The Apostle Paul often found himself in a cultural context in which he had to deal with many objections to the Christian faith. In 1 Corinthians 15, for example, the Corinthian congregation was questioning the future resurrection of believers: “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
The Corinthians struggled with the idea of a bodily resurrection because it did not fit into their cultural worldview. The city of Corinth was permeated with Greek philosophy. The Greeks loved speculative philosophy and were proud of their intellect as they sought after and trusted in the “wisdom of men” (1 Corinthians 1:22, 2:5). In their own wisdom, some of the Corinthians rejected the resurrection from the dead because of the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul apart from the body. Many saw the body (matter) as corrupt and not worthy of any form of immortality, and therefore mocked the idea that it would be resurrected (Acts 17:32).
Two thousand years later, not much has changed. Just as the culture in Paul’s day was permeated with Greek philosophy, so it is today. The worldview that undergirds Darwinian evolutionary thought is essentially Greek at its core.1 Many Christians are still integrating Greek philosophy into Christianity; however we have just given it the name science rather than philosophy.
Whereas Paul specifically asked how the Corinthians could say there is no resurrection, today’s Christians must ask, “How do some among you say there is no Adam?” Because Greek thinking has been synthesized with biblical thinking, it is becoming increasingly popular among many evangelicals to reject a historical Adam.2 Theistic evolutionist Denis Lamoureux believes not only that Adam never existed, but also that this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:1–7 he states:
This is the Gospel as stated in the Bible, and there is no mention whatsoever of Adam and whether or not he existed. Christian faith is founded on Jesus, not Adam. . . . . We must also separate, and not conflate, the historical reality of Jesus and His death and bodily resurrection from the fact that Adam never existed.3
Lamoureux acknowledges that the Apostle Paul understood Adam to be a real person. However he rejects this as a reason for us to believe in a historical Adam since, he believes, Paul’s view of Adam was based upon an ancient view of science.4
Just as the Resurrection is central to the gospel, the idea of there being a first man, Adam, is foundational to the gospel and to the doctrines that are built upon it.
The uniqueness of Christianity is that it is grounded in history. The gospel is based upon the historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Paul explains:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:1–5)
The gospel is about what God has done and is doing for us in Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ are the central events of the gospel. But notice that Paul says that Christ died for our sins. Why did Christ have to die for our sin? In his letter to the Romans, Paul argued that it was through one man that sin entered the world, and death through sin (Romans 5:12–16). Christ had to die on the Cross because Adam had brought sin and death into the world. Therefore, just as God provided an atonement for Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:21),5 so Christ has provided atonement for our sins because we are “in Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice for sin.
It is important to keep in mind that atonement involves a blood sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22), which implies violence and death. However, this surely makes no sense in a theistic-evolutionary worldview where violence and death have been a part of God’s process of creation over millions of years. Accepting millions of years of human and animal death before the Creation and Fall of man undermines the teaching of the atoning work of Christ. Theistic evolution does not just undermine Genesis and the supernatural creation of Adam, but it also undermines the doctrine of the atonement.6
Furthermore, although Paul does not make specific mention of Adam in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5, he understands that Adam is foundational for sharing the gospel. For example, in a pagan culture he begins with a biblical understanding of creation (Acts 14:15–17, 17:24–28), specifically with reference to all people coming from one man (Acts 17:26, ESV), which leads him to speak of Jesus and the Resurrection, calling all men to repent in light of God’s judgment of sin (Acts 17:30–31).
In verses 21–22, Paul connects Jesus’ death and Resurrection to the foundational historical events of Genesis 1–3. The Christian faith is dependent upon the historicity of these events.
For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
In verse 21, Paul tells the Corinthians that death came through a man, namely Adam. He then uses the Adam-Christ typology to explain the reason for the Resurrection. In verse 22, Paul points us to the mortality of the human race because of our relation to Adam. However, those who are in Christ will be made alive.7
The claim that Adam was not historical overlooks the fact that the parallel between Adam and Christ is too close for one to be historical and not the other. Moreover, how could a mythological figure affect the human race in such a negative way? The focus throughout 1 Corinthians 15, however, is on Christ’s Resurrection from the dead—a physical Resurrection with spiritual implications. Those who argue that the death Adam brought into the world was only spiritual must answer the question as to why Christ had to die physically. If we reject the biblical revelation that God created Adam supernaturally, we have to reject that physical death came about because of his disobedience. Then there really is no need for the Cross, atonement, or a new heaven and earth. Biblically, all of these are needed because death and suffering entered into the creation through Adam’s disobedience toward God in Genesis 3 (Romans 5:12–21, 8:19–22; Revelation 21:4, 22:3).
