Blogging through The Lost World of Adam and Eve (5)

61Y4wiWbWOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Blogging through “The Lost World of Adam and Eve”
• Excursus by N.T. Wright

We have been blogging through John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Here are the previous posts in the series:

Today, I’d like to focus on an excursus Walton has included in one of the sections about how the New Testament, and Paul in particular, views the Adam and Eve story. Because John Walton specializes in the Old Testament, he asked N.T. Wright to write this excursus. I find it to be a brilliant summary of what has been called a “new perspective” on Paul, which in my view is a fuller perspective that pays closer attention to the First Testament story, the story of Israel, and how Jesus is the fulfillment of that story. The result is a grander understanding of God’s “plan of salvation” and of human participation in that plan in Christ.

Walton introduces Wright’s section by telling us he will deal with two important Pauline themes:

  1. Paul’s treatment of Adam has more to do with the kingdom of God in general, the whole creation project, than with salvation from sins.
  2. For Paul the parallels between the vocations of Adam and Israel are more important than questions of human origins or the origin and transmission of sin.

Both Walton and Wright think Western theology has taken a couple of turns that have led to unfortunate results. The paths taken have not necessarily been false, but too narrow, causing us to miss the broader vistas of the New Testament perspective by focusing on a few details.

  • Since Augustine, the focus when discussing Adam has been on “original sin” and how that sin got passed on to his descendants. In concentrating on this, we have often missed “the role played by Adam in the larger narrative of God and the world, and, within that, of God and Israel” (so Wright, p. 170).
  • Since the rise of modern science and the theory of evolution, attention has turned to the question of how Adam and Eve fit in with our understanding of human origins, and whether the biblical narratives recall actual “historical” events that explain where humans came from.

As important as these questions might be, they do not represent the dominant emphases of the biblical story. Wright says in his excursus that there are three such emphases:

Creation, Giusto de’ Menabuoi


Wright first notes that Adam is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament after the early chapters of Genesis. Nor is he a major player in Second Temple Jewish texts. “When Adam is mentioned in these later works, it is frequently in connection not with his sin and its effects but with the glorious dominion he was originally given over the world, and with the way in which that might be reclaimed” (p. 171).

When Adam is mentioned in terms of his sin (4 Ezra and 2 Baruch), it is in passages that reflect upon the Fall of Jerusalem. “The writers are driven back to the beginning since the only way they can make sense of the appalling national tragedy is to say that the whole human race, Israel included, has somehow been corrupted by a fatal disease from the very start” (p. 171).

Paul, however, came at this from a different angle. He was led to reflect on Adam by way of what happened to Jesus. “If a crucified Messiah was the divine answer to the problem, the problem must have been far worse than he had thought” (p. 171).

To that end, Wright sees “Adam theology” throughout Romans 1-8, climaxing with the restored glory of both humans and all creation in chapter 8, which reflects Psalm 8, itself a meditation on the glory and dominion God intended for human beings within a God-ruled cosmos. Romans 1-8 (and other passages such as 1 Cor 15) are not just a “Romans Road” to personal salvation, but a panoramic overview of God’s plan to restore humanity to the place God gave it in Genesis: as priestly representatives of God (bearing the divine image), humans exercise their King’s loving dominion over all the earth.

It’s important to see that the divine “answer” to the problem of Adam did not begin (historically) with Jesus but with Abraham and the call of Israel to be God’s “priestly nation” (Exodus 19:6), bringing “blessing” to all the nations of the earth (Gen 12:1-3). This was Adam’s vocation, it would be Israel’s vocation, and ultimately it would be Jesus the Messiah who would fulfill that vocation.

“Paul’s exposition of Adam in these passages is explicitly in the service not of a traditional soteriology but of the kingdom of God” (p. 173).


The point of Paul’s teaching in Romans is not solely (or even primarily) about individual salvation (though it includes that). The trajectory of Romans 1-8 runs from humanity’s failure to exercise their God-given dominion over the world, through Israel, to Christ, to the renewal of all creation, as Christ rules through a glorified humanity. The whole world has once more become God’s holy land and his original project — a cosmic temple in which God dwells with his people and they exercise his rule over the earth — is being fulfilled in Christ. In Jesus, God has become King once more.

