ArticlesChristology Pt. 2: Christ the True and Better Adam

Christology Pt. 2: Christ the True and Better Adam

By Dr. James Crockett, Minister to College & Young Adults at Hillcrest Baptist Church


“Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” has become one of my favorite modern hymns. One line of the song that stands out is, “See the true and better Adam come to save the hell-bound man.” The line points to the NT teaching on the typological parallel between Adam and Christ, a parallel which Paul most clearly articulates in his own letters. A closer look at Paul’s own Adamic Christology reveals that the parallel between Adam and Christ is more than mere metaphor. Rather, it uncovers the cosmic conflict brought on by Adam’s failure as God’s first royal ambassador over creation and how Christ reversed the original effects of Adam’s fall. A deeper understanding of Adam Christology deepens not only our understanding of Christ’s identity but of our own identity. 

Adam as God’s First King

In order to understand the significance of Adam Christology, we return to the creation narrative to discover God’s original purpose for Adam. Beyond an etiology of human origins, Genesis 1 presents an etiology of human kingship.[1] A couple of elements within Genesis 1:26-28 suggest enthronement is a significant theme in the creation story. 1) God’s creation of humanity in His “image” (Hebrew selem) according to His “likeness” (Hebrew demut) suggests a royal position. Other Ancient Near Eastern traditions used similar language to present their rulers as the visible representative of the gods.[2] For example, Pharaoh was declared to be the living image of the gods on earth, meaning that he exercised the rule of the gods on earth. In a similar way, Adam as the bearer of God’s “image” was meant to be God’s royal ambassador who exercised the rule of God over creation.[3] 2) The expressed function of Adam in Genesis 1 also indicates his original position as God’s first king. God states that His purpose for endowing Adam with His “image” is so that Adam might rule over the earth (Gen 1:26b). God commissions Adam to “subdue” and “rule” over the creation and its inhabitants (Gen 1:28). This commission is ontologically based on Adam’s possession of God’s image and at the same time implies that the “image of God” implies a royal designation. Therefore, as God’s royal ambassador, Adam was responsible for stewarding the good rule of God over the whole creation.

Adam’s royal position at creation informs the devastating effects of his failure upon creation. The sin of Adam and Eve resulted not only in the corruption of humanity but in the corruption of creation itself (note the cursing of the ground in Gen 3:17).  As one who understood Adam’s original position at creation, Paul explores the effects of Adam’s failed rule in his letters. Paul declares that sin and death entered the world as a result of Adam’s failure. In other words, because of his failure as God’s first king, Adam unleashed and became complicit in the oppressive rule of sin and death (Rom 5:17, 19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). For this reason, all who come after Adam are joined with Adam in his sin (Rom 5:12), follow the pattern of sin that reigns over them (Rom 5:19), and are fully enslaved to the dominion of sin and death. The devastating effect is that all who are “in Adam” succumb to “a death-dealing rule” (1 Cor 15:21-22).[4] Like Genesis 3, Paul also suggests that Adam’s failed reign led to the enslavement of the creation and cosmos. In Romans 8, Paul presents the creation as an unwilling participant of cosmic enslavement (Rom 8:20). Considering Paul’s previous statements in Romans 5:12-21, his statement in Romans 8:20 suggests that Adam’s failure occasioned the event in which the creation was subjected to share in Adam’s fallen state. In other words, the demise of the creation was tied to the demise of its first king, Adam. Given the extensive effects of Adam’s failed reign, the redemption of humanity and creation required someone to take up Adam’s royal position, succeed where Adam failed, and reverse the effects of Adam’s disobedience.


Christ as the True King

Our understanding of Adam’s original kingship brings clarity to Paul’s portrayal of Christ’s kingship using Adam-Christ typology. Paul sets Christ as the antitype to Adam, meaning that Paul views Christ and his kingship in correspondence and in contrast with Adam and his kingship. He explicitly makes this typological assertion in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. In Romans 5, Paul brings Christ into sharp contrast with Adam through an examination of the effects of Christ’s rule. Whereas Adam’s trespass resulted in death for many, Christ’s obedience resulted in grace abounding to many (Rom 5:15). Whereas Adam’s failure brought judgment and condemnation to all under his dominion, Christ’s righteous act brought justification and life to those under his dominion (Rom 5:16, 18). Whereas Adam’s actions enslaved humanity under the reign of sin and death, those who receive grace and righteousness through Christ will participate in his reign (Rom 5:17, 21). Whereas Adam’s one act of disobedience made those under his dominion sinners, Christ’s one act of obedience makes those under his dominion righteous (Rom 5:19). Through his use of the introductory formula “if…much more” (Rom 5:15, 17) and his description of the surpassing effect of abundant grace (Rom 5:20), Paul stresses that Christ’s work and dominion far surpasses the work and dominion of Adam. Christ’s kingship becomes the hope for the liberation of humanity and creation from the enslaving rule of sin and death (Rom 8:21-25).

