How does Paul see the difference between the two ages of Adam and Christ?

Paul - Romans - Second Adam

The contrast between Adam and Christ occurs in Paul principally in three texts, the hymn of Philippians, First Corinthians 15 and frequently in the background to Romans, especially in chapters 5 and 8. Paul uses it to illustrate both the work of Christ and the change wrought by it in the created world.

There seems to be unanimity now that there is no point in appealing for the origin of this idea to any gnostic myth of a heavenly man; such ideas are too late and can be dated only to the second century. It is more questionable whether the origin of such an idea may be found in Philo. He comments on the two creation accounts of Genesis (Jewish exegesis of the time needed to explain why there were two accounts), 'There are two types of men, the one a heavenly man, the other an earthly. The heavenly man, being made after the image of God, is altogether without part or lot in corruptible and terrestrial substance; but the other was compacted out of clay' (Leg. All. I.31, echoed elsewhere). In his Christology in the Making, 1980 (p. 100, cf. Romans, 1988, p.277) Dunn envisages that Paul 'possibly directed against something like Philo's interpretation' his own assertion that the heavenly man is second, not first (1 Cor 15.45-47). Philo would be asserting that the ideal, perfect or heavenly man is the first and sinful, earthly man the second. Paul would be reversing this, to claim that Adam, the sinner and exemplar of fallen humanity, was first, and Christ, the exemplar of the new creation, the second.

There is no need to suppose that Paul invented this contrast himself, for the hymn of Philippians has every likelihood of being a pre-Christian hymn taken up and quoted by Paul.

There are several un-Pauline words (morphe, kenoun, isa einai theo, hyperupsoo [16t in NT, but in Paul only 2Cor 11.7]. Paul himself uses doulos-terminology of himself, never of Christ.

Both Adam and Christ were en morphe theou, but whereas Adam counted to be isos theou as an arpagmos (=something to be grasped at, and appropriated for one's own profit), Christ humbled himself after the model of the doulos, or Servant of the Lord in Isaiah. There the contrast is between the obedience of Christ and the disobedience of Adam. This would suggest that, just as the Servant Christology is an early outlook which soon disappeared, so also the Adam Christology was current before Paul.

The contrast is taken up again in 1 Corinthians 15. There it is applied to Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection, being used to characterise not so much the risen Christ himself as Christians whose resurrection is modelled on his. This is summed up in 15.45: 'So the first man, Adam, as scripture says, became a living soul, and the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit.' Besides the allusion here to Gn 2.7 'became a living being', there is multiple allusion to the undoing of the Fall. In later rabbinic writings the glory of God is one of the six things forfeited by the Fall (Gen. Rab. 12.6). Already at Qumran the return of this lost glory will be one of the eschatological gifts: 'For God has chosen them for an everlasting Covenant and all the glory of Adam is theirs' (1QS 4.23); 'You will raise up [a Saviour] to give them a share in the glory of Adam and abundance of days' (1QH 17.14); 'theirs shall be the glory of Adam' (CD 4.20). In this vein Paul outlines the contrast between what is sown and what is raised.

Before explaining this contrast, Paul explains the principle of analogy: there are different kinds of body and different kinds of brightness. It seems to me that it modern terms what he is saying is that 'body' and 'brightness' are analogical terms. It is, however, interesting that already here his language echoes creation terminology: 'glory', 'moon and stars' (15.41) are echoes of Ps 8.3, 5; the beasts, birds and fish (15.39) echo Ps 8.7-8.

Each of the contrasts between psychikos and pneumatikos (vv.43-44) links a human and a divine quality, and so describes a transference from the sphere of humanity fallen with Adam to the sphere of the divine: from perishable to imperishable, from weak to powerful, from contemptible to glorious. It is arguable, though not necessary, that each of the human qualities contains a specific reference to the fallen qualities of Adam, perishable, weak and despised.

Similar imagery is implied in 2 Corinthians 3.18, 'All of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory'. Here again the eikon must be the likeness of God given to Adam in the creation narrative, and the glory is the recovery of the glory lost at the Fall.

It is in Romans, however, that the contrast between first and second Adam is at its most ubiquitous. The state of sin in the first section of the letter is described in terms of fallen Adam. If 'Adam' is substituted for 'they' or 'those people' in 1.20-25 it reads almost like a paraphrase of the creation-story: 'Ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind's understanding of created things. And so Adam has no excuse: he knew God and yet he did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but his arguments became futile and his uncomprehending mind was darkened. While he claimed to be wise, in fact he was growing so stupid that he exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an imitation, for the image of a mortal human being or of birds or of animals or of crawling things'. All the elements are here in this return to the creation-story, the initial knowledge of God, the refusal to honour or give thanks to God, the attempt to seek knowledge which in fact plunges into deeper ignorance, the loss of glory. The catalogue of sin which follows is again reminiscent of Genesis. First is detailed idolatry (1.24-25), which Ws 14.27 says is the beginning, cause and end of every evil (and the allusion to the serpent in v.23). Then comes sexual perversion (1.26-27), which may reflect the intercourse of the angels with the daughters of men in Gn 6.1-4, or may reflect the rabbinic teaching that lust was the serpent's original temptation. Finally the catalogue of various sins 1.28-32 reflects the general spread of evil which provoked the Flood.