Here is the problem to which Romans is the answer: not simply that we are sinful and need saving but that our sinfulness has meant that God’s project for the whole creation (and that it should be run by obedient humans) was aborted, put on hold. And when we are saved, as Paul spells out, that is in order that the whole-creation project can at last get back on track. When humans are redeemed, creation gives a sigh of relief and says, “Thank goodness! About time you humans got sorted out! Now we can be put to rights at last.”

• p. 174

Wright cites Romans 5:17 as a key text:

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ(NRSV, emphasis mine)

Humans were created to “exercise dominion.” When they failed, they surrendered dominion to death. Now that Jesus has saved us by his own death and resurrection, we shall be renewed to exercise dominion once more.

Genesis, the Gospels, Romans and Revelation all insist that the problem goes like this: human sin has blocked God’s purposes for the whole creation; but God hasn’t gone back on his original creational purpose, which was and is to work in his creation through human beings, his image-bearers. In his true image-bearer, Jesus the Messiah, he has rescued humans from their sin and death in order to reinscribe his original purposes, which include the extension of sacred space into all creation, until the earth is indeed full of God’s knowledge and glory as the waters cover the sea. God will be present in and with his whole creation; the whole creation will be like a glorious extension of the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple in Jerusalem.

• p. 176

Paradise, Giusto de' Menabuoi
Paradise, Giusto de’ Menabuoi


Here Wright fills in some Old Testament perspective that I have thus far found lacking in Walton, but have seen discussed well by scholars like Peter Enns. In Genesis, Adam is Israel.

  • Chosen by God as his priestly representative.
  • Placed in a good land.
  • Granted the way to life.
  • Warned that if he pursues his own wisdom he will be exiled.
  • Exiled from the good land when he disobeyed God.

Wright suggests that, as God chose Israel from the rest of the nations, so he chose two people out of all the other people on earth at that time and gave them a vocation. They were representatives for the whole human race. “They were supposed to be the life-bringers, and if they failed in their task, the death that was already endemic in the world as it was would engulf them as well” (p. 178).

Adam and Eve’s failure was not simply an act of personal sin, it was a failure of vocation that mirrored the failure of Israel to come. Chosen to be the light of the world, they only brought a deeper darkness. When Paul reflected on the story of the First Testament, he came to see that Israel failed because they were part of the fundamental Adamic problem humans have had from the beginning. They, like all humans since the beginning, failed to trust the Lord with all their heart. They leaned on their own understanding. And the result was exile.

Thus, the person of Jesus Messiah comes to do what both Adam and Israel failed to accomplish. “He is Israel’s Messiah, who fulfills Israel’s obedience on the cross and thereby rescues both Israel and the whole human race. He does for Israel what Israel couldn’t do for itself, and thereby does for humans what Israel was supposed to do for them, and thereby launches God’s project of new creation, the new world over which he already reigns as king” (p. 179).

• • •

This is a hearty and nourishing gospel. A gospel worthy of a King who is much more than a “personal Savior.” A gospel that not only gives people life, but restores their vocation and dignity as people bearing the Imago Dei.

In the end of his excursus, N.T. Wright warns that one should never study the early chapters of Genesis and the subject of human origins without “hearing the call to be an image-bearing human being renewed in Jesus” (p. 179). So many have strayed from this truly “biblical” perspective (one that is true to the biblical story) to focus on secondary theological or apologetic issues that are, in the end, of little value or importance.

Thank God for a gospel that not only gives us life, but also restores our vocation and a vision for the future. Which is exactly why Paul and countless others have laid down their lives in its service.

40 thoughts on “Blogging through The Lost World of Adam and Eve (5)

  1. This is one of the best threads of comments I think I’ve read on iMonk. Excellent comments and insights, people being very respectful and honoring of views and thoughts. Good job, all!


  2. Would it be a fair summation of Dana’s points to say:

    Fundamentalists have problems with any view that levels the playing field between people groups and eliminates them from uniquely holding the power/knowledge that “saves.” If everyone believes and becomes a renewed image bearer, who is left to define themselves against? (Because fundamentalist identity is defined by what they are not instead of what they are)


  3. Mike, i was thinking of the natural world, which we continue to use in a very exploitative fashion. Also true of original inhabitants in regions that were conquered and colonized by people of European descent, as in the entire Western hemisphere.


