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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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Norm - #6535

March 11th 2010

Peter Enns and Paul Seely,

I think Carol Hill has made some important points concerning the subject regarding Adam as Israel. Carol has published some articles on the ASA site outlining the Worldview approach and she followed those up with a presentation this past summer at Baylor University.

Here are some points she made.

• God’s first intervention into human history. The story of Adam & Eve is told from the worldview of the creation narratives of that day, but differs significantly because of the revelation of God to the line of Adam.
• Adam: First human to be given a “soul” (spirit) (Gen. 2:7).

• Sin dispensationally conferred on the human race through Adam (Rom. 5:12); similarly, grace conferred on human race through Christ (Rom. 5:15). Grace not biologically passed down because Christ is not the biological father of any of us; similarly, sin is not passed down biologically from Adam. Therefore, all humans (from Adam’s line or not from his line) fall under the dispensations of sin and grace.

(1) Historical: Adam and Eve were real historical people.

Here is a link to Carol’s Baylor presentation.


Dick Fischer - #6599

March 12th 2010

Hi Alice:

I’m not sure where “Nok” is but I know where Enoch was.  Enoch was situated at the same place where Erech was or right across the street.  Akkadian and Sumerian literature used unug and uruk interchangably.  If you locate Eridu in southern Mesopotamia and go north up the old irrigation canal across the Euphrates you will come to the city of Enoch, the city Cain built.  Look at the map on my web page:  http://www.historicalgenesis.com

Keith Yoder - #6637

March 12th 2010

Peter, you mention at the end of your post that this perspective was “widely recognized” by many interpreters ancient and modern.  I just began reading Jacob Neusner’s book “Handbook of Rabbinic Theology” (2002).  He comprehensively shows how ancient Rabbinic thought follows this same Adam=Israel structure.  Just one quote from page 310—“In line with the Torah’s narrative, Israel represents the new Adam, God’s way of correcting what went wrong in the initial creation.  The Land of Israel stands for the new Eden…the story told from Joshua through Kings matches the story told in Genesis.”  He continues developing this structure for the next 200+ pages.  So the Rabbis have been there before us.

Gregory Arago - #6759

March 13th 2010

Hi Keith,

Interesting comment from Neusner.

Would you be willing to follow-up on the issue that Pete is raising about the ‘historicity’ or ‘non-historicity’ of Adam in Neusner’s text? Does ancient Rabbinic thought accept an historical Adam and Eve or not?

There are two different issues (at least) raised in this thread. 1) the parallels between Adam and Israel, 2) the challenge to historical Adam presented by evolutionary theory.

Dr. Enns said from the top: “Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity.”

This pov has been rejected by a majority of BioLogos readers in the three threads that have discussed it. However, as a structure or parallel, many people have expressed agreement with Pete’s postion (e.g. Chaka’s #5649).

TWJ - #6791

March 14th 2010

Rick mayo - #6807

March 14th 2010

I read the original article and was struck with the supposed deductions that are drawn here. One must be careful to avoid taking “liberties” with scripture to the degree of proposing “some new thing.”
Granted, even the best hermeneutics still requires leaps of faith. However, where scripture is silent and vague…there are reasons for this.

Lastly, I found the article to be immensely thought provoking. Studying the Word of God via patterns of human behavior often leads to even greater mysteries. Clearly, if Adam represents Israel, where does that place Abraham who is the father of the faithful. A radical approach begins with Abram as he is “called out” to travel in a land he knew not. Hebrews 11, states that they didnt “obtain the promise but were sojourners and pilgrims”. This appears to break the pattern of an “entering in.”


Janice - #6828

March 14th 2010

TWJ - #6791 on March 13th 2010 wrote:  “James R. White’s critique of Peter Enns’ “Incarnational” model of inspiration ....”

Here’s more for consideration:

Inerrancy and Human Ignorance

Religious and Philosophical Reasons Why We Don’t Have Inerrant Copies

Note the word, “copies” When discussing Biblical inerrancy, it is important to remember that ONLY the original texts of the Bible are claimed to have been inerrant.

Bruce - #7110

March 18th 2010

Great article. I have learned so much on this site. I am so thankful to those who conceived of it and implemented it. Thanks to Pete Enns and the rest who stretch our understanding and help us resolve the conflicts between the literalists and the realists. The truth is there, we just need to dig for it.

Patrick M - #7644

March 25th 2010

What do you think of Meredith Kline’s view that Israel is Adam?  It’s sort of similar, but kind of the flip side of your view.  Instead of the story of Adam being used to explain Israel’s current condition, the whole covenant with Moses becomes a sort of re-enactment of the Adamic covenant of works to point people to their need of a savior.  This view seems pretty strongly inline with Paul’s understanding, and it encourages us to actually take the Bible as the true word of God.  It encourages us to conclude that God’s covenants and revelation are in fact supernatural, and not just the fallible musings of an ancient people.

ntp - #9227

April 9th 2010

And you wonder why WTS let you go?

