For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1Co. 15:22,45)1Theologians commonly speak of Adam christology. But I want to propose that this construct (Christ as a second Adam) should be regarded as an alternative atonement theory. Hence the title of the post, Adam soteriology.2
There are three classical theories of atonement. None of them is free of difficulties, although evangelical Christians tend to subscribe to third theory, penal substitution.
Here's the way I look at it. Each atonement theory begins by identifying a specific problem, then proposes that Christ's death is the solution to that problem.
(Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great; dominant theory in the 2nd-10th centuries)
|Reflects a culture that was familiar with the institution of slavery. Proposes that we are Satan's property (his slaves, or perhaps his captives) because of our sins.||Christ's death is God's payment to Satan to purchase our freedom. (Ultimately Satan is tricked because death cannot hold Christ, who rises from the dead.)|
(Anselm; dominant theory in the 11th-15th centuries)
|Reflects the honour/shame culture of feudal society. God is our Lord; by sinning, we insult God's honour; the insult must be requited or God would be shamed.||Christ's death requites the insult of our sin, upholding God's honour.|
|Penal Substitution: |
(Luther, Calvin; dominant from the 16th century onwards)
|The model is judicial, reflecting a culture where legal justice is the preeminent value. As a just judge, God cannot allow sin to go unpunished.||Christ dies as our substitute to pay the lawful penalty (death) owed by us.|
I am proposing the addition of a fourth model:
|Adam soteriology:||The problem is not a matter of our slavery, or of God's honour or his justice. It is a matter of history. Adam's historical act of disobedience corrupted the entire human race and, indeed, the whole of creation.||Jesus recapitulated Adam’s history; except, where Adam was disobedient (resulting in death — not for Adam alone), Jesus was obedient (resulting in life — not for Jesus alone).|
This theory proposes that humankind's problem is historical in nature: and the solution is correspondingly historical.
How did Jesus' death set things right again? By reversing the history of Adam’s fall from grace. Jesus' obedience (unto death, even death on a cross) set creation on a new historical foundation. Adam blazed a trail to death; Jesus blazed a new trail through death to life.
I realize that this answer is only partially satisfactory. But one might just as well ask, How did Adam's sin result in the corruption of the whole of creation? If Adam's historic sin could have such far-reaching consequences, then Christ's historic act of ultimate obedience could, too.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.None of these insights are original to me. It's just that the construct is usually described as a christological doctrine; whereas I think it makes equally good sense as soteriology.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
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.
The proposed theory appeals to me because it emphasizes historical deeds, and the notion of salvation history is common to both Judaism and Christianity.
The theory also appeals to me because penal substitution, the dominant model among evangelicals, has significant drawbacks:
- The old theological term, propitiation, tends to represent God as savage or bloodthirsty; his wrath can only be turned aside by means of a blood sacrifice.
- The traditional emphasis on legal justice tends to imply that God is subordinate to the law; that God is under an obligation to satisfy the requirements of the law.
- The notion of God punishing Jesus tends to cast God in the role of the abusive father; the more graphically we depict Christ's suffering, the worse this problem becomes.
- One must also ask whether the substitution of an innocent victim for the guilty party can be characterized as a "just" resolution of the problem: is it not rather a miscarriage of justice when the innocent one suffers while the guilty one goes free?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
2James Dunn occasionally uses the phrase "Adam soteriology" in Christology In the Making: An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, 2nd ed., 1989. For example, he expounds one element of Paul's theology as follows:
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 — salvation as a restoration of man to that image in which Adam had been created. (p. 105)3The ransom theory (or at least, a modified form of it) is sometimes referred to as Christus Victor.