The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ, Part 1: Adam as Israel

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

Today's entry was written by Daniel Kirk. 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.

The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ, Part 1: Adam as Israel

Some of the highest hurdles for setting aside the historicity of a literal Adam and Eve are raised by the New Testament. In Romans and 1 Corinthians, in particular, Paul presents Jesus as a “Second Adam.”

Does this not, then, imply both that Paul himself thought that Adam was a historical figure? More importantly, doesn’t the validity of his claims about Christ stand or fall with the historicity of his claims about Adam? I don’t think so.

In wrestling with the question of the significance of the historical Adam for Paul’s theology of the crucified and risen Jesus, I begin with the Old Testament stories themselves. In short, I would argue that ancient stories of beginnings are never simply written to tell their readers what happened. They are written to tell readers how their own story is connected to the purposes God (or the gods) had in making the world and people upon it.

In the case of Israel, this means that the creation narratives are written at later stages in Israel’s story to show that Israel is the means by which God is acting to fulfill God’s purposes for the world. God calls Israel to be and to do what humanity was created to be and to do. Read through the Old Testament stories with the creation narratives in one hand and you find myriad ways that the scriptures say, “God did not give up on creation, but is bringing its purposes to fruition through the people of Israel.”

To give but one example, Genesis and the early part of Exodus echo the blessing God spoke to humanity at creation: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). This language is not only repeated when God recreates the earth after the Flood (Genesis 8:17; 9:1, 7), it is used after Abraham is singled out as the mediator of God’s blessing.

Genesis 17:6 contains this promise to Abraham: “I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you and kings will descend from you.” Not only does this pick up on the language of fruitfulness from creation (Genesis 1) and re-creation (Genesis 8-9, after the flood), it also indicates that Abraham’s family is going to fulfill what God originally intended for humanity: to rule the world on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:26-28).

The blessing of fruitfulness and multiplication is passed along to Jacob, later called Israel (Genesis 28:3; 35:11).

The point here is not to give an exhaustive account of the significance of Genesis 1 as the introduction to the Old Testament canon. Rather, I want to illustrate that stories of creation are told in order to help people interpret their place in the cosmic story. For Israel, this means that the creation narratives are told in order to illustrate how the creator God has placed his name on them and chosen them to fulfill his desires for humanity.

People were created to represent God’s reign to the world, which includes a mediation of God’s love and blessings. When humanity as a whole fails to live up to this calling, Israel is assigned to play the role as a representative of the whole.

This is the point at which, I will argue, Paul is in perfect harmony with the Old Testament narratives. Next week, we will explore some ways in which the apostle makes similar interpretive moves, but with a new fundamental conviction. Paul’s concern is no longer how Israel in general fulfills God’s purpose for creation, but instead how Jesus in particular, as Israel’s messiah, brings humanity’s vocation to completion.


Daniel Kirk is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary in Northern California. He is the author of Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God and blogs regularly at Storied Theology. He has published articles in numerous venues including Journal of Biblical Literature, Zeitschrift for Neues Testament, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, and Christianity Today.

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Norm - #9913

April 15th 2010

The Hebrew used metaphors to describe the pagan Gentile relationship to themselves. We see prophecy in Hosea that the animals will be brought into covenant with True Israel (the church) which is accomplished in Acts 10 with Peters vision of the animals being declared clean. Isaiah confirms that the wild Gentile animals will lie down in safety with the domestic Hebrew animals.

Hos 2:18 ESV And I will make for them (Judah and Israel) a covenant on that day with THE BEASTS OF THE FIELD, THE BIRDS OF THE HEAVENS, AND THE CREEPING THINGS OF THE GROUND. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I WILL MAKE YOU LIE DOWN IN SAFETY.

Isa 11:6-7 ESV The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard SHALL LIE DOWN with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  (7)  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young SHALL LIE DOWN TOGETHER; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Act 10:12-15 ESV In it were ALL KINDS OF ANIMALS AND REPTILES AND BIRDS OF THE AIR.  …“Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  … I have never eaten anything … common or unclean.”  (15)  And the voice came … “What God has made clean, do not call common.”


BenYachov - #9931

April 15th 2010

>Add to that the stylized nature of the Genesis narrative and its similarities to other ANE creation stories and you have a compelling argument for a non-historical Adam.

