We are all adam

The focus on Adam in Genesis largely misses the point that we are all adam.  Scripture clearly aligns all humanity with the first couple in its language.   Rather than obsess over biology, we should rather take the point of the demonstration of human failure and divine grace which Gen 2-3 portrays.  We can chose to be in Adam or in Christ.  Focussing on the later would be healthy.  Following is a brief exploration of the way scripture links us to Adam…
Adam in Genesis 1-3

To understand Genesis 1-3 we have to first see what it does and doesn’t say.  What does the text say about the creation of Adam?

In the KJV we are introduced formally to Adam in Gen 2:19 when God “brought [the animals] unto Adam to see what he would call them“.  However this is an instance of interpretation rather than translation.  To get to the text we need to go deeper.

The Hebrew “adam” first appears in Gen 1:26 and in the NET is translated as humankind:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule (Gen 1:26a NET)

The introduction continues in Gen 1:27 (also from the NET)

God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them

In this instance the Hebrew adam actually carries the definite article (“the adam”).  However the word while singular is clearly speaking collectively.  Even if you think Gen 1 :26-27 is a summary of Gen 2 (despite the textual evidence to the contrary), “the adam” must include at least two people (Adam & Eve).

Reference to lexicons makes this clear:

A masculine noun meaning a male, any human being, or generically the human race. The word is used to signify a man, as opposed to a woman (Gen. 2:18; Eccl. 7:28); a human (Num. 23:19; Prov. 17:18; Isa. 17:7); the human race in general (Gen. 1:27; Num. 8:17; Ps. 144:3; Isa. 2:17); and the representative embodiment of humanity, as the appellation “son of man” indicates (Ezek. 2:1, 3)[1]

Were you to use Strongs, you would note the proper noun (ie the name) Adam is H121 versus the common noun adam/humankind being H120.  A feature of Hebrew which is worth bearing in mind is that:

Proper nouns, place names, and first- and second-person pronouns are definite without the article[2] [emphasis mine]

Ie the expression “the adam” in Hebrew does NOT indicate adam is a proper noun (ie a name) and that a specific individual is in view.  The definite article works a little differently in Hebrew versus English (or Greek).  In fact it goes the opposite way:

In Hebrew (unlike Greek), personal names do not accept a definite article[3]

Ie the presence of the article demonstrates we ARE NOT dealing with a person’s name.  Let’s solidify the point with some scriptural usages which demonstrate “the adam” is not ‘the Adam’.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone ((Eccl 7:2 NRSV)

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them. (Eccl 7:14 NRSV)

When a sentence is not executed at once against a crime, the human heart is encouraged to do evil (Eccl 8:11 NRSV)

Further examples could be multiplied, however the point should be plain “the adam” refers to collective humanity.

We are all ‘the adam’

So what does this mean in Genesis 2-3?  A little work with an interlinear will reveal that throughout Genesis 2-3 we are dealing with “the adam”.  As has been observed:

He [the author] uniformly makes the name generic by the article (the adam or man), the only exceptions, which are not real exceptions in meaning, being 1:26 and 2:5, already noted. It is not until 5:3, where the proper name Adam is as it were officially given[4]

This becomes of significant in how we address the history.  I think Adam and Eve were literal humans (I’m aware not all believers share this view) and we are dealing with history in these chapters (consistent with the historical “new story” marker in Genesis 2:4).  However as Murray observes:

the very fact that Adam is a general as well as a personal name makes it impossible to dismiss the story merely as an individual or even typical account[5]

Indeed.  This history involves all of us.  We are all adam, quite literally.  Adam was uniquely created by God.  But the language of his creation and nature are aligned to ours.

In Gen 2:7 the adam is formed from the dust of the ground.  Now we already know the adam is (curiously) a collective term even though there is only one being made.  The scripture specifically echoes Genesis 2 in talking about all humanity:

For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust (Psa 103:14)

Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again?  (Job 10:9)

Yet, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the product of your labor (Isa 64:8)

Look, I am just like you in relation to God; I too have been molded from clay (Job 33:9)

But who indeed are you—a mere human being—to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this? (Rom 9:20)

Scripturally speaking this manufacturing material used for Adam is no different to the manufacture of all the adam/humanity.

