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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Joe Francis - #7136

March 18th 2010

Yes, I agree Patrick, that there is” little scientific advantage “to reformulating scripture, and even though I reject the idea of an animal predecessor to Adam; it doesn’t mean that the concept of common descent has to be rejected.  Lots of ideas in science are debated until a clear answer is found.

Martin Rizley - #7159

March 18th 2010

Ben Yachov and Patrick,  I don’t really know how much is gained by affirming belief in some sort of historical “Adam” if that Adam is not identified with the biblical Adam who was the husband of Eve, whose sons included Cain, Abel, and Seth, whose grandsons included Enoch (through Cain) and Enosh (through Seth), etc.  If you believe in any Adam other than the biblical Adam, you have rendered the Bible incomprehensible to most people, who assume (naturally and rightly, in my opinion) that the Bible is to be taken at face value when it gives genealogical lists and sketches in broad outline the development of human history and culture in connection with particular persons in those genealogical lists?  If you ‘salvage’ the doctrine of original sin by affirming an original father of the human race, while at the same time saying we know nothing about that father, since the information given concerning the biblical Adam is fictitious and not to be taken at face value, what gain has been made, as far as strengthening people’s confidence in the authority and perspicuity of the Bible?

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7170

March 19th 2010

>Ben Yachov and Patrick,  I don’t really know how much is gained by affirming belief in some sort of historical “Adam” if that Adam is not identified with the biblical Adam who was the husband of Eve, whose sons included Cain, Abel, and Seth, whose grandsons included Enoch (through Cain) and Enosh (through Seth), etc.

I reply: The historical Adam & the Biblical Adam are the same person even if the Adam in Genesis is a stylized allegorical representation of him.  Just as the “Son of Man” in the Prophecies Ezekiel & the “Son of Man” in the New Testament are the same person.  Your either/or fallacy is unconvincing to me.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7171

March 19th 2010

>If you believe in any Adam other than the biblical Adam, you have rendered the Bible incomprehensible to most people, who assume (naturally and rightly, in my opinion) that the Bible is to be taken at face value when it gives genealogical lists and sketches in broad outline the development of human history and culture in connection with particular persons in those genealogical lists?

I reply: Catholics like myself a prior reject the idea the Bible is perspicuous & plead the need for tradition(2 Thes 2:15) & Church (1 Tim 3:15).  However many Protestants who do profess Perspicuity limit it to matters of salvation(i.e the plain things are the main things etc).  Thus it doesn’t matter if Genesis is a literal tale of the historic biblical Adam or an allegorical tale of the same.  You still know enough from the Bible to be saved & believe in Justification threw Faith.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #7172

March 19th 2010

>If you ‘salvage’ the doctrine of original sin by affirming an original father of the human race, while at the same time saying we know nothing about that father, since the information given concerning the biblical Adam is fictitious and not to be taken at face value, what gain has been made, as far as strengthening people’s confidence in the authority and perspicuity of the Bible?

I reply: Even Protestant Apologist James White once quipped Sola Scriptura & perspicuity don’t mean the Bible contains all knowledge.  We don’t have to know what color the eyes of St. John where or what was on the Menu of the last supper.  Thus logically all we really need to know from Genesis is Adam was made by God & fell thus requiring the coming of Christ to restore the human race with his Cross & Resurrection.  BTW an allegory is NOT A FICTION.  Or do you really believe the future anti-Christ will be a literal seven headed beast & not a real man symbolized by the same?

Patrick M - #7175

March 19th 2010

Yeah, I’d agree with what BenYachov is saying.  The account of Adam is not “fictitious”.  It’s stylized and infused with metaphor, and written in a mythic form of writing, but just because some modern readers can’t understand how that works doesn’t mean it’s not the case.  The Bible is full of allegory, symbolism, types, metaphor, etc.  The Epistle to the Hebrews makes this point clear, as well as do many of Paul’s writings.  But that doesn’t mean none of those things ever happened. 

