Paul’s treatment of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15 is one of the prominent reasons many Christians struggle to connect evolutionary theory with their faith. The reasoning goes that Paul saw Adam as a historical person therefore we must. Paul develops a significant Christology around consequences (sin and death) that stem from Adam – if we hack away a historical Adam then it all comes tumbling down, so we think.
I appreciate this reasoning and recognise that it tells a powerful story out of which many willingly secede their right to questions in respect for the perceived demands of their faith. I respect the integrity of those to whom this applies. It just isn’t me – I think there is a better way.
This way appreciates several things. It recognises that Paul was a Second Temple Jew who participated in their tendency toward creative hermeneutics. It sees that Paul’s argument in Romans and 1st Cor. is located within a larger narrative and context within Paul’s gentile mission. From this, with both of these thoughts in mind, we recognise that Paul, with all of his cultural and historical trapping, deployed his hermeneutics within the context of his mission because, most importantly, Jesus Christ had happened.
Paul thought of Adam the way he did because of Jesus, not the other way around. What is clear is that Paul’s Adam is not much like the Adam of Genesis – in almost anyway. Paul’s Adam is a theologically penetrating and significant construct; or less forcefully, a type (1 Cor. 15:21-22); or maybe more interestingly, a Christological foil.
Paul’s Adam is Adam put to a new use, understood in a new way, because Jesus demanded a fundamental reinterpretation – with the tools and information available in the 1st century – of the human condition and problem; and Paul as such reverts to the only story he has – that of Adam and Israel.
Paul saw that his king, Jesus, was doing something – and it included gentiles. The human problem, that Jesus had apocalyptically challenged and surpassed, was the same for Jews andgentiles; and more than that – Jesus had presented himself as one rescuing both. Paul, to find explanation for this within the context of his mission, as Scot McKnight puts it “ransacked his own vocabulary to describe what God did through Christ”. He had to find a reason, a genesis, for the universality of the problem that was rectified. He found Adam.