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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BenYachov - #10941

April 23rd 2010

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

I reply: Nobody is doing that rather you keep insisting a possible hidden fact is the same as a false fact.  That is simply wrong & illogical. 

>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? 

I reply: What does this have to do with your philosophical errors?  Of course we have no empirical proof some unknown natural process altered the human genome.  We don’t have a genetic sample of the Fish Jesus multiplied either.  But your claims about “false history” are still wrong.


beaglelady - #10958

April 23rd 2010

I reply: Nobody is doing that rather you keep insisting a possible hidden fact is the same as a false fact.  That is simply wrong & illogical.

But you are doing that. I’m confused.  I thought genetic diversity comes from ancestors.  You know the old saying, “descent with modification.” 

My point is that we understand DNA enough to use it in the crime lab and scientific research.  This “unknown natural process”  would invalidate a lot of work.  Could this unknown process also remove genetic diversity?


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #10960

April 23rd 2010

>But you are doing that. I’m confused.

I reply: It seems to me u are making the claim that if God intervened in human evolution either supernaturally or providentially via an unknown natural process that somehow it mean God is creating what you called a “false history”.  That is just plain wrong & if you go back & re-read what I wrote you would see why. 

>My point is that we understand DNA enough to use it in the crime lab and scientific research….

I reply: But we don’t know everything and it is scientifically foolish to assume we can discount all possible unknown variables.  All science is tentative even successful science.  The success of criminal forensics has NOTHING TO DO with the evolution of the human genome.  That’s with all due respect a red herring.


TheoLogos - #10961

April 23rd 2010

For me, the genealogies alone prove that the author of Genesis regarded Adam as a historical figure.  If you knock out Adam, you knock out Cain, Abel, Seth and their descendants as well. It calls into question quite a bit of history. Here is a helpful diagram: http://www.d.umn.edu/~jbelote/bible2.html

I agree that if the science proves that we must have had more than two original progenitors, then the historical view of the biblical account must be false.  I find it doubtful that the same evolution that can account for all genetic diversity on the planet from a single organism can find no way to account for a historical Adam and Eve. 

My message to geneticists: keep up the good work, and avoid premature final conclusions.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #10965

April 23rd 2010

>I agree that if the science proves that we must have had more than two original progenitors, then the historical view of the biblical account must be false.

I reply: That doesn’t logically follow either since we could have many biological progenitors but only two spiritual ones.  Also the genealogies in Genesis don’t have to be absolutely chronologically precise.  In the Hebrew idiom I can say I am Jim Scott 4th “son of” Jim Scott 1st.(he was my great great Grandfather) since that praise can mean descendant as well as direct offspring. Or do we really believe David knew Mary in the Biblical sense because Jesus is called “Son of David”?  Genesis can & does contain real history but there is no reason to treat it like a modern historical document.


Bilbo - #10992

April 23rd 2010

Hi Professor Kirk,

Regardless of what purposes for which Jewish writers or Paul used the story of Adam and Eve,
it has its own independent meaning.  And part of that meaning seems to be that humanity was originally innocent, and by an act of rebellion introduced evil into human reality.

We can dismiss that as insignficant, but I think only with great danger.  It’s difficult to come up with another explanation for evil human nature (which the Cross teaches us must die) which does not lay the blame at God’s feet.  And I think that was precisely what the author of Genesis was trying to avoid.

I suggest C.S. Lewis’s modern rendition of the myth as a solution:

http://telicthoughts.com/c-s-lewis-on-paradisal-man/

Why do theologians avoid Lewis?  Do they think the fact that he was not a professional theologian means that he has nothing to teach them?


Pete Enns - #11001

April 23rd 2010

Bilbo (if that IS your real name)

Just curious. Where in Genesis do you see that humanity was “originally innocent” and that rebellion introduced “evil?” Please cite chapter and verse.  I am also curious as to how you know what the author of Genesis was “trying to avoid.”


BenYachov - #11017

April 23rd 2010

>Just curious. Where in Genesis do you see that humanity was “originally innocent” and that rebellion introduced “evil?” Please cite chapter and verse.  I am also curious as to how you know what the author of Genesis was “trying to avoid.”

I reply: A better question might be where does Genesis say chapter and verse that in order for a doctrine or concept to be true one must find it explicitly spelled out in Genesis alone?  Of course if we can’t do that(& we can’t) then that very concept is false by it’s own standard.  I knew Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura but Sola Genesis?  Yikes!  It is the universal teaching of Christianity that man was created by God in a state of original Justice and Innocence and fell.  These basic concepts have been universally held across the board by Catholic, Orthodox & Prots and they are the result of a common consensus interpretation of the whole of Holy Writ.  With all due respect Pete yours is a trick question(not that I am accusing u of being disingenuous) & I don’t think Bilbo should answer it.
Also if we accept Evolution as a fact there is no reason to deny these teachings.  None at all.


beaglelady - #11019

April 24th 2010

I agree that if the science proves that we must have had more than two original progenitors, then the historical view of the biblical account must be false.

Not really, since BenYachov’s God might have created genetic diversity in the human genome that has nothing to do with ancestry.