I reply: Based on that logic you have a non-historical Nero & a non-historical persecution of the first Century Church in the Book of Revelation, because it too is a stylized narrative, which is absurd.  Logically I can see no reason to believe biological polygenesis precludes the existence of an early hominid whom God ensouled who rebelled against him & from whom we all inherit original sin.
http://www.catholic.com/library/Adam_Eve_and_Evolution.asp

To quote the above tract “The argument is that all of this is real history, it is simply ordered topically rather than chronologically, and the ancient audience of Genesis, it is argued, would have understood it as such…..it is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. “


Andrew - #9932

April 15th 2010

I know I’m a bit late on this, but I’ve been sitting down reading Romans 5:12-21, trying to fit “human” or “mankind” where “Adam” is written.  JRDK, I did find your post interesting, but I cannot see right now how the following are compatible with any sort of allegorical or polygenesis reading:

“. . . sin came into the world through one man . . .” (v. 12)—Here a singular person is mentioned, not a plurality of any kind.

“Death reigned . . . even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (v. 14).  Here the sin of “Adam” is contrasted with that of other humans, that is, they didn’t break league with an explicit stipulation given by God (Gen. 2:17).  I also don’t see how “humanity” Adam was a pattern or type of Jesus Christ (assuming Adam/Christ as covenant heads of humanity.)

“. . . one man’s trespass . . . that one man Jesus . . . one man’s sin . . . one man’s trespass . . . the one man Jesus Christ ” (vv. 15-18).  Same as above.


Mark chambers - #9958

April 16th 2010

I am new to all of this and my question is not meant to be any sort of “troll” or attempt get things riled up.

I am sure that I am missing something completely elementary but, if Adam is not “literal” what then do we do with Noah, Abraham, etc.? Are we to take them as allegorical figures as well?


Roger D. McKinney - #9972

April 16th 2010

Mark Edward - #9884: “The main thing that has kept me from fully accepting a non-literal Adam, is the existence of the genealogies in Scripture.”
Excellent point! It’s clear from applying the principles of hermeneutics that the author of Genesis intended Adam to be an historical figure. To try to make Adam something else violates the intent of the author. You can argue that the author of Genesis is wrong, but you honestly can’t argue that he intended anything other than an historical Adam.


Roger D. McKinney - #9973

April 16th 2010

“ancient stories of beginnings are never simply written to tell their readers what happened. They are written to tell readers how their own story is connected to the purposes God (or the gods) had in making the world and people upon it.”

While true, it also doesn’t exclude those stories from being historical. A natural reading of them proves that the authors intended the “stories” to be taken as history. And that is a very important point because throughout the Bible God used history as proof of his existence, his nature, and his intentions. The whole point of the Bible is to record God’s interventions in history. Those interventions tell us about the character of God. In the prophetic books, God used prophecy to proof to Israel that he is the one true God. He asked the Israeli people to look at their own history and see that everything he had prophesied beforehand had actually, historically happened. And he told them to pay attention to his prophecies to see if the came true historically and that would be proof that he is the one true God. I wouldn’t take the historical accuracy of the OT lightly. The whole meaning of Christ depends upon it.


J. R. Daniel Kirk - #9989

April 16th 2010

I want to address the question of genealogies briefly, since this has come up in a number of contexts (here, my blog, my Facebook page). A friend made this helpful comment: “genealogies do not necessarily imply historicity in the ANE.  The Sumerian king list begins with clearly mythological/legendary figures and ends with historical ones.  Genealogies including Adam, Seth, Noah, etc. could be analogous.”

Genealogies are never simple historical recollections or ties. They carry with them implicit arguments about the people on the other end. For example, look at the genealogies of Jesus. One has Jesus descended through the Judean kings, the other isn’t so concerned with that but instead wants to say that Jesus fulfills Adam’s calling to be son of God. (continued in next comment)


J. R. Daniel Kirk - #9990

April 16th 2010

(cont’d)

The issues I raised in my initial post are related to the specific question of the genealogies. The story of Adam is written as a “universal” introduction to the specific story of Israel. For the same reason that Adam is an appropriate introduction to Israel’s story (Israel has assigned to it and plays the part originally assigned to Adam), later Israelites continue to tie their story into the primeval narrative of Gen 1-3.

In other words, the genealogies trace themselves back to Adam, often, to make the same point as the literary echoes between Gen 1-3 and the patriarchal and later Israelite narratives, and are thus not necessarily a greater assertion of “historicity”.


J. R. Daniel Kirk - #9991

April 16th 2010

Roger,

We only can start to approximate what a “natural reading” is once we’ve done a lot of digging into the genre, parallel texts, and the function of a text in its larger canonical context. I’m looking at this last angle in particular and suggesting that what we see as natural is not sufficiently conditioned by other factors that point toward a different “natural” reading for an ancient audience.


