What Did Paul Believe about Adam?

The American evangelical world is filled with varying views, some good and some not so good, on Adam and his historicity. Was Adam a real man? Was he a singular human being? Was he human like us? All these questions and more are asked and answered in various ways depending on who you speak with.

In all honesty, this is not a good thing. Speaking with someone earlier this week, they noted that the extremely broad range of beliefs in the American Christianity makes having a unified body of believers a difficult achievement. And there are certainly places where Christians can disagree – matters that are not core and clear doctrines outlined in Scripture.

The question then is is a historical Adam as a singular man created with no ancestor directly by God one of those core doctrines? In the mind of Paul, I would argue, it was.

Paul’s View on Adam from the Epistles

Adam was a key figure in the preaching and teaching of Paul. He was seen as the federal head of all the human race, and is referred to as a singular person in his letters, (Rom. 5:12-14; 1Co. 15:22, 45; 1Ti. 2:13-14).

Perhaps the most important of these verses is Romans 5:12 –

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

Rom. 5:12 ESV

The phrase just as sin came into the world through one man is telling of Paul’s view of a historical Adam. The words one man – ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου – enos anthropou in the Greek – are very clear that Paul is referring to a singular man.

Enos is a Greek word used in the qualitative sense, as BDAG defines it, “a single pers. or thing, with focus on quantitative aspect, one.”[1] This term as a numerical term when it is in the genitive form which we find here in Romans 5:12. There is no reason to doubt that Paul sincerely believed in the reality of one, singular man, Adam, as Genesis clearly records.

Paul’s View on Adam from His Preaching

Not only in Paul’s teaching in his letters did he clearly believe in a literal, historical Adam as a representative of the human race, Paul affirms in his preaching as recorded in Acts that God supernaturally created all human beings from this literal, historical Adam. In Acts 17, Luke (the author of Acts) records Paul’s address at the Areopagus in Athens, (Ac. 17:22-34). Paul speaking to a group of unbelieving philosophers and prominent men of Athens who, as Luke records, “spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” It is safe to assume that they were not Jewish, and they had no teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul was speaking to Gentiles who were steeped in all kinds of worldly philosophy and empty thinking according to the world and not according to Christ. Paul does not shy away from proclaiming the God of Scripture to them and felt that God creating all of the human race from one man was so important that he included it in his sermon to them –

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,

Acts 17:24-27 ESV, emphasis added

We find Paul using the same word in v.26 as he did in Romans 5:12, enos. In fact, Paul does not even use the word for “man” used in Rom. 5:12, but literally says, he made from one every nation of mankind. Enos again in the genitive form is referring to, as above, a quantity. Its a numerical term, as above. The phrase here in Greek is clear-

ἐποίησέν τε ἐξ ἑνὸς πᾶν ἔθνος ἀνθρώπων[2] – Literally translated –

He [God] made [to make or to cause to be] – out of one [man] – all – the nations [peoples] of mankind.


It is clear that Paul was stating that God made all of humankind from one man – Adam. This is an all encompassing statement, there is no room for any other group of humans to exist outside of those who God made from one singular man, Adam. Paul’s point in this part of his sermon was indeed to challenge the polytheistic view of the Athenians and point them to the fact that all of humanity has only one creator, and only one progenitor – Adam. This was a key part of the gospel for Paul because Paul knew that all human kind sinned in Adam, the doctrine of original sin, and because of Adam’s sin, we are born into a state of sin and enmity with God in which we sin and incur righteous judgment upon ourselves in our own right. [3]


Conclusions

From this we must draw several conclusions.

  1. That Paul believed that Adam was a literal, historical figure according to the Genesis account.
  2. That Paul believed that no human beings existed before Adam, as per Acts 17 where Paul clearly states that all the nations were formed from one.
  3. That Paul did not interpret Genesis figuratively but rather, literally. Paul literally believed that God created Adam and that all human beings came from him.

Final Thoughts

So what are the implications of Paul’s view? Well first, we are obligated along with Paul to faithfully hold to a historical Adam as the first man ever created and that from him and only him did God create the rest of humanity. We have looked at this issue from a Pauline standpoint, but the reality is that what Paul taught and believed was directly in line with the rest of the Biblical witness. Paul was not a revolutionary when he taught a historical Adam, but rather a good disciple of his Lord and ours. Christ clearly affirms the literal sense of Genesis when he quotes freely from its early chapters, (Mat. 19:4 and Mark 10:6 quoting Gen. 1:27). Jesus never specifically mentions Adam by name, but over and over Jesus affirms the literal history of Genesis and the inerrant quality of the Law of Moses, (Mat. 5:17-18; Lk. 16:17; 24:44; Jn. 8:44). While not exhaustive, it is clear that Paul, in line with the Lord Jesus Christ, viewed Genesis as a literal history. Why would Christ pick Genesis 1:27 out of the first chapter (verse markers were not included until the 1500’s AD by the way) as the only verse in Genesis 1 to take literally?

We can clearly see from Paul’s understanding of Adam and the support from the rest of the New Testament that those who follow Christ should hold to a literal Adam, and must reject that he had any ancestors. This is where the rubber meets the road in regards to our practical application in today’s world. The teaching of theistic evolution has become more and more popular over the past two decades. Biologos, a proponent of what they call evolutionary creationism has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years within traditionally conservative and reformed theological circles due to its melding of evolutionary theory with Scripture. In order to accommodate this view, they have to deny the literal existence of a historical Adam as the first ever human being. They clearly state their position –

“At BioLogos, we are persuaded by the scientific evidence that Homo sapiens evolved, arising about 200,000 years ago and sharing common ancestors with all other life on Earth. Furthermore, it increasingly appears that the genetic diversity among humans today could not have come from just two Homo sapiens individuals, but a population of thousands.”

https://biologos.org/common-questions/were-adam-and-eve-historical-figures

As faithful interpreters of Scripture, we must vehemently deny the Biologos position. Because of our view in the authority of Scripture, we can, without being scientists, deny any proposed idea that does not fit with the Word of God rightly interpreted and understood. Any denial of a historical Adam specially created by God as the first ever human being with no ancestors is in fact, a false teaching. Those who hold to this view do not stand with Paul in their views of Genesis. They do not stand with our Lord Jesus Christ in their view of Scripture as inerrant and absolutely authoritative.

As a pastor and theologian, I do not need to hold a scientific degree to disagree with the Biologos position. As soon as they took a step into the realm of doing theology, they immediately placed themselves under the scrutiny of the Word of God. And from a purely theological perspective, their view cannot be reconciled with Paul’s view of Adam.

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 291.

[2] Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature, 2011–2013), Ac 17:26.

[3] Please see Colin Kruse’s discussion in his commentary on Romans in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series where he discusses the implications of original sin in Romans 5:12.

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