So too with the breath of God.  While none of us are literally formed by God and directly animated like the first man, yet we are have life through the power of God.  So we read:

the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it (Eccl 12:7)

The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)

since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25)

And of course once animated the adam is described as a “living soul” (Gen 2:7), the exact description used repeated of humanity (and all the animal kingdom).  It is this final description of ‘the adam’s’ creation that Paul picks up and aligns to all humanity – in contrast to the heavenly body of Christ.  Paul in 1 Cor 15 describes two sorts of bodies:

The natural The spiritual
v44 Natural body Spiritual body
v45 living soul Adam quickening spirit Christ
v46 Natural body Spiritual body
v47 of the earth earthy from heaven
v49 image of the earthy image of the heavenly
v50 corruptible/mortal incorruptible/immortal

Are we physically part of “the adam”?  What was strongly implied through the Old Testament becomes explicit with the exposition of Paul, we share the constitution and make-up of ‘the adam’ as originally created.

The role of the adam and the garden

The garden of Eden is described as an orchard, with the tree of life in the centre and surrounding by rivers.  This sort of physical description is not unique to the garden of Eden.  It is the symbolic language of a sacred space.  Ezekiel’s temple features a river proceeding from the temple Ezek 47:1-5.  Surrounding the temple is a forest of fruit trees – whose leaves are described as for healing Ezek 47:7,12.  Revelation uses similar motifs in Rev 22:1-2, describing a river coming from the throne and a tree (or trees) of life.  We have strong warrant from the rest of scripture to understand Eden as being a sacred space.  That the Lord walked through the garden in the cool of the day should put any residual doubts to bed.  Eden was a living temple.

Within this space, the adam is told his role is to “to till it and keep it” Gen 2:15.  The first of these expressions is agricultural based on the implications of the context:

A verb meaning to work, to serve. This labor may be focused on things, other people, or God. When it is used in reference to things, that item is usually expressed: to till the ground (Gen. 2:5; 3:23; 4:2); to work in a garden (Gen. 2:15); or to dress a vineyard (Deut. 28:39). Similarly, this term is also applied to artisans and craftsmen, like workers in fine flax (Isa. 19:9); and laborers of the city (Ezek. 48:19). When the focus of the labor is another person, that person is usually expressed: Jacob’s service to Laban (Gen. 29:15); the Israelites’ service for the Egyptians (Ex. 1:14); and a people’s service to the king (Judg. 9:28; 1 Sam. 11:1). When the focus of the labor is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him.[6] 

To keep the garden adds a layer of meaning to the simple agricultural looking after the garden.

A verb meaning to watch, to keep, to preserve, to guard, to be careful, to watch over, to watch carefully over, to be on one’s guard. The verb means to watch, to guard, to care for. Adam and Eve were to watch over and care for the Garden of Eden where the Lord had placed them (Gen. 2:15); cultic and holy things were to be taken care of dutifully by priests (2 Kgs. 22:14). The word can suggest the idea of protecting: David gave orders to keep Absalom safe (1 Sam. 26:15; 2 Sam. 18:12); the Lord keeps those who look to Him (Ps. 121:7). The word can mean to simply save or to preserve certain items[7]

In what sense was the adam to keep or protect the garden?  As a sacred space this makes sense – the adam was to protect the space.  Why?  Let’s go back to the noun used of the first man.  While Murray pointed out the use of  the common noun was about us all being ‘the adam’, there is another dimension – Hess points out that:

This in-between state [the expression the adam being a  specific individual but a collective noun] is occupied by one class of nouns (among others): titles.[8]

Hess goes on to provide examples of this form of language being used for titles.  In what respect is there a title involved in Gen2-3?  Because effectively the adam (later with Eve) was to be the priest, in the sacred space.  This was the work of both male and female as described in Gen 1: 27 – to image God in the earth and take up the responsibility of continuing and keeping the creation at large.

