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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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Joe Francis - #7260

March 20th 2010

I agree with Martin that the first readers of the Genesis account, would have every reason to take the scriptures at face value and as true historical narrative.  We also get a sense of this when Moses gives a speech to the Israelites before entering the promise land in Deutoronomy.  He knows they need confidence to enter the promise land without him, so he reminds them of what they saw and what they heard God do in the wilderness, i.e., He demonstrated his power in the pillar of fire, the parting of the sea, the provision of manna….etc…  All of these things were physical events which they could experience with their senses and they demonstrate God’s power over nature and his power in relation to the static polygods of the ANE culture around them.  Moses did not have to use symbolism or a statue of God to represent God.  It is apparent that God did these things so that they would believe and understand His power and position as the one true God, in contrast to the inept unacting gods of the surrounding polytheistic ANE cultures.

The unparalleled nature of the Genesis account gives the same impresssion…it is a true physical manfestation of God’s power.

Joe Francis - #7261

March 20th 2010

As we see that the sun and moon are real manifestations of God’s creative acts in space and time on day four of creation, just like the israelites of old there is no reason to think of Adam as anything less than a real physical person created on day 6 of creation….this is just another example of God’s power as he intervenes in the natural world he created…. a message of power over nature that he wanted to demonstrate to a people in the midst of attractive polythiestic cultures.

  It is interesting that Augustine may question 6 day creation in his writings but he also opts for a much younger universe, one that is created instantaneously.  So in one way he is a really really young age creationist.  Although I must say you can find quotes by Augustine to support just about any creation view.

BenYachov - #7266

March 20th 2010


I think the basic difference between us is I’m a Traditional Catholic & you are a Conservative Protestant(not a terrible thing to be since most Liberals give me a rash).  I outright & without apology reject Sola Scriptura & the teaching of the Reformation as “Traditions of Men” and I hold to the Traditions of the Apostles (2 Thes 3:6) &  as you have said you ” have a different view of the authortative character of tradition.” 

So sadly on many points we are likely doomed to disagree.  Plus I’ve been a Catholic Apologist for much of my youth & these days in my middle age I grow weary of having keep fighting what I still believe are the un-biblical errors of the so called Reformers(these Days I find New Atheists to be greater enemies to the Holy Church then our separated brethren ever would or could be).

Plus this isn’t really the forum for Reformation Vs Counter-Reformation & I don’t wish to distract from the main theme here which is Genesis, Evolution & such.(continue)

BenYachov - #7267

March 20th 2010

Anyway Martin if you will indulge my curiosity?  Where do you stand on the creation spectrum?  Are you a Fiat Young Earth Creationist?  An Old Earth Progressive Creationist?  No preference?  Do you believe Evolution is completely incompatible, somewhat compatible? etc..  Finally what denomination of Protestant are you?  Calvinist Reform?  Lutheran? etc…

I’d like to know.  BTW feel free to quiz me.  Cheers bro & Christ be with you.

BenYachov - #7268

March 20th 2010

Hey Gregory,

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

I reply: Well if I believe in both a literal Adam(& I do) & an Old Earth then I believe Adam lived about 250,000 years ago.  I find it hard to believe a text written back then (assuming Adam could develope a written language) survived a quarter of a million years till whenever the flood was & finally to Abraham then Moses.  God could have done that if he wanted too but I likely think God simply revealed this truth to Moses.  I’m a Big believer in Tradition but not at the expense of written revelation.  Logically you can’t disprove Adam wrote genesis but you can’t disprove Richard Dawkins went back in Time with his Time Lady wife to write Genesis as a laugh at our expense.  But I think it quite guite quite unlikely.

Joe Francis - #7269

March 20th 2010


Thanks for asking Martin that question. Hopefully he will be able to respond.

Just curious, where do you insert the 244,000 years in the Gen 5 and 11 geneologies?

Joe Francis - #7270

March 20th 2010

Dear BenYachov,

The Galileo affair seems so overblown on many accounts in written legend over the years.

