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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

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 2: Jesus as the One Man

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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Roger D. McKinney - #10816

April 22nd 2010

Why would Paul feel the need to bring up Adam at all? Because he needed an explanation for why God had to become a man and die in our place for our sins. Juadaism and Christianity are the only religions that claim man is severely flawed. All other religions see man a basically good with a few quirks that just God can simply wink at and ignore. Christianity has a very different outlook on the nature of mankind. In other words, outside of Judaism/Christianity, mankind doesn’t need a salvation at all. He just needs a little more discipline and practice. There is no need for God to become man and die on the cross. Paul is trying to explain that need.

But if Adam isn’t historical, then he is fictional. You can dress fiction up as myth, narrative, symbol, or any other word, but it’s still fiction. If Adam wasn’t historical, then Paul has only a fictional explanation for why the incarnation, death and resurrection were necessary.


Will Lee - #10823

April 22nd 2010

Hardly, Roger. If the Adam story introduces the idea of the fallenness of man, then the story serves its purpose. The historicity of the characters in the story is not at issue. Sin is real; the need for salvation is real, even if Adam as a single individual is not. It does not follow to say that if Adam wasn’t historical, then the need for salvation doesn’t exist.


Mairnéalach - #10834

April 22nd 2010

According to Roger, if you walk into the jungle and evangelize a tribe of Indians for the first, time, none of them could be saved unless you could first convince them that a guy named Adam lived 6,000 years ago.


aberg - #10836

April 22nd 2010

When Christ died, he nailed *MY* sin to the cross, not any sin that I inherited from Adam.  Can we look at Adam as an archetype that models the fact that every human has a sinful nature and no effort on the part of man is ever going to overcome that flaw?  I could accept Adam as historic or figurative, but that does not change the role he plays, nor the fact that until I am “in Christ”, I am “in Adam”.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #10840

April 22nd 2010

Of course the mad thing is there is no logical, philosophical, theological, moral or scientific reason to reject the existence of a Historical Adam even if we accept Theistic Evolution.  We don’t have to believe God miraculously (or through some unknown natural method) multiplied the genetic diversity of His & Eve’s offspring(thought we can’t rule it out).  We can believe they inter-bred with the unsouled hominids & as such they are the original ancestors of Modern Man & the origin of Our Souls & original sin.

Really it’s not hard.


beaglelady - #10843

April 22nd 2010

We don’t have to believe God miraculously (or through some unknown natural method) multiplied the genetic diversity of His & Eve’s offspring(thought we can’t rule it out).

That’s good, because doing so would be inserting a false history into the genome. Yeah, we can’t rule it out, but neither can we rule out the idea that we were created 20 minutes ago with implanted memories.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #10852

April 22nd 2010

>That’s good, because doing so would be inserting a false history into the genome.

I reply: Sorry but logically a hidden fact is not the same as a false fact.  An unknown natural process could have been involved in changing the genome.  If it was are we to conclude nature has lied to us?  How about Quantum Physics?  There is a whole area of the natural world hidden to us because the moment we observe that environment we change it.  Are quantum processes lying to us or giving us false facts?  I think not.

>Yeah, we can’t rule it out, but neither can we rule out the idea that we were created 20 minutes ago with implanted memories.

I reply: No we can’t but taken in totality I think philosophically we can rule that out but we can’t rule out any act of special creation.


Jonathan - #10856

April 22nd 2010

I’m not saying you can’t believe in an historical Adam and theistic evolution.  Many do.  But for me, it would entail believing that 6000 years ago, while some Sumerian farmer was tilling the land, God planted a garden.  He then goes to supernaturally create two humans whom he would then use as a test case to represent all of humanity.  They sin and as a result all humans, who lived before and after are declared sinful.  Adam and Eve are driven from the garden and their descendants interbreed with those living outside.  Therefore, some of us are descended from Adam, but most are not.  It just seems more cognitively satisfying, for me, to abandon historical concordanism altogether and go along with something like what is presented in this post.

