the adams of scripture

The Adams of Scripture

Jesus is called “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). So, how many ‘Adams’ came before Him?

At least one, of course. In the same verse, drawing on Genesis 2:7, Paul calls the man God formed from the dust of the ground “The first man, Adam”. This aligns with how, in Mark 10:6–8, Jesus read Genesis 2 as an expansion of specific events on Day 6 of the Creation Week.1

In 1 Corinthians 15:45–47, Paul contrasts Jesus with the first Adam in two different ways: Jesus is “the last Adam” (v. 45) and “the second man” (v. 47). Some think that ‘second man’ is a synonym for ‘second Adam’.2,3,4 But the Bible shows that Jesus was the last of several ‘Adams’.

Adam: God’s first priest-king

Adam was the first ever human. He is the father of us all (Acts 17:26)—no matter what nation, ‘race’, or ethnic group. Therefore, God gave him special roles, including dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26–28) as the first king over creation. This is also known as the Adamic Commission (or Dominion Mandate).

Adam was also the first priest. The Garden of Eden was God’s special meeting place with Adam, like the later tabernacle and temple.5 And God commanded Adam to ‘serve and obey’ (Genesis 2:15–16) like the later priests.6

But Adam failed. He sinned by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God expelled him from the Garden, sin and death came upon all living creatures, and the whole world was subjected to futility (Romans 8:20–22).

Noah: A new ‘Adam’ for a new beginning

After Adam, things only got worse. Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4). Death was the norm (Genesis 5). And the earth became full of violence and evil (Genesis 6:5, 11). So, God destroyed that world with the Flood.

But a new world arose afterwards.7 So, God commissioned a new ‘Adam’: Noah. Just as God brought the animals to the first Adam (Genesis 2:19–20), He brought them to Noah (Genesis 6:19–20). When Noah came out of the Ark after the Flood, Noah offered up acceptable sacrifices to God, as a priest (Genesis 8:20).

So, God gave Noah the blessings He gave Adam (Genesis 9:1–7). God told Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and multiply”. He also re-established mankind’s dominion over the animals (Genesis 9:2–3).

God also promised never again to send a Flood to destroy all flesh. Only a global flood could do that, and no such flood has ever happened since. This shows that the Genesis Flood was global.

But, like Adam, Noah also failed. Noah planted a vineyard, and then got drunk and naked. His son Ham acted inappropriately towards his father in his nakedness.

Abraham: A new Adam for a new promise

Like Adam’s descendants, Noah’s descendants became worse. Instead of filling the earth as God commanded, they began building a tower ‘to make a name for themselves’ (Genesis 11:1–9). In response, God confused their language to scatter them. So, humanity spread, but also splintered into different nations (see the Table of Nations in Genesis 10).

So, into a divided world, God again called another ‘Adam’—Abraham. God gave the Genesis 1:28 commission to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3, as Beale explains:

The commission is repeated, for example, to Abraham: (1) ‘I will greatly bless you, and (2) I will greatly multiply your seed … (3–5) and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies [= ‘subdue and rule’]. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed …’ (Gen. 22:17–18).8

And Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6), though he did at times waver (e.g., using a concubine to bear Ishmael). And he was blessed by another—Melchizedek, the enigmatic priest-king of Salem (Genesis 14:18–20). Since the lesser is blessed by the greater (Hebrews 7:7), this suggests that this faithful (though imperfect) new ‘Adam’ was not going to be the last, and that a greater ‘Adam’ than Abraham was yet to be revealed.

An illustration of Israel at Mt Sinai, from a 1723 Dutch version of the works of Josephus

Israel: A national ‘Adam’ in a new Eden

For Abraham, God’s promises mostly remained promises. The exception was Isaac (Genesis 17:19). But God passed the promises to Isaac and his son Jacob. God chose to fulfil the Adamic Commission through Abraham’s seed.

The people of Israel began to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ in Egypt (Exodus 1:7). Then God saved them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to “the mountain of God” (Exodus 18:5) at Sinai. God first met with His people there.

At Sinai God gave Israel the Adamic Commission. As Adam was a priest-king, Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5–6). In His closing words to Israel in Exodus 23:20–33 before sealing the covenant in blood (Exodus 24), God promises to bring them to “the place that I have prepared” (v. 20)—like He did with Adam and the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8).

But, like Adam, Israel fell—the Golden Calf incident; not trusting God to go into the Promised Land; making covenants with the Canaanites. Israel’s sin spiralled down until: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

David: a new Adam for a new line

Israel needed a new Adam! So, God gave them David. He took on a priest-king role. He led the procession of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, dancing while dressed in priestly garb (2 Samuel 6:14). He offered sacrifices, and then blessed the people. The presence of God came to the epicentre of the Promised Land—the ‘new Eden’ of Jerusalem—with God giving His people rest.

In response, God gave him the grand promises of 2 Samuel 7. As Beale notes:

Second Samuel 7 … closely links the need to build a temple (7:2–13) with the following aspects of Genesis 1:28: (1) ruling and subduing (7:9–16), and (2) a blessing on God’s kingly vice-regent (7:29).9

But David also fell—adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah the Hittite. And like what happened after Adam and Noah, things got worse. David had family troubles and died a shadow of his former glorious self. Solomon also started well … and then failed (1 Kings 11:1–8). This sinful pattern continued until God exiled Israel from the Promised Land, just as he exiled Adam from the Garden of Eden.

Jesus: the Adam to end all Adams

So many Adams, so many failures! Why did they keep failing? We are all sinners (Genesis 8:21), even the Adams. For an Adam to succeed, he must be sinless. We need a sinless priest-king.

Jesus succeeded where all the previous Adams failed. He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, Jesus is the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45); the eternal priest-king (Hebrews 4:14–5:10). Jesus gives the eternal rest that Lamech prophesied through Noah (Genesis 5:29, cf. Matthew 11:28–30). Jesus is the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Jesus is the true and faithful Israelite (Matthew 2:15; cf. Hosea 11:1). Jesus is the son of David (Romans 1:3). And He is also a descendant of the second Adam Noah and of the first man Adam (Luke 3:23–38).

As the Last Adam, Jesus became the second man, from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47). As Adam was the first instance of original creation, so Jesus is the first instance of new creation through His resurrection. But Jesus is more than that. He also “became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45; John 5:21) who makes sinful human beings into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). He is the God-man—the true Creator in human flesh (Colossians 1:16–17, 2:9).

Jesus as the Last Adam only makes sense if there really were other Adams—others whom God commissioned as priest-kings like the first Adam. Jesus fulfilled what God made man to be, and always wanted us to be. Jesus is the climax of salvation history; a history that began with the creation of the first Adam.

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