The Search for the Historical Adam 6

We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative, perspective in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 3 of Dr. Collins’s book looks at the biblical and extra-biblical texts concerning Adam. In the last two posts we looked specifically at Dr. Collins’s discussion of Gen 1-5 and at the OT and the extra-canonical literature. These sections are not the ones that cause most Christians difficulty though – the New Testament references, and especially the relationship of the creation story to the theology taught by Paul – these are the big issues. I have received several e-mails while working through this series, and the big questions in all of them are theological, not scientific or even biblical (i.e. arising from biblicism). These people are willing to accept the conclusions of science (with some reservations), and have a nuanced view of the authority of scripture (again with some variance). But still, there are serious issues here. The issues begin, but do not end, with the theology surrounding the concept of sin.

This is not a topic easily dealt with in one, or even a dozen, blog posts (or sermons, or academic monographs). There are no quick, pithy answers or rejoinders.

What NT texts cause the most concern for an evolutionary view of human origins?

Where does this impact our theology?

NT references to Gen 1-5 apart from Paul. Dr. Collins breaks his consideration of the NT texts into three categories – the Gospels, Paul, and the rest of the NT. The first and third don’t provide much guidance on the question of Adam. The references to Gen 1-5 in the gospels are passing references, we should not put too much emphasis on them. Dr. Collins suggests that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as one who believed that Adam and Eve were historical and that their disobedience changed things for us (p. 78).  I think that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as a biblically literate Jewish male who was steeped in the scripture and the culture – he was localized in a time and place. What he thought about historicity can’t be discerned, and our opinion of this rests in part on what we take as the consequences of incarnation.

The references in the rest of the NT outside of the writings of Paul are likewise incidental, and the truth claims of the passages do not depend on the historicity of Gen 1-5 or Gen 1-11. The references in Revelation are, by the very nature of the book, clothed in figurative language. The writer of Hebrews (11:4-7) may assume historicity, but it is of no real import to our discussion or his truth claim.

The Teachings of  Paul. The references to Adam and to Gen 1-3 in the writings of Paul are more substantive and require much more care and thought. Some of the references are incidental and subject to the same kinds of caveats above. Dr. Collins points to 1 Cor. 11:7-12, 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim 2:13-14 as examples of incidental references. The arguments in these passages do not depend on the historicity of Adam. Thus they are only compelling for our view of Adam in the context of some assumption of what scripture must be (what we might class as a biblicist view).

There are three passages, however, that Dr. Collins points to as foundational – where Paul’s understanding of Adam is not incidental to his point. In these cases an argument can be made that the historicity of Adam in some sense is essential to the truth claims made by Paul.  Dr. Collins sees this in three passages – 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 42-49, Romans 5:12-19, and Acts 17:26. Thus he spends most of the chapter discussing these three passages.

1 Cor. 15: Today I would like to consider 1 Cor. 15, where Paul begins with his statement of the gospel.

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

Paul lays out his view of the gospel here – Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day, all according to the Scriptures, the plan and prophecy of the OT. This is our creed. In this passage Paul argues that the resurrection of Jesus is real and is essential to the Christian gospel.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. … If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15: 14,19)

For a more complete discussion of resurrection Dr. Collins refers the reader to NT Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God.

1 Cor. 15:20-23. So far we have no reference to Gen 1-5, but this changes when Paul expounds on the importance of the resurrection. The issue for our topic here is v. 21,22:

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

The expressions “in Adam” and “in Christ” are covenantal language.

… to be “in A” means to be a member of the people for which A serves as the covenantal representative. This membership sets up a kind of solidarity, where what happens to the representative affects all members of the group, and vice versa. One prominent Pauline scholar has used the term “interchange” to describe the notion of mutual participation in a common life. (p. 79)

The prominent scholar referred to here is Morna Hooker, specifically her book From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul. Dr. Collins continues:

The person A is an individual who serves a public role as a representative, and there is no evidence that one can be covenantally “in” someone who had no historical existence. Indeed Paul seems to take for granted that something happened to “all” as a result of Adam’s deeds as a representative, just as something will happen to “all” as a result of Christ’s representative deeds. (pp. 79-80)

But Dr. Collins goes a bit further than this covenant relationship – he sees Paul’s claim as requiring a historical event as well. Adam is not merely representative, but is also a cause – he did something that has consequences for those he represents just as Jesus did something to correct the problem for those he represents.

1 Cor. 15: 45-49. Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 15 returns to Adam a little further on in his discussion of resurrection.

So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (I’ve quoted the NASB – Collins uses the ESV)

This text is dense and difficult to interpret. Dr. Collins refers to NT Wright’s discussion of the text in The Resurrection of the Son of God, which he cites and quotes, “with approval” (p. 81-82).  The resurrection of Jesus is embedded in a theology that views embodied humanity as a feature of God’s good creation. The resurrection of Jesus is the starting point for God’s rescue and renewal of his people – as embodied beings. We are not rescued from our embodied nature but rescued to “go on to the promised final state of the final Adam, in which this physical body will not be abandoned, but will be given new animation by the creator’s own Spirit.” (p. 353 RSOG)

From all I’ve read and heard from Dr. Wright on this topic I would venture to suggest that he does not take the position that we must have a historical Adam, nor does he consider Adam and the fall someone or something to dispensed with lightly. Rather we need to hold parts of the story with an open hand and do some serious theological, biblical, and scientific work. Dr. Wright and Dr. Collins both reject a strictly typological interpretation of Adam in this narrative. Dr. Collins quotes Wright:

This [argument from Gen 2:7] is not typological (two events related in pattern but not necessarily in narrative sequence), but narratival: Gen 2:7 begins a story which, in the light of  vv. 20-28, and the analogies of vv. 35-41, Paul is now in a position to compete. (p. 82 quoting p. 354 n. 128 RSOG)

Dr. Collins concludes that Paul’s argument “presupposes Adam as an actual character in the narrative” (p. 82). Adam and the reference to the events of Genesis 2-3 are not incidental to the message of Paul but is an important part of his truth claim. This does not necessarily mean that Adam and Eve are the unique progenitors of the human race (two people from whom alone all subsequent people descend), but that the existence of a real person and a real fall is, according to Dr. Collins, an integral part of the gospel of 1 Cor. 15.

This post is already long – I will return to consider the other two passages, Romans 5 and Acts 17,  in the next post. For now we can consider the significance of the 1 Cor. 15 reference to Adam.

Do you think that Paul’s argument here rests on the historicity of Adam and the fall?

Could the argument rest on the empirical observation of human falleness rather than a person and an act?

On what do you base your argument for your position?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 6 at Jesus Creed.

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