In my last post I examined how John H Walton discusses the role of Adam in Genesis in The Lost World of Adam and Eve. The predominant emphasis he notes is Adam as an archetype. But perhaps I should have drawn more attention than I did to the fact that in the complex pattern of individual, generic and archetypal use which Walton uncovers, where Adam is not being presented as an archetype he is being presented as something else, that is as an actual individual.
This is Walton’s emphasis when he turns to the New Testament for his Propositions 10 and 11. The first of these presents the evidence that the New Testament, like Genesis, is most interested in Adam as an archetype representing all humanity. But in so doing it also makes the New Testament case for his historicity as an individual (though not as the sole progenitor of humanity), which is the subject of Proposition 11.
For brevity I’ll major on Romans 5 (though Walton deals with all the NT passages). Paul’s greatest interest here is in the archetypal importance of Adam as representing all men. This he compares with Christ, also seen as an archetype representing all who are included “in him” through faith. Walton has previously argued that Adam’s origins in Genesis (from dust) are archetypal, not only from ANE comparisons but from the fact that Scripture refers to humans generally as “but dust”. Paul, though, is not interested in that aspect, but in Adam as the archetype of human sin: “Death came to all people, because all sinned.” I have already shown, in the last post, that Paul’s aorist tense for “sinned” implies not imitation or inheritance of sin, but participation in that first sin of Adam. This is a fundamentally archetypal argument.
But prior to that, Paul has stated that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin”, which is clearly not an archetypal statement, but a claim about one individual. Not only that, but it is an historical claim, inasmuch as if Adam did not exist, then sin and death did not enter the world through one man, any more than many would be made righteous by the obedience of Christ had Jesus not existed, nor obeyed.
Walton emphasises this historic aspect by citing Paul’s statement that “death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a commandment.” That period is a specific interval between two individual lives, albeit that those who died within it did so because of Adam’s archetypal action.
Similar distinctions between the representative and the personal are shown in the other NT passages mentioning Adam. In some Adam (or Eve) are used not as archetypes but as simple examples, for instance when, in 1 Cor 11.3, Paul warns his readers not to be led astray as Eve was. It would be legitimate to argue that, in such cases, it is of no importance whether they were real or fictitious: the warning “Don’t be greedy like King Midas” loses none of its force if neither the character nor the story about him were actually true. But this is very different from the “individual” statements about Adam in Romans 5. Sin and death came into the world through one man, whose role is directly comparable to Christ’s, or they did not. If not, Paul’s whole argument is specious.
Walton goes on to illustrate this in detail by comparison of Paul’s use of Adam with Hebrews’ use of Melchizedek. He shows how the author of the latter makes use not only of the Genesis account of the Priest-King of Salem, and of the commentary on it in Psalm 110, but also some of the inter-testamental legend and gloss that had come to be associated with him. Walton shows, though, how his use of the non-scriptural material, familiar to his readers, is legitimate, yet that his theological teaching is built exclusively on the inspired biblical text. The only historical information we are asked to accept as doctrinally important is what is put forward in the (proto-)historical passage of Genesis 14: ie that Melichizedek was a priest-king of Salem to whom Abraham paid a tithe as tribute.
In contrast with this story, Walton points out that the “traditions” Paul uses about Adam are not simply what his Jewish readers had come to believe about Adam, but what was asserted in Genesis itself, and with the same purport, that is:
1. Sin and death entered through Adam (Rom 5.12)
2. Adam was of the dust of the earth (1 Cor 15.47) [that being an archetypal, not a physical, claim]
3. Eve was deceived (2 Cor 11.3; 1 Tim 2.14)
It is pretty clear that, in a non-confrontational way, Walton is making his closely-argued case in order to contradict certain recent scholars who say that the historicity of Adam is of no theological importance, even if Paul erroneously believed in it and based his arguments on it. As he writes:
The argument of the author of Hebrews would not work if Abram did not give a tithe to Melchizedek. In the same way, I would contend that Paul’s argument would not work if there was not a historical moment when sin entered the world… His whole approach to the presence of sin, the need for redemption and the role of Christ to bring such redemption is based on those details.
A second, more straightforward, line of argument Walton uses for the essential historicity of Adam is his presence in genealogies, not only in Genesis 5, but in 1 Chronicles 1 and in Luke 3. In literary terms, this shows that the use these genealogies make of Adam is in the “individual” rather than the “archetypal” category: Everyman does not have a family tree.
Much weight has often been put on the claim that biblical genealogies are often incomplete, idealised and so on, with the implication that they are therefore historically valueless. Walton, however, with his ANE specialist hat on, has a different viewpoint. Indeed, the functions of genealogies vary in different cultures, so that we cannot assume we’re looking at the sort of thing you’d find at Ancestry.com. But he asks whether the ANE has any examples of genealogies in which non-historical figures such as gods, legendary characters or toponyms (ie place-names representing inhabitants, as in the table of nations in Gen 10) appear. He concludes that they do not, the closest being gods who appear in some king-lists, not genealogies:
Studies in the ancient world have concluded that genealogies typically are more interested in political unity than in lineage ties, but as such their objectives would not be achieved if imaginary or legendary characters were used. Future discoveries may yet provide an example that could lead to a different conclusion, but based on the information currently available, genealogies from the ancient world contain the names of real people who inhabited a real past. Consequently there would be no precedent for thinking of the biblical genealogies differently. By putting Adam in ancestor lists, the authors of Scripture are treating him as a historical person.
Against that would seem only to be the hyperskepticism of 150 years of liberal scholarship that would prefer to make Genesis the exception that proves the rule. For the Bible to be plausible is just too implausible, on principle!