Adam, original sin, and wrath against the Jew

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At the THINK Conference last week Tom Wright made the interesting observation that Judaism shows very little interest in Adam and his original sin until after the destruction of the temple. With slightly different emphases the apocalyptic texts 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, written around AD 100, both make frequent reference to Adam as the source of the world’s and Israel’s problems. 2 Baruch is especially concerned with the sin of the nations:

O Adam, what did you do to all who were born after you? And what will be said of the first Eve who obeyed the serpent, so that this whole multitude is going to corruption?

The writer of 4 Ezra, however, reflects on the connection between Israel’s failure and the sin of Adam. Because the people of the earth were ungodly and unrighteous, God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him, promising that he would never forsake his descendants. He brought Abraham’s family from Egypt and gave them the Law at Sinai, but he did not deal with the root of the problem:

Yet you did not take away from them their evil heart, so that the Law might bring forth fruit in them. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the people’s heart along with the evil root, but what was good departed, and the evil remained. (4 Ezra 3:20-22)

The writers of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, however, were not the first Jews to consider the eschatological significance of Adam’s sin.

Hosea calls rebellious Israel to return to the Lord in order to be healed of its sickness and be raised up on the third day. But Israel’s love for God is fickle, so it is rebuked by the prophets and God’s “judgment goes forth as the light”. This is the context for the reference to Adam:

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. (Hos. 6:7)

[Peter Enns has suggested in a comment that this is not a reference to the person Adam. He may have a point. I’ve added some futher notes.]

Then, of course, we have Paul and his argument about Adam and Christ in Romans 5:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Rom. 5:18)

If we read Paul, the Jewish apocalypticist, in the light of the other texts, there are a couple of general points that could be made regarding the significance of Adam for his thought.

First, I would suggest that for Paul, as for Hosea and the post-AD 70 Jewish apocalypticists, Adam becomes important specifically because Israel has transgressed the covenant and must face the consequences. Yes, all humanity shares in the sin and condemnation of Adam and must accept death as a consequence. That existential reality is in the background. But the central argument in Romans has to do not with the sin of humanity but with the failure of Israel to keep the commandments. Much of the Letter reflects the lengthy, recurrent disputes with the Jews that characterized Paul’s apostolic mission.

The reason for the failure was sin, and sin can be traced back to Adam. As 4 Ezra puts it: God gave his people the Law but he did not take from them the “evil heart” which they inherited from Adam. So the Jews were no less “under sin” than the Greeks (Rom. 3:9-18), and as a consequence Israel faced the “final” judgment determined by the Law. This then raised the theological question of how God would be justified, how he would show himself to be righteous, faithful to the covenant—and as we know, how the rightness of Israel’s God was to be revealed is exactly what Romans is about (cf. Rom. 1:17).

Secondly, if first century Judaism became interested in the original sin of Adam in response to the catastrophe of AD 70, should we not suppose that Paul’s thinking ran along similar lines—only prophetically rather than retrospectively? Wright thinks that it was Paul’s understanding of the cross which impelled him to construct the Adam argument of Romans 5:12-21. I would suggest, rather, that it was the same prospect of destruction (cf. Rom. 9:22) that led him, first, to reflect on Israel’s bondage to sin in the light of Adam’s primal disobedience, and then to discover such abundance of life for Israel—a future for the people of God—in Christ’s singular act of obedience.

In other words, I suggest that Paul’s recourse to an Adam-grounded soteriology is evidence that he expected wrath against the Jew to be manifested in concrete historical form, rather than as a final, absolute judgment at the end of history.

He reached the same conclusion before the event that the authors of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch would reach after the event: that the judgment of AD 70 brought sharply into focus the problem of human sin—for the world, but more significantly for the family of Abraham. The difference was that he believed that God had provided in Christ a solution to the problem, a means apart from the Law by which his people might experience the life of the age to come—and by which God himself would be shown to be in the right (cf. Rom. 3:21-22).


Rich, if you don’t mind me saying so, this is a rather lazy way to conduct a debate. If you really think that the page you have referenced is relevant to the post, at least take the trouble to explain why, if only briefly. As it is, I don’t see any connection with the issue of how second temple Judaism developed an argument about Adam. Similarly for your response to John Tancock.

I appreciate your thoughts here, Andrew. Understanding Paul’s take on Adam in his 2T matrix, which includes AD 70, is key—even if his take is also unique.

