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Adam is Israel

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March 2, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Adam is Israel

Today's entry was written by Pete Enns. You can read more about what we believe here.

For a related discussion of this post, see our recent video blog with N.T. Wright: "On Genesis 2 and 3".

For the past few posts we’ve been looking at creation in the Old Testament as a cosmic battle, and we’ve spent a lot of time seeing how that idea works itself out in the book of Exodus.

There is much more to Exodus and creation in the Old Testament than cosmic battle. I am not trying to say that cosmic battle is some magic key to unlock the mysteries of the Bible. But it does open a new window to seeing the ”ancient ways” in which the Israelites thought of creation.

It also helps us look at the Adam story from an angle that might be new to some readers here: Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity. I imagine this may require some explanation.

Israel’s history as a nation can be broken down as follows:

  • Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”);

  • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;

  • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;

  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

Israel’s history parallels Adam’s drama in Genesis:

  • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;

  • Adam is placed in a lush garden;

  • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;

  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.

There are two ways of looking at this parallel. You could say that the Adam story came first and then the Israelites just followed that pattern. But there is another way. Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins.

Everyone has to decide for themselves which of these readings of Genesis has more “explanatory power.” I (and other biblical scholars) come down on the second option for a number of reasons, some having to do with Genesis itself while others concern other issues in the Bible. Let me give one reason from Genesis.

If we see Adam as a story of Israelite origins, it will help us make sense of at least one nagging question that begins in Genesis 4:13—one that readers of Genesis, past and present, have picked up on. After Cain kills Abel, he is afraid of a posse coming after him, which casually presumes the existence of other people. So God puts a mark on Cain and exiles him to Nod, a populated city to the east. There he takes a wife and they have a child, Enoch, and Cain proceeds to build a city, named after his son, in which others can live.

Some have solved this problem by saying that Adam and Eve had a lot more children that Genesis simply neglects to mention, and so Cain married his sister. I suppose if one must, one can take refuge in this explanation. But this scenario seems a bit desperate—not to mention uncomfortable. Plus, this explanation is completely made up. Genesis neither says nor hints that the residents of Nod are Adam and Eve’s offspring. They are just “there.”

If the Adam story is about the first humans, the presence of other humans outside of Eden is out of place. We are quite justified in concluding that the Adam story is not about absolute human origins but the beginning of one smaller subset, one particular people.

The parallels between Israel and Adam that we see above tell us that the particular people in mind are Israel. Adam is “proto-Israel.”

Some might object that Genesis 1-11 deals with universal matters, not merely one people: the entire cosmos created in Genesis 1, the flood, the disbursement of the nations after the flood. Absolutely. No question there. But the point is this: after the creation of humanity in Genesis 1, Genesis 2 begins to tell the story of “proto-Israel.” In other words, Israel was not a latecomer, coming into existence only in the exodus. Israel was always there as God’s specially chosen people since the beginning.

Look at it this way. The word “adam” is ambiguous in Genesis. Every commentator notes that sometimes “adam” represents humanity (so I will use the lower case); other times it is the name “Adam” (upper case) representing one man. What does this back and forth mean? It means that Adam is a special subset of adam.

The character “Adam” is the focus of the story because he is the part of “adam” that God is really interested in. There is “adam” outside of Eden (in Nod), but inside of Eden, which is God’s focus, there is only “Adam”—the one with which he has a unique relationship.

The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

Having said all this let me take a step or two back. I am not saying that this is ALL there is to the Adam story. There are all sorts of angles one can take to get at that extremely rich and deep piece of theology. But the “Adam is Israel” angle is at the very least a very good one—and in my opinion a much better angle than seeing Adam as the first human and all humans are descended from him. Genesis does not support that reading.

This “Israel-centered” reading of Adam is not a stretch. It is widely recognized, not only in modern scholarship, but by pre-modern interpreters. And you have to admit there is one distinct advantage of this reading that readers of BioLogos will recognize immediately: if the Adam story is not about absolute human origins, then the conflict between the Bible and evolution cannot be found there.

The conflict is found elsewhere in the Bible—namely in the New Testament and specifically in two of Paul’s letters.

We’ll get to that next.

For a related discussion, see our recent video blog with N.T. Wright: "On Genesis 2 and 3".

Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

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steve martin - #5646

March 2nd 2010

Hi Pete,
Just a quick note to say that I’ve really appreciated this series. 

Also, I am looking forward to what you have to say next about Paul’s letters.  Frankly, I’d say most of us that are comfortable with the reconciliation of biological evolution and our Evangelical faith (including a high view of scripture) really aren’t that troubled with Genesis.  As you (and many others within the OT community) have pointed out on numerous times for a long, long time, the “literalistic” interpretation just isn’t tenable. 

Now the NT passages (oo, let me guess, you aren’t going to mention Rom 5 are you ) THOSE are more troubling to many of us.

Gordon J. Glover - #5647

March 2nd 2010

“Some have solved this problem by saying that Adam and Eve had a lot more children that Genesis simply neglects to mention, and so Cain married his sister.”

Actually Pete, regarding Cain’s siblings: Genesis 4:25 says that when Seth was born, God was granting Eve another son in the place of Abel, “since Cain killed him.”

So if one suscribes to the “other children” hypothesis, then the inhabitants of Nod must have been female, otherwise Eve’s statement in 4:25 would be false.  That means the first cold-blooded killer was actually afraid that his younger sisters would gang up on him!

And if one attempts to wiggle out of this by claiming the text fails to mention other sons or that it does not read chronologically, then perhaps the text also fails to mention the 14 billion years of natural history the took place after 1:1 and the days of creation are not chronological?  Hmm…


Gordon J. Glover - #5648

March 2nd 2010


My experience in debating the literalists is that they can rarely walk the walk.  I’ll never forget how shocked I was to read Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis 1 where he invents a second firmament ad hoc to avoid the obvious conflict between 1:6 and 1:16.  Huh?  I’m not allowed to add time between the days of creation but Morris can hand out firmaments like they are candy at Halloween?  Where is the consistency there?


Chaka - #5649

March 2nd 2010

The parallels between Adam and Israel are noncontroversial. What I’m unconvinced of is that readers who understand Adam as the first man have misunderstood Genesis.

These “pre-modern interpreters” you mention—do they say that Adam is Israel AND Adam is not humanity? If they say the former without saying the latter, then they can hardly be taken as sharing your reading.

Your last paragraph seems to acknowledge that Paul, at least, understood Adam as the first man. It seems that you would have to admit that other voices within the Bible share this understanding. Whoever is responsible for Gen 3:20 thought that Eve was the mother of all who live.

I’m enjoying the series.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5650

March 2nd 2010


You have Adam is Israel by way of metaphor.

What if Adam, the first Adam, means the literal first “Israelite?”

Christ, the “last Adam,” does not imply Jesus was the last man.  Nor does it require we be literal descendants of Christ or Adam.

Both Cain and the pharisees of Matt. 23 were sons of the serpent.  They were dead.  They were not sons of the living, Eve.

In typical ancient parlance, Genesis 2 says that there were mines in Havilah and a city-state named Eden.

Adam is Israel.  Adam is not humanity.  Israel was restricted to the old covenant people, a covenant that began in Gen. 1, over a thousand years before Moses.

John VanZwieten - #5657

March 2nd 2010


Are you suggesting the Gen 2&3 are historical accounts of the beginnings of Israel, or mythic accounts _about_ the beginnings of Israel?  I’m sorry if I missed something obvious in your post.

Gregory Arago - #5658

March 2nd 2010

Hi Pete,

Thanks for provoking my thoughts here!

First, I’d like to clarify: this is not ‘science’, right? I’ve no problem with that!

A couple of your quotes, followed by brief commentary:
“Genesis neither says nor hints that the residents of Nod are Adam and Eve’s offspring. They are just “there”.”

“Israel was not a latecomer, coming into existence only in the exodus. Israel was always there as God’s specially chosen people since the beginning.”

“if the Adam story is not about absolute human origins, then the conflict between the Bible and evolution cannot be found there.”

The translation I checked says Nod means ‘wandering;’ ‘land of Nod’ doesn’t imply a ‘city.’ Cain later built a city, but I don’t read ‘city’ or ‘residents’ before this.

Isn’t it appropriate to say, with Genesis 32: 28 that Jacob is Israel? There were many ‘people’ (i.e. sons and daughters of Adam & Eve) before Jacob.

How much have you consulted Christian/Jewish anthropologists about this, in addition to biblical scholars?

