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Did Paul Think Jesus Was a New Adam, Not a Divine Being?

In my last post I started talking about Paul’s “understanding of Christ” – that is, his Christology.  It will take several posts to fill out the picture, and in this one I need to return to the Christ Poem that I talked about last week, expanding my discussion of it from what I said then.   Just so you don’t have to flip back through to find the former post, here is what the poem says, set in poetic lines.   It comes from Phil 2:5-7.

It is introduced by Paul’s exhortation to his readers to “Have this mind in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”:  And then he says

 

Who, although he was in the form of God

Did not regard being equal with God

Something to be grasped after.

But he emptied himself

Taking on the form of a slave,

And coming in the likeness of humans.

And being found in appearance as a human

He humbled himself

Becoming obedient unto death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him

And bestowed on him the name

That is above every name.

That at the name of Jesus

Every knee should bow

Of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.

And every tongue confess

That Jesus Christ is Lord

To the glory of God the Father.

I have already made two points about the poem, that it appears to be a poem Paul is *quoting* rather than on the spot.  There are reasons for thinking he didn’t write it himself, but I won’t go into that here.  It doesn’t affect what I want to say one way or the other.  The other point is that it embraces both an exhaltation Christology – that Christ was *exalted* to be equal with God, meaning he wasn’t at that level to begin with, AND an incarnation Christology – that he existed as some kind of divine being (i.e., an angel; probably THE head angel) prior to coming into the world in the first place.

Or DOES it teach an incarnation Christology.  Some scholars have argued NO!!   It’s an intriguing argument.  Here’s how I discuss it in my book How Jesus Became God:

  **********************************************

The Christ Poem and Adam

Some scholars have had real difficulty imagining that a poem existing before Paul’s letter to the Philippians – a poem whose composition must therefore date as early as the 40s CE – could already celebrate an incarnational understanding of Christ.  That seems rather early for such a “high” Christology.   In part as a way of resolving that problem, an alternative explanation has been proposed.  In this alternative interpretation, the beginning of the poem does not represent Christ as a pre-existent divine being.  It presents him as a fully human being.  In fact, it presents him as a human who was a kind of “second Adam,” a second appearance, in a sense, of the father of the human race.[1]

This is an intriguing interpretation, that I bet you don’t know about!  If you do, I bet you don’t know why I don’t buy it!  It’s not simple, as it turns out.  Wanna find out?  Join the blog!

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A Fuller Exposition of the Christ Poem in Philippians
Was Christ an Angel, According to Paul?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    aar8818  February 24, 2020

    I’m fine with an early incarnation Christology. As soon as people were believing that Jesus was divine they could have come up with the idea that he was a pre existant angel/divine being who was further exalted. And a multiplicity of “Christologies” were probably going around in the early years which were probably refined and further developed as we see in John.

  2. Avatar
    Shawnmrmsh  February 24, 2020

    You could make an argument for Jesus being a kind of “reverse” Adam. Adam was created first and Eve from him. The Virgin Mary was first and Jesus created from her. Adam disobeyed God and brought sin into existence. Jesus was obedient and eliminated sin. Adam cast out of paradise died. Jesus was raised from death and entered paradise.

  3. Avatar
    Shawnmrmsh  February 25, 2020

    I should have prefaced my comment with “You could argue that Paul was starting Jesus was a “reverse” Adam”.

  4. Avatar
    Todd  February 25, 2020

    I have a question related to your comments above, but somewhat unrelated as well: that is, Christ was not Jesus last name, Jesus is the name of a human living in a specific period of historical time, but Christ or The Christ is more of an adjective describing Jesus as anointed or something more than human. I would like to read something about your ideas regarding this distinction between the meaning of the name Jesus and the title of The Christ. Paul rarely refers to Jesus as Jesus, but most often uses the name Christ or Christ Jesus. I think there is a distinction between the name Jesus (an historical person) and the title of The Christ (a divine entity). I would actually like to read a full essay regarding your thoughts regarding that distinction. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      I’m not sure I’ve written about it at any length, but use, Jesus is a personal name; “Christ” is not an adjective but a noun meaning “One who is annointed.” The synonymn is Messiah. No one would use Messiah as a *name* but that’s what they ended up doing with Jesus. Yeshua is the Messiah in Aramaic became Jesus is the Christ in Greek became Jesus Christ.

