A Conversation about Paul’s Adam (RJS)

A Conversation about Paul’s Adam (RJS) October 4, 2012

We’ve been looking at the question of beginnings from the perspective of the early church fathers using Peter Bouteneff’s book, but it is also useful to listen to what contemporary Christian thinkers have to say about the question of Adam. This 5 minute clip comes from the new BioLogos film From the Dust directed by Ryan Pettey.  The film is intended as a conversation starter – and is aimed at a Christian audience addressing the questions that many Christians wrestle with when it comes to science and the Christian faith. Few questions raise more problems than the question of Adam. In this clip N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, Chris Tilling, Michael Lloyd, and David Wenham comment on the question of Adam – Paul’s Adam in particular.

N.T. Wright opens the clip with a look at Romans and the way Paul  uses Adam in the book of Romans. The thrust of the clip is that we have to look at Adam and Paul’s use of Adam in light of the story of Israel. Paul’s use of Adam is not a scientific statement – it is a theological statement. Paul’s theology does not depend on his scientific understanding. All five of the theologians featured in this clip express the idea that we need to put Paul’s use of Adam firmly into the Jewish narrative – not into our modern scientific categories. Jesus is the faithful one, the truly human one.  Anyone who is in Jesus the Messiah is truly human.

How important is Adam as progenitor of the human race to Paul’s use of Adam?

What was Paul doing when he contrasted Paul and Adam?

From the Dust is available for purchase from Highway Media or from Amazon, ($20 DVD, $25 Blu-Ray).

A study guide for From the Dust has been prepared by David Vosburg, associate professor of chemistry at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. The guide was developed especially for use with college students, but can be used with a much broader group.

If you would like to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

"I totally agree with the premise of this article, and it addresses the whole "church ..."

Why Worship Services Are So Boring
"Yes, we are each responsible for our own worship. But...Is it possible that, to a ..."

Why Worship Services Are So Boring
"disappointing to see American politics be a lens through which some of the comments seem ..."

How New Is The New Testament? ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • CGC

    Hi RJS and all,
    You always raise good issues and guestions. It seems to me that Paul’s main thrust is speaking about two worlds or realms of existence. We are either in the sphere of Adam or the sphere of Christ. The problem is Augustinian original sin and biological connections (genetics) are read ‘into’ the story that has huge effects on theological interpretation. On the other hand, it seems to me a far stretch to say there is no connection at all in Paul’s Adam theology for Adam being the first man or the first human who helped bring about a fall or sin into God’s good creation. Adam is certainly spoken of as “one man” in relation to the “one man” Jesus in a kind of Hebrew parrellel form. I suspect taking an overly literalistic view which says that is all Scripture is talking about and nothing more is one extreme. I also suspect that taking an overly symbolic view that there really is no concrete aspect to “one” but it’s all symbolic is going too far in the other direction as well. Concrete reality and highly representational imagery are used throughout the early Genesis material. Paul has the freedom of theologizing or using this material in ways that best fits his context and audience (there are some overlap like Israel and a Jewish context) but there are some differences as well.

    If Paul’s theology did not depend upon science, should ours? Maybe the best approach is to simply discuss the meaning of Adam and Eve in creation in Genesis and how Paul understands this material from his own unique context. Rather than trying to “fill in the blanks” because of modern science with concepts like “federal headship” (which is probably foreign to both contexts) or Paul was the first human representing a larger tribe or Paul is figurative for the first tribe of humankind is a kind of filling in the blanks because of Science that the biblical texts do not do themselves. We can maybe say we are speculating in trying to fill in details for understanding what the Bible does not really address or we can be like Paul and simply let our theology stand without depending upon science?

  • scotmcknight

    I cannot see this video… that true for anyone else? I popped over to Chrome and the video appears in Chrome.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    The video worked fine for me . . . I have finally overcome my computer difficulties but now it looks like others are experiencing technnical difficulties. Could this be a high tech conspiracy? 🙂

  • John

    Very intriguing remarks by Michael Lloyd and N.T. Wright at the end of the video –

    Lloyd – “… Therefore, it seems to me just natural that Paul would speak of Jesus as a new Adam, because here at last is a human being doing what Adam was called to do but didn’t…

    NTWright – “… Jesus is the truly human one, and anyone who is in Jesus the Messiah is truly human …”

    Wondef-full theological statements, but not science.

