Adam Christology is not new, but our guest today wants you to know that it’s not just a Pauline doctrine. I’m Fred Zaspel, editor here at Books At a Glance, and I’m talking to Dr. Brandon Crowe of Westminster Theological Seminary here in Philadelphia and author of the new book, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels.
Brandon, welcome, and congratulations on your new book!
Thanks, Fred. It’s great to be here.
What was the purpose of Jesus’ earthly life? His work culminates of course in his death and resurrection, but what about his thirty-some years before that?
That’s the million-dollar question! It’s a question that I’m happy to see a lot of people have been asking, particularly about the Gospels, in recent years. So that’s the question that I’m trying to tackle in this book – what do we make of the Gospels?
The starting point, really, that I ask is – people have called the Gospels passion narratives with extended introductions. And then, what happens is the conversation become so tilted towards the passion narratives that, in these books, the Gospels, which are the only books that really expand upon the life of Christ, of course, we have so much in there that are not passion narratives that are narrated for us in such a way as to connect the work of Christ and the person of Christ to salvation. But they don’t put all the pieces together in the way that a didactic letter might do it. And so, we’re left with a lot of conversations about Gospels that tilt toward the passion narratives. Whereas, what I’m trying to do, here, is look at what do we do with all of this volume of material that deals with, in some cases, the infancy and the childhood of Jesus and his work from his baptism on to before he gets to Jerusalem. As we look at that, what I’m trying to argue is that what you have here is a representative person, a figure who is fully in conformity to the will of God, fully in conformity with Scripture; and he is accomplishing something throughout his life, even before he gets to the cross.
Okay, let’s talk about your title and your thesis: In what ways do the Gospel writers present Jesus as the new Adam? Can you give us some examples? Maybe you could mention some of the more obvious and some of the more subtle ways that they present him as the new Adam.
Probably the most obvious place… If I had to take just one text, it might be a text like Luke’s genealogy, which is going to trace Jesus all the way back to Adam. He is son of Adam, son of God. So, there you have an explicit reference of Christ to Adam. And what’s really interesting there in Luke, is the way that that is right in between his baptism and his temptation, which encourages us to view those together so that as he is baptized as son of God, and that son of God is qualified, then, as Son of God and Son of Adam in the genealogy, then this Son of God/Son of Adam is going to be obedient in temptation. In contrast, not only to Israel, but also, in contrast to Adam, which is going to be that near antecedent to the temptation account. There’s a text that you can see both Son of God and Son of Adam which are going to be tightly correlated in the Gospels, you see them together. And then, if that’s the case, that gives us a lot of room for exploring similar texts. For example, in Mark’s temptation account, which is different from Matthew’s and Luke’s, which have the threefold temptation and the threefold response of Jesus from Deuteronomy. What you have in Mark is different. Jesus is with the wild animals and there is a peaceful coexistence between Jesus and the wild animals and he is being ministered to there in the wilderness. There have been some scholars who have seen that as an Adam Christology, but it’s not quite as common as you might think. But even where it is common authors often recognize that this is exceptional. I don’t think it’s exceptional, I think it actually fits with Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation accounts and, though it is distinctive there, it’s not completely exceptional. And so, you have that.
You also have, I think, a broad category that’s helpful here is Son of Man. Son of Man most likely comes from Daniel 7, which is a reflection and a vision of this kingdom of one like a son of man, in contrast to the beastly kingdoms and that is going to be building on the imagery from Psalm 8, which builds on Genesis 1 and 2. And so you have the Son of Man, which is the one created in God’s image, who is the one who is supposed to have authority and dominion. And you see that realized in the Son of Man figure. And as you come to the Gospels you see Jesus over and over again as Son of Man, as one who suffers and yet one who has glory. And so, you have this temporary inversion of that Danielic image of Daniel 7 of glory, but ultimately at the end you see through that suffering he will enter into glory and will realize that vision of the authoritative Son of Man which is inherently an Adamic image.
