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{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

(ad' em) HEBREW: ADAM
"human being" or "mankind"

The book of Genesis provides two versions of the creation of the first man, Adam. In the first chapter, a male and female are created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27) on the sixth day of creation. Blessed and set above all of the other animals, this pair is given a specific command: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Furthermore, God makes clear that sufficient food has been provided for all living creatures, humans included, in the form of green plants and fruit-bearing trees. The world thus begins without the need to struggle for survival, with all of creation in perfect balance and harmony.

In the second chapter of Genesis, which is apparently based on a different oral tradition, the creation of all heaven and earth was not yet complete when God scooped up some dust from the ground (which had been watered only by a terrestrial mist), shaped a man from it, and brought him to life by breathing into his nostrils "the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). Perhaps the name Adam originated with the Hebrew word adom, meaning red, because of the color of the clay used to make him, or from adamah, which means earth.

Next, the Creator planted the garden of Eden somewhere "in the east" (Genesis 2:8) and charged his new subject with the task of tilling this fertile paradise, whose flowing stream divided into four great rivers that reached to the corners of the earth - the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. The man was granted free use of the garden's fruit trees, with one significant exception: Death was the penalty for eating from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:17).

Concluding that "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18), God created the world's animals and helpers for the lone human, who was given the privilege and respoinsibility of naming them. When none proved to be a suitable helper for him, however, God put him to sleep, took one of the man's ribs, and used it to form Eve, the first woman. "Therefore," comments the writer of this account, "a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

These two separate versions of Adam's creation contain significant theological points. In the first, the human is created on the same day as the animals but is purposely set apart, infused with the divine spirit, and given dominance over earthly creation. In both, he is given a life of ease and abundance, blessed as the favorite of the Lord God of the universe.

For ancient readers, the next turn in the story is indicated by the very word Adam, since it was frequently used in ancient Hebrew to mean human being or mankind. In other words, the first created human can be seen as a symbol for all mankind. Therefore, when he decides to commit the first sin and suffers the consequences, Adam represents the plight of all humanity in struggling to be worthy of God's love. Before this sin, Adam and Eve lived together happily in a literal paradise, free from pain, hunger, and thirst. Food was abundant, including the fruit of the "tree of life" (Genesis 3:22), which apparently gave them eternal life. There was no need for clothing, and the animals and birds cooperated with the human pair.

Eventually, however, a serpent seduced Eve into breaking God's commandment by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree "in the midst of the garden" (Genesis 2:3) and sharing it with Adam. Instantly, the couple became conscious for the first time that they were naked. Hastily stitching fig leaves together into aprons, terrified by their guilt, they frantically tried to hide from their creator behind the trees of Eden.

When God saw that they had become ashamed of their nakedness, he knew that they had broken his commandment. Punishment was swift and severe not only for Adam and Eve, but also for all humankind to follow them. Yet the sentence of death itself would not be fulfilled at once. Rather, the lot of the woman would be to suffer increased physical anguish in childbirth and subservience to her husband. The man would not have to earn his food by sweat and heavy labor, wresting it from soil that God cursed and made hostile. Both were expelled forever from Eden and barred from access to the tree of life. Mortal existence would henceforth be burdened with tribulation and woe from cradle to grave, when man would return to the very dust from which God had originally created him.

After the moral disaster of Adam's fall, which would define the relationship of humans to God until the coming of Jesus, little more is heard of Adam and his wife in the Scriptures. Their firstborn son, Cain, became history's first murderer, killing his pious younger brother Abel. A third son, Seth, was born when Adam was 130 years old. In the eight centuries that followed before Adam reportedly died at the age of 930, we are told only that he "had other sons and daughters" (Genesis 5:4). After Genesis the only reference to Adam as an individual in the Old Testament is in 1 Chronicles 1:1, where he is placed first in a genealogical table meant to establish the Israelites as God's chosen people.

In the centuries after the Babylonian exile, however, the story of Adam and his sin began to intrigue Jewish thinkers who were trying to understand why God had allowed their nation to suffer defeat and captivity. One result was that some Jewish religious writers began to magnify his glory, even describing him as a second angel. He was thought to surpass ordinary human beings in every conceivable way. Indeed, the very concept of the fall was rejected in favor of the belief that he was actually a heavenly figure who is successively incarnated in human form throughout history. Another trend in this speculative pre-Christian scholarship was very different: a newly explicit stress on the disastrous effect of Adam's sin on all generations to follow him, even suggesting that his fall was the origin of all human evil.

Reflection on the meaning of Adam's fall became even more important to the development of the Christian belief after the death of Jesus. To place his Gospel firmly in the context of traditional Jewish history, Luke traces the ancestry of Jesus back to "Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:38). There is one other New Testament genealogical reference to the historical Adam in verse 14 of the letter of Jude, the last of the Epistles.

Much more significant, however, is the Christian portrayal of the sinful, fallen Adam symbolically linked with Jesus. Paul in particular saw Adam as the father of the old humanity, as the originator of sin and death. By contrast, Jesus made possible a new humanity. He was superior to Adam because he could prevail over the consequences of sin through the grace of God. If death sprang from Adam because of his act of disobediance in the garden, life now sprang from Jesus because he obeyed the will of God and thus earned the salvation of humankind.

This essential distinction between the first Adam and Jesus as the last Adam is used by Paul to explain the resurrection of all believers. "For as in Adam all die," he wrote, "so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). The comparison helps explain two inherent aspects of resurrection. In the first place, the linkage with Adam's sin and death showed that the soul would have to have a body for its resurrection to take place. Second, the coming of Jesus showed that the body would be new and spiritual rather than the flesh and blood of the old mortality. According to Paul, "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:47).

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}