problem with physical death before some kind of “fall” event, but what do you make of human physical death in understandings like that of Lewis?


  • Harald Solheim


    Very interesting post again. I am just curious why you think that fall must have been inevitable. Are you following a Calvinistic line of thought here like Nate W.#3 or do you have some other reasoning for this?

  • Has anyone read Don Carson’s contribution to this topic from 1980?

    Just thought it would be a helpful interaction with this conversation, agree or disagree.

  • AT

    #3 – I think God’s glory is still great without sin or suffering…
    When a ‘million years’ have passed in the new heaven/earth and sin/suffering has been forgotten as a memory – God’s glory will still be unfolding and it will be amazing…
    I can’t accept God inventing problems to solve them and show his glory…

  • I can see where Paul may have had no particular reason to doubt the historicity of Adam. To me, that’s not the point.

    Holy Spirit, as the collaborating author of Romans 5, knows the historicity of Adam; and for Holy Spirit to allow an inaccuracy to abound is tantamount to lying. Paul would only have been misinformed.

    So, to me, it matters a great deal whether Paul’s reference to Adam is based on historical fact.

  • Stephen W

    With regards to the how/what/if of an original fall, is it OK to simply to live with the mystery? Annoying maybe, but…

  • Joe Canner

    Joel #6: Yours is a very plausible suggestion, one which should be given some serious consideration. It is unfortunate that the word “Fall” (which is not found in Scripture) is used in the connection because it implies a descent from one status to another, when in fact there was an *ascent* to a state of higher consciousness and accountability. Genesis 2 even has a corresponding metaphor for this: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

  • Stephen W

    Mike (#11),

    There are other factual inaccuracies in scripture though, and it seems that as human authors wrote, God was unconcerned with correcting them. If we follow your argument logically, you don’t even need to get as far as Paul as surely Holy Spirit (as collaborating author of Genesis) would have made sure that the creation story was perfectly factually accurate in the first place.

  • Joe Canner

    Mike #11, So you think that the Holy Spirit should have endowed Paul with all the necessary knowledge about genetics, paleontology, biology, etc., so that he could understand why he was supposed to correct mis-impressions regarding the historicity of Adam?

    In any case, what is wrong with making a point based on a myth, fairy tale, or folk tale, without referring to the historicity of the story? We do it all the time today.

  • Richard Jones

    #4 Stuart B Hit the nail squarely on the head. If Paul was wrong about Adam then what else was he wrong about? If you accwept the argument made by Enns, Sparks among others then “nothing” would not be an acceptable answer to the question. EVERYTHING Paul said then comes under question.

    Enns is dismissive of the slippery slope argument (but not for any reason other than it brings his own reasoning into doubt, as far as I can discern). However, the slippery slope is PRECISELY what Paul employs in this same I Cor 15: “If Christ is not risen then we are dead in our sins and are above all men most to be pitied.”

    #14 Stephen W. You state blithely that “There are other factual inaccuracies in scripture though…”. What would you approximate the number of those to be?

  • Richard Jones

    Needed to add #11 Mike you state it well!

  • @AT. I appreciate what you’re saying. I certainly dont believe that God needs sin to display his glory. His glory is made known through all of creation and will be for eternity. But God isn’t just wonder and awesome transcendence. God is intimate and personal love. How could finite humans with free wills ever know God as unconditional infinite personal LOVE without ever first experiencing distance from that love? If a child is never exposed to any potential harm, how could he feel protected by his parents? If a spouse never fails to be perfect, how could he know the peace of unconditional forgiveness? If a son never wanders and never feels shame how could he know the joy of reconciliation with a father who always loved him regardless?

    If light were to shine everywhere, casting no shadows, being reflected perfectly by every surface, and if that were all we had ever experienced, we certainly would constantly see the glory of the light, but we could not KNOW it without something with which to compare it. It would fully exist, but would not be meaningful or loved.

    Does that make sense? Yes, when heaven is fully revealed in the new earth there will be no shadow, the light of God will be everywhere, but i dobt think we’ll forget the pains of life, rather we will finally see fully that those pains were precisely what enable us to bask in the rest and peace and glory of God for eternity. Having been fully experienced, Death will have lost its sting.

