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The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ Part 3: Jesus as the New Humanity

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April 30, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ Part 3: Jesus as the New Humanity

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 this final post on Jesus and Adam in Paul’s thought, I want to move into Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians 15. This, in addition to Romans 5, is where Paul calls Adam a “type” of Christ and directly addresses the connection between them.

As in Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15 first brings Adam into the discussion to compare him to Christ as one human who determined the fate of all humanity. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s exposition of Adam is more clearly set within a larger framework of Jesus as representative of a new humanity. As Paul puts it, the resurrected Christ is the firstfruits of a larger harvest of resurrection-life, i.e., the resurrection of believers (1 Corinthians 15:20). This offsets the work of Adam as the firstfruits of a harvest of death (1 Corinthians 15:21).

The major thrust of these posts on Adam and Christ has been that we cannot separate Genesis 1-3 from the function these chapters perform throughout the canon. This is true for the blessings of “fruitfulness and multiplication,” as we have seen. It is also true for reversing the death that Adam and Eve were stricken with for their disobedience in the garden.

The hope that saturates the Pentateuch is that obedience to the Torah will lead to life. Where Adam and Eve were given one command as they lived in the presence of God’s garden, Israel is given numerous commands, including, especially, those tied to the Tabernacle. Where Adam and Eve were given the garden to serve and keep (2:15), the Levites are to serve and keep the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:7-8; 8:26)—itself adorned with trees, fruits, and guardian angels evocative of the lost garden. The Levites are “second Adam” figures, representing all the community in presence of God, even ransoming their lives for God (Numbers 3:11-13).

Again, in the Old Testament itself, the story of Adam is told not simply to tell us “what happened.” It tells us who Israel is called to be before God and how Israel-as-Adam is both God’s means for affirming his purposes in creation, and for reversing the shortcomings still inherent in the world, as we know it.

Now back to Paul. He claims in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ’s work represents humanity by bringing it life even as Adam’s work represents humanity by bringing it death. When he does so, he is joining with the Old Testament writers in reading Israel’s story as God’s means for setting the entirety of creation to rights. This is not a claim that requires a historical Adam as depicted in Genesis 1-3, though it does depend on taking those creation stories seriously as reflecting God’s intentions for humanity on the earth.

Paul’s use of the Adam story follows in a long trajectory of Jewish use of these stories. Not only do they reverberate through the Pentateuch, but also into the traditions of Israel’s kings. The kings of Israel, like Adam, are seen as sons of God who rule the world on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:16-28; 2 Samuel 7:9-16; Psalm 2; Psalm 110). The Adam story sets the trajectories for the story of Israel, as the writers of the creation accounts, themselves, tie Adam to Israel in the Pentateuch, and as the imagery is found in other OT writers.

So when we find Paul engaging in an extended contrast between the first and last Adam, we are not encountering any new mandate that Adam be a particular historical figure. We are in the presence of a Jewish man participating in the long tradition of retelling the creation story so that it dovetails with his understanding of how God is at work to save the world by means of human agency. The very presence of two creation narratives in Genesis 1-3 indicates that historicity was not the principal concern when these stories were first told. There is no reason to add such a requirement when the apostle Paul takes up the stories.

“The first Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:45-46). The case Paul makes here is simply that Jesus is the representative of a new kind of humanity. Embodied, yes. But with a Spiritual, resurrection body. Perhaps it is important to note here that the point is contrast: the resurrected Jesus is not like Adam. The image of God has been remade, so that those who are “in Christ” will bear the heavenly image. Jesus is the start of something new.

The resurrection of Jesus was a surprise. It was not expected that the Messiah would be crucified and raised from the dead, and thereby enthroned. When we see Paul invoking Adam as a point of comparison and contrast, we are observing theological reflection at work striving to communicate how it is that Jesus determines the destiny of all humanity. The determining factor for Paul is not what Genesis 1-3 tells us about Adam, but what his vision of the resurrected messiah tells him about the climax of Israel’s story.

Surprise! The Torah is not God’s means of salvation!

Surprise! An accursed death is redemptive!

Surprise! Jesus is the new humanity, and the rest of us will follow in his train.

