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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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Brian Thomas - #5686

March 2nd 2010

Dr. Enns,
Very thought provoking. This makes sense, especially as Adam is the first toledot leading to the formation of Israel.

Could you please recommend some references for digging deeper, especially the pre-modern interpretors you mention? Thanks.

Pete Enns - #5687

March 2nd 2010

My, my. I walk away from my desk for a few hours and I am mobbed. It’s nice to be noticed.  Let me begin some interaction here and I will come back to it later today to tomorrow.  Chaka 5649: A very good point. AIt is generally fair to say that ancient interpreters did not think of an either/or but both and. I am suggesting an either/or (although, I hope all can see, I think the conversation is important and we can all learn a bit from each about this). Jeffry 5650: I think Adam does mean “first Israelite” literally, but as the Israelites understood their own origins. In that sense, follow John 5657, I am saying that Gen 2-3 is not historical but mythic, symbolic, archetypal (to pick up on Walton’s language). I know there are differences between these labels, but I am not going to go into that now.

Pete Enns - #5689

March 2nd 2010

Greg 5658: You are right. It is better to refer to Nod as a land rather than a city. I was conflating there. As for the symbolic name of the land, yes on that too, but the fact remains there are people there. And yes, too, Jacob is Israel BUT—and I am not just “Adam happy” here: Jacob is an Adam figure—so are Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ. They all represent new beginnings for a people. For Christians, only one of these was obedient—even unto death. Also, all humans are imago dei—and this happens in Gen 1, not 2. Greet points, by the way.

Gregory Arago - #5691

March 2nd 2010

Please forgive, because I know you are the expert here Pete, but how can one say Jacob *is* Israel, and also that Adam *is* Israel at the same time? Does ‘Israel’ have an supra-human meaning?

They/we are all apples, right?

Isn’t there *necessarily* a precedent or priority or *first*? God named Jacob as Israel. I just don’t see then how Adam can be said to be also Israel other through the use of metaphor or analogy, i.e. without history, if the name Israel was first given to Jacob.

As an aside, Pete, I find this something very problematic with ‘evolutionary philosophy’ in that it gives away the need for ‘firsts’. It often fails at ‘first moments’. One simply must ‘get historical’ at some point.

I am curious and intrigued to learn more about how you do/see this, given the current topic.

Norm - #5692

March 2nd 2010


Thanks for the opportunity to talk.

Concerning the Image of God and which comes first the Likeness or the Image. First it is important to determine the purpose of Gen 1 and I like Walton take it as a 7 Day Creation account. I though see it describing the totality of Israel from beginning to climatic end which is how some of the ancients viewed it as well before Hellinization set in and became the standard view. Therefore Gen 2:4b is the beginning of the detailed Adam/Israel’s story fleshed out more vividly. 

Gen 5:1 details for us that there was no Image of God but only the Likeness of God at first. The Hebrew words for Image and Likeness are close but not the same and you will find that the Hebrews were very careful in their word constructs in Genesis. I also take my cue from Paul’s theological dissection of Adam in the NT where he defines how the Adamic “body” is manifested in an inferior state of creation in 1 Cor 15:45-49. The key to understanding this is to realize that Paul is speaking of Adam as Israel corporately just as Enns is seeing.  As I have posted before the Image of God was only an attribute that came through tChrist. Israel wasn’t in the Image originally; thus the need for redemption.

Norm - #5694

March 2nd 2010


Everything in scriptures revolves around Covenant with God. That is the worldview of the ANE and particularly the Hebrews. Adam’s story is written from that mindset and one needs to grasp the importance of that model in keeping the storyline accurate from their viewpoint. Most folks do not grasp Adam as Covenant man but they have no problem recognizing it with Israel. Well Adam, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph were all in Covenant with God.

Hos 6:7 But they (Ephraim , Judah) like Adam have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.

I see the above mentioned characters as historical but mythic (to borrow a phrase) as we see all of these characters with story lines revolving around them that are caricatures of Israel and Christ and used typologically to illustrate much more than a historical point. 

Yes you are correct that these concepts just like evolution are challenging to most of us raised in the Evangelical church. However these issues that I’m point out to you are ones that I have researched and debated for several years now and it’s finally good to see that some of our scholars are seeing similar things. However I may be a little further out there than some of them are presently.

Tim - #5702

March 3rd 2010


The suggestion that Adam is primarily a representation of Israel and not humanity is intriguing, but it raises a question that a few of the previous posts have already alluded to.  How do you explain the sinfulness of the entire human race if we are not descended physically from one man?  In Acts 17:26 Paul declares that God made “from one man every nation of mankind…”  Paul certainly seems to believe that all men have a common ancestor in Adam.


