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The Bible’s Most Overlooked But Really, Really Important Guy

September 1, 2011

The recent NPR story on the historicity of Adam & Eve has managed to propel the issue into the spotlight again. Last week, Al Mohler devoted some more ink to the controversy.

To make the case that those who question the historicity of A&E are playing with theological fire, Mohler repeatedly alleges that the link between Adam and Christ is critical to the biblical narrative:

Furthermore, it is clear that the historical character of [Genesis ch. 1-3] is crucial to understanding the Bible’s central message — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The fall of the human race in Adam sets the stage for the salvation of sinful humanity by Jesus Christ. 

[I]f these arguments hold sway, we will have to come up with an entirely new understanding of the Gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline.

The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel.

If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.

Mohler couldn’t be more clear: Adam’s fall is such an indispensable part of the gospel metanarrative that the latter cannot be understood without the former.

I can think of one group of people who clearly have not understood this fundamental truth – one obtuse bunch of men who didn’t get the memo. Unfortunately, Mohler will not be able to bring them up to speed because they’re all dead. You know them as the authors of the Bible. If the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be understood without the story of Adam, nobody bothered to tell them.

In the OT, Adam gets only a passing mention outside of Genesis. Of the four men who wrote biographies of Christ, not one of them thought to draw upon Adam in telling the Jesus story. Matthew thought Christ’s story was best told through the lens of Moses. Luke saw parallels in Elijah. But no one dredged up that old Adam story.

Consider the first sermons ever preached. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, told Christ’s story through the words of Joel and David. No Adam. Stephen gave a lengthy history lesson before being stoned. Where did he start the story? With Abraham, not Adam. In Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13) he, too, attempted to set the story of Jesus in its context. Who gets a nod? Moses, Samuel, Saul, David, John the Baptist and Abraham. No Adam. The authors of the Petrine epistles didn’t consider Adam worthy of mention. Neither did the author of the Johannine epistles, nor the author of Hebrews, who seemed to be going out of his way to draw relevant OT connections (eg. Melchizedek who?).

Just because you make the odd cameo doesn’t mean the story is about you.

I could go on, but you get the point. The best evidence we have is that the earliest Christians, including the Apostles and other NT authors, routinely expressed the gospel of Jesus Christ without any reference to the fall of Adam. He just didn’t enter into the story. Even Paul, in all of his letters, mentions Adam only twice (Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15)*.

So why is Mohler so concerned? What’s really going on here is not that Adam is crucial to an “understanding of the Gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline.” Rather, Adam is crucial to the modern Western evangelical version of the gospel that is all about individual salvation from an individual sin debt. In that story, with its notion of original sin, the fall of Adam plays a prominent role.

But the real story of Jesus is the fulfilled story of covenant Israel.  That’s why the biblical preachers/NT writers told the gospel by going back to Abraham, to Moses, to David.  The central problem, as they saw it, wasn’t that Adam had sinned, thereby rendering all people guilty due to an inherited sin nature from which they required individual justification.  The problem was that God had entered into a covenant with a chosen people, but his people had broken that covenant. As a result, they found themselves in exile (first in Bablyon and now in Roman-ruled Judea) and judgment of both Israel and her oppressors was imminent.

Jesus was the answer for fallen Israel, not fallen Adam.

This is the true metanarrative of the Bible. In fact, some have suggested (persuasively, I think) that the story of Eden/the Fall/the expulsion from Paradise is itself a metaphor for the overarching narrative of Promised Land/unfaithful Israel/exile. The gospel story is the story of God’s redemptive plan for a nation that had lost its way – a nation into which God would ultimately graft all of humanity.

If modern genetics casts doubt on the historicity of Adam (and it does), rather than undermine the gospel, this realization may actually help the church to recover the authentic gospel, properly conceived (as Scot McKnight has recently put it), “as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus.”

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*I have not included 1 Timothy 2 in the count as most scholars do not consider the Pastoral epistles to be authentically Pauline. Plus, the topic of 1 Timothy 2 is the role of women, not the gospel per se.

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One comment

  1. One of your most interesting posts. I think modern western protestants cant see the relevance of the abrahamic/israel covonental narrative to “personal” salvation. But this has been a long time coming. As hard as christians tried to make their new faith appear as an extension of Judaism, it represents a fundamentally different narrative. The whole point of making the creation-fall-redemption narrrative begin with Adam does i think try to tie YHWH into the patronage of the entire human race, when from the start he was supposed to be the father of the Hebrews. That narrative, born in the ancient near east when every nation had a national deity, just wasnt universal enough for the Christian faith.



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