  • SCP

    It’s that darned poisonous Apple again!

  • Norman

    The earliest first century commentary upon this issue appears to be the Barnabas Epistle (last third of first century) which agrees with Wright that what Christ brought what was the fullness of being created in the image of God. In 1 Cor 15 Paul lays it out in more detail when he explains the problem/contrast of being relegated to Adam’s image which is our natural human condition. He says that we (faithful are being changed from one form of humanity into the higher form. If we look back on Genesis 1:26 and filter that prophetic declaration through the lens of God’s intent to create the natural man into His higher Image then perhaps we grasp the creative process that is imbued pertaining to our walking in the standard of spiritual living. I would also venture that this is not talking biological application but spiritual oneness for a faith minded embracing. Adam being placed in the Garden was the first attempt but due to his inclination and all humanities inclination to walk in a legalistic mindset it was determined that law keeping was not the way to go for God’s people. Paul highly develops this problem in Romans 5-8 where he explains that Adam/Israel represented this approach but through Christ we walk through the spirit and not the flesh.

  • Intriguing video! I don’t think theology ever *depends* on science (comment #1). I think we’re reaching a point where theology and science may be viewed as allies, not adversaries. We all know that archeological science has been a good buddy to the Bible (e.g., many scoffed at the idea of historical Hittites and then, bam!, an entire Hittite kingdom was discovered). Why cannot many Christians even allow the idea that creationist evolutionary science may be a friend as well?

  • @RJS “Few questions raise more problems than the question of Adam.”

    Don’t forget the flood.

    Wright (1:15) points to “the big picture of Genesis..the whole problem that started way back.” McGrath calls Adam-Christ “representative figures” of what went wrong, and what was rectified.

    After all the anthropomorphics are stripped away (King of Tyre as Satan, personifications of evil, etc..) I’m convinced that Gen 3:5 is pivotal to understanding that we are called away from dualism-as-truth – that understanding reality in terms of “good and evil” is backwards. Jesus embodies “one truth, undivided, unchanging” as flesh and blood, not dualistic propositions. Our tendency to embed truth into transient things or dependent ideas (any thing or idea subject to division or change) is the root of suffering described at the core of most spiritual traditions I’m familiar with. The idea of God is not God. The idea of holiness is not holiness. Any idea we can fashion about the divine is based in some kind of dualism (good-evil, etc.) and will ultimately fail. I suggest that grasping dualism as truth is Adam’s failure, overcome in Christ.

    At 4:55, Wright gives a nod to one of my favorite sayings, from Hans Rookmaaker: “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian. Jesus came to make us fully human.”

  • Who is that dashing, intelligent, witty young man appearing in that video a couple of times?!

  • Rodney Reeves

    @Chris 9,

    I think that was a picture of Adam.

  • RJS

    John #4,

    Whoops – I missed Lloyd in my description of the clip. I will have to correct that.

  • I just finished “The Evolution of Adam” by Peter Enns, a great book (especially considering it was written by a Yankee fan.) Enns uses the analogy of the traditional Christmas pageant. Many churches reenact it every year yet many elements we include are not in the Bible and some elements are just incorrect interpretations of the Scripture passages. Yet many times pastors will you use elements of the pageant to present theological truths.

    I was recently reading 1 Peter 3:5-6:

    “5 It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you. ”

    There is a significant problem with this passage. Nowhere in the Old Testament does Sarah call Abraham “lord.” However, according to Peter Davids, there was a very popular book during the first century called The Testament of Abraham. Davids writes, “Here Sarah is depicted in terms of an ideal Hellenisitc wife, an illustration that serves Peter’s purpose.”

    Peter was a pretty smart guy. I suspect he knew that the Old Testament did not say this about Sarah. But he pulled from the common stories of the time in order to make a theological point. I strongly suspect that something like this was going on with Paul and his use of Adam. Paul was a smart guy and knew what was actually in Genesis. But he also knew what was in the common stories of his day and the ideas that had built up around them. He used those to make his point.

    Paul’s point was about Christ, not Adam. He employs Adam as a contrasting tool to clarify his understanding about Christ, not as a means to say much about Adam, except in the sense of Adam as “every man.” The historical “facts” about Adam were not that relevant any more than “facts” about Sarah were relevant to Peter’s purposes.

