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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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Norm - #11974

May 1st 2010

The flood destroys all; but Noah saves the remnant just as Christ saves the remnant through the faithful coming aboard through His calling. This includes the animals (gentiles) that board the Ark just as the animals (remember Peters vision of the animals at the conversion of the first Gentiles through Cornelius Acts 10) are saved in Christ. The dispersion of the people after the flood at Babel represents the confusion of those called unto “one lip” which means they were basically speaking the same language of religion. They were scattered to the corners of the earth but were brought back to reunite under “one common lip” again at Pentecost (Acts 2). In other words what scattering was done at Babel was undone through Christ and the coming Holy Spirit upon men from all Nations. 

If you would like a Readers Digest of this story I would recommend reading from the book of Enoch the section titled “The Dream Vision” which is a highly stylized shortened story using animals as metaphors for biblical individuals and peoples. It will open your eyes to the pervasiveness of this special Hebrew genre of literature.

Here is the link

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #11976

May 1st 2010

>Before you celebrate the Vatican too much, BenYachov, there *are* parts of the world where ‘mainline Protestantism’ is doing just fine and where the Catholic church is badly floundering.

I reply: I’d bet real money those ‘mainline Protestants’ outside the US are theologically conservative and could most likely be de facto grouped with Evangelicals.  As for “floundering” Catholic churches I don’t deny that in countries where the local Church has been subverted by liberalism or in some poor countries Catholicism is reduced to a base cultural ritual instead of a livinfgFaith that is the case.  But my point stands.  Liberal Christianity is pointless & a dying religion.

Dick Fischer - #12047

May 2nd 2010

Hi Chris, you wrote:

“I must also confess to a high degree of skepticism at the idea that you have found archaeological evidence of Adam. “

Okay, here is one example:

In Egypt, the pyramids of kings Mer-ne-Re and Nefer-ka-Re were inscribed with a dedication dating to about 2400 BC, centuries before Abraham, and many centuries before Moses. The text speaks of a first creation and a deified “Atum” who was on a primeval hill arising “out of the waters of chaos.” Among those “whom Atum begot,” according to the inscription, was one named “Seth.”

How many created individuals do you know of named Adam or Atum with a son named Seth?  It has to be the same person.

In the mindset of ancient Egypt it is only a short step from being created to being a creator. Hymns to Atum honored him as such and one who accompanied the people, their pharaoh, and their land from birth to death to rebirth. In a similar vein to the Adapa legend, Atum would sail his boat across the sky and priests would sing hymns. Even a hearkening to Genesis 1 can be seen in the following hymn to Atum:

        There were no heavens and no earth,
        There was no dry land and there were no reptiles in the land …

Bilbo - #12052

May 2nd 2010

Has anyone read Greg Boyd’s “Evolution as Cosmic Conflict”?  I’m curious what it’s about.  It sounds like it might be relevant to this topic.

O. Bower - #12060

May 2nd 2010

@ Fischer,

I understand your point of view, however your saying “How many created individuals do you know of named Adam or Atum with a son named Seth?  It has to be the same person.” doesn’t necessarily follow.  Ancient people’s could share very comparable origins and creation stories without the events and individuals actually happening.  I should add clarification before proceeding.  I do not believe in Adam’s (and Eve’s) nonexistence.  I’m personally not very concerned.  Anyway, back to my previous comments.

The same case could be made for almost any element in a creation narrative.  This is why scholars, archaeologists, etc. conduct the research they do.  They want to explore the ancient mind and truly see how they lived and thought.

Also, you have to admit the facts you offered regarding the Egyptians take on this Atum figure diverge greatly from the Hebrew depiction of Adam.

Chris Massey - #12072

May 2nd 2010


Forgive me in advance for citing Wikipedia, but it says as follows re Atum: “Atum was a self-created deity, the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that girdled the world before creation. A product of the energy and matter contained in this chaos, he created divine and human beings through loneliness: alone in the universe, he produced from his own semen Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. The brother and Sister, curious about the primeval waters that surrounded them went to explore them and disappeared into the darkness. Unable to bear his loss, Atum sent a fiery messenger to find his children. The tears of joy he shed on their return were the first human beings.”

