Whether Adam and Eve and were historical people who sinned against God is of great contention in evangelical theological circles today. Some say that Adam and Eve were just metaphors for Israel or the whole human race. Others say that we have to hold onto a literal Adam and Eve or we forsake the gospel.
Last year Tim Keller wrote a brilliant piece called Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ, In this article he says evangelicals should hold onto a literal Adam because of the trustworthiness of Scripture, the teaching of the New Testament and because of the nature of the Gospel itself. Keller closes with these words:
When we believe in Jesus, we are “in Christ” (one of Paul’s favorite expressions, and a deeply biblical one.) We are in covenant with him, not because we are related biologically but through faith. So what he has done in history comes to us.
What has all this to do with Adam? A lot. Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 15 about Adam and Christ that he does in Romans 5.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22).
When Paul says we are saved “in Christ” he means that Christians have a covenantal, federal relationship with Christ. What he did in history is laid to our account. But in the same sentence Paul says that all human beings are similarly (he adds the word “as” for emphasis) “in Adam.” In other words, Adam was a covenantal representative for the whole human race. We are in a covenant relationship with him, so what he did in history is laid to our account.
When Paul speaks of being “in” someone he means to be covenantally linked to them so their historical actions are credited to you. It is impossible to be “in” someone who doesn’t historically exist. If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work “covenantally”—falls apart. You can’t say that Paul was a man of his time but accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.
Keller has nailed it. If you don’t have a literal Adam and Eve with a literal fall you are actually denying something close to the heart of Paul’s teaching and if you deny that you are probably denying the gospel.
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