  4. Christiane,

    hard-core fundamentalists have problems with the following things:

    -Wright’s view not being about Total Depravity – it’s not only Calvinists who hold to this – and the corollary that creation is good;
    -Wright’s view not including double imputation;
    -Wright’s view being about much, much more than “going to Heaven when you die” as a result of having made “a decision for Christ” on the basis of Penal Substitutionary Atonement alone – and therefore “not The Gospel™”‘
    -Wright’s teaching not making sense to them because they are unable to consider his definitions of theological terms, insisting on using only their own definitions;
    -Wright’s view, which is one angle of the New Perspective on Paul, taking 1st century historical and Jewish context into consideration.

    This is too large a hill for them to climb, in my experience.



  5. Dear HUG,

    there is much to think about regarding this in Fr Stephen’s series on “The Unmoral Christian” – which actually starts with the post “You’re Not Doing Better”. Go to glory2godforallthings dot com, look at the topic index in the dark band at the top, hover the mouse over “Culture” for the drop-down menu, and then click on Morality. Go one “older posts” page back. Begin with “You’re Not Doing Better,” and read through “The Moral Path of Being”. Don’t forget Fr Stephen’s replies in the comments sections. I’d be interested in your thoughts.



  6. I like how Francis Spufford, in his book “Unapologetic” describes original sin/the fall as the “crack in everything”.


  7. I would agree with you HUG that is why I commented about the world wars. When I watch on the history channel the apocalypse of the WW1 I see how we fail miserably and how the roots of this war ended up in the 2nd. I wonder if forgiveness, help and cooperation of the european community would have made for such a better world. Everytime I watch it which actually is a lot I have to say what were they thinking. I ask the Lord. I don’t have an answer other than this just isn’t Him. Those old motion pictures of men then are extremely sad to me. I really am not sure if it was just Israel’s failure or just mankind’s in general. I do see though they did want to keep it for themselves and rule the world which isn’t as far away from what was wanted in the second of world wars.


  8. ” . . . N.T. Wright warns that one should never study the early chapters of Genesis and the subject of human origins without “hearing the call to be an image-bearing human being renewed in Jesus” ”

    I had thought that even hard-core fundamentalists like Ken Ham would have supported N.T. Wright’s above teaching. But I understand that is not the case. I am confused about how fundamentalists CANNOT affirm the connection between Adam’s fall and the renewal of our race in Jesus. (?)
    Perhaps those first fifteen hundred years of Christian history with all salient insights and observations by the Doctors of the Church count for nothing with folks whose fundamentalist Church began a little less than two hundred years ago. (?) The difference in perspective and emphasis is glaring.

    Questions . . . questions . . .


  9. According to the biblical accounts, in the wars of conquest God faults Israel for not utterly destroying their enemies, as he had ordered. Hard to see how a command, and failure, to love squares with this.


  10. all too often, this has been applied as a mandate to exploit and destroy.

    Isn’t this even evident in the story of Israel? Portrayals of divinely commanded conquest narratives (and plenty more) are just brutal. I have a tough time seeing the story of Israel as a failure to love thy neighbor and live up to the call to bless all nations. I think that Enns (and others) have something helpful to say here, but it’s still difficult to fit all of the pieces into the meta narrative of a failure to bless others.


  11. It seems that the Church keeps recapitulating the failed vocation of Adam and Eve/Israel/humanity.


  12. thanks, CM. all too often, this has been applied as a mandate to exploit and destroy.


  13. You are right, it is misused. It does mean to rule, but in this context it means to rule in love — for the benefit of that which is ruled. In this case, humans were designed to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (the last verb indicating that there were chaos elements from the very beginning that needed to be conquered), extending God’s blessing throughout the whole world.

    Jesus has taught us that whatever we tend to think of as “ruling” or “leading” must now be understood in the light of him. It means laying down our lives so that others and the world around us might live.


  14. Mike, I believe you’re right about theology/theologies of the atonement. This is why I like Scot McKnight’s “A Community Called Atonement” A LOT. I’ll share a few quotes I have highlighted on my Kindle (no page numbers, sorry).

