Monday, January 04, 2021

Anonymous Asks (126)

“Did God create a second Adam?”

This is one of those questions that presumes familiarity with a particular New Testament passage. In this case the passage is 1 Corinthians 15, the subject of which is resurrection. It is there that the apostle Paul writes, “The first man Adam became a living being” (referring to a statement made way back in Genesis 2). Then he adds this: “the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Paul then goes on to contrast this “last Adam”, who is clearly Jesus Christ, the “second man”, with the first man, Adam, in that “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”

That’s where the language of our anonymous questioner is coming from, and that’s our starting point. Paul calls Jesus at various times in the passage the “last Adam”, the “second man” and the “man from heaven”.

A Very Old Pun

We should probably note that there is a sort of pun going in the Greek text, and it’s a very old pun that originates in the first chapter of our Bibles. In Hebrew, “Adam”, “man” and “mankind” are all the same word. In most English translations, that word is translated “man” generically up until Genesis 2:19, after which most translators believe the implicit definite article (“the”) should in most instances be dropped, and so they have opted to render many of the subsequent references to adam as the proper name of the first male human being on the planet, the original head of our race.

The Greek language allows for a little more technical precision than Hebrew. It consistently carries over the Hebrew adam to refer to Adam the individual, while using the word anthrōpos for “human being”, or “man”. So when Paul says, “The first man Adam became a living being”, the phrase “first man Adam” is protōs anthrōpos adam, and includes both the words “man” and “Adam” for clarity. But later, when Paul is referring to Christ, he simply calls him the eschatos adam, or “last Adam”.

Okay, so now we are in a position to consider our question: Is Paul saying that God “created” Christ, the second Adam?

Not Such a Stupid Question

It’s actually not such a stupid question. Our English Bibles may lead us to make a false theological equivalence between God’s creative relationship to Adam and the Father’s relationship to Christ, because they often use the same English verbs in two parallel phrases.

For example, in the KJV we read:

The first man Adam was made a living soul;
 the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

My modern translation, the ESV, is not any more help, getting rid of the suggestion of having been created, but maintaining the unhelpful parallelism:

The first man Adam became a living being;
the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Thanks, translators ... or maybe not so much.

A Better Crack at It

Compare those first two attempts with the NASB’s translation of the same verse:

The first man, Adam, became a living person.
The last Adam was a life-giving spirit.

The NASB reflects the underlying Greek a little more literally than either the traditional rendering of the KJV or the modern poetic gloss of the ESV. In fact, the verb in the first clause is ginomai (“was made”, or “became”), while its equivalent in the second clause is actually a preposition (eis, here rendered “was”, but normally translated as “into”, “towards”, or “among”).

Now, in fairness to the translators of the KJV and ESV, who rendered two different Greek words (and two different parts of speech) identically in English, even as a non-Greek speaker I can grasp what they were seeking to accomplish. The second clause, the one describing Christ, has no verb, only a preposition, and the translators have concluded that the preposition calls us back to the verb in the first clause, basically restating the same idea in slightly different wording. That is not a wrong conclusion so far as the language itself is concerned, but it would definitely be a wrong conclusion if we were to take errant theology from it, and suggest that it is teaching Christ was a mere created being of the same type as Adam.

Process and Consequences

In fact, the emphasis of the verb ginomai in 1 Corinthians 15 is not on the creative process itself, but on its consequences; what Adam became: he became a living being, or soul. The apostle is not talking about the process by which Adam came to be alive in the first place, but rather about the result of that process: he was alive, and passed that natural life energy on to all who would later bear his genes. Our relationship to Adam gives us a good seventy years or so on average, and we should be thankful for that.

But Adam could not possibly pass on anything he didn’t possess. Possessing only the natural energies of a living being, he could give us only what he had. Eventually, faced with the relentless entropy of a fallen world, natural energy peters out. In contrast, the “last Adam”, Christ, gives life eternal to all who are in him. Paul calls him a “life-giving” or “quickening” spirit [zōopoieō], the same word that John, Paul and the Lord Jesus himself use to describe the resurrection power of God.

The first Adam didn’t “quicken” anybody. Rather, he passed on the certainty of death to us all. In Adam all die.

Caught Up in Technicalities

Sometimes in looking at a passage we get all caught up in the technicalities of Greek and Hebrew wording and forget to step back and look at the context, which is a far more reliable guide to intended meaning than similarities of wording. Thus we miss the forest for the trees.

In this case, if we step back to look at the context we quickly discover it is impossible that 1 Corinthians 15 is intended to teach us anything about Christ’s alleged “creation”. The whole chapter is not about the original, physical creation process, but about the new creation, the resurrection life. God did not create Christ; rather, the eternal Son was brought into the world. You cannot “bring in” something that doesn’t exist yet. In any case, this passage is not about the virgin birth and the baby in a manger in Bethlehem, is it? No, of course not. When did the “last Adam” become a life-giving spirit? Certainly not at Bethlehem. No, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit when God raised him from the dead and he ascended bodily into the spiritual realm to sit down at the right hand of God. “As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”

When? Not at his birth. Paul is not talking about the process by which the Lord came into our world at all; he is talking about the process by which he left it; and, more importantly, about the consequences of that glorious exit for each of us who believe.

Contrasts, Not Comparisons

In fact, far from being a comparison of Adam to Christ, this passage serves to highlight all the contrasts between the two, and between the two streams of humanity of which each is said to be the head. Paul is not trying to set up an “Adam was created, Christ was created” parallelism, or anything of the sort. Rather, it’s “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”. The first Adamic order is perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural, dusty. The second Adamic order is imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual and heavenly. The absolute contrast between the two orders could not be made more strikingly than the apostle makes it. Why, in the middle of all this carefully calculated and much-belabored contrast between the natural and the supernatural, would the apostle stop to make the easy-to-miss theological point that Adam and Jesus Christ are also kind of similar in that both were merely created beings?

Well, he wouldn’t. And he didn’t.

So then, did God create a second Adam? Not at all. Instead, he brought his Son into the world to become the new federal head of mankind, to give us and make us everything God always intended us to be. If any mere created being could have accomplished that, then Adam would have gotten it right the first time.

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