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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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Michael Thompson - #5740

March 3rd 2010

Interesting, so we don’t become truely human in the image of God until we enter into the covanent by faith and are born again?


norm - #5743

March 3rd 2010

MT, I would say that everyone is truly human but one doesn’t have right standing with God until they are born again in His Spirit and Image.

CodeMonkey, your reading would be valid as long as its consistent with the Biblical view which has a consistent story line and ending.  The end result of the OT can be determined from the NT interpretation of it.

Chaka - #5744

March 3rd 2010

Dr. Enns wrote in #5724 that “the problem remains that we have people outside of Eden. Where did they come from?”

I don’t feel the force of this problem like you do. First, I’m ready to accept that any account of distant origins is going to be murky, with inconsistencies and unexplained leaps. E.g., I feel no need to explain how light exists before the sun (Gen 1:3, 14).

Second, it’s not true in a narrative sense that “we have people outside of Eden.” They don’t exist in the narrative until Adam and Eve are out of Eden (Gen 4).

Third, the “other people” in Gen 4 aren’t really characters in the narrative, they’re just props—they pop up when they’re needed to allow the story to move forward.

In short, this is only a problem if you insist that Adam, Eve, Cain, and Cain’s wife are all literal individual persons. But you don’t insist that. So why is it a problem?

You mention that you find more “explanatory power” in your reading of Adam for multiple reasons. I’d be interested to hear the others, particularly what convinces you to confirm “Adam as Israel” and deny “Adam as everyone.”

Janice - #5745

March 3rd 2010

norm -  what you said in your posts above regarding “The Image of God”  - (#5733 and earlier) makes sense to me and seems to be backed up by Morschauser.  (See below)

Scott N. Morschauser, a Presbyterian Theologian, has recently used the evidence from the Ancient Near East to argue that Gen 1:26 should be more properly understood as, “Image _for_ God.” In this way, many theological stumbling blocks can be diverted since man isn’t really in the image _of_ God.

S.N. Morschauser, “Created in the Image of God: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Imago Dei,” Theology Matters, Vol 3 No.6 Nov/Dec 1997.

Created in the Tselem of God: A reply:  “The idea makes sense, since “for” is implied indeed in the meaning.”  - J.P. Holding

Dick Fischer - #5746

March 3rd 2010

Let my comment on the “literalist” approach.  Personally, I take Genesis more literally then even the YECs try to do and it works well with a few caveats.  Keep in mind the King James translators converted OT Hebrew and Aramaic into English with the mindset that the entire human race descended from Adam, that the flood was global obliterating all human and animal life except those on the ark, that after the great flood all humanity spoke one universal language, and that all languages eminated from Babel.  That mistaken though commonly held idea not only colored the translation it established the tradition from which more modern translations have never departed.  When translated and interpreted in the light of the history of the ancient Near East, a literalist approach works just fine.

Many of the Genesis 2-11 patriarchs can be found in parallel literature.  And all of them can be where Genesis includes some additional information.

John VanZwieten - #5750

March 3rd 2010


Can you point towards the translation you mention?  Is there a book or website that explains the parallels?

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5752

March 3rd 2010


I read your book several years ago and had my entire world turned over (again).  Your approach as the only “literal” approach.  (Using the contemporary fundamentalist / evangelical / dispenstaional definition of literal.)  Your book is an extremely important contribution to the subject.  Thank-you for your work.

It took me a few more years before I thought to ask, “Did the author of Genesis 1 really mean to tell us about the “creation” of the physical universe?”  This is the unquestioned assumption of almost every modern commentator.  Even those best known for questioning this assumption, never truly questioned it.  Walton, for example, calls it a “functional” creation of the “cosmic temple.”  His cosmic temple is the physical universe.

In the prophets and in the New Testament, Heavens and Earth refers to God’s people, Israel, and their covenant with God.  Why should we assume that Heavens and Earth in Genesis 1 is different from Heavens and Earth in the rest of Scripture?  Why can’t Heavens and Earth be “Israel” all the way from the beginning?

