Overemphasizing Adam

Let me start off with what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that Adam is unimportant.

With that out of the way, in some discussions I’ve glanced at lately, I do think that some assign more importance to Adam than necessary. What I’m referring to is the idea of “no literal Adam = no Jesus.”  Perhaps someone has covered this ground already. In fact, I hope they have, and I’m a late to the game. Only my schedule has flown all over the map this summer.

I’ll just make three brief points about “no literal Adam = no Jesus.” First, I don’t think this does justice to relative lack of a role Adam plays in the rest of the bible, in general, and Hebrew Bible, in particular.  I know that some people read parts of the Hebrew Bible, but I’d swear that the only part that many pay attention to is Genesis 1-5.

Many people don’t realize that the Hebrew Bible contains only one undisputed reference to Adam outside of Genesis 1-5.  The reference comes in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1:1.  The word Adam in Hosea 6:7 is likely referring to a place as in Joshua 3:16.

The New Testament, in general, also contains very few references to Adam, especially outside of the epistles attributed to Paul.  The only time a gospel writer explicitly mentions Adam is Luke’s inclusion of him in Jesus’ genealogy.

At this point, I would ask the question: Does “no literal Adam = no Jesus” make more out of Adam than scripture actually does?  The Bible came along just fine, at least from my perspective, without mentioning Adam nearly as often as some groups seem intent on mentioning him in modern times.

Second, I would mention another related point.  Since the Hebrew Bible makes little reference to Adam outside of Genesis 1-5, messianic hopes develop among a people for whom, in their scriptures, Adam does not play that significant of a role, especially compared to say … Moses, who has four whole books devoted to his activities.  In light of this, I don’t think it makes sense to say “no literal Adam = no Jesus.”  A person can still have messianic hopes without having everything hinge on Adam as evidenced by many Jews in modern times who maintain messianic hopes while not having a doctrine akin to the Christian doctrine of original sin.

Finally, from my perspective, it is not Jesus’ connection with a literal Adam that imbues his death with utmost significance, but rather his resurrection from the dead.  I doubt seriously New Testament authors would really have thought to relate Jesus back to Adam if they did not believe he had been raised from the dead.

At any rate, this is my two cents.  I think we must discuss Adam.  Yet I also believe that the relative importance that we attach to him often does not reflect the relative importance of he plays within the whole of either the Jewish or Christian scriptures.

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10 Replies to “Overemphasizing Adam”

  1. Thanks for writing this. I think this is especially relevant to American Evangelicals, who are so committed to the penal substitutionary atonement view (that elevates Paul’s words about all sinned in Adam) that they forget all else.

    As someone who grew up Evangelical and now takes evolution seriously, the “no literal Adam” problem is something I’ve given quite a bit of thought to.

    Your point about the resurrection seems to be the clincher, and oddly, there is so very little teaching about the resurrection in Evangelical churches. We are so obsessed with the necessity of Christ’s death (penal substitution, of course), that the resurrection is lost on us.

  2. Perhaps you are not referring to my discussion with Joel, but if you are, please know that I am not saying that no historical Adam = no historical Jesus. I’m saying that it could be used to logically arrive at that.
    Second, the connection is quite larger than the few mentions in the Scriptures. The connection is based upon the grand narrative and the thematic unity of the Scriptures. I hope to take this up in a few weeks and maybe we can discuss it then. I’d certainly like your thoughts.
    I agree whole heartedly that the resurrection is too little considered and proclaimed. It is sad, to be honest. I feel out of place, because I fit almost nowhere. I am among the few who try to give it a decent amount of time. I am also a misfit among bibiiobloggers because I’m a (capital F) Fundamentalist.
    I would also connect Adam and Jesus via the incarnation of Jesus instead of His death.
    By the way, I have not forgotten Jambalaya’s. I’ll call you one Wed. soon, if the Lord wills. Perhaps we can do lunch.

    1. Jason, this wasn’t directed at your and Joel’s discussion in particular. It seems everywhere I turn here recently there are posts about Adam.
      In response though, I think that you and I are actually trying to make a similar point, but it will set us a bit at odds. My point is, considering the lack of reference to Adam throughout the rest of scripture, the overemphasis upon him actually fails to do justice to the real grand narrative or thematic unity. In terms of grand narrative, in my mind at least, theme of Exodus is far more prominent than most other themes in the Bible (e.g. this theme is prominent in Isaiah, Matthew, Paul, and so on). But in modern discussions, the myopic emphasis on origins draws attention away from this more prominent theme.

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