10 thoughts on “Historical Adam and Paul’s Christ”

  1. And WOW: this is one of the most helpful theological sketches of how we can keep all of what we know of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ as revealed through scripture while rethinking how we understand human origins and what scripture says about that. It doesn’t resolve all the cognitive dissonance between 1st C. and therefore New Testament acceptance–including that of Jesus himself–of the “historical accuracy” of the Genesis story of human beginnings, but it does help us focus on who is most important in God’s purposes and action in history.

  2. Daniel,

    You said: “The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam

    If Paul was merely making “assumptions” about significant details like that, then this really calls into question Paul’s theology as a whole. At that point, why believe Paul’s testimony that Jesus literally arose from the dead? It would be like a scientist assuming the earth was flat and then proceeding to build a scientific ‘theology’ on top of that. Even if he got gravity right, he’d still be embarassingly wrong, and surely other errors would flow from that wrong assumption. (e.g. speaking of a “new creation” and “resurrection” are really nonsense if creation has been fine all along)

    So if that’s the case, at most we could only say Paul was a good thinker, on par with your own scholarship, but we could not say his writings were actually inspired by God.

    1. I wouldn’t say it calls his theology as a whole into question. I just means that he was a Jewish man living in the first century. The idea that Paul shared an assumption (note the word, it’s not arbitrarily chosen!) and that he is faithfully recounting his experience of the resurrected Jesus are two very different kinds of statements. I share the assumption with most folks that the earth is round. Honestly, I’ve never been far enough off the earth to say for sure. I also can see two chickens pecking at the ground outside my window right now.

      The argument of the article is that Paul argues backwards: “new creation” is the starting point that helps him see just how wrong “old creation” was, for instance.

      What Pal has done with Adam is precisely what 2 Tim 3 says one should do with scripture: before that bit about it being inspired, he says that it has a goal: giving us wisdom for salvation in Christ. This is the purpose of scriptural inspiration, and what Paul does exceedingly well!

      1. Nick is exactly right. Paul didn’t simply use the story of Adam as a meta-narrative that illustrates his point of Jesus’ work on the cross. On the contrary, Paul uses Adam’s sin as the requirement for Jesus’ atoning work. If there was no Adam and no singular moment in history when rebellion and death entered in, then there is no need for Christ’s atonement. That man on the cross, which does define reality, is an event necessitated, according to the entire Bible, not just Paul, by a historical Adam historically sinning and thereby bringing rebellion and guilt into the entire race. If the Bible is wrong on the basis of our predicament, then it is also wrong on the solution that it presents. In other words, if there is no Adam at the head of our race that introduced a global rebellion, then the problem that Paul says the cross solved, doesn’t actually exist – at least not in the way that the Bible frames it.

        Regardless of how Paul uses Adam in Genesis, I am still amazed how many theologians try to reconcile some form of Evolution with biblical origins, since evolution is inconsistent with the way the Bible presents origins and reality. Either evolution is true and the Bible wrong, or evolution is wrong and the Bible is true. If we cannot trust the Bible to frame man’s identity and the problem of man’s existence properly, then we cannot trust that the Bible presents the correct solution.

        Evolution assumes that death is a normal part of the process, whereas biblically death is the great enemy of man’s existence that was brought on by sin. According to evolution, “transitional species” leading to man would have died for millions of years before a man “sinned.” If God “created” by evolution then death is a normal part of existence and is not the great enemy that bible presents it to be. It is not abnormal, but completely normal. Once you stray from biblical origins on Adam, the whole thing really does fall down because the rest of the Bible is solving problems that don’t really exist in the way the Bible says they do.

        This is to nothing of the fact that evolution has massive, gaping holes in it as a theory. No part of their system is proven other than adaptation within a species. There isn’t even a compelling scientific reason to disregard the bible on the matte of Adam’s appearance. Evolution, of the kind that creates man from an ape over millions of years, remains a house of cards – a theory that is only given any attention because it gives man a way to explain himself outside of God. Not because it is rational and certainly not because it is proven. To use it as an argument to destroy biblical foundations that ultimately do cause the atonement to fall down is to trade the inspired revelation of Scripture for nothing more than a theory that will, soon enough, be proven empty and shallow. How foolish will we look then if we make the Bible bend to something that isn’t even true?

  3. Thank you so much! I hope you will continue to share your insights on your blog from time to time. You’ve no idea how helpful it is for ordinary punters like me who seek to obey Jesus as a member of God’s new creation family in a polarised world.