  5. tompicard
    tompicard  February 25, 2020

    Dr Ehrman,

    This is a very intriguing understanding of Jesus.
    I was aware of Paul’s reference to Adam in Romans, but never heard it investigated to this depth, thanks

    I think it is a great intuition on the part of Paul or whoever came up with the idea of “Christ as a second Adam”. as you say

    . . .it presents him as a human who was a kind of “second Adam,” a second appearance, in a sense, of the father of the human race. . .

    Did Dunn or anyone else recently, investigate any further depth the implications of Jesus as the father of the human race?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      They aren’t saying that Jesus was the original Adam. They are saying that inthe plan of God he fulfills the purpose of the original Adam, so he is a second, but different, Adam, the one who got it right, so to speak.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  February 26, 2020

        yes I understand Jesus and Adam are not the same person, nor John the Baptist and Elijah

        but you said above

        > Jesus is a second appearance
        > of the father of the human race
        and further
        >He fulfills the purpose of Adam . . .
        >in the original plan of God

        as far as I know Adam was given three commandments (Gen 1:28) and one prohibition (Gen 2:17)

        So may I ask
        what was Adam’s purpose in the original plan of God?
        Do you know?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 28, 2020

          Well, I don’t know what God had in mind, no. 🙂 But for Paul, he was created for complete obedience which wourl allow him to stay in paradise. He blew it. So the second Adam did it, leading back to paradise.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 25, 2020

    Theology seems to get rather complicated rather quickly. Hmm? I wonder why? I guess humans make it that way.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      Ah, that ain’t the start of it. You should read modern theologians. Amazingly sophisticated, for whom this kind of thing is child’s play!

  7. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  February 25, 2020

    Based on Jewish ancient esoteric beliefs, a collective soul emerged from the divine, splitting itself through 5 spiritual worlds (consciousnesses) before attaching itself to a limited world of 5 senses.
    “Adam Harishon” in this view (the first human being) refers to the point where it seperated the universal light/God/Creator/ the Whole Light, but this phase was still in the spiritual world. At this point, Adam was surrounded by light and sprang out of God (the Creator). According to their ancient Jewish belief, this is the point (the new Jerusalem((my guess))) the soul is/will be drawn back to.

    The comparison of Jesus with the 2 Adam (“Adam Harishon”), or the new Adam in this context would mean that Jesus’ soul was developed back to God / Creator’s oneness. For Paul, who came from the Pharisee tradition, this is a notion that potentially falls perfectly naturally into his religious beliefs. He could have here based his own Christology on the basis of his Jewish background.

    Kjell Tidslevold

  8. Avatar
    Zak1010  February 25, 2020

    Dr Ehrman,

    In Christianity and in Islam ( not sure about Judaism ) We all pre-existed before conception. In Islam, all souls were created when God created and fashioned Adam in a human body. So the notion of pre-existence is not a Divine attribute. God The Creator did not pre-exist…… He was always there.
    The similitude of Adam and Jesus discussed by Paul in the NT is also narrated in the Quran. There is no other comparison in the Quran like that between any other two prophets ( Adam and Jesus ). Adam was created with no father nor mother, Jesus was created with no father and only a mother. Both created from dust. The similarity is God decreed something and it happened. He decreed Adam and Jesus respectively to exist and existed. Be and it is.

