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The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ, Part 2: Jesus as the One Man

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April 22, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ, Part 2: Jesus as the One Man

Today's entry was written by Daniel Kirk. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In last week’s post, I pointed out that the creation story was written to tell the Israelites how their own story is connected to God’s purposes in making the world and people upon it. The historicity of Adam is not the point. This week I want to bring Paul into the picture, and here is the bottom line: the validity of Paul’s theological agenda, in which Christ is compared and contrasted with Adam, is not dependent on the historicity of Genesis 1-3.

Why can we make this distinction between the historicity of Adam and the theological validity of Jesus as the representative human? Because Paul employs Adam in the same way that the biblical writers employed Adam: Adam’s role in a story of beginnings helps Paul’s contemporary audience make sense of the present and their own role within it.

For the Old Testament writers, convictions about the later story of Israel shaped their telling of the story of Adam. And for Paul, convictions about Jesus as the culmination of the story of Israel shape his narration of the first man.

What holds Paul’s argument together is not a commitment to a particular first human, or to a particular reading of the story of Adam. Rather, it is a commitment to Jesus as the one savior and deliverer for all people—Jew or Gentile. For Paul, it is not Adam who determines a particular understanding of Jesus. Instead it is a prior conviction about Jesus that determines a particular reading of Adam.

In my previous post, I noted how the creation narrative is echoed in later stories about Israel, including an expectation that Israel would one day have a king. Paul reads the Adam story very differently. His vision has been shaped by what he sees to be the ultimate act of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus. This event shapes Paul’s understanding of Adam.

So in Romans 5, when Paul launches into his description of the work of Adam, he gives a reading deeply colored by his convictions about Jesus. We need to attune ourselves to the interpretive decisions Paul is making. Paul could read Genesis as teaching that Adam’s act introduced corruption into the human heart, and that’s why people stand under judgment (“Every intention of their heart is only evil all the time”, as Genesis 6:5 puts it). But he didn’t. Paul points back to one act. Similarly, Paul could have read Genesis 3 as a narrative that gives equal blame to both man and woman or even a story that teaches that sin entered into the world through woman (Eve). But he doesn’t. Why does he interpret the stories as pointing to the decisive act of one man? Because of his prior conviction about the gospel as a story surrounding the decisive act of one man.

There is a two-way conversation taking place in scripture. The Old Testament creates some expectations and tells stories with plot lines that anticipate resolution in the future. Then the New Testament comes along, but not merely to say that those expectations are met and stories are resolved. Rather, they find a surprising climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This surprise ending often transforms how the Old Testament stories are read.

Paul has rewritten the Adam narrative to correspond with his convictions concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection. Once we understand this, the pressure to hold onto Adam as a historical figure is released. Paul is using the creation stories for precisely the same function as that for which they were written: to show how God’s act of redemption corresponds to God’s act of creation.

When speaking of Jesus and Adam in Romans 5, Paul’s point is this: God has provided for universal salvation through one man’s one act. This act of salvation more than offsets the universal need for salvation. According to the biblical story as Paul portrays it, one man introduced this need for deliverance. And according to the gospel that brings this story to its consummation, one man’s act met this need for salvation.

Next week we will continue to explore Paul’s claims about Adam as a forerunner of Christ, shifting our attention to the correspondence Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 15. Once again we will see how Israel’s calling to take up the mantle of Adam paves the way for Paul’s claims about Jesus, the surprise ending of Israel’s story.

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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Pete Enns - #11293

April 26th 2010

Now you’ve confused me, Bilbo. What you are saying in 11280 I do not see in 11229, nor did I even allude to it in 11266-7.

Bilbo - #11413

April 27th 2010

Hi Pete,

From 11229:  What I take to be essential Christian teaching about human nature is that we are by nature rebels against God, deserving death, and needing death before we can be changed.

J. R. Daniel Kirk - #11432

April 27th 2010


Sorry to not respond to you sooner, I lost track of the conversation last Friday. So way back in 10992 you asserted that the story has its own meaning.

I think Pete has done a good job of engaging on the question of the inherent necessity of “interpretation”. I might go further and suggest that there is never an inherent meaning; always a meaning that an actively reading human being sees in or reads out of the text. These meanings will to a greater or lesser degree match what an ideal author might have wanted an ideal audience to see there. But even those interpreting figures contribute to the meaning of the text. Texts “mean” in certain times and places to certain people. And this means, in part, that they will mean differently to us than to people who read them 100, 500, 1,000, 4,000 years ago.

