Monday, October 25, 2010

Adam, the Long-Lost Relative

In one of my recent posts I glancingly refer to Genesis and evolution and the theological impact that is implied by reading the Creation Story through literary lenses. If evolution is true, then viewing the story of Adam and Eve as a documentation of literal, historical people and events can send us in a completely different trajectory than if we read it as a primeval morality tale.

One of the main objections that Christians have in eliminating the historicity of Adam is the resultant chaos it would cause with many of our most ingrained Christian doctrines; total depravity, the dominance of men over women, the condemnation of creation and the introduction of death and sin into the world. These themes are omnipresent, in one way or another, throughout orthodox, Christian theology.

So...if there is no Adam...there is no need for Christ...if there is no need for Christ..then there is no need for Christianity.

But how did we get here, theologically-speaking? Before Paul's exposition of Jesus as the new/last Adam inaugurating a new creation and a new paradigm and remaking the cosmos, where was Adam? He is absent from almost all of Old Testament scripture outside of Genesis. There are no veiled references to him. There are no Psalms that mention him. There is no hint of him anywhere, and there is even less of a hint, if it were possible, of Eve's existence.

Every once in a while, Eden gets a mention as a comparison to the good life in the prophets, but other than the brief invocation of a beautiful garden, the events that took place in the story and the main characters within it are largely absent.

That may not seem like a big deal. After all the Israelites had the book of Genesis, why do they need to keep referring to Adam and Eve? Well, it creates a void of religious thought in regards to human origins in Judaism.

The Creation is frequently referenced through the Sabbath, mirroring the tale in Genesis of God's six-day work week, with one day off to rest and enjoy his work, so there is always an echo of the Creation Story in the rhythm of Israelite life, but it is an echo that provides structure to life and to a theology of God as Creator of Life. There is no continuing echo from Adam in the Scriptures.

This seems strange when one considers how often Abraham, Jacob, and Moses find their way into the prophets, the psalms, and the histories in the Old Testament. How did someone who became so important to Christian theology fall through the cracks of ancient Jewish theology?

The answer is found in Paul. It isn't until Paul enters the scene that the Creation Story gets a fleshed-out theological treatment. Paul either believed in a historical Adam, or at the very least believed in the force of the image of a historical Adam, and that is where things get dicey, because Paul is the great explicator of Christian theology. If it weren't for Paul, there would be no direct comparison of Jesus to Adam and no theological dilemma in viewing Adam as a figurative person.

As a matter of fact, the only other source that links Adam and Jesus is the gospel of Luke, which ends Jesus' genealogy with "Adam, Son of God". This is also the same Luke who, according to Acts, traveled extensively with Paul, so we can't take Luke's reference as independent theologizing about Adam, and Adam's ties to Jesus, because it is likely that he received the idea from Paul, not from general Jewish consensus at the time.

Jesus refers to Creation in Mark 10:5-9:
5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Other than that, there is no overt reference to the Creation Story and Adam and Eve.

There are frequently people who emphasize that Paul was not moving away from Judaism when he converted to Christianity and began his ministry as an evangelist and apostle. Yet, in the context of what Paul says about Jesus being the last Adam and that those who follow Jesus will be part of a new creation that supersedes the old creation and the old covenant, he is making a striking break with Judaism, because Judaism never believed that there was a need for a new creation. Their hope for a Messiah was firmly rooted in a hope for a historical solution to their persecution under the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans.

In many ways, Paul is making a theological end run on Judaism. He doesn't need to answer their criticisms, or justify Christianity in terms of Mosaic Law or Tradition, because he has already declared that the old world and the old way of life are dead, pushed aside by Christ; the new and perfect Adam. And we see Paul use this tactic in removing the commands of the Mosaic Law in Galatians and Romans. He declares that those ways are the old ways which have served their purpose, but which are no longer relevant.

Paul has found a long-lost relative in Adam, and a useful illustration for what he views Christianity to be about, a completely new age initiated by God.

I might add more to this later.....


Old Pete said...

I was given a link yesterday to James' blog on Evangelicalism and sensed common ground from some of your comments.
Then I find this entry. I am no scholar but I have been on a journey 'outside the walls' of traditional Christianity for some 40 years.

The third entry on my blog is entitled, "The Story of Life - possible scenarios". I'd be interested in any thoughts you might have.

terri said...

Welcome, Old Pete!

I'll check out your blog, but I can't promise any insightful thoughts!

I am limited to only two of those per year! ;-)

MInTheGap said...

Thanks for another thought provoking post. It truly is an interesting set of things to think through.

The first thing that comes to my mind is thoughts regarding the time period and what would have been around then that is not around today.

One group of scholars believes that the book of Genesis was not "divinely given" to Moses, but was rather edited together by Moses (with the Holy Spirit) of documents that were available at the time.

It's no secret that many peoples from different places have origin stories, flood stories, and even Tower of Babel stories that are very similar, so would it not be appropriate to believe that at the time of the Old Testament writing (as least as late as Moses) there were actual, extra-Biblical documents that discussed this in detail.

I think it's telling that all genealogies (1 Chronicles or Luke) start with Adam, and the fact that these genealogies would have been readily available to check at the time before AD 70 when Jerusalem was leveled.

So the logical question, to me, would be, why would people create a fictitious lineage to a man named "Adam" if he really didn't exist?

We don't see any record of theological discussions about the Fall in the Old Testament, but isn't that mostly because the book is mostly a collection of history and prophecy?

Especially when Israel came around, there's much more discussing what they did and how they fell than even reflecting on Noah or even Joseph, to some extent.

Nonetheless, it's interesting to think about, and I don't have any really good answers, which means I'll probably be thinking about this some more!

terri said...


Not all of the genealogies begin with Adam.

I think what I have realized is that, at least in most of Scripture, mainly the Old Testament, Israel is not concerned about Adam, because the Israelites were focused on their particular tribe/race/ethnic group's role as God's chosen. And the starting point of that focus comes from Abraham. So anything before Abraham is really of little concern to them religiously.

The fact that a literal understanding of Genesis would lead the Israelites to conclude that all of humanity is descended from the same ancestor and somehow related is unimportant to them.

Because in the Israelite view, All other people and nations have abandoned God, or been abandoned by Him. So, they have no invested interest in caring about the implications of Adam.

That doesn't always stay the same. If you read my post on Jubilees, you'll see that before Jesus comes on the scene there is interest in laying out more details about Adam and Genesis and all sorts of things.

The idea is to fill in the gaps, I guess.

You mention other sources that could be possible. I think that would just be speculation. Plus, even parts of the Old Testament refer to documents that were important, that we no longer have. Presumably, if there were some written source that was important to the Israelites, it might get a mention even it didn't get fully preserved.