One quibble: Hosea 6:7, in my opinion, is not about the transgression of Adam (or humanity) but Israel (see beginning in 6:1). “Adam” here seems to be the first of three place names where Israel’s unrepentant state has been displayed, the other two being Gilead and Shechem in verses 8–9. The key is the adverb “there” in the second half of verse 7, referring back to Adam in the first half. 

Of course, don’t lose sleep over any opf this  :-)

@Pete Enns:

Peter, thanks, that’s a helpful intervention. The situation is certainly not as obvious as I assumed.

I don’t at the moment see any positive reason to think that Hosea 6:7 is not a reference to the person Adam, but I could be missing something, and there are certainly other options.

There doesn’t appear any reason to suppose that the city of Adam in Jordan was associated with covenant breaking (Josh. 3:16).

The city of Admah (אדמה), however, had a reputation for wickedness. It was destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah (Deut. 29:23) and is mentioned in Hosea 11:8 as a type of divine judgment.

Stuart argues: ‘The idea that an obscure Israelite city, Adam, would figure so prominently in the passage is obviated by the simple recognition that אדם can mean “dirt”…’ (D. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 99). He translates 6:7: “But look—they have walked on my covenant like it was dirt, see, they have betrayed me!”

The Septuagint takes “Adam” generically: “But they are like a person (anthrōpos) transgressing a covenant; there he despised me.”

I’m not sure where this leaves us, but it doesn’t affect the argument about the significance of Adam for first century Jewish apocalypticism.

@Andrew Perriman:

I agree all of this is a side issue.

Stuart’s interpretation is intriguing and I footnoted it in The Evolution of Adam

I agree that there is nothing in the Bible to associate the place Adam with covenant breaking, but I also don’t want to assume that Hos 6:7 can’t be a refernce to an episode not elswhere mentioned.

Calvin isn’t my go-to problems solver :-) but he considered reading ‘adam as Adam of Genesis “figid and diluted,” “vapid,” and not worthy even of refutation.

Never one to mince words, ole Calvin.

I do think that 2T Judaism is key for understanding the substructure of Paul (and the NT), and the need to recall Adam from his long slumber is a key part of this. I’m glad you are addressing it. Another book in the works?

@Pete Enns:

But why is it so obvious that “Adam” is not “Adam”? Why does it not need refutation? I’m quite happy to let go of the idea, but at the moment I’m not sure I see why I should.

Yes, another book is in the works. Thanks for asking. But it’s early days, and I’m reluctant to say too much about it.

@Andrew Perriman:

Largely the syntax of v. 7. NRSV has a good translation: “But at Adam they (pl) transgressed the covenant; there [indicating location] they dwelt faithlessly with me.” The reference to place names Gilead and Shechem in vv. 8 and 9 along with the summary verse 10 (that the prophet has seen horrible things “in the house of Israel”) suggest location is the focus of v. 7, and thus reading ‘adam not as the one man in the garden.

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, though. I’m trying to “be right” here. Just lay out what I think.

A peripheral concern I have is how this verse is used as a prooftext for an Augustinian view of the fall.

@Pete Enns:

 It seems to me the way Paul saw Adam and the way Jesus used Cain’s murder of Abel as partial cause celeb for the ultimate judgment on 1st century AD Jerusalem is a stronger determinant for us  in 2013 AD finding more truth than immersing ourselves more into ancient Hebrew syntax.

 Christ is departing from the consistent OT pattern of Yahweh pronouncing judgment using reality based failures of ethnic Israel(and some pagan states) if Cain and Abel are mythical figures.

 That just makes no good logic considering how consistent the narrative is otherwise in these respects. Why would an NT Jewish scribe depart from the pattern and note that or Messiah do it?

  In the passages where Jesus pronounces these judgments, He appears to me to be speaking as Yahweh, not as Yahweh’s spokesman or servant. There is none of the “Thus says Yahweh” or “My Father says”, etc.

 It certainly appears to me Jesus sees Adam, Noah and Jonah as reality based figures and not mythical metaphors as well as the flood epoch because He juxtaposes His reality with them.


In the passages where Jesus pronounces these judgments, He appears to me to be speaking as Yahweh, not as Yahweh’s spokesman or servant. There is none of the “Thus says Yahweh” or “My Father says”, etc.

Patrick, a couple of thoughts in response to this…

John the Baptist pronounces judgment on Israel without saying, “Thus says the Lord…” (eg. Matt. 3:7-10). 

