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From the Dust: Paul’s Adam

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January 22, 2014 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin, Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by Ryan Pettey and features N.T. Wright, Chris Tilling, Alister McGrath, and David Wenham. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In honor of the digital debut of From the Dust on the iTunes store, today we're reposting another clip from the film, titled “Paul’s Adam”, as well as a letter from the movie's director, Ryan Pettey. You can purchase (or rent) the movie today on iTunes, or if you prefer, a physical copy through Amazon or Highway Media.

My name is Ryan Pettey, and I am a documentary filmmaker who has been amazingly blessed to work on a feature-length documentary over the last year and a half called From the Dust.

With From the Dust, we wanted to put something proactive on the table that could help motivate an elevated conversation about the “war” between science and faith. It was our goal to help Christians see (and accept) the complexity of the issues raised by modern science, as well as help them to courageously engage with the theological conversations happening within the sphere of Christian culture today. We wanted the film to address the topic hermeneutically, historically, and socially in order to gain a better perspective on the issues, and, hopefully, address some of the fears (justified or otherwise) concerning what science is telling us about our physical origins.

Personally, this project has been a spiritual shot in the arm and has whole-heartedly reignited my walk with God. I have been truly humbled by my opportunity to speak with so many incredible theologians, scientists, biblical scholars, and authors. As a result of this project, the book of Genesis has become more alive and more dynamic than I had ever allowed it to be. It is my hope that this film will both challenge and inspire people of faith, no matter where they are on their journey, to revere the complexity of God both through his word and his creation.

Through the BioLogos Forum, I am posting a few short, topic driven clips from the film in the coming weeks as conversation starters.

Thanks for watching!

Ryan Pettey
From the Dust

“Paul’s Adam” Transcript

N.T. Wright: “The message to the Romans has many, many things going on in it. It is an amazing masterpiece, and at the heart of the first half in chapter five, Paul draws together what he has been saying with kind of a big picture summary. He has been talking about Abraham and Abraham’s family and the way in which the death and resurrection of Jesus constitutes Abraham’s family as a worldwide forgiven family, and that enables him to stand back from that and say now, ‘Look—as in Adam, so in the Messiah.”

Chris Tilling: “Paul contrasts Christ and Adam. Scholars call this the Adam-Christ typology. Paul’s point seems to be that both figures—Adam and Christ—are significant for the destiny of all creation. To understand what Paul meant when he was speaking of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, we have to read the Adam tradition in light of the story of Israel—the significance that Adam played in the story of Israel, the way Adam was interpreted by contemporary Jews in the time of Paul.”

N.T. Wright: “And so Paul is taking us right back to the big picture of Genesis, and saying that that whole problem which started way back, has now been addressed and more than addressed. God has actually got the project of Genesis one and two back on track at last, after it had been derailed.”

Alister McGrath: “Paul is seeing Adam and Christ as representative figures. Adam is the representative, the figurehead—whatever you would like to say—for humanity in general. What went wrong in Adam was rectified in Christ. Basically, what I see here is Paul saying that salvation is in effect a putting right of what has gone wrong with humanity.”

N.T. Wright: “That is the inner logic of Romans chapter three, Israel was unfaithful—is God then going to say, ‘Okay, let’s forget the idea of an Israel and do something different…?’ No! God is committed to saving the world through Israel. What he needs is a faithful Israelite. In Romans 3:22, this is precisely what you have got. God’s covenant faithfulness is revealed through the faithfulness of the Messiah for the benefit of all those who believe. Paul says this is how the Adam problem gets dealt with.”

Alister McGrath: “Now the key question, and it won’t go away, is whether Paul is seeing Adam as a representative figure—in some way, here is a figurehead of humanity as a whole—or whether Paul is seeing him as a specific historical figure who in some way gave rise to the human race as we now know it.”

David Wenham: “What was Paul’s view exactly about how the world was created? What was his scientific point of view? Now, Paul was somebody who lived in the first century, and Paul did not understand modern science. When he thought about creation, he wasn’t thinking in terms of modern science. It wasn’t the question he was asking. I suspect that Paul would have shared many of the views of his day. He may well have believed in a flat earth. But, his theology does not depend on his science. His theology of Adam has mainly, I think, to do with his understanding of humanity and how it was created, rather than in any way being a scientific statement. I do think we mustn’t underestimate the sophistication of people like Paul. He was highly trained. He will have known and did know aspects of Greek philosophy where they discussed questions of creation and so on. He will have understood the Old Testament with a very sharp eye, and I think he will have understood that the stories of creation are not scientific descriptions, but are theological affirmations about God’s truth and about how God created the world.”

Chris Tilling: “If we try and understand Paul’s Adam talk in terms of later scientific terms relating to creation and evolution, then we are actually putting the Adam talk into a different story, and we will ultimately end up misunderstanding Paul. So it is actually quite vital if we want to understand what Paul is saying to put it firmly in the Jewish story and the Jewish narrative.”

Alister McGrath: “I think we can say that, fundamentally, whatever Christ did is about the rectification of the natural state of humanity.” Michael Lloyd: “And, therefore, it seems to me just natural that Paul would refer to Jesus as the new Adam because here at last is a human being doing what Adam was called to do, but didn’t.”

N.T. Wright: “It is Jesus who is the truly human one and anyone who is in Jesus the Messiah is truly human.”


Ryan Pettey is a filmmaker and the director/editor of Satellite Pictures. He produced the feature length video From the Dust, which examines the question of human physical origins from a theological, historical and social perspective.
N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.
Chris Tilling is Tutor in New Testament Studies and teaches across the whole at St. Mellitus College. He studied at St Andrew’s University and London School of Theology and has completed a doctorate under Max Turner in Pauline Christology. He has written several articles on aspects of New Testament studies, and has translated many others from German into English. Additionally, he is the author of a popular theology blog site entitled Chrisendom.
Alister E. McGrath is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. In addition to his work at Oxford, McGrath is Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and serves as associate priest in a group of Church of England village parishes in the Cotswolds. His personal website can be accessed here.
David Wenham has been a faculty member at Trinity College since 2008. Previously the Vice Principal of the college until 2011, he is now Tutor for the rural context students in the Woodbridge Group of Churches in Wiltshire. He studied Theology at Cambridge University as an undergraduate and later earned his PhD in research on the Gospels from Manchester University. He also taught New Testament at Wycliffe Hall at Oxford University for 24 years. David has published widely on the Gospels and on Paul. He is Chairman of the New Testament Group of the Tyndale Fellowship, and a member of the Society for New Testament Studies. He has recently been honored by the University of Bristol with the title Research Fellow.

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Darach - #84274

January 22nd 2014

To understand what Paul meant when he was speaking of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, we have to read the Adam tradition in light of ... the way Adam was interpreted by contemporary Jews in the time of Paul.”

Jewish interpretations of Adam at the time ranged from literal like 2Esdras to allegorical Philo and Josephus. However Paul uses the same term tupos or type to describe his interpretation of Adam in Romans 5:14 as Philo does for his highly allegorical interpretations of Adam.

We don’t just need to get our understanding of Adam back to the 1st century to understand Paul, we also need to do the same with our understanding of types and typology, our traditional views come down from the typology of Tertullian and Augustine and say that types are based on literal texts. So Paul had to take Adam as a literal historical figure to interpret him typologically. But that is not how tupos was used around the first century. Philo interpreted Adam and Eve as types while rejecting the literal interpretation. In the Shepherd of Hermas tupos was used to describe beasts and trees in apocalyptic visions.

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