Make that “little” change, and most of the details you’ve confirmed in early Genesis suddenly jump out as the only way the story makes sense.

Norm - #5755

March 3rd 2010


I’ve skimmed through this article and I must say I was duly impressed. I do have some differences but by and large this was a well presented examination of the Biblical and ANE understanding of the Image of God.

I’ll start with the differences. The author IMO starts out with Humanity at large as the ones under discussion which I believe is in error. Being I’m an Evolutionist I see humanity existing in various stages for tens of thousands of years including subspecies such as the Neanderthals and other lesser developed branches. If we hold to the idea of humanity being in God’s Image then where do we start?  I start with the forming out of mortal humanity those chosen to serve as God’s Image bearers and IMO it starts with a historical Adam/Israel covenant ancestor. Gen 4:26 says these first faithful called on the name of the Lord.

It started good but turned south quickly in the Garden and basically delayed the completion of God’s intended work until Christ came and accomplished what the first Adam could not.

The question is did Adam fall from the Image of/for God or did he fall from his lesser state of mortality as defined by Paul. Adam/Israel was waiting redemption from the mortal state to the immortal.

Dick Fischer - #5756

March 3rd 2010

Thank you Jeffery,

I do have an updated version of that earlier book, and I don’t touch Genesis 1.  See http://www.historicalgenesis.com.

I see essentially no difference in the Genesis One account and Big Bang cosmology.  The fourth day of creation is where God appointed the heavenly bodies to function as timekeepers for the sighted creatures to come starting on the fifth day.  Here is another example:

Genesis 1:20-21: “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life [fish], and fowl [flying insects] that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven [sky].  And God created great whales [large sea creatures], and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind [amphibians and reptiles], and every winged fowl [birds] after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

I can’t defend every single word, but when allowances are made in a few instances for what seem to be differences in Genesis and our scientific understanding, then I see no reason to go looking for some way to help out more Moses who otherwise would be just plain wrong.  I really see no reason to try and put Genesis into any category other than literal-historical.

Gregory Arago - #5757

March 3rd 2010

“I would say, go back and read my earlier post here and then come back with specific theological questions concerning what I’m stating.” - Norm

I read again.

The first question I asked to Pete at the start of comments: “this is not ‘science’, right?”

I am interested not *only* in theological questions, but *also* in scientific questions. I find your theology helpful, Norm, but as yet there is no link you’ve provided to how it connects with anthropology. In this sense, it may be that your position is still as ‘fuzzy’ as mine.

For instance, in #5729 you speak of Universal Humanity (Homo sapiens?) and Universal Salvation. Yet, to you, non-Adam/Israel human beings do not *have* the image of God. This seems a rather exclusionary, unecumenical position!

Would someone please help me understand by addressing the issue of Gen 32: 28 and the *naming* of Jacob as ‘Israel’? If the first mention of ‘Israel’ is connected by name with Jacob, how then can one suggest ‘Adam is Israel’?

Is Israel an ahistorical name *without* an origin?

Norm - #5758

March 3rd 2010


As I stated about two posts above that I’m an evolutionist but I had to work my way through all the speed bumps to get there (had a big hang up dealing with a statistical analysis on the Cambrian explosion for a while).  Basically I’m a non concordist probably to the extreme and by that I mean I’m able to separate the biblical and scientific discussions as defined in today’s contemporary climate.  An example is that I do not read Gen 1 as science in hardly any sense at all because it is mythic in nature or what ever ANE definition one is comfortable describing it. The elements that we find in Gen 1 are all found in the rest of the scriptures and I use a comprehensive investigation of their biblical usage to help illustrate their nature and purpose.

I indeed am not ecumenical when it comes to being in Covenant in God as I see that as a faith relationship upon which Judaism and Christianity have been built upon. Many are called but not all will answer. To me biblically appropriating the full Image of God upon the broad expanse of humankind is rejecting the necessary work of Christ and is akin to Universal Salvation to all mankind whether in faithful covenant or not.

Dick Fischer - #5759

March 3rd 2010

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

If the history of the ANE is relevant, and I think it is, Adam would have been the first of the Akkadians dated to about 7,000 years ago.  They preceded the Sumerians judging by the Sumerian King List which puts Semites (or Adamites) in first position at Eridu.

