Monday, May 28, 2007

Two Adams -- Death and Life

I have had a visitor to these pages raise a question about metaphorical interpretations of Adam. The context is Paul’s claim that Jesus is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:22ff). If Jesus is the second Adam doesn’t there have to be a first Adam – one historic personage relating to another. My answer is no, the first Adam is symbol/metaphor relating to the connection we as humans have with each other and with God. We are all one in Adam – that is, we all share a common humanity. If we take Genesis 3 as our guide then, this passage of Genesis assumes that humanity as a whole is out of relationship with God. In other words, we have chosen to go it alone. Jesus is the second Adam who restores that relationship with God. Jesus is the one who walks with God and overturns our alienation. Ireneaus’s doctrine of recapitulation fits in here.
Bernard Anderson writes:
"In Jesus Christ, then, God has resored the human pattern intended at the original creation. He is the 'adam, of whom Adam was a foreshadowing type (Rom. 5;12-14; cf. 1 Cor. 15:21-22). he is the "likeness of God" (2 Cor. 4:4_ and the 'image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation'." (Col. 1:15, RSV).
Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity, born "not through biological parentage but by free decision in responsse to divine grace." (Bernard Anderson, From Creation to New Creation, Fortress, 1994, pp. 40-41).
Now, my interlocutor brings up the supposed linkage of sin and death in these same texts of Genesis. The new humans are told they can eat of any tree of the garden, except the tree of knowledge, because upon eating of it, they will die (Genesis 2:17). This supposedly the linchpin of matters of life and death. The implication is that had Adam and Eve not eaten the forbidden fruit they would have lived forever, which is why of course that prior to the Fall everyone/thing was a vegetarian (T Rex uses those big teeth to crack open coconuts).

Of course, such a view denies the naturalness of physical death. But think for a moment if no one/nothing dies and if our ability to procreate is natural, then at some point overpopulation would set in, right? You see there are important consequences to a literalist position.

If on the other hand you take this in metaphorical/symbolic terms, the issue is spiritual and not physical death. So, in Adam (the symbol not a historical personage) by our own rejection of God’s path, we die spiritually. Think for a moment, even though I have accepted Jesus as savior I, like every other human being before me, will die at some point.

When we think of Jesus being the second Adam we’re not to think in a reversal of physical death, but of spiritual death. The problem with the Creationist sentiment is that it unnecessarily puts science against the Bible. It asks the Bible to answer questions it wasn’t meant to ask. That Adam is treated as historical personage in the rest of Scripture does not mean that it’s inappropriate to interpret texts metaphorically.

Remember that the church turned to allegory to interpret Scripture long before Darwin came along. The problem with medieval interpretation isn’t that it embraced metaphorical interpretations but that it let such interpretations run wild.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

You did not deal with the chronology of Genesis. Adam had a son and you can trace the descendants of Abraham all the way back to a historic person named Adam.

You also 'seem' to make an assumption that the writer of Genesis distinguishes the first three chapters from the rest of the book. Where is this in the text? And what reason do we have to make Adam and Eve an allegory?

If you answer is simply to appease Science, then where do you get your presupposition that science needs a metaphorical Adam in order for the Bible and science not to be opposed?

Science has come to be a dictator of theories. But the fact remains, the origins and 'ancient' history that science explains are just that - theory.

I've seen great explanations from Dr. Kurt Wise regarding a model for global catastrophism with the Noah flood that most scientists have failed to consider in their interpretation of the archaeological data. There are just too many unanswered questions and too many bad assumptions for me to embrace the idea that scientific theory should bear on our interpretation of the Bible.

As you said, the Bible wasn't written as a science book. But you failed to realize that the Bible was written as a history book - and that is exactly why your interpretation of Adam and Eve is very unreasonable.

Sure, creationists have done bad science, but so have the evolutionists, etc. That doesn't mean that we need to make the Bible appease popular scientific theory. The Bible wasn't written to appease 21st century science.

Therefore, I can only conclude that your need to justify the Bible in light of this is highly unwarranted.