J. R. Daniel Kirk - #9992

April 16th 2010

Andrew,

I’ll be getting into Paul a bit more directly in the next two posts. Stay tuned!


Roger D. McKinney - #9999

April 16th 2010

J. R. Daniel Kirk - #9991: “We only can start to approximate what a “natural reading” ...”

I disagree. The science of hermeneutics is logic applied to the interpretation of literature. The basic principles are nothing but principles of honesty and reason. Context is always important, but to suggest that because Sumerian king lists began with mythical characters so does the Bible is not appropriate hermeneutics. Other religions considered their kings to be descendents of gods. If the Bible is nothing more than the myths of another false religion, then let’s forget the whole thing.


Roger D. McKinney - #10000

April 16th 2010

Rule #1 in any text on hermeneutics is determine the author’s intent in writing the passage. Did the author intend to write poetry, history, prophecy or what? That has to be determined by the passage itself unless the author refers to other sources. Genesis does not refer to lists of Sumerian kings.

BTW, while we recognize the mythical characters in the Sumerian geneology, it’s likely that the authors intended them to be historical. They were wrong. That’s why we don’t trust them. In the same way, the author of Genesis clearly intended the book to be historical. Either he was right, and we can trust him, or he was wrong and we can’t trust anything in the book. The effort to pick and choose what is accurate and inaccurate in Genesis is no different from the Jesus Seminar parsing sentences in the Gospels.


Patrick M - #10019

April 16th 2010

I agree with you BenYachov,
The push for this “Adam is Israel” view is going to do more harm than good in reconciling evangelicals to the idea of evolution.  I don’t know why so many BioLogos posts are pushing it so hard right now, but I believe they are being counter productive to their own cause.  It’s really quite disappointing.  I should remember to pray for the organization, and they don’t lose focus of what’s important.

Pat


Mairnéalach - #10062

April 16th 2010

At Roger D. McKinney #9973:

You said,

“Those interventions tell us about the character of God. In the prophetic books, God used prophecy to proof to Israel that he is the one true God. He asked the Israeli people to look at their own history and see that everything he had prophesied beforehand had actually, historically happened. And he told them to pay attention to his prophecies to see if the came true historically and that would be proof that he is the one true God. I wouldn’t take the historical accuracy of the OT lightly. The whole meaning of Christ depends upon it.”


Well said. With that established I wonder how you interpret John’s apocalypse?


BenYachov - #10069

April 16th 2010

Patrick M,

I’m not in principle against concept of Adam & Israel being metaphors for each other, myself being an amateur student of ancient Jewish Christianity & some of it’s modern expressions.  But naturally I dislike the whole either/or fallacy that governs it.


J. R. Daniel Kirk - #10070

April 16th 2010

Patrick, why do you think this approach is going to be harmful?


Russell Roberts - #10083

April 17th 2010

Here is something that might add to the discussion.

In his book “The Conversion of the Imagination”, Richard Hays argues that what Paul was doing in his letter to the Corinthians was enabling them to see themselves as part of the story of Israel. For example, Paul makes a comment about how the forefathers of the Corinthians (a largely pagan church) were baptized in the wilderness. Paul also, at one point, says to them “When you were pagans (Greek - ethne)...

It makes sense that, if as Dr. Enns contends, Genesis 1-11 was written or compiled either during or shortly after the Babylonian exile, it was comprised to give the Jews a story to become part of, just as Paul was doing with the Corinthian converts and, not surprisingly, just as happens with modern day converts. In Christ, we too have become the seed of Abraham. The Jewish story has become our own story.


Moses Kostamo - #10148

April 17th 2010

James F. McGrath - #9866

So are you suggesting that Paul’s saying ” In Adam - our original humanity or state of being human - we’re all sinners and we are mortal but through Jesus, the second, or superior humanity, or state of being human - we have the true meaning of life” ?


Roger D. McKinney - #10293

April 19th 2010

Mairnéalach - #10062 “...how you interpret John’s apocalypse?”

Though a Baptist, which group tends to by dispensationalist (as in the “Left Behind” series), I am more of a partial praeterist, along the lines of RC Sproul. I think most of Revelations was to explain the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem to Jews and Christians and warn Christians of the coming persecution by Rome. But the second coming and what follows afterwards is still future.


John Vogel - #11147

April 25th 2010

Despite the debate on the historicity of Adam, I love the quote:

“People were created to represent God’s reign to the world, which includes a mediation of God’s love and blessings.”

I am no scholar, but every time I read the Bible I walk away with that point. 

Thank you Daniel, I look forward to part 2.


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