However, when you read Galileo’s own writings, he makes his devotion to the church and scriptures very clear, 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 think he would share your views.  Why then do you distance yourself from his ideas?

Gregory Arago - #7271

March 20th 2010

Hi Joe,

You speak of Galileo, but how about Gutenburg? He seems to have had an enormous impact on the argument you are making, in terms of defending a ‘personal faith’ by reading the Bible in the vernacular as a result of the printing press. Sure, his invention is ‘applied science,’ but it affected the fate of Protestantism of all stripes in a significant way.

Pre-Gutenburg, the idea of ‘Sola Scriptura’ was a fantasy.


Richard Colling - #7275

March 21st 2010

Thanks for an insightful and informative article that addresses a core issue in the science/religion controversies.  In my experience, fundamental literal creationists ( and many other non-fundamentalists) live in mortal fear that if the “death (physical) through Adam” verse in Romans is not interpreted literally, then the entire Christian theology falls apart. Since science clearly demonstrates that death was a part of life from its very inception billions of years ago, this fear would, to them, seem well-founded.  UNLESS, as you suggest there are bigger, better, and more accurate ways to interpret this.  One of the things that sets humans apart from all other life on the planet is our ability to think and reason on these higher levels - engaging and being able to comprehend concepts such as subtlety, symbolism, and higher order reasoning - perhaps part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

Gregory Arago - #7278

March 21st 2010

Hello Richard,

Would you be willing to go one step further with your suggestion and reject an historical Adam? That is the key question here.

I am greatly appreciative of Dr. Enns taking on this issue and agree with your assessment that the article(s) is both insightful and informative.

For me, there is no problem with what you highlight because I am not a fundamental literal creationist and accept an ‘old’ earth (geology).

The major issue, however, and I suspect Dr. Enns might have been surprised by the resistence to his proposal, is accepting or rejecting a historical (not a ‘literal’) human person called ‘Adam.’

In my view Patrick laid it down best in #7128.

Talking about subtely, symbolism and higher order reasoning is fine, but if one says “sets humans apart” perhaps they can take a stronger stand on the historical existence of Adam.

As a biologist, what are your thoughts about this?

Joe Francis - #7282

March 21st 2010

Hello Richard,

Thanks for joining the discussion.  Gregory has some good questions for you and I look forward to your reply to those.

I have some thoughts for you.  Biology does not rule out that there are biological mechanisms which control the life-span of organisms, and, as you know, some biologists and futurists believe that longer life spans and immortality is not out of the question.

As a young age creationist, those facts and hypothesis support the biblical based idea that life, once, could have been created to be immortal. 

Also, I believe that the way plants and animals are designed, that indeed immortality would not have been a big problem in the pre-Fall world.  However, I also believe, since the Bible speaks about an “organismal” creation, that organisms did not die, but cells could have expired.  However, the design of life is such that cells can die, without effecting organismal lifespan.

So I would say that ideas gleaned from both biology and the bible support the idea of organismal immortality.

Richard Colling - #7285

March 21st 2010

Hi Gregory,
Thank you for your question. 

You reference Patrick’s post #7128.  I copied some here.

““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.  ...  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. 

My thoughts:
I see nothing in biology that rejects the idea of a “first human”. Logically, there must have been a “first”. In fact, some have suggested (reasonably I believe) that human chromosome #2 is the ‘smoking gun’ that provides the actual evidence in support this idea. (Graeme Finlay and David Wilcox have written about this in some detail.) This would be a genetic bottleneck so to speak - paving the way to a new human speciation event. Consistent with this idea is the relative genetic uniformity (non-diversity) within the human population.  This means that humans came into being “recently”. (in evolutionary time).

All best to you.

BenYachov - #7286

March 21st 2010

>Just curious, where do you insert the 244,000 years in the Gen 5 and 11 geneologies?

I reply: The geneologies don’t have to be complete or precise or is King David literally the Father of Jesus?  I have no problem believing in huge gaps within the geneologies. 