I think that it is the “God through Paul says that sin came from one man therefore there REALLY was one man” opinion that needs softening.

Great post Daniel


Jim - #10862

April 22nd 2010

Roger D. McKinney - #10816

I respectfully disagree regarding “fiction.”

For example, there is no such thing as an objective and ontological “reasonable person” to which a judge points when a judge gives a jury instructions to use the “reasonable person” fiction to make a specific judgment.  Everyone knows the “reasonable person” is a fiction.  Even the jury.  This legal fiction is not discarded just becaue it is a fiction.  Rather this fiction is commanded (by the judge) to be used (by the jury) to affect physical reality (the judgment). 

A useful fiction.

For another example from math, the number “1” does not refer to any specific and concrete thing other than its abstract (fictional) definition inside our minds.  So “1” is a fiction of abstraction until we use this fiction to point to one apple, one orange, and on. 

A useful fiction.

So what?

So to say that “Adam” is really like a legal fiction inside Paul’s mind is not to say that Paul (as a lawyer) has no valid use for this fictional “Adam”  (even if some Adam did exist in history). 

See e.g., Owen Barfield on poetic diction and legal fiction and their bearings on time-space realities. 

Cheers,


Jim


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #10863

April 22nd 2010

I fail to see why we must start 6000 years ago when we can start at more than 150,000+?


Jim - #10869

April 22nd 2010

Daniel Kirk – “ ... 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 ... ¶ .... they [readers] find a surprising climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”

I have profound empathy for literal and fundamentalistic readers who have a hard (maybe impossible) time oscillating in a quantum-like state in between story-time reality and space-time reality. 

Going out on a limb: it’s not the resurrection story as a story (gospel here as a “news” story in story-time) that validates Jesus as the Christ, but instead, it’s the life, death, and resurrection in space-time that validates the story-time of the gospel.  Literalist readers have a visceral sense (and should have) of the space-time reality of the “surprising climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”  It’s hard – very hard sometimes - to shift fluidly and with grace between story-time and space-time.  Really hard.  I empathize.


Roger D. McKinney - #10878

April 22nd 2010

Will Lee - #10823: “Hardly, Roger. If the Adam story introduces the idea of the fallenness of man, then the story serves its purpose.”

But that is the point: is man fallen or not? That was what Paul was trying to explain. Other religions say man is not fallen and therefore there is no need for Christ to die. Muslims typically use this attack on Christianity. Jews in Paul’s day may have made the same argument. The story of Adam explains why God had to become a man. If Adam is not historical, then Paul’s explanation is contrived and not true and maybe man never did need a savior.


Roger D. McKinney - #10879

April 22nd 2010

aberg - #10836: “When Christ died, he nailed *MY* sin to the cross, not any sin that I inherited from Adam.”

Yes, that’s true. But why do people have a tendency to sin and why does Christ need to change our nature?

“Can we look at Adam as an archetype that models the fact that every human has a sinful nature and no effort on the part of man is ever going to overcome that flaw?”

But maybe we don’t have a sinful nature. Christianity is the only religion that teaches we do. Maybe Christianity is wrong. According to TE, God made mankind with the nature he has; there was no fall from innocense as Orthodox Christianity teaches there was. Paul’s point was that an historical person rebelled against God and changed human nature. If Paul was wrong, then maybe human nature is not naturally inclined to evil, doesn’t need changing and Christianity is simply wrong.


beaglelady - #10890

April 22nd 2010

  An unknown natural process could have been involved in changing the genome.  If it was are we to conclude nature has lied to us?

How many have seriously proposed that some unknown natural process is scrambling genomes enough to create a false history?

We use DNA to convict or exonerate those accused of crimes, some of the crimes unsolved until this technology was developed.  I don’t think the “unknown natural process”  defense would fly in a court of law. Do you think it should be used? 

We use DNA to protect endangered species, a use especially relevant to this earth day! Once I saw some boots that had been confiscated because they were made from leather from an endangered species. DNA testing is what made this possible.

