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Paul’s Adam, Part 2

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March 16, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Paul’s Adam, Part 2

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

In last week’s post I wrote (1) that there is indeed a problem with seeing Adam as the progenitor of all human beings who lived a few thousand years before Jesus in that it is incompatible with what we know of the past, scientifically and archaeologically; (2) Paul seems to share such a view of Adam when he says “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people” (Romans 5:12); (3) Paul’s view of Adam is of non-negotiable theological importance and so must be addressed.

This is the problem in a nutshell: Paul says something of vital and abiding theological importance that is anchored in an ancient view of human origins.

I suggested last week that what Paul says about Adam is not as straightforward as it seems. This week and next I want to begin expanding on that point by outlining some of the issues that invariably arise when trying to understand “Paul’s Adam.”

Raising these issues is not an attempt to make a simple matter more difficult than it needs to be. And digging deeper into what Paul said is not a clever way to ignore him. These are issues that come up inescapably, one way or another, when informed readers try to understand what Paul was communicating. There is nothing new being raised in these posts.

Rather than obscuring Paul, it is important to engage these issues if we are to take Paul with utmost seriousness. That means understanding him as he deserves to be understood—making the effort to hear him as clearly as we can rather than to hear ourselves through him. In order to hear Paul well, the issues listed below are among those that will need to be accounted for somehow.

I realize that dissecting Paul’s view of Adam is a very difficult issue for many, and I do not do this lightly. But it is important to remind readers that BioLogos intends to be a place where important and sometimes emotionally laden issues can be aired and discussed. That is rare in our world—even in our Christian world—where marking out territory and going into battle are unfortunately commonly accurate metaphors for expressing disagreement. Sometimes patience and true understanding are left standing on the periphery (“Better a patient person than a warrior, those with self–control than those who take a city,” Proverbs 16:32).

These are challenging issues—but they are not going away, and simplistic solutions rarely provide lasting comfort. What is needed is patience, respect, and knowledge. It is with this intention that I continue this discussion over Paul’s Adam and how that can, for people of faith, be in conversation with the natural sciences. The list that begins here is intended to lay some of the necessary elements of that conversation.

I should go without saying that neither BioLogos nor I claim to have laid this difficult matter to rest in a series of a few posts. We’re in this together, folks. We welcome interaction with these issues below, and by all means feel free to add other factors that you deem relevant to this discussion.

1. Adam in the Old Testament

As important as Adam is to Paul, he is not a figure that gets a lot of airtime in the Old Testament. In fact, after Genesis 5, Adam makes his lone Old Testament appearance in 1 Chronicles 1:1, the first name in a genealogy (chapters 1-9) that spans from Adam to postexilic Israel. The reference to “adam” in Joshua 3:16 is a place name and in Hosea 6:7 it either refers to humanity in general (e.g., JPS translation “to a man”) or a place name (see TNIV and NIV footnotes; note also the second half of v. 7 where we read “they were unfaithful to me there”). It is unlikely and out of place for Hosea 6:7 to refer to the Adam of Genesis—and even if it did, this lone reference between Genesis 5 and 1 Chronicles 1 hardly amounts to a counter-argument.

So, how does one explain Paul’s high-profile view of Adam vis-à-vis his relative absence in the Old Testament? From where did Paul get his idea of the central importance of Adam for all humanity? What would drive Paul to bring front and center a figure who, of the 923 chapters that make up our Old Testament, is mentioned only in Genesis 2-5 and one postexilic text?

2. Adam Theology in the Old Testament

Adam may not be a major player explicitly in the Old Testament, but Adam theology is another matter. In addition to the Adam/Israel parallel from a previous post, some understand Noah to be an Adam figure as well—a new “first man” at a “new creation.” Noah as a second Adam seems pretty clear, and some also see figures like Abraham, Moses, a David, as “new Adams.” Each of these figures represents the “first” of some “new beginning” for God’s people.

I understand that seeing “Adam theology” all over the Old Testament may not be persuasive to everyone, which is fine since these are just avenues of exploration. Still, seeing Adam as a pattern for other Old Testament figures is hardly rare in the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation. The Old Testament is not seen as a loose connection of some stories or historical reflections. It is a “grand narrative” that tells one story of God and his people. (Some readers may be familiar with what is sometimes called a Biblical Theological approach to interpretation. Others call it Redemptive-Historical.)