In light of these (and other such surprises), Paul reinterprets the story of Adam in light of the Christ event. His convictions about Christ do not ride on Genesis 1-3 taking place just so in history. His assessments of Adam ride on his convictions about God’s redeeming work in Christ.

For Paul, as for the writers of the OT, the creation stories are true introductions to the story of God irrespective of their literal historicity.

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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Dick Fischer - #12220

May 4th 2010

A number of authors put the biblical flood at 2900 BC, David Rohl, Davis Young, Robert Best, Carol Ann Hill, some others, and so do I.  Giving full weight to the genealogies and whether you use the Masoretic text, the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Septuagint, Adam belongs in the Neolithic period no earlier than 5200 BC and no later than 4200 BC.  The city of Enoch was dated at 4200 BC so the timing all fits.

Of course, if you wish to ignore all the historical evidence and biblical narrative that places him in southern Mesopotamia (no trace of civilization there earlier than 8,000 years ago), then by all means pull him out of your hat and date him at 150,000 years ago.  Who cares about data and evidence anyway?  Just gets in the way of good theories.

Gregory - #12229

May 4th 2010

Will respond to Dick and Jeffrey’s genuine messages shortly.

BenYachov, who or what do you follow in your view putting Adam at more than 150,000 years.

Is this *actual* Roman Catholic doctrine, demonstrated by scientific counsel, or just your personal fancy?

Refereces please.

I find your ‘Genesis is supernaturally giving us’ language rather weak for Rome’s tastes.

Dick Fischer - #12278

May 4th 2010

Here is another epic tale.  Google “Lugalbanda in the mountain cave” there are some interesting tidbits.  Lugal means “king” and he is the third king at Uruk after the flood.  “Aratta” you see in Genesis as “Ararat.”  Uruk is Erech.  Since there are no mountains in southern Mesopotamia Aratta had to lie to the north. 

“He should capture the wild goats and, more importantly the great bull of the mountains and offer them in sacrifice.”  Note animal sacrifice even before Abraham.

“ … when dykes and canals were purified, when ...... wells were dug straight down; when the bed of the Euphrates, the plenteous river of Unug, was opened up.”  Here it mentions irrigation of the city of Enoch.  And Genesis says that a river (canal) watered the garden.

The En- prefix in En-merkar means “lord” or “king.”  Note that is the same prefix for Adam’s two grandsons, Enoch and Enosh, indicating they reigned over Akkadian cities.

Now if you Google “The Legend of Adapa” you’ll find a legend that I believe is built on Adam.  I have identified 16 commonalities between the legend and Adam of Genesis – the only epic tale built upon someone who was not a king and copied in various Semitic languages.

BenYachov - #12373

May 5th 2010

>BenYachov, who or what do you follow in your view putting Adam at more than 150,000 years.

>Is this *actual* Roman Catholic doctrine, demonstrated by scientific counsel, or just your personal fancy?

I reply: This is my personal speculation within the Framework of Catholic Dogma via the teachings of Pius XII QUOTE” The question of the origin of man’s body from pre-existing and living matter is a legitimate matter of inquiry for natural science. Catholics are free to form their own opinions, but they should do so cautiously; they should not confuse fact with conjecture, and they should respect the Church’s right to define matters touching on Revelation.“END QUOTE The Church seems to teach there was a real Adam.  There is no dogma as to when he lived.  Still if I factor Evolution into the equation then I have to make Adam a remote common ancestor.

norm - #12405

May 5th 2010


It seems obvious that Homo Sapiens Sapiens is a remote ancestor of about 150,000 years. However why does that infer this ancestor was the Adam of Genesis?  The Adam of Genesis was the first man that God breathed the “Breath of Life” into.  You do realize that is what all faithful have breathed into them who come to the Lord and put on God’s immortal Spirit?  We see it every day when one is converted as there is nothing physical about it as it’s in the spiritual realm. The “Breath of Life” is Covenant life and Adam was considered by the Jews to have been the first of their progeny and is their beginning and likewise ours as well.  Dick may disagree with me on some details but essentially he is presenting the view of the Jews origins and not humanity at large. That was God’s Covenant establishment out of pagan humanity at large.

