Adam – Part 3 – The Two Adams

Adam does not figure much in Scripture at all. Considering the enormous impact he has had through the idea of original sin and traditional federal theology, this is surprising to say the least. Adam appears implicitly in Genesis 1, 2 and 3, and explicitly by name in 4:1,25 and 5:1-5 (see also 1 Chr. 1:1). Luke refers to him as the son of God who was the original (human) father of Jesus through his mother (Luke 3:38). Paul, however, goes into some detail regarding his theological significance in Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:21f.,45-49 and 1 Timothy 2:13f.(*1). Apart from this he does not figure.

Who was Adam? He is portrayed in Scripture as the first and hence the prototypical or representative (*2) man par excellence who is at once mankind individual and community. In contrast with the animals he was made in the image of God as his son (Dt. 32:6, cf. Gen. 6:2; Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28). Like the vegetable and animal kingdoms in general, Adam propagated himself according to kind (Gen. 1:11,21; 4:1,25). Thus all men and women, we ourselves included, are created in his natural or generic image (5:1-5).

In 1 Timothy 2:13f. Paul makes an important distinction between the respective sins of Adam and Eve. According to the book of Genesis, it was Adam who received God’s commandment (2:16f.) and was hence the type of him who was to come (Rom. 5:14). So Paul implies that at best Eve received it second-hand from Adam himself. In light of this, we draw the conclusion that her sin of the flesh, which in contrast with Adam’s included deception, typified that of the heathen who did not have the law (cf. Rom. 1 and 2) and that Adam’s own sin, which involved connivance of and participation in Eve’s (Gen. 3:6), typified the conscious rebellion of the Jews against a clearly defined legal standard (cf. Rom. 3:9-20). Thus when Jesus came into the world, he had to do so as the second Adam and the true Israel. As the covenant theology implied in Romans 1-3 indicates, he was as man to become capable of atoning for the sins of the whole world (Rom. 3:21-31; 1 John 2:2) and so to redeem men and women of faith from every tribe and tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9, cf. Heb. 11).

In light of this, it is not at all surprising that in the course of bringing his plan of world salvation to fruition, God chose his people Israel who are collectively seen as being, like Adam, God’s son (Ex. 4:22). As a royal priesthood (Ex. 19:6), they were intended to be a blessing to the world and a light to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:3; Ex. 19:5f.; Isa. 42:6; 49:6,8, etc.). The problem with them, as with Adam himself, was that they were all sinners and came short of the glory of God. Just as Adam sinned in and his posterity outside Eden, so Israel sinned at Sinai and repeatedly in the wilderness. Even when the innocent children of those who died on the way entered the Promised Land (cf. Num. 14:3,29-33), they sinned in their turn and continued to do so (1 Sam. 8:8; Ps. 106:6; Jer. 3:25, etc.). Eventually, their descendants lapsed so badly that they also were cast out, or exiled, like Adam and the Canaanites before them. Though the exile was limited in duration, it eventually became even more apparent that Israel itself needed a Saviour on a far grander scale than any that had appeared during the time of the Judges, for example. A new beginning, which somehow avoided the obliteration of the old (cf. Ex. 32:11-14; Heb. 9:15), was required, and eventually a second Adam who was God’s own Son born of a Virgin made his appearance in accordance with Messianic promises (Isa. 7:14-16; 53, etc.).

As Paul makes clear in Romans 5:12-21, whereas the first Adam disobeyed the commandment and brought sin and its consequence death into the world of man, Jesus the true Son, whose ultimate origin was not the earth but heaven, obeyed the law and brought righteousness and life into the world. Judging by what he has to say in Romans 7 regarding the clash between flesh and law, Paul regarded the natural man’s failure as inevitable. As he expresses it in 3:20 it was God’s purpose from the beginning to ensure that no flesh (Gk.) would be justified in his sight by the works of the law (cf. 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 3:11, etc.). Since Adam was merely a natural or fleshly man, his failure, though his own fault, was a foregone conclusion. Why? Because being flesh he was inherently weak and, apart from faith in God, he was bound to capitulate to fleshly temptation. In this situation, God’s plan was that he himself should be the Saviour of his people (Isa. 45:23). Consequently, he consigned all men and women to disobedience so that he might have mercy on all in Christ (Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22). So it was that, according to the author of Hebrews, the only difference between the two Adams as men was that the second never sinned (2:17; 4:15). This being the case, Jesus, and Jesus alone, could save his people from their sins (cf. Mt. 1:21; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul deals with the resurrection body unrelated to sin. His point is that there is a fundamental difference between the natural or ‘soulish’ man and the spiritual or ‘pneumatic’ man. He makes this apparent, first, in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 where he points up the natural limitations of Adamic or unspiritual man who lacks the capacity to understand the gifts of the Spirit. In 3:1-3 he illustrates his contention by referring to babies whose natural limitations are obvious. On the other hand, some Christians who are not literally babies act as if they are by refusing to grow up and make proper progress in the faith (cf. Heb. 5:11-6:1; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). Thus having remarked in 15:21f. that man dies “in Adam”, that is, in the flesh, in verses 45-49 Paul distinguishes between the ‘natural’ (or physical, RSV, man, whose origin is the earth and who as dust returns to the dust, Gen. 3:19, etc.), and the spiritual man, who derives from heaven who, after a little while, returns to heaven (John 3:13; 6:62; 17:5, etc.) crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:7,9) with his people in train (Heb. 2:10). The apostle goes on to say that we who believe in Christ bear the image of both: we are, first, like Adam natural, physical, fleshly and earthly (vv.44,46,47,49), then we are, secondly, like Christ spiritual or heavenly. It is here that Paul reaches the conclusion of his contention in verse 37 that the heavenly body is not to be identified with the earthly or Adamic body that is sown at physical death. His punch line is the synonymous parallelism of verse 50. Adamic or earthly flesh and blood lacks by nature the capacity to enter heaven and is no more capable of inheriting the kingdom of God than the naturally perishable or corruptible is capable of inheriting the imperishable or incorruptible.

Jesus, of course, had made the same implication in his discussion with Nicodemus where sin is notably not mentioned. The need to be born again or from above arises from the nature of man as the natural creature of God. It is indeed a need, not an imperative, since man cannot undergo regeneration by command. Even Jesus as a servant under the law (a son of the commandment) had to wait for the time set by his Father (cf. Gal. 4:2) to receive the Spirit (that is, the life promised to him who kept the commandments, Gen. 2:16f.; Lev. 18:5, etc.) and inaugurate the spiritual kingdom of God on earth. And since the law was incapable of serving as a means of attaining the perfection of God (Heb. 7:18f.; Mt. 5:48), he had to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15; 19:21) as the acknowledged Son of God.

Once the work he had been given to do (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 14:31; 17:4) had been finally accomplished (John 19:30), he rose physically from the grave (Luke 24:39, etc.) and was transformed at his ascension as the pioneer and perfecter of his people. In sum, the conditional promise of eternal life originally given to mortal man (cf. Rom. 1:23), the first Adam (Gen. 2:17), but forfeited on account of his disobedience, was at last fulfilled. By contrast, having attained to glory himself, Jesus the Man, the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8) became the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) for all his fellows who trusted in him (Heb. 2:10-13). Furthermore, it was his own desire that they should be with him and see his glory (John 17:24). So, in the graphic words of Paul, God’s eternal purpose of grace was manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10).

Such was Paul’s gospel, such is mine.

*1 He is also mentioned Jude 14.
*2 But definitely not our covenant head and representative as tradition has it.