Paul’s Adam as a Christological foil (Pt. 2)

[This post continues on immediately from pt. 1, found here]

It is quite clear that “Paul invests Adam with capital he does not have either in the Genesis story, the Old Testament as a whole, or the interpretations of his contemporary Jews”.[1]Adam in Genesis 2-3 is (perhaps) presented as the root cause of human death – in Romans Paul tags on sin as well (Rom. 5:18-19). Yet in Genesis this is no where specified, even identified, as a problem. Further still, in the Old Testament, after Genesis 5, Adam gets mentioned once… in a genealogy in 1st Chronicles – by contrast, in Romans Adam gets loaded with a problem of universal scope. Additionally, within Second Temple Judaism there was a diversity of thought, opinion and treatment regarding Adam which placed varying emphases on Adam’s significance – in relation to this Paul’s Adam was quite unique in nearly every way.[2]

So again, why does Paul treat Adam this way? Well, because of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus happened and “if God’s solution [to the human and universal problems of sin, death and entropy] was Christ dying and rising from the dead, the problem must be death”[3]and that solution needed explanation and origin – where better to start than within his powerful, ancient, identity forming story?
In this sense we can recognise and say this, “Paul’s understanding of Adam is shaped by Jesus, not the other way around… Paul pressed Adam into new service in view of the reality of the empty tomb.”[4]

Can we say anything more than this? I think so. Paul was a Second Temple Jew. Paul operated with the cultural assumptions of his time and place and space. Evolutionary theory was not on his intellectual horizon. God had become incarnate in the 1st century and bound himself to a time and context in which he reconciled the world and all it was then to himself – that event, in that time, did not confirm as universal and binding the information and knowledge of that particular time. The Christ event happened and demanded 1stcentury knowledge fit its key.
The Christ event changed time and history and how we perceive it – it did not stop time and history or solidify 1st century perception of such things as brute fact. We can then say, quite rightly, that as knowledge has accumulated and developed in various ways throughout the centuries we find that what we now know must reckon with the key of the Christ event – this event has changed the way we interact with all that we know, it has not simply or dully become its own contingent, ‘challengeable’ point of information.


[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, 135
[2]Second Temple Judaism was a period of time noted for its particular religious and intellectual movements and proclivities following the post-exilic construction of Jerusalem’s (second) temple and ended after that (second) temple’s destruction by the Romans in 70CE. One quality of Second Temple Judaism was its particularly cavalier approach to Scriptural interpretation. The New Testament is laced with it – notably in Paul (e.g. Gal. 3 or Rom. 11), though there is much gold in the gospels (e.g. Matt. 2). Context, grammar and so on almost get left behind by these writers because Jesus has happened. Paul’s Adam is an example of Second Temple hermeneutics at work. The Adam of the OT was there to be reinterpreted and configured in new and creative waysand Paul, in light of the Christ event, was more than ready to do so.
[3] Ibid., 131
[4] Ibid., 122 and 132
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