Adam in the New Testament by Mark D. Ellison

After the opening chapters of Genesis, Old Testament authors rarely mention Adam or Eve. That apparent lack of interest changed during the intertestamental period and into late antiquity, when writing, speculation, and debate about Adam and Eve flourished. Part of this broader trend, New Testament authors appealed to the creation story as they discussed various matters of theology and practice—salvation and resurrection, marriage and divorce, men’s and women’s roles in church life. In these discussions, New Testament writers took diverse approaches to the figure of Adam.

Paul dealt with Adam more than any other New Testament author, and his are the earliest-written Christian texts on the subject. In his letter to the Romans, Paul portrays Adam as a “type,” or Old Testament pre-figuration, of Christ, almost like a literary foil (Rom 5:14). As Adam brought sin and death into the world, Christ brought justification; Adam’s transgression resulted in condemnation for all, but Jesus’ death brought life to all (Rom 5:12-21). In typological interpretations of scripture, “types” are usually surpassed by their “antitypes,” and Paul emphasizes that Christ’s salvation fully overcomes the effects of sin and death that Adam introduced.

In 1Cor 15 Paul contrasts Adam and Christ in order to distinguish the natural, perishable mortal body from the spiritual, imperishable body that will rise because of Christ (1Cor 15:21-22, 1Cor 15:45-49). Other passages in Paul’s writings also reflect his Adam-Christ typology (see Phil 2:6-8, Phil 3:21, Rom 1:18-32, Rom 8:18-30).

Paul makes a rather different reference to Adam in 1Cor 11:8, not by name but as “the man” from whom “woman” was made. This is part of a notoriously complex and much-debated passage marked by tension between hierarchical and egalitarian views of gender (1Cor 11:2-16). On one hand, the sequence of creation (Gen 2:7, Gen 2:21-22) leads Paul to say that “the husband is the head of his wife” (1Cor 11:3). On the other hand, Paul states that man also comes through woman, and neither is without the other in the Lord (1Cor 11:11-12).

Jesus’ single mention of Adam and Eve similarly alludes to them as “the man” and “the woman.” When asked about the lawfulness of divorce, Jesus cites the creation story (Gen 1:27, Gen 2:24) to support his answer, “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:4-6; compare Mark 10:6-9). Here the biblical first parents serve as figures of an ideal unity and permanence of marriage. (The author of the deuterocanonical book of Tobit likewise used the story of Adam and Eve as a way to conceptualize marriage; Tob 8:6-7).

A passing reference in Jude regards Adam as the first man (Jude 14), as does Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, which traces his descent all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). Luke calls Adam “son of God” (Luke 3:38), reinforcing the portrait of Jesus as God’s “beloved Son” in the baptism story immediately preceding the genealogy (Luke 3:22).

The author of 1 Timothy used the story of Adam and Eve as a reason to deny teaching and leadership roles to women (1Tim 2:11-15). The author’s rationale that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” is based on his reading of the Genesis narrative—but it stands in contrast to Paul’s portrayal of Adam as the one who brought sin and death into the world.

Mark D. Ellison, "Adam in the New Testament", n.p. [cited 25 Nov 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/people/related-articles/adam-in-the-new-testament

Contributors

Mark D. Ellison

Mark D. Ellison
Doctoral candidate, Vanderbilt University

Mark D. Ellison is a doctoral candidate in early Christianity and early Christian art at Vanderbilt University. With Professor Robin Margaret Jensen, he is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (forthcoming, 2018).

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

The historical period from the beginning of Western civilization to the start of the Middle Ages.

Literally, "second canon"; refers to texts accepted by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as sacred scripture, but not included in the Hebrew Bible. Not to be confused with Apocrypha, which include noncanonical works.

Of or related to the written word, especially that which is considered literature; literary criticism is a interpretative method that has been adapted to biblical analysis.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

Also called the Hebrew Bible, those parts of the canon that are common to both Jews and Christians. The designation "Old Testament" places this part of the canon in relation to the New Testament, the part of the Bible canonical only to Christians. Because the term "Old Testament" assumes a distinctly Christian perspective, many scholars prefer to use the more neutral "Hebrew Bible," which derives from the fact that the texts of this part of the canon are written almost entirely in Hebrew.

Writing, speech, or thought about the nature and behavior of God.

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

Rom 5:14

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1Cor 15

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