Of real and allegorical kings

It seems to me that to those who see the Eden narrative as “allegorical,” that is denying an historical Adam of some sort, it is mainly a kind of mythic aetiological tale about the univerality of human sin. And so, if sin arose by some evolutionary process, or by a mini-fall in each self human life, it doesn’t much matter because evil’s present existence is real.

But although the story does present the origin of sin, its teaching – especially as sourced and interpreted throughout the rest of the Bible – is far wider. In Orthodox theology, for example, the problem of sin is subsumed in what is seen as the more direct problem, death. Death, like sin, is also certainly a present reality, but it’s quite hard to see in what allegorical sense “Everyman” becomes liable to death, since death has always been the characteristic of our perishable world. When was early man ever immortal?

But today I want to look at another, maybe less obvious, pointer to Adam’s essential historicity. And that is the heavenly rule of Christ. In a recent post I pointed to one of those “Duh” moments in my formerly vague understanding of “Christ as King” and “God as King.” Jesus, we read, has by his victory over sin and death been raised to the right hand of God, there to rule the nations and all things. A just reward for his work, indeed. In that piece, I spelled out a little of what Scripture says that rule entails, but here I want to focus on the fact of it.

As I pointed out in the previous post, there is an apparent anomaly in the ascension and rule of Christ, which is that, as the second person of the Trinity, he had already had exactly the same position of power and authority before the Incarnation as afterwards.Why should his return to the glory that I had with You before the world existed” be more than an obvious assumption? The point that astonishes and thrills the New Testament writers so much is not that the Logos should take up his power again after his appearance among us, but that a man should now be sharing the throne of God. It is Christ the man who now reigns in heaven.

Paul, amongst others, develops that theology in relation to believers – Jesus reigns on our behalf, and we by our spiritual union with him even share his reign:

6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2)

11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him. (2 Tim 2)

Well, forgiveness of sins is one thing, but where does this idea come from of human beings reigning with God, or even of a representative man doing so? The answer is in a whole meshwork of teaching throughout Scripture. But one of the most important sources is the vision in Daniel 7:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Space prevents a full exposition of this passage, but in summary the context actually shows this “Son of Man” to be a personification of the saints of God, righteous Israel:

18 ‘But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

Jesus takes his self-designation “Son of Man” primarily from this passage, and repeatedly alludes to the vision in reference to himself and his mission. In the event, the ambiguity in Daniel about whether the “Son of Man” figure is some supernatural being (who is therefore worshipped by all) or the “holy people” is fully resolved in Christ, who comes from heaven, takes on flesh to become a son of man, and acts as our federal representative in his death, resurrection, and glorification.

Just as his death represents our death in a real, but mystical, way, and his resurrection our new creation in him, so his reign is representative of our reign – a reign which is promised to become actual at the general resurrection. All this is achieved by our spiritual union with him. Put that in your naturalism pipe and smoke it! There is a wholly different order of reality in all this – yet it is the order in which Christians are called to live, as those participating in this new kingdom where humans reign over all things with God, even as presently they struggle in a world that despises them.

So Daniel, at least, gives us an Old Testament background to this idea of a Man-who-is-also-mankind reigning in heaven. It does not appear in the New Testament manufactured anew out of whole cloth. But where did Daniel get it, so that Jesus and the apostles would pick it up and run with it as the central eschatological fact of Christianity?

The answer needs to be gleaned from the inductive study of the whole Old Testament, but the clue is in the Danielic title: “Son of man”, which in the original Aramaic as well as Hebrew, is literally “Son of adam.” Tracing the theme of “adamic sonship” in the prophets always leads back thematically and linguistically to the Eden narrative.

But as Greg Beale points out in his New Testament Biblical Theology, the other christological title, “Son of God,” may also be traced to prophetic references to Adam, in relation to royal status. I did a little on that here, where I cited biblical references that show Christ is, as well as the Son of Man who represents all the sons of man, the Son of God in whom his people also become sons of God:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26)

To cut a long story short, exploring the Eden narrative both in its own right, and in the light of the extensive Biblical commentary on it (eg Ps 8), its principal message is of God’s vocation of Adam, with Eve, to become his vice-regent not only over the earth, but heaven as well. It is the last that appears to have engendered the envy of Satan and his angelic allies, who would in the future become subject to the creatures made of the dust of the earth. Satan fell because of Adam – before that, the universe was on target with God’s purposes for billions of years. Evil is an anomaly of short duration, even in terms of geological time, let alone eternity.

Adam dwelt with God in the garden, with access to eternal life, and that divine fellowship would, in some way, have spread through the world as righteous offspring were born to the holy couple. God’s glory would have filled all things as God’s co-regents ruled and subdued his creation in divine wisdom.

The Fall, in effect, returned a perverted human would-be ruler of all things into a former perishable existence – only now he was not only perishable, but spiritually corrupted. And consequently a good, if perishable (psuchikos), creation also became corrupted and frustrated, both by the presence of sin and the delay of its transformation to the pneumatikos.

The same story is taken up again in the choosing of Israel, via Abraham and the patriarchs, whose early failure, recapitulating Adam’s, prevents the cosmos being ruled, under God, by Abraham and his race, just as the Fall prevented it being ruled by Adam and his race. The New Covenant prophecies like Daniel 7 foresee those hopes being fulfilled in Messiah and his redeemed people – a people who turn out to be both the true Israel and the new humanity, thus achieving all God’s original purpose.

In other words, the rather astonishing (and apparently often neglected) teaching – that our calling in Christ is to reign with him now (through completing his sufferings, yet assured of his present rule over all things at God’s right hand), and to share in his glory in future – was actually what the Eden narrative says should have happened through Adam but for his sin.

But if Adam were only an allegory for sin, what universal allegorical truth would the reign of Jesus actually fulfil? It has to be said that, for the most part, non-historical (in the broad sense) readings of Adam have arisen because of the apparent contradiction of the story by old earth and evolutionary science. Or even if that is not their origin, they usually lead to there being no reason to reject a straight evolutionary account of man. If sin was not the result of a particular person, or group of people, rejecting an intimate relationship with God based on obedience to a command, and associated with immortality, then it must have been something that emerged “naturally” from human biology and culture.

But just as there is nothing in a purely evolutionary view of mankind that gives any inkling of the possibility of humans living forever, even less is there anything in the world that would seem to lead to even the possibility of humans reigning at the right hand of God. Neither biology nor culture bring about human judgement of angels. In such a scenario, Christ bursts upon the natural scene like an unheralded alien, suddenly announcing that no longer will religion be about living godly lives through faith in a transcendent Creator, but about resurrection to a new order in which, for reasons unclear, sinful enmity with God in a physical world is to be transformed to reigning with him in an eternal spiritual one.

I conclude that treating the narrative of Adam as historical – with all the caveats about “Mytho-historical” genre I have often mentioned – enables us to see ourselves as far more glorious in nature than naturalistic accounts allow, but also as far more deeply damaged, and far more in need of grace, than we could otherwise imagine. As Blaise Pasacal wrote:

“What a Chimera is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe.”

Adam as our progenitor accounts for that – Christ as the new Adam resolves it. And, waving a far more prosaic flag for my own ongoing work, Genealogical Adam demonstrates its place in historical space and time.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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