    Dr Ehrman,
    In the poem, God raised Jesus’ status to a special high status of respect and recognition, ( exalted – bowed to- to glorify the Father ) I don’t read it as a status worthy of worship. Do You?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      Yes, indeed. Every knee bowing down always entails an act of worship in the Jewish and Chrsitian traditinos

  9. Avatar
    tadmania  February 25, 2020

    In certain light, the NT story of Jesus seems a direct ‘reconfiguration’ of the Eden story; one with the perfect Jesus, and not sinful Adam, at its center. In light of the evolution and development of monotheism and the dilution of the tribal cohesiveness within Jewish society (being long influenced by both Roman and Greek thought, the latter comes as little surprise) it is only reasonable that certain Jews would seek a better reflection of themselves through a refreshed narrative. The old dust of stone tablets and prophet corpses was wafting away in the winds of change, it seems. Time for another passion.

  10. Avatar
    flshrP  February 25, 2020

    Since you bring up Adam and Eve, original sin, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that prompts a few observations.

    Of course, Adam and Eve are purely mythological, which is fine. The ancient Hebrews felt a need for a story to explain the origin of the human species, as is the case with all ancient, primitive people.

    The other two items are particularly filthy. Original sin pedals the idea that children can inherit the guilt of their parents. This is completely opposite to the foundation of our civil justice system (the 11th Amendment) that guarantees presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This perverse idea in Genesis is intrinsically totalitarian.

    As is the myth of Eve, the snake, the apple, and the tree of knowledge. This idiotic story has been used by the Christian Church for two millennia to control the thinking of its believers. Mind control. The essence of totalitarianism. It has led to the Inquisition, the Index of Forbidden Books, house arrest for thought crimes (Galileo), and execution at the stake (Giordano Bruno, 420 years ago on Feb 17, 1600, for proposing that the stars are distant suns that might have inhabited orbiting planets).

    So on the first two pages of Genesis there are two filthy ideas that no thinking person with an ounce of moral scruples can accept or tolerate.

  11. Lev
    Lev  February 25, 2020

    There are two details from the opening chapter of John which may provide room for both an incarnational and an exalted Christology to work.

    After the first five verses introduce the Logos, the subsequent verses then introduce John the Baptist before saying that the true light “was coming” (past imperfect) into the world. It’s not until verse 14 do we read the words “And the Word became flesh”. John has arranged his opening so that the “word became flesh” after he has introduced John the Baptist.

    In verses 32 and 33 where JBap testifies over Jesus’ baptism, he uses a phrase that isn’t found in the Synoptics. JBap claims the Holy Spirit “remained” on Jesus. Mark and Luke simply say it “descended” on Jesus, Matthew says “descended and alighted” – however, the Synoptics then describe Jesus either being “driven by” or “full” of the Holy Spirit when he entered the wilderness. In other words, the gospels claim, (with added emphasis in John’s gospel) that the Holy Spirit “remained” on or in Jesus after his baptism.

    My proposal is that John’s gospel has artfully combined both incarnational and exalted Christologies by claiming the pre-existing Logos entered and remained on the man Jesus at his baptism in the form of the Holy Spirit. Thus when Jesus was adopted as God’s Son at his baptism, his identity was combined with that of the pre-existing Logos (incarnational Christology). When Jesus was raised from the dead he was made into a divine being before being exalted into heaven with the Logos (exalted Christology).

    I would welcome any thoughts on this proposal if you have any?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      Interesting. The big question would be why John doesn’t actually narrate the baptism, if it was the big Christological event. It’s a standard observation that at first, when I was a student, didn’t make sense: but it’s true: no narration of the baptism itslef. Why? Especially if it is key to understanding who Christ is.

      • Lev
        Lev  February 26, 2020

        Yes, it’s true that his baptism wasn’t narrated, and I find it interesting that John includes JBap’s testimony instead, which is missing from the Synoptic. JBap said he was told “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” and then testifies that he is “God’s chosen one”.

        In the Synoptics we are told a heavenly voice announces that Jesus is God’s son. In Mark and Luke it says “You are my Son…” whereas in Matthew it says “This is my son…” I think you’ve pointed out in your books that in the earliest gospel it seems that it was Jesus who privately saw and heard this declaration, rather than those present. Therefore, Jesus is likely the primary source of this information and he is testifying about himself.