This is obvious mythology. If you’re trying to establish that Adam was a historical person, I don’t think drawing links to Egyptian deities is of any assistance. It’s like pointing to the Atrahasis epic to support the historicity of Noah.

I’m also curious as to how you get “Seth” from “Shu” or even how you make the link between “tem” and “adamah”.

BenYachov - #12087

May 3rd 2010

Since we are recommending stuff.  Check out this link from Rabbi Ari Kahn

The Book of Genesis from a Midrashic & Kabaalistic point of view.
Answers the question did Adam have parents & grandparents who did
not have souls.

Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)
The First Man

Dick Fischer - #12097

May 3rd 2010

The inscription of Atum and Seth on the two pyramids dates to 2400 BC (Pritchard/1955).  That’s before Genesis was written.  Mythological stories abounded both in Egypt and Mesopotamia, true, but often based upon historical figures. The legends of Gilgamesh are fanciful, but he also is listed on the Sumerian king list as the fifth ruler of Uruk, biblical Erech, after the flood. The same is true of Dumuzi the third king to reign at Badtabira in the pre-flood era. Look up the legends of Dumuzi and the goddess Inanna also refected in the Akkadian versions of Tammuz and Ishtar. 

Yes the epic tales are freely embellished, something scribes did to sell them, but the king-lists pre-date the legendary tales indicating the stories were derived from actual living persons.

And I only gave you one tidbit. The evidence of Adam’s historicity that I have found wouldn’t be enough to prove it beyond doubt, but how much extra-biblical evidence do we have about David?  And we don’t have anybody trying to erase him from the biblical record.

Chris Massey - #12099

May 3rd 2010


“The evidence of Adam’s historicity that I have found wouldn’t be enough to prove it beyond doubt, but how much extra-biblical evidence do we have about David?  And we don’t have anybody trying to erase him from the biblical record.”

Oh there definitely are historians who would deny the historicity of David. Precisely because, apart from the disputed Tel Dan stele, there isn’t much evidence of David. But the reason I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss David’s historicity is that the narratives about David are written much closer in time to the events described. And secondly, because the David narratives appear far more historical in terms of their genre (that’s not to say that they conformed to a modern notion of history writing).

Connie L. Nash - #12104

May 3rd 2010

What if you knew that “listening in” might be an internationally known and peace-loving scholar/historian with a Muslim background who is extremely open to inter-faith discussion? 

I used to embrace without question that Christ was the “New Adam”. 

Beginning with Desert Storm until now, I’ve been sick to see how many Israelis, Jews and fellow Christians have somehow made light or of no avail ALL the Prophets.

What can our Second Adam have to say to victims in our wars and help us to refuse any more Crusades?  What about Israeli and “Christian” silence, participation and/or complicity in so much killings including central America, Gaza, the occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and now includes Pakistan (with bombing of all kinds includes the “second visit” of rescuers and wounded - where civilians are 1/10th to 1/3rd of the victims. What about the virtual silence in the ongoing torture, disappearance and kidnapping of uncharged and/or lack of any let alone just trials of so many?

O. Bower - #12116

May 3rd 2010

I wouldn’t say people are actively trying to erase Adam from the historical record though.  Biologos aims to consider the biblical witness and natural phenomena with the utmost seriousness.  Because its members hold to evolutionary theory, they must find some way to explain how the Bible details one set of events while the natural world offers another explanation.  *If* evolution proves valid (and from the consensus of scientists and evidence it appears so), then we have to read the biblical text anew and ponder the possibility we may be wrong.

Dick Fischer - #12133

May 3rd 2010

Hi Chris, you wrote:

“But the reason I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss David’s historicity is that the narratives about David are written much closer in time to the events described.”

The reason we have corroborative evidence of Genesis 2-11, however, is because the writing at that time was on clay tablets some of which survived the ages.  When the switch was made to papyrus it brought the advantages of portability, but permanence was sacrificed.  What scribes didn’t feel like copying was lost eventually.

Here is another historical example, Enmerkar is listed on the Sumerian king list and associated with the rebuilding of Uruk/Erech after the flood.  This is from the translation:

“Enmerkar, the son of Mec-ki-aj-gacer, the king of Unug, who built Unug.”