  • Jon G

    I haven’t viewed the Fall as a literal event for quite some time now. I tend to think of it as a way of saying that we are all self-centered individuals who choose to priveledge ourselves over God. That is what I take to be our “sin nature” (I define “sin” as “putting oneself in the place of God”).

    As we mature in our walk with God, He helps us place Himself at our center and thus we can better “Love God, and love others”.

    I believe the Fall was the Genesis author’s way of speaking to that self-centered reality…it wasn’t a one-time event, but rather a universal description of the misaligned self-centeredness in everyone.

  • holdon

    Why keep Christ and not Adam? Christ referred to his son Abel. Was Christ wrong like Paul was wrong? It seems to me too much credence is given to the slithery beauty of Mr. Know-it-all.

    If anyone can prove to me that Adam never existed, I shall believe it then. Until then I believe the word of God. Let Enns come with proofs for his allegations.

  • Stephen W

    #16 Richard Jones – the number of them is irrelevant, surely? The point being that God works with what he finds in culture in order to reveal truth about himself, not to correct factual inaccuracies.

    I think it’s worth pointing out that scripture is “inspired”, not “dictated”.

    #15 Joe Canner – Excellent point. We don’t bat an eyelid today at using fiction to communicate truth.

  • RJS

    Stuart B (#4),

    The jump from the question of Adam to the question of eschatology in general and Paul’s eschatology in particular is an interesting one. I think we need to focus here as well on Paul’s experience. Paul’s experience was with the crucified and risen Christ. His future hope hinged on resurrection which is not some far off foggy dream, but concretely realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On this, as he says, everything hangs. If Christ has not been raised we are most to be pitied. Beyond this his eschatology is rather fuzzy and “through a glass darkly.”

    I tend to like NT Wright’s view – as no one really expected the Messiah of God to come and act in the form he came and acted, so to will the end of the age be somewhat different than we can foresee … but when it comes our response will be something like: Yes, I understand now, this is how it had to be.

  • TJJ

    Great respectful and thought provoking discussion today.

    Paul does center his “christ” message around the notion of the necessity of Jesus death to save us from something. If creation was good and pleasing to God “originally”, and if mankind flows as another outworking of a unified evolution or unfolding of creation, where is the evil, the sin, the curse, the spiritual deadness?

    That is a problem for me with Enns thesis here. It is all well and good to say, “well, Paul is correct on Jesus”. But if there was nothing for Jesus to save us from, then Jesus becomes pointless from the perpective of Paul’s teaching.

    So yes, some kind of real fall, in “some sense”, to me is still necessary. and that “real fall” could well lie in the long ago ancient mist of when humanity transitioned from “animal being”, w/o concience/consciousness and God awareness, to those things, perhaps as part of a special intervention of God to give those elements if the image of God that made mankind the unique and special state of being to is is.

  • AHH

    Perhaps a helpful way of looking at the “historical Adam” question is that it comes in 3 pieces, and Enns has shown us good answers to 2/3 of the problem.

    First is the “Adam” story in Genesis, where Enns (joining most other Christian OT scholars in recent years) shows us how such stories functioned in the Ancient Near East, and that it is a serious genre mistake to read Genesis 1-3 as some kind of literal history.

    Second is Paul’s use of Adam, which Enns puts into the context of Paul’s use of the OT, where passages get pulled in to make Paul’s Christ-centered points in ways that are not proper exegesis by modern standards (but are very fitting for a first-century Jew). So, once we let the Bible we actually have adjust our view of how inspiration worked (instead of our human ideas of how the Bible should be), we see that Paul’s mention of the Adam story in making his Christ-centered point does not require us to interpret “Adam” as anything other than the typological literary figure the OT scholars have been telling us he was.

    The third and final issue Enns mostly punts on, which is appropriate since he is a Biblical scholar, not a professional theologian. This is the question of whether some sort of a “Fall” as an event in history, even if it was not one primordial couple in a garden, is necessary in Christian theology. It sounds like Enns simply says (and I tend to agree) that our plight of sin and death is the problem (with Jesus as the solution) and we don’t need to get hung up on how we got into the plight. But there is more theology to be done there, and I hope some theologians will tackle the task. One who made an effort was Prof. Schneider from Calvin College:
    which raised enough conservative ire that he was forced to retire; I hope that does not scare off others from trying to faithfully wrestle with this touchy topic.

