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Paul’s Perspective on Adam

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September 15, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this video Conversation, senior biblical fellow Peter Enns asks Rev. N.T. Wright to respond to a common question of readers concerning the historicity of Adam. Specifically, Enns asks Wright to respond to the question of how Adam functions theologically in the Old Testament and whether a historical Adam is central or important for that “Adam theology” that is brought up later in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he describes Christ as the “new Adam.”

Wright describes the first half of the letter to the Romans as offering a big-picture summary in that it returns to the project of Genesis 1 and 2 and announces that the original plan is back on track. In the Old Testament, redemption was to come through Israel—the people of Abraham—but Israel let God down.

In Romans, Paul says that Israel remains the solution. For Paul the significance of Abraham’s family is not who is this family, but what was this family supposed to do. Israel’s mission or promise will be fulfilled through the Messiah, Christ Jesus, and will be offered to all those who believe. Thus, the historicity of Adam is not central to the theology, it what Adam represents—which ultimately is revealed through Christ, who shows his faithfulness by keeping the original covenant between Israel and God the Father.

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Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


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.


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Bob R. - #30861

September 19th 2010

Papalinton - #30831 Please define “good” and your basis for identifying it. Do you appeal to any absolute? If so, what? If not, how do you establish morality as anything beyond a relative system of what is good and bad based on your opinion. Why would your system be any better than a system in opposition to yours such as the Mafioso system of morality, or the morality of despots or cannibals?

Secondly, removing a theistic overlay does not explain why there is a universal presumption of some kind of moral code. If the overlay is not theistic, what is it? “Doing good for goodness sake alone” when good cannot be defined is much too simplistic. If there is no universal overlay then there is no basis for us being right and the Mafia or despots being wrong for using people for their own ends. 

Finally, I admit that I would prefer not “tearing the fabric of my Christian belief system” if I can avoid it. However, you are suggesting that either (1) I don’t know myself, or (2) that I am being intellectually dishonest. If I can apply the same charge to you as you try to preserve the fabric of your agnostic belief system, then I would be willing to accept the verdict of guilty. Until then, not guilty.


Martin Rizley - #30863

September 19th 2010

Papalinton,  You said to Bob R, “good people are good people for goodness’ sake alone, no need for a theistic overlay.”  Christianity has never had any problem affirming that there is a relative human ‘goodness’ found in people all over the world, no matter what their religious background.  The name for this in Christian theology is ‘common grace,’ which is the grace of God that is at work in the lives of people who do not know or love Him and who have no desire to serve Him.  By virtue of God’s common grace, even those whom God regards as ‘evil’ by His absolute standard of righteousness may do many things that are ‘good’ in a relative sense, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:  “If you then, being EVIL, know how to give GOOD gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him.”  The works of unbelievers are not ‘‘good” in a spiritual sense, however, because they are not done from a proper motive—love for God—or with a proper aim—which is the glory of God.  Before spiritually good works can be performed, one must be ‘born of the Spirit,’  which only occurs in connection with hearing and believing the gospel of Christ.


Papalinton - #30876

September 20th 2010

Hi Rob R and Martin Rizley

You have both provided interesting comment. 

@ Rob
You say, .. ‘..either (1) I don’t know myself, or (2) that I am being intellectually dishonest.”

Papalinton
None of my commentary is about you.  In fact this is not about you.  There is no need to see my perspective as a personal attack.  What I am censuring is the nonsense on which the narrowness of your worldview is predicated.
I think you are also perfectly correct in that the absolute morality [and absolute it is] of the mafiosa, despots or other forms of tribal congregation are indistiguishable to those of the absolutism of the christian [including catholics] moral code of the bible.  They are both prescriptive and proscriptive in pretty much the same active manner, and always attributed to the Father [a supernatural non-human] in the case of the christianities, and the Godfather in the case of the mafiosa.


[to be cont.]


Papalinton - #30877

September 20th 2010

[cont.]
@ Rob
There is no “universal presumption of some kind of moral code”, as you put, Rob;  I have not presumed anything, rather, the best evidence from a range of disciplines [you know, all the science stuff BioLogos professes to be lording], psychology, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology [etc] has provided a pretty good guide to infer how morality is derived, how it operates and its functional relevance within the family, community etc. 


It is only early days in the research and study at the brain and mind level, together with its linking on how these behaviours play out in the wider sphere of human activity, including religion.  As I referred in an earlier comment,  ‘there are interpersonal, social, behavioural regularities and concerns and the biological bases for them which add up in humans to a moral sense.  The ‘morality’ we feel is what the premoral tendencies and capabilities feel like to an incorrigibly social and painfully self-aware species like humanity.’ 

[to be cont.]


Papalinton - #30880

September 20th 2010

[cont.]
@ Rob
There is so much more work to be done to understand these links.  I am simply not prepared to believe, and anybody who does has rocks in their head,  that all these issues were resolved two thousand years ago when recorded human activity was in its infancy, and that there is nothing more to find out or add about morality and how it works.  Any such belief is ludicrous, chock full of hubris and simply laughable.

