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:
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)."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).
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.