Ubaidans were early inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia in that region, however, there were earlier excursions in the north, Samarrans, Halafians, Natufians, but they probably did not venture too far south.  it took the invention of irrigation, which Genesis hints at, to establish a settlement near the Persian Gulf

The biblical picture starts at Eridu with Adam.

Someone asked about a translation.  If anybody would like to see a tentative re-translation of Genesis 1-11 send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Gregory Arago - #5760

March 3rd 2010

Ah, yes, Norm, now you’ve taken a step towards scientifc explanation.

You wrote: “Being I’m an Evolutionist I see humanity existing in various stages for tens of thousands of years including subspecies such as the Neanderthals and other lesser developed branches. If we hold to the idea of humanity being in God’s Image then where do we start?”

Here’s a major issue with ‘being an Evolutionist’; being stuck in flux (i.e. the basis of evolutionary philosophy) makes no ‘intervention’ possible according to its fuzzy, gradualist, anti-kind perspective.

Yet there simply *must* be something that didn’t evolve. I believe that God ‘created’ human beings as a special kind of species, in God own Image. In this sense, I am an Adamic scientist.

Is humanity then different in degree or kind from (other) animals? If one answers ‘only in degree’ as natural-physical scientists tend to do, along with ethologists and eVo psychologists, then how can he or she suggest that the image of God is special to human beings or that a Covenent did not just ‘naturally evolve’ into existence? Only outside of natural science.

The image of God is ‘more-than-natural,’ isn’t it?

Gregory Arago - #5761

March 3rd 2010

Hi Jeffrey,

Glad to hear your warm words. I’m a fan of Dick Fischer’s work too.

But I’m a bit confused by your conclusion wrt Israel.

You wrote:
“Why can’t Heavens and Earth be “Israel” all the way from the beginning?”

1) The name Israel was given to a single person, Jacob (Gen 32, 35). This was clearly done ‘after the beginning.’

2) How can ‘Heavens and Earth’ be ‘Israel’ when there are geographically non-Israel(i) lands on Earth?

Why not speak instead of Heaven and Earth with God’s Kingdom?

I quickly checked for references to ‘Israel’ and didn’t discover references to ‘Israel’ as ‘Heaven and Earth’. Could you say what verses you have in mind? There are significantly fewer references to ‘Israel’ in the NT. In the translation I checked, 2295 out of 2378 references to Israel are in the OT.

Norm - #5762

March 3rd 2010


What I mean when I say Adam represents Israel is that Adam’s story is a microcosmic retelling of Israel’s Key theological and historical encounters.  I believe that Genesis was written somewhere within 500 years after entering the Promised Land. It is extremely detailed and intricate literature with precise word counts and organization. In my current opinion it requires a very organized and stable priestly order to pull that kind of literature off and that probably fits the post Solomon era of Judah best.

I believe Genesis is pointing more to the Messianic period than it is to the historical people that it is dealing with. In effect Genesis has been compiled to present a prophetic narrative that shadows Israel’s ongoing history. Israel’s future is therefore embodied typologically in all of these stories including Babel which is a picture of Israel amongst the Nations such as Babylon and Assyria, but ultimately Babel is undone at Pentecost.  These countries were all players in relation to Israel as demonstrated by Isaiah and Ezekiel where they are intimately tied to Israel. In fact Ezekiel describes these Nations as Trees with Israel in the Garden of Eden. This then is how even the Jews viewed these stories.

Norm - #5763

March 3rd 2010


I’m not a fan of philosophy adding to the exploration of Biblical literature and theology and so I discount its importance. The reason is that the Hebrew theology is what drives OT literature and not Greek or modern philosophy.

I don’t have a problem with evolution sticking me with a dilemma in investigating Genesis because it’s actually not pertinent. I mention my science and evolution background to illustrate that it is a separate investigation and stands outside of my biblical explorations which is not intended to match with science and anthropology.

