1. Adam was a HISTORICAL FIGURE:
It has become a popular trend recently to deny the fact that Adam was a true historical figure. Many people assume that the theory of evolution has shown the creation narrative to be nothing but a mythical account of how the world came into being (myth rather than history). Others claim that the early chapters of Genesis are meant to be read as a poetic account of how the world came into being (poetry rather than history). As a result, there are even some professing Christians that believe the Scriptural account of Adam and Eve to be a mythical or poetical story rather than a historical reality. They claim that the story of Adam and Eve contains theological truths, but not historical facts. They say that we can affirm the spiritual truths of the creation and fall of man, without needing to affirm their historical reality. In other words, they claim that we don't need to affirm the fact that Adam and Eve were two literal human beings who did, indeed, violate God's command in the garden of Eden.
This viewpoint, however, directly contradicts what Scripture itself teaches about Adam and Eve. The Scriptures clearly portray Adam and Eve as literal, historical figures. We see this in several ways:1
A) The GENEALOGIES of the Scriptures: There are three genealogies in Scripture that trace back to Adam: Genesis chapter 5 is a record of the genealogy of the human race from Adam until Noah. 1 Chronicles 1-6 traces the genealogies of David back to Abraham, Abraham back to Noah, and Noah back to Adam. Then the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 traces back to Adam, showing that Jesus was the direct physical descendant of a literal Adam (Genesis 5:3; 1 Chronicles 1:1; Luke 3:38).
B) The TEACHING of Jesus: Jesus clearly understood Adam and Eve to be a literal historical figures as He taught on marriage in Matthew 19: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).
C) The PREACHING of Paul: As he preached in Athens, Paul affirmed that God had made every nation on earth “from one man” (Acts 17:26). Paul believed in and preached a historical Adam.
D) The DOCTRINE of Justification: The basis of our justification in Christ is fundamentally rooted in the existence of a literal historical Adam. Paul parallels Adam and Christ in Romans 5, showing how through one man life and justification came into the world, in exactly the same way as through one man death and condemnation had come into the world (Romans 5:12-19). So, in Paul's mind, the historicity of Adam is not only just as real—but also just as important—as the historicity of Christ.
So then, the Scriptures are quite clear on this point: Adam and Eve are not to be understood as figurative or mythical characters. The Scriptures put them forth as literal, concrete, historical figures.
2. Adam was an UNIQUE CREATURE:
A) Adam was set apart from ALL OTHER ANIMALS: In Genesis 1:26 we read: “Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. . .” This was much different than all the other creatures God had made, because Scripture says that God made them “after their kind.” It was only man who was made in God's very image and likeness. But what exactly does that mean?2
When Scripture says that God made Adam in His image, it's referencing both Adam's rationality on the one hand: his reason, intellect, conscience and will—the things that set him apart from the beasts; and his possession of true holiness and righteousness on the other: he wasn't just in a state of spiritual neutrality—he knew and loved and walked with God.3 Adam was both set apart from unreasoning
beasts and set apart in holiness to God.4 As made in God's image, Adam was also created as a spiritual and immortal being, for he was endowed with an immortal soul that would never perish.5
We could think of man being created in the image of God as a person standing in front of a mirror; as he does so, we can say two things: 1) the person is not the same as the image (man is not God); yet, 2) the image in the mirror is the exact representation of the person (man bears the image of God). In the same way, there are, on the one hand, some characteristics that man does not share with God: He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable; we are not. We are not God. Man was never meant to be everywhere (omnipresent), know everything (omniscient), or do everything (omnipotent).6 That man was made in God's image never meant that man was God. On the other hand, when God created Adam, He endowed him with attributes such as wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.7 It's in these ways that man shows himself as having been created in the image of God.8
An important question arises here: Has humanity lost God's image because of Adam's fall into sin? The short answer is no.9 But though God's image has not been completely lost through the fall, it has been greatly corrupted and defiled.10 Fallen man is now a mix of great dignity on the one hand but also profound depravity. As one put it, fallen man is like a glorious ruin.11 A ruined castle tells the story of both great glory and great decay. But Scripture tells us that in Christ, God is transforming us even now into His image day by day, and He will conform us completely to His image at glory.12
B) Adam was set apart from ALL OTHER MEN: Adam was also completely unique from other men in that he was the only human being (besides the Savior) to come into the world without the poison of sin already running through his veins. As Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, “God made man upright.”
Now, above all, we need to understand that we are not born into an “upright” state. We are not born in the same state in which Adam was created. Because of the fall (we're getting to this soon), we are born as sinners. And understand this: we're not sinners because we sin—rather—we sin because we're sinners. We sin because we're born with a nature that loves sin. But it wasn't this way with Adam.
So then, Adam wasn't created in a just a morally neutral state. We can tend to think this way sometimes. But God didn't just make Adam “not bad” — He made him “upright.” God didn't make Adam “neutral” — He made him “very good” (Genesis 1:31).14 This doesn't just mean the absence of evil, but the embodiment of true righteousness: Adam loved the Lord his God with all of his heart.15
It might be asked, “If God made Adam and Eve upright, how did they fall into sin?” This is where we have to acknowledge that some things we will only know “in part.” What we do know is that God “made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.”16 And this should make our own salvation all the more precious. Our condition in Christ is infinitely better than Adam's condition, because though we struggle with sin, our position is secure:17 Our security doesn't rest upon us not sinning (as with Adam)—but upon the merit and blood of our Savior.
