The question of whether or not Adam was a historical person has generated a lot of debate. It’s common for arguments to look at Scripture passages that relate Jesus and Adam, referring to Jesus as the “second Adam”. The term is often derived from passages such as Romans 5:12-21, although the phrase itself not actually in Scripture. Instead, Paul describes Jesus as the last Adam:
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:45
The more popular term may be a reasonable summary, but it’s not clear why we use a human-derived statement instead of the clear statement in Scripture. Perhaps the Scripture makes us uncomfortable, or is more likely to confuse people. But are those valid justifications for obscuring the Word? Instead, consider what God is saying here.
The difference between “second” and “last” is that the latter implies more than two, generally more than any small number. Using the term “last” begs the question of how many there were. The immediate context doesn’t seem to supply any obvious clues, but the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to make that statement for some reason.
Perhaps it’s related to the reason the Spirit led Moses to write this about the name of Adam:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Adam when they were created. Genesis 5:1-2
The passage above is from the ESV translation, but with the last use of “adam” kept as original. The first sentence is clearly talking about the creation of an individual man, but when referred to in the second sentence, “he” is referred to as “them”. Then, as if to clarify what’s going on, the Word essentially states that when the term “adam” is used as a name, it refers to all men and women.
In other words, the name Adam is really a reference to humanity in general, so perhaps the awkward use of he/them tells us that when the individual man is referred to with that name, it is to be understood as a symbolic representation of humankind in general (or at least humanity in the OT).
So the Spirit inspired Moses to describe this bestowing of the name Adam, then inspired Paul to describe Jesus as the last Adam. Could it be that God wants us to understand the man Adam as a picture of all who live under the Law?
Maybe the narrative in Genesis 3 isn’t the beginnings of the fallen state, that somehow mystically gets transmitted through the generations, but a description of all people before the cross. Perhaps it’s a profound way of describing how “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, so that we can explore fundamental aspects of the sin nature that apply to each of us.
Frankly, I’m still working this out, but really don’t understand why we substitute for the Holy Spirit’s term. And why is it more important to believe in some mystical sin inheritance, instead of making us each individually accountable before God? We tend to read an awful lot into Romans 5:12, but completely gloss over the passages above. I’m still seeking the right view, but wanted to share the question with others. Comments welcome.