BTW guys.  I reject Sola Scriptura & perspicuity just as fearsomely as the next Catholic.  But I don’t think this forum is the place for it IMHO(though I have no problem with theological liberal bashing;-).


Richard Colling - #7288

March 21st 2010

Thanks for the questions Joe.

Your comment: As a young age creationist, those facts and hypothesis support the biblical based idea that life, once, could have been created to be immortal.

My thoughts:  Cell populations do indeed sometimes change to become somewhat “immortal”. (Cancer cells for instance.)  But while a useful description, it is probably not totally accurate.  Even these “immortal” cell lines are accumulating damage to DNA that, over very long periods, who can say what becomes of them.  (HeLa cells from the reproductive tumor of Henrietta Lacks in the 1950s? is a good example.)  Her cells have literally been spread across the globe as an “immortal” cell line.  But the truth is that today, unrestricted by normal genetic selection pressures, they are remarkably different than when first isolated decades ago - even amongst different laboratories all over the world.  In addition, cells like these are only “immortal” if we (humans) thin them out and replenish nutrients regularly.

Even if immortality was theoretically possible, the genetic and fossil records differs.  Death appears to be a part of life from its very inception.

Joe Francis - #7292

March 21st 2010

Hi Richard,

I agree with everything you said, in fact I believe that death was a part of life soon after it was created. 

However, this is an interesting discussion, because if we accept common descent, which is one of the concepts influencing Pete’s view of Genesis and Adam, then, a form of immortality is also accepted. . (and I do believe in common descent as I have stated elsewhere). let me explain.

Many biologists if not all agree that life “begets” life.  Therefore all living things are on a continuum of a kind of immortal life via the cell level.  Gametes are alive, and they are transferred to make a new organism.  So where is death here?  It is at the level of the individual organism, yet the cells involved in making individuals never die.  So I would say that form of immortality is accepted in biology.

Asexually reproducing organisms like E.coli are also an example…have they ever really died as an organism?

Also as you know there are researchers who have extended the life span of mice and nematodes up to 65%.  They are forcasting even more increases in life span as research moves forward.

Richard Colling - #7293

March 21st 2010


You are right, and few people recognize this point.  In essence, life, once created, has never ended.

Joe Francis - #7295

March 21st 2010

Thanks Rick,

My main point here is that I do not think it is unreasonable based on the biblical evidence and some biological evidence that living organisms, could have been at one time created to be immortal.  And as we discussed, this does not mean that individuals cells did not expire.

I appreciate our discussion

Gregory Arago - #7296

March 21st 2010

Also sending my thanks Rick,

You wrote:
“I see nothing in biology that rejects the idea of a “first human”. Logically, there must have been a “first”.”

I find this a very important concession. There are biologists out there who imagine that their ‘science’ actually can trump even logic. In some cases, I’ve come across people who deny that ‘there must have been a first,’ saying instead that ‘no first is necessary.’ Thus, I’m pleased to hear you affirm this logical principle and its expression in history and biology.

Also, you wrote: “new speciation event…means that humans came into being “recently”. (in evolutionary time).”

I can accept this and also gladly note the qualifier ‘evolutionary’ wrt ‘time.’ Other types of ‘time’ have different characteristics, depending on the case.

Both of these topics will likely come up again.

Welcome to 1250 character chats!

Just curious how the Gutenburg reference met you Joe…
McLuhan’s “Gutenburg Galaxy” is amazing on this issue.

Joe Francis - #7297

March 21st 2010


I have to confess that I do not know much about Gutenberg.  I do not like to comment on individuals until I read their actual writings.  Creationists have a tendency to make claims about history without doing their homework.

I am more familiar with the successful creationists like Pasteur and Damadian.  Apparently Damadian discovered the science behind the MRI.  I also like James Clerk Maxwell, he used biblical principles to discover properties of light.

Joe Francis - #7298

March 21st 2010

Thanks for the reference Greg.

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