    That is where I am today. Check with me again tomorrow. 😉

  • Bev Mitchell

    Great questions, great answers.

    I will push back a bit on John L (8) with respect to dualism. I probably just misunderstand you John, but there is still a spiritual battle going on, and God did not create evil to oppose his will. This leaves us with real rebellion. As far as humanity is concerned, rebellion probably began when we developed to the point of being able to understand something of God’s self-revelation. It was defeated by the perfect obedience of Christ, who did live as a human being should and was resurrected (recreated) to become the perfect union of spirit and flesh that was intended all along. So, the opposition to our spiritual growth is real, it comes from the evil one, and we are defenceless against it, save for the work of the Holy Spirit to whom we must always yield.

    I agree, “Jesus came to make us fully human” is such a rich truth. And, the hope for a fullness of creation was there at the beginning, again with Adam, again with Abraham etc., and fulfilled with Christ. It remains a hope for the rest of us, because we still wrestle not against flesh and blood. Yet, through the Holy Spirit the hope can be partially realized, and, because of the Resurrection, it will be fully realized when Christ returns.

  • DRT

    Forgive me if I use these words and concepts incorrectly, my amateur status will show through. Also, I have cannot see the vid until this evening.

    I think the assumptive ontology of us actually existing in certain states leads to the problems we see with Paul. To me, Paul’s terms are not describing us as entities, but our relationship with god and others. Adam’s relationship to god vs. Jesus relationship to god is central. Adam’s relationship actually does exist whether Adam did or not.

    Norman starts to hit on this, though I still don’t like Norman’s category of spiritual. All of our living is spiritual, it is just a question of our relationship to god or others that differs.

    John L. #8 really hits close to the mark for me. We tend to instantiate ideas into reality when, by their very nature, ideas are ideas. The dualism mindset then casts that in concrete and we start to believe in substantive qualities for things that are relational.

  • Patrick

    Paul speaks of Adam as he does Jesus though. Yes, Jesus is The authentic human and all in Him share in what all that means, so Jesus is reality and representative, 2cd Adam. I can’t see how Paul is using the 1st Adam differently. Paul appears to see both a real human and representative of flawed humanity in Adam.

  • Dan Arnold

    Michael (#12),

    Interesting thoughts but I don’t think that Paul or Peter would, by and large, see it this way. In Genesis 18:12, Sarah does indeed use the term adonai, meaning “lord,” when referring to Abraham and translated as “husband” in most translations. In the LXX, it is translated kurios. A more common term in the Hebrew Scriptures is ba’al, which I suspect you have heard in other contexts. In the context of marriage, however, it is usually translated as “husband” but it also means “lord.” So Peter is taking a common scriptural understanding of the relationship between husband and wife, one in which the husband really was lord over his wife (or wives) and using that to support why/how a wife is supposed to submit to her husband.

    Likewise, Paul seems to treat Adam as an historical person in the sense that Paul understands history. For me (and I haven’t fully worked this out to my own satisfaction), I can not see Paul as having the same understanding of history that we do, post-enlightenment. i have read enough ancient historians, from Suetonius and Josephus to Eusebius and a little bit of others, to see that they did not think of history in the way we do. (Lets not even go into Philo and Origen, who really treat history quite differently.) Although purely speculative, I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul (and definitely some in his audience) would not have thought of Romulus and Remus as historical as well as Adam. So you have in 1 Corinthians this odd story (and I think this supports your perspective, Michael) about the rock, who was Christ, following Israel around in the Exodus. Is that history? What Paul’s culture would have called history, we would probably say is conflated with myth (and many would say it in a rather pejorative way, which is not my intent). Either way, to think that Paul’s understanding of history and historiography are the same as our own seems quite anachronistic.

  • DRT

    Patrick#15, I am curious what you mean by “I can’t see how Paul is using the 1st Adam differently”. Do you mean that you don’t see something in the text there that signals he is using Adam differently, or do you mean that you can’t see how that is even conceivable?