  • TJJ

    ***special state of being that it is***

  • TJJ

    AHH #24 Excellent post, and thanks for the interesting link.

  • AHH

    While I’m sharing links to helpful articles from Calvin College profs who got in hot water for not toeing the conservative line, this one by Prof. Harlow is well worth reading:
    It has a lot of overlap with the topics addressed in Enns’ book, especially with the role of “Adam” in the OT.

  • DanO

    Joey @9, thanks for the link to Carson’s article. He has some good exegesis and interaction with Ridderbos and Morna Hooker. As Hooker states, *If we demythologize each end of Paul’s understanding of salvation history, the Fall and the Restoration – what happens to the turning-point in the middle, which is focused on the figure of Christ?* Having not read Enns book yet, one wonders if he engages in serious exegesis on this level or if it is more philosophical.

    AHH @24, thanks for the Schneider link. Very interesting especially in light of his recent departure. Hopefully we’re getting far enough away of the politics of the Calvin case to discuss the data and interpretation with less emotion.

  • DRT

    A couple thoughts..

    Without the Law there would be no sin, sins were overlooked…

    Is Paul the only one who articulated this view? For if Adam … (and Eve?) did not have a law, meaning “do not eat from the tree” then they were indeed sinless. God gave the law, the broke the law, and there are transgressions because of the law.

    Paul got it wrong about the law only applying to Moses, it also applied at the time of the fall, that is when it happened.

    A second thought… none of the other Apostles portray this sort of connection between Adam and Jesus. Clearly they had much more time to understand what is important here. They may have even heard Jesus say something that caused them to not make a connection like that. But Paul, who was quite immersed in the Jewish intellect, was probably not given instantaneous knowledge of everything when he was converted. What he was given was the idea of the relationship and acknowledgement of the truth in it.

    My point with that is that it is quite believable, for me, to see Paul reaching into his former ways to justify his new found understanding. I know this does not help the biblicist, but I don’t think I can help them. It totally makes sense that Paul would be the one.

    Now if Peter insisted on that relationship, then it would be more meaningful.

  • tom

    For me the most important question to come up in this series is that of the fall. I never bought into inerrancy but thought the bible infallible in doctrine. Now it seems an important doctrine of the western church is questionable. I must admit I never did like the idea of original sin being past down but it seems especially necessary for those in the reformed tradition. I agree with RJS about the importance of a real fall but find a group of “first humans” to be not much better than a neolithic Adam. It’s not what the author of Gen.3 or Paul was thinking of. It seems to me, no Adam no fall, although it is a problem. Something we have to live with for now.

  • Norman

    Derek @5 made this statement … “This was a myth written for a bunch of simple peasant farmers, not a philosophical treatise. I’d like to see Genesis 3 dusted off and explored a little bit more.”

    There is a whole lot of truth in what he just said. Genesis when boiled down is such a simpler theme than all the Philosophers, science gurus, anthropologist and wantabe theologians can apparently comprehend. Many of the OT, 2T and NT Jews who were trained understood this simplicity and realized it spoke figuratively about subjects and many of them grasped these concepts as they rewrote the messianic coming from various points of view over about 700 to 800 years at the most. However we Philosophers, science gurus, anthropologist and wantabe theologians can be compared to a future generation 2000 years from now who uncover the lost Aesop fables stories and start tearing them apart from each one of our particular perspectives. We end up going off on tangents that completely miss the simple stories that were the primary focus of the original intent. There would become endless debates over this ancient civilization that would develop such a literature with such bizarre imagery.

    It simply cannot be determined that Paul was such a simpleton that he thought Adam was the story of all of humanity. He was as well trained a Hebrew as you would ever find and these are the ones that continually revised and enhanced this literature for over 500 years passing it down to each generation with differing variations of the Jewish experience flavoring it as it moved toward the time of Messiah.

    These elite Jewish scribes knew full well the analogy and metaphorical construction of Genesis because John in Revelation takes Genesis and picks up the Satan as beast and the woman story right where Genesis left off. In between Genesis and Revelations during 2T times there were many takeoffs of Adam and Eve and how to understand their Garden experience from the Jewish only perspective. They knew Adam represented Israel’s origin theologically and not the origin of humans. The Jews didn’t have a clue to the origin of humanity and didn’t waste their time with exploring it except to place it in God’s hand.