So those are a few big ways we see the genealogy, the temptation, the Son of Man. But as you start to get your foot in that door, exegetically, then you start to consider other possible avenues. And I think it really opens up to consider other texts as well.
Now this kind of sounds like something that would fit very well in today’s Biblical Theology and seeing how themes and passages are picked up. In some sense this could sound a bit new, but this area of study is not new is it? You’ve seen this in the early church as well, right?
That’s exactly right. I started the volume in many ways looking at Irenaeus. Irenaeus, the second century church father, had this view of the coherence of the Scriptures and recapitulation. Some have even called him the first covenant theologian. I don’t know if that’s the proper term or not, but what you have with Irenaeus is the view that Christ accomplishes salvation throughout his life by undoing what Adam messed up, by recapitulating Adam and fixing what had been messed up. So that is there with Irenaeus and it’s not unique to Irenaeus, but you see it very strongly in many of the church fathers, who had this biblical theological impetus in them. Even someone like Cyril of Alexandria sees Christ as the key to the Scriptures; and not just Christ as the key, but, in many ways, it’s this connection between Christ and Adam, so that Christ is overcoming what Adam has messed up. This is there all through the history of interpretation. You see it in the Christian pseudepigraphical work called The Cave of Treasures, which is not well-known. And you see it, of course, in some of the great reformers like Calvin. You see it in Bavinck, and you see it in many of these systematic theologians who are looking to bring things together. And if you pay attention to the history of exegesis, I do think it’s there, and I think the exceptional thing is really the past couple hundred years where this has been downplayed in biblical scholarship. But, if you look at the wider context of the history of interpretation, then what you see is this biblical theological impetus is there, consistently.
Give us an overview of your book.
The book opens with stating the question, “What do we do with the life of Christ in the Gospels?” It gives a brief survey of what some people have said in recent years, from Scott McKnight to N. T. Wright, Jonathan Pennington and Michael Bird. Some of these people who are writing on the Gospels have asked this question and I think a healthy conversation is underway. So, what I’m trying to do is step into that conversation and discuss what more is left to be said, what has been said in the past, and what can we learn from the past as we look forward.
In the second chapter I’m going to deal a lot with some of the foundational questions, some of the things that we’ve already discussed here, such as the Son of Man. How do we understand Son of Man? What are some of the examples of passages that give us the warrant for asking more questions about Adam Christology and the Gospels? There, I will look at the creation accounts, mention them briefly, and look at Mark’s temptation account, and consider more aspects of the Son of Man and how we deal with that tricky question.
And so, if that has been established by the end of chapter 2, I begin to, hopefully, ride that wave, of momentum in chapter 3 and talk about the category of Son of God. Now, to do that we have to engage the question I mentioned earlier which is, “How does Adam relate to Son of God?” Because so often Son of God is understood to be Israel. And I think that’s right, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I wrote a whole volume on that. But, more fundamentally, I’m arguing that Adam is the first Son of God and there are differences that we must take into consideration between Adam and Israel. If you have that category now of Son of God, then so much of Jesus’s obedience comes into play. You see his baptism as the obedient son; you see him fulfilling all righteousness, which I cover more in the following chapter; you see the way that he is anointed in his baptism to be a representative figure. And so that means if he goes to the temptation, he does not do that as an isolated, private individual; but he is facing temptation, now, as an anointed representative who is going to fight the battle against the devil in a unique way on behalf of God’s people.
The next chapter, Chapter 4, is on the fulfillment of Scripture. How does Jesus fulfill Scripture in his obedience? Another important category of texts are Luke’s statements where he says, “it is necessary.” These are statements that speak of the divine necessity of salvation. What you begin to see is this pattern of so many texts that are not simply about Jesus dying on the cross to accomplish salvation, but Jesus doing all sorts of things, like healing the sick, rising from the dead, preaching the gospel in certain ways. These are all things that were necessary for salvation. So, you have the fulfillment discussions. You have statements that speak of the purposes for which he has come. And these include things like saving the lost, ransoming, giving his life as a ransom. Another important category here is Jesus as the Righteous One. What does that mean? What are the implications for Jesus as the righteous one, since he is, in Luke for example, crucified as the righteous one, and therefore raised.