You can read more about Enmerkar in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.  Here is one line: “My sister, let Aratta fashion gold and silver skilfully on my behalf for Unug.”

And “Unug” is Sumerian for Enoch, the city Cain built.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12134

May 3rd 2010

David T. - #11878,

Since “man” is inserted into the text, why insist on this false dichotomy?  Why not allow, “He made of one all nations,” and leave “one what?” ambiguous, to be answered by another text?

Chris Massey - #12099,

The tradition of when the biblical narratives of Adam were written is far removed from Adam.  But does that meant the actual writing was far removed?

The fact is, the Genesis text claims that Adam lived in Sumer and, in the standard Sumerian fashion, claims that Adam wrote the account himself.

The account is written in a standard Sumerian form.  A form that was long extinct by the time of Moses. 

Statistical linguistics demonstrates that the author was not the author of any other part of Scripture.  It demonstrates that the author likely shared the same language and culture as the authors the rest of Genesis 5-11, but that those authors had a language and culture far removed from that of the rest of Genesis or the rest of Scripture.

The break in language and culture occurs at where the text claims Terah and Abram moved from Sumer to Akkad.

There has been 90 years of work on this subject by otherwise well-respected researchers.  It has not been refuted.  It has been ignored.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12141

May 3rd 2010

Chris Massey - #11896,

Several places, Adam’s transgression at the Fall is made equal to the Jew’s transgression of the Law.  Adam’s transgression was a transgression of the same covenant.

Historically, people have believed there was one old covenant.  That’s why people placed a page that says “Old Testament (Covenant)” in front of Genesis 1 instead of between Exodus 19 and 20.  It is all part of the Old Covenant.

This modern view of multiple old covenants comes from the same line as the 19th-century view questioning the historicity of Moses and attributing the Pentateuch to Ezra’s JEPD patchwork.  Why did the Fundamentalists adopted half the “liberal” doctrine they were reacting against?

Gregory - #12143

May 3rd 2010

Hi Jeffrey,

Someone on this list claimed a while ago that they believed ‘Adam wrote Genesis.’ I was trying to remember who it was. Now it seems I’ve been reminded. Is this what you believe?

From #12134, it is not clear to me, i.e. whether ‘someone’ believes this and you are just reporting that or if this is also your position, most probably shared with others.

I also wonder if Dick Fischer thinks ‘Adam wrote Genesis.’ After hearing many of his views over the years about ‘real, historical’ Adam, I don’t recall if he’s said anything about this.


beaglelady - #12155

May 3rd 2010

Perhaps Dick himself wrote Genesis.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12161

May 3rd 2010


I believe that the facts are best explained with the hypothesis that Adam originally wrote Genesis 2:5-5:1, but that much of Genesis 4 was inserted by a pre-flood redactor.


Dick Fischer - #12174

May 3rd 2010

Hi Gregory, you wrote:

“I also wonder if Dick Fischer thinks ‘Adam wrote Genesis.”

Although spoken language likely was in use at 7,000 years ago the progression of written language can be seen from Sumerian writing that evolved from simple identification tags on sacks of grain to a mix of symbols and pictographs to a more sophisticated form of phonetic characters similar in a way to our own alphabet.

By about 2500 BC inscriptions in Sumerian were often echoed in Akkadian and vice versa.  Likely Adam spoke Akkadian which after all is a primitive Semitic tongue from which all Semitic languages derived. It is rather unlikely that people living at the time of Adam could have written anything close to Genesis. An oral tradition may have begun, however, that was passed down through generations until it could be recorded at a later time when the means to do it was possible.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #12202

May 3rd 2010


You can see then that I place Adam more recently than Dick does.  Writing was widespread in Sumer well before 3000 BC.  I believe that was the time period of Adam.

You would still do well to get Dick’s book.  The evidence is good.  The dating methods though are a bit sketchy and there are interpretation problems.  I don’t think Dick gives adequate weight to the linguistic evidence that is in the Biblical text itself.  But others have said I give it too much weight.


BenYachov - #12206

May 3rd 2010

I put Adam more than 150,000 years ago.  Genesis is supernaturally giving us a bit of knowledge we could not know by natural means.

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