Luke - #5703

March 3rd 2010


I’m intrigued by your interpretation here. I myself am an OT studies student, but I must confess that I’ve never heard this view before and have even studied Genesis 1-3 quite extensively.

You mention Genesis 4:13 as validation for your assertion, and I certainly agree here that this is a “problem passage” and doesn’t seem to fit. However, I personally have a tough time building such a fundamental belief on the ambiguity of one text. I am by no mean a young earth guy or anything and think Genesis 1-11 is full of myth, metaphor, etc, but I have a tough time seeing how the pieces fit together if your hypothesis is correct. Is there more biblical evidence for this? Can you point me to a work that adopts this view you promote?

Since I admittedly have not run across this view, my initial reaction is to think you’re trying to make the Bible fit with your modern worldview so you can believe in evolution. However, isn’t this the method you constantly deny in your works? Wouldn’t it be more “honest” to say Genesis 1 is about human origins (not just Israel’s origins), but that of origins according to the ancient and it’s more literary than literal?

Luke - #5704

March 3rd 2010

It strikes me as odd that you claim it’s about Israel’s origins, then you still make the claim that ALL humanity is imago dei. You also make the claim that Adam was the first Israelite, but at other times I’m lead to think he’s an archetypal figure. Did God really create Adam out of nothing if he’s the first Israelite? Also, who does the female refer to?

I’m certainly open to your interpretation, but it’s going to take a lot more than one proof-text and a couple of parallels to convince me. I hope you don’t disappoint. I’d love to see where you’re coming from more clearly and I’m eagerly anticipating subsequent posts.

norm - #5705

March 3rd 2010


I realize you were addressing Pete but to contextualize the question properly maybe we should look at the Greek wording found in Acts 17:26. The key word under consideration is “haima” which means “BLOOD”.  Notice how it is applied in John 1:13 and then properly translated in Acts 17. A correct translation and it’s usage in John 1:13 knocks the wind out of the sails concerning your question about what Paul thought about Adam. Since Adam is nowhere in sight with an accurate translation. Made of Blood or born not of blood appears to be more of a generic description of mankind’s common heritage not necessarily from Adam. It’s called translator bias when there is a presupposition that mars the accuracy lost in translating. 

Act 17:26 And hath MADE OF ONE BLOOD all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

Joh 1:12-13 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:  (13)  Which were BORN, NOT OF BLOOD, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

If you are interested I’ll try to explain sin from the Hebrew concept.

norm - #5707

March 3rd 2010

Luke you are indeed correct, IMO Pete cannot hold to “imago dei” for humanity at large while fostering Adam as Israel. I’ve laid out the outline in previous post here how it does work biblically. 

Adam was created from the dust of the ground which is metaphor for “he came from mortal origins.” His Garden life did not work because of dependence upon his mortal nature to achieve the commandment or in Israel’s case the Law. This was what the curse of working the ground producing thorns and thistles is about. 

Gen 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Ecc 3:18-20 … regard to the children of man (adam/Israel) that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.  (19)  For what happens to the children of man (adam) and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man (adam) has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.  (20)  All go to one place. ALL ARE FROM THE DUST, AND TO DUST ALL RETURN.

Dan 12:2 `And the multitude of those sleeping in the DUST OF THE GROUND do awake, some to life age

Jane - #5710

March 3rd 2010

Gordon J. Glover - #5647 - you have a new biggest fan, me.  Thanks for your thoughts, they will be put to good use.

Gregory Arago - #5720

March 3rd 2010

I’m finding difficulties here in two ways:
1) I am not a biblical scholar and I hear different expressions given:

“This “Israel-centered” reading of Adam is not a stretch. It is widely recognized, not only in modern scholarship, but by pre-modern interpreters.” - Peter

“I myself am an OT studies student, but I must confess that I’ve never heard this view before and have even studied Genesis 1-3 quite extensively.” - Luke

Norm still uses the Adam/Israel combination as if it were ‘truth’, not discussion.

2) When does biblical scholarship meet with ‘science’ of anthropology, Homo sapiens?

I am worried that Pete’s view sacrifices ‘universal Humanity’.

Norm wrote: “Luke you are indeed correct, IMO Pete cannot hold to “imago dei” for humanity at large while fostering Adam as Israel.”