The Hebrew theology when taken to its pure understanding and stripped of modern philosophical humanism does not teach what contemporary Christianity has imposed upon it.  It’s actually much simpler than what we want to ascribe to it and is as straightforward as Christ breathing upon the Apostles.
Joh 20:22 he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12475

May 5th 2010

BenYachov - #12206,

In the early Church, the Arians claimed Jesus was 100% human and not God, and the Docetists claimed Jesus was 100% God and not human.  Bot of these two false dilemmas were considered heresies.

Over the last 200 years, we’ve developed the same false dilemmas concerning Scripture.  Like Christ, Scripture is 100% divine and 100% human.  Both 19th-century liberalism and Fundamentalism deny this truth.

Placing Adam back too far before the origin of writing implicitly commits one of those errors.  Placing Adam too far back requires either that Moses wrote pure myth, or God gave it to Moses verbatim.  Neither of these views meet the biblical standards.


BenYachov - #12511

May 6th 2010

>Placing Adam back too far before the origin of writing implicitly commits one of those errors. 

I reply: We really can’t use the Bible to tell us when Adam lived we can only use it with Tradition to tell us there was an Adam.  Nothing more.  There is no natural science that can tell us the metaphysical state of our ancestors.  At best we can infer based on Dogma he would have likely been a remote common ancestor & he would have been the 1st with a Soul.

>Placing Adam too far back requires either that Moses wrote pure myth, or God gave it to Moses verbatim.  Neither of these views meet the biblical standards.

I reply: They meet Catholic Biblical standards.  You forget the third option Moses wrote an Allegory that contains historical truth.  I don’t need to believe Genesis is a verbatim account of Adam’s literal actions.  I still don’t know why this concept is hard?

BenYachov - #12513

May 6th 2010


I actually agree with much of what u said.  I reject modern philosopher in favor of classic philosophy but that is another topic.  I don’t need to believe Adam was the first biological Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  He was the first with a soul, who fell & transmitted Original sin to the rest of us.  It’s that simple.

BenYachov - #12515

May 6th 2010

Additional for my pal Jeffery who wrote:
>Placing Adam back too far before the origin of writing implicitly commits one of those errors. 

I reply: The Bible is really not needed to give us natural knowledge since our human intellects can learn those truths but the Bible is needed to impart supernatural knowledge.  There is no way we can know who among the early humans had a souls.  But we can infer Adam had to be a romote common ancestor of the whole existing human race.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12577

May 6th 2010


“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  Gen. 2:7

People do not have souls.  The man became a “soul.”

Adam had the breath of life/God.  Jesus gave the disciples the breath of life/God (John 20:22).  Scripture has the breath of life/God (2 Tim. 3:16).

Scripture says nothing directly about the rest of us having the breath of life and therefore being living souls.

From Jesus giving His disciples the breath of life, we can infer that no man in Israel was a living soul.  They were all dead.  A suitable helpmeet could not be found in Israel.  Like Adam, Jesus had to undergo euphemistic sleep to give “spiritual” life to his bride.

Adam was a living soul.  He died on the day he ate.  The rest of us were never living souls until we accepted Christ and became part of the bride.  There is no biology involved.  There never was biology involved.

BenYachov - #12642

May 6th 2010

You are free to believe what you like Jeffrey but as a Catholic I am compelled by the combined testimony of Scripture, Tradition and the Church to believe man is a composite of soul and body as a hylomorphic construct.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12734

May 7th 2010


Yes, I am free to pursue and believe precisely what Scripture says.

BenYachov - #13036

May 10th 2010

Now this is a book on Theistic evolution.

Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette

Although there are hundreds of books dealing with evolutionary theory and human origins, the large majority fall into one of two categories:

-conventional natural science that embrace either atheistic naturalism or theistic evolutionism that fails to support basic elements of Christian theology particularly the historicity of Adam and Eve and the reality of Original Sin.
-young-Earth creationism whose scientific credentials are suspect.

Origin of the Human Species differs in that is shows in great detail how conventional human evolutionary theory is entirely compatible with sound Scriptural interpretation and traditional theology. Dr. Bonnette explores the force of opposing views, but adds philosophical analysis that affirms the absolute need for God’s continuous creative presence in any metaphysically complete explanation of the world.

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