The issue here is not an aspect of our ever-revisable and often changing understanding of the physical workings of ourselves, our environment, and the universe at large. Rather, we are discussing perennial and unchanging matters basic to who we are as human beings—what it means to be created in God’s image and the kind of relationship with him that entails. In my view then, if Adam is not the first, who subsequently fell into sin, then the work of Christ loses its biblical meaning.
Views that deny or question the common descent of all human beings from an original first pair—whether or not they affirm the historicity of Adam and the fall—are, in my view, beset with insuperable exegetical and theological difficulties. Most pronounced are those difficulties encountered in the teaching of Paul.
1. In both Romans 5:12–19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 44b–49 the controlling interest is clearly Christ, his person, and his work. In both passages two more things are equally plain: 1) a sweeping historical outlook on Christ and the salvation he has accomplished, and 2) within this historical outlook, and fundamental to it, a contrast with Adam makes itself evident. In 1 Corinthians 15:44b–49 this perspective is the most comprehensive possible, evidently intended to cover the whole of human history from its beginning to its end, from the original creation to its consummation. Accordingly, in verse 45 Adam is in view as he was by virtue of his creation, before the fall (Adam in Genesis 2) and is contrasted with Christ, “the last Adam” as he now is resulting from his resurrection. In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 the scope of the historical outlook is only slightly less comprehensive, with Adam on the one side now in view as he was after the fall: a sinner (in Genesis 3). For Paul, redemptive history has its clear and consummate ending with Christ as it has a definite and identifiable beginning with Adam.
In both passages the significance of Adam and Christ as historical individuals is more than an individual significance. They are contrasted as each represents others in a way decisive for those “in him”: For himself, and all those “in him,” Adam by his disobedience has brought into the originally good creation sin with its consequences (condemnation and death; there is no sound reason to question that bio-physical death is included). Likewise for all “in him” Christ by his obedience has brought salvation from sin and its consequences.
We must not miss the significance of the identifying terms in this union-based contrast with the representation involved. Christ in his saving work is both “second” and “last”; Adam is “first” (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47). The uniquely pivotal place of each in the unfolding of redemptive history is, respectively, at its beginning and its end. Further, their roles are such that no one else “counts”; no others come into consideration. Only Adam is the “type of the one who was to come.” (Romans 5:14). As Christ is the omega-point of redemptive history, Adam is its alpha-point.