I think you’re assuming I’m throwing out more than I actually am.  The Bible is “messy” as Peter Enns himself often says.  I think we do best when we don’t try to out guess it too much, and just interpret it as Paul and the other New Testament writers themselves do.  Perhaps that leaves us with parts that we have trouble fully making sense of, but we don’t have to know the answer to everything to be confident in the gospel of Jesus Christ (who is ultimately the reason and answer to everything in the Old Testament).

Martin Rizley - #7193

March 19th 2010

Patrick and Ben Yachov,  I am open in principle to the presence of metaphor and allegory in the Genesis narrative of Adam and the Fall; I just don’t think the textual evidence supports the view that we are intended to read it that way.  The narrative is too tightly embedded into the rest of the Genesis record, formally and stylistically, to be treated as belonging to a different genre than the other Genesis narratives which make up the book of Genesis, all of which are introduced by the same “toledot” formula.  The genealogies and the ages given, as well as little details such as the passing mention of Tubal-Cain’s sister Naamah, are (I believe) conclusive proof that we are to understand the narratives of concerning Adam, Eve and their lineal descendants to be an accurate record of actual historical events.  Far from seeing the snake and the tree as metaphorical symbols, I believe that these were actual physical realities in the Garden (the snake a common “beast of the field” and the tree a non-magical, run of the mill fruit tree, that by virtue of circumstances, became associated with spiritual realities (continued).

Martin Rizley - #7194

March 19th 2010

The serpent became associated with Satan by means of demonic possession, through which it became the medium by which Eve was tempted to sin.  It is for that reason that Satan himself became known as “the serpent of old,” because he tempted our first parents by means of a serpent.  The tree on the other hand, was in itself like any other fruit tree, but by God’s appointment, it became associated with the inheritance of eternal life; that is, had Adam obeyed God, God would have made the eating of the fruit of that tree both the occasion and outward “sacramental” sign of Adam’s inheriting from God the blessing of eternal life.  In itself, the tree was like any other; there was nothing magical about it, but it was made ‘special’ by God’s appointment.  I believe this historical reading of the text is supported by its harmonious agreement with the other narratives of the Genesis record, all of which are framed in the same way (“these are the generations of”) and all of which purport to give us a record of events ‘in the beginning.’  I see no textual reason for reading these passages as allegorical or symbolical.

Patrick M - #7195

March 19th 2010

Hi Martin,
I’m open to that view as well, although it’s kind of a different debate from what I was trying to say.  My main point is that I feel you don’t have to reject what Paul says and implies about the reality of Adam because of evolution or anything else science is telling us right now.  I can see why you might want to insist on the historicity and literalness of other aspects of the story as well.  You could very well be 100% correct, I’m not really arguing against that.  But to me, the doctrine of the original man and the Fall is a core one in traditional christian orthodoxy that for me requires some really strong evidence before I’m going to reject it.  Whether or not he was actually named “Adam” (for instance) is a lot more debatable, and has a lot less theological implications.  But that there was an original first man who was innocent and subsequently fell has a lot deeper theological implications.  That’s basically what I’m trying to get at.

Austin Davis - #7202

March 19th 2010

You might say the geaneologies were partially myth (which back then was perfectly accepted as useful for teaching truths) which was really only used indicate the Jewish descent from their famous ancestors.

Thus Adam truly meant all of mankind, and not a solitary figure. Maybe Paul had this in mind. As a Christian, I find the last point you made to be the beginning of the most satisfying answer, specifically in your sentence, “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?” It seems to me that the Biblical narrative is a story of redemption, but even more deeply it is the story of God reaching out to mankind to communicate with us and act in our lives. The Jewish myth story was the method by which they understood that. Christians believe that God became flesh, actually met with mankind physically, in the only way we can really understand, and is drawing us into communion with him.