    Paul understood Adam as Israel’s progenitor primarily and understood that Israel represented humanities opportunity for moral righteous living. First with God and secondly with each other. That is what Christ taught first and foremost and is why we need to stay focused upon Christ.

    Until we get back to the simple understanding of Genesis that the Jews like Paul viewed it, and leave all the science, philosophy and anthropology out of it we will never grasp its prime meaning.

    And yes RJS, I do write long post; and for a reason because sound bites when discussing theology in depth are “bout as worthless as teats on a boar hog”. 😉

  • phil_style

    @DRT, #29 “Paul got it wrong about the law only applying to Moses, it also applied at the time of the fall, that is when it happened”

    Thanks for this, I wondered when we were going to get onto Paul’s introductory treatise in Rom5!

    Can I just put my hand up and say that to me, Romans 5 makes no sense whatsoever. I can’t get my head around what Paul is on about here. A lot of the individual verses/statements hold up, but when put together the whole sequence reads like some Kafkaesque nonsense.

    Take, for example:
    Rom 5:12 – ALL have sinned
    Rom 5:12 – but sin is not taken into account when there is no law… (so, not all have sinned?)
    Rom 5:14 – In the period prior to the law, some did not sin (they never broke any command) yet they still suffered the consequence of someone else sin (death through adam)
    Rom 5:15 – seems to indicate universalism (grace extended to he many who had died)
    Rom 5:18 – one sin actually did condemn all to death (so have all sinned? or were they suffering in spite of not sinning?)
    Rom 5:19 – seems to hint at universalism again
    5:20 – the law was added in order to INCREASE sin? really? This seems to be clear support for Nate’s comment (#3) which AT pushes back against

  • Norman

    Paul didn’t get it wrong by stating the Law only applied to Moses because that is not what he says. You have to follow this difficult section through Rom 5-7 and even chp 8 and focus upon Paul’s complete articulation of the Law going back to Adam. In fact if you don’t realize that this whole section’s ground work is laid at the feet of Adam and the Law (Israel’s first forefather) then you have missed a significant portion of Paul’s concepts. Paul makes the point that the lineage of Adam to Moses were under the curse of the Law until Moses when the Law was increased to demonstrate fully the futility began with Adam when he received the commandment and trespassed.

    Rom 5:14: Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam … 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase…

    All men fall under the curse of the Law because Adam as Israel in covenant was to represent all humanity as Holy Priest to the world. There is no other recourse for humanity except through a covenant walk with God as established first with Adam/Israel. Their failure brought in the opportunity for Christ to redeem Adam/Israel and thus all mankind’s opportunity to be reconciled to God by putting away the Law which goes back to Adam.

    When Paul speaks of all men he is juxtaposing the singularity of humanity at large to find redemption and life in the way that was lost via Adam and the Law. Adam started out good but the “law” did him in and therefore any person by their dependency upon self-righteousness. Paul comes back to Adam in Rom 7:9 when he is found speaking as a “member” of Adam/Israel’s “body of death” (vs24) and reflects back to the Garden scene again to restate what he said earlier in Rom 5:12-13.

    Rom 7:9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. … 24 A wretched man I [am]! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death (hint; the body of death is the corporate body of Israel from Adam not an individual Body. This is illustrated by understanding the body of Christ which replaced the “body of death”.)

    Rom 5:13 says essentially the same thing that Paul is reiterating in 7:9, that in the Garden Adam was not charged with sin until the law was manifested and brought his fall and all who strove under this concept of walking with God.

    Rom 5:13 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.

  • holdon

    Re. “Paul got it wrong in Rom 5”

