The figure of Adam is well known as the first created man, shortly to be followed by Eve (Gen 2:7, 21–23), the archetypes for husband and wife (Gen 2:24). What is less appreciated are the facts that the Hebrew word adam means “man, human being,” “formed … from the dust of the ground” (adamah) (Gen 2:7) and that its initial usage is not as a name but as a generic term, “the human being.” Likewise, the initial reference is simply to “woman” (ishshah). Only from the end of Genesis 3 is the woman named, “Eve” (hayyah), “because she was the mother of all living” (hay) (Gen 3:20), and only at Genesis 4:25 is the definite article dropped and adam can be translated as “Adam.” This is important when it comes to considering references to Adam in the New Testament, particularly when Adam is said to be a “type” of Christ (Rom 5:14) or Christ is referred to as “the last Adam.”

In fact, “the last Adam” appears as a title in only one biblical writing, 1 Corinthians 15:45: “Thus also it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living soul’ [Gen 2:7], the last Adam life-giving spirit.” Genesis 2:7 would have been more accurately rendered, “the man became a living soul.” By adding “first,” of course, Paul sets up the contrast with the “last” Adam. And by identifying “the first man” as Adam, he blurs the transition in the Genesis narrative, from human being, humankind, to a specific human being, Adam. But in his usage it is clear that Paul regarded Adam as a representative figure, representing God’s human creation. This is clearest earlier in the same chapter, in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Similarly in Romans 5:14, Paul poses the whole of human history and the history of salvation in two huge epochs or ages, both represented by an individual figure—Adam and Christ. Adam was the archetypal figure for that epoch or phase of creation, which ends in death. Christ is the archetypal figure for the new creation, begun and marked by his resurrection from the dead.

This last point (last Adam as resurrected Christ) becomes clear from the course of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 leading up to 15:45. Paul was responding to questions (or objections) that (some of) the Corinthians had raised regarding his foundational gospel teaching on the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:1–11). Some were questioning whether there could be a resurrection of the dead (15:12). Paul’s response was to assure them that the Christian hope beyond this life grew out of the message of Jesus’s resurrection (15:13–19): that Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of the harvest of the dead (“first fruits”) and that as Adam represents a life which ends in death, so Christ represents a life which begins from death, with resurrection of the dead (15:20–23).

A second question posed from 1 Corinthians was, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (15:35). In response, Paul strongly affirms the bodyliness of the resurrection but distinguishes the Adamic body from the resurrection body by setting their characteristics in contrasting pairs: “perishable/imperishable,” “dishonor/glory,” “in weakness/in power,” “psychical/spiritual” (15:42–44). It is this last distinction on which he focuses (15:45–46) and which he justifies by his quotation from Genesis 2:7. Immediately intriguing is the fact that Paul quotes Genesis 2:7, without making it clear that the second line, on “the last Adam,” was his own addition to the quotation, implying that (for him) the second line was an obvious corollary to the first. This can only be because he firmly believed the eschatological resurrection of Christ had a revelatory force and initiating character as determinative for his worldview as was the account of the original creation of humankind.

Paul’s reflections on Adam’s sin, as giving occasion for death to enter the story of humankind (Rom 5:12–17; 1 Cor 15:22), were not unusual at the time. Similar reflections are found, for example, in Wisdom of Solomon 2:23–24. And Paul’s first-person lament at how he had been deceived by sin (Rom 7:11), echoing Eve’s complaint in Genesis 3:13, is paralleled by the insight of 2 Baruch 54:19, that the story of Adam’s downfall is the story of each person. But, as in the Life of Adam and Eve, there was more concern as to whether Adam repented and was taken to heaven. There was evidently no concept of another Adam, a second Adam, who might make good Adam’s failure and its consequences. Attempts to find such pre-Pauline reflection in the “man/son of man” (ben adam) of Psalms 8:4 and the “one like a son of man” (son of Adam?) in Daniel 7:13–14 have not been successful.

A more common reflection grew out of the two creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. This allowed the Jewish Alexandrian philosopher Philo to distinguish two types of men, one heavenly and the other earthly, the one made in the image of God and the other of corruptible clay (Leg. 1.31). This distinction became fundamental in the later Gnostic Redeemer myth, between the heavenly Adam, understood as an angel or an aeon, and the earthly Adam, where the heavenly Adam was redeemer of the earthly Adam caught in his clay prison. Here, the hope of salvation lay in the recognition of heavenly origin, where it was crucial that the heavenly came first.

That Paul was aware of some such reflection is probably indicated when he insists that “it is not the spiritual that is first, but the psychical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven” (1 Cor 15:46–47). This reminds us that Paul is talking about the resurrected body and the resurrected Christ. Paul’s hope for final salvation was not to be restored to some original heavenly reality but to be transformed into a future heavenly form, a resurrected body. The heavenly man, the last Adam, was not for Paul the beginning of the process but its end point. In his other echoes of Adam imagery in talking about the role of Christ (Rom 5:12–21; probably Phil 2:6–11), Paul conceived of Christ not as already the last Adam but, rather, as following the course set by Adam, through death, to undo its consequences by his resurrection. But when he wrote of Christ as “the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:47–49), Paul’s thought was not of incarnation; it was of resurrection. Christ’s mission on earth could certainly be described in Adamic terms (see also Mark 1:12–13) but not as the “last Adam.” In extending the thought of Genesis 2:7, Paul presumably thought it unnecessary to repeat the “became,” but he clearly intended the audience to whom 1 Corinthians was read to understand that as adamah came to be as Adam, a living soul, so Christ came to be as last Adam, life-giving spirit, in and by his resurrection.