I consider this next also in the Gospel of John, in Chapter 5. I don’t want to leave John out. The glory of Jesus in the Gospel of John as he completes his father’s work is going to be greater than the glory that Adam had.
And then I come to the question of the kingdom. How does Jesus bring the kingdom of righteousness as the righteous King as the fulfillment, for example, of the righteous branch, and Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom of righteousness. How does that happen? Here we look at a text that would be important here, would be, the binding of the strongman, which is Adamic imagery. Jesus binds the devil in his temptation and throughout his life, and he overcomes the devil and frees the prisoners who are imprisoned by sin to the devil.
In the next chapter we look at the death and the resurrection. It’s important to underscore here, that I’m not trying to downplay the death of Christ, but to simply integrate the life of Christ with the death of Christ and how the two mutually inform one another. What you see with the death of Christ is he is not only the perfect sacrifice, but the perfect embodiment of mercy. He is not only the perfect sacrifice, but he is the Holy One throughout his life, who fully loves God and loves his neighbor, the one who fully kept the law of God and is resurrected in victorious life.
In the last chapter, I think to bring some of these things together in Chapter 8, and then synthesize it and tease out some of the implications. What does this mean for confessional theology? What does this mean for systematic theology? What does this mean for the historical context of the Gospels? And I conclude with what I hope is a convincing case that we need to consider the Gospels and the representative righteousness of Christ as part of our overall theological picture.
Let’s pick up on that in Chapters 7 and 8. How might all this make contribution to theological studies?
One of the things that I see the Gospels giving us, is an integrated vision of the life of Christ in his death. And Bavinck, for example, has a great quote somewhere that nowhere do the Scriptures bifurcate between the active and the passive obedience of Christ. Now, that’s a tricky statement because that’s often taken to be the act of obedience is his life and the passive obedience is his death. And that’s a conversation for another day, but that’s actually not correct. These are two logical distinctions that are everywhere intertwined in his life and in his death. And so, you can look at the life of Christ as his passive obedience, as his suffering the penalty for sin, and his death as his active obedience. The two are intertwined, always, and we see in that intertwining of those the way that we must not lop off the life to talk about the death or vice versa. The two must be mutually informing as we construct our theological picture of Christ and his work. That is going to have implications as well for how we understand biblical theology and how we understand systematic theology, looking at texts like Paul, for example. In so many discussions of righteousness and imputation of righteousness, what you have is a select subset of texts that are focused on.
Another question for another day is when we look at Pauline theology, how many of Paul’s letters are actually being brought into that conversation? But if we broaden that out and we look at what do the Gospels have to contribute to discussions of imputation? Then I think there’s actually quite a bit of material, here, that can at least serve as important corroboration for the notion that Christ as a representative person, the last Adam, his righteousness is imputed to us. That’s not language that the Gospels use, but I think that the principles are still there, in a text like, even the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus speaks about being filled with righteousness, which is a gift. At that point I don’t think we are incredibly far off from Paul. So I would love to see more conversations about things like justification and righteousness, and at least take into consideration some of the ways that the Gospels speak to this, even though, clearly, Paul speaks about this in a different way than the Gospels. I’m not trying to usurp the place of Paul in systematic theology, which holds, in many ways, a privileged place; but the Gospels do have something to say, and I think we ought to listen to them and ask those sorts of questions in the Gospels as well.
We’re talking to Brandon Crowe, author of The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels. It’s a genuine contribution to studies of the New Testament Gospels and to the ever-important doctrine of imputation. We encourage you to check it out.
Brandon, good to talk to you again – thanks so much.
Thanks for having me, Fred, glad to be here.
Buy the books
THE LAST ADAM: A THEOLOGY OF THE OBEDIENT LIFE OF JESUS IN THE GOSPELS, by Brandon D. Crowe