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Geoff Thomas – Was Adam a Historical Figure?

Posted On February 25, 2015

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

Many people are fascinated with their family trees. There are hundreds of websites, and an active department in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth that are dedicated to tracing our ancestries. Forty years ago in 1974 a scientist named Donald Johanson discovered in Ethiopia 40% of the remains of a skeleton that was three and a half feet in length and considered to be over 3,000,000 years old. These pieces of bone were quickly nicknamed ‘Lucy’ because in the celebrations that night after finding those remains they ate and drank and played the Beatles’ song, ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds.’ One of the books Donald Johanson has written is called Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins. Donald Johanson believes that we are all descended from Lucy. We are not descended from the Neanderthals as John Stott suggests in his commentary on Romans; that is now a discredited theory in Johanson’s eyes. The new theory is that we descended from Lucy, but not all archaeologists are convinced that that is true. Johanson points out,

We are all united by our past. We all have a common history, and though we may be vastly different, our origins all lead back to the crucible of human evolution that is Africa. Lucy is saying to us, ‘You are all my descendants’ and regardless of who we are, we are all in fact today Africans . . . If I had the ability to travel back in time, with only one choice of a place to go, my answer is quite simple, I’d want to be standing on the hill overlooking where Lucy and her cohorts were living.

In the last half of Romans chapter five there are many references to Adam. How would you think the author of this letter, the Apostle Paul, would consider Adam? Would he think of him as being a real historical man, or did he see him just as a symbolic figure? If Paul did think of him as someone as real as Abraham or as Moses then did he teach Christians that they were to have the same view of him? Paul’s understanding of the speed of light or of gravity or of the solar system or the atom would certainly have been primitive, but he didn’t teach us to believe his views on any of those things. It is only when he preached through the inspiration of the Spirit, or wrote his letters that God led him into all truth. What about Adam? Should we believe that Adam was a real historical figure, that he was the actual federal head of all mankind, the first man who fell into sin, who defied God’s prohibition not to eat the fruit of one tree? So let’s begin by examining this question.

1. How did the Apostle Paul consider Adam?

I suppose this text is as good a place for us to start asking this question as anywhere in the New Testament. Paul is telling us in our text that sin came into the world through one man, and death through him, and that in this way death came upon all men, me and all of you, we are going to die because in Adam we’ve all sinned. In other words Paul is referring to the Adam of Genesis one and two, the first man, created by God, and the father of the human race. He was placed under probation by God, and the focus of the probation was obeying God concerning one simple test, not eating of a specific tree in Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was a wise, simple, public test of whether his life was going to be one of trusting and obeying God or not. But sadly our father, Adam, failed the test and chose to defy God; he did what the Serpent suggested and ate the forbidden fruit.

So we are being taught here in Romans 5 that sin entered the world through one man, and death came through that rebellion of our first parents, and that was the way that death came to all men, because in Adam our federal head and representative we all sinned. We have all become natural born sinners; as I often tell you my daughters never sat the children down and taught them how to misbehave. They did this naturally enough. A bias to sin has come upon every one of us. ‘The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation’ (verse 16).

Hitler became the fuehrer – the lord – of Germany, its federal head. He sent the German army into Poland and Germany was soon at war with many countries in Europe. The Emperor of Japan declared war on the USA. Men were conscripted into the Japanese army, the German army, husbands and fathers were called up, they fought, and millions died because their head, the fuehrer, or the Emperor of Japan took a nation into war. Again, another Prime Minister declared war with Iraq and so we fought Iraq and men died. Those prime ministers are our federal heads. Prime ministers have authority to act in that way. So Adam was our head as the representative of the human race, made perfect in character and wisdom by the creativity of Jehovah. He heeded the Serpent, took the forbidden fruit and he died. We have all become guilty before God in Adam and we also die. You can imagine a German looking at a photo of Hitler and shouting in his rage, ‘You ruined our country.’ Philip Ryken tells of a little girl, the daughter of a friend who is a professor in Wheaton College in Illinois, and this girl saw a painting of Adam and Eve and she actually shook her fist in anger at the painting saying, ‘You ruined everything!’ She is reflecting what Paul is teaching in this chapter.

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