BNTC Part 4: The Enigma of Adam image

BNTC Part 4: The Enigma of Adam

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Why is Adam such a peripheral figure in the vast majority of the Old Testament, but such an important one in early Christian theology, as well as in late first century Jewish theology? This question, chucked in by Tom Wright at the end of one of the Pauline seminars at the British New Testament Conference, is fascinating - and it has significant overlap with the series I'm currently doing on creation and science.

The scholar to whom he asked the question admitted, very humbly, that he had no idea. Wright nodded, apparently satisfied, and went back to rummaging through his Nestle-Aland. But the question stuck with me, and I all-but-stopped listening to the rest of the question time. The reason it interested me so much was that Pete Enns, author of Inspiration and Incarnation and, more recently, the provocatively argued (and entitled) The Evolution of Adam, has made this whole question central to his argument that Adam is not historical. There is no space to interact in detail with Enns’ proposal here - several intelligent critiques have been made of his book, he has issued intelligent responses to most of them on his blog, but I remain unpersuaded and in certain ways troubled by his argument - but the relative insignificance of Adam in the Old Testament, apart from Genesis 1-5 and 1 Chronicles 1:1, forms a substantial part of his case. And it wasn’t until I encountered Enns’ argument that I even noticed how rarely Adam appears in the Old Testament, and how suddenly he becomes a central figure in the theology (and soteriology) of the early church.
 
Anyway, back to the BNTC. At the end of the seminar, Wright approached the scholar who had given the paper, and began explaining his theory as to why Adam became so much more significant in Jewish-Christian theology in the first century. In the Old Testament period, he argued, the Jewish analysis of evil and its solution were expressed in fundamentally Abrahamic terms: the problem, as believing Jews understood it, was a lack of covenant fidelity, and the solution was repentance, obedience and faithfulness. In the first century, however, two events occurred in Israel which made the problem with the world look far more fundamental than had previously been thought - and consequently, the problem with the world began to be reconsidered in essentially Adamic terms.
 
For Christian Jews, that was of course the cross. When faced with the grim reality of Calvary and a crucified Messiah, Paul was forced to confront the fact that mere covenant fidelity and Torah-observance were not sufficient, and that the problem with the world was to do with humanity as a whole, and not just Israel. So Paul went back to the beginning, to find the fundamental root of evil in the world, and then expressed his gospel with Jesus as the new Adam, not just the new Abraham. The gospel he preached was not merely (?) one of a new covenant, but one of a new creation, including a new humanity.
 
For non-Christian Jews, the disaster that provoked a reappraisal of the doctrine of evil was the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, forty years later. Israel had seen the division of the kingdom, the exile, and even the persecution under Antiochus IV as judgments for unfaithfulness to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. But the destruction of Jerusalem forced a more foundational analysis of evil upon Israel: if Yahweh has allowed this to happen, then things must be far worse than we had realised. So the authors of texts like 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra went back to Adam, just as Paul had, to explain the source of radical evil in the world, and to look for a solution. The fact that their analysis of the problem, and their hope for a solution, looked different from the Christians’ in important ways should not obscure the fact that they were basically doing the same thing: moving back the start of the story from Genesis 12 to Genesis 3, and adjusting their hopes accordingly.
 
I find that a very compelling argument, and one that intuitively makes sense both of Adam’s relatively low profile in the Old Testament, and of his much higher profile in the New Testament and in post-temple Judaism. Thank God for the second Adam!

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