Martin Rizley - #7206

March 19th 2010

The only problem with what you suggest about Adam—namely, that Adam is a ‘symbol’ for all of mankind, rather than a ‘solitary figure’—is that the details of the Genesis narrative contradict your hypothesis.  There is simply too much detail given to us about Adam’s relationship to his wife and his sons to see him as anything other than a real individual, the progenitor of the human race.  For one thing, we are told that Adam’s son Seth was born sometime after the death of Abel, when Adam ‘knew his wife again.’  If Adam symbolizes “all of mankind,” with whom did ‘all of mankind’ have sexual relations to beget Seth?  Moreover, we are told the precise age at which Adam begot Seth (130 years) and the reaction of Adam’s wife when she bore Seth (“God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel”).  All this attention to detail tells us that “allegorizing” the character of Adam simply will not do.  Such an interpretation takes us away from the intention of the inspired writer, who clearly wants us to see Adam as a real individual.

BenYachov - #7208

March 20th 2010

There is no unanimous tradition telling us what parts of Genesis are Allegory & what parts are literal & for me that speaks volumes.  Thought I would say Traditions seems to insist Adam was a real person.  Augustine saw a contradiction between taking both Genesis 1 & 2 literally.  Genesis 1 seems to teach the world was created in six days & Genesis 2:4 seems to say all things where created in one day.  He wasn’t alone Philo believed that too & Aquinas said that it was a possible point of view.  Thus they believed Genesis 1 was a different genre within Genesis from let us say Genesis two & interpreting Genesis 1 as an allegory.

BenYachov - #7209

March 20th 2010

I also might agree with Dr Enns who said QUOTE”.A literal understanding of Genesis from an ancient mind frame would not necessarily be the same as what we now think of as a literal reading—where everything corresponds to reality in a one to one fashion.  Ancients were much more accepting of the language of metaphor and in many cases, expected it. This was the way that complex ideas were often transmitted in terms that people could understand.”  Thus I might be skeptical of Martin’s interpretation for this reason since he seems to be reading the text with a “modern” understanding.

BenYachov - #7210

March 20th 2010

Also from the Patristic perspective there is no universally held view as to the precise age of the Earth.  Some Fathers taught the Earth was 4,000 another 5,000 & still another 10,000 and Augustine himself said the Earth was not yet 6,000(as an Answer to the Aristotelians who taught the Earth was infinitely old & the human race eternal).  Some young Earth Creationists make a big thing of the fact these are all “young” ages as some sort of poof we are meant to believe in a Young Earth by the traditional “Unanimous consent” rule of St. Vincent of Lerins.  But as one Traditional Catholic commentator once quipped “These are but merely the opinions of the Fathers as private scientists not articles of Faith”.  If Jesus taught the Apostles the true age of the Earth one would think either the Bible would record it or the Fathers would all give the same age & mention it came from the Apostles.

BenYachov - #7212

March 20th 2010

OTOH if we can learn anything from Old Earth Progressive Creationist interpretative schemes & recognize there is a lot of overlap between that view & Theistic Evolution(i.e. both believe in an “Old World” but differ on Darwin & Macro-evolution)  then there really is NO REASON why we can’t take the text as near literally as Martin does with the small exception of recognizing in Hebrew “Father” can also mean “ancestor” & Begot can mean “Descent from” as well.  Thus we need not ignore science in regards to the age of the world & uphold the Augustinian Principle.  Till the Pope tells me different I see no reason to be beholden to any of these views or reject them(including Martin’s).  If I believe Fr Jaki even the Fathers who took Genesis “literally” often mixed allegory into their “literal”  understanding.

BenYachov - #7214

March 20th 2010

Msgr John F McCarthy a Traditionalist Catholic Priest(who seems quite anti-Darwinian & somewhat of a Creationist) once wrote QUOTE"Finally as The first eleven chapters of Genesis are historically true, even though they are not written in the genre of precision that is required of modern historians.”

Is there some point of contact here between Enns & McCarthy?

