Monday, April 28, 2008

Adam: First but not Best

cokhavim asked: If God gave the command to the man and not to the woman (though the text does not explicitly say that God did not also command the woman), does this say something about the ontology of men and women? For example, in order to test humanity, did God consider it sufficient to test only the male? If that is the case, then does that not imply that the male is representative of humanity?

The account of the Fall makes it clear that God tested both the man and the woman, not just the man. Both male and female knew the fruit was forbidden (although it does not tell us how the woman came to know this), both sinned, and both were individually responsible for their sin.

But as the first human created and the first to receive from God a commandment (which he subsequently disobeyed), Adam stands in as the representative of transgression and disobedience, in contrast with the righteousness and obedience of Christ (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Only in this Pauline picture of the first Adam and the “last Adam” does Scripture speak of the man Adam as representative of humanity. The Bible does not speak of manhood per se as representative of humanity. Nor does the Genesis text accord the man a higher status than the woman.

To be sure, there is some asymmetry in the way the text in Genesis 2 speaks of the man and the woman. But asymmetry does not entail inequality. The patriarchal-complementarian (PC) perspective sees in the asymmetry “hints” and “whispers” of male authority—of which the text itself makes no mention. But I see in the asymmetry merely the consequences of a fact that is clearly stated in the text, namely, the prior creation of the man. As I point out repeatedly in my chapter on creation in Good News for Women, every supposed hint of headship in the Genesis text is more plausibly explained by the fact that Adam was formed first, then Eve.

There is no reason to conclude that what Scripture says of Adam is true of every man. There was only one “first human.” That person 1) was created out of dust, 2) identified and classified all the animals, 3) was the first to be given a commandment directly from God (which he later disobeyed), 4) was held responsible for the sin of humanity, 5) was the first Adam, which required a last Adam for humanity’s redemption. None of these points can be attributed to men in general. Adam’s representational role was unique. His singular responsibility for humanity’s sin is due to the fact that he was the first human, not that he was a male human.

There are no logical grounds to conclude from Adam’s representative role that maleness per se is somehow representative of humanity or superior to femaleness. Moreover, such an interpretation is ruled out by Genesis 1:26-28, according to which both male and female reflect and represent God by virtue of the imago dei, and both represent God as authoritative agents who rule the earth under God. In Discovering Biblical Equality, Rick Hess aptly describes this creational rule as “the ongoing activity of God’s ordering and creating in the world and in civilization” (p. 82; I highly recommend this chapter). If this is the sort of agency and authority that God assigned to both male and female, then any notion of maleness being representative of humanity is completely unwarranted.

In any case, if there were ontological significance to be made of Adam’s representative status, it would be the ontology of sin. Adam’s representational role pertains to his transgression against God’s command. And this role is one of sorrow and shame, not of ontological superiority.

Finally, we need to remember that the issue in question in the gender debate is whether or not God has given authority to male and female equally. Being responsible for something or representative of something is not necessarily to be in authority over something. There are many different kinds of authority. Although euphemistic and equivocal language abounds in descriptions of the PC view, the authority at issue in the gender debate is “final decision-making authority” or, even more stringently, “the right to command obedience.” The “representative authority” of the first human does not entail such authoritative leadership and so has no direct bearing on the debate over male-female authority.

14 comments:

Paul D. Adams said...

Rebecca:
Fascinating! As always, clear and perceptive at all levels.

Yet another, not-so-easy question...

As I understand your argument, Adam's chronological priority logically entails some kind of representative authority. Exactly why is this so? I'm not getting the logical connection between being first and being representative of an ontologically distinct kind (viz., humanity).

Put differently, are you say that being first, rather than being male, is what's important here? If so, why? As I've said to my students on many occasions "saying something to be so does not make it so...explain why you make that claim?" Why exactly does the argument for "representative authority" rely upon being "first"?

If I read you right here, we could equally say that, were Eve created first before Adam, then she would have representative authority or, in your words "H[er] singular responsibility for humanity’s sin is due to the fact that [s]he was the first human, not that [s]he was a [fe]male human."

Why could not both male and female be equally representative of humanity's sin and rebellion because (note: this is a ground/consequent "because," not a causal one) their "firstness" (ontologically speaking, not chronologically) entails passing along all kind-essential properties to subsequent generations "after their kind"?

Whew...did I write that?

Just thinking...

Thomas said...

Do you actually believe that there was a literal Adam and Eve, and that the earth is 6,000 or so years?