Alice C. Linsley - #11070

April 24th 2010

Dick, Nok is the oldest site of metal working known in Africa.  It is in the Jos Plateau of Nigeria south of Kano (Kain).  The biblical text provides loads of data on the African ancestors of Abraham.

dcyates - #13298

May 12th 2010

I don’t know if anybody is still referring to this, and I certainly haven’t read every single response, so I may be both covering familiar ground as well as raising issues already dealt with, but here goes nonetheless…
Re: the content of Gen 1 - 3 (and beyond) I’ve been teaching my students in much the same way that Dr. Enns posits here for roughly the past decade. Indeed, reading this has been tremendously affirming. However, while there are, imho, undeniable parallels between the figure of Adam and the nation of Israel, I can also sympathize with those concerned that Dr. Enns reading potentially jeopardizes the more universal perspective that sees Adam as representative, not just of Israel, but of all humanity. My own proposed solution may ultimately derive from my being born and raised a Canadian—where we always seem to try to find a compromise somewhere in the middle, but nevertheless—cannot Adam be both? In the Genesis creation account God creates humanity to represent him; to act as his vice-regents to the rest of creation. In the ancient world (and we see this still today) monarchs would set images of themselves throughout their realm to indicate their sovereignty and dominion over that entire area. (cont.)

dcyates - #13299

May 12th 2010

Would this not be at least one of the reasons why God creates humanity in his image and then instructs them to multiply and spread across the earth and to exercise dominion over it?
However, although God created humans to be his vice-regents, they disobeyed and failed to represent him properly, so he started over with the flood (which, as has already been noted, is a re-creation event) and thus re-started with a ‘new humanity’ to represent him. They too failed, with intriguing parallels between Noah and Adam: both are blessed by God; both are told they are to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth;” both are then told that God has abundantly supplied them with sustenance; both were the patriarchs of three named sons, two of which being generally good but the third son being evil; both sinned as the result of the consumption of fruit (though in Noah’s case, obviously, this was in the form of wine); there is nakedness and its resultant shame being mentioned in both accounts; both contain a form of re-clothing or re-covering of the nakedness in order to restore a semblance of honour; both follow this with the cursing of the offending parties; and both end with a rehearsal of the geneaologies of the sons. (cont.)

dcyates - #13300

May 12th 2010

Again, however, humanity fails to fully obey and so God seeks to choose a single people to represent him rather than the human race as a whole. Abraham and the patriarchs lead us to the exodus which is yet another re-creation event which again results in the creation of a “new humanity” (it is in Exodus that Israel is called a “people” for the first time and whom God declares is his “son”).

flypaper - #15483

May 28th 2010

regarding post by [Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5679, March 2nd 2010]:

I work in IT.  Consequently I have chatted with a ton of Hindus (casual, moderate, conservative, secular, etc.).  One day I was completely stunned when I heard the response a man gave me after I asked him about his hometown back in India.  Excited to share he leaned back in his office chair and proceeded to tell me about is home town cultural heritage beginning with these very words:

“Well, Philip, let me tell you about the CREATION STORY OF MY PEOPLE…”
(add accent)

My jaw dropped!!  Thousands of years later and people are still using this ancient way of communicating!  Amazing.

If anyone befriends a non-Westerner I hope you will ask them about their “creation story.”


Steve C. - #15486

May 28th 2010

One comment on this statement by Pete Enns:
“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.”

If this is true, then you have destroyed the entire foundation of our faith.  Then all use of Genesis by Jesus, Paul and others are negated.  If Genesis 1-10 is simply metaphor or allegory, then we are all just a bunch of fools, as there is no sin, or fall or need for a Savior and we are all truly to be the post pitied!

However, the second Adam, Jesus Christ , will dispute with you into your eternity in hell for leading astray so many good people with your garbage!  You are to be most pitied…I suggest you repent of “taking away from God’s word” while there is still time.  How do you sleep at night?  How have you been blinded by the evil one?  Shameful, shameful…

jordan fowler - #37144

October 28th 2010

Late to the conversation on this…I just want to have Peter Enns and John H. Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One) over for steaks, ask questions and listen. Let me know when you are both available….

Mike Sullivan - #52659

February 26th 2011

The author states that there are others who hold this view.  Would he please cite those works so I can research this view?  Who was the first to propose it?  What do the creation of animals, sea, land, etc… represent?

Lance Albury - #55802

March 27th 2011

Peter Enns is approaching the Bible with a supposed elevated intellect which in reality falls short of my 13-year-old’s. He is wrong-wrong-wrong. He is unafraid to profane the Word of God. It’s people like him and Darwin that are leading people to Hell with their drivel.

Everyone beware! Read the Bible; not Peter Enns.
Russell Brown - #70514

June 18th 2012

As one of those much scoffed at non denominational Christians with no qualifications but who asked for the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus (not a triune insertion) and know I have God helping me understanding such things. I am forever bemused at the painfully slow pace in which the ‘scholars’ reach the most obvious and simple conclusions and then, fail to put what they have learnt together spiritually. Dr. Enns said: “Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity.” Adam is the beginning of Israel and Israel is the beginning of Gods dealings with humanity. Adam is a prototype of Israel and Israel is a prototype of the journey we all embark upon on our (spiritual) creation. Does anyone really need to waste tax payers money paying people to do courses to learn such Bible basics when all they have to do is repent of their sins in the Name of Jesus and ask for the Holy Spirit to teach them (Luke 11:13). Taught by men or taught by God?

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