Still leaning toward what Lem said: “To say that Adam is the father of Israel only, rather than of humanity in general, makes much of Genesis unintelligible.”

And are modern Palestinians made in the image of God? They are clearly not Israelites.

Gregory Arago - #5721

March 3rd 2010

But of course I won’t blame it *all* on evolutionary theories, Pete. Just some of it!

The pure logic here trumps ‘theories’ about the biosphere: “There must have been a first.”

Anthropology uses the -logos, just as biology uses the -logos.

When speaking of ‘names,’ we must discern where/when a certain name originated. Names simply *must* have origins. If Jacob was *historical*, which it seems to me that Pete would say ‘yes, he was,’ then the *first name* for Israel is associated with Jacob, *not* with Adam.

If, as Pete said in #5689, “Jacob is an Adam figure—so are Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ,” what he at some point needs to distinguish is: who then is *not* Israel?

This is where the segregation question and the division of ‘races’ rears its face.

Pete Enns - #5724

March 3rd 2010


Some interesting comments, but generally, at least to come of you, I would ask that you read my previous posts, then perhaps return to this post and even my comments here. My reading of Adam is based on factors outside of Genesis but certainly include Genesis.

The problem remains that we have people outside of Eden. Where did they come from? I would be happy to see suggestions.

Gregory Arago - #5725

March 3rd 2010

“The problem remains that we have people outside of Eden” - Dr. Pete Enns

What do you mean by ‘people’? How do you define ‘person’? Can a person ‘live’ *without* the image of God?

“Where did they come from?” - Dr. Enns

They were pre-human or non-human; part of natural history, which many use the theory of ‘evolution’ to describe ‘scientifically’. They were *not* Homo sapiens. They did not possess the image of God.

Adam and Eve were put *into* Eden from outside (Gen 2: 8). They were taken from pre-human/non-human stock and later became ‘human’ - Homo sapiens - when they were *specially* put into Eden and inbreathed with the image of God, covenant people.

Gregory Arago - #5728

March 3rd 2010

The other option is that pre-Adamites or non-Adamites were both *human* in some senses and also *not-human*.

But then the meaning of the lower case ‘adam’ is called into question for its universal Humanity, as Pete has already noted above.

This is distinct, however, from suggesting a multiple-Adamism or polygenism.

norm - #5729

March 3rd 2010


I guess the reason that I use Adam/Israel concretely is because it is not a new concept to me as it may be to you and others. I have firmed it up theologically and I’m not ambivalent about this subject so may come across as convinced on the matter which may be foggy to you. Rest assured I’ve wrestled with many of the questions that you are asking and have tested them theologically and in fact am still looking at them.
I would say, go back and read my earlier post here and then come back with specific theological questions concerning what I’m stating. That is the only way I know to reconcile your concerns properly and truly have discussion.

Greg you are concerned that Pete’s views sacrifice Universal Humanity but I would challenge that it’s just the opposite. What inferring “imago dei” upon humanity at large does is embrace Universal Salvation without Christ. The Bible is pretty explicit that man begins as a mortal being contrary to what we may think. I refer you back to Ecc 3:18-20 which I posted above and is just a sampling of the Biblical viewpoint of mans mortal nature. That we are redeemed from the mortal nature to eternal life is what resurrection is all about and is the climax of the Messianic story.

norm - #5733

March 3rd 2010

Greg to answer your question concerning whether the Palestinians have the “imago dei” or not is to ask the question of whether they or any man is faithful to the God of the Bible. I believe I put off the mortal nature when I put my faith in Christ the redeemer and live through the Spirit which is God’s Image.

2Co 3:17-18 Now THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  (18)  And WE ALL, … are being TRANSFORMED INTO THE SAME IMAGE … For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Since God so loved the world that He Sent His Son to redeem us from the curse of mortality how then could we ever say that any man was not precious and worthy in His sight. Christ died while we were yet sinners that we might live eternally with God and it is the free gift to all men regardless of race or ethnicity. God grieves over any that reject the abundant “life” that brings them into His Covenant fellowship. It’s the gospel message at its purest as the Jew and the Gentile have been brought into the One man of redemption through Christ Jesus our Head.

CodeMonkey - #5739

March 3rd 2010

I read here that the Genesis story is open to one reading or another, right.  So it would follow that any of the biblical stories are open to one reading or another, which means they can be twisted to fit any position.

Not a big fan of stuff like that myself.

My reading….it’s all just a fairy tale that never actually hppened.  Not to be a party pooper, but I would have to imagine that my “reading” would be just as valid as any other.

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