March 20, 2015
The Vocation of Adam
From N. T. Wright’s contribution to The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John H. Walton
“Paul is working very closely with Genesis 1-3 right across 1 Corinthians 15. And basic to his exposition of Genesis is this point: that God put his wonderful world into human hands; that the human hands messed up the project; and that the human hands of Jesus the Messiah have now picked it up, sorted it out and got it back on track. It won’t do, therefore, simply to go to Paul and say, There you are, Paul believes in Adam; that proves a literalistic reading of Genesis. What this reading of the text exposes to view is the failure of the tradition to read either Paul or Genesis, because Paul’s whole point is to pick up from Genesis the notion of the vocation of Adam and to show that it is fulfilled in the Messiah. Unless we put that in the middle, we are not being obedient to the authority of these central scriptural texts.
“This sends me back to Genesis, then, encouraged by John Walton on the one hand and writers such as Richard Middleton and Greg Beale on the other, to look at the calling of Adam. The notion of the “image” doesn’t refer to a particular spiritual endowment, a secret “property” that humans possess somewhere in their genetic makeup, something that might be found by a scientific observation of humans as opposed to chimps. The image is a vocation, a calling. It is the call to be an angled mirror, reflecting God’s wise order into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to the Creator. That is what it means to be the royal priesthood: looking after God’s world is the royal bit, summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit. And the image is, of course, the final thing that is put into the temple (here I draw on John Walton’s careful exposition of Genesis 1 and 2 as the creation of sacred space, and the seven days of Genesis 1 as the seven stages of temple building), so that the god can be present to his people through the image and that his people can worship him in that image. One of the great gains of biblical scholarship this last generation, not least because of our new understanding of first-century Judaism, is our realization that the temple was central to the Jewish worldview. This comes through in various places in Paul’s letters. The temple was where heaven and earth met; when Paul says in Ephesians 1:10 that God’s purpose was to sum up everything in heaven and on earth in the Messiah, we shouldn’t be surprised that much of the rest of the letter is then about Jesus and the church as the true temple. But here is the problem: that we have seen the goal of it all as “humans being rescued so that they could have fellowship with God,” but the Bible sees the goal of it all as “humans being rescued so that they could sum up the praises of all creation and look after that creation as God’s wise stewards.” Genesis, the Gospels, Romans and Revelation all insist that the problem goes like this: human sin has blocked God’s purposes for the whole creation; but God hasn’t gone back on his creational purpose, which was and is to work in his creation through human beings, his image-bearers. In his true image-bearer, Jesus the Messiah, he has rescued humans from their sin and death in order to reinscribe his original purposes, which include the extension of sacred space into all creation, until the earth is indeed full of God’s knowledge and glory as the waters cover the sea. God will be present in and with his whole creation; the whole creation will be like a glorious extension of the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple in Jerusalem.”
What if reading Genesis 2-3 in its ancient Near Eastern context shows that the creation account makes no claims regarding Adam and Eve’s material origins? In The Lost World of Adam and Eve, John Walton’s groundbreaking insights into this text create space for a faithful reading of Scripture along with full engagement with science, creating a new way forward in the human origins debate.