You see God chose the timing of when to bring mankind into relationship with Him. I would love to answer that question of why He chose to do so with Israel through Adam but I’m told like Job that its above my paygrade.  It’s the same with Christ coming in what is described as the fullness of time to finally finish the redemption of mankind. I like Paul simply must let the Potter have His way and fully appreciate God and Christ willingness to bring us into the Family of God through faith in Them.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5766

March 3rd 2010

Gregory - #5761

I used Israel due to Peter Enns’ title,  Adam is Israel.  Like a few others here, I have my own book on this subject.

Calvin and Luther taught that the one old covenant started in Gen. 1.  The contemporary church teaches multiple old covenants, with the most important one starting at Sinai.  On this issue, I agree with Luther and Calvin.  One old covenant that started with Gen. 1:1 and ended with the destruction of the temple.  One new covenant that began during Christ’s ministry and came in fullness with the end of the Jewish sacrificial system.

What’s required to demonstrate this?  The Curse (Gen. 3), the Flood, Babel, and the destruction of Jerusalem were all covenantal judgments on a separate covenantal people.

All of these are controversial, but none of them should be.

The Curse was a covenantal judgment.  Why that is debated today baffles me.  The fact that it is a covenantal judgment implies that what came before that is the covenant.

Gen.1 the “creation” of the Heavens and Earth is the assignment / declaration of the covenant people.  God’s original temple was not Walton’s cosmic temple, but a person or people called Heavens and Earth.  This person or people was the original “Israel of God.”

Gregory Arago - #5770

March 3rd 2010

Hi Jeffrey,

Thanks for your response. I found your book on-line and looked at your site.

Not sure how you addressed my concerns in #5761 with what you wrote. The two problems 1) and 2) were left unanswered.

I didn’t use the term ‘covenant’ in my message to you, though that is what you seem to have focussed on in your response #5766.

Please help clarify because I’m a bit confused about what you’re trying to say.

Also, why is nobody addressing Jacob and Gen 32, 35? Is it because it refutes, based on history and precedent, the theological claim that Adam is Israel?

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5771

March 3rd 2010


In answer to your last question.

In Matt. 24, Jesus promised that the temple would be destroyed, “Not one stone left upon another.”  He promised with it, “Heaven and Earth will pass away.”

The temple was destroyed in AD 70.  Not one stone was left upon another.  What about Heaven and Earth?

The physical universe has not passed away.  Either Jesus was wrong or Jesus was talking about something else.  In Jesus’ mind, the H&E was not the physical universe in either a material or functional sense.

Please look at Rev. 21.  What did John see?

1) The New Heaven and New Earth.
2) The Holy City, The New Jerusalem.
3) A Bride adorned for her husband.

Did John see one thing?  Or three?

I say one thing.  Notice vs. 9, “I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” and vs. 10, “he ... showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem.”  Items 2 & 3 above are the same.  John saw one entity to which he gave three descriptions.  That one entity was the Church.

Go back to vs. 1.  “[T]he first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”  Where in Scripture do we find H&E and sea?  Gen. 1.  The church comes and the first H&E passes, has passed away.

Gregory Arago - #5775

March 3rd 2010


From #5762: “Adam’s story is a microcosmic retelling of Israel’s Key theological and historical encounters.”

You haven’t established criteria for distinguishing the historical/real from the theological or mythical. Dick Fischer just wrote in this thread that “Adam would have been the first of the Akkadians dated to about 7,000 years ago.” So, we’re dealing not *just* with a microcosmic story, but with a flesh and blood person. Do you disagree?

Pete noted: ‘adam’ = humanity, ‘Adam’ = one man.

When do we ‘get historical’ in Genesis?

The rest of #5762 is a theological monologue. My interest here is ‘science and religion’ dialogue.

#5762: “my biblical explorations which [are] not intended to match with science and anthropology.”

While I respect your biblical explorations, this approach makes it difficult for me to openly discuss with you. And it seems to contradict the mission of BioLogos: “the integration of science and Christian faith.”

You started to talk about evolution, then backed away. I’m prepared to face these difficult issues, taking the best of science and scripture at the same time!

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