the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Adam in the Old Testament
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(Evolutionary Interpretation): (NOTE: It ought to be superfluous to say that the unfolding or development of the human personality here identified with evolution is something far higher, deeper, and other than anything that can be fathered upon Darwin or Herbert Spencer. Evolution (unfolding) is the great process or movement; natural selection and survival of the fittest name only guesses at some of its methods.) אדם ,
I. What the Writer Meant to Describe
It is important first of all, if we can, to get at what the author meant to describe, and how it is related, if at all, to literal and factual statement.
1. Derivation and Use of the Name
Scholars have exercised themselves much, but with little arrival at certainty, over the derivation of the name; a matter which, as it is concerned with one of the commonest words of the language, is of no great moment as compared with the writer's own understanding of it. The most plausible conjecture, perhaps, is that which connects it with the Assyrian
2. Outline of the Genesis Narrative
The account of the creation is twice given, and from two very different points of view. In the first account, Genesis 1:26-31 , man is represented as created on the sixth of the day along with the animals, a species Genesis in the animal world; but differing from them in bearing the image and likeness of God, in having dominion over all created things, and in having grains and fruits for food, while they have herbs. The writer's object in all this seems to be as much to identify man with the animal creation as to differentiate him from it. In the second account, 2:4 through 3:24, man's identity with the animals ignored or at least minimized (compare Genesis 2:20 ), while the object is to determine his status in a spiritual individualized realm wherein he has the companionship of God. Yahweh God "forms" or "shapes" him out of the dust of the ground, breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, and with such special distinction he becomes, like other created things, a "living soul" (
3. History or Exposition?
It is impossible to read this story with the entire detachment that we accord to an ancient myth, or even to a time- and space-conditioned historical tale. It continually suggests intimate relations with the permanent truths of human nature, as if there were a fiber in it truer than fact. And this provokes the inquiry whether the author himself intended the account of the Edenic state and the Fall to be taken as literal history or as exposition. He uniformly makes the name generic by the article ( the adam or man), the only exceptions, which are not real exceptions in meaning, being Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 2:5 , already noted. It is not until Genesis 5:3 , where the proper name Adam is as it were officially given, that such history as is conditioned by chronology and genealogy begins. What comes before this, except the somewhat vague location of the Eden region, Genesis 2:10-14 , reads rather like a description of the primordial manhood nature not in philosophical but in narrative language . It is not fable, it is not a worked-over myth, it is not a didactic parable; it is (to speak technically) exposition by narration. By a descriptive story it traces the elemental movement of manhood in its first spiritual impact on this earthly life. In other words, instead of being concerned to relate a factual series of events from the remote past, the writer's penetrative intuition goes downward and inward to those spiritual movements of being which are germinal in all manhood. It is a spiritual analysis of man's intrinsic nature, and as such must be spiritually discerned. An analogous manner of exposition may be seen in the account of our Lord's temptation in the wilderness, Matthew 4:1-11 , which account, if authentic, must have come ultimately from our Lord Himself.
II. How the Story Looks Today
Scarcely any other Scripture story has so suffered from the changes wrought by modern thinking as has this story of Adam. On the one hand it is felt that to refer the fall and inherited guilt of mankind to this experience of Adam as a cause is to impose too great a burden, dogmatic and historic, on this primitive story. Yet on the other hand the story, including this implication of the primal fall, refuses to be dismissed as an outworn or fantastic myth. It lays hold so vitally on the roots of human nature that our only course is not to reject it but to re-read it with the best light our age affords. And whether best or not, the evolutionary light in which all modern thought is colored cannot be ignored.
