The significance of the Adam/Christ parallel

Damian at Castle of Nutshells found an interesting article by Mike Heiser on the subject of “Adam’s Sin and Old Testament Theology.” Heiser brings home the fact that “there isn’t a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible [the Old Testament] that produces the theology put forth by the traditional interpretation of Romans 5:12.” This verse, of course, is part of one of the famous Adam/Christ parallel passages: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” Heiser argues that interpreting this passage as teaching that “humanity inherited guilt” through Adam’s sin is problematic because, unlike so much of the context’s other material, this teaching has no basis in OT theology.

As Damian points out, although Heiser does not reference the issue of evolution/creation, a rejection of “the traditional interpretation” of this passage (original sin) is a deviation from standard evangelical Christian teaching, a deviation required by acceptance of evolution and a non-historical reading of Genesis 1-2. In fact, it happens to be the lynchpin argument for theologians who deny the compatibility of evolutionary theory and the essentials of the Christian faith — namely the necessity of Christ’s work; for, so the argument goes, if we are not all guilty under Adam’s original sin, then we need no Savior.

Like Heiser, the Christian who does not believe in an historical Adam (Heiser does) must treat Paul’s parallel as an analogy rather than as a causal connection (the belief that we sin and are condemned because of Adam’s sin). Strikingly, the response I expect to his point about the lack of concord between the OT and the predominant interpretation for Romans 5.12 is that Paul’s insight is new revelation, so naturally, like much of his teaching, it wouldn’t be found in the OT. Oddly enough, absent a belief that the Apostle was actually functioning under new revelation, we really have no reason to believe that Paul thought of Adam as anything but a real person whose sin literally brought the whole world under condemnation, imputing “corporate responsibility” upon all of succeeding humanity.

It appears quite possible that Heiser has articulated Paul’s belief more accurately than the traditional doctrine of universal culpability in Adam. Heiser assumes an historical Adam and insists that he’s interested in finding out exactly how “what Adam did extended to the entire human race” rather than denying that it has; he believes that Adam’s first sin affected the human race, but not that it rendered humanity guilty before God. He believes we are not condemned for Adam’s sin, but rather are made susceptible to inevitable sin because of Adam’s sin and condemned by our own sin.

My own belief is that, despite what Paul may have believed, “Adam’s sin” never occurred as such, or rather it recurs in everyone. Naturally, logic dictates that there was a first sin by some ancestor or another, but each of us simply treads the same path as all the rest of humanity: being human, sin simply “goes with the territory”, and so do the consequences. The harmony between my view and Heiser’s is that the necessity of Christ’s work is not seen as dependent upon the sin of Adam.

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  • Steven,

    Great post.

    For the sake of those who are troubled by the lack of an historic Adam, I hold open the possibility that God “borrowed” the evolved human DNA material, and special created Adam and Eve, breathed spirit into them (a first for the species), and submitted them to the moral tests of Genesis 3. I think it is far more likely that Adam (whose name, as you know, is simply “man”) is a type of the race, and his Fall a type of a mass rebellion against the Creator. Either scenario retains an historical Fall.

    Do you believe (as I do) that there was a moment in our evolutionary history when God breathed spirit into the early hominids, thus initiating the spirit-being human race? And if so, would there not have been a subsequent “Fall”?
    .-= Cliff Martin´s last blog ..David Hume and the Argument from Design =-.

  • Steven,

    Great post.

    For the sake of those who are troubled by the lack of an historic Adam, I hold open the possibility that God “borrowed” the evolved human DNA material, and special created Adam and Eve, breathed spirit into them (a first for the species), and submitted them to the moral tests of Genesis 3. I think it is far more likely that Adam (whose name, as you know, is simply “man”) is a type of the race, and his Fall a type of a mass rebellion against the Creator. Either scenario retains an historical Fall.

    Do you believe (as I do) that there was a moment in our evolutionary history when God breathed spirit into the early hominids, thus initiating the spirit-being human race? And if so, would there not have been a subsequent “Fall”?
    .-= Cliff Martin´s last blog ..David Hume and the Argument from Design =-.

  • Nice job, Steve! Was just in discussion about this very topic with a dear friend of mine (who thinks I’ve bitten off more than I can chew). I’ll send him your way …
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..PZ Meyers’ Visit to Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum =-.

  • Nice job, Steve! Was just in discussion about this very topic with a dear friend of mine (who thinks I’ve bitten off more than I can chew). I’ll send him your way …
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..PZ Meyers’ Visit to Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum =-.

  • Good stuff, Steve. I agree with you – Paul’s speaking of human nature, and how Christ worked for the possibility of freedom from that nature. I’m glad you found Mike’s article interesting.
    .-= Damian´s last blog ..Omniscience? =-.

  • Good stuff, Steve. I agree with you – Paul’s speaking of human nature, and how Christ worked for the possibility of freedom from that nature. I’m glad you found Mike’s article interesting.
    .-= Damian´s last blog ..Omniscience? =-.

