Paul’s Adam as a Christological foil (Pt. 3)

[Conclusion to pt. 1 and pt. 2]

What is clear from Paul’s treatment of Adam is that the solution reveals the plight. For Paul, Christology was paramount – how does Adam fit with Christ? Paul did not have an adequate protology (concept of human origins) with which to view Christ. Christ caused Paul to re-evaluate the only protology he knew. In this way,

“that Paul draws an analogy between Adam and Christ does not mean that we are required to see them as figures of equal historical standing. Unlike Adam, Christ was not a primordial, prehistorical man known only through hundreds and hundreds of cultural transmission. The resurrection of Christ was a present reality for Paul, an event that had happened in Jerusalem about 25 years before he wrote Romans… This historical resurrection is the singular focus of Paul’s writings and missionary activity, God’s climactic statement of his love for and presence in the world.”[1]

So we say “Christ died and rose!” – but why? This Jewish Messiah living out and in light of Israel’s Scriptures recognised a problem that went deeper than Israel’s disobedience to Torah. The resurrection in the age to come would best death but this singular Messiah died and was resurrected individually in history, he spoke of sins and atonement and that his death and new life would solve that problem. He taught that following him would see a person made capable of keeping Torah in light of his sin-atoning-for death. All of this was unprecedented. A Messiah dying for sin and being raised to life was not expected. Nor was the movement of this Messiah’s Spirit amongst gentiles expected. A problem was revealed as extensive, and to it, Christ revealed himself as the solution – for Jew, gentile and the cosmos. Paul did what he could with what he knew, when he knew it, and as any 1st century Jew would, he resorted to a reinterpretation of the Scriptures that included (by sheer historical limitation) a historical Adam. Must we recourse to this Adam? I don’t think so,

“The uncompromisingly reality of who Jesus is and what he did to conquer the objectively true realities of sin and death do not depend on Paul’s understanding of Adam as a historical person.”[2]

Why? Because the solution reveals the plight. We still struggle with sin. We still know death. We may no longer have room for a historical Adam within our particular worldview but this does not serve to silence the universal issue to which God has revealed Jesus to be, with supreme radicality, the solution. “Even without a first man, death and sin are still the universal realities that mark the human condition.”[3]

Paul’s Adam was a type of Christ. Paul’s Adam was primordial archetype – the human which all human take after. The crucified and resurrected Christ for Paul was historical prototype – the new human in whom humans plagued by death and sin could locate themselves as to find hope and life.
Paul’s Adam is Christological foil. Paul’s interpretation of Adam helped Paul make sense of Jesus – a Jesus who was claiming and embracing gentiles and had sent ruptures of transformation ringing through the cosmos.
What can we say in summary? Well, again, the solution reveals the plight. Without Paul’s Adam sin, death and entropy still shout loud and clear, and without Paul’s Adam Jesus shouts back louder still claiming the universe and all that is in it as his own. We need not embrace Paul’s encultured, Second Temple presupposition that Adam was a historical person[4]to recognise the significance of Christ. Our story holds together without (a particular understanding of) Paul’s Adam because it is around Christ our story centres – not Adam.


[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, 125
[2] Ibid., 122
[3] Ibid., 124
[4]Again, Adam’s historical existence was not of primary concern for Paul. Adam’s theologicalsignificance was what mattered. Historicity was a secondary (or less) given.
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