  4. Excellect summary of the “understanding Paul’s Adam” problem. Let us hope that more and more professors and pastors join Denis Lamoureux, Peter Enns, Daniel Harlow and you in the near future in “retelling the narrative about the origins of humanity as we now understand it in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.”

  5. 1. One might also ask whether an exact moment in which “sin’s guilt and power” are destroyed is required; I suppose the one is needed to bookend the other.

    2. Can we say that origin stories, ancient or modern, are designed to describe or answer (or teach or enforce) “how things are”, with “what happened” being only a naive human rhetorical method…? (Of course “what [actually] happened” has a special place in Modernist causal thinking, but the past is a very slippery place in informal daily conversation. Not to be depended on.)

  6. You made these two interesting statements:

    #1) “Thus, for example, might there be room here, not for a physical, natural progenitor of all subsequent human beings, but for a person who was chosen by God from a developing or, at any rate, numerically numerous, human race to play the role of representative in obedience and disobedience?”

    #2) “There seems to have been death in this world millions of years before human beings came on the scene.”

    As to #1 this seems similar to the Moral Influence Atonement Theory. It does seem most reasonable to read the genealogies in Genesis 1-11 as a chain of kings (ie messiah’s) rather than genetic parentage. Matthew does the same thing when he assembled the genealogy of Jesus. So I agree that Adam’s disobedience was not purely the propagation of a corrupted DNA. This was like when moltmann said that our fallen nature isn’t like contracting AIDS. However, John Calvin even seems to consider original sin to be similar to a plague, which affects people physically and consequently spiritually and leads to death. As if Adam had contracted a plague that had corrupted all men. I liked that you held to Romans 5 in that it was one individual that was the cause of all.

    This statement also seems to be [semi-]pelagian, because Pelagius denied original sin, and thought that all men were born innocent, (hence no infant baptism), but then they become sinners later by engaging in sin by moral failure. I remember much of the counter debate against Pelagius focused on Psalm 51:5, and interpreted that verse to mean that we are born with a physically and spiritually corrupted nature, such that even before we commit out first sin, it is our intention from birth to sin, and when we sin, even though not in the same way as Adam, we are only exposing who we really are by nature… such that we are guilty before we even sin. Similar to Jesus’s teaching that desiring to do sin, is sin, even though we haven’t physically committed adultery or murder, etc.

    In #2 this proof relies on a presupposition that death had occurred for millions of years before Adam, such that death had an independent existence before Adam existed, so death couldn’t be the result of Adam’s disobedience. Although death appears to have been in process long before Adam, Paul in Romans 8:18-25 indicates that all of creation is frustrated in bondage due to sin. So I don’t think that the scope of the fall was limited to man only. I think it affected all things, including wild and unclean animals, and the ground bearing thistles and thorns. So even if death had happened logically ordered before Adam’s fall, it seems that Paul believes that all death, decay etc are resulted from the fall in genesis. Maybe its a presupposition that the result of sin must follow the sin, where it may be fine to say that it is illogical yet still true that the death before adam is a result of adam’s later sin. Maybe I’m too influenced here by Karl Barth’s logos asarkos, his incarnational christology et all.


  7. I sure wish Paul would have realized the truth of what you suggest was the truth about his interpretation of Adam. Alas, he doesn’t seem too. More’s the pity.

  8. I don’t understand why it is necessary to posit that Paul assumed Adam to be historical and that, therefore, a historical Adam must have existed in order for Paul’s theology to be valid.

    Even in Paul’s argument, Adam is a representative figure. Why can’t Adam have been intended by the Genesis writer as a representative figure? Adam could very well be the same sort of figure the serpent was. None of them have to be historical. Paul is explaining how the story works in light of Jesus. Why assume Paul assumed a historical Adam?

    Jesus claimed that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer before he entered his glory and inherited the kingdom. Does that mean that Daniel’s vision was of a historical Son of Man? Shall we also imagine historical beasts on a Mediterranean beach?

    “Adam and the Son of Man are different,” you might say. We all know that the Son of Man was simply a representative figure in Daniel’s vision that Jesus was using to explain his own story. Adam was not the same sort of figure. He was REAL. He was HISTORICAL.

    But maybe he wasn’t. And maybe he was never intended to be understood that way. And maybe Paul never understood him that way.

    Just thinking out loud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.