Wright Wrong on Adam

Reviewing Wright's "Do We Need a Historical Adam?"

Yes, we need an historical Adam. But we need more than an Adam who was historical. We, like Warfield before us, need to affirm the authority of Scripture by taking our stand on what it says about the unity of the human race in Adam that we might also take seriously what it says about the One Man, Jesus Christ.


In March Intervarsity Press plans to release a book by John Walton with a contribution from N. T. Wright titled, The Lost World of Adam and Eve. Wright’s excursus follows Walton’s chapter titled, “Paul’s Use of Adam Is More Interested in the Effect of Sin on the Cosmos Than in the Effect of Sin on Humanity and Has Nothing to Say About Human Origins.”  Wright’s piece is called, “Excursus on Paul’s Use of Adam.” However, from the Intervarsity website it’s difficult to tell if Wright wrote only the Excursus or chapter nineteen as well.  Nevertheless, as a foretaste of what is to come next month I want to briefly review chapter two in Wright’s book of collected essays, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (New York, NY: Harper One, 2014).

Wright begins chapter two, “Do We Need a Historical Adam?,” by observing two common theological drivers in today’s discussion. The first is the presupposition that if people let go of an historical Adam, “they are letting go of the authority of Scripture” (26–27). Wright contends that this is a sociocultural bugaboo which works in tandem with an inaccurate view of how biblical authority actually functions. In other words, if you read Wright as critiquing what is described as “the American Inerrancy Tradition” (or the AIC, cf. Five Views of Inerrancy, Zondervan, 2013) coupled with Dispensationalism,” Wright’s favorite American target, then you have identified the people to whom he is referring.

The second theological driver is a favorite of Wright. It is his unceasing refrain that the Bible is not about how we get saved (27). For Wright, this is a particularly important issue for Reformed theologians who view Adam as a federal head. However, according to Wright, by reading Paul as saying that we are either in Adam condemned or in Christ and saved is to misread the Biblical text or, at the very least, to read too narrowly.

Having dismissed these theological hang-ups Wright’s own construction concerning the historical Adam goes something like this. Adam’s sin meant not only that he died but that he no longer reigned over the world (34). To put it tersely, Adam’s death meant that he had lost God’s image, which when translated is to say that he had lost his vocation or calling in the world. Thus, God’s plan for kingdom expansion had been derailed. God no longer had a priestly vice-regent. However, in Jesus God’s plan was set right again. Jesus fulfilled his vocation and is enthroned as the reigning king. He is now where the last Adam was supposed to be (35).

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