1. In the Light of Evolution
The divergent assumptions of the traditional and the evolutionary view may be roughly stated thus: of the traditional, that in consequence of this Eden lapse man is a ruined nature, needing redemption and reinstatement, and that therefore the subsequent spiritual dealing with him must be essentially pathological and remedial; of the evolutionary, that by the very terms of his creation, which the lapse from obedience did not annul, man is spiritually a child needing growth and education, and that therefore the subsequent dealing with him must foster the development within him of a nature essentially normal and true. It is evident that these two views, thus stated, merely regard two lines of potency in one nature. Without rejecting the traditional, or stopping to inquire how it and the evolutionary may coexist, we may here consider how the story before us responds to the evolutionary view. Only - it must be premised - the evolution whose beginning it describes is not the evolution of the human species; we can leave natural science and history to take care of that; but, beginning where this leaves off, the evolution of the individual , from the first forth-putting of individual initiative and choice toward the far-off adult and complete personality. This, which in view of its culmination we may call the evolution of personality, is evolution distinctively spiritual, that stage and grade of upward moving being which succeeds to the material and psychical (compare 1 Corinthians 15:45 , 1 Corinthians 15:46 ). On the material stage of evolution, which the human species shares with the beast and the plant, Scripture is silent. Nor is it greatly concerned with the psychical, or cultural development of the human species, except to reveal in a divinely ordered history and literature its essential inadequacy to the highest manhood potencies. Rather its field is the evolution of the spirit in which alone the highest personal values are realized. In the delimitation of this field it has a consistent origin, course and culmination of its own, as it traces the line of spiritual uprising and growth from the first Adam, who as a "living soul" was subject to the determinism of the species, to the last Adam, who as a "life-giving spirit" is identified with the supreme Personality in whom Divine and human met and blended. Of this tremendous evolution the story of Adam, with a clearness which the quaint narrative style of exposition does not impair, reveals the primal and directive factors.
2. The Garden Habitat
Just as the habitat and the nature of created things answer to each other, so the environment in which man is placed when he comes from his Creator's hand connotes the kind of life he is fitted to live. He is placed not in wild and refractory Nature but in a garden watered and planted with a new to his receiving care and nurture from above. Nature is kindly and responsive, furnishing, fruits ready to his hand, and requiring only that he "dress and keep" the garden. Of all the trees he may freely eat, including the tree of life; save only the most centrally located of all, the tree of "knowledge of good and evil" The being fitted to this habitat is a man adult in stature and intelligence, but still like a child; not yet individualized to determinate character, not yet exerting a will of his own apart from the will of his Creator; in other words, as spiritually considered, not yet detached from the spirit of his personal Source. All this reads like the description of a life essentially negative, or rather neutral, with free communication both downward and upward, but neither that of a domesticated animal nor of a captive god; a being balanced, as it were, between the earthly and the Divine, but not yet aware of the possession of that individual will and choice which alone can give spiritual significance to a committal to either.
3. The Organic Factor
In the first story of man's creation, Genesis 1:26-31 , describing his creation as a species, the distinction of male and female is explicitly included (Genesis 1:27 ). In the second story (Gen 2 through 3), wherein man is contemplated rather as an individual, the description of his nature begins before any distinction of sex exists. If the writer meant this latter to portray a condition of man in time or in natural fact, there is thus a discrepancy in accounts. If we regard it, however, as giving a factor in spiritual evolution, it not only becomes full of meaning but lays hold profoundly on the ultimate teleology of creation. The naïve story relates that the woman was "built" out of the already-shaped material of the man's body, in order to supply a fellowship which the animals could not; a help "answering to" into ( 4. The Invasion of Subtlety
Even in this neutral garden existence it is noteworthy that the man's nature evinces its superiority to the animal in the absence of determinism he is not enslaved to an instinct of blind conformity to an external will In other words, he can coöperate intelligently in his own spiritual evolution. He has the power of choice, ministered by the stimulus of an unmotivated prohibition. He can abstain and live, or eat and die (Genesis 2:16 , Genesis 2:17 ). No reasons are given, no train of spiritual consequences, to one whose spirit is not yet awake; in this pre-spiritual stage rather the beginnings of law and prescription must be arbitrary. Yet even in so rudimentary a relation we are aware of the essential contrast between animal and spiritual evolution, in that the latter is not a blind and instinctive imposition from without, but a free course submitted to man's intelligence and coöperation. And it is a supremely significant feature of the narrative to make the first self-interested impulse come