Paul presents Jesus as a new Adam (Romans 5:17; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22); Adam is the “pattern” of the one to come (Romans 5:14). Is Paul carrying through this theme of “new beginnings for God’s people”? In other words, is Paul doing more than simply turning to Genesis 2-3 and reading it isolation? Does Paul have a bigger theological grid in mind—a “grand narrative” of the Old Testament?

3. The Fall in the Old Testament

According to the traditional interpretation of Romans 5:12-21, Paul sees Adam’s disobedience in the Garden as the cause of death in the world and the reason all subsequent humans are corrupted by sin. Some add that the actual guilt of Adam’s transgression is immediately passed on to all subsequent humans. (Humans are not just corrupted by Adam’s transgression, but also bear the guilt of what Adam did).

Does that interpretation of Paul fit with how human beings are described in the Old Testament? To be sure, the world is a mess and God needs to set it right. But does the Old Testament teach or imply that every human being is dead in the sin that Adam committed? Are non-Israelites ever referred to, directly or indirectly, as having inherited the guilt of Adam’s transgression? Is the fall in the Garden seen as the problem of humanity that must be dealt with? Why is adamic cause of human misery never mentioned let alone driven home?

As for the Israelites, they are not presented as being dead in sin and thus incapable of pleasing God. The giving of the law, with its blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience, actually assumes the possibility of pleasing God. “Righteousness” is clearly an attainable status through obedience to the law.

So, what connection does Paul’s view of human depravity (“dead in sin”) have to the Old Testament? How does Paul’s view of sin relate to the notion of sin in the Old Testament? Is it “deeper” and more universal than what we find in the Old Testament? If so, why does Paul draw such a central conclusion about sin that is either muted or absent in the Old Testament?

This raises another sort of question: Is it even necessary for Paul and the Old Testament to have the same exact view of the nature of sin? Can Paul have a clearer view on the true depth of our alienation from God that is not yet present in the Old Testament in general or Genesis specifically? Does Paul’s use of the Adam story actually depend on him not reading it literally?

These are the first three issues that need to be thoughtfully and respectfully engaged as we seek to understand Paul’s Adam. We’ll continue this next week.

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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Richard Colling - #7299

March 21st 2010

Thanks back at you both.  These were good.

I engage with some trepidation.  Earlier experience has taught me creationists hate my views - and me, are eager to pronounce me outside the Christian faith, and will do all in their power to destroy those who understand God’s created order differently than they.  This included using so-called Christian theological discussion boards to disseminate false and disparaging information that was career threatening. This despite the fact that building bridges of understanding and peace to science/faith discussions will be difficult if Christian biologists are encouraged to offer their understanding of biology, genetics, and evolution. 

To my way of thinking, we are all searching for the same thing: Truth.  Those of us who come from a faith perspective believe that discovery of the deeper truths of God’s created order can only lead us to a deeper understanding of God himself.  No need to demonize, vilify or destroy brothers in the faith.

Sadly, your apparent experience with scientists who refuse to engage honestly and professionally has a counterpart for me: Christian theologians who work from an authority paradigm rather than a r truth-seeking paradigm.
All best.

Martin Rizley - #7303

March 21st 2010

Joe Francis and Ben Yachov,
Joe, you describe yourself as a ‘young age creationist’ who believes in ‘common descent.’  Could you explain to me what that means?
Ben Yachov, you asked about my church affiliation.  I am a member of a Reformed Baptist church, which is theologically conservative church in the Calvinistic tradition.  Our Confession of Faith is similar to the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians, except that we practice ‘credo-baptism’ (the baptism of confessing disciples only).  Regarding the old/young earth issue, on matters relating to the history of life on earth, I hold for all practical purposes to the young earth position (Flood geology).  Regarding the age of the universe, that all depends on the duration of the creation days—whether they were all of uniform 24 hour duration.  I am not sure we can say that on the basis of Scripture alone, given the fact that the first three days were not “solar days” (strictly speaking).  I do believe they were ‘solar-like’ (each day consisted of a day a night), but their exact duration seems to me uncertain.