When Paul comes to the turning-point of the letter, in which he explains just how the disastrous situation (the dominion of the first hostile power, Sin, and its sinister companion, Death - the brooding presences whose influence determines the unfolding of the plot - as Dunn puts it, p. 288) outlined in the first three chapters is overcome, he describes it in terms of Adam and Christ. Adam is the tupos tou mellontos (5.14), the stamp, shape or seal of an eschatological counterpart, Christ. Though Paul, with his insistent use of ouch os...outos and poso mallon, is careful to show that there is no proportion between the two, the contrast is between the offence and the gift, the disobedience and the obedience, the condemnation and the acquittal through the two men, the reign of death in the past and the continuous reign of life in the future. Christ is the progenitor of the new, eschatological humanity, just as Adam is of the humanity dominated by death.

Even more far-reaching is the development of the same theme in chapter 8. After this turning-point Paul devotes chapter 6 to showing how the believer is freed from the dominion of self and is incorporated into Christ, and then chapter 7 to giving a dramatic presentation of liberation from the dominion of Law. This too may hark back to Adam (as Käsemann insists); particularly attractive is the parallel between the deception by Sin (h gar amartia echpathsen me, Rm 7.11) and the deception by the snake (h ofij hpathsen me, Gn 3.13 [the same very, though not in compound form]).

Finally comes the positive presentation of life in the Spirit. This reaches its climax in the presentation of a new creation in Christ.

The first part of this, centred on Christians as adopted sons, relies more on the Abraham-symbolism which is also prominent in the letter. Christians succeed to the position of sons of God which was Israel's primary title and purpose. They share in the inheritance promised to Abraham, his kleros in the land promised to him. This adoption-theme is a particularly Pauline motif in the New Testament.

The second part, however, is wider and embraces the whole of creation; the eschatological new creation in Christ is not confined to his adopted sons, the new children of Abraham, but extends to the whole universe; ktisis occurs in every verse 19-22. The presentation balances that of fallen creation in Adam of chapter 1. Fallen creation was rendered mataios, did not glorify God, but exchanged his glory for the image of a mortal human being (1.20-23). So now the creation that was condemned to mataiotes is brought into glorious freedom (8.20-22), moulded into the image of his Son and brought into glory (8.29-30). Particularly prominent is the theme of glory, lost (as we have seen above) by Adam, but now returned; this brackets the section about the new creation: 'the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us' (8.18), as we are 'brought into his glory' (8.30). The lynch-pin of it all is the new Adam, the prototokos (8.29) as Adam was, and the image which Adam had been intended to be. All these themes are already present in 2 Corinthians 3, but are made more explicit here. There may be further allusion to the Genesis story in the groaning in travail (stenazei 8.22, stenagmos 8.26) which is the current condition of creation, reflecting the stenagmos imposed on the woman after the Fall.

A further dimension is that all this new creation is the work of the Spirit (Romans 8 is the chapter of the Spirit: the word occurs 5t in Rm 1-7, but 29t in Rm 8). Already in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul had referred to the risen Christ as a pneuma zoopoioun, the exemplar of risen Christians who are no longer psychikoi but pneumatikoi. In Rm 8.9-11 Paul does not distinguish clearly between Christ, the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ:

no one who lacks the Spirit of Christ belongs to him

the Spirit of God has made a home in you - Christ is in you

he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will give life to you - through the Spirit living in you.

(Similarly in 2 Cor 3.17-18 it is unclear who 'the Lord' is, Christ or God, and what the relationship is between the Lord and the Spirit: 'this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is...').

Whatever the relationship between Christ and the Spirit, it is the Spirit which gives life to the new creation. There must be allusion here also to the creation-story of Genesis, where the spirit of God hovers over the waters (Gn 1.2) and where God breathes the breath of life into Adam (Gn 2.7). The work of the Spirit in giving life to the new creation and the new, eschatological humanity is the same.

At three crucial points in Romans, then, the thought of the Second Adam, which Paul possibly derived from previous theology, expressed in the hymn of Philippians, inspires his theology of the renewal and fulfilment of all things in Christ.


Peter Stuhlmacher Evangelische Theologie 27 (1967), p. 1-35

NT Wright 'Adam in Pauline Theology' SBL Seminar Papers 1983, p.359-389

HA Lombard 'The Adam Typology in Romans 5.12-21' Neotestamentica 15 (1981), p. 69-100

ME Boring 'The Language of Universal Salvation in Paul'

JBL 105 (1986), 269-292

H Sahlin 'Adam Christologie im NT' ST 41 (1987), p.11- 32

JDG Dunn Christology in the Making, p. 98-128

Commentaries on Rm 1.22-24; 3.23; 5.12-19; 7.7-13; 8.