3. Adam was a COVENANT REPRESENTATIVE:
This is something we're going to be spending a lot of time looking at as we move forward in our study of Genesis 2-3 and the corollary passage in Romans 5:12-19. We're going to see that when Adam was given the test in the garden, he wasn't just acting as a single individual but as the representative for all humankind. What this means is that Adam's obedience or disobedience to God's command would have profound lasting consequences—not just for himself—but for the entire human race.
1 Most of the following section and Scripture proofs taken from John Stott's commentary on Romans, p163.
2 Many early theologians saw a distinction between man being made in God's image on the one hand and in His likeness on the other. Some believed that image referred to man's body, while likeness referred to man's rationality and morality. Others (such as Augustine) claimed that image related to man's rationality, while likeness related to man's morality. But the best understanding of Scripture here, which is now the majority view, is that likeness simply is a further explanation of image.
3 Berkhof puts it: “We are told that God made man “very good,” Gen. 1:31, and “upright,” Eccl. 7:29. The New Testament indicates very specifically the nature of man’s original condition where it speaks of man as being renewed in Christ, that is, as being brought back to a former condition. The condition to which he is restored in Christ is clearly not one of neutrality, neither good nor bad, in which the will is in a state of perfect equilibrium, but one of true knowledge, Col. 3:10, righteousness and holiness, Eph. 4:24. These three elements constitute the original righteousness, which was lost by sin, but is regained in Christ. . .Man’s creation in this moral image implies that the original condition of man was one of positive holiness, and not a state of innocence or moral neutrality.” Robert Peterson puts it thus: “Since the restoration of man in Christ which accords with God involves righteousness and true holiness, the original imago dei must have included the same.” (Class Notes, p37).
4 Some limit the image of God in man to his reason and intellect: God's image is evidenced in the ways he differs from the beasts that perish (IE, the Greek theologians). Others limit the image of God in man to his true holiness and righteousness: God's image is evidenced by what was lost by the fall and which is restored in Christ (IE, Lutheran theologians). According to this second view, man lost God's image entirely through the fall. But Reformed theologians argue that Scripture speaks of both. On the one hand, Colossians 3:10 tells us that believers are being renewed after the image of God. Ephesians 4:24 adds that God's image in man included true righteousness and holiness. So, being renewed after the image of God is equated to being conformed to Christ. But, the image of God also includes man's reason and intellect—the things that set him apart from the beasts. After all, even after the fall, in Genesis 9:6, God affirmed that man was yet in the image of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:7 and James 3:9). In light of these passages, we cannot say that man has lost God's image completely through the fall.
5 So to summarize: the image of God includes 1) rationality and 2) righteousness; as well as 3) spirituality and 4) immortality.
6 Theologians call these attributes “non-communicable” or “incommunicable” attributes. This insight was gleaned from Zack Eswine's, Sensing Jesus, and has profound implications for how we do ministry as a human being made in God's image.
7 Theologians call these attributes “communicable” attributes.
8 These insights were gleaned from G.I. Williamson's explanation of The Westminster Shorter Catechism, p18.
9 The simple observation of one English writer speaks volumes: “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” (William Hazlitt, On Wit and Humor). For Scripture references on this subject see the last footnote in the second paragraph under section A.
10 Calvin put it this way: “Therefore, even though we grant that God's image was not totally annihilated and destroyed in him, yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is frightful deformity. . .Now God's image is the perfect excellence of human nature which shone in Adam before his defection, but was subsequently so vitiated and almost blotted out that nothing remains after the ruin except what is confused, mutilated, and disease-ridden. Therefore in some part it now is manifest in the elect, in so far as they have been reborn in the spirit; but it will attain its full splendor in heaven.” (Institutes, 1.15.4).
11 C.S. Lewis. Thomas Boston, many years before, put it this way: “Here was a stately building, man carved like a fair palace, but now lying in ashes: let us stand and look on the ruins, and drop a tear.” (Human Nature in its Fourfold State, p27).
12 See Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:9-10; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:20-21. All this summed up so well in the Reformation Heritage Study Bible: “When man fell into sin, knowledge gave way to ignorance, righteousness to iniquity, and holiness to ungodliness. The Creator had made man 'a little lower than the angels' and had crowned him 'with glory and honor' (Ps.8:5), but man by his own act cast himself down into sin, guilt, misery, and shame and cast away his glorious, honorable crown. The good news of the gospel is that fallen man can be cleansed from sin, renewed by grace, and restored to honor.” (p1733). An important application here that Zack Eswine draws out in Sensing Jesus is that recovering a resemblance to God in our humanity is actually what it means for us to grow in grace: We could say, “The goal of life and ministry is for his grace to recover us to our intended humanity in Him.” (p24).
14 The Scriptures would later testify of fallen man that, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:11), but before man fell, Adam was upright. Of fallen man the Scriptures testify that “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12), but before man fell, Genesis 1:31 tells us that after God had created man, what He had made was “very good.”
15 Thomas Boston put it this way: “Now the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. But there was no such thing with Adam; there was no mixture of corruption in his soul, and nothing from the body to hinder his course of obedience” (From Boston's, A View of the Covenant of Works).
16 Westminster Larger Catechism #17.
17 Thomas Watson put it this way: “If we once get to be heirs of the covenant of grace, we are in a better state than before. Adam stood on his own legs, and therefore he fell; we stand in the strength of Christ. Under the first covenant, the justice of God, as an avenger of blood, pursues us; but if we get into the second covenant we are in the city of refuge, we are safe, and the justice of God is pacified towards us.” (From his Body of Divinity).