Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adam christology in Paul's letters

And now for something completely different …!

In general, Emerging From Babel consciously focuses on exegesis of the Old Testament. But since I'm a Christian, interacting with other bibliobloggers, I continue to get drawn into dialogue on New Testament issues as well. Thus I've gotten sidetracked (it happens all the time) by a recent post on Chris Tilling's blog.

Chris has been surveying the content of a recent publication by Gordon D. Fee:  Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2007). Part 7 of Chris's survey touches on the question of Adam christology:
While there is an Adam Christology in Paul, "in terms of actual language and echoes from Gen 1-2, it is limited to two kinds of passages:  first, explicit contrasts between Christ and Adam … and, second, where the incarnate Christ is seen as the true bearer of the divine image".
I'd like to explore this topic here (having already posted several long comments on Chris's blog).

In this post, we'll deal with the topic of Adam christology in general. In the follow-up post, we'll take a look at the great hymn contained in Philippians 2.

1. Allusions to Adam:
Adam plays a larger role in Paul's theology than is usually realized. … Adam is a key figure in Paul's attempt to express his understanding both of Christ and of man.

(James Dunn, Christology In the Making: An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, 2nd ed., 1989, p. 101.)
Dunn argues that there are numerous allusions to Adam where Adam is not explicitly mentioned. I would summarize the texts by saying that they deal with the whole notion of the "fall of man":  a fall from grace into depravity, separation from God, hardship, suffering, and ultimately death.

Those themes are of course sounded in the story of Adam's creation and disobedience, recounted in Genesis 1-3 —
Of the above items, the most interesting concerns the image / likeness / glory of God. Did humanity forfeit these things, either in Adam's sin or in our own subsequent sins (or both)?

That humanity forfeited God's image at the fall was not a traditional Jewish view:
The motif of man made in the divine image does not play a large part in Jewish thought — it seems to have been taken more or less for granted. … More striking is the fact that there is little or no thought of the divine image being effaced or obscured in Adam as a consequence of his fall (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; 9:6; James 3:9). (Dunn, p. 105)
On the other hand:
There may have been no real idea that Adam forfeited the image of God by his fall, but there was certainly a firm conviction that he had forfeited the glory of God. … Thus in [the rabbinic texts] Gen. Rab. 12:6 and Num. Rab. 13:12 glory (or lustre) is one of the six things taken from Adam which would be restored in the world to come (see also Gen. Rab. 11:2; 21:5; Deut. Rab. 11:3). (Dunn, p. 106; I added the italics on "image" and "glory")
As for Paul, at one point he states that man (meaning literally the male) is the image and glory of God. But:
The dominant motif in Paul is that man is rather the image of fallen Adam, shares his corruptibility (1Co. 15:49), and that salvation consists in the believer being transformed into the image of God (2Co. 3:18), consists in a progressive renewal in knowledge according to the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). So there is something of an Adam soteriology here [NB. even where Adam is not explicitly mentioned] — salvation as a restoration of man to that image in which Adam had been created. (Dunn, p. 105)
Accordingly, Dunn sees references to Adam where a casual reader would not notice any such thing:  e.g.,
  • "for all have sinned and forfeited the glory of God" (Ro. 3:23; Dunn's translation);
  • "I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me" (Ro. 7:9).1
On the latter text, Dunn comments:
Romans 7:9f. can be fully explicated only by reference to Adam. Only if he was thinking of Adam could Paul properly say that he was alive once apart from the law, and that the coming of the commandment brought sin to life and resulted in death for him. For a life "apart from law", and a "coming" of law which resulted in sin and death, was true of Adam in a way that it would not be true of anyone born after or under the law. …

Finally with Rom. 7:11, "for sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived (ἐξηπάτησέν) me and by it killed me", we have a fairly explicit echo of the woman's complaint in Gen. 3:13 — "The serpent deceived (ηπάτησέν) me and I ate." (p. 104)
2. Explicit references to Adam:
The divine program for man which broke down with Adam has been run through again in Jesus — this time successfully. … Christ could not become last Adam, progenitor of a new manhood beyond death, if he had not first been Adam, one with the manhood which the first Adam begot. (Dunn, pp. 110-111)
We can now turn our attention to the only two texts in which Paul explicitly develops an Adam christology. First, Romans 5:12-19 —
Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. … Adam … was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. … For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. …

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads 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.
Dunn comments:
Adam and Christ are alike (Adam the type of Christ — vs. 14) in that in both cases the action of one man had fateful consequences for those who followed. Both also died, but here the similarity ends. For where Adam's death was the consequence of his trespass, his disobedience, Christ's death was his act of righteousness, his act of obedience. …

By freely following out the consequences of Adam's disobedience (i.e. death), Jesus burst through the cul-de-sac of death into life. … [Thus] he was able to catch up man in resurrection, to make it possible for God's original intention for man to be fulfilled at the last. The point can be expressed thus:

          Adam's disobedience ———> death
               Christ's obedience to death ———> life.

(p. 111)
Second, 1Co. 15:20-49 —
Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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. …

[The body of a dead person] is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Dunn comments:
It is likely that there is an underlying connection of thought … to the effect that Christ too first bore "the image of the man of dust" before he became "the man from heaven" (vs. 49), that he too was a "living soul" before he became "life-giving Spirit" (vs. 45). For only he who died as men die could become "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (vs. 20). (p. 111)

These are complex ideas:  they are familiar to us and yet they stretch our capacity to understand.

In the follow-up post, we will consider the great hymn in Philippians 2 to see whether it, too, is an instance of Adam christology. Dunn thinks it is, even though Adam is not explicitly mentioned.

1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.


Kiora said...

Well said.

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