  • John L

    @Bev “…there is still a spiritual battle going on, and God did not create evil to oppose his will. This leaves us with real rebellion…the opposition to our spiritual growth is real, it comes from the evil one, and we are defenceless against it”

    You may be right Bev, but I just don’t see much point in being concerned about “spiritual battles” or “the evil one” or “opposition to my spiritual growth.” It all seems like some kind of religious shell game from the dark ages. In context of this conversation, I see Adam as the creation of religion, and embrace Jesus as freedom from religion.

  • Norman

    Just as a reminder, my definition of spiritual will always be scripturally defined. In the OT Ezekiel says it will be replacing a heart of stone (tablets written on stone) with hearts of flesh. Paul in2 Cor 3 explains the concept.

    Bev, I would suggest that Christ has established already what was lacking in Adam’s/Israel’s world. We have full justificaton through Chist as the 2nd and last Adam: but I could be mistaken.

    I have often used the Romulus & Remus example to point out how history is portrayed in the ANE. They obviously represent a real historical origin since Rome didn’ just appear out of thin air, however I doubt the validity of being raised as sucklings from the she wolf 😉

  • Thanks Dan. I’m not an original language person. It’s all Greek to me. 😉 I was aware of the Gen 18:12 verse by that seems like very thin material from which to fabricate Peter’s argument. Here is more of what Peter Davids says about 1 Peter 3:5-6:

    “At this point Sarah is used as a specific example of the “holy women” who “hope in God.” The terminology changes from “submitting” (hypotasso) to “obeying: (hypakouo), and it is specifically said that she called Abraham “lord” (Hebrew ‘ adonai, Greek kyrios = “lord/master,” “husband” or “sir”). Only once in canonical Scripture does Sarah use this term regarding Abraham: “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Gen 18:12). This statement is a disbelieving response to God and indicates no particular submission to Abraham. While Sarah agrees to several requests from Abraham outside of Genesis 18:12 (see Gen 12:13; 20:5, 13), she does not use the term lord on those occasions, nor is her obedience to Abraham mentioned anywhere in the Genesis narrative. On the other hand, Abraham is explicitly said to agree to Sarah’s requests in Genesis 16:2 and 21:10-12. In the end, therefore, the information in Genesis, in both Hebrew and Greek, does not appear to support the behavior Peter is commending in Sarah, making it unlikely that he is referring directly to Genesis 18:12

    But we do find Sarah frequently using kyrios when referring to, or addressing, Abraham in extracanonical Jewish works such as the The Testament of Abraham (roughly contemporary with 1 Peter). In this work especially, kyrios is used by Sarah to address Abraham (usually “my kyrios Abraham”), although only in casual or solemn discourse, not in contexts of “obedience.” This reinterpretation of Genesis accords with other Hellenistic Jewish literature from this period. For instance Philo “indicates that Sarah’s Obedience to Abraham (or vice versa) was a matter of some discussion among biblical commentators in the first century.” Philo looks on instances where men listened to their wives as bringing a curse, using Genesis 3:7 as his prototype. Josephus argues in one place, “A women is inferior to her husband in all things. Let her, therefore, be obedient to him; not so that he should abuse her, but that she my acknowledge her duty to her husband; for God has given the authority to the husband.” Influenced by their culture, these authors developed creative ways of dealing with texts in which women (Sarah in particular) gave instructions that their husbands heeded. They might allegorize the woman so that the man would be heeding virtue rather than a woman, or minimize the woman’s (Sarah’s) role altogether, or alter the passage by inserting elements on which the text is silent.

    In light of these contemporary ways of presenting the Genesis texts, and given that what Peter does say does not fit the Genesis narrative well, it seems most likely that in his reference to Sarah he is utilizing material known to his readers from these contemporary Jewish sources. Here Sarah is depicted in terms of an ideal Hellenistic wife, and illustration that serves Peter’s purpose. Christian wives will be Sarah’s “daughters (i.e., among the holy women) if they are also good Hellenistic wives and emulate her (Greco-Roman) virtue (that is, do good and refuse to fear). The refusal to fear would apply specifically to the displeasure — and the consequences it would bring — of their non-Christian husbands and Greek society regarding their involvement in the Christian faith.” (Peter Davids, “A Silent Witness in Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1-7” in Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis,Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 231-234.)