    I maintain he didn’t get it wrong. From Rom 5:12 a new section starts that deals with sin as a principle and the state of sin that man is in. Up till 5:12 Paul dealt with personal guilt and sins (plural), the deeds of sin, and how through the propitiation of Christ sins have been put away and the love of God is poured into the believer: man is at peace with God.
    From 5:12 Paul deals with the fallen state man is in: sin as a principle reigning in the human race. It was not originally so, through Adam’s sin all his posterity acquired the sinful condition. Original sin can mean 2 things: 1. Adam’s act 2. Sin as a condition (a principle) that affects all. Everyone sins (commits the deeds), because everyone is in that state (they are sinners). As apple trees produce apples, sinners produce sins (plural).
    Until the law came (Moses’ law), sin could not be really measured (nor restrained). But the sinful condition was already there; proof: they all died. Adam did not have Moses’ law and it would have been nonsense to him: ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife’ or ‘thou shalt not steal’, etc.. but he had a command uniquely to him which he transgressed. But even those who had no law (until Moses) they died, so they must have been sinners.
    So, once the law came sins (the deeds) could be counted and attributed to persons to prove them of their guilt. Sins are then called “transgressions” and thus the law “increased transgressions”.
    One sinful act (of Adam) affected all: they got afflicted by the sinful condition. So, one act of righteousness (of Jesus on the cross) avails all for a justified life. Because as the single act of disobedience of Adam was so powerful as to constitute many sinners, so the single act of obedience of Chris can constitute many righteous. The reign of sin (the principle) can now be broken by the reign of grace.

  • Norman

    Ok, let me summarize in an overview what Paul is saying beginning in Rom 5:12. Paul is bringing us to the Garden where the commandment was first given. The commandment and the Law are tied together in that they both represent the same essential mindset of attaining righteousness on one’s own merit. As Paul makes clear if we pay attention in Rom 5 and 7 is that originally in the Garden when Adam was created and placed in it that one’s sins were not counted against him. Read it again and in Rom 7:9 also because that is the pristine reality of Garden life with God; in that our sins are not counted against us.

    Rom 5:13 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

    Rom 7:9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.

    The moral of the story is that our human effort just would not hold up when the attainment of righteousness was left to our own human mortal effort. Thus the reason for the Heavenly effort that comes from above in the form of Jesus Christ to reestablish us back into Garden life as God planned for His faithful people.

    If we also notice carefully we see that plural sins are covered in Garden life; but the problem was what is called singularly “the Sin” bringing “the Death” which is separation from God. “The Sin” is specific to an effort through a commandment or Law to uphold our own righteousness just as Israel fell into extensively.

    Rom 5:12because of this, even as through one man “THE SIN” (my emphasis) did enter into the world, and through “THE SIN THE DEATH”; and thus to all men THE DEATH did pass through, for that all did sin;

    Since there was no more Garden life for any man until Christ then there is no more coverage for our “sins” even though they abound in every man. We know though that we are back in the Garden through Christ because once again our “sins” are not counted against us when we place our faith in the faithful one. We are not depending upon our own “works of the flesh” but instead we rely upon the Grace of God to not hold our “sins” accountable against us. That is what Adam and the faithful lost in the Genesis 2-3 story. It is not about original sin except in regard to the commandment/Law being considered as “The Original Sin” that threw a monkey wrench in the Garden works.

    If we continue over into 1 Cor 15 we see Paul explore Adam and the same problem again and he concludes his understanding with this strongly illustrative statement that boils all of it down into a nutshell.

    1 Cor 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and THE POWER OF SIN IS THE LAW. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    He again restates that the problem that Israel and those of faith encountered going back to Adam was because they did not have a humanly sustainable manner of remaining in Garden life with God and thus lost their eternal life and hope until Christ reconciled it. This is why the doing away of the Old Law was of paramount importance to Christ and the Apostles as its destruction signaled by Christ Death, Resurrection and the sign of the 2Temple destruction were evidence to the faithful people of God that any form of law would never again be a means of attaining a walk with God.

    It was “The specific Sin” regarding life through the Law that Paul spends large amounts of time trying to explain to his audience of its defective nature. Thus the reason for them to come out of the Law and live life through the Spirit instead. See Rom chapter 8.

    Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

    Paul never says that this was the first evidence of a sinful nature in man but actually recognizes the sinful nature of man and explains how God brings us who are naturally sinful back into that right Garden relationship with God. No Dr. Phil or philosophy needed to understand what Paul is espousing because he like all of us recognized our innate human nature of sinfulness. Paul is applying Genesis from a typical well trained Hebrew perspective with the added benefit of a close encounter with Christ himself to drive home Genesis 2 & 3’s points. We are back in the Garden if we are in Christ.

  • RJS


    I won’t complain about length as the thread is a day old and comment has tapered off.

    However, it would help if you would add some qualifiers to your statements – such as “it seems to me that …” or “a likely interpretation is …”. Many of the interpretations you put up are interesting to think about – but are not widely accepted, so a little wiggle room is a good idea.

