One of the hot button topics in evangelical circles today is how we should understand Adam, as he is presented to us in the early chapters of Genesis and in the New Testament.
The traditional view that Adam was a single, historical individual through whom sin and death entered the world is being challenged. According to some, Adam was not a historical individual and there was no historical fall. Rather we should see Adam as “everyman” and the fall as something we each experience as we are awakened to our own sinfulness and alienation from God.
This view is not a new one, although it is only more recently that its appeal has grown among professing evangelicals.
I was reminded of this recently when reading volume one of the Collected Writings of John Murray (Banner of Truth, 1976), a book we have been studying at a series of men’s breakfast meetings at our church.
Murray was Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia from 1937 to 1966. In an essay entitled ‘The Relevance of the Historical’, he has some very pertinent things to say concerning Adam and the way that we relate to him.
Here is an extract from Murray’s essay, in which he addresses comments to “unsuspecting evangelicals” that we would do well to ponder:
Theologically speaking, at least, the most influential movements within Protestantism deny the historical character of what is recorded for us in Genesis 3. And we risk all reputation for scholarship and hope of being worthy of theological respect, if we maintain the historical authenticity of this chapter. Genesis 3, men say, is myth or legend, not history but story, portraying what happens to all men, but not a once-for-all series of events with abiding implications by virtue of the relations that Adam as the first man sustained to all men. Adam is every man; we are all Adam; we all sin as Adam sinned.
This might appear to be an effective way of maintaining, notwithstanding the denial of the historicity of Genesis 3, the fact that all have sinned. To unsuspecting evangelicals it becomes an appealing apologetic for the universality of sinfulness. But a little examination will show the fallacy.
It is not true that all sinned as Adam. There is a radical difference between Adam and posterity. We all come into the world as sinners. Adam and Eve did not. If we are all Adam, then two positions basic to the Bible’s view of man are denied – the imputation to us of Adam’s sin, and the doctrine of original sin. The beginning of our sinfulness was not by voluntary defection and transgression, as in the case of Adam, but by divinely constituted solidarity with Adam in his sin. And original sin, means that we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins, not by acquisition as in the case of Adam and Eve.
We are dealing with the gospel in our day, and dealing with sin as that in relation to which alone the gospel has meaning. The whole question of Adam and of the record in Genesis 3 is basic. If we adopt the dialectical approach and interpretation, then we have failed to assess the human situation in sin to which the gospel is addressed. There is a fundamental error in our construction of the existential, and, deflected by this error, we cannot bring the gospel in the marvel of its grace to bear upon the real truth of sin in its gravity and depth. In reality it is the failure of relevance. For as the preachers of the gospel encounter the sinfulness of men, whether it be in the squalor and wretchedness of what we call the slums or in the façade of complacency of the opulent suburbs, the only explanation of the tangle of iniquity and the web of misery is the doctrine of original sin which Genesis 3 in the context of the biblical interpretation alone provides. ‘The judgment was from one’ (Rom. 5:16).