    So as Davids notes, other than this incidental use of “lord” in Genesis 18:12, there is nothing distinguishable about Sarah from any other biblical woman as a model of obedience. There is something extracanonical going on here. I fully agree with your second paragraph. That approximates my thinking as well.

  • #20 was intended to respond to Dan at #16

  • Norman

    I might remind that Paul’s alligorical use of Gen 2:24 regarding Christ and the church shed’s some light on the use of the husband wife application.

    Also Hosea 2’s prophecy toward Christ is instructive.
    LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’

  • Bev Mitchell

    John (18),

    OK, but the problem of evil is still one of the greatest barriers for those who have yet to believe in God/Christ. A theology that makes God the author of evil is, to say the least, problematic. A theology that ignores the existence of evil ignores the obvious. It’s a horrible topic, I agree – who could like it? But then, evil’s results are truly horrible. We may not have a clear explanation for it, but it must be recognized, if only because of how it messes with our walk.

    There are many good books on this problem, as you undoubtedly know. But, if anyone is interested, one good place to begin is “The God I Don’t Understand” by C.J.H Wright. In a subsection entitled “Where did evil come from?” Wright begins “It is when we ask this question that our problem begins.” A bit later he says, “What then can we say about this mysterious source of temptation that led Eve and Adam to choose to disobey? It was not God – evil is not part of the being of God. It was not another human being -evil is not an intrinsic part of what it means to be human either. ……… It was something from within creation – and yet it was not a “regular” animal, since it “talked”. …… Whatever the serpent in the narrative is, then, or whatever it represents, it is out of place, an intruder, unwelcome, incoherent, contrary to the story so far.”

    Norman (19) Without a doubt I agree, “We have full justificaton through Chist as the 2nd and last Adam”. My main concern was to point out that, once we accept the complete work of Christ as the undeserved gift that it is, we still have the need to grow in grace, become sanctified, to work out our salvation, to have the Spirit formed in us daily, and to an ever greater degree. We are the still weak link, certainly not the Holy Spirit. There is opposition, from within and without, to our spiritual formation. Hence, we are indeed in a spiritual battle. Redeemed, but still in need of redemption.

  • Ben P.

    I’m not sure if NT Wright has changed his views or not, but this is what he wrote in “Romans” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X, p. 526 —

    “Paul clearly believed that there had been a single first pair, whose male, Adam, had been given a commandment and had broken it. Paul was, we may be sure, aware of what we would call mythical or metaphorical dimensions to the story, but he would not have regarded these as throwing doubt on the existence, and primal sin, of the first historical pair.”

  • Dan Arnold

    Thanks, Michael, for your response and for the quote from Davids’ book. That’s actually really interesting, in a geeky sort of way. 🙂 I’m not very familiar with much of the second temple literature but it makes sense to me that it would portray wives calling their husbands “lord” (or “owner”) given the use of ba’al for husband in the Hebrew Scriptures. We see this in Gen 20:3 in relation to Sarah and Abraham, which was what I originally thought 1 Peter 3:6 was referring to. To me this all highlights the struggle I have in seeing the alien-ness of the text yet at the same time, trying to have it make sense in my contemporary context without importing various anachronisms.

  • Dan #25

    “… in a geeky sort of way.”

    Hey, geeky rules at Jesus Creed! 😉

  • I really don’t see what the enigma is unless someone is suggesting that a “real” Adam cannot fit the science narrative, but I think we might be premature to issue that edict, we are not scientist, and half the time they rewrite their own data as it evolves anyway.

    I consider that when Angels fall, or sin, they do it individually, where-as when Adam did it, it became a collective event…in Adam ALL die…and this perhaps is why science cannot find the narrative they are working with broken DNA…we have 23 strands of DNA…what if when Adam fell we lost 1? What if we lost the “God strand”??? And Jesus puts it back?

    In essence Paul is claiming that Jesus, like the first man, has the power to remake a collective species through his obedience, and in fact this makes the resurrection the greatest act of creation in the history of humanity…this Paul will witness in other letters…

    If there is any enigma to the concept it is in the idea that both creations happen to inhabit the same body of skin, which Paul addresses later in Romans.