Comparing ‘anthropos’ to ‘adam’ & ‘Adam’ might serve fruitful too…

Gregory Arago - #5659

March 2nd 2010

...as well as Homo sapiens!

Gregory Arago - #5661

March 2nd 2010

Sorry to respond again before an answer. There are many things in your post, Dr. Enns, to address and question!

You wrote:
“Every commentator notes that sometimes “adam” represents humanity (so I will use the lower case); other times it is the name “Adam” (upper case) representing one man.”

Could we agree ‘adam’ = Humanity (upper case)? That is, *all* of Humanity (in Unity) reflects the ‘imago Dei’? (Gen 1: 27, 5: 1)

If you would contend that some (of) ‘adam(s)’ are not created ‘imago Dei’ then I forsee a great problem for such an approach.

Also, wouldn’t it be appropriate, given Gen 32: 28 to say that Israel was not ‘created by God’ but was rather ‘named by God’? Or would you say this is not different?

This also would provide an outlet for those who oppose ‘creation’ with ‘evolution.’


Lem - #5662

March 2nd 2010

I agree that the text of Genesis does not demand that Adam was literally the biological father of all humanity, anymore than Abraham was the literal biological father of every Israelite.  Abraham was the primary patriarch of Israel and Edom, but logically, other men contributed to the gene pool until it was diverse enough for the group to be endogamous.

But the following statement is problematic: “In other words, Israel was not a latecomer, coming into existence only in the exodus. Israel was always there as God’s specially chosen people since the beginning.”  Problematic, since we know that the story of the chosen people began specifically when God called Abraham and instituted circumcision.

If we lose the universality of the human race as expressed in Genesis 1-11, then we lose the narrative of human origin - division into nations - calling of Abraham - Israel’s calling and separation - the arrival of the Messiah and the subsequent reuniting of the nations under one Lord, faith, and baptism.

Norm - #5666

March 2nd 2010


I think you bring up a very important issue. Here is where my studies have led me concerning the biblical use of (adam).  An examination of how that word is utilized in scriptures points to it as indicative of covenant man or Israel. This gets to the issue of who exactly is under consideration in Gen 1:26-28 and should be understood as a collective term. It’s speaking of the covenant people Israel and is prophetic of the culmination of creation and not of the beginning of Creation. The Image of God there is speaking toward a prophetic fulfillment of the Temple creation account and has the end in sight and not the beginning.

The sixth Day equates to the coming of Messiah and the dominion exercised over all the created beings per Gen 1:28, (Gentiles are represented consistently in scripture as animals). This corresponds with Peter’s vision of the animals coming into covenant after Pentecost in Acts 10. This helps to explain the mystery of the language change from Good to Very Good as it is the ultimate consummation of God’s finished imbuing the Image of God through Christ. I realize this is a brief outline but it fits the bill when seen as Israel being resurrected from dead Adam to life in Christ the second Adam.

Mark Edward - #5667

March 2nd 2010

Incidentally, both Adam and Eve’s exile was toward the east (for the cherub is set on the east side to guard the entrance), and Judah’s exile to Babylon, in the east.

thunkofit - #5670

March 2nd 2010

So, then, Israel did not consider all human beings as made in God’s image? That was a peculiarly Israelite status?


Norm - #5675

March 2nd 2010

Often times the East indicates toward the Gentiles and symbolically puts one further away from relationship with God. The difference between Adam and Cain is that Adam was told his work symbolically would yield thorns and thistles while Cain was banished effectively back to Gentile status where his labor would yield no food. This language is all symbolic of relationship with God. Cain’s banishment effectively removes him from Covenant status with God while Adam was “dead” but still with Hope through the “seed” of Eve the “mother of all the Spiritual Living”.

Adam’s plight was Israel’s plight as seen in Ezk 37 concerning the symbolic dead valley of bones that will be resurrected through the Messiah. As Enns says Adam is a microcosm story of Israel and Israel’s story resonates with topology such as the exodus pointing to the Messianic time which is the climax of everything written in scripture.

Lem - #5676

March 2nd 2010

I don’t bring this up to score a quick point against anyone, but the kind of exegesis seen in Dr. Enns’ post is the same exegesis the “Christian Identity” adherents use to support white supremacy.  Claiming that Adam is the father of only Israel (which they believe to be the white race, prior to a massive immigration to Europe) they justify segregation from non-whites.