In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, Paul places Adam and Christ at the head of two ages with their actions having significant cosmic consequences.[5] For Paul, the resurrection serves as the cosmic solution to the problem of death brought about by Adam, and that solution is brought about through Christ (1 Cor 15:21b), whom Paul identifies as the inaugurator of the resurrection age (1 Cor 15:20). In other words, Christ’s resurrection reverses the effects of Adam’s rule and guarantees life and resurrection to all those who belong to him (cf. 1 Cor 15:44-49). Once again, Christ exceeds the original rule of Adam and reverses its effects by defeating every cosmic power (1 Cor 15:24), powers that once enslaved humanity and creation because of Adam’s failed reign. Paul then proclaims that God placed all things under Christ’s feet (1 Cor 15:27), an allusion to Psalm 8 which reflects on Adam’s original position at creation (Ps 8:6). This cosmic subordination under Christ reflects the creation mandate in which God commissions Adam to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28). Christ’s work as God’s new king fulfills the regal responsibilities that Adam originally possessed at creation, with the result being God’s exaltation throughout the whole cosmos (1 Cor 15:27-28).

Paul also makes several implicit references to Christ’s kingship as the antitype to Adam’s kingship. Paul’s Adam-Christology serves as an underlying theme of the Christ hymns in both Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. In presenting Christ as “the image[6] of the invisible God”[7] in Colossians 1:15, Paul places Christ in the royal position that Adam once possessed but demonstrates throughout the hymn the ways in which Christ’s rule and dominion far exceed the rule and dominion of Adam. Paul makes another implicit allusion to Adam when he speaks of Christ being “in the form[8] of God” (Phil 2:6). That Christ did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped stands in direct contrast to the actions of Adam. N.T. Wright argues that the equality with God is already in Christ’s possession. Adam’s original sin was his attempt to grasp equality with God, something which did not rightfully belong to him, but Christ, who rightfully possessed divine equality, voluntarily renounced this status so that he might undo the effects of Adam’s sin. In fact, it was Christ’s equality with God that uniquely qualified him to undo Adam’s sin.[9] His rule then exceeds the original rule of Adam in that every being with the whole cosmos is subjected to his kingship (Phil 2:9-11). Paul makes another implicit reference to Adam in Ephesians 1:20-23. Similar to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul alludes to Psalm 8:6 when he states that God “placed all things under his (Christ’s) feet” (Eph 1:22). Christ is the one under whom all competing spiritual powers have been subjugated (Eph 1:21). As God subjected His creation under Adam’s authority, so now He subjects the whole created cosmos under Christ’s authority. The scope of Christ’s reign exceeds the original reign of Adam, and His enthronement over every hostile cosmic power means that he successfully reversed the effects of Adam’s failed reign and regained the dominion that Adam lost.


Final Thoughts

Much more could be said regarding Paul’s Adam Christology, but I want to end by giving a few thoughts on why understanding Adam Christology matters. 1) Paul’s Adam Christology connects the story of Scripture from original creation to new creation. As Adam was given prominence in the original created order and subsequently corrupted creation through his failure, so now Christ claims preeminence over the whole cosmos (Col 1:18) and brings about a new creation order. 2) Christ’s taking up the role that Adam once lost reveals to us that God deeply cares about the redemption of the whole creation and cosmos, not just humanity. 3) Christ’s kingship restores to believers their original creation purpose. As Adam was originally meant to steward the good rule of God and multiply His image-bearers throughout creation, now believers are tasked with promoting the good rule of Christ and multiplying Christ’s image-bearers throughout the earth. As we fulfill this task, we eagerly await the day when Christ fully manifests his reign over the whole cosmos and brings out the new creation order in its fullness.  



[1] For a full discussion on this idea, see Michael LeFebvre, “Adam Reigns in Eden: Genesis and the Origins of Kingship,” BET 5 (2018): 25-57.

[2] See J.R. Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 93-146. 

[3] I am not suggesting the Ancient Near Eastern enthronement traditions directly influenced the Genesis narrative. Rather, there traditions provide contemporary linguistic and conceptual precedents which illuminate the potentially regal nature of the creation narrative.

[4] Joshua Jipp, Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 100.

[5] F.F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 145-46 and Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1221.

[6] The Greek word eikon, which is the same word used in the Septuagint version of Genesis 1:26-27

[7] This is very likely an allusion to Genesis 1:26-27.

[8] Though Paul’s use of morphe differs from the word eikon used in LXX Genesis 1:26-27, the words have very similar meanings. See Sang-Won Son, Corporate Elements of Pauline Anthropology: A Study of Selected Terms, Idioms, and Concepts in Light of Paul’s Usage and Background (Rome: Editirce Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2001), 56.

[9] See N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 62-90.




*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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