The Two Adams

New and improved. This phrase is a constant selling point for advertisers trying to get you to buy the newer model of a product. The new and improved iPhone X, now with face unlocking technology and portrait lighting. The new and improved McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, now with fresh beef. Or the new and improved Diet Pepsi, now without aspartame. 

The selling point for these products is always something new that makes it way better than the older version, or like in the case of Diet Pepsi, something bad that’s been removed and replaced with something better. According to Strategy&, a global consulting firm, “A new and improved product can help take market share off rivals and boost profit margins through higher prices.” It’s a novelty for people and provides a value to consumers who are looking for something better than what they currently have. I’ve even seen ads selling “a new and improved you!” 

In the Bible, we see the greatest and most significant instance of something becoming new and improved . . . In 1 Corinthians 15:45 (HCSB), Paul tells us that, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.” Here, the apostle is telling us about two kinds of humanity, the old humanity, the first Adam model, and the new and improved humanity, the last Adam model. Each type of humanity is represented by a federal head, a prototype. 

So, let’s talk about our two Adams . . . 
In Genesis 1:27 (NASB), we’re told that on the sixth day of creation, “God created man in His own image.” The crowning jewel of the Lord’s good and perfect creation, Adam (hā·’ā·ḏām) took on the likeness of his Creator. But why did God create Adam, and by extension, all of us? What was the purpose for the creation of mankind? It’s a question we have all, at one time or another, wrestled with. It’s a question you may be wrestling with today . . . Why am I here? What’s the meaning of all this?

The Bible provides some answers to this all-important question! Isaiah 43:7 claims that God created us for His glory, so we may bring glory to His name, to honor and praise Him. C.S. Lewis once said, “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” And that’s the second thing we were created for: to enjoy God forever. The Bible tells us that we were created to be filled with joy. In John 10:10 (NASB), Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Psalm 16:11 (ESV) tells us, "In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

And before Jesus came, no one had ever experienced the purpose they were created for more than Adam! He walked with God, talked with God, and enjoyed the presence of God. He worked to accomplish his calling (Genesis 2:15) and enjoyed the fruits of the Garden (Genesis 2:16). He was given rulership, dominion, and authority over the earth. Adam was commissioned as a vassal king to rule over God's creation. Words like subdue, rule, and under his feet (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:6) suggest a kingship over nature. He is unique among all humanity, experiencing a closeness to God and a perfection of life that none have experienced since. 

The first Adam was given life. It was breathed into Him by the breath of God. He was formed from the dust. But then came the fall. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve allowed their pride, their desire to be like God, to cloud their judgment and be deceived by the serpent, and so, they fell from grace. Sadly, the very thing they were seeking, to be like God, they already had. They bore His image and likeness, His seal, His imprint. Thus, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people” (Romans 5:12 NIV). 

And it was in this, in the most tragic moment of human history, where we see the first step of God’s plan of salvation revealed. In Genesis 3:15 (NIV), God says to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." This was the first prophetic sign of the coming of the Messiah, the second Adam. 

In his book The History of Christians Doctrines, Louis Berkhof explains, "By His incarnation and human life He (Jesus) thus reverses the course on which Adam, by his sin, started humanity, and thus becomes a new leaven in the life of mankind. He communicates immortality to those who are united to Him by faith and effects an ethical transformation in their lives, and by His obedience compensates for the disobedience of Adam." 

Early Church theologian Irenaeus of Lyons dove into the concept of Christ as the second Adam, putting forth the idea that Jesus was the first of a new humanity, claiming, “God has been fully united with the flesh of man in Jesus, and therefore those who come to Christ are incorporated into a new race.“ Something of particular interest is the way Irenaeus connected Christ with Adam, Mary with Eve, and the cross to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Thus, on the cross, through total obedience Jesus ushered in a new and perfect human race, a race that is made perfect by faith in Christ as His blood—which was spilled to pay the wages of sin—completely cleanses us and brings us into right standing with God. And these two races, those of Adam and those of Jesus, will be divided at the judgment seat. 

Irenaeus had a theory concerning Adam and Eve and concerning the words used in the Bible describing man in the “image” and then in the “likeness” of God. In his writing The Nature of Evil and the Irenaean Theodicy, Gregory Neal elaborates on the use of these terms exclaiming, “In the first stages human beings were not the perfect beings which Adam and Eve were . . . In the second stage . . . occurring now, humanity is being transformed into ‘children of God’.” 

Irenaeus concluded that the body and soul comprised the image and the spirit the likeness. When Adam and Eve fell, their spirits died, leaving the image as an empty shell lacking in the likeness of God. Humanity was incomplete until the arrival of Jesus Christ, who was and is the true image and likeness of God (Colossians 1:15–17) in body, soul, and Spirit. Most importantly, because Jesus was the true image and likeness, He came to reverse that which the first Adam had set into motion. 

Building on the theology of the apostle Paul in Romans 5, we can understand atonement as the story of Jesus recapitulating Adam’s entire life to reunite the likeness of God which was lost to the image of God which we bear. By doing so, Jesus established a new line of humans. 

The first Adam was formed from the clay. The last Adam is the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15). Now, the word for firstborn (prototokos) here doesn’t actually mean firstborn as we perceive it. It’s not talking about the eldest child in a family. Remember, Jesus wasn’t born; otherwise He’d be created by God and thus wouldn’t be God. Instead, it’s saying that He is the preeminent, self-existent prototype for all humanity. He is the model, the image and likeness of God we were created in. He is God in the flesh, God incarnate. 

The first Adam was given life. Through him darkness entered the world. The last Adam is the life-giver. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5 NIV). Those who remain under the model of the first Adam remain in darkness, spiritually dead. Those who receive the last Adam receive everlasting life as they are born again in spirit. He makes His light “shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV).

Sin and death entered the world and came to all mankind through the first Adam. Grace and life came into the world and is made available to all mankind through the last Adam (Romans 5:12–21). 

To which Adam model do you belong? 

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.