Paul D. Adams said...

Thomas:
If you're asking me, Yes, I believe in a literal Adam and Eve and No I do not believe the earth is a mere 6,000 yrs. old. However, the age of the earth is considerably beyond the scope of this discussion, eh? Perhaps we could stay on topic here?

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Paul: I am not arguing for a logical entailment. I am assessing the alternative explanations for the asymmetries in the way the text speaks of the man and the woman. It is an abductive argument (inference to the best explanation). There are two ways in which Adam and Eve differed: Adam was formed first and Eve second; Adam was a man and Eve a woman. It seems that all the asymmetries are best explained by Adam’s being created first, before the woman.

I am not saying that Adam is representative of humanity in all its essential properties. I am basing my understanding of Adam’s representative role on Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15. Here Adam represents human sinfulness—which would not be a kind-essential property at all since it was not inherent in original creation but was acquired later.

Adam’s “firstness” accounts for Adam’s being the only human in the Garden at the time God gave the commandment not to eat of the tree of knowledge, and thus he was held responsible.

This responsibility evidently continued after Eve was created, given the vigor with which God twice rebuked Adam: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (3:11) and again, “Because you…ate from the tree about which I commanded you…” (3:17). It is also assumed in Paul’s discussion in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15.

But if Adam were responsible because he was a man and not because he was first, then what is true of Adam would be true of all men. But both the Genesis account (as noted in the last post) and the Apostle Paul present Adam as unique, the one man Adam.

Paul D. Adams said...

Excellent, Rebecca! Thanks so much for your thorough response. Had I read more carefully your initial post on this thread, I might have picked up that Adam's "firstness" was equal to his uniqueness in being the only human, rather than being merely the first human in creation. Of course it is the case that sinfulness is not a kind-essential property of humanity, since Christ was fully human but without sin. Shame on me for thinking otherwise. Makes perfect sense to me. Okay PCers...."come let us reason!"

Thomas said...

My last email was written to both Paul and Rebecca.

Unfortunately, Iam not a fundamentalist. I don't think that the Adam and Eve storie(s) ever happened. As an historian I don't give the story any more credence than I would Hesiod or the Epic of Gilgamesh, and I can't understand why someone would want to construct a theology out of something on the assumption that a non-event actually happened.

I come simply from an evangelical position, so I wouldn't be able to add anything to this discussion.

In any case, I appreciate your concern for egalitarianism. I think it is true, but not because the Bible or some other ancient Near Eastern culture tells me so.

The Society of Biblical Literature has long since dealt with these issues. I'm gladdened to see that these discussions have made their way into the fundamentalist conversation, but the approach, one of stauch inerrancy, seems totally ridiculous to me. But, as I mentioned, I'm only a mainstream evangelical and I'm sure I'll be written off (like most biblical scholarship) as liberal and prejudiced.

kparis said...

Your thoughts on Adam being unique insofar as he was the first human are great. It is often assumed that Adam established a "pattern" for all men to follow, but Scripture is pointing to Christ, the last Adam, coming to do what the first could not. Good insight Rebecca.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Thomas:

I do believe in a literal Adam and Eve. The Bible is a reliable historical document and it clearly states that this is how God created humanity and all the rest.
My belief in a literal Adam and Eve is also a matter of faith; but my faith in the truth of the whole of Scripture is backed up and justified by reliable historical documents and the testimony of Jesus Christ regarding the Hebrew Scriptures.

I do not believe the earth is 6000 years old. That is not stated, or entailed by anything that is stated, in Scripture. And the scientific evidence is against it.

Since you are perplexed how anyone could believe in a literal Adam and Eve, you might be interested to read a good argument for the case in the book “Genesis in Space and Time” by Francis A. Schaeffer.

I don’t know what you mean when you say are a mainstream evangelical. Last I heard, mainstream evangelicalism does believe in a literal Adam and Eve (but not in a 6000 year old earth). However, it seems that in recent years the label “evangelical” is increasingly being adopted by any and all strands of Christian belief, from the truly fundamentalist to the truly theologically liberal. Thus I would prefer to identify myself as a Bible-believing Protestant rather than simply as an evangelical, since the meaning and sense of the latter term is becoming quite ambiguous.

kerryn said...