Our corporate head and shared experience

The commonality of us all being the adam – made like him – makes the history of Gen 2-3 more relevant.  The point is impressed that no matter how fortunate our circumstances, the story of our lives works out the same way.

  • We all acquire a knowledge of good and evil – a scriptural expression relating to moral maturity per Deut 1:39 (and less obviously Isa 7:16).
  • We all sin (Rom 3:23)
  • Our sin creates division and a rift in fellowship with God (Isa 59:2)
  • Sin makes us worthy of death and denies us the tree of life (Rom 5:12 6:23)

However these are the negatives.  God also provided Adam & Eve a covering for sin (Gen 3:21), a hope of future redemption (Gen 3:15) and maintained the way to the tree of life (temporarily denying access but maintaining future hope of it) Gen 3:24.

The decision to obey God’s commands or listen to temptation, accepting our position or grasping at equality with God (in contrast to Christ Phil 2:6), dwelling together as one versus in competition, tending God’s temple versus breaking fellowship are all choices which face the disciple today.

We have a choice to either be in Adam or be in Christ (1 Cor 15:22).  The choice is one of behaviour not biology, of loyalty rather than lineage.  In Gen 2-3 we have a clear demonstration of the natural tendency of mankind, the consequences and the work of God to still achieve His ultimate goal.  In obsessing about Adam we can lose sight of the connection between the first couple and ourselves and the practical power of the record.

 

[1] Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (pp. 15–16). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[2] Putnam, F. C. (2002). Hebrew Bible Insert: A Student’s Guide to the Syntax of Biblical Hebrew (p. 8). Quakertown, PA: Stylus Publishing.

[3] Hess, R. S. (2003). Adam. In T. D. Alexander & D. W. Baker (Eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (p. 19). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Genung, J. F. (1915). Adam in OT. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 50). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.

[5] Murray, J. (1979–1988). Adam. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 1, p. 48). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

[6] Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (pp. 794–795). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[7] Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 1171). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[8] Hess, R. S. (2003). Adam. In T. D. Alexander & D. W. Baker (Eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (p. 19). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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2 thoughts on “We are all adam

  1. John Davy

    I enjoyed the article and can see a lot of merit in it.
    I did, however, disagree with the interpretation of the Romans passages;
    “Sin makes us worthy of death and denies us the tree of life (Rom 5:12 6:23)”
    We would die even if we didn’t sin and I don’t believe it is a matter of worthiness
    Romans 5:12 simply states that death follows sin – and all have sinned
    As I understand it, sin injures the sinner. The death that is the wages of sin (not wages dispersed by God but wages paid by sin). The death we die is not the death of our natural bodies but the death of our inner self through guilt – as is reiterated in Romans 6:23
    I think that the crucial concepts to understanding Gen 2 and 3 are firstly, that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a potent tree – just as the tree of life was; and secondly, that God’s command warned of death in a spiritual domain (that was to come from eating from the tree) – but it was interpreted by the serpent and Eve to be in the natural domain because of their natural minds.

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  2. Russell

    Similarly to John I enjoyed the article, particularly the style where the subject was presented with sufficient substantiated argument to support scholarship, but without a detracting ponderosity. However the one problem that arises from the article’s style is, almost inevitable, there will slip in generalised comment as opposed to comprehensive contextual comment. This I believe explains the Rom 5 comments. Although Romans appears on the surface to treat death as Ipso jure, basic scholarship, and indeed logic, concludes that is not the exclusive causative explanation of death. However to ensure an article has a comprehensive exposition of all contributing elements to the substantive subject, is to follow a path that potentially distracts from the core theme and argument of the article and rather than enjoy a clear and concise exposition There is a balance between comprehensively addressing each and every subsidiary elements of a subject and footnoting a reference to further detailed exposition of the significant, but in the context of the article, ancillary subject matter. As Moses said – we have a choice – choose life (ie in Christ Jesus) !

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