In the last few post I have given my attention to C. John Collins understanding of how Adam and Eve function in the biblical canon. In part 11 we surveyed Collins reading of the Book of Genesis. In part 12 we did the same with the rest of the Hebrew Bible. In part 13 we moved to non-canonical Jewish literature. In part 14 we did the same for the Gospels. Today I will relay Collins’ interpretation of the Pauline Epistles and the rest of the New Testament.
Collins begins his examination of Paul by alluding to passages that don’t necessitate a historical Adam in his view, though they may be useful for understanding the biblical view of Adam: 1 Corinthians 11.7-12; 2 Corinthians 11.3; 1 Timothy 2.13-14. On the other hand, he finds no wiggle room in 1 Corinthians 15.20-23, 42-49; Romans 5.12-19; and Acts 17.26 (technically Lukan, though about Paul) (Kindle Location 1246).
Collins interprets 1 Corinthians 15.20-23 as explaining why Jesus had to raise from the dead. Although Adam is representative this doesn’t remove the reality of Adam’s impact on the world as Paul understood it (Kindle Location 1268). I know readers of this blog understand the basic debate over this passage so I won’t rehash it. Simply put, either Adam’s historicity is essential to Paul’s argument or it is not. For Collins it is because it is for Paul. Those who disagree with Collins will highlight the representative function of Adam. Collins interacts with C.K. Barrett as someone who didn’t think Adam needed to be historical and N.T. Wright as someone who presumes this is what Paul believed. Most people do agree that Paul affirms a historical Adam in this passage, so Collins argument here presumes that Paul’s foundational presuppositions must be retained for his argument to work. Since Collins’ understand Paul’s writings as Scripture without error he argues for his exegesis and moves along. Again, one of the biggest problems I have with this book is Collins flippant approach at times. It seems that he feels the burden of proof is on people like Peter Enns to prove that Paul’s argument can work if we remove Paul’s presuppositions. This may be true, but it makes Collins’ argument seem passive while lacking depth (Kindle Locations 1246-1315).
Again, the same approach is taken with Romans 5.12-19. Paul’s argument uses Adam as an archetype. Someone like Enns may preserve that approach while saying the historicity of the archetype doesn’t matter for his symbolic function to be retained. Collins disagrees.
In Acts 17.26 Paul is presented as assuming Adam’s history. Collins follow suit.
This is important to recognize: Collins and Enns agree that Paul assumes Adam’s historicity in his argument in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. So does Barrett, Wright, and many others. That is not where they disagree. Where they disagree is whether it matters that Paul believed this for his argument to work.
Other NT passages that seem to allude to a historical Adam would be the mention of Abel, Enoch, and Noah in Hebrews 11.4-7. This assumes the historicity of these figures in Collins opinion (Kindle Location 1432). Revelation 2.7; 22.2, 14, and 19 allude to the Tree of Life. Revelation 12.9 and 20.2 allude to the Satan-Serpent figure. Of course, there is much “Genesis symbolism” in Revelation, which does matter because the Apocalypse seems to depict redemption as creation restored and enhanced which is built off of the Genesis story. Again, Collins doesn’t try to theologize from this. He represents the traditional position. He states it. He leaves it as it is and forces those who disagree to carry the burden of proof.
When I return to this series I will spend several posts on Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam which gives much space to Genesis and Paul.