Hello Rebecca,

i am very pleased to find your blog!
i have read a lot of your books and articles etc. thanks for the insights you have brought to me as i have researched and studied the issue of gender and faith.

from my study so far (and i am happy to be corrected if anyone knows more) I cannot see any specific 'gender' reference made about Adam in the NT passages that deal with him being some kind of 'representative' for humanity. that is, his humanity not his 'maleness' is described. 'anthropos' (generic word in greek for person/human), not the more specifically word for (male) man 'aner' is always used of him (rom 5:12ff; 1 cor 15:20ff, 45 ff). I struggle to find anything in scripture that highlights the ‘maleness’ of Adam and relates it in any way to his representing humanity.

I agree with you that the only thing in Genesis that differentiates b’w the man and woman is the fact that the man was created first and the woman second. Why is this significant is where the debate lies … I don’t believe that there is support in the Bible that the ‘first’ has some kind of authority over those that follow. After all, God continually did NOT choose the ‘first’ to be the most blessed or the ‘leader’ etc – eg: Jacob, Joseph, David and the list goes on… Just listening to the words of Jesus ‘the last will be first and the first will be last’ throws protogeniture teaching on its head in my books… But for some reason the ‘sin’ of humanity is laid at the feet of Adam and not Eve… what are the possiblilities?

- like you say, Adam was simply the ‘first’ created and for that fact – nothing to do with his ‘maleness’ he (and he alone) as an individual (not all males after him) held a special representative place in humanity. This is possible, but my question with this stance is what about Eve? She was taken from Adam before he sinned… so how can his sin be imputed to her, even if it could be so to all generations who followed…?

- I am interested in the fact that on the occasions that Eve is mentioned in the NT (2 Cor 11:3; 1 tim 12:13-14), she is used as an example of someone who was deceived. Whereas Adam is consistently linked to disobedience, not deception. (cf Gen 3:17; 1 Tim 2:14; Hos 6:7).
Eve took the fruit first – yet her sin did not according to Paul in 1 Cor 15 cause the fall of humanity. Can it be because she was deceived into partaking, where as Scripture bluntly says Adam knowingly disobeyed? How could Eve be deceived and Adam not? What did he know that she didn’t? If she was ‘genetically’ disposed to being more easily deceived (as many believed until recent times) then surely God made her with a ‘flaw’ – something that does not gel with his declaration that his creation of humanity was ‘very good’. Scripture tells us for certain that God told Adam directly not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We don’t know how Eve found out, but clearly she did know about the command in some form as she repeated it (with some additional information) to the snake when he questioned her (Gen 3:2). Cheryl Schatz on her blog “Women in Ministry” claims that Adam had ‘seen’ something of God that Eve hadn’t – that he saw the creative power of God when He created animals in front of him and bringing them to him to be named (Gen 2). This privilege gave Adam some kind of greater understanding of God and thus he was not so easily deceived by the serpent as was Eve, but rather is described by Scripture as being unfaithful and deliverately disobedient… http://strivetoenter.com/wim/2006/03/13/why-do-you-say-that-animals-were-created-after-adam/

I am still trying to get my head round all this - what do you make of this claim?


There is so much left 'unsaid' in Scripture. Particularly in Genesis, I believe we need to be very careful not to read into the passage more than is there... so I am wary of any assumptions that are taken by either side of the Egal-Comp debate....

Warm regards
Kerryn

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

My comments, interspersed below, begin and end with “RMG”

kerryn said...
Hello Rebecca,

i am very pleased to find your blog!
i have read a lot of your books and articles etc. thanks for the insights you have brought to me as i have researched and studied the issue of gender and faith.

from my study so far (and i am happy to be corrected if anyone knows more) I cannot see any specific 'gender' reference made about Adam in the NT passages that deal with him being some kind of 'representative' for humanity. that is, his humanity not his 'maleness' is described. 'anthropos' (generic word in greek for person/human), not the more specifically word for (male) man 'aner' is always used of him (rom 5:12ff; 1 cor 15:20ff, 45 ff). I struggle to find anything in scripture that highlights the ‘maleness’ of Adam and relates it in any way to his representing humanity.

RMG: I believe there is not a hard and fast distinction between anthropos (human) and aner (male human); anthropos can mean “male” and aner can mean “human.” It seems to be a translational judgment call. RMG

I agree with you that the only thing in Genesis that differentiates b’w the man and woman is the fact that the man was created first and the woman second. Why is this significant is where the debate lies … I don’t believe that there is support in the Bible that the ‘first’ has some kind of authority over those that follow. After all, God continually did NOT choose the ‘first’ to be the most blessed or the ‘leader’ etc – eg: Jacob, Joseph, David and the list goes on… Just listening to the words of Jesus ‘the last will be first and the first will be last’ throws protogeniture teaching on its head in my books… But for some reason the ‘sin’ of humanity is laid at the feet of Adam and not Eve… what are the possiblilities?

