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In Adam Versus In Christ

When we talk about the “last things,” what people with lots of books call eschatology, we end up talking about “beginning things.” What I mean is that any study of the end necessitates a study of the beginning.

Types, Shadows, and Bringing it All Together

In Ephesians 1, Paul says something pretty cool about Jesus:

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:8–10

The phrase “to gather up” comes from the Greek word (get ready) anakephalaioō which means “to sum up, recapitulate, to bring everything together” (BDAG). If you’re like me, you probably want to Google recapitulate, so I did it for you: “summarize and state again the main points of.”

That is, Jesus retells the story from the very beginning, but, even more specifically, Jesus is the story. Everything he did, said, and even things that were done to him were done “to bring everything together.”

Think for a moment back to the early years of Jesus’s life. He was persecuted by Herod, just like Moses. He was brought up from Egypt, just like Israel. A light in the night sky led a group of wise men to him, like the fire in the wilderness.

When we think about his death, we see how it mirrors a lot of the Old Testament rituals and sacrifices. A lot of the language used to paint a picture of the importance of that moment comes from the Levitical laws. When Jesus was raised, he was raised in a garden which takes us back to Adam and Eve.

Even the early church helps retell this story. The first few chapters of Acts remind us of the Exodus story, the Tower of Babel, and how Jesus fulfills the Law and the prophets.

Bible scholars call this phenomenon “types and shadows.” That is, everything that happened in the Hebrew Scriptures foreshadows Jesus. Paul said in Colossians 2:16-17 that even Israel’s feast days are shadow cast by the body of Christ.

So, when Paul wants to talk about the life that we have in Christ, what better image to use than the death brought by Adam into the story?

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

There are two major passages that compare Adam to Jesus, but it could be argued that this comparison sits behind every discussion of death and resurrection in the New Testament. These passages are Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. In this study, we’re going to focus on Romans 5. I plan on visiting 1 Corinthians 15 in part 2.

Let’s begin in Romans 5:12.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.

Romans 5:12

This passage introduces a ten verse discussion on what it means to be “in Adam” versus “in Christ.” It talks about death, sin, righteousness, and life. But before we look at some of those passages, we must ask an important question, one that Pete Enns points out in his book The Evolution of Adam (2012). On page 67, he says that there are a few ways to understand the death of Adam.

First, there is a debate about whether or not this death is “spiritual” (alienation from God) or “physical.” He says that it is “understandable” why someone would choose spiritual death over physical death because of Genesis 2:17: “In the day you eat of it, you will die.” The argument goes that Adam and Eve lived many years after their expulsion from the garden, so the death under consideration cannot be physical death. Enns, however, believes that reading this as physical death in the context of the narrative is more likely.

However, Enns goes on to offer another option that is sort of a synthesis of the two positions. If Adam is understood as the “proto-Israelite rather than the first human,” then Adam’s loss of immortality in the narrative is more about his exile from the garden than a universal introduction of physical death into the creation, though he concedes the existence of h overall language in Genesis 3, such as in Genesis 3:20.

Enns has reasons for taking this position, reasons that I can’t get into now, but I think the important part is the emphasis on exile.

Keep in mind that Genesis wasn’t written as the events were unfolding. It is not as if whoever finally put this story onto paper had video tapes to go off of. Instead, much like the gospel accounts in the New Testament, the author would have had no problem rearranging details, paraphrasing, and possibly even exaggerating stories to make theological points.

We see this some, as I mentioned, in the gospel accounts. The order of Jesus’s temptations varies from Matthew to Luke. The resurrection accounts emphasize different details and sometimes give varying information, such as the time of day that the women went to the tomb. In many cases, these differences were intentional to make theological points. I see the same thing happening in Genesis.

The person who finalized the book of Genesis, guided by the Holy Spirit in his work, had the goal of helping Israel be sure of her identity as God’s chosen people. It was written to warn them, inspire them, and encourage them to follow God. This story of Adam, then, served as a picture of their own exile in Babylon.

Enns argues,

Israel’s exile from its land is also a death, as we see in Ezekiel’s famous vision of the bones (Ezek. 37). Israel’s dry bones are a metaphor for exile, and God promises to revive those bones and bring the Israelites back into the land (see esp. 37:11–14). Exile from the land is death, while presence in the land is life.

Enns, Peter. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. Print.

To me, this idea of exile is more precise than what we call “spiritual death.” For one, it fits well into Israel’s history, but it also is consistent with the prophetic imagery of a “second Exodus.” This Exodus motif is the basis of much of Paul’s argument in his letter to the Romans. For example, in Romans 6, Paul’s imagery of baptism reminds us of the baptism of Moses in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2). Then, the language of slavery to sin versus freedom in Christ which permeates the next few chapters is reminiscent of slavery in Egypt. Finally, the “redemption of creation” language in Romans 8 recalls Israel’s journey into the Promise Land.

In light of this, I find that reading the “death in Adam” versus “life in Christ” arguments of Romans 5 as a discussion of exile versus reconciliation fits better within the overall theme of Romans as opposed to a discussion of physical death and life.

Back to Romans 5

Let’s get back to our original passage in Romans 5.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.

Romans 5:12

Why does death spread to all? Because all have sinned.

Now, if the death under consideration is physical death, I have a few questions. Why do babies, who have no sin, die? Why do Christians, who have had their sins forgiven, die?

On the other hand, if exile from God’s presence is the idea here, then things seem to make more sense. When we sin, we experience a spiritual exile. This seems to satisfy my questions above, at least in this context, and it fits better with the following discussion. Let’s go a few verses down to see what Paul has to say.

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:17

Since the Cross of Jesus, what has changed in terms of physical death? Every person who has lived since the time of Jesus has died. Some of those deaths have been tragic. Others have been more peaceful. Some have been unexpected and have shocked the world.

If, however, we look at this through the lens of exile and reconciliation, then it makes much more sense. Death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses up to the time of Jesus because the sacrifices could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:1-4). Paul also makes the argument that those before Christ had a “veil over their eyes” and that the veil is removed in Christ so we can see God more clearly (2 Corinthians 3).

But in Christ, grace and the free gift of righteousness bring life and peace. While the Law led the trespass of Adam to multiply and sin to exercise dominion in death, grace exercises dominion “through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).

What All This Means

The implications of this position is that Jesus’s primary goal was to reconcile us to God. The emphasis in this and other resurrection passages is bringing us into the Presence of God, not reuniting soul with flesh.

For example, notice what Jesus said in John 11:25-26:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

When Jesus identifies himself as “the resurrection and the life,” the focus appears to be on one’s relationship with the Father regardless of their physical status. Even if someone is physical dead, they are alive in God.

Or take John 5:24:

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Again, this seems to be about relationships, not our physical bodies.

Even in Paul’s writings there seems to be a similar emphasis on the present reality of resurrection life, even though he simultaneously maintains a future expectation:

…even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Ephesians 2:5–6

This language of the “heavenly places” is a call back to where Jesus “went” when he was raised (Ephesians 1:20).

Now, certainly there are millions of questions. What is 1 Corinthians 15 talking about? What about John 5:28-29? What is the redemption of creation? And far be it from me to claim to have all of the answers to these questions, especially answers that satisfy all of the questions that you have that you might not have the language for.

But I do believe that my observations here are worth considering. While they by themselves certainly do not rule out physical resurrection or the restoration of the world we live in, I do think they add something to any end times discussion.

There are thousands of more words that could be written on Romans alone, but this, for now, will do. Hope you have a great day!

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