        John gives a second witness who testifies – JBap. John is keen to emphasise JBap’s testimony as later in Jn5:31-33 he states ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth.” John is keen to add the second witness to Jesus, and he explains why a second witness is important in Jn8:17 “In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid.”

        Perhaps that’s why he swaps the baptism narrative with JBap’s testimony – that he wanted to add a second witness who testified “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn20:31)

      • Rick
        Rick  February 28, 2020

        Professor, one point on the above and one question if I may.
        Point: Another author I read on the Gospel of John had it as God baptizing Jesus with the Holy Spirit rather than just water as the a Baptist did, with John the Baptist literary role being the narrator/witness. Significance being going forward Jesus would baptize with the spirit. Presumably this Holy Spirit at that point was the Logos from the immediately preceding verses…? Or was that already part of Jesus since the Baptist recognized him?

        Q: Having the John the Baptist scene this early In The Gospel of John seems to parallel Mark in particular as well as the Other Synoptics. Would that mean John the author did have at least one of the Synoptics or that the tradition was just so well known it had to be worked into John’s gospel?

        Thanx (Appologies for going off topic viz Paul)

        • Bart
          Bart  March 1, 2020

          The Logos in John is Christ’s incarnate state; the Spirit is a separate being. And no, it would not require John to have known the Synoptics, since probably most everyone thought John and Jesus associated before Jesus started his ministry.

  12. Avatar
    anthonygale  February 25, 2020

    If it’s fair to say Paul’s view is a combination of the exaltation and incarnate views, do you think perhaps he was aware of both traditions and combined them? Similar to how people later concluded Jesus was both human and divine after people insisted he was one or the other?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      Yes, possibly so. Or others combined them before him. I suppose I think the latter, but I’m not sure there’s a way to know.

  13. Avatar
    brenmcg  February 25, 2020

    Do you think the idea of ἁρπαγμὸν is that he could have seized equality with God had he wanted? That it was rightfully his, but that he would rather earn equality by first taking on the form of a servant,

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      It’s the big debate. Does it mean to grasp tightly on to something you already have or to reach out to grab something you don’t. I think the latter, based on how the word gets used most commonly in other contexts, and based on the poem itself: he doesn’t have equality with God YET since he is given it at the exaltation.

  14. Avatar
    prs  February 25, 2020

    According to Genesis Chpt. 1 two humans (male & female) were made simultaneously [by Elohim] “in our image, by our likeness, to hold sway over …[the fish and fowl and cattle and wild beasts and the crawling things]”. So in this Chpt 1 account are we told nothing about what humans were MADE OF. In the second creation story in– Chpt 2 with a different deity– YHWH Elohim who does not summon things into being from a distance but, rather, works as a craftsman (fashioning–yatsar instead of bara–create). YHWH fashions’ Adam from soil and builds Eve from Adam’s rib. Does it not follow from the Chpt 1 that the first Adam “the image and likeness of Elohim” is thereby made of the same deity stuff? Why would not a “Second Adam be made of the same deity stuff -as humans in Chpt 1?–and not “humus from the soil” as in Chpt 2? We learn from later Christian belief that Jesus was fathered by the Holy Spirit. Here a female contributed no DNA she only contributed fertile conditions for the growth of God’s seed– “God’s DNA”. This Second Adam is in image and likeness of Genesis 1 Adam plus he has “GOD’S DNA. The problem here is two conflicting Origin Stories and picking and choosing to fit the 2nd Creation story.

    A more serious problem for Christianity is that the conditions for a human “moral failure “of Obedience as claimed in Chpt 3 of Genesis do not exist. The story is conditioned on the absolute moral ignorance of our two humans. Like a trained dog they have been told to “OBEY”, but that does not involve a moral dimension. Their eyes have not been opened. They have no moral knowledge. “Knowledge of good and evil” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “everything”; it is a “merism” a conglomerate of words used to mean a large expanse of references, things or events. These humans are incapable of moral offense, incapable of fidelity.
    All of Christianity is based on this self contradictory Creation story which became the dogma of “Original Sin” and everything thing that follows is thereby rendered absurd, best understood as a myth attempting to explain on a cosmic scale the why and how of human suffering within the later historical expanse of the human drama.

