A Literary Adam

The final chapter of the new book Adam and the Genome by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight looks carefully at the the way at Paul uses Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. As this is really the core issue for many Christians. We looked at Scot’s first two theses concerning Paul’s use of Adam in the last post on the book (Paul’s Adam) and will look at the final three today. In what follows I summarize key parts of Scot’s arguments (read the whole book – it is well worth the time), but also throw in some of my own thinking. It warrants deep thought and civil conversation as we work through the issues.

Thesis Three: The Adam of Paul is the archetypal, moral Adam who is the archetype for both Israel and all humanity. Paul’s uses Adam as the reverse image or negative of Christ. The importance is in the comparison, where Adam’s sin is contrasted with Christ’s faithfulness. Salvation is tied not to Adam’s sinfulness, but to Christ’s faithfulness. “Paul uses Adam to bolster his Christology and to magnify the accomplishments of Christ.” (p. 181) Christ is the second Adam and the finally faithful Israelite. In Paul’s usage, Adam isn’t the prototype (primeval) man, but the archetype for mankind – the one representing all. (See Walton’s chapter in The Historical Adam pp. 89-118 for a more complete discussion of “archetype.”) This doesn’t address whether Adam lived as a unique human being, it merely addresses the role that Adam plays in Paul’s development of his Christology.

Thesis Four: Adam and all his descendants are connected, but original sin understood as original guilt and damnation for all humans by birth is not found in Paul. In Jewish fashion, Paul points his accusing finger at humans for their sins. How there is continuity between Adam, all his descendants, their sins and death is not stated by Paul. (p. 183) In good Jewish fashion, Adam is a literary figure who is put to theological use in Paul’s development of his Christology.

Romans 5:12 is a key but complex verse. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (NIV) The ESV and NASB also have “because all sinned,” The CEB has “since everyone has sinned.” I could give other examples, but this is key. All may have sinned because Adam introduced sin into the world, but all people sin as individuals. There is no “original guilt” implied in Paul’s development.

Scot writes:

What needs to be observed and repeated for a generation with emphasis is what Paul is here saying: he is not saying that all have sinned in Adam and therefore die but instead that each person, like Adam, sins and therefore dies because of that sinning. Humans somehow inherit something from Adam, but they die not because of that inheritance but because they sin. (p. 185)

There is a corporate sense in Paul – as humans we stand together. This is part of his argument in Romans 5:18-19, but unless you are a universalist, original guilt really doesn’t seem to stand up in Paul’s theology and Christology (and I don’t see Paul as a universalist). Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. We live in a fallen world, among rebellious and imperfect people. Reading Paul – from Romans through Philemon – unless we act and believe in God and his Messiah, Jesus the Christ, we remain in condemnation for our sins (not for Adam’s sin).

Scot sums up:

We have now come to a crucial moment in this section of the book. What kind of Adam is found in Romans 5 (and 1 Cor. 15)? The answer is clear: Paul’s Adam is the literary Adam of Genesis filtered through the Jewish tradition of interpreting Adam as the archetypal, moral, and exemplary Adam who both unleashes sin into the world by his own sin and at the same time forms a model for each human being: each human being stands before God as a sinner because each human being sins as did Adam (and Eve). Adam is the precise counterpoint to Christ – what Adam did Christ undid; what Adam did not do Christ did. Hence, Paul cannot blame Adam; he blames each person for sinning like Adam. (p. 187)

Thesis Five: The Adam of Paul was not the historical Adam. To understand this statement we have to understand what Scot means by the historical Adam. It is a logical argument that I will shorten and paraphrase: (1) two actual persons lived. (2) Those two persons have a biological relationship to all that (3) passed on their DNA and (4,5) having fallen, passed on their sin nature to all. (6) Without this biological passing on of a sin nature, not all would need salvation. Therefore, (7) if one denies the historical Adam one denies the gospel of salvation. Adam is the lynchpin to the story. Without him it falls apart. This is not Paul’s Adam.

Paul may have believed that Adam and Eve existed as unique individuals. He likely believed in the genealogical Adam (Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1). However, we shouldn’t push too hard, as ancient thinkers were not gullible – they thought deeply, recognized inconsistencies, and worked with the text. Also, Paul dealt with questions at hand in his letters, not with every possible question or issue. Paul certainly believed that humans were created in the image of God, that they chose to disobey, that this brought death into the world for all; that all sin; that Christ, through his faithful life and death, and through his resurrection brings justification and life for all. Paul doesn’t address the eternal fate of those who died young or unable to comprehend (infants, disabled, etc.). Concerning the rest of us he is clear.

Daniel Harrell, a Pastor and a friend, writes in the Afterword to Adam and the Genome.

I’ve always appreciated that while Adam and Jesus are the two sides of Paul’s salvation equation, they are not equal historically. Adam was known to Paul only through hundreds of years of religious and cultural transmission as a figure of Jewish theology and archetypal significance. But Jesus and his resurrection were recent realities and a personal experience for Paul, occurring in Jerusalem only twenty-five years or so before he wrote the Letter to the Romans.  (p. 198)

Paul is writing about Christ, using Adam. Adam is not the center of Paul’s gospel. Adam is not the starting point for Paul’s gospel. Adam is not the foundation for Paul’s gospel. Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he appeared (to many of his followers and lastly to Paul). (1 Cor. 15:1-8) Christ is center, starting point, and foundation of Paul’s gospel. Christ is also the center of Romans 5. Adam is used as the original sinner, not the origin of sin or the one from whom we inherit original guilt.

So what? Now me, not Scot (he may or may not agree). When we as a church focus on the historical Adam and on original guilt, we develop and preach a construct that can undermine our witness to the world around us. We start to do silly things – like set up science and scientists as a tool of Satan. We push the conflict view, pitting faith and science against each other. Because Adam is not the focal point of Paul’s gospel, of the Gospel’s or even of the Old Testament, we put up unnecessary stumbling blocks. Hold it with an open hand. Let chips fall where they fall – perhaps future work in science will turn around and support a more literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account, perhaps it won’t (I lean toward the latter, but it doesn’t matter). Paul’s Christology didn’t depend on Adam and our faith doesn’t depend on Adam.

How does Paul use Adam?

What is Paul’s goal?

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

You may also comment on A Literary Adam at Jesus Creed.

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