by the way of subtlety. "The serpent," the writer premises, "was more subtle than any beast of the field which Yahweh God had made." It points to a trait which he puts on the border-line between the species and the individual, the disposition, not indeed to rebel against a law of being, but to submit it to refinement and accommodation or perhaps from sheer curiosity to try conclusions with it. The suggestion came first from the lower creation, but not from what is animal in it; and it was eagerly responded to by the woman, the finer and more spiritually awake of the pair. Not to press this too far, it is significant that the first impulse toward individual initiative rises through the free play of intellect and reason. It seems to promise a subtler way of being "like God." To differentiate more minutely the respective parts of man and wife in the affair, which are portrayed in the light of sex distinction, would be beyond our present scope. See
5. The Fateful Venture
Two trees "in the midst of the garden" (Genesis 2:9 ) are mentioned at the outset; but the tree of life, the permitted one, seems no more to have been thought of until it was no longer accessible (Genesis 3:22 ); indeed, when the woman speaks to the serpent of "the tree which is in the midst of the garden" (Genesis 3:3 ) she has only one tree in mind, and that the prohibited one. The other, as it was counted in with their daily fare and opportunity, seems to have been put by them with those privileges of life which are ignored or postponed, besides, the life it symbolized was the perpetuation of the garden-life they were living, such life as man would live before his spirit was awake to the alternatives of living - a life innocent and blissful, but without the stimulus of spiritual reaction. And it was just this latter that the alternative of the two trees afforded; a reaction fateful for good or evil, needing only the impulse that should set the human spirit in motion. Consider the case. If manhood were ever to rise from a state of childhood, wherein everything was done and prescribed for him, into a life of free choice and self-moved wisdom, it is hard to see how this could have been brought about except by something involving inhibition and prohibition; something that he could not do without incurring a risk. This is what the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:17 ) means. The tree by its very name was alike a test and a lure. In a sense we may say the temptation began with God; but it was not a temptation to evil. Symbolized in the two trees, but actual in the opportunity of spiritual committal, two ways of life stood open before him. On the one hand, it was open to him to fortify his spent in obedience and against the lure of perilous knowledge, thus deepening and seasoning his negative innocence into positive holiness. That such a course was feasible was shown centuries later in the Divine Son of Man, who in perfect loyalty of the child yet in perfect wisdom of adultness fulfilled the primal sinless ideal of the first Adam. On the other hand there was the lure of the forbidden knowledge, to which the serpent gave the false glamor of godlikeness, and which could be had by detaching his individual will from that of God, and incurring the experience of self-seeking, and taking the risk. It was the latter that was chosen, this however not in the spirit of rebellion or temptation, but in the desire for a good beyond what the childlike limitations of Eden afforded (Genesis 3:6 ). This then was the first motivated uprising of the spirit of manhood, taking the initiative and acting for itself. So far forth, as the self-assertion of the individual, it was as truly a stage of spiritual evolution as if the man had maintained obedience; but there was in it the rupture of his spirit's union with its personal Source; and the hapless committal to self, which is rightly called a Fall. So strangely mingled were the spiritual elements in this primal manhood initiative. See FALL ,
6. The Fitted Sequel
The Scripture does not say, or even imply, that by this forth-putting of initiative the man was committed to a life of sin and depravity. This was the idea of a later time. By the nature of the case, however, he was committed to the fallibility and lack of wisdom of his own untried nature; in other words, to the perils of self-reliance. Naturally, too, the gulf of detachment from his spiritual Support would tend to widen as he trusted himself more exclusively. It lay with him and his species to perfect the individual personality in the freedom which he had chosen. And in this the possibilities both upward toward godlikeness and downward toward the abysms of self were immensely enlarged. Life must henceforth be lived on a broader and profounder scale. But to this end Eden with its tender garden nurture can no longer be its habitat, nor can man's existence be fitly symbolized by a tree from which he has only to take and subsist indefinitely (Genesis 3:22 ). It must encounter hardship and sweat and toil; it must labor to subdue a reluctant soil to its service (Genesis 3:17-19 ); it must return at last to the dust from which man's body was formed (Genesis 3:19 ). Yet there is vouchsafed a dim and distant presage of ultimate victory over the serpent-power, which henceforth is to be man's deadly enemy (Genesis 3:15 ). At this point of the exposition it is that the inchoate manhood is transplanted from the garden to the unsubdued world, to work out its evolution under the conditions of the human species. The pair becomes the family, with its family interests and cares; the family becomes the unit of social and organized life; the members receive individual names (Genesis 3:20; Genesis 5:2 ); and chronologically measured history begins.