It was through Adam that death entered into the world,8 and it was through Christ that death was conquered:
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)
The fact that death is called an “enemy” implies that it is not natural, and therefore cannot have been part of the original state of creation in which God created humanity. In Romans 5:14 Paul says death reigned from the time of Adam, while Romans 5:21 suggests that the dominion of death is tied to that of sin since “sin reigned in death.” It was Adam’s disobedience (Genesis 2:17, 3:6–19) that brought death into the world, which is why Paul believes death to be an enemy that needs to be destroyed. But from an evolutionary viewpoint, death is not an enemy—it’s a God-ordained part of the process of the creation of life on earth.
Jesus’ Resurrection was ultimately a victory over death, which is why we even see our Lord outraged over the physical death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Verse 33 tells us that Jesus was “deeply moved” and the verb in Greek embrimaomai “always speaks of deep seated anger and does not connote mere emotional upheaval.”9 Why was Jesus angry? Because of the power of sin and death that was reigning in the world. Christ came to overcome death, and we need to live in the light of that fact.
In verses 42–44, Paul points out that our new bodies will have a glory that our present ones do not have. The reason we need new bodies is the result of the corruption10 brought about through Adam’s disobedience (Genesis 3:19). However, unlike the Greek view of the afterlife, Paul does not teach that our future bodies will be made out of spirit.
In order to make his point about the nature of the body, Paul typically makes his appeal to Scripture. In verse 45, Paul quotes from Genesis 2:7 where God made Adam from the dust of the ground and gave him a soul, a living being:
And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (1 Corinthians 15:45–49)
Paul uses the word “first” before “man” in order to draw the contrast between Adam and Christ. He also uses Adam as a proper name in order to identify the man in Genesis 2:7. In doing this, Paul clearly establishes Adam as the first man in relationship of order to humanity. Furthermore, the fact that Paul states that Adam was the first man should alone refute the idea that he was “the head of a tribe”11 or a “neo-lithic farmer”12 as these ideas both allow for pre-Adamite humans.
There is a difference between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies. Paul’s reference to “the natural” is referring to Adam while “the spiritual” refers to Christ. The parallel Paul uses is that of Adam’s bodily existence and Christ’s resurrected body.13
In verse 47, Paul moves from the contrast between “natural” and “spiritual” to that between the “earthly” and “heavenly.” This helps define what he meant by “natural” and “spiritual” by stressing the origins of the two men. Just as the first Adam was of the earth and therefore the originator of humanity, so Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, is the originator of a new humanity.
The Apostle Paul does not separate Christ’s work of redemption of humanity and creation (Romans 8:19–22) from Adam’s disobedience. In 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45–49, Paul grounds the bodily death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus in the reality of the history of Genesis. It was a real man, Adam, who brought about physical death and corruption into God’s very good world (Genesis 1:31). This is the reason Paul says Jesus came to earth as a real man in order to undo the work of the first man. If we reject the supernatural creation of Adam, then why should we accept the future supernatural resurrection from the dead? Many theistic evolutionists inconsistently reject the supernatural creation of Adam yet accept the reality of the Resurrection of Christ and the future bodily resurrection of the dead. This is equally at odds with the truth claims of the secular scientific majority who deny any form of supernatural resurrection. This inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.
Those who reject a historical Adam do so because they have elevated the wisdom of men over the revelation of God. However, Paul reminded the Corinthian church that human wisdom cannot benefit us before God, as He rejects all that rests on human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20–25, 3:19). Instead, Paul reminded them that Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24; Colossians 2:3), is far superior to that of any philosophy. The wisdom of the Greeks could not recognize the most profound wisdom of all when they were challenged with it. The truth of the creation of the first man, Adam, embodies true wisdom—the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of the age.