J. R. Daniel Kirk - #11433

April 27th 2010


But to your principal point, I take Gen 1-3 to be tremendously significant as the biblical account of beginnings which, among other things, provides us with some expectations of what the ending will be and what’s going on now. Telling “true history” is not the only way to communicate a story with such significance.

Pete Enns - #11458

April 27th 2010

Well, now you have my attention, Robert. Save me the google search and help me—nay, all of us—out with this one.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #11528

April 28th 2010

>In a way, Lewis is also “rejecting” Paul by going beyond him (which is one of the points of my “Creating Paul” post of a few weeks ago.

I reply: This unnecessary either/or mentality never fails to astound me.

Pete Enns - #11559

April 28th 2010


You will note I have the word “reject” in quotes. I am playing off of what Bilbo was saying earlier. Still, so as not to leave you in such a state of astoundment (please don’t drive or operate heavy machinery until it passes), you will concede—I hope—that posting an evolutionary scenario for human origins, as Lewis does to synthesize the Bible and science, was not on Paul’s mind. Or do you feel differently? Lewis’s Adam is beyond Paul’s. That is not an either/or mentality but an observation. It is like saying that Lewis’s expanding universe is not Paul’s view of the cosmos. That is really all I am after, and once that is conceded we can begin the harder work of asking how theology encultured in an ancient setting can be in dialogue with contemporary theological articulations.

Bilbo - #11579

April 28th 2010

Prof. Kirk: But to your principal point, I take Gen 1-3 to be tremendously significant as the biblical account of beginnings which, among other things, provides us with some expectations of what the ending will be and what’s going on now. Telling “true history” is not the only way to communicate a story with such significance.

I guess it depends upon what we mean by “true history.”  I take the story of Jonah to be non-historical, a “moral romance.” 

I take the Adam and Eve story to be, to use an anachronistic term, a “Socratic myth.”  That is, something that the author thought might have actually happened.  Since his myth ended up being included in Scripture, I think we should at least try to take that myth seriously.  The important, non-interpretive elements seem to indicate that there was some sort of historical event that was in discord with God’s will, that was human in origin, and resulted in a different course for the rest of human history than God intended.

Bilbo - #11580

April 28th 2010

If we can find a way to harmonize that ancient myth with our modern understanding of evolution, as Lewis attempts to do, I think we have an obligation at least to consider it seriously. 

If we don’t, we might end up changing our traditional concept of the Fall, which I think we should hesitate to do.

By the way, in regards to the painting at the top of this thread.  Is that Blake’s?

BenYachov - #12378

May 5th 2010

Lewis’ seeming belief(if that is really his view) in a purely non-historic allegorical Adam who represents “humanity” is merely interesting but I don’t accept it.  Like his close friend JRR Tolken I am a little bit disappointed Lewis journeyed from Atheism and stopped at being an Anglican.  Like Tolken I would have preferred he went all the way and became Catholic.  But what can you do?  Nobody is perfect.    I have no problem with going beyond Paul.  It’s going against Paul that bugs me.  Thus I see no logical reason why we can’t believe in a real Adam like Paul & accept Adam’s body originated from pre-existing and living matter & this is a legitimate matter of inquiry for natural science and fall within the parameters of interpreting scripture in light of natural science.  God created his soul threw a direct supernatural act.etc Adam fell and if that didn’t happen Christ would not have been born of the Flesh of the BVM to redeem us.

Jon Garvey - #25869

August 17th 2010

This thread’s majored on Genesis, but of course it started at Romans 5.

The problem with making Adam, in Paul’s passage, merely a foil for the glory of Christ’s salvation, is that the one act of salvation is presented NOT as the remedy for every possible sin (so that “Adam” can be “Everyman”) but as the remedy outscoring the one sin of the one man (vv16-17) that brought death upon all men. Paul even develops a theology of post-Adamic, pre-Mosaic sin in vv13-14 to show that sin is a problem even in those without the law.

Paul clearly not only believes in a historical basis for Adam, but that it is foundational to his theology. So if we reduce the Adam reference to what amounts to a rhetorical device, it would seem to leave us with no alternative but to account Paul in flat error about the origin of the problem Jesus came to solve.

Furthermore, since it is Paul’s interpretation here that is Biblically pivotal for explaining the universality and irremediabilty of sin that is only inherent in Genesis 3, the Bible is left saying nothing about the origin of sin, even though that subject and its remedy is its principle theme. A purely phenomenological concept of sin is hardly adequate in a world that denies sin exists.

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