BenYachov - #11020

April 24th 2010

There are whole areas of the natural world hidden to us, why deny that?


beaglelady - #11023

April 24th 2010

I do not deny that there are whole areas of the natural world hidden to us;  that’s why scientists continue to work long hours.


Gregory - #11029

April 24th 2010

Scientists study more than *just* the natural world, beaglelady. Only the ideology of naturalistic scientism claims otherwise. If you’d like references, they are easy to provide.

Good post, TheoLogos (#10961):
“I find it doubtful that the same evolution that can account for all genetic diversity on the planet from a single organism can find no way to account for a historical Adam and Eve. / My message to geneticists: keep up the good work, and avoid premature final conclusions.”

I find the anti-Adam (historical) arguments of genet(om)icists totally lacking in credibility with their immature ‘science’. There are so many things that they don’t take into account in their approaches and they appear not to care about other views. Too bad for them so far (i.e. polygenesists).

“It is the universal teaching of Christianity that man was created by God in a state of original Justice and Innocence and fell.” - BenYachov

Are you suggesting that *only* (anti-universal) Protestant Christians could claim non-Innocence, and not Catholic Christians or Orthodox Christians? (hint: to search Orthodoxy’s views of this on-line before answering)


beaglelady - #11033

April 24th 2010

Scientists study more than *just* the natural world, beaglelady. Only the ideology of naturalistic scientism claims otherwise. If you’d like references, they are easy to provide.

My point was that since yes, “there are whole areas of the natural world hidden to us” scientists continue to study the natural world.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #11034

April 24th 2010

>Are you suggesting that *only* (anti-universal) Protestant Christians could claim non-Innocence, and not Catholic Christians or Orthodox Christians?

I reply: Yes , since I don’t believe the Eastern Orthodox Church & Protestant Churches are either Infallible or Indefectable there is nothing preventing them from going off the rails.  Paul VI in his Credo of the People of God had re-affirmed the doctrine of original sin taught by the early councils.  I believe Catholic doctrine will never change.  After all I am Catholic so naturally how can I believe otherwise?  But never the less it a brute fact historic Protestantism & EO theologian agree with us on the basics I mentioned above & I reject the presumption it can be changed.


Bilbo - #11063

April 24th 2010

Hi Pete,

You wrote: Bilbo (if that IS your real name)

It’s better than Major Bat Guano, isn’t it?

Just curious. Where in Genesis do you see that humanity was “originally innocent” and that rebellion introduced “evil?” Please cite chapter and verse.  I am also curious as to how you know what the author of Genesis was “trying to avoid.”

I think it’s clear that the author wants us to know that everything God created was good, hence we’re told that God saw that it was good after each day of creation, and very good after the sixth day.  I’m inferring that humanity was “originally innocent” from this, and from the fact that they felt no shame when they were naked.

You can object that I read too much into this.  Perhaps I do.  But if humanity wasn’t orignally innocent, then we need an explanation of why that would be.  Do we say that God created humanity without innocence?  How is that good, exactly?  How does it not contradict everything the author seems at pains to emphasize?


O. Bower - #11072

April 24th 2010

Perhaps we differ regarding the word “innocence”.  If we mean “without sin”, then I think the defintion fits.  However if we mean “not knowing sin” or something similar, then Adam and Eve cannot be held culpable for their sin.  I’ve made this point elsewhere.  They (Adam and Eve) must know what sin is and how they are able to sin, otherwise God becomes a very unjust figure.


BenYachov - #11081

April 24th 2010

Bilbo,

That a clever answer to our friend Pete thought I still say it’s a trick question.


Pete Enns - #11085

April 25th 2010

BenYachov,

It was not a trick question. How one answers that question reveals much. I also think Bilbo can handle this himself without adult supervision

So, Bilbo, I agree that everything is created “good” but that is not the same as innocent. What do you mean by innocent? Do you mean “they had not yet done anything wrong” or “morally perfect” or something else?

Bat Guano? Do we have a Ace Ventura fan among us?


Bilbo - #11089

April 25th 2010

It’s from the movie, “Dr. Strangelove.”  A British officer (Peter Sellers) is addressing an American officer (Keenan Wynn), “Listen here, Major Bat Guano, if that really is your name.”  A must-see movie.

I think innocence at least means not knowing right from wrong.  Adam and Eve were dependent upon God for “ethical” information.  I think there is a further sense, that they did not have a natural tendency to rebel against God. I would need to go to later in Genesis for support, so I can’t prove it is implied in this story.

But if we reject that implication, we are left with the problem of explaining the origin of our natural state of rebellion against God.  So let’s understand God’s not wanting us to eat from the tree of life, because we had undergone some fundamental change in our nature, which should not be allowed to live forever.  Otherwise, why not let us eat its fruit?


O. Bower - #11091

April 25th 2010

If “not knowing right from wrong” implies they only discovered this reality once they ate the fruit, then again I cannot see how God could hold them responsible.  The story appears to suggest that they knew eating the fruit had negative consequences, therefore they had to know right and wrong.  How we formulate the “innocent” state and its out workings is quite crucial, but I don’t see Adam and Eve’s complete unawareness being an answer.


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