Paul’s sense of Scripture and Adam’s fall

English: Allegory of Poles
English: Allegory of Poles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is going to be short, but one of the questions we should ask ourselves as interpreters of Paul is how did he read Scripture?

I believe Paul looked past Scripture and attempted to decipher it through the lens of Christ. Meaning, he wasn’t always the “historicist” (or literalist) we want to make him out to be. Let me give you two examples.

The first is rather small:

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same?  For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. (1 Co. 9.8–10)

The “biggest” use of Paul’s “other reading” is found in Galatians 4.24–26:

Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Paul sees something in this story that he is able to bring out in order to help his readers understand the Gospel. It may simply be Paul sees in the Genesis passage what he says he sees in the Deuteronomic passage — something written for us, for the new age under Christ.

So, then, why would we think Paul is intent on seeing the Genesis story as an historical event rather than a literary event (dare we say myth)? In Romans 5, the story of Adam’s great sin is used not so much as a way to tell us who evil and depraved we are (thanks, Jean) but to tell us how great the grace of Christ is. Jesus is not seen as the “Second Adam” but as one greater than Adam.

Now, to be sure, Paul uses this metaphor in 1 Cor 15.44–49 and in 2 Cor 3.13–18; however, there is a deeper exegesis required than that which is usually given.

So, how do we understand Paul and his use of allegory? Does he see some of the Torah as allegory or does he use allegory to shape the Torah under the lens of Christ? Regardless, Paul does not necessarily require a historical event or historical meaning (hence the, “this was written for us!”) in order to understand the stories of his people as continuing and being made alive under the lens of his fellow Jew, Jesus.


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12 Replies to “Paul’s sense of Scripture and Adam’s fall”

  1. Could it be that Paul read’s both the LXX and the MT versions, and for him, its more about the ‘essence’ of the story, then it is, the literal historical facts of the passages?

          1. I understand that, but we don’t really have an example of that in the Torah, which is pretty similar overall between the Greek and the Hebrew. Given the Targums, and the history of rabbinical interpretation, Paul is well in line in using allegory – without the need for an honest-to-goodness historical event.

  2. One analogy might be to think of Paul as the second small town law enforcement officer to arrive at a messy crime scene.

    By the way, the first officer was James. For purposes of this story assume that James came and went before Paul arrived. That leaves Paul to investigate.

    It is important to remember that Paul doesn’t come with an open mind. He arrives on the scene with some preconceived ideas as to whodunit. As a result, Paul fits the evidence to fit his preferred scenario of events.

    While another officer with a different perspective might have come to a dissimilar conclusion, Paul’s notes become the official report.

    In the above story, the messy crime scene is the state of the early 1st century church. Theologically, it’s all over the place. Despising disorder, Paul exerts a great deal of energy both trying to make sense of the chaos and fit it into, what for him at least is, a logical framework.

    As with most analogies, the above is oversimplified and imperfect. Yet, on a nuts and bolts level, it may offer some insights into some of Paul’s conclusions given his Pharisaic training.

    After all, Paul wasn’t a Christian in present connotation of the word so much as he was a Pharisee.

  3. Saul-Paul was always the Jewish Hellenist as too the Greco-Roman thinker and theolog, as of course the Apostle to the Gentiles, but also toward the Jews, (Rom. 11: 13-14-15). See also, Acts 21: 39 ; 22: 3 ; 23: 6 ; 11 ; 26: 20-23 ; 28: 16-20 ; 23-31. And then of course Paul’s Last Will and Testament in the Letter of 2 Timothy! Note especially verses 1 Tim. 1: 3 ; 9-12 ; 2:8-10. And finally the prophetic chapter 3 thru 4: 1-4! And the coming fulness of the Gentile Apostasy that we are seeing even now, at the end of this world and age, an eschatological end, for both Jews and Gentiles or Nations. See btw, Zech. 13: 8-9 and Zech. chapter 14. (Note too, Ezek. 36: 28-29 Rom. 11: 26-27)

    1. Indeed, Paul was always speaking spiritually and in God’s revelatory place and position as an Apostle, and especially in canon, and the idea of history was always part of the Judeo-Christian presupposition! And btw, there was NO myth of the Adamic for Paul! (Rom. 5: 17, etc.)

      1. Btw also, for us Judeo-Christians, Paul must be seen from the presupposition of Gal. 1:11-12, with too verses 15-16, (see also here, Acts 9: 15-16). Note too, Romans 1: 1-5.
        And Saul-Paul was always something of the Jewish-Christian Pharisee Acts 23: 6!

        1. I am writing on the fly here from my laptop, at the hospital (I do some hospital chaplain work still, though I am basically retired now at 65). I have not spoken here in several years, but I do hope we can have some aspect of Christian brotherhood, as we share our theological thoughts! Best to all who are ‘In Christ’.

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