III. How Adam Is Recognized in the Old Testament
After the story of Adam is given as far as the birth of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1 , Genesis 4:2 ) and Seth (Genesis 4:25 ), the "book of the generations of Adam" begins at Genesis 5:1 , and five verses are taken up with a statistical outline of his life, his offspring, and his 930 years of earthly existence.
1. In the Old Testament Canonical Books
Here at Genesis 5:5 , in the canonical books of the Old Testament almost all allusion to him ceases, and nothing whatever is made of his fateful relation to the sin and guilt of the race. (See ADAM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT .) This latter idea seems to have come to consciousness only when men's sense of sin and a broken law was more ingrained than it seems to have been in canonical times In the case of the few allusions that, occur, moreover, the fact that the name "Adam" is identical with the word for "man" makes the reference more or less uncertain; one does not know whether the patriarch or the race is meant. In the Song of Moses (Dt 32), in the clause Deuteronomy 32:8 , "when he separated the children of men" (or "Adam"), the reference, which is to the distribution of races as given in Gen 10, may or may not have Adam in mind. In like manner Zophar's words (Job 20:4 ), "Knowest thou not this of old time, since man (or Adam) was placed upon earth?" may or may not be recognition by name of the first created man Job's words (Job 31:33 ), "if like Adam I have covered my transgressions," sound rather more definite as an allusion to Adam's hiding himself after having taken the fruit. When Isaiah says (Isaiah 43:27 ), "Thy first father sinned," It is uncertain whom he means; for in Isaiah 51:2 he says, "Look unto Abraham your father," and Ezekiel has told his people ( Ezekiel 16:3 ), "The Amorite was thy father, and thy mother was a Hittite." The historical consciousness of the prophets seems to have been confined to the history of the Israelite race.
2. In the Apocrypha
The references in the Apocryphal books (Sirach, Tobit, 2 Esdras) deal with Adam's origin, his lordship over creation, and in the latest written book with the legacy of sin and misery that the race inherits from him. The passages in Sirach (132 bc) where he is mentioned are 33:10; 40:1, and 49:16. Of these the most striking, 40:1, "Great travail is created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam," is hardly to be construed as a reference to our heritage of his sin. In Tobit (2nd century bc) he is mentioned once (8:6), "Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve." 2 Esdras, written supposedly some time after 70 ad, is of a somber and desponding tone throughout; and its references to Adam (2 Esdras 3:5, 10, 21, 26, 4:30; 6:54; 7:11, 46, 48) are almost all in lament over the evil he has implanted in the race of men by his transgression. The first reference (3:5) is rather remarkable for its theory of Adam's nature: "And (thou) commandedst the dust, and it gave thee Adam, a body without a soul, yet it was the workmanship of thine hands," etc. His indictment of Adam culminates (7:48) in the apostrophe: "O thou Adam, what hast thou done? for though it was thou that sinned, the evil is not fallen on thee alone, but upon all of us that come of thee."(EDITORIAL
These files are public domain and were generously provided by the folks at WordSearch Software.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Adam in the Old Testament'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​a/adam-in-the-old-testament.html. 1915.