- like you say, Adam was simply the ‘first’ created and for that fact – nothing to do with his ‘maleness’ he (and he alone) as an individual (not all males after him) held a special representative place in humanity.
This is possible, but my question with this stance is what about Eve? She was taken from Adam before he sinned… so how can his sin be imputed to her, even if it could be so to all generations who followed…?

RMG: This is not only possible, it is what Paul states to be the case in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15. But, as you say, what about Eve? First, I don’t think “imputed” is quite the right word here. Rather, all sinned in, with and through Adam (see John Stott’s commentary on Romans). What Adam did, Adam & Eve did together. Adam was “with her.” They both had to disobey the command in order for the human race to fall into sin. “Sin increased” after Adam disobeyed (Rom 5:20). When Adam sinned, the human race was fully sinful. When Adam sinned, all sinned. Although Eve doesn’t explicitly fit into the Pauline picture of the one man Adam and the one man Jesus Christ, Paul certainly includes Eve in the transgression that spread sin and death to all humanity, and he speaks specifically of Eve’s part in the fall elsewhere (2 Cor 11:3 & 1 Tim 2:13). Evidently it is not Paul’s intention in Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15 to lay out a precise diagram of the mechanics of the fall, but rather to set forth the symmetry between Adam’s “firstness” and Christ’s “lastness.” And it is because of Adam’s firstness (and not his maleness) that he is responsible for disobeying the command that God gave first to him. RMG

- I am interested in the fact that on the occasions that Eve is mentioned in the NT (2 Cor 11:3; 1 tim 12:13-14), she is used as an example of someone who was deceived. Whereas Adam is consistently linked to disobedience, not deception. (cf Gen 3:17; 1 Tim 2:14; Hos 6:7).
Eve took the fruit first – yet her sin did not according to Paul in 1 Cor 15 cause the fall of humanity. Can it be because she was deceived into partaking, where as Scripture bluntly says Adam knowingly disobeyed?

RMG: Although Adam was held responsible for sin on account of being the first human who received God’s commandment, Adam’s sin alone did not cause the fall of humanity; that was accomplished only when both male and female disobeyed God’s commandment. I’m not sure the type of sin would have a bearing on the level of one’s responsibility for sin—although the Old Testament makes a distinction between sins committed intentionally and sins committed accidentally, with a lighter punishment imposed for the latter. However, I don’t think Eve’s sin would be considered accidental. She knew right well that she was breaking the command of God. RMG

How could Eve be deceived and Adam not? What did he know that she didn’t? If she was ‘genetically’ disposed to being more easily deceived (as many believed until recent times) then surely God made her with a ‘flaw’ – something that does not gel with his declaration that his creation of humanity was ‘very good’. Scripture tells us for certain that God told Adam directly not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We don’t know how Eve found out, but clearly she did know about the command in some form as she repeated it (with some additional information) to the snake when he questioned her (Gen 3:2). Cheryl Schatz on her blog “Women in Ministry” claims that Adam had ‘seen’ something of God that Eve hadn’t – that he saw the creative power of God when He created animals in front of him and bringing them to him to be named (Gen 2). This privilege gave Adam some kind of greater understanding of God and thus he was not so easily deceived by the serpent as was Eve, but rather is described by Scripture as being unfaithful and deliverately disobedient… http://strivetoenter.com/wim/2006/03/13/why-do-you-say-that-animals-were-created-after-adam/

I am still trying to get my head round all this - what do you make of this claim?


RMG: It seems clear that Eve was not deceived about the substance of God’s command; she was quite emphatic about it when discussing the matter with the snake, even to the point of exaggerating it a bit. Her deception, it seems, was with regard to her understanding of God, not with regard to her understanding of God’s command. The idea that Adam knew God better than Eve—again, given his firstness—is certainly plausible. But it remains speculation, not biblical data. Even if this were plainly stated in Scripture, what difference would it make other than to rule out the notion that Eve was spiritually inferior to Adam? But this is already ruled out by God’s creation being very good, and by both man and woman having the divine image and authority over creation. RMG

There is so much left 'unsaid' in Scripture. Particularly in Genesis, I believe we need to be very careful not to read into the passage more than is there... so I am wary of any assumptions that are taken by either side of the Egal-Comp debate....

