Exploring And Comparing Possible Backgrounds Of The “Two-Adam” Theology In Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and 15:42-48


Romans 5:19 “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

1 Corinthians 15:45 “So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”


Today’s post wants to consider the possible background informing Paul’s use of the “two-Adam” theology in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and 15:42-48. This blogger has written elsewhere on the theological meaning, life-practical application and Biblical significance of Paul’s two-fold comparison of Adam and Jesus Christ at the following blogposts:

1. http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/03/reflections-on-jesus-as-second-adam.html

2. http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/03/seeing-unity-of-bible-through-jesus-new.html

3. http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2017/03/life-practical-considerations-of-jesus.html

A brief explanation by what is meant by “Two-Adam” Theology

When I say “two-Adam” theology, I am referring to how the author or authors utilize Adam or more than one Adam to communicate their particular theological message. In the above posts that I just linked, the reader can discover how Paul’s “two-Adam” theology opens up the world  of the Bible in terms of the Bible’s unity, practical Christian living and deepening one’s understanding of Jesus Christ as the New Adam. In this particular post, we want to explore what if any connections there could be between Paul’s statements on the two Adams and other literature outside the New Testament that refer to similar themes. 

Craig A. Evans has compiled a very helpful book for students of New Testament studies entitled: “Ancient Texts For New Testament Studies – A Guide To The Background Literature”, published by Hendrickson publishers in 2005. The resource aids one greatly in referencing both the relevant Jewish and Graeco-Roman literature that was circulating in and around the composition of the New Testament. In as much as the New Testament documents are authoritative Divine revelation, they nonetheless were not revealed in a vacuum. I won’t even attempt to develop a detailed theory in this post outlining how such background literature may or may not influence the Biblical author’s thoughts, since each New Testament book may more or less be somewhat influenced are not influenced at all. Still, God used each author’s cultural and language competencies to compose the scriptures – including familiarity with all the relevant literature or lack thereof in their day.  

As one reads Evans’ book and consults his summaries of the various examples of Jewish and Graeco-Roman literature relevant to New Testament studies, one finds examples of material mentioning their own “two-Adam” theology. Below we find the following sources that mention the historic Adam of Genesis 1-2 in ways that somewhat parallel what we find in Paul’s use of Adam in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and 15:42-48.

1. Philo of Alexandria.

Philo was a first century Jew who lived in Alexandria Egypt and wrote in Greek. One can buy English versions of his voluminous works for a reasonable price and begin studying his thoughts. Philo’s writings chiefly provided spiritualized or allegorized commentaries on the books of the Old Testament and attempted to articulate Jewish thought in conjunction with Greek philosophy. According to Craig A. Evans in the book cited above, Philo makes some interesting comments distinguishing Adam in Genesis 1:26-28 (i.e “heavenly man”) from that of a more “earthly Adam” in his comments on Genesis 2:7. Evans cites several references within Philo’s works. For our sake I will only mention one example from Philo’s section where he answers various questions on Genesis, Volume 1, section 4. The following is Philo’s commentary on Genesis 2:7 in comparison to God’s creation of man in Genesis 1:26-27 – 

“What is the man who was created? And how is that man distinguished who was made after the image of God? (Genesis 2:7). This man was created as perceptible to the senses, and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect; but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal, is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance, and he is the form of the principal character; but this is the word of God, the first beginning of all things, the original species or the archetypal idea, the first measure of the universe.”

Philo then continues:

“Moreover, that man who was to be created as a vessel is formed by a potter, was formed out of dust and clay as far as his body was concerned; but he received his soul by God breathing the breath of life into his face, so that the temperament of his nature was combined of what was corruptible and of what was incorruptible. But the other man, he who is only so in form, is found to be unalloyed without any mixture…”.proceeding from an invisible.”

In having read the other Philonic citations mentioned by Evans on Philo’s “two-Adam” doctrine (Philo’s “Confusion Of The Tongues”, chapter 14, sections 62-64), the reader will find Philo making the Adam of Genesis 1 to be a “heavenly man” or archetype after which people must pattern their lives, while the Adam of Genesis 2 is viewed as a picture of humanity living for their own desires. 

So did Philo’s “two-Adam” theology influence Paul’s “two-Adam” theology? Evans offers the following assessment on page 172 of his book “Ancient Texts For New Testament Studies: 

“Philo’s distinction between the two-Adams is not precisely the same as Paul’s, but his language does illuminate the context in which Paul’s discussion may be better understood.”

New Testament scholar Stephen Hultgren wrote an article in the “Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25 (2003): 343-70, entitled: The Origin of Paul’s Doctrine of the Two Adams in 1 Corinthians 15.45-49.” The summary of his scholary article or “abstract” draws this conclusion concerning the possible relationship between Philo and Paul:

“Study of Philo, however, makes it unlikely that Paul is reacting either to Philo, to Alexandrian traditions, or even to a misrepresentation of Philo.”

In as much as Philo’s statements are remarkable, the conclusions drawn from the literature would rule out either any connection or at least some possible influence of Philo on Paul’s comparison between Adam and Jesus. So, are there any other sources of ancient period literature that could had possibly informed the literary backdrop for Paul’s comparison of the historic first Adam to Jesus Christ being the “Second Adam”? For brevity’s sake, we will consider one more class of sources, namely Aramaic commentaries on the Old Testament called “Targums”. 