    I did find some rather arrogant assumptions in the video, the idea that Paul would be victim to a “flat earth” concept suggest that he has not read his Bible or believed when he did, the idea that he was “sophisticated” is assuming we know more than he did, and perhaps of hard cold surface data, we might, but truth always trumps the facts, science is the best demonstrator of this vignette, it was man science that gave us the flat earth concept in the first place, NOT the Bible…but even Pythagoras believed in a round earth (there are plenty of ancients that held to a “ball” shaped earth)

    I think one of the difficulties we have with this stuff is we view it all from our own time-line, we forget that Romans had serious eschatological influences since Paul wrote it before the empire fell…there is a “new world order” sort of commentary running throughout the entire book because Paul possibly saw the persecutions and fall of Rome in the not so distant future…that’s why he had to go to Rome in the first place, like Jesus who needed to “die in Jerusalem” the Saint needed to sow the martyrs victory in the heart of the beast, Rome itself.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Paul had both a Hebrew and a Greek way of looking at things. We often forget the former and overemphasize the latter – that’s just the way we are in the West. But we miss so much when we do this, as the New Perspective writers are so right to point out.

    The way we look at things, our framework, the box we work out of, sets us up to miss other ways of seeing things. This is practically impossible to escape, but it is possible to take it into account and to try to understand how something might be viewed otherwise.

    I’ve just begun reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ wonderful new book “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning”. Just reading up to page 73 provides one of the best presentations available of the differences between Hebrew and Greek thought that have so often confused Christian theology and practice. And this, the good Rabbi clearly shows, is especially true when we consider why western Christianity, perhaps particularly strongly reformed protestant Christianity, has so much trouble at the boundaries of science and faith. I cannot resist passing along the following quotes, and a strong recommendation to read this book (fairly priced e-version available). It would make a great follow up to the Bouteneff volume that RJS is currently taking us through.

    Speaking of the momentous advances in Western science in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries – the times when “the great arch stretching from Jerusalem to Athens began to crumble” -, Sacks says this:

    “We think of these as shaking the religious worldview of the Bible, but in fact they were something else entirely. For it was the Greeks who saw the earth as the centre of the celestial spheres. It was Aristotle who saw purposes as causes. It was Cicero who formulated the argument from design. It was the Athenian philosophers who believed that there are philosophical proofs for the existence of God.”

    “The Hebrew Bible never thought in these terms. The heavens proclaim the glory of God; they do not prove the existence of God. All that breathes praises its Creator; it does not furnish philosophical verification of a Creator. In the Bible, people talk to God, not about God. The Hebrew word da’at, usually translated as ‘knowledge’, does not mean knowledge at all in the Greek sense, as in a form of cognition. It means intimacy, relationship, the touch of soul and soul.”

    and a bit later,

    “People have sought in the religious life the kind of certainty that belongs to philosophy and science. But it is not to be found. Between God and man there is moral loyalty, not scientific certainty.”

  • #Mark #27

    “I really don’t see what the enigma is unless someone is suggesting that a “real” Adam cannot fit the science narrative, …”

    The traditional Adam story as we have come to know it doesn’t fit the science narrative but there were issues with Adam and the Creation stories that extend back to the early church and to early Jewish writings. The science questions simply resurface difficulties that have always been there.

    We say Adam is the central player figure in our sinfulness. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures introduce Adam in Genesis 2-5 and we never hear of him again until Chronicles (at the end of the Jewish configuration of Scriptures) where no mention is made of Adam’s sinfulness, and in fact seems to have a place of honor at beginning of the genealogy . If a historical individual named Adam is so central to the sin and redemption story, the problem to which Jesus is the answer, why is their zero mention of him? I think the most likely answer is that a historical individual named Adam wasn’t the issue. The issue was that human beings are sinners in need of Christ. That is the subject Paul is addressing. The Adam story was Paul drawing on a widely shared imagery of primordial events in order to clarify the universal importance of the very real and present risen Christ. I suspect there were other ways Paul could have made his point but be drew on this approach, not because of its historicity, but because of its rhetorical power.

    If interested, I would suggest Peter Enns’s book, “The Evolution of Adam.” It is a fairly quick engaging read that gets the issues out on the table without offering a simple resolution.