    (this one touches on Robert’s original questions) “Wolfhart Pannenberg’s point that sin is “the universal failure to achieve our human destiny,” expresses our point exactingly. Emil Brunner says nearly the same thing: “In the Bible ‘sin’ does not mean something moral, but it denotes man’s need of redemption, the state of the ‘natural man,’ seen in the light of his divine destiny.” Brunner’s theology enables us to grasp one more element of sin as hyperrelationality. That is, sin in the Bible is the choice to “go it alone,” to be “free” in the sense of independence, to achieve (like God) absolute freedom”

    “Atonement is the work of God to create and ready his people for just these things: union with God and communion with others in a place of perfection, with a society of justice and peace and above all worship of the Lamb of God on the throne.”

    “the atonement is designed for both an earthly realization and an eternal destination”

    “Atonement itself is a metaphor for everything and anything God does for us to make us what he wants to make us in light of who we were, who we are, and who we are meant to be.”


  15. CM, could you comment on what is meant her by “dominion”? That is a difficult word, imo, and has been used/misused by many. (And continues to be misused.)


  16. Good discussion, Robert, RDavid, and Mike. I hope to try and address some of this tomorrow.

    Mike I think “renewal” definitely carries the second sense as you’ve put it. See the previous post on non-order, order, and disorder from last week.


  17. And I should add that reading Orthodox views on Christ’s death and resurrection (as well as on “original sin”) has been incredibly helpful to me. There are parts of me, and of my beliefs, that are more Eastern church than Western church, though I am kinda happy where I am at the moment.


  18. Dana, I understand, though must admit that I got this idea during my Lutheran upbringing, or, at least, after I had returned to it (briefly) as a teenager. I don’t know that this is a widespread idea of focus in my synod, though, let alone the rest of the church bodies that call themselves Lutheran.

    But I have a feeling that there are places/people/individual parishes in other denominations that emphasize this as well.


  19. The Kingdom is a government of the revealing of love which is being placed in us through Christ. The Jewish nation was always the ones to be revealing such things and failed miserably…

    And the church hasn’t?
    Check out spiritual abuse watchblogs like Wartburg Watch & Spiritual Sounding Board for current-events Epic Fails along those lines.


  20. Yet so many preach CROSS CROSS CROSS without Resurrection or RESURRECTION without need for a Cross.


  21. I resonate with these questions. From a purely academic or analytical standpoint there’s ways to put the pieces together I guess.

    After all, Augustine did.

    Augustine seems to be the kind of guy whose mind worked in academics and analysis and who had to have as much as possible nailed down. He also came into the game with a lot of Manichean baggage ((rigid distinction between physical & spiritual) and sexual baggage (from young horndog to sworn celibate) plus Eastern Roman cultural norms. And he was so influential the church has been using his analysis and baggage ever since.


  22. RDavid,

    No I don’t think they think that there was a “perfect state” which is why I’m wondering about the word “renewal”. I’m not trying to be picky about semantics, but it’s important to recognize the distinction in framing this theology between renewal as a return to a previously perfect state vs “renewal” as progression towards a perfection that never actually existed before.


  23. Do Walton or Wright indicate there once was a “perfect state”? Or was it a simply a “good” state?


  24. w,

    my priest once said to me: “You exist; therefore God loves you.”

    Love is indeed the key.



  25. Then, in his complete identification with us in death, the lowest point to which one can go, as God he disarmed death. He had to “get into” death in order to smash it from the inside out. The Cross was the means for him to do that. Cross and Resurrection go together.



  26. That obedience can only come about on the basis of complete trust. That’s the point of “They, like all humans since the beginning, failed to trust the Lord with all their heart.” Trust isn’t merely an intellectual exercise; it goes hand-in-hand with love.

    And the other shoe that I never really heard drop until Wright, and more fully in Orthodox theology, is also connected to love: willing self-offering (even to the point of death) for the sake of the Other. A&E couldn’t do it with the fruit; they could not offer themselves to God on the basis of trust that he would provide all they needed for life. Eating is about sustenance – the basis of life once we are born. A&E rejected God as their life-giver; to do so is to enter the realm of death.

    Jesus trusted the Father completely. He willingly offered himself – even unto death – because of his love for us, for the sake of all of us.



  27. And is “renewal” even the right word since it implies a return to a perfect state? Or is the renewal just referring to a “renewed process” of “ordering creation” which ultimately results in a new creation (something that has never been before)?


  28. Also, there’s this underlying thread here that God rules a restored creation thru humanity. But humanity isn’t merely a vessel thru which God rules creation right? Humanity is also the “very good” part of this restored creation?


