The Old Testament depicts a host of potential saviors who end up failing (often spectacularly) to show that even the best of us are not enough. Even our prospective redeemers need salvation. It is not until we get to Jesus that we find a Savior who can bear the crushing weight of our sin because he himself is sinless. Before we can understand how our hope is fulfilled in Jesus, we need to look back at the hope deferred by the would-be saviors of humanity, starting with Adam.
Adam is the Hebrew word for “man” or “humanity”—an apt name for someone who represents all of humanity with Eve. They were placed in the garden and given the mandate (the creation mandate) to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). It is a good start, but Adam’s legacy was not the “progenitor of the righteous people of God, as he would have been if sin had not entered the world.”1 His representative bequest was not hope but intrinsic sin.
That sin polluted all born after him. It may seem unfair or strange, but this idea of original sin handed down to us in Adam’s “representative headship” isn’t as odd as it might seem: “In the biblical world, the patriarch represents the clan; the father; the family; and the king, the nation. In the United States, parents legally act for their children, and people in Congress represent the citizens. Assuming the corporate solidarity of the race with its progenitors, Adam and Eve represented all people.”2
After the tragic sin and expulsion of Adam and Eve, this creation mandate is given again throughout Scripture. However, to those individuals, it is a blessing rather than a command.3 This is because Adam’s sin has rendered humanity incapable of ruling the earth as they were created to do. What was commanded to Adam is promised to men such as Noah, Abraham, and David. After Eden, “being fruitful and multiplying” will be a gift: “Something has happened which means that Adam’s descendants cannot simply be told to do this; the creator God will do it himself, and will (according to Gen. 17) do it ‘exceedingly.’”4 The “second Adams” of the Old Testament must continue to receive rather than be expected to give. Scripture gives a portrayal of them that “highlights their sin in such a way that we can see similarities to the first Adam’s sin.”5
The Scriptures include a number of second Adam figures, each demonstrating in his own way humanity’s inability to save itself—burdened by the sin they inherited from Adam and the sin they commit themselves, their reconciliation with God can be accomplished only by God himself. This is ultimately remedied by the coming of Christ, the one to whom Adam pointed and who fulfilled Adam’s purpose in the garden.
Although darkness occludes this violent world, the light of God’s grace permeates human history. In the wickedness of earth, only Noah finds favor in God’s eyes (Gen. 6:8), and we even see Edenic language used to describe him. Yet, instead of only the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” God adds to it a blessing: “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.” (Gen. 9:1–2) In Noah’s story, the flood is a “de-creation” in which God again makes the earth void of life, sparing only this “second Adam” and his family. It is a story of a “‘re-creation’—a restoration of the divine order and God’s visible kingship that had been established at creation.”6 Just as in the first creation:
The earth is made inhabitable by the separation of the land from the water. Living creatures are brought out to repopulate the earth. Days and seasons are reestablished. Humans are blessed by God, commanded to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” and given dominion over the animal kingdom. God provides humanity—made in his image—with food.7 Another major parallel is seen between God’s planting of a garden for the man to enjoy (Gen. 2:8), and Noah’s vineyard (Gen. 9:20). Just as Adam fell through the fruit of his garden, so Noah’s failure results from an abuse of the vine.
With echoes of Eden, our hopes are apt to rise—the old was washed away and the new has come. Noah, alas, is no savior—only another broken man bringing sin into God’s “re-creation.” The hope that the receding waters of the flood swept sin away with the sinners is dashed as we see another garden defiled. Having drunk too much of his vineyard’s produce, Noah is found naked in his tent by his son, Ham. Instead of covering his father, he “told his two brothers outside,” but they “walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father” so they would not shame him (Gen. 9:22–23). Noah fails as a second Adam, and Ham shames him. Despite his failure, Noah—like Abraham after him—represents “a new beginning for humanity through God’s gift of the covenant.”8 Man may have failed, but God remains faithfully resolved to accomplish his purpose to redeem a people for himself.
Echoing the creation mandate to Adam, God gives a promise to Abraham, a covenant blessing: “And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.…As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” (Gen. 17:2, 4–6)
Abraham is another second Adam with numerous parallels: God gives Adam his garden of Eden; he gives Abraham the land of Canaan: “God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply; Abraham is assured that God will make his descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth (13:16) and the stars of heaven (15:5).”9 Additionally, God walked with Adam and Eve in Eden, and “Abraham is told to walk before God and be perfect. Through his obedient and faithful response to these promises, the promise is turned into a divine oath guaranteeing its ultimate fulfillment.”10
Abraham also serves as Israel’s representative head, meaning that they too will receive God’s blessing.11 Because of Adam’s sin, his children would not be able to enter the land where Adam formerly communed with God. Instead of establishing another agreement whereby God will bless Abraham if Abraham fulfills God’s terms, God swears by his own sovereign majesty that he will give Abraham children and lands. There is a correlation between “the placement of Adam and Eve in the garden and the promise to Abraham and his family about the land of Canaan.”12 Sadly, the similarity extends to the themes of exile and return: “Adam, given the garden to look after, disobeyed and was expelled. Israel, given the land to look after, disobeyed and was exiled.”13 Therefore, “the return from exile ought thus to be like a return to Eden, a reclaiming of the original promises to Abraham and, behind that, the commands to the human race.”14
In Genesis 3:6, Eve takes that tragic bite and is delighted by the results, sharing the fruit with Adam. Later, we hear God telling Adam that “because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (v. 17). We see a similar situation occur between the second Adam, Abraham, and his wife in Genesis 16:2–3.
