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Adam in the New Testament

New Testament authors appealed to the creation story in discussions of salvation and resurrection, marriage and divorce, and men’s and women’s roles.

Arles “Trinity” Sarcophagus

After the opening chapters of Genesis, Old Testament authors rarely mention Adam or Eve. That apparent lack of interest changed during the intertestamental period and into late antiquity, when writing, speculation, and debate about Adam and Eve flourished. Part of this broader trend, New Testament authors appealed to the creation story as they discussed various matters of theology and practice—salvation and resurrection, marriage and divorce, men’s and women’s roles in church life. In these discussions, New Testament writers took diverse approaches to the figure of Adam.

Paul dealt with Adam more than any other New Testament author, and his are the earliest-written Christian texts on the subject. In his letter to the Romans, Paul portrays Adam as a “type,” or Old Testament pre-figuration, of Christ, almost like a literary foil (Rom 5:14). As Adam brought sin and death into the world, Christ brought justification; Adam’s transgression resulted in condemnation for all, but Jesus’ death brought life to all (Rom 5:12-21). In typological interpretations of scripture, “types” are usually surpassed by their “antitypes,” and Paul emphasizes that Christ’s salvation fully overcomes the effects of sin and death that Adam introduced.

In 1Cor 15 Paul contrasts Adam and Christ in order to distinguish the natural, perishable mortal body from the spiritual, imperishable body that will rise because of Christ (1Cor 15:21-22, 1Cor 15:45-49). Other passages in Paul’s writings also reflect his Adam-Christ typology (see Phil 2:6-8, Phil 3:21, Rom 1:18-32, Rom 8:18-30).

Paul makes a rather different reference to Adam in 1Cor 11:8, not by name but as “the man” from whom “woman” was made. This is part of a notoriously complex and much-debated passage marked by tension between hierarchical and egalitarian views of gender (1Cor 11:2-16). On one hand, the sequence of creation (Gen 2:7, Gen 2:21-22) leads Paul to say that “the husband is the head of his wife” (1Cor 11:3). On the other hand, Paul states that man also comes through woman, and neither is without the other in the Lord (1Cor 11:11-12).

Jesus’ single mention of Adam and Eve similarly alludes to them as “the man” and “the woman.” When asked about the lawfulness of divorce, Jesus cites the creation story (Gen 1:27, Gen 2:24) to support his answer, “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:4-6; compare Mark 10:6-9). Here the biblical first parents serve as figures of an ideal unity and permanence of marriage. (The author of the deuterocanonical book of Tobit likewise used the story of Adam and Eve as a way to conceptualize marriage; Tob 8:6-7).

A passing reference in Jude regards Adam as the first man (Jude 14), as does Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, which traces his descent all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). Luke calls Adam “son of God” (Luke 3:38), reinforcing the portrait of Jesus as God’s “beloved Son” in the baptism story immediately preceding the genealogy (Luke 3:22).

The author of 1 Timothy used the story of Adam and Eve as a reason to deny teaching and leadership roles to women (1Tim 2:11-15). The author’s rationale that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” is based on his reading of the Genesis narrative—but it stands in contrast to Paul’s portrayal of Adam as the one who brought sin and death into the world.

  • Mark D. Ellison

    Mark D. Ellison is a doctoral candidate in early Christianity and early Christian art at Vanderbilt University. With Professor Robin Margaret Jensen, he is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (forthcoming, 2018).