  29. W, I love how you refuse to let these kinds of topics be reduced to ONLY intellectual exercises and also look at the heart issues. I recognize in myself a tendency to be abstract and analytical when working thru complicated topics like this.


  30. Robert,

    I resonate with these questions. From a purely academic or analytical standpoint there’s ways to put the pieces together I guess. But the answers, to me at least, aren’t self-evident. And the answers can’t just be academic. Seeing a theology that is grounded in a kind of inauguration of the restoration of ALL things (“to the renewal of all creation, as Christ rules through a glorified humanity” per Chap Mike) makes the “not yet” piece so very glaring. How is this actually working out?

    A robust (beyond academic) theology of atonement and the cross is needed to do this I think. “Original sin” conceived as a legal problem coupled with penal substitutionary atonement address a set of problems from a different working paradigm.


  31. Speaking to the rock – This came out this morning. I have a busy day. Maybe I see this again before its closing

    Here is the drink at the well
    A place where you and I have met
    In days passing time will tell
    With each step the closer I get

    The coolness that tastes so good
    On the parch dry lips of a hot day
    More is the want in if I could
    With eagerness to be on our way

    Chosen for a time such as this
    What more does love have to say
    Apologies for what I missed
    In my heart take hold, grow and stay

    Now I m this son of God the Father
    The blood covenant changes me whole
    The ever filling fountain of water
    Gives back what a world would have stole

    Now please help me together in this walk
    Shed your mercy on this hardest of man
    Shining as light and not all just talk
    Let me see this love so I understand


  32. Throughout the New Testament the death of Christ is described as an obedience to the will of His Father, acting as a counterweight to the disobedience of Adam.

    I think the way forward is here.


  33. Been having a discussion about how now in this world do we get back to what we are suppose to be to a creation awaiting our revealing with my brother in law. We looked each other in the eyes with an intent look and both of us shook our heads. One thing I came away with is he said God chose you to be here now. it was then the love of God came over me on this truth. All my life I’ve been telling Him I would never choose this. Then I realize that in love He chose me to be here.

    I know that here we like to be Kingdom this and Kingdom that and in fact heard it so many times sunday I got up and left. Not once in the thirty plus time of the word kingdom did love come up. The Kingdom is a government of the revealing of love which is being placed in us through Christ. The Jewish nation was always the ones to be revealing such things and failed miserably which only goes to prove human nature outside of God goes twisted. We could argue that it comes from a devil but then the devil would be in the details.

    It would seem things aren’t working out so well looking at the world wars. Looking at the way we totally miss the boat stuck in our little worlds totally oblivious to what goes on around us. All in all we are racing to the point once again where a saviour is going to be needed and this time our choices may not matter as if they really did.

    I have universal leanings but not totally. When He said I will reconcile all things I get the impression that some of those things get reconciled in judgement more than likely not the way I would have it. The biggest thing in the creation story culminating in Christ is how I have been put in right standing and have been chosen for a time such as this for it was said that he knew before I was born. Now will I take my place or keep saying I wouldn’t chose this. Love would have me try. I think I’ll keep trying because somewhere deep inside me is this hope that won’t die because of a love of a Man who would step down so I could know just what I mean and what everyone else means which us being at the top means all the rest of everything.


  34. Or, how did, and why would, the life and death of Jesus “fix” Adam and Eve’s/Israel’s/humanity’s failure to live out our vocation?


  35. How did Jesus’ self-giving life and death “fix” Adam and Eve’s failure to live out their vocation? Why would it?


  36. I like all of this. As you say, it seems like a hearty and nourishing gospel.

    I’m left wondering, however, what was the vocation that Adam and Eve failed to live up to, but that Jesus fulfilled? And how did the cross complete that vocation? Was the cross Adam and Eve’s vocation, too? I don’t see how that’s possible. So what part does the cross play in this understanding? How is it linked with the vocation that Adam and Eve failed to meet, and what would Adam and Eve’s vocation have looked like? And how does the cross fulfill the vocation of Adam and Eve, if their vocation would not have included the cross?


  37. Paul’s treatment of Adam has more to do with the kingdom of God in general, the whole creation project, than with salvation from sins.

    In seminary I was taught that you can’t have the one without the other, and I don’t think they’re off the mark on that. 😉


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