Paul’s Adam, Part 2

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March 16, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

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

Paul’s Adam, Part 2

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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Dan Lioy - #7058

March 17th 2010

Karl, my mistake. I realize now that EMs are not accessible here. Another option is do an internet search by using my name and the book title, or clicking on my name and going to my homepage.


Joe Francis - #7061

March 17th 2010

Dan,

Thanks again for your comments.  What I understand of the ANE setting during the time period of the writing of Genesis, I think supports the notion that Genesis, in its entirety is historical narrative.  For instance, it is my understanding that the surrounding ANE cultures lived by the idea that political power is related to the strength of one’s gods, and that theogony is the explanation for the origin of Gods etc….  Many if not all of the events of the first creation week are polemic to these ideas…i.e. God is showing that He is different from any other God because He is one, He is powerful over nature and apart from nature and has no origin.  In my opinion this would provide a reason for why God would create using a sequence of days rather than instantaneously to show His power and not necessarily to provide an explanation for cosmogony.  By creating the universe in a short period of time….He is certainly showing an awesome display of power, and one that we can relate to and 15 century people could relate to, since we live in this same time frame. For example, the 7 day work week is also based on this principle. Based on this, I don’t see a need for God to use allegory or poetry to explain His creative acts. (?)


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7066

March 17th 2010

>Can you give an example of how a symbolic allegorical tale can contain real history?

I reply: Well off the top of my head the “Cursing of the Fig tree” is clearly an allegory about the destruction of Jerusalem & the whole Book of Revelation is about First century Roman persecution of Christians as a foreshadowing of end time events told in smbolic language.

It’s not hard guy.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7067

March 17th 2010

>If an allegorical tale refers to real history…. are you saying Genesis talks about a real historical event which happened prior to the telling of the allegorical tale?  If so what is the nature of the historical event you are speaking of…just curious.

I reply: I said it “contains” real history & yes since it is a Divinely Inspired work there is no reason we can’t believe it is a symbolic tale about how the first man given an immortal soul by God really fell from Grace.  This “either you believe in a literal Adam or you believe in Evolution” meme is pure nonsense IMHO.


Gregory Arago - #7069

March 17th 2010

I agree that the thought of “either you believe in a literal Adam or you believe in Evolution” is nonsense, yet without calling it a ‘meme.’

The idea of ‘memes’ is also nonsense IMHO.


Martin Rizley - #7071

March 17th 2010

Dr. Enns, You ask, “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?” 
Why do you ask, “Does the Old Testament teach. . .” rather than, “Does the Bible teach. . .”? There is, after all, one divine Author behind both Testaments, an Author who does not contradict Himself.  Moreover, the apostle Paul (whose interpretation of the OT is authoritative) is clear that all human beings are dead in sin through Adam’s transgression (Rom. 5, Eph. 2).  We are “by nature” chidlren of wrath, something that could not have been said of men prior to Adam’s sin.  David confessed that his mother “conceived” him “in sin,” and that is not a reference to the sinfulness of human reproduction!  It is a reference to the sinful condition in which all men are born as the result of Adam’s sin.  Moreover, the Bible says that death passed to ‘all men’ (not just Israelites) because of the one man’s sin.  So all men are dead in sin because of Adam’s sin.


Moses Kostamo - #7082

March 17th 2010

I look forward to the next installment in this series. These cliffhanger endings each week are killing me:-)

Evolutionary Creationist:  “Was Adam a real historical person?”

Young Earth Creationist: “Yes he was, and I’m going to meet him in heaven someday!”

EC: “What if he didn’t make it to heaven?”

YEC:  “Well then I guess you’ll get to meet him.”


John VanZwieten - #7083

March 17th 2010

Moses,

LOL.

Martin,

It seems to me that you’ve walked right into the “trap” set by Dr. Enns. 

If, as you say, Paul’s interpretation of the OT is authoritative, and if Paul’s interpretation of the OT is not literal but rather theological, then a theological interpretation of the OT (and specifically Adam) is the authoritative one.


Joe Francis - #7090

March 17th 2010

BenYachov #7706

You said:” Well off the top of my head the “Cursing of the Fig tree” is clearly an allegory about the destruction of Jerusalem & the whole Book of Revelation is about First century Roman persecution of Christians as a foreshadowing of end time events told in smbolic language.”

O.K. I agree, but in these cases the allegory refers to a real historical event.  What do you believe is the real historical event?...you apparently believe that historical events can be deciphered from or connected to the biblical allegory, so I think you should be able to explain what you believe the historical biblical event is which is reffered to in the creation allegory.


Russell Roberts - #7112

March 18th 2010

Pete,

FYI, Wright has a compelling argument for the Jewish self-perception as being taking on the role of Adam. The beasts and the ‘Son of Man’ phrases in Daniel 7 are relevant. So Adam’s role, especially in first century Judaism is not as tenuous as it might first appear.