Sarai is barren in both womb and faith. To “help” fulfill God’s promise of a child, she tells Abraham to sleep with Hagar, her slave (Gen. 16:2–3). Abram’s sin in taking Hagar as a second wife represents an overarching theme present in Genesis: sin is “motivated by dissatisfaction with God’s providence—the attitude that God is withholding something good from people, so they must take action on their own.”15
In Genesis 12:10–20 and 20:1–19, Abraham tries to pass off his wife as his sister. When we look closely, we see that “the rebuke of the king in each of these incidents (12:18: ‘what is this you have done to me?’; 20:9: ‘What have you done to us?’) is reminiscent of the Lord’s words to Eve, ‘what is this you have done?’” (3:13).16 In another direct parallel in Genesis 20, God says to the Pharaoh, “‘Now then, return the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all that are yours’” (Gen. 20:7). This is identical to his warning to Adam about eating from the forbidden tree—“mot tamut, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17)—and addresses the way Abraham fails his wife.17 The text suggests that treating Sarah as “a mere object of desire is objectionable in the extreme and is likely to yield consequences as dire as those threatened in the garden of Eden.”18 Additionally, Pharaoh “sends away” (salakh) Abraham and his family as God “sends away” Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:23).19 Abraham was shamed and reviled before the king, and “just as Sarai had no response to Abraham in vv. 11–13, so Abraham has no response to Pharaoh.”20 Humans cannot remedy this problem themselves.
The parallels between this second Adam and the creation mandate are not as apparent as they are with Noah and Abraham, but “the two aspects of the creation mandate (fruitfulness and dominion) are discernible in Nathan’s oracle given to David. The Lord promises David that he will build him a house, a perpetual dynasty.”21 The promises to the patriarchs involved kings, and since David’s dynasty was perpetual, “it seems apparent that he has now become heir of the promise of the new Adam given to the patriarchs.”22
David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11–12) has been called “an aggravated version of Abraham’s sin in Gen. 20.”23 In Genesis 20, “Abraham feared for his life because of a foreign king (Abimelech) who (so he thought) might take his wife from him and kill him.”24 The parallel is that what Abraham, the elect patriarch, “fears of foreigners because of his wife is just what David, the elect, the Israelite king, does to Uriah the Hittite because of his wife.”25
The similarity continues with David’s flight to the east in judgment (2 Sam. 15), and God’s proclamation that the sword would not depart from his house. “David is unworthy to be considered the new Adam, even though he was given the promises of the new Adam, and did more than anyone else to bring those promises to reality.”26
Christ as the Second Adam
The sins of the “second Adams” are a stark contrast to the obedience and holiness of Jesus—he was tempted in every way as they were and as we are, yet he is without sin (Heb. 4:15). Paul highlights the humility and attitude of Jesus toward God by comparing him to Eve—her mind was set on being like God (Gen. 3:5), whereas Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself” (Phil. 2:5–8).
Paul’s wording in his description of the self-humiliation of Christ makes this contrast with Eve clear.27 That is, “the tempter urged Eve to seize this equality with God for herself, thereby expressing discontent with the high status in which the first pair was created (‘a little lower than the angels’).”28 In a complete contrast, “Jesus gave up equality with God in order to become not just a man like Adam, put in charge of creation, but a servant, for the purpose of enabling his followers to truly gain the godlikeness lost in Adam.”29
When God asked Adam what he had done, Adam blamed Eve for his sin (Gen. 3:12). Both Abraham (Gen. 12:10–20; 20:1–18) and Isaac (Gen. 16:9–11) tried to pass off their wives as their sisters in order to save their own lives. David exploited another man’s wife for his own selfish pleasure (2 Sam. 11). The ways the “new Adams” sinned against their own and others’ wives form “an apt contrast to the work of Jesus, once we recognize that the church is his bride.”30 This is clearest in the case of Isaac, who “lied about his wife, subjecting her to potential defilement,” because he was worried about his own life (Gen. 26:9). Jesus, in sharp contrast, gave up his life for his bride to make her holy (Eph. 5:25–26).
