The Theological Significance of Adam

Who was Adam (and Eve), and why does it matter? Over the next few posts I will present a case for who Adam was and why it does matter what we believe about him. Christians can certainly disagree at different points on this issue, but I do believe this issue does effect the way we read and understand the Bible.

Who was Adam?

To begin to look at the theological significance of Adam, we must first define and describe who “Adam” is. “The Hebrew word transliterated ‘Adam’ is found about 560 times in the OT, in the overwhelming majority of cases meaning ‘man’ or ‘humankind.’… But there is no doubt that the writer (of Genesis) used the word as the proper name of the first man, and it is with this use that we are concerned.[1]” In Genesis chapter one, we see that God creating the known world and everything in it. The last of the things created is humankind, of which God creates in his image and likeness, and whom God gives dominion of all created things.[2]

We also see that mankind was created in the image of God.[3] While defining the meaning of that is not the goal here, it is suffice to say that humans are unique among all of creation. Wayne Grudem writes, “The special creation of Adam and Eve shows that, though we may be like animals in many respects in our physical bodies, nonetheless we are very different from animals.[4]” In Genesis chapter two we see a more detailed look into the specific creation of Adam and Eve with Adam being the first human ever created, and to Adam’s creation much doctrine and theological implications are at stake.

C. John Collins writes, “Genesis 2:5 says there was no man to work the ground, and thus in 2:7 the Lord God formed the man using dust from the ground. In 2:18 the man is alone, and the Lord God sets out to make a helper fit for him. Throughout 2:4-4:26, whether he is called the man or Adam, he is presented as one person.”[5] Because the Hebrew word for “man” is Adam, some have argued that Adam and Eve were not actual, literal persons, or that they were simply the leaders of a group of people.

However, the Genesis creation account left to itself does not present this as a valid interpretation of the text. James Barr, who by no means holds to a traditional commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible, writes concerning Genesis 5:1-2 on Adam’s genealogy, “This text, just here at the start of the genealogy, seems to me to make sense only if the writer intends one human pair, from whose descendants the world will gradually come to be populated.[6]” Even in references to “Adam” in the New Testament echo this point,

It is true that the word Adam may be taken as a general or class term (‘human’) rather than a proper name. However, in two passages, Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul relates human sinfulness to Adam in a way that makes it difficult to regard ‘Adam’ as merely a representative term.[7] Thus we see that Adam is the first created human and the biological “father” of the human race.

Other posts in this series:


[1] L.L. Morris, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. Ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 22.

[2] Genesis 1:26-30.

[3] Genesis 1:26-27.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 266.

[5] C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 56.

[6] James Barr, One Man, or all humanity? A Question in the Anthropology of Genesis 1. Recycling Biblical Figures: Papers Read at a NOSTER Colloquium in Amsterdam, 12-13 May 1997.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1998), 500.

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