RMG: So true, so true.

Warm regards
Kerryn

kerryn said...

thanks for taking time to respond Rebecca.
(-:
kerryn

cokhavim said...

Arriving a bit late to the discussion, but I'll leave my 2 cents anyway.

Thomas: the importance of the gender debate surrounding the Genesis text is not negated by a disbelief in a literal Adam and Eve. If you believe that the bible is spiritual - but not historical - literature, this still warrants a careful scrutiny of the Genesis text to draw lessons about gender, much like studying a parable.

Rebecca, thanks for answering my question. It gave me a lot to think about. I like your theory that being the first human is the reason for Adam's representative status for the Fall, and the explanation for the "asymmetry" (great choice of word, btw) in the Genesis story regarding the two humans. And I like your point that the properties of the first human cannot be attributed to men in general.

I have two other theories on why Paul treats "Adam" as the one responsible for fall of humanity. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.

1) In Genesis 5:2 God names them both "Adam" which means "human". Only after the Fall did the man name the woman "Eve" and presumably took the name "Human" for himself. Could Paul, being fully aware of Gen. 5:2, and perhaps thinking of the "one" flesh idea, be referring to the first couple in Rom. 5 and 1 Cor 15 when naming "Adam"?

2) To your point that Eve also sinned deliberately I'd like to add that Adam must also have been deceived on some level in order to choose to sin. I.e, though he knew he was disobeying God, in order to choose it, he must have believed that disobedience was somehow better than obedience (but perhaps for different reasons than Eve's).

Since the type of sin on both their parts seems too similar (ie, both being deceived, sinned deliberately) perhaps it was their attitude after sin that caused Paul to blame Adam and not so much Eve. There is textual evidence that Adam was not remorseful, but rather defensive, of his sin (Gen. 3:12, Job 31:33). Eve, however, realised that she had been deceived (Gen. 3:13), and that realisation may have caused her remorse. At any rate there are two evidences in Genesis that God treated Eve's sin differently than Adam's: a) God attributed Eve's DNA to the coming Seed, and ignored Adam's contribution altogether (any human coming through Eve must also have DNA from Adam). b) God also said something like "Because you did such and such, cursed is ..." to both the serpent and Adam, but not to Eve. Since it is God's character to oppose the proud and give grace to the humble, perhaps it was Eve's remorse that caused the difference between God's treatment of their sin. Since God likes to blot out the sin of contrite sinners, then that could explain why Adam's sin, and not Eve's, was deemed responsible for the Fall. Yes there are a lot of "perhaps'es" in this point, but what do you think of this idea?

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

To: cokhavim

The Hebrew word “adam” is used in two different senses. In Genesis 1 and in Genesis 5:1b & 5:2, it means “human” or “humankind” (quoting from Gen. 1:26-28). Just as all the creatures were created and named after their own species or kind, so God named human beings “adam”; this was God’s name for the human species. But in Genesis 2 and in Genesis 5:1a & 5:3, “Adam” is the proper name of the first man. In Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15, Paul is speaking of the one man, Adam, which does not mean human species, but a specific man with the proper name of Adam.

The suggestion that Eve was acknowledging her guilt and thus indicating remorse when she said, “I was deceived,” is a very interesting idea and one I’d not heard or thought of before. In the Hebrew Bible, being deceived and being guilty are often associated, so it seems possible that Eve could, indeed, have been acknowledging her guilt—in contrast to Adam’s defensiveness and obvious desire to shift the blame. Whether or not this would figure into Paul’s picture of Adam’s being the “one man” responsible for humanity’s sin, I do not know.

Also, it is quite true that deception always plays a part in sin. That is the devil’s game: to deceive. This is how Satan lures hapless humans into iniquity. However, in this case, Eve was deceived by the serpent. Adam was not deceived by the serpent. But Adam was deceived in believing that taking the fruit was somehow preferable to refusing the fruit.

cokhavim said...

Hi Rebecca! I've not been keeping up on blogs for several months now due to an insane summer, but I'm back. Though this is long overdue, I feel the need to clarify: In Hebrew, "Adam" is never used as a proper name for the first human until Gen. 5:3, ie after the fall. Prior to 5:3, the male human was referred to as "haAdam" which means "the human". Also importantly, God never addresses the male human by the proper name "Adam". I took the time to argue this because I find it important that "human" was never meant to be the proper name of only one of the humans, and the male human should not have taken the name "human" for himself.