To say that Adam is the father of Israel only, rather than of humanity in general, makes much of Genesis unintelligible.  Clearly the author of Genesis believed that Adam was the father of all the nations, from the Midianites to the Hamites to the Japhethites, and established this with genealogies.

Norm - #5677

March 2nd 2010

The Image of God is an attribute conferred only upon those in Covenant with God as seen in the NT. Adam/Israel starts out only in the Lesser (Likeness) of God as seen in Gen 5:1. This attribute of the Likeness is found detailed for us in 1 Cor 15 where Paul describes the Covenant nature of Adam as the “natural” and mortal nature of Israel but through Christ will take on the “spiritual” nature of God being raised to eternal life.

  1Co 15:47-49 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven.  (48)  As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.  (49)  And AS WE HAVE BORNE THE IMAGE OF THE EARTHY, WE SHALL ALSO BEAR THE IMAGE OF THE HEAVENLY.

Rom 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON,
Col 1:15 He is THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, the firstborn of all creation.
2Co 3:17-18 Now the Lord is the Spirit, … And WE ALL, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, ARE BEING TRANSFORMED INTO THE SAME IMAGE
2Co 4:4 …. of the glory of Christ, WHO IS THE IMAGE OF GOD.
Col 3:10 and have put on THE NEW SELF, which is being renewed in knowledge AFTER THE IMAGE OF ITS CREATOR.

Norm - #5678

March 2nd 2010


I think you are jumping to conclusions because Christianity is built upon a spiritual relationship with God and the good news of the Gospel is that the two peoples (Jew and Gentile) are now one in Covenant with God with no racial distinction.

Eph 2:12-22 that ye (Gentiles nv) were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  (13)  But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ.  (14)  For he is our peace, WHO MADE BOTH ONE, AND BRAKE DOWN THE MIDDLE WALL OF PARTITION,  (15)  having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; THAT HE MIGHT CREATE IN HIMSELF OF THE TWO ONE NEW MAN, so making peace;  (16)  and might RECONCILE THEM BOTH IN ONE BODY UNTO GOD THROUGH THE CROSS, having slain the enmity thereby:  (17)  and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh:  …. (18)  for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.  (22)  in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5679

March 2nd 2010


Each ancient city-state had its own god, its own people, and its own law.  They had their own “creation” story.  That god and law were only for that people, the citizens.  It was for no other.

Wiseman, the original ANE scholar, claimed Gen. 1 was the pattern for all these others.  Current ANE scholars claim Genesis is a polemic against the others and follows their pattern.

Either way, you have the modern assumption that these creation stories are cosmologies.  Is that true?

Hamurabi’s Code starts with a creation story.  Why do we translate it differently than we do these “cosmologies?”  Is it fundamentally different?  Or are our modern expectations different?

We expect Genesis to be about the creation of the physical universe and all human beings, therefore we read it that way.  The ancients would have seen it as the creation of their city-state, the law and the first citizens.  Only the citizens were in the image of their god.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5680

March 2nd 2010


Claiming Adam is the father of Israel only does no such thing.  Israel was destroyed (except for a remnant) in AD 70.  The “white race” was grafted in.  So was the “black race.”  So was every other “race” of Christians.  These other “races” were the sea of Genesis 1.  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

Genesis reads rather straightforwardly with as Adam the father of Israel.  It is our modern reading that is unintelligible.  We’ve made a habit of ignoring numerous details in the text that defy any traditional reading.

Gregory Arago - #5683

March 2nd 2010


Gen 1: 27 is the first reference to ‘image of God’ or ‘imago Dei’, not Gen 5: 1.

I don’t think that your ‘Adam/Israel’ combination is yet warranted. This is open for discussion, as far as I understand Dr. Enn’s message. There may be good arguments for it, but preferably not premature conclusions. Let’s talk!

This is *much* (even MUCH) more difficult an issue for (evangelical) Christians than ‘age of Earth’!

I’d not seen the words ‘Lesser’ or ‘Likeness’ capitalized before #5677

So many natures and naturals…

Norm, how/why do you equate ‘covenent man’ with ‘Israel’? Who was Jacob to you, historical or not? Was he named Israel or not?

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