Gregory Arago - #7225

March 20th 2010

Thanks for your contributions here, BenYachov. You gently indicate that a ‘hyper-literalism’ is not a common position, even with the Church Fathers, and certainly not in the Roman Catholic Church. I mentioned the importance of ‘Tradition’ and ‘Ecclesia’ in addition to ‘Scripture’ to Martin before, but you do a much better job explaining what it is like to live in this Christian environment of belief. I only hope that he (and Joe) will see this as a responsible position, and not hold it against the Church as being schismatic.

If I understand your position, in line with the Vatican’s, it means that you reject a ‘non-historical Adam’. This is consistent with many Protestants’ allegiances; even evangelical Protestants on this Blog have defended the ‘historicity of Adam.’ Dick Fisher is one example, speaking with historical studies, King lists, etc. that Adam was an historical figure; another person even suggested that Adam wrote the text Genesis.

I wonder if you could address this: Can it be disproven that ‘Adam wrote Genesis’?

Martin Rizley - #7230

March 20th 2010

Ben Yachov,
Thanks for your response.  It seems me that the point you make (taken from Dr. Enns) about the differences between the “ancient” and the “modern” mind is a bit overblown.  I am not at all convinced that the ancient mind thought in a ‘less literal’ manner than the modern mind; if anything, I think the reverse is true.  Since the ancients did not have the ‘hangups’ we moderns have about the supposed demands of ‘natural law’ (they were not locked into the post-Enlightenment rationalism that dominates in so many universities and seminaries)  they were much more inclined to interpret literally biblical narratives that seem ‘impossible’ or even ‘absurd’ to Western moderns, interpreted literally.  For an analogy, just look at how easily tribal peoples today in Africa and India (whose cultures more closely resemble the ancient biblical cultures than our own) receive the Genesis narratives as literally true.  They have no question about the ‘literalness’ of the serpent in the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, etc.  (I had several friends from tribal cultures in northeast India in seminary, and they had no modern, Western, rationalistic hangups about interpreting Genesis literally.) Continued

Martin Rizley - #7232

March 20th 2010

Moreover, the point you make about traditional interpretations of Genesis is interesting and informative, but as a Protestant, I have a different view of the authortative character of tradition.  I believe that believers are individually responsible to ‘hear’ and ‘obey’ what God is saying through His written word, even if particular church leaders are misinterpreting that written Word due to lack of spiritual insight.  In this regard, I believe Jesus dealings with the Jewish leaders of Israel is enlightening.  Although they knew much about rabbinic tradition and the traditional interpretations of the Torah, Jesus called them ‘blind leaders of the blind.’  When Nicodemus, a highly educated religious leader, expressed ignorance concerning the doctrine of the new birth, Jesus said, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?”  The implication is that Nicodemus should have known the truth, since he knew the Scriptures.  For Jesus, to know the written Scriptures is to know the truth, since the written Scriptures are truth (John 17:17).  Moreover, the Scriptures are perspicuous, since Jesus often said to His opponents, “Have you not read?”  implying that the Bible in itself is clear in its teaching (cont.)

Martin Rizley - #7238

March 20th 2010

Knowing that church leaders can be spiritually blind, and that the Scriptures are clear in themselves (especially with regard to their major teachings), and knowing that we will be judged personally and individually for being “foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25), that we have a responsibility to deal with the Scriptures in a direct manner by “searching” them to determine the truth of falsehood of various teachings brought to us by church leaders.  We are to be like the Bereans, who in response to Paul’s teaching “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11)  We are by no means obligated to accept traditions or traditional interpretations that lack a clear Scriptural foundation, any more than the Jews in Jesus’ day were obligated to accept the traditions of the rabbis. We are to be on guard against those who “teach as doctrines the commandments of men” and who “reject the commandment of God, that they may keep their tradition” (Mark 7:7, 9).  It is on this basis—on the basis of ‘what is written’—that I believe in a literal Adam, regardless of what Augustine or any other particular church father may have taught.

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