  • CGC

    Hi Michael and Mark,
    I like what you both are saying 🙂

  • Norman

    I think Bev’s post pointing out the difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking is critical to many of these issues. Science and Western philosophy tend to go hand in hand whereas Hebrew Biblical concepts are rather simpler and straightforward. I have noticed that when I interface on science and religious forums that the science types tend to extrapolate their biblical world view through philosophy and science first instead of first determining what the scriptural Hebrew context really says (this is a generalization of course). In other words they are strong on Philosophy but weak on scriptures which causes many problems even though they often are well trained logically.

    I would also say that I tend much more strongly to Paul’s writings reflecting a robust Hebrew mindset and very limited Greek influence. Greek influence tends to just be window dressings and the Jewish comfort with taking the surrounding ANE concepts and reworking them into their framework is common. They did so extensively in Genesis written well before heavy Greek influence, by incorporating the creation, Adam and Eve and Flood accounts into their own framework by reworking them into their theology. The Greek influence can be found in 2nd Temple literature such as Enoch which had a significant effect upon the early Christians including Paul. However as I said it’s more peripheral window dressing as the Hadean realm is appropriated to enhance the dilemma of Sheol and the Pit from OT jargon. Paul extensively reflects a Hebrew mindset; especially in Romans where it has been established how extensively he pulled from the OT. Scholars get overly enamored IMO with trying to pin too much Greek influence upon Paul and the early church. However it does start to dramatically affect the post first century church and we are products of that hybridization today.

  • #29 Micheal…

    I suppose it would help us all if we knew whether Paul was using “Adam” as a proper name or as the generic description in Genesis 1:26…

    Again, in complete agreement with Bev here, our Western use of words and syntax is heavily Greek and linear, where as the Hebraic model perhaps is speaking in metaphor and Paul might be using Rabbinic language…

    Rabbi Johanan interprets Adam’s name as being an acrostic of ashes, blood, and gall (the initials of these words make the name ADAM)…

    So the question hangs is Adam a proper name or a metaphor and the answer is yes…

  • #32 Mark

    I don’t agree. I think Paul is clearly using Adam as a proper name but I think that is irrelevant. Two scenarios:

    1. Adam was a historical person who at a place and point in time committed an act that led everyone into sin, necessitating redemption in Christ. Paul is simply recapitulating the historical facts and explaining the solution.

    2. The Jews are expecting national salvation. They are God’s people and maybe if they are more faithful, God will turn his eyes toward them again. Jesus comes. He lives, dies, resurrects, and ascends. Salvation from oppression, sin and death are proclaimed. But he reveals salvation has come to everyone, not just to Jews. Paul looks for a narrative that will make this shift powerfully evident to his audience. He reaches back into the primordial stories of the Jews (just as Romans might do with Romulus and Remus) and sees that by employing the imagery of Adam as the prototype human he can present the biblical narrative in a way that makes clear Jesus’s significance and our unity in Christ.

    I sense you are saying something similar to #1 and I’m saying #2. In both cases, Adam is a proper noun.

  • Well I see your point, but I don’t think its irrelevant to suggest Paul might be using both a proper name and a metaphor for humanity…he was after all writing to both Jews and non-Jewish believers in Rome…it would be relevant to identify that through one specific human humanity was tossed into the gutter then likewise (Using a common Rabbinical contrast tool) through one man salvation comes to the many…

    Odd that Paul will say sin entered through one MAN, the Genesis narrative has the WOMAN eating first, obviously Paul is either making a case that Adam had already decided to break covenant (1Tim.2:14), or he is using “man” as an umbrella clause to cover ALL of humanity that is trapped in the DNA of one family…

    I think both positions are valid and its a bit Greek of us to demand “either/or”…

  • Norman

    I would add to this conversation concerning Adam, that Genesis and almost all OT and 2nd Temple literature has a theological intent but also a surreptitiously political and cultural agenda as well. That is why many of these writers were persecuted and martyred due to their challenging the status quo of Israel’s priestly and governing hierarchy. This message is veiled but it’s clear when seen through the lens of time and completed fulfillment of the expected Messiah.

