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Book Review: The Last Adam

Note: This article is by Brandon D. Crowe, author of the new book, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels, which is being added to the library on February 5.

Ron Maness

The Adamic Christology of Early Christianity

In discussions of the New Testament Gospels, it is commonplace for scholars to affirm that Jesus is somehow the fulfillment of Israel. This is indeed an emphasis of the New Testament. However, much less often is there thought to be an Adamic Christology in the Gospels. For example, in an influential article (TDNT), Joachim Jeremias noted only one passage in the Gospels that betrays an Adamic Christology (Mark 1:13), and he viewed this as only one of three explicit “Adam Christology” texts in the entire New Testament.

Put simply, today little attention is typically given to the possibility that Jesus is presented a new Adam figure in the Gospels. However, this recent dearth of attention is exceptional when we consider the broad scope of interpretive history—quite often in the history of interpretation the Gospels have been read as having a strong Adamic Christology.

Already in the second-century we find a rather well-developed Adam Christology with Irenaeus, who frequently drew parallels between Adam and Christ from the Gospels.

For example, Irenaeus observes the way Luke’s genealogy relates Jesus all the way back to Adam, thereby “connecting the end to the beginning, and implying that it is he who has summed up in Himself all nations dispersed from Adam downwards” (A.H. 3.22.3; trans. from ANF 1:455). Irenaeus is not an isolated example, but the early Fathers often read the Gospels in Adamic ways.

In my recent book, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels, my goal is to consider anew the question of Adam Christology in the Gospels. Taking a cue from the emphasis on Christ as new Adam in the history of interpretation, I look at the Gospels asking where we may find Adam Christology, and what implications this may have for the work of Christ in the Gospels.

It is a combination of many texts that seems to suggest a more widespread Adam Christology in the Gospels. In this regard, pride of place is often given to the Markan temptation account, in which Jesus is “with” the wild animals. Echoes of Genesis 1–2 here seem to be present, as the original peaceful coexistence of humanity and animals begins to be restored (cf. Isa. 11:1–9). In addition, the frequent identification of Jesus as Son of Man in the Gospels is most likely a way of alluding to the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13–14 (though, as with much pertaining to Son of Man, this is debated), which echoes Genesis 1 and Psalm 8—both texts that reflect on the created dignity and reign of Adam. We saw above with Irenaeus another key text that bears on this discussion: the Lukan genealogy that terminates on Adam, the son of God (Luke 3:38). Such texts are, I argue, merely the tip of the iceberg of a more widespread Adamic Christology in the Gospels. Even the binding of the strong man (cf. Matt. 12:22–32; Mark 3:22–30), in which Jesus exercises royal authority over the devil, seems to echo the need for Adam, as a royal figure, to exercise authority by binding the ancient serpent. Indeed, Irenaeus closely related the power of Jesus in the binding of the strong man to Jesus’s obedience as second Adam in the face of temptation (see A. H. 3.18.6–7; 3.23.1; 5.21.1, 3; 5.22.1; cf. 3.8.2; 3.23.7; 4.33.4).

We find, then, a long history of interpretation in which Jesus is viewed as a second Adam figure who accomplishes salvation through his lifelong obedience. As the last Adam, Jesus recapitulates the life of Adam by perfecting what Adam did not accomplish, and by so doing he brings life where Adam brought death. I believe such a view, broadly speaking, enjoys substantial exegetical support.

In the Gospels we find Jesus presented as an Adamic figure who overcomes sin by his full obedience. As such, he is able to serve as a sufficient sacrifice for sin (cf. Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). Moreover, the resurrection of Christ is the vindication of his perfect obedience, as “the man” (cf. John 19:5) who is raised to new life. Perhaps in the Gospel of John are the Adamic resonances in the resurrection account clearest (might the “gardener” language recall the Garden of Eden in the biblical narrative?), and it is in the resurrection that the perfect obedience of Jesus finds its vindication.

Jesus is thus presented in the Gospels as the last Adam: a representative figure who vicariously accomplishes salvation as an anointed representative (note the baptism and temptation narratives in particular), and who delivers on the promise of life, in contrast to the entrance of sin and death that came through Adam. To be sure, much more argument for this position is necessary, and in my book I have sought to tease out some additional reasons why an Adamic reading of the Gospels is not only defensible, but accords quite well with the history of interpretation. If such an approach is valid, then the Gospels not only present Jesus as a new Israel, but as a new Adam—the second man—who ultimately has only one true analogue in the biblical narrative. Though this is not a terribly common position in New Testament scholarship today, it is not a new proposal. In The Last Adam I hope at least to provide some stimulating fresh air for some abiding conversations.