  • Bev Mitchell

    #24Thanks AHH for the reference to Schneider’s article. You are right, he picks up where Enns leaves some slack on the theology of the ” fall”. His article was apparently too challenging for Calvin College, but it is a great read and makes some important points about our reliance on Augustinian ideas when some earlier church fathers (and Eastern Orthodox theologians) may serve us better as we confront the excellent evidence flowing non-stop from science. I see he is now at Notre Dame working on a book that hopefully will further develop his ideas. A note on a recent Templeton Foundation Workshop that he apparently organized give a bit more info.

  • Norman

    RJS, I appreciate the advice to be a little more equivocating in tone. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether people tune you out because you are less self-assured or whether you come across as too assertively confident. The content of what a person presents should be the determative factor in the long run.

  • DRT

    Folks, I hope to brush up on my Roman’s 5 this evening and into tomorrow so I can participate in my “he got it wrong” rebuttals. Thanks.

  • DRT

    phil_style#32, to get warmed up I cracked open Wright’s everyone commentary on Romans and in these passages he is forced to say that Paul is thinking faster than he is writing. He is making part of a point, then jumping ahead, then going back and filling in some part, then picking it up again, all through just 12- 17. This is so much fun!

  • DRT

    A working hypothesis to throw out there (in an older thread), there was no law pre-fall, and then, there was one law that god made, do not eat from the tree. We failed. Then we are in the pre-moses time (what is this time called, Abrahamic?), and there still is the law to not eat from the tree of good and evil.

    Now, since I am not a biblicist, I don’t take it as a literal tree, so to me, the “not eating from the tree of the knowledge of G and E” must mean something like, don’t try to trust in yourself, trust in god, right?

    So in the pre-moses times Paul says there was no sin, and was not counted against them, but there was a law, and that law was to trust in god. So that is why I say Paul got it wrong. They did have a law. That law was, to trust god and live in paradise. To follow the natural law, which Paul says elsewhere, should have been known to people, but was not.

    They could not follow the natural law, too vague. So god gave them the law of Moses. Now, what is this law? This law takes away the ambiguity in the natural law and makes it clear what they must do. Remember, the original law was, in my argument, to “trust in god and do good things to others, i.e. don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of G and E”.

    So now, the people have a law that is specific about what they must do, they got it from god and it was reiterated a couple times in the text so they know that they have a valid and accurate law, so they must follow it.

    But they fail.

    So we have a very general law, no eat fruit, then a overly specific law, walk between parts of animals, and based on the three bears story we must be ready for the one that was just right, right? (in the future they will wonder whether i thought the three bears were real or allegory…)

    We needed to learn that it is not about the obeying the letter of the law. We had a nebulous law, and then a specific law, Jesus came and showed us the one that was jut right, love your neighbors and god.

    I feel this is a big component of The Story. We have it right there, the vague law, the overly specific law, and the one that is just right.

  • tom

    DRT thanks for bringing up Wright’s comment about thinking faster than writing. Its a good way to look at this passage. I was thinking Paul is like a preacher with a general outline in mind but speaking off the cuff and not doing any revision. The confusion is the result of an anacoluthon – interrupting a thought and resuming it later. In this case Paul breaks off a contrast between Adam and Christ to clear up a point about the law. These compere/contrast statements have a structure of “as through….so also”. Paul starts v12 with the as through but never gets to the so also.
    Paul uses the word law in many ways but I think in this context he means the Mosaic Law. Adam’s sin is called a transgression or trespass. It could not be a breaking of a law not given yet.

  • phil_style

    @DRt, #40, thanks for noting Wright. I’m still going to throw my hands up and say the following:

    About 15 years ago, when I was a teenage, Romans made sense to me. I put all the text together in a nice “argument”. Now I just can’t get my head around it! How odd that something that was once “obvious” is now almost incomprehensible to me. 😉

    There are parts of the Biblical texts that are really odd to me. I would once never dared say that, but now I cannot help but be honest about this.

    That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading it and talking about it though.

  • phil_style

    @DRT, your comment at 41 is a winner too.

    I would go slightly further to say that the reason the third law was the perfect law was because it provided us with model to imitate. (Paul is big on imitation)

    In the words of Girard “We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires”. If we are to desire what God desires, surely being shown what he desires via the incarnation is the perfect solution?