We also use DNA in all kinds of scientific research, some of it relevant to our health; here’s an article on tuna and mercury levels .


John VanZwieten - #10910

April 22nd 2010

Jim,

Thank you for those comments.  What you said about the resurrection really connects with me.  I think that’s why I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with _The Passion of the Christ_.  While it can be good for bringing before us the reality of Jesus’ suffering and death for us, it can also become a story-for-story’s-sake.  It is a compelling story, but like you said the compellingness of the story is not what validates Jesus as the Christ.


Gregory - #10918

April 23rd 2010

Roger wrote:
“According to TE, God made mankind with the nature he has; there was no fall from innocense as Orthodox Christianity teaches there was.”

Let’s not forget that ‘theistic evolution’ is predominantly a ‘Christian’ viewpoint. Sure, there are Muslims and Jews who also accept one of its varieties. But it is at least monotheistic.

Christian TEs, some of who frequent this Blog, along with ‘evolutionary creationists’ (who might even number more than TEs, if one were to do a social survey), do not *reject* humanity falling from innocence. They indeed accept the ‘fallenness of humanity’. What distinguishes their position is that they invoke the timescale that biological, geological and cosmological sciences have come to accept, vastly so now in the 21st century. This is a responsible position.

TEs and ECs (and BioLogos) are not thinking about ‘19th century evolutionary theory’, instead they are thinking about the ‘reality’ of those three (and also other) natural-physical sciences today. Fisher and Dobzhansky are two architects of the ‘modern synthesis’ who maintained their Christian faith. It is thus possible to do so.

Would Roger object to this on economic terms?


O. Bower - #10929

April 23rd 2010

Roger,

What is your denominational background?  I find it interesting that you continue to espouse what appears to be Augustinian original sin.  Is this the case? 

Also can you pinpoint the verse where it says our nature changed?  I fully embrace the doctrine that we are indeed fallen to some extent, however, how we define this becomes very crucial.  In any case, even if you argue for a literal reading of Genesis, then we already had the capacity to sin.  If Adam and Eve were perfect, then sin isn’t possible.  Actually free will is negated. 

Finally, unless your Eastern Orthodox, I think it would be best if you had a lowercase “o” before Christianity, so it reads “orthodox Christianity”.  Unless you are Eastern Orthodox, otherwise this can cause denominational confusion.


O. Bower - #10930

April 23rd 2010

*you’re


HornSpiel - #10938

April 23rd 2010

Daniel,

You express well the conclusion I have come to regarding Paul’s reference to Adam.

Do you feel there that scientific can give us insight into man’s fallenness? Or is the fall purely a theological matter? For example: Could the fall represent the conflict between our evolutionary birthright and our moral conscience given in the image of God?

To me the Genesis story speaks to the problem of both God being good and there being evil in the world. God created a good Garden, but put two trees in it (temptation) and a snake ( a tempter). From a TE perspective, God made the life in world in a way that entailed a lot of death and suffering. Yet we affirm that God is good and His creation is good. some how I think Genesis speaks to that paradox. If you agree I’d like to hear more from your perspective.


Gregory - #10940

April 23rd 2010

Thank you, O. Bower. Indeed, the ‘o’ matters. Saying it now after many years returning to N.A. from an Orthodox Christian country.

I have no doubt that Roger is intent on challenging ‘orthodox economics.’ With exactly what alternative he wishes to do this, however, is still unclear to me. A pensioner’s fantasy?

‘ID economics’ is clearly ridiculous. Evolutionary economics otoh is still a ‘live’ option, after ‘institutional economics’ (e.g. Douglas North). Yet there is no such thing as ‘creation economics.’ Perhaps Roger would initiate some kind of new Christian economics (e.g. Goudzwaard) movement…

Would Peter’s views on this topic differ drastically from Paul’s?

North American Protestant views on this are only marginal on the larger scale of Christianity or Christendom.


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