    There is also enough second Temple literature before Christ which more vividly illustrates the Jewish concepts surrounding the Adam character. He is projected as a first person, but essentially a first person of the covenant establishment that fostered Judaism. He is often shown to have been plucked out of the realm of the pagan world and illuminates what Israel’s purpose was in a microcosm. I don’t believe the authors of Genesis had any idea of the true historical identity of their Adam character but logically they were correct in assuming that there was a first Jew so to speak who broke covenant by disobeying a commandment/Law. This distinctly demonstrates Adam’s link to Israel first and foremost and also to all humanity that attempts a humanistic methodology to manage their relationship with God. That is why Adam brought death not only to the Jews but represented all humanity from Paul’s concept of a Covenant failure of the first truly human as Wright might say.

    Paul spends a significant amount of time in Romans 5-8 developing this concept surrounding the Adam character and actually personifies himself as Adam/Israel to illustrate the point. Paul inserts himself as a Jew back into the shoes of Adam’s Garden fall to drive this point home. Paul was fairly loose with his Adam/Israel constructions.

    Rom 7: But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

    I don’t think Paul limited himself the way we might have because he treated Genesis quite allegorically and so to box him in too much may be overstepping our knowledge of Paul’s concepts. It does leave open the opportunity to creatively explore Paul and the ancient Christian mindset but I have noticed that modern scholars coalesce around the “thought for the day” until the next best idea comes forward in which they pile on again. It’s a gradual collective massaging of the evidence I guess.

  • Norman #35

    Any specific resources you have found that engage the Adam question well in terms of Second Temple Judaism? I was just getting ready to read “The Genesis of Perfection” by Gary Anderson.

  • Norman


    The Book of Jubilees is a good start as it is a 2nd Century BC rework/commentary of sorts expounding upon the Adam story and its implications. However you really need to have some Hebrew connotations under your belt or a lot of what is being presented will go over one’s head as it’s clearly an apocalyptic form of literature. One of the concepts that help is to read the Book of Enoch section called “The Animal Apocalypse” (Google it) which acquaints the modern reader of the Jewish penchant to portray peoples and especially the Gentiles using animal characters. This will clarify why and how Genesis is using animal characterizations to draw distinctions between Adam as a covenant creation separate from the Gentiles. The animals really are not about literal animals at all and illustrates why Peter’s vision in Acts 10 of the animals reflecting Gentiles is simply a Hebrew mode of illustration that a Jewish audience should be familiar with.

    At the end of Jubilees 3 when Adam is kicked out of the Garden along with all the animals (and the animal’s mouths are shut) he is instructed to offer sacrifices for his sins and for the animals. This parallels the Jewish feast days in which the Jews were also to offer sacrifices up for themselves and for the Gentiles utilizing 70 bulls. The use of animals denoting Gentiles and beast denoting rulers of nations (see Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation) is a common descriptor found in apocalyptic literature.

    Other instructive ancient writings that are more difficult to pinpoint their dating is the “Book of Adam and Eve” and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” to mention just a couple. These pieces illustrate Christian/Jewish concepts of Adam that were common to the first century period. Their value is not authoritative but illustrative of the manner and liberty that Jews and the Early Church took toward Adamic applications. If you read enough of this type of literature you can see perhaps better the mindset that permeated the times of Paul. This bears on my point of not becoming overly simplistic and dogmatic toward our understanding of Paul’s mindset/worldview. The important thing to notice is that 2nd Temple Judaism was just as freewheeling with Adam as the early Christians were. So when we state that the OT rarely mentions Adam after Genesis it’s really not accurately portraying the Jewish concept as having forgotten the Adam character, as there is plenty of literature that keeps him alive. Also Genesis description of Adam and Eve is obviously apocalyptic in nature just as much of the 2nd Temple literature is, this illustrates its common application style which tells me that Genesis literature has more in common with apocalyptic 2nd Temple literature than how it’s generally perceived by the common reader.

    Lastly, one of the missed threads found in 2nd Temple literature that projects a coming messiah is the disgruntled concern with the structure and institution of 2nd Temple Judaism. The various messianic and groups that make up the Jewish people of the period were not monolithic in any stretch. A common thread of the literature often as John J. Collins points out is an anti-2nd Temple institutional bias (not all Jews were fond of the rebuild Temple). There was deep dissatisfaction with existing Judaism as it was being crammed down the throats of the Jews. Of course that is also much of the theme of the OT itself which portrays injustice under the hand of corrupt priest and Nations.

    Thanks for the heads up on “The Genesis of Perfection”, I will want to check it out.