In Romans 5–6, scholars believe that Paul is describing someone who is “under the law” as bound by God’s law to Adam as our representative, “just as a married woman is bound by the law to her husband.”31 Using this analogy, the “old husband” (or “old human being”) dies with the Messiah in Romans 6:6, leaving Israel, the widowed woman, free to marry again. The Messiah is the new bridegroom, and “belonging to him enables ‘you’, like Abraham and Sarah despite their old age, to ‘bear fruit’. The resurrection of Jesus as the new bridegroom has opened new possibilities not previously available.”32
A clear argument for Jesus as the last Adam is in 1 Corinthians 15:21–49, where Paul says that Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies and things in subjection under his feet (vv. 25, 27). This is the fulfillment of the mandate to “have dominion” to which both first and second Adams were all called. Christ also fulfills the call to multiply by his creating “children of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:37–38). “Unlike the new Adams of the OT, all his children are righteous because he is the true progenitor of the righteous seed.”33
Christ also represents Israel in the sense that he fulfills the purpose God gave to Abraham—to make his revelation known to the nations. Theologian Bruce Waltke explains how this happened: “Since humanity’s first representative, Adam, failed, the elect by God’s merciful and intervening gift of faith identify themselves with the second representative, Jesus Christ, who by his sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of his Spirit, cleanses the human conscience, pays the debt incurred by every and all sin forever, and reverses the tragic effects of the Fall (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:22).”34 The result is seen in how Peter describes believers: “You are a chosen race” (1 Pet. 2:9), which is a direct allusion to Israel being the Lord’s chosen people (Deut. 7:6–9).
In Romans 5:12–21, Paul argues that Adam brought sin and death into the world, but Christ has reversed the consequences of Adam’s sin by giving his own life as the payment for their sin and giving to them his own righteousness to secure their entrance to eternal glory. It was through Adam’s sin that “sin came into the world” (v. 12), “many died” (v. 15), “death reigned” (v. 17), and “many were made sinners” (v. 19). It is through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” are given to us (v. 17) along with “justification and life” (v. 18). Where Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David failed, Jesus—the true second Adam and our new representative—reigns.
Justin S. Holcomb (PhD, Emory University) is an Anglican minister who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the author of Know the Creeds & Councils, and Know the Heretics. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Modern Reformation (Vol. 26:2).
- 1. John L. Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 99.
- 2. Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 279.
- 3. “In the book of Genesis, a number of individuals seem to be presented to the reader as ‘new Adams’ in the sense that the two aspects of the original creation mandate of fruitfulness and dominion are given again to them as a blessing, in wording that is reminiscent of the mandate given to Adam and Eve.” Ronning, 99.
- 4. N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (London: SPCK, 2013), 786.
- 5. Ronning, 100.
- 6. Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, New Studies in Biblical Theology 23 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 60.
- 7. Williamson, 60–61.
- 8. Justin S. Holcomb, On the Grace of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 42.
- 9. Gordon J. Wenham, “Genesis, Book of,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, eds. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, and Daniel J. Treier (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 246–52.
- 10. Wenham, 250.
- 11. “Abraham’s fruitfulness, the multiplication of his family, the recapitulation of the Adamic blessing, remains a strange gift, not something that can be presumed upon, always under threat from every angle, yet winning through.” Wright, 787.
- 12. Wright, 787.
- 13. Wright, 787.
- 14. Wright, 787.
- 15. Ronning, 101.
- 16. Ronning, 101.
- 17. This construction of the verb mot with the infinitive absolute tamut is common in the Bible, but in Genesis, it appears only in the context of the garden and the sister-wife narratives; cf. Judy Kitsner, Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other (New Milford: Maggid, 2011), 151.
- 18. Kitsner, 151.
- 19. Terence E. Fretheim, Abraham: Trials of Family and Faith (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2007), 51.
- 20. Fretheim, 51.
- 21. Ronning, 102. “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).
- 22. Ronning, 102.
- 23. Ronning, 104.
- 24. John L. Ronning, “The Curse on the Serpent (Genesis 3:15) in Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997), 312.
- 25. P. Miscall, “Literary Unity in Old Testament Narrative,” Semeia 15 (1979): 27–44, quoted in Ronning, “Curse on the Serpent,” 312. Ronning writes: “In 2 Samuel 11 the king is not a foreigner but David, who knowingly takes the wife of the foreigner Uriah the Hittite, then kills him to cover up the adultery. Perhaps Uriah was one of those foreigners brought to the worship of the true God by David, yet David in 2 Samuel 11 is like the king feared by Abraham in Genesis 20, who rules in a place where there is no fear of God.” Ronning, “Curse on the Serpent,” 313.
- 26. Ronning, “Curse on the Serpent,” 316.
- 27. Ronning, Jewish Targums, 105.
- 28. Ronning, Jewish Targums, 105.
- 29. Ronning, Jewish Targums, 105.
- 30. Ronning, Jewish Targums, 105.
- 31. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), 254.
- 32. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 254.
- 33. Ronning, Jewish Targums, 105.
- 34. Waltke, 279.