That the last Adam “became life-giving spirit” is also to be noted. The more natural parallel to “living soul” would be “living spirit” as it is the soul (psyche)/spirit contrast which he was developing—the distinction between psychical/soulish body and spiritual body, the difference between an existence in which the relation with God is at the (lower) level of soul and an existence in which relation with God is at the level of spirit. But Paul not only replaces “soul” with “spirit” but also “living” with “life-giving.” Christ by his resurrection as last Adam became not just a living spirit but life-giving spirit, a source of life for others. This is striking because “life-giving spirit” denotes not just any spirit but another spiritual being. In biblical language, the only one who “gives life” is God (John 5:21; Rom 4:17; 8:11) or the Spirit of God (John 6:63; 2 Cor 3:6). Anyone familiar with biblical language would instinctively translate 1 Corinthians 15:45, “the last Adam [became] life-giving Spirit.”

Paul is here relating Christ to the Spirit of God as he elsewhere related Christ to the Wisdom of God, in talking of Christ in Wisdom terms (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15–16; cf. Heb 1:2–3), and as John related Christ to the Word of God (John 1:1–18). This would not have appeared as strange to Paul’s Corinthian audience as it does to Christians long accustomed to thinking of God as Trinity. For Wisdom and Word were ways in which Second Temple Judaism had become accustomed to trying to express the immanence of God without detracting from his holy other transcendence (as in Wis 10–11 and Philo). And the Spirit of God was a far older way of similarly speaking of God’s immanence (as in Ps 139:7). The difference here is that whereas the merging of Christ’s identity with that of divine Wisdom and Word referred to Christ before and during his earthly mission, Paul reserved the merging of Christ with the divine Spirit till his resurrection. Was there thus a recognition on Paul’s part that the Spirit was not simply another way of expressing God’s nearness and interaction with his creation and his people but even more distinctive? It was presumably some sense of this distinctiveness that prevented Christian thinking about Christ in relation to God from falling into a straightforward binitarian conception of the transcendent and yet immanent God and pushed it into the conceptualization of God as Trinity.

Also worth noting is the interesting parallel to 1 Corinthians 15:45 in John 20:22. John also draws on Genesis 2:7 in describing how the risen Christ “breathed on them [the disciples] and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” The verb “breathed” (enephysêsen), clearly echoes its unique usage in Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:9 (also Wis 15:11) and denotes the creation of life or, in this case, of new life. In John 20:22 it is the life of new creation. And similarly in 1 Corinthians 15:45 the life which the last Adam gives is life from the dead, resurrection life, spiritual bodies. In John the emphasis comes on the giving of life as the giving of the Spirit, which Paul emphasizes in such passages as Romans 7:6, 8:2, 9; 2 Corinthians 3:6; and 1 Thessalonians 4:8. But in 1 Corinthians 15:45 the thought is of the end of the process in life from the dead, the life of the resurrected body.

Another line of reflection is prompted by the way Paul (and other first-generation Christians) took up the other Adam passage, Psalm 8:4–6. The interest is aroused by two facts. One is that the Psalmist climaxes his brief description of the divine purpose in creating humankind by noting that God gave humankind (Adam) dominion over the rest of creation, “and put all things under his feet.” The other is that the first Christians, in drawing upon Psalm 110:1 (“The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’ ”) to make sense of what had happened to Jesus after his crucifixion, intentionally or otherwise, merged the two Psalm quotations together, as in 1 Corinthians 15:25, 27 and Ephesians 1:20–22 (also Acts 2:34–35; Heb 1:13; 10:12–13). Instead of “make your enemies your footstool,” the quotation of Psalm 110:1 ends with “put all things under his feet.” In other words, it would appear that for Paul the resurrected Christ, the last Adam, completed the divine plan that God originally had in first creating humankind. Christ the risen Lord is also the last Adam, in whom God’s purpose in creation is at last completed.

In the early church, Paul’s thought of Christ, the “last Adam,” as the archetype of resurrected humankind, new creation, slid to one side. Although Irenaeus caught Paul’s drift in his exposition of Christ as “recapitulating Adam in himself” (Haer. 3.21.10), the tendency was to see “the man from heaven” in incarnation terms, the “second Adam” as the Word united with the flesh, thereby restoring the divine image in human creation and inaugurating a new, regenerated race of humankind. “Second Adam” largely replaced “last Adam.”

[See also ADAM (PRIMEVAL HISTORY); ALLEGORY AND TYPOLOGY; CHRISTOLOGY; and ESCHATOLOGY.]

Bibliography

Bibliography

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James D. G. Dunn