I would add that eph ho pantes hamartias in Romans 5:12 is by no means a clear statement by Paul.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7114

March 18th 2010

>O.K. I agree, but in these cases the allegory refers to a real historical event.  What do you believe is the real historical event?...

I Reply: Simple, God gave a pre-human hominid an Immortal Soul in a state of original innocence & also gave him a wife & they where tested/tempted & fell from grace.  We all descent from that original couple.

>you apparently believe that historical events can be deciphered from or connected to the biblical allegory, so I think you should be able to explain what you believe the historical biblical event is which is reffered to in the creation allegory.

I reply: As a Catholic I believe in the Authority of Scripture, Tradition & the Church.  I reject Protestant beliefs such as Sola Scriptura, the Perspicuity of Scripture & private interpretation.  The Church’s teaching authority & tradition lead me(as per Pius XII’s teaching) to believe we come from a real Adam & Eve.

I accept biological polygenesis but I hold too a rigorous Theological monogenesis & I think it likely Adam’s offspring mated with other Pre-human hominids.


Joe Francis - #7116

March 18th 2010

Thanks BenYachov,  That is very helpful because that is not my tradition.

What is the church’s position on pre-human hominids?


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7117

March 18th 2010

Additional.

>you apparently believe that historical events can be deciphered from or connected to the biblical allegory,

I reply:  Not from scripture alone we need tradition.  Orthodox Jewish Physicist Gerald L. Schroeder talks about how in Jewish Tradition after the death of Able by his brother Cain, Adam & Eve separated for a while & Adam mated with creatures who had the form of humans but had no Nehfessh(soul) which the Talmud calls “Masters of the Field”.  That sounds plausible.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7123

March 18th 2010

>What is the church’s position on pre-human hominids?

I reply: It’s a matter of natural science to determine.


Joe Francis - #7125

March 18th 2010

What is the churches relationship to natural science….they do not always agree do they?


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7126

March 18th 2010

>What is the churches relationship to natural science….they do not always agree do they?

I reply:  The Church has always held to the Augustinian Principle.  If a particular interpretation of Holy Writ contradicts what we know from natural science then natural science wins out & the text in question must be re-interpreted.  This was the case even with that overblown shmuck Galieo.  Galieo DID NOT prove his views scientifically(& I believe he plagiarized much of his dialogs from a Jesuit named Scheiner which justly won him enemies) we had to wait to the late 18th century & the early 19th century for the science to prove conclusively that the earth moved.  Of course even after Shmuck Boy’s death the Church relaxed it’s ban & Catholic could teach heliocentric science as a theory.  Father Copernicus was allowed but schmuck boy was not.


Patrick M - #7128

March 18th 2010

Hi BenYachov, I agree with you on the topic of Adam.  I’m Protestant, but I feel that the rejection of a historical “Adam” is unnecessary, and can lead to bad theology in general if one is not careful.  Logic tells us (whether you believe in evolution or not) that there had to be a first human at some point in time.  Whether his name was literally “Adam” or not is not really important.  The fact is there was at some point in time the first human who was not merely an animal, but something else altogether.  Someone with a spirit and soul.  Rejecting the existence of such a first man is almost the same as saying there is no real distinction between humans and animals.


Patrick M - #7129

March 18th 2010

Another issue is that it implies that mankind has always been sinful, and was in fact created by God as a sinner, and was never in a state of innocence.  This also has tricky theological problems of its own!  It either implies God created humans inherently sinful from the beginning, or “The Fall” gets turned into a metaphor for our own personal first sin, with the implication that we’re all born innocent.  This again has the theological problem of being essentially a form of pelagianism.

Completely rejecting the idea of any sort of historical Adam seems to have no real “scientific” advantage to me.  Sure, reading Genesis very literally will give you problems, but you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  If the historicity of Adam is completely false, then I think we honestly have to re-think an incredible amount of theology developed over the last 2000 years, including with Paul’s very own!  That’s a pretty radical thing to do for what seems like very little “scientific” advantage, in my mind.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7133

March 18th 2010

Right on Patrick!:-)  You go guy!:-)


Gregory Arago - #7134

March 18th 2010

Thanks, Patrick for both of these posts! Espcially #7128 expresses in a concise and clear way how I view the issue and which I’ve tried to say here also. You’ve even left the door open for Dr. Enns’ theological perspectives by saying ‘if one is not careful,’ because I’ve no doubt that he is careful in his analyses! Others have refused the ‘logic’ that you point out tells us “there was at some point in time the first human who was not merely an animal.” I fully agree with you on the repercussions of doing this in terms of accepting or rejecting a ‘real distinction’ between humans and animals.

I’d congratulate you just for being you, but you’re a day late in writing! : D


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