  • Norman


    I think everyone who gets serious about studying Romans comes to realize the difficult manner in which Paul starts a discussion and goes off on rabbit trails only to come back and close out his argument later on, perhaps even a chapter later. You have to be aware of this and probably should outline his sections like chp 5 thru 8 to grasp his contextual flow as he does have one.

    I would also recommend a diversity of Romans commentaries and may I suggest this most recent one which IMO is one of the more enlightened ones you can find. It’s by Tom Holland and is called “Romans the Divine Marriage.

    Here is an excerpt pertaining to our discussion concerning Paul usage of Adam.

    “The suggestion that Paul is taking the part of Adam is supported by the unfolding argument of the letter. Chapter 5 described the fall and chapter 6 showed how the fall could only be reversed when the solidarity with Adam was cancelled. The chapter also showed how this was done through the creation of a new humanity, which was brought into existence through the death of Christ when the Spirit baptized its members into union with their Savior. The remainder of chapter 6 was an appeal to the redeemed community to live as servants of God. The opening of chapter 7 reviewed how the authority of Sin was brought to an end for the new covenant community through the representative death of its head, Christ, the last Adam. “ pg 232

    As I have stated before that Paul is tying Israel to Adam and the Mosaic Law, and to its inception with Adam as the problem that brought “spiritual death” (separation from God) into the equation. Again you should be able to see this clearly in Rom 8 where Paul concludes and boils it down to getting rid of the Law which is bound to the “spiritual death” of Adam taking it all the way back to creation in Genesis. Again his further explanation in 1 Cor 15 makes it logically clear that “death” is a byproduct of the specific sin of Law breaking. Adam was the first “law” breaker and the Mosaic Law was added in order to demonstrate the futility of that kind of mindset toward reconciliation toward God. Adam’s story IMO is simply a microcosm of Israel’s story.

    1Co 15:56 The sting of DEATH is sin; and THE POWER OF SIN IS THE LAW:

    On another note you discussed the breaking of the commandment to not eat of the tree of “good and evil. IMO Paul addresses this very issue in Chap 7. I would suggest that Paul is breaking down the concept of the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil in this following section. It ties in well with his earlier discussions of Adam and how the commandment and law both bring about a unique sin related to people of faith who want to be in harmony with God. This explanation of Good and Evil appears to be Paul’s concept of why the commandment of Adam and Mosaic Law failed those who chose works of the law instead of Grace as a means of reconciliation with God.

    Rom 7:18-21 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. FOR I HAVE THE DESIRE TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT, but not the ability to carry it out. (19) For I DO NOT DO THE GOOD I want, but THE EVIL I DO NOT WANT is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, BUT SIN THAT DWELLS WITHIN ME. So I find it to be a law that when I WANT TO DO RIGHT, EVIL LIES CLOSE AT HAND.

    I propose Paul has the Hebrew concept of Good and Evil from Genesis in view above and clearly favors Grace over the Law that found its first inception with Adam.

  • holdon

    “So in the pre-moses times Paul says there was no sin, and was not counted against them”

    If you can’t read and listen to what Paul says precisely, you have delivered yourself up to your own imagination. You can keep on saying that Paul got it wrong and misrepresenting him. But that doesn’t mean you are right.

    Paul does NOT say that there was no sin in pre-Moses times.

  • Norman

    Holdon, I believe you may be missing the timing of when sin was not held accountable in Rom 5:13.

    Rom 5:13 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.

    This is a common oversight in my opinion because Paul writes with assumptions in mind that he expects his audience to recognize, however he doesn’t necessarily anticipate western minded Christians as his immediate audience relevance.

    The Timing of verse 13 corresponds with verse 12 in regards to Adam’s receiving of the first commandment/Law pre-fall. Paul is inferring that only Adam did not have sin counted against him while in the Garden and before he was given the command/law. This also is testimony that Paul doesn’t really see Adam as the first Human because he infers that while Adam was in the Garden natural sin was in the world just like it is today. And just as it is today when we are in Garden existence via Christ sin is not held against us, even though natural sin is in the world.

    Paul doubles up again on this point when he reaches Rom 7:9 where he again takes us back to the Garden scene and speaking as a member of Israel under Adam’s death curse he makes a statement that should gain our attention.