  15. Avatar
    godspell  February 25, 2020

    “Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
    Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
    Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
    With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
    Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,”

    Not exactly a new interpretation for the modern world, comparing Jesus with Adam. But Milton’s Jesus is also a pre-existent divine being, who drives Satan and his rebel angels from heaven all by himself.

    C.S. Lewis also plays with this idea–Perelandra is about Venus becoming a fresh start, where the new Adam and Eve, guided by Ransom (that kick-ass philologist) to resist Satan’s wiles, and remaining obedient.

    Question–how old would you say the idea is that we only grow old and die because Adam and Eve sinned?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      Perelandra in my view is the best of the trilogy

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 28, 2020

        In some ways, I prefer Out of the Silent Planet, with its more befuddled and naif Ransom. Lewis’ protagonist gets a bit more starchy and self-important with each installment, until he’s finally The Pendragon, of all things. But I would agree Perelandra is the best-written of the three, and full of interesting observations. Lewis put more of himself into those books than he did the Narnia novels.

        And not to be a pest, but again–how ancient is the connection between Adam and Eve eating the apple, and human mortality? Obviously the idea changed many times over the centuries, but in the original myth (one of them, anyway), we’re told God banishes them lest they eat from the Tree of Life, and gain immortality. Meaning that they were created mortal, they were intended to grow old and die, like all other living things.

        How did that turn into “If they had just behaved themselves, nobody would ever die”?

        Since they and their immediate descendants lived ridiculously long lives, obviously there was something about Eden that prolonged life, but I don’t think the original notion was that death was the direct consequence of their disobedience.

        Frankly, I think the original storytellers knew damn well they were telling stories. And good ones.

  16. Avatar
    ddorner  February 25, 2020

    “And coming in the likeness of humans… And being found in appearance as a human”

    This quote from the poem seems to pretty much prove that, even before Paul, Christians believed Jesus at least appeared human (rather than as a purely devine being), and the most likely reason for this is that Jesus indeed existed as a human! But it also doesn’t seem to imply anything about a Trinity. Very interesting series of posts on this topic!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      It’s a tricky line; the word “likeness” can have a range of meanings, adn “appearance.” But yeah, it does cause problems for the “fully human in every way” view. a bit, anyway. And yes, no trinity here!

  17. Avatar
    forthfading  February 25, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I think the angel theory works well in the context of the poem. Using the phrase “form of God” does not give the image of Jesus being God. Would you agree with this thought or do the conservative Christian scholars have a legitimate argument for this poem to mean that Jesus is God?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2020

      I think he is God in SOME sense here. He is not teh Father. But he is a divine being. Everyone in antiquity pretty much agreed there could be gods other than the ONE TRUE GOD. (As I try to demonstrate in my book How Jesus Became God). Many conservative evangelicals just can’t get their mind around that….

  18. Avatar
    Tempo1936  February 26, 2020

    It’s Impressive That an individual could write these comprehensive and theologically challenging epistles 2000 years ago. Any guess as to Paul‘s IQ. And he was not doing it for any earthly gain.

  19. tompicard
    tompicard  February 26, 2020

    not specifically about the Christ Poem, but does appear that it isn’t connected to Paul’s view of Jesus as new Adam
    ———

    Is there any reference to the Messiah as a new Adam prior to Paul?
    who do you think came up with this concept, it does seem in quite contrast to the Messiah as military or even kingly figure.
    Is there anything in Jesus teachings that could indicate this.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 28, 2020

      Interesting question. No, I don’t believe so, in part because the messiah was supposed to be a conqueror, leader — not the “true” man

  20. Avatar
    Lopaka  February 26, 2020

    Were the poems/creeds in 1 Corinthians 15 and the one here in Philippians originally composed in Greek or did they originate in Aramaic?

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