  • @Cliff

    Do you believe (as I do) that there was a moment in our evolutionary history when God breathed spirit into the early hominids, thus initiating the spirit-being human race? And if so, would there not have been a subsequent “Fall”?

    I have thought long and hard on this.

    What you propose sounds much like C. S. Lewis’s scenario: God imparted certain apes with humanity; original man was perfect and noble, but this (some unknown time later) culminated in the population rising up in rebellion. I am still on the fence about whether an actual supernatural impartation was necessary for man to become man; my nonreductive physicalist tendencies tell me it was not, and that what made man distinct happened via biological processes. I agree it would be tidy if humanity as a whole fell at a point in time, but — and I would never get dogmatic about it — I expect that rebellion was itself what defined humanity. What animal’s disobedience is morally culpable? As each individual in the species gained awareness of Otherness, it was ultimately incapable of rejecting the urge to do for itself, choosing independence as its best self-defense.

    But at best, these scenarios are all unknowable, and I don’t blame you for offering up other equally possible and more palatable but ultimately speculative options for consideration to those queasy about straying from the more orthodox views. In fact, I offered Mike Heiser’s view as just such an alternative (albeit one I find untenable) for one steadfast on maintaining the historicity of a singular “Fall incident” in some sense.

    @Mike
    I’m not at all surprised that you were “just in discussion about this very topic”, since it’s such an enduring stumbling block to our view, one which even ECists aren’t at all in agreement on. But forgive me for balking at the notion that, on the occasion in which Mike Beidler has bitten off more than he can chew, that I would be able to say anything useful!

    @Damian
    I love your succinct summary. I felt my post rambled on a bit without saying much of importance (and almost deleted it before publishing it), but your comment nicely homes in on what I found interesting. Thanks again!

  • @Cliff

    Do you believe (as I do) that there was a moment in our evolutionary history when God breathed spirit into the early hominids, thus initiating the spirit-being human race? And if so, would there not have been a subsequent “Fall”?

    I have thought long and hard on this.

    What you propose sounds much like C. S. Lewis’s scenario: God imparted certain apes with humanity; original man was perfect and noble, but this (some unknown time later) culminated in the population rising up in rebellion. I am still on the fence about whether an actual supernatural impartation was necessary for man to become man; my nonreductive physicalist tendencies tell me it was not, and that what made man distinct happened via biological processes. I agree it would be tidy if humanity as a whole fell at a point in time, but — and I would never get dogmatic about it — I expect that rebellion was itself what defined humanity. What animal’s disobedience is morally culpable? As each individual in the species gained awareness of Otherness, it was ultimately incapable of rejecting the urge to do for itself, choosing independence as its best self-defense.

    But at best, these scenarios are all unknowable, and I don’t blame you for offering up other equally possible and more palatable but ultimately speculative options for consideration to those queasy about straying from the more orthodox views. In fact, I offered Mike Heiser’s view as just such an alternative (albeit one I find untenable) for one steadfast on maintaining the historicity of a singular “Fall incident” in some sense.

    @Mike
    I’m not at all surprised that you were “just in discussion about this very topic”, since it’s such an enduring stumbling block to our view, one which even ECists aren’t at all in agreement on. But forgive me for balking at the notion that, on the occasion in which Mike Beidler has bitten off more than he can chew, that I would be able to say anything useful!

    @Damian
    I love your succinct summary. I felt my post rambled on a bit without saying much of importance (and almost deleted it before publishing it), but your comment nicely homes in on what I found interesting. Thanks again!

  • I’m still not sure how to read Genesis 2-3, but it sure seems to have a lot of mythological elements to it that make me question the historicity of Adam and Eve: God forms Adam out of the dust and breathes into his nose; Eve is formed from the man’s rib; trees impart knowledge or life; a serpent talks, etc. As a disclaimer, I don’t think that mythological elements in any way cheapen the text or take away from the truthfulness of it.
    .-= Thomas´s last blog ..Only We Can Go Through the Lifegate: Over-doing Predestination =-.

  • I’m still not sure how to read Genesis 2-3, but it sure seems to have a lot of mythological elements to it that make me question the historicity of Adam and Eve: God forms Adam out of the dust and breathes into his nose; Eve is formed from the man’s rib; trees impart knowledge or life; a serpent talks, etc. As a disclaimer, I don’t think that mythological elements in any way cheapen the text or take away from the truthfulness of it.
    .-= Thomas´s last blog ..Only We Can Go Through the Lifegate: Over-doing Predestination =-.

  • Thomas wrote:

    As a disclaimer, I don’t think that mythological elements in any way cheapen the text or take away from the truthfulness of it.

    Well said, Thomas.
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..PZ Meyers’ Visit to Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum =-.

  • Thomas wrote:

    As a disclaimer, I don’t think that mythological elements in any way cheapen the text or take away from the truthfulness of it.

    Well said, Thomas.
    .-= Mike Beidler´s last blog ..PZ Meyers’ Visit to Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum =-.

  • I agree, Thomas, that was well said. And I agree that the mythological elements are virtually undeniable.

  • I agree, Thomas, that was well said. And I agree that the mythological elements are virtually undeniable.