    Rom 7:9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but WHEN THE COMMANDMENT CAME, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very COMMANDMENT THAT WAS INTENDED TO BRING LIFE actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, DECEIVED ME, and through the commandment PUT ME TO DEATH.

    We should all realize that from Adam to Moses that death from Adam’s curse still reigned as Paul says so in Rom 5:14 Nevertheless, DEATH REIGNED FROM THE TIME OF ADAM TO THE TIME OF MOSES.

    So Paul IMO could not be saying that any Jew, Patriarch or Gentile was alive and not under the curse before the Law of Moses was instituted, in fact he makes it clear that no one was alive after Adam was booted out of Garden life. The only way to understand Paul coherently IMO and other scholars as well is to realize that Paul is speaking as a member of Israel’s body of Death taking the collective group of humanity back to Garden existence and the pre fall of Adam when only then he was alive. Then the commandment came and then he died and all were collectively under the spiritual “death” curse of Adam.

  • holdon

    Norman #41,

    “Holdon, I believe you may be missing the timing of when sin was not held accountable in Rom 5:13.

    Rom 5:13 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.”

    I don’t know why this is so difficult to understand. See my post #34.

    Of course sin was in the world from Adam on. That’s what Paul is arguing in Rom 5.
    The Law simply makes transgression known = measurable = can be put to your account. I.e. “you stole from me”. But even those without law (living in “lawlessness”) do sin of course. V14 says simply that those sinners (pre-Moses) did not sin LIKE Adam did (because they had no explicit commandment like Adam had gotten), but they still sinned. Because they all died they were thus proven to be affected by the same “disease” (=sin).

    Death is not be understood like in Eph. “dead in trespasses and sins”, because that’s being dead before God, which we cannot necessarily observe. In Rom 5 it simply means death as a proof: none of those since Adam is still alive.

    To recap:
    The law reveals the sinful state of man: Rom 3:20; 4:15; 5:13; 5:20; 7:7,8; Gal 3:19.
    The solution for sins (plural = the deeds) is forgiveness through Christ’ blood.
    The remedy for the sinful state of man is “death”. When someone dies, the law has no longer any say over him. In dying with Christ the believer is raised up in a new kind of life.

  • Norman


    We’re talking past each other I believe.

    Sin was in the world prior to the Fall and before Adam’s expulsion from the Garden is my point. Sin being in the Garden is drastically different from what you are presenting. DRT and You IMO are both erroneous in certain aspects (but not all) of your theology regarding Paul in Romans.

    Everyone agrees that sin continued as it does today, however Adam in the Garden when first established by God and before the commandment (or a specific Law) was given did not have his sins counted against him. Paul is making the same arguments in Romans 5-8 that he is in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2 regarding spiritual death. He simply doesn’t change gears in the NT IMO. The result of the loss of spiritual life leads to physical death being our ultimate ending fate if we are not restored to the Garden life that Adam enjoyed for a brief moment before it all went bad. The loss of the gift of eternal life is what Adam suffered until the time of redemption.

    The Jews like Paul didn’t understand Adam’s death as physical but metaphorically about spiritual separation from God. Look at How the Jewish 2 Temple book of Jubilees frames Adam’s death 200 years before Paul but which was still popular with the Jewish Crowd in the first century.

    Jub 4:29 … Adam died, … And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; for ONE THOUSAND YEARS ARE AS ONE DAY in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written CONCERNING THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE: ‘On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.’ For this reason HE DID NOT COMPLETE THE YEARS OF THIS DAY; FOR HE DIED DURING IT.

    Notice the metaphorical usage of dying within the 1000 year Day. This was Jewish numerology illustrating symbolically that Adam didn’t make the eternal 1000 year Day, however John in Revelation says that those who were in Christ attained a 1000 year life span. Nothing literal about it but purely symbolism based upon 1000 as equaling eternal life that was lost via Adam’s fall. (1000 is simply a literary symbol that the Jews understood) These stories illustrate the backbone understanding of 2 Temple theologies of the Jews in which Paul and the Apostles pulled from. They didn’t limit themselves like we do to just what we find in our protestant bibles.

    If we really want to understand Paul better we need to become conversant in the broad spectrum of the literature that was available to Paul and his contemporaries. Otherwise we are struggling with one arm tied behind our back with no one but ourselves to blame, IMHO. 😉 Again these stories are much simpler when we realize the nuanced message that they understood.