Bird’s Eye View of Paul (6): stories within the story – Adam and Christ

I’m enjoying Michael Bird’s book –A Bird’s Eye View of Paul – very readable, concise and focused on the big stuff. Designed as an accessible guide to Paul and it does the job well.

It’s been a while, but we were in chapter 3 where Bird looks at some of the key themes of Paul’s theology – the stories within the big story of God’s redemptive purposes. We’d looked at ‘God and Creation’. The next theme is:

2. Adam and Christ

Paul writes ‘For just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:21-22). This Adam theme reappears elsewhere, most significantly in Romans 5.

The key idea being our bond of solidarity with Adam; in his rebellion and sin, in his death.

And the contrast being that in Christ this bond with Adam (the man of dust) is overturned, to give life to believers and overcome death by sharing in the immortal life of the ‘man from heaven’.

Bird summarises Romans 5:12 this way:

  1. Sin entered the world through Adam
  2. Death is the consequence of the sin of Adam
  3. Death has spread to the whole human race
  4. Human beings, because they enter the world alienated from God, sin.

Now this is controversial territory and has been for a long time. Do we receive a inherent inclination to sin from Adam which means we inevitably will sin because we are imperfect humans? Or are we born not only with a sinful nature but also under God’s condemnation at birth as sinners?

Bird suggests that what Paul has in mind here is that Adam represents humanity corporately, and what is true of him (alienation, sinful rebellion, condemnation) becomes true for all because we are all born in Adam. The sins we commit against God and others prove our solidarity with Adam.

The big story here is of a person and a world gone wrong. Judgement, violence, blame, dehumanisation, loss of relationship with God – all these follow Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

The story of Jesus is not only undoing these wrongs, but putting the world to rights again. And this is achieved in and through Jesus.

Where Adam was faithless and disobedient, Jesus is faithful and obedient. Jesus overturns the damage Adam instigated, and creates in himself a new humanity, which in the power of the Spirit is able to undo the effects of the Fall and become the new Adamic race. Jesus brings all the Adam could not; righteousness, vindication and eternal life.

For me this is a helpful reminder of what the gospel is all about – yes it is about sin, death, forgiveness and new life, but these themes fit within a bigger picture of God’s redeeming and renewal of the whole of creation. Christianity is full of huge hope. No wonder the first Christians prayed, ‘Marana tha, Come Lord Jesus!’

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2 thoughts on “Bird’s Eye View of Paul (6): stories within the story – Adam and Christ

  1. Interesting territory indeed Patrick. Like most Irish people of my generation (wrong side of 50 – or right side depending on your perspective) I was taught that Adam’s sin gave me a stain of guilt that baptism then washed away. After that I was on my own so to speak, responsible for my own sins only – disconnected from Adam on the sin issue. What Bird seems to be saying, if I read you right, is that Adam effectively introduces a genetic defect into our DNA and the way we live proves this is so. That’s a significantly different story.

  2. Hi Sean,

    Intereresting (and pretty bleak?) how you felt ‘on your own’ after baptism.

    Part of the debate I think is that Paul does not go into explanations and detail as to how exactly this worked. The key point it seems to me is the diagnosis of our fallenness which makes sense of the world we live in (as well as my own sinfulness).

    Seems to me that how Adam’s sin is transmitted is left open – a sort of spiritual co-identity and co-experience with him. He is the origin of sin yet we are each responsible for our own choices, the good news solution being that it’s Jesus who does for us what we could not do for ourselves.

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