Was Adam, the individual, the only man or, as his generic name perhaps implies, representative man? Did he stem from less than human, merely fleshly stock (pre-Adamites) which later acquired like a baby under the Spirit of God (cf. Gen. 1:2; Luke 1:35) the recognisable image of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-50)? Is his “(hi)story” recapitulated or re-enacted by every baby that comes into the world? The mere fact that the second Adam was born of woman, who herself ultimately stemmed from the earth through Adam, and underwent a normal human development on his path to perfection, suggests that this is so.
Fundamentalists, who are more influenced by Augustine than the Bible, are apparently fully convinced, as were our forebears in general, that he was the only man and that Eve, the only woman, was literally fashioned from a bone in his side. There are big problems attaching to these views.
(1) It is widely perhaps universally acknowledged that Adam is depicted in Genesis as an adult and arguably, though questionably, created in a literal 24-hour day. The basic problem with this view is that a one-day old man is a contradiction in terms. Every man known to us in history Adam apart (though note Gen. 5:1-3) and in experience achieved manhood by a process of development. How then could any creature created almost instantaneously be a man, and one capable of talking to boot?
(2) The mere fact that Adam could speak suggests a process of learning as in our own case. What is more, it suggests parents, companions, society no matter how primitive or child-like, that is, if our own experience is anything to go by. Again, the generic name Adam, mankind, points unerringly to the fact that Adam was not alone but was representative man (though not our representative).
(3) Adam’s moral development is clearly implied in Genesis 1-3. He began without the commandment (law) and initially knew neither good nor evil like a baby (cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14, etc.). So, if he developed morally, the implication is that he also developed physically.
(4) In his commentary on Genesis 1-15, when dealing with 4:25, Gordon J. Wenham informs us that here for the first time “Adam” appears alone preceded by the definite article or a preposition, and should therefore be taken as a proper name. This is interesting not least because Paul, who understood the Hebrew language very well (cf. Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14*), must have been all too well aware of the fact, yet when dealing with the parallel between the first and the second Adams in Romans 5:12ff., and clearly with Genesis 3 in mind where the generic term is used, he refers to ‘one man’. In other words, unless we are prepared to suggest that Paul failed to note what Wenham and doubtless many other scholars have noted, we are forced to the conclusion that Paul regarded the one man as representative of his contemporaries and the one who was the common ancestor of all modern mankind (Acts 17:26). So just as God separated Noah, Abraham, Moses and even Israel itself from others, so we can reasonably infer he did the same with Adam, and like him the second Adam. Not for nothing is Adam referred to as the type of him who was to come (Rom. 5:14).
(Was it not on the basis of the last text that “Rabbi” Duncan used to tell his students that Hebrew was the language that God spoke. This being the case, the language of Genesis was peculiarly God-inspired and needs to be taken with special care!)
(5) There is something else in the Genesis record that has caused commentators problems, that is, the great age of the antediluvians. Methuselah, like Adam, lived over 900 years (cf. Gen. 6:3). It is surely questionable, if not unreasonable, however, to regard these references to men in proto-history simply as individuals. In view of what has already been said about Adam as both community and individual, is it not highly likely that Methuselah, Seth and the rest are family or tribal names from among whom outstanding or noteworthy individuals arose? These latter were in other words eponymous heroes, though not necessarily the founders of their families. Furthermore, even in modern times in our own societies children, far from being noticeably separate, are initially almost totally merged in their families. And normally, it is only as they develop distinctive characteristics that they stand out from them. Even child prodigies carry their family names with them. It is only in more recent times that ordinary people not of aristocratic blood, etc., have stood out from the rest. But by both ancient and, in different parts of the world especially the Third World, modern standards also we in the West are noteworthy for an individualism which contrasts noticeably with family solidarity in the OT. Nowadays, the identities of babies and children only are for the most part almost totally lost to view in families. But in the early chapters of Genesis we are dealing precisely with the babyhood of the race.
(6) Then there is the question of Eve. Many years ago I noted that in Genesis 3:16 the distinct impression is given that the woman Eve, as representative of all women and the mother of us all (Gen. 3:20), has had children before. For how else can it be said that her pain in childbirth will be greatly increased. Increased from what? Surely from the limited or moderate pain of the days when she (they?) was slowly emerging from a purely fleshly or animal life like that of a baby (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). As is often said, no brain no pain. Or, to be more accurate no, or limited, knowledge or self-consciousness, no or, at least, less pain.
(7) Then, what about Cain in Genesis 4:12-15? In answer to the problem that these verses create, it is often suggested that the individual, Adam, had other children. But if we regard the individual as representative of his contemporaries as above, the problem disappears.
Conclusion: If there is any substance in what I have written, the idea of the “Fall”, apart from its evident falsity, has been thoroughly misleading. Some, usually liberals, have in the past ventured to suggest that the so-called fall was a fall upwards! (The truth is that in his moral development man both breaks and keeps the law. He does both good, Luke 11:13; Rom. 2:14, and evil, John 8:34; 3 John 11.) What the Bible intimates is that there has been a forward movement in the development of mankind corresponding with that in the individual. Neither sin nor righteousness came to maturity in one fell swoop. Even Jesus had to keep the law to his Father’s satisfaction (Mt. 3:17), to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) and complete his work before he was pronounced the Righteous One (Acts 3:14, etc.). And even evil develops or matures until God patience is exhausted (Gen. 15:16). After Adam’s sin there is development in sin as his immediate posterity, the race, itself develops, and it is only arrested by God’s action in separating Noah from his fellows and by the establishment of the covenant. Though the image of God remains (Gen. 9:6), man’s likeness to his Creator is seriously compromised (cf. Rom. 3:23) and can only in the event be repaired in Christ. However, despite sin the covenant guarantees the continuation of the divine purpose and its eventual completion (Gen. 8:21f.).
* On the assumption that Paul was fully aware that Adam in Genesis 3 referred to generic mankind, his use of the ‘one man’ in Romans 5:12 must be regarded as deliberate, though not for the reason usually given by those committed to federal theology. (In federal theology God is deemed to have made a covenant with Adam who represented all mankind so that his ‘fall’ was also the fall of all his descendants – in Bengel’s words omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante. This is, however, not only to go beyond the evidence but it leads to all kinds of difficulties especially those associated with the idea of original sin in general.) Intent on making an analogy between the two Adams in order to point up the difference between the actions of the fleshly and the heavenly man (cf. 1 Cor. 15:47ff.), Paul is surely implying that what was true of an individual representative (i.e. one man, Adam) of the race was true of all apart from Christ himself, that is, that all sinned (Rom. 3:23) and hence earned their wages in death (Rom. 6:23). This is a far cry, however, from saying that all sinned “in Adam”. These words are significantly not in the text and if they were, then Christ as a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38) would inevitably be implicated. So when Paul says all sinned (v.12), he doubtless means that they all sinned as “flesh” (cf. 7:14), Christ apart (8:3). And in 1 Corinthians 15:21f., where the apostle is not dealing with sin, dying in Adam doubtless means “in the flesh”. It is therefore quite wrong to allow our understanding of Genesis 3 to be controlled by what in the event has historically been a false assessment of Paul’s analogy in Romans 5.