Does the “New Perspective on Paul” Undermine a Historical Adam?

by Paul F. Taylor on January 31, 2011

There has been a lot of talk recently about a New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Writers previously thought to be evangelicals have used this new idea to open an assault on Adam and Eve.

There has been a lot of talk recently about a New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Writers previously thought to be within the evangelical camp—such as Alister McGrath, Peter Enns, and N.T. Wright—have written a great deal on this subject. Other evangelicals have objected to the NPP on the grounds that it reinterprets what Paul is supposed to have meant about the gospel and about justification. For example, N.T. Wright has said that when Paul is referring to the “righteousness of God” (δικαιοσυνη θεου) in Romans, he is not referring to a righteousness imputed to us, but simply to the nature of God Himself.1 An important passage in Romans 3 refers to this “righteousness of God” and justification.

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:20–26, emphasis mine)

Why am I, as a creationist writer, spending time on this issue? It is because the NPP views of these men are inextricably linked to their allegorical view of Adam. McGrath describes Adam and Eve as “stereotypical,” rather than “specific historical figures.”2 Wright imagines himself in the position of a Jew during the period between the Babylonian Exile and Jesus and asserts:

Any Jew is going to say “This is my story” and then they’ll say “it looks like the back story to our story.” In other words, the connection between the back story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, then being kicked out, to Israel in the Land and then being sent into exile.—I think that’s the thing that would most strike me.3

How does he know that this would most strike such a Jew? It is pure speculation. All the Old Testament and New Testament writers and Jesus (all of them Jews) clearly took Genesis 1–11 as literal history. Therefore, so would all God-fearing Jews in ancient Israel. Surely they would read the events recorded in Genesis 1–3 as a historical account, even if they saw some parallels to their own contemporary situation. So, what does this have to do with Paul? Simply that the apostle refuted their claims by writing about Adam. As Enns says:

There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person.4

That ought to put an end to the issue, but not according to the NPP proponents. In the same article, Enns says:

Paul’s Adam is not a simple matter. There are numerous factors that come into play in gaining a broader perspective on what Paul is saying and why he says it.5

So, in order to understand what Paul is saying, we need this background from the NPP people on why Paul is saying what he is saying. This need for background is underlined at the end of the N.T. Wright video, from which we have already quoted, where he maintains that if we read Genesis literally, without his “backstory,” then “it doesn’t feel to [him] as though you are reading the text.”6

He has turned reality on its head and basically accused the biblical writers, Jesus, virtually all Christians in the first 18 centuries, and modern creationists of not reading the text properly. But in order to read the text in the manner which Wright, Enns, and McGrath think is “proper,” we need to follow their “backstory.” By adding this condition, they have essentially made themselves priests (or popes) of evangelicalism because we cannot read and understand the Bible for ourselves without the interpretation of these clever people to guide us.

In closing, it will be noted that all of these NPP proponents quoted—these new priests—have contributed extensively to the BioLogos Foundation website, which has been growing in influence among evangelicals in the UK and USA. We should reject this mentality from BioLogos and anyone else who places man’s fallible opinions over God’s Word. Rather, we should return to a plain reading of the historical narrative text of Genesis.


  1. N.T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul.”
  2. A. McGrath, “What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve”, BioLogos.
  3. N.T. Wright, “On Genesis 2 and 3”, BioLogos.
  4. P. Enns, “Paul’s Adam: Part 1,” BioLogos.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ob cit.


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