Over the next while I will be writing a bit on the Adam-Christ juxtaposition in the Epistle to the Romans. Most people are aware of the most obvious passage where it occurs in 5.12-21. It is hard to argue against consider both characters are named, but I propose that one cannot really grasp the argument here unless it is heard as an underlying motif from the beginning to the end of the letter. I propose that an awareness of this motif will assist the reader in understanding everything from the indictment against humanity in 1.18-32 to the obscure benediction in 16.20 where it says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”
Today let us examine 1.18-32 (see previous post referencing Morna Hooker here and James D.G. Dunn here). Paul has introduced himself as an apostle (royal herald) of Jesus, the prophesied Messiah of the lineage of King David, who has been enthroned by God through the Spirit by his resurrection from the dead (1.1-6). While we will not dwell on this, let it be observed that it is part of Jesus’ identity that he has permanently overcome death. As an royal herald the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome whom he has desired to visit for some time (1.7-13). He wants to go to Rome because he is obligated to proclaim his gospel to everyone (1.14-15).
Paul is not ashamed to proclaim this gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation. Paul tells us that those who believe and remain faithful will live (again, it is here for the second time we have an obvious emphasis on life with the first being Christ’s resurrection). It is here that Paul introduces his solution, but we have yet to hear about the problem.
We have seen Christ introduced early, now we meet Adam indirectly.
In 1.18-25 the Apostle begins to describe those upon whom God’s wrath will come. They are the opposite of those who will “live by faith”. In fact, once Paul is done describing them he says they are “worthy of death” (1.32).
Oddly enough, when he begins describing those “destined for wrath” (to borrow a phrase he will use later in the epistle) it seems like he is retelling the story of Adam. It is here that I will duplicate the words of Morna Hooker because she says it better than I (From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul, 77-78):
“…the sequence of events outlined in Rom. 1 reminds us of the story of Adam as it is told in Gen. 1-3. Of Adam it is supremely true that God manifest to him that which can be known of him (v. 19); that from the creation onwards, God’s attributes were clearly discernible to him in the things which had been made, and that he was thus without excuse (v. 20). Adam, above and before all men, knew and allowed his heart to be darkened (v. 20). Adam’s fall was the result of his desire to be as God, to attain knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3.5), so that, claiming to be wise, he in fact became a fool (v. 21). Thus he not only failed to give glory to God but, according to rabbinic tradition, himself lost the glory of God which was reflected on his face (v. 23). In believing the serpent’s lie that his action would not lead to death (Gen. 3.4) he turned his back on the truth of God, and he obeyed, and thus gave his allegiance to a creature, the serpent, rather than to the creator (v. 25).”
As I have argued previously it seems that “the lie” (τῷ ψεύδει) could very well be that of the serpent (Ray Aguilar pointed out that the definite article within a prepositional phrase does not demand it be definite, but as James Tucker noted there still may be something to it) as Hooker notes. This does not seem to be dependent upon the article though, but rather whether or not 5.12-21 unfolds these themes and whether or not one finds Hooker’s argument convincing that Adam should be read here.
Also, as I mentioned previously, “the statement φθαρτοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πετεινῶν καὶ τετραπόδων καὶ ἑρπετῶν derives its creational-categories from the LXX of Gen. 1.20-27 where humans are placed in relation to the created order. So not only does Paul see humanity as reenacting Adam’s failure to subdue creation when he obeyed the voice of the serpent, but he sees all humans as following Adam into what is essentially the root of idolatry—forsaking the glory of God in order to worship the creation instead. For Adam this took place when he obeyed the serpent; for Adam’s descendents it takes place when we make idols out of created things.”