Rob, it’s not about guilt or innocence, as you see it;  that is defensive nonsense; it’s about finding the truth.  The judeo-christian writings do NOT have sole patent or a monopoly on morality. 


@ Martin
You say, “The name for this in Christian theology is ‘common grace,’ ”  I say, that’s a fair statement and it is right and proper for those of the various christian cults to recognise that good can be done without a spectral numen in charge.  The next bit , ...“which is the grace of God that is at work in the lives of people who do not know or love Him and who have no desire to serve Him ..”  is speculative theological say-so.  Has no basis in fact.  Quoting the bible re: the sermon on the mount,  does not in any way make this a veridical statement.

[to be cont.]


Ken Palmer - #30891

September 20th 2010

I agree with Norm here.  Gen 1-2 “could” be interpreted as metaphorical, but I believe Adam is historical as per Gen 5, plus the geneological referrence from Christ both through Mary and Joseph.  It is clear to me that this is covenantally oriented.


Papalinton - #30914

September 20th 2010

[cont.]
@ Martin
You say, “The works of unbelievers are not ‘‘good” in a spiritual sense, however, because they are not done from a proper motive—love for God—or with a proper aim—which is the glory of God. “

Papalinton
Sorry Martin, the most generous I can accord this statement is, theo-babble.  It obfuscates the discussion and only muddies open discourse.

Equally, your, “Before spiritually good works can be performed, one must be ‘born of the Spirit,’  which only occurs in connection with hearing and believing the gospel of Christ.. ” denotes exclusivity, separateness,  tribal and presents a unilateral view, specific to one form of religiosity.  The arcane nature of what you describe as ‘spiritually good works’ contributes little to wider debate unless the membership is restricted to the level of a gang or club, such as a church group with like-minded views in which commonality of language cues are understood.

Referencing the bible for evidence is akin to my consulting the Koran or the Bhagavad-Gita,  even Harry Potter to determine the veracity and reality of the Dementors or Deatheaters.  While a difficult concept for you to contend with, the bible is not a universal reference outside theism.

Cheers


Martin Rizley - #30997

September 20th 2010

Papalinton, You write that “the bible is not a universal reference outside theism.”  Neither are modern science textbooks a “reference” to illiterate head hunters living in the jungles of New Guinea.  The fact that there is gross ignorance of the Bible in many parts of the world and that many cultures reject the Bible as God’s Word—either because they regard it as ‘outdated’ or because they have their own religions and ‘saced books’—is completely irrelevant when it comes to determining whether or not the Bible is actually true in what it teaches.  Truth has never been and never will be determined by a show of hands.  Do you think the apostles were ignorant of the fact that the Hellenistic world into which they went was filled with a multitude of philosophies and mystery religions to which people were fanatically devoted?  Did that discourage them in any way from going into all the world and proclaiming that which they knew to be true—namely, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and had ascended on high as the Lord of all men, to whom every knee must bow?  If Christ is risen, Christianity is true, no matter what the whole world thinks of it.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #31005

September 20th 2010

Papalinton,

To say humans are basically good flies in the face of history, esp recent history.

The last century began with WW1 involving the last great empires, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottomans against Russia, France, Britain, and the United States.  60+ millions were killed and maimed.

Then came WW2 with National Socialist Germany, Facist Italy, and Imperialist Japan against the world.  It was once claimed that religion is the basis of all wars, but that was not true of WW2 unless one tries to make Nazism and Communism into religions.  About 1 billion killed and maimed.

Then we have the atheist Communist rule which was based scientific socialism under the leadership of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Cescescu, Kim Il Sung, et al, which yielded about another billion deaths.

Today of course we have “good” people murdering each other in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and other places.  The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.


Jon Garvey - #31080

September 20th 2010

@Roger A. Sawtelle - #31005

Ahh Roger - Paplinton he say they all came from broken families…


Paul - #31320

September 22nd 2010

It seems to me N.T. Wright covers the question some were hoping to get answered in the video clip in his commentary on Romans. 

“Paul clearly believed that there had been a single first pair, whose male Adam, had been given a commandment and broken it.  Paul was, we may be sure, aware of what we would call mythical or metaphorical dimensions to the story, but he would not have regarded these as throwing doubt on the existence, and primal sin, of the first historical pair.” (NIB,N.T. Wright, Abingdon, pg 526)


Barry - #31333

September 22nd 2010

@many commenters

If there are absolute standards of morality derived from the bible, was the inquisition right or wrong? Were church leaders in southern slave states who used the bible as justification for slavery just poor theologians. Are all the “nasty” parts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy concealing some hidden moral code requiring sophisticated reasoning to explain away. Is child abuse an absolute moral prohibition? If so, why does no commandment mention children?


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