2. Aramaic  Targums

By the days of Jesus, Jews in Israel were speaking Aramaic as the common language or lingua franca of the streets. The Jews likely would had known Koine Greek, the common language spoken all over the Medittaranean world (since they used the Greek Old Testament and the Apostle would later write the New Testament in Kine Greek). In the various Jewish meeting places (i.e “synagogues”) dotting the 1st century world from Rome to Jerusalem, the Old Testament scriptures would had been read and expounded from Aramaic translations called “Targum”. Craig Evans on page 185 of his book defines a “Targum”:

“The word ‘Targum,’, from the Aramaic word trgm, ‘to translate’, basically means a paraphrase or interpretive translation.”

Essentially, all but a few books in the Old Testament had Targums. Much like modern day commentaries or sermonic helps used by preachers in preparing sermons, Targums aided in interpretation, exposition and application of the Biblical text. Often-times there would be interesting commentary that would read extra-levels of interpretive imagination into how the text was understood. Craig Evans summaries of the Targums is sweeping in its scope and depth. On page 338 of his book – “Ancient Texts For New Testament Studies”, he comments on the Targum of the Psalms, and how they treated the creation texts referring to Biblical Adam:

“Paul has quoted a portion of Gen. 2:7, adding the words “first” and the proper name “Adam.” This manner of referring to Adam occurs at least five times in Targum Psalms (i.e, adam quedema; cf Psalm 49:2; 69:32; 92:1; 94:10). All of these references are to the Adam of the creation story, who offered sacrifice (Tg. Pss 69:32), uttered a song concerning Sabbath (Tg. Ps 92:1), and was taught knowledge by the Lord (Tg. Ps 94:10). Paul’s contrast between the first man, who is physical, and the second man, who is heavenly, has its counterpart to Philo (cf. Alleg. Interp. 1.31-32), commenting on Gen. 2:7, but the locution ‘First Adam’ is distinctly targumic.”

Thankfully, this blogger has the Logos version of the Aramaic Targums with Aramaic dictionaries to explore exactly what Evans was referencing. In researching Evans’ citations, the following Aramaic phrase, אדם קדמא (Adam Qedema), or variations of it, translated “First Adam” or “Former Adam” appears in the above cited texts. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul uses the phrase “ο πρωτος ανθρωπος αδαμ” (ho protos anthropos adam), translated “the first man Adam”, which is equivalent to the Aramaic phrase we find in the Targums. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and Romans 5:12-21, Paul refers to the historic Adam by using variations on this phrase or phrases with similar meaning. 

These Aramaic Targums, which would had been familiar to Jewish audiences throughout 1st century Israel (called by historians ancient “Palestine”), would also had been known to Paul, since the Jewish teachers or Rabbi’s that he had learnt the scriptures would had referenced such resources. To cite once more from the journal article cited earlier from Stephen Hultgren:

“The closest parallels to Paul from the history of religion are found in rabbinic literature. Paul knew Palestinian exegetical traditions about a first and last Adam. His encounter with the risen Christ gave concrete form to that abstract idea.”


The world of the New Testament is doubtless a fascinating world. Today’s post wanted to explore the possible backdrop to Paul’s “two-Adam” theology that we find in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and 15:42-45. In so far as this blogger considers Paul’s writings as authoritative Divine, inerrant and infallible revelation, such documents also bare the background and language of their human authors. This reminds us that the Bible can be studied with the standard tools of historical investigation and language study, yielding forth further proof as to its reliability and richness. We considered two ancient sources outside the New Testament for consideration of whether or not they influenced Paul’s thought.

The first was Philo. We discovered that in as much as he did have a sort of “two-Adam theology”, it seems that his influence on Paul’s thinking was at best very minimal to non-influential.

The second possible influence on Paul’s thinking about “Two-Adam theology” were the Aramaic Targums. We discovered that the formulation of the phrase “first-Adam” might very well had informed Paul’s phraseology in how he compares Jesus (“The Second-Adam) to the historic “First-Adam” of Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:7). We can say that, at bare minimum, the linkage between the Targums and Paul’s thinking seem more promising.

From surveying a sample of the scholarly literature on Paul’s two-Adam theology, what can be said? It definitely appears that Paul’s development of contrasting the first Adam to Christ was drawn mainly from Paul’s dramatic encounter with the post-resurrection Christ in his calling to Apostleship. Other titles used of Christ in the New Testament (i.e “Son of Man”; “Messiah” or “Christ”) have similar indirect parallels in the available Jewish literature and each evidence a unique reformulation of their meaning in light of Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven. If Paul is in any fashion drawing from background literature like the Targums, the influence is quite minimal in comparison to the one event that forever altered Paul’s thinking and life: namely his encounter with the post-resurrected Jesus. Indeed, we can gain a deeper appreciation for how Jesus Christ would be the “Second-Adam” or “Last-Adam” due to His decisive revelation of being God in human flesh and rising from the dead, providing salvation to all who believe.    





About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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