More importyantly, the argument in the synoptic Gospels is not that Jesus speaks “as Yahweh” but, I think, that he has been given the authority to play the part of, or act on behalf of YHWH in this unfolding eschatological crisis in a way that was never true of the Old Testament prophets. In other words, there is an intermediate position between speaking as a prophet and speaking as God—that of agent, messiah, king, judge.

Micah said (not actually speaking the word of YHWH here): “the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Mic. 7:6).

Micah would never have said: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:35–36).

@Andrew Perriman:


  Your point is well taken.

  It still would seem to me  even with this view of the “more authoritative intermediate position” that Jesus utilizing Cain and Abel in that judgment passage indicates Jesus saw them as historic reality.

 It’s difficult to imagine even if we see this only as Jesus in His unique humanity speaking that we could know more than He did about the background of the biblical narrative so far removed as we are and so intimately involved as He was.


I would assume that Jesus understood the “reality” of such figures as Adam, Cain and Abel in keeping with the outlook of his time.

@Andrew Perriman:

 Do we have access to evidence that 2cd temple Jews assumed these were mythical figures?

@Pete Enns:

Re Enns’ Hosean Adam not the Adam of the Garden and Wright’s Adam. What follows qualifies as my SWAG (and I may not be applying the pardes interpretation properly), so please bear with me. If the triggering event for mentioning Adam of the Garden was the Fall of the Temple, then it makes sense that a nation re-examining itself would look to its founding with that being the Exodus. If Wright is correct that the sin of Adam was not so much concentrated upon until after the Fall of the Temple in 70 CE, then the p’shat [person] Adam (the ‘first man’) of the Garden could represent the remez ‘First Man’ of the creation of the then-current nation, i.e., the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. The also remez [place] Adam, if associated with unredemption/etc, could have been the location of the worship of the golden calves, with that being the ‘original/first sins’ that then permeated the nation, not just the people, of Israel. So why not justify (d’rash) the 70 CE Fall by implying the nation’s ‘get-go’ was flawed by talking about p’shat Adam’s fall (“nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more”)?

Do any commentaries or texts support this in any way?

I appreciate the post Andrew.  I always enjoy gettting a broader perspective from extra-Biblical texts.  However, I’m not sure the the best approach is to ask “Why did Paul write about Adam”.  In my experience/opinion, Paul usually writes in response to the false teachers/teachings of the time.  I think asking “Why were the false teachers talking about Adam?” could possibly give us better insight as to why Paul wrote about Adam.

@Michael Davis:

Possibly, but what evidence is there? The Adam passages are not especially polemical. Perhaps there was an argument abroad that the Jews were somehow immune to, or cured of, the contagion of Adam. Paul—and later the post AD 70 apocalypticists—would then be pushing Jews to face up to the reality of their participation in sinful humanity. Any other suggestions?

@Andrew Perriman:

I like your response.  Although, I’d like to see other parts of Romans that would support it.  I’d really have to dig into Romans before I could give any solid alternative suggestions. (I’m still working on Ephesians).  But some initial thoughts might be that there was a conversation in the Roman Church that went something like this:

Jew:  You need to follow the Mosaic Law.
Gentile: Why should I? The Law was given to the Jews, not to the Gentiles.
Jew:  But you’ll be sinning if you don’t follow the Law
Gentile: How can I sin against a Law that I am not under? Without the Law there in no sin and before the Law was given, there was no sin.

Paul: Neither Jew nor Gentile are under the Law, but they are both sinners — even the Gentiles, who were not given the Law. There was sin before the Law.  The fact that their was death from Adam to Moses is proof that there was sin before the Law.

This type of conversation would allow Paul to bring up Adam without any connections to AD 70 and much of Romans support such a conversation.  Paul would simply be responding to the false teaching that there was no sin before the Law — a false teaching that the Gentiles were trying to use to their advantage.

Late comer to this comment thread after a search of your website for “Adam.” I’m wondering if you are committed to a historical Adam (based largely, I would assume, on Paul in Romans 5) and what your thoughts might be with the debate in American evangelicalism about a historical Adam in relation to tcreation-evolution. Thanks, Andrew.

@John Morehead:

I can’t say I’ve given this a lot of thought, but my historical assumptions would be 1) that the Adam created in Genesis 2:7 must be regarded as a “mythical” figure, the product of mythologising reflection, not as a literal first human; 2) that the story of his creation from dust and breath was a monotheistic correction of other ancient myths—eg., the creation of humans out of clay and the blood of a god to be slaves to the gods (Atraharsis); and 3) that Paul, being a first century Jew, took Adam to have been the actual first human through whom sin and death entered the world.