Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Was Adam an Historical Figure?

Does it matter if Adam was a literal, historical person, or would it be OK theologically to say that Adam was only a mythological or symbolic figure? What doctrines, if any, would be harmed if Adam was not the actual first human and father of the entire human race? I suggest that both the doctrine of inerrancy and the truth of the gospel are at stake.


Adam plays an important role within many genealogies. In Genesis 5, Adam is listed as the first human and then genealogically linked with several important historical persons, Enoch, and Noah. Through Noah in Genesis 10 and 11, Adam is then linked to Shem, Ham, and Japheth and the entire table of nation, ending most significantly with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. 1 Chronicles begins with Adam as the origination point for the history of the Jewish remnant, connected with all the patriarchs, David, the twelve tribes of Israel, and the returning exiles. Luke also includes Adam as the first historical figure in the line of Christ. All these figures are important historical persons, whose literal human existence is not in question. It would be unthinkable to suggest that these chroniclers thought that some individual in their carefully constructed genealogies where not real historical persons. If Adam was not real, then these passages are either intentionally deceptive or written by someone duped into mythological error. As an aside, in case one were to claim that gaps in genealogies are also evidence of error, it should be noted that the language used does not demand that the begetting father is the immediately preceding father, just that he is a preceding father from whom the named son descended.

In addition to the genealogies, OT writers, NT apostles, and Christ refer to Adam as a real historical figure. Hosea 6:7 says that God’s people violated God’s covenant with them, just like Adam did. Paul says (1 Timothy 2:13-14) that Adam was formed first, then Eve. Eve was deceived, not Adam. Paul used this historical event as the basis for explaining the different roles that men and women have in the NT church. It makes no sense to base roles of real people on the actions of those in a mythological story. Paul obviously believed Adam and Eve and the events in the Garden were real, historical events. Jesus does the same thing in explaining his position on divorce and marriage. He bases what marriage should be today (leaving and cleaving) on the historical creation account of Adam and Eve (Matt 19:4-8; Mark 10:6-8). Jesus specifically says this was how things worked in the beginning. The beginning of marriage and the one-flesh relationship began with Adam and Eve, not their theoretical non-human ancestors. Again, this argument does not work if the basis is only a fictional story or if it was not really the historical, actual beginning.

The Gospel

Most importantly, as Bruce Waltke says on page 250 of his Theology of the Old Testament, “the historicity of both figures [Adam and Jesus Christ] is foundational to Paul’s’ doctrine of human redemption through Christ Jesus.” In other words, the truths of the gospel depend on a literal, historic Adam. This may be seen in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Paul entire argument is based on the corresponding and complementary positions that all men have in either Adam or Christ. Paul is clear that sin and death entered the world because of one real man’s historical sin. Paul is just as clear that righteousness and life are available because of one real man’s historical righteousness. Romans 5:18-19 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness lead to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” It is not good enough, as some suggest, to observe that all men sin. Paul says much more than that. He is saying that all mankind is condemned from birth, before they do any actual sinning, because they were imputed with the sin of Adam and thus declared condemned sinners. Thus explains the passing of death upon all men, even those who as infants or mentally challenged do not make rebellious sin choices like Adam did (Rom 5:14, “even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam”). Over and over again, in addition to what he says in verse 18-19, Paul refers to the actual sin of the man Adam:

*** Sin came into the world through one man and death spread to all men because of that first sin (Rom 5:12).

*** Death reigned from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:12, is one historical and the other not?).

*** Many died through one man’s trespass (Rom 5:15).

*** Death reigned because of one man’s trespass but abundant grace, righteousness, and life through one man Jesus Christ (Rom 5:17, are we to assume that one of these men is real but the other not?).

These verses teach the federal headship of both Adam and Christ. We are condemned to death because Adam sinned. He represented all mankind in the garden and when he fell, he took the entire human race with him. We cannot help but sin because we are all sinners due to Adam. We are sinners by nature and by choice. Likewise, we are granted life because of Christ’s righteousness. God imputes the righteousness of Christ to our account when who we were in Adam (condemned sinners) were crucified with Christ on the cross (Rom 6:1-6; cf., Rom 7:1-6; Gal 2:20). Paul puts it this way in 1 Cor 15:21-22, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” In 1 Cor 15:45, Paul quotes Gen 2:7 as historical fact and then gives the gospel implication of Christ’s role as the second Adam: “the first man became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

How does one inherit a sin nature from a mythological figure? How are we justly condemned and how do we justly die if those things are not based on historical reality. Our salvation depends on the historical reality of Jesus’ perfect life and his literal obedience unto death on the cross. If Adam is figurative, why not Christ? If these men are not real, is God’s plan of redemption even necessary? Are we really condemned? Perhaps death is not the result of a real historical sin? Perhaps we are not really totally depraved and therefore worthy of eternal death in hell. Perhaps we do have some good in us and our good can out-weigh the bad at the judgment, if there is a literal judgment at all. No, none of that will do. God is just and would not condemn men to death and hell on the basis of a myth. If Christ is real then Adam is real. If Adam is not real, then there is no reason to insist that Christ is real. If Adam is not historical, then Paul’s whole argument crumbles and with it the whole mechanics of the gospel.

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At 5:30 PM, Blogger Frank Sansone said...


This is dead on. Good thoughts.

In Christ,

Pastor Frank Sansone


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