BenYachov - #7306

March 21st 2010

Thanks for the info on your beliefs Martin.  Feel free to ask me anything if it strikes your fancy.  So you believe in a young Earth but are open to a possible somewhat old Universe?  That is an interesting permutation(it might even solve some anti-Creationist objections).  I have always believed there is a lot of overlap between Old Earth Progressive Creationism vs Theistic Evolution but your view leads me to see there might be some middle positions between Young Earth Fiat Creationism & Progressive Creationism as well.  It’s interesting to know.  Thanks & God be with you guy.

BenYachov - #7307

March 21st 2010

Hey Joe,
>However, when you read Galileo’s own writings, he makes his devotion to the church and scriptures very clear,

I reply: He was IMHO a likely plagiarist, who often talked out of both sides of his mouth.  Galileo had originally agreed to put forth his view as a hypothesis not established fact & he went back on his word.  Also scientifically he didn’t prove his view correct at the time(we have to wait a few hundred years for science to prove the motion of the Earth).  His was just a mostly luck guess.  Also he clearly said the Bible had lied when it spoke of Joshua stopping the sun. How can one accuse the Bible of lying & be seen as “devoted” to the scriptures?

Father Copernicus never did any of this nonsense & that is why the Church left him alone & the Pope honored him.

BenYachov - #7308

March 21st 2010

>however, his beliefs are very similar to yours, he believes that nature is an important authority and a more reliable authority than scripture itself. 

I reply: I fail to see how?  I believe truth can’t contradict truth.  Thus I would never say the Bible “lied”.  I would say that this or that verse his been misunderstood or should be understood allegorically.  I don’t believe the Bible is meant to tell us about natural science.  Natural science & natural knowledge in general is something WE CAN figure out ourselves using our natural powers of reason.  Thus the Bible isn’t needed to do a job we can do ourselves.  The Bible reveals supernatural knowledge which by definition CANNOT be known by out natural powers.  For example I can know God exists threw reason alone but I can’t know He is a Trinity without the Holy Writ.  I believe the Bible is consistent with science or will be consistent with whatever specific science turns out to be true.

BenYachov - #7309

March 22nd 2010

>I think he would share your views.  Why then do you distance yourself from his ideas?

I reply: Nah if I lived at the time I would have bagged on him for making scientific claims without proof.  St Robert Bellermine had it correct “should it somehow be proven the Earth moves then the verses that speak of Joshua stopping the sun must be re-interpreted

Joe Francis - #7312

March 22nd 2010

Martin #7303


I have stated this position on other BioLogos blogs.I am a young earth or young age creationist who believes in polyphyly…i.e. I believe God created many different kinds in the beginning, and all species today are descended by common descent from those first kinds.  For instance, there may have been an original dog kind in the beginning, and from that kind all dogs, wolfs, and other canines were derived.  I believe that mutation and natural selection are real phenomenon in nature but they would not act fast enough to cause this rapid diversification…young age creationist believe that there may have been some event which promoted this rapid diversification after the initial creation and after the flood but we don’t see this in any major way today (although some speciation events are occuring now).  We also think this is consistent with the fossil record.  For instance we believe the horse fossil record is a real record of horse diversification.  This is part of a relatively new field in creation biology called baraminology.  Go to creationbiology.org for more info.

Gregory Arago - #7592

March 25th 2010

“I believe God created many different kinds in the beginning, and all species today are descended by common descent from those first kinds.” - Joe

I’m just curious, Joe, how many ‘different kinds’ do you think were created ‘in the beginning’? What (i.e. instruments, experiments, methods, etc.) do you use to ‘quantify’ or ‘measure’ this *number* or ‘kinds’? Is there *any* particular method of biblical interpretation that helps you come up with this *number* (i.e. by reading Scripture from the inside-out) or demands that *only* direct creation is a possibility for you to consider?

Yes, I’ve heard of baraminology and polyphyly. This means you accept ‘common descent’, but not a ‘(universal) common ancestor,’ is that right?

What does “may have been some event” (#7312) mean? That sounds rather uncertain, difficult to put much of any stock in it.

p.s. you might want to try your hand making a contribution to wikipedia on baraminology, as there is it more than once called ‘pseudo-science’, which doesn’t suit well your defence/offence of this position as if it makes *actual* contributions to scientific knowledge.

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