Adam in the New Testament

This is the third post in a series of posts looking at the theological significance of Adam.

Adam in the New Testament

One way to help us see the theological significance of Adam is to see how he is portrayed and referenced in the New Testament. In the gospels, we see Adam mentioned explicitly in Luke, and implicitly referred to in Matthew and Mark. “In the NT Adam is mentioned in Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:38) and in similar reference in Jude, where Enoch is ‘the seventh from Adam’ (Jude 14). These passages simply mention Adam to locate him in his genealogical place (Matt. 19:4-6 and mark 10:6-8 imply reference to Adam but do not mention his name).”[1]

These passages do not have give us much theological implications regarding Adam, as they are merely genealogies. However, it does give more biblical weight to the argument that the gospel writers believed in a literal Adam, as it would seem rather odd to include imaginary people in a genealogy. There are however three important passages in the New Testament that carry theological and doctrinal implications regarding Adam: 1 Timothy 2:13-14; Romans 5:12-21; and 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45.

Regarding 1 Timothy, L. L. Morris writes, “In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 the subordinate place of woman is argued from (1) Adam’s being created first and (2) Eve’s being deceived, though Adam was not. This passage presumes that Genesis stories tell us something or permanent significance about all men and women.[2]” In this passage Paul is arguing from the belief that Adam was a real person. It would be incorrect to view the focus of this passage to that of the creation story, but it should not be overlooked as a place where the existence of Adam is important to the statement Paul is trying to make.

Romans 5:12-21 perhaps is the most scrutinized New Testament scripture on Adam, with many differing views and beliefs. Here we see Paul teaching that sin and death came into the world through one man (Adam), and that grace and the free gift of righteousness has also been given by one man (Jesus Christ). Similar to this passage is the one in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and 45-49. Here we see Paul arguing the same point as Romans 5, as well as naming the original Adam the “first Adam” and refers to Christ as the “last Adam.”

How are we to view Adam in light of these passages? Daniel C. Harlow writes, “In formulating his typology, Paul’s main interest is to depict Christ as a representative figure, one whose act affected not only himself but the entire human race. He brings Adam less as a figure of history than as a type of Christ – a symbolic stand-in for the fallen humanity.[3]” Harlow, who believes that homo sapiens cannot be traced back to a single originating pair based on evolutionary science, says we must not read as Genesis 1-3 as factual events. However, he concedes, “Paul, like Luke, no doubt regarded Adam as a historical person, but in his letters he assumes the historicity of Adam instead of asserting it, and in Romans 1-3 he can describe the problem and universality of sin at great length without any reference at all to Adam.[4]

More must be said about the New Testament writer’s belief in a historical Adam, as well as the context in which these references to Adam were written. Could it not be the case that a literal Adam was not “asserted” because it was already generally accepted? And do we really think that Paul would speak so matter-of-factly about sin originating with Adam had he “known” Adam was not a literal being? Even if Paul’s main purpose in these passages is to show that Christ is a “symbolic stand-in for the fallen humanity” it is hard to believe that Paul is not also bringing Adam in as a literal, historical figure. Speaking to the passage in Romans 5, L.L. Morris writes, “Romans 5 stresses the connection of humankind at large with Adam. It was through that one man that sin came into the world, and the consequences of his sin was death.[5]

If sin did not in fact enter through one man, when and how did it enter? Harlow and others in his position argue that “sin entered the world through (not because of) Adam, and that death spread to all because all sinned. Adam was the first sinner, but the responsibility for humanity’s sin falls squarely on the human race as a whole.[6]” But this does not answer how sin and evil began. Conservative scholars would agree that we are all responsible for our own sins, but that is not what is being disputed. The origination of sin is the problem. Both references in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 to Adam portrays him as a literal being and the initiator of sin in this world.

It is difficult to see how, strictly from biblical exegesis only, Adam could be interpreted any other way. Paul presents Christ as the hope and savior of all who have descended from Adam, “The ground for this hope is the believer’s relationship to Christ, who, undoing the effects of Adam’s sin, has won eternal life for all who belong to him ([Romans] 5:12-21).[7]” It is clear that Adam is presented in the New Testament both as the representative for the human race, and as a historical figure through whom sin entered the world.

Other posts in this series:

[1] L.L. Morris, 23.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Daniel C. Harlow “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” American Scientific Association 62, no. 3 (September 2010): 190.

[4] Ibid., 190.

[5] L.L. Morris, 23.

[6] Harlow, 190.

[7] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005), 392.


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