Monday, June 15, 2009

The first Adam & the 'Descendants of the Dragon'

Is Adam a real historical person?

A while back, someone (let's call him Mr. Creedy) told me his reason for believing Adam as a real flesh & blood who walked the garden of Eden:

"Adam is a real historical person because of the genealogy found in the gospel that traces Jesus' ancestor all the way back to Adam (Luke 3). And then we have St. Paul's comparison of Adam as the first man with Christ as the last/second man (1 Corinthians 15)."

I can see Mr. Creedy's point. It is similar with Dr. Carl Wieland's conviction which motivated him to start the Creation Ministries International:

"Lord Jesus Christ Himself alluded to the Old Testament as a trustworthy historical witness in His references to Jonah and the big fish and how God had created human beings male and female from the beginning of Creation, as opposed to millions of years later."
(Christian Post website: Gospel at Stake in Creation-Evolution Debate, Argues Ministry Leader, dated 5 June 2009.)

This view does sound 'biblical'. It met all the criteria for being 'biblical'. For eg. it alludes to St. Paul and especially to Jesus' own reference to Adam. So as long as those New Testament people said it, very likely that it is 'biblical' and hence true.

But can we establish facts from such criteria?

Christians are tempted to say, "Yes". But when it is said that orchid Gomesa crispa's seed is the smallest to our current discovery in relation to Matthew 13.31-32 ("mustard seed... it is the smallest of all seeds...), why Christians conclude along with this fact by saying that Jesus was using imagery relevant to his audiences about 2000 years ago?

Are there things which are 'biblical' but do not attest to the external spacio-temporal historical reality?

In similar manner, when Chinese people refer to themselves as the 'descendants of the dragon' (Mandarin: 龙的传人), do they really mean that their ancestor is a snake-like creature?

Could it be that to the Chinese, the dragon is a great creature that symbolizes power and success, and by reckoning themselves as the creature's descendants, the Chinese see themselves as belonging to a powerful and successful ethnic community?

If yes, then when Chinese say that they are the descendants of dragon, they don't mean that their biological ancestor is a snake-like creature.

When we look at 1 Corinthians 15, we have to bear in mind that St. Paul was contrasting the characteristic of the pre-redeem and the redeemed humanity. St. Paul allusion is to emphasize this contrast that he referred the first man as Adam and the last or second man as Jesus.

On another hand, if St. Paul really thought that only Adam and Jesus are man in the biological sense, then it would not make sense to call Jesus as the last or second man, as there are so many biological humans around him, including St. Paul himself. This shows that the "first" and "last" categories used in the passages are not signifying historical sequence, but something more.

Nonetheless we cannot conclude that St. Paul did not think both Adam and Jesus as non-historical. It is likely that St. Paul knew that Jesus was historical, yet we just don't know what St. Paul think about the historicity of Adam.

However what we can confidently establish from 1 Corinthians 15 is that St. Paul was not talking about their historicity but the symbolic significance of Adam and Jesus in relation to humanity. The same can be applied also to Romans 5 where the contrast between Adam and Jesus is found.

So, was Adam a historical flesh & blood human person?

I think the answer might not be as how Mr. Creedy and Dr. Wieland want it to be. From the attestations in the New Testament, we can conclude that Adam is reckoned to be someone much more than a biological person. He is an everlasting symbol of the pre-redeem humanity.

Perhaps the relation between symbolic and biological person is well portrayed in this short dialog in the movie 'V for Vendetta':

Mr. Creedy: (Desperately shooting at the approaching V) Die! Die! Why won't you die?... Why won't you die?
V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.
Sometimes, powerful symbol transcends flesh & blood. Probably Jesus and St. Paul were more concern with the idea of Adam rather than his historicity. This is not to say that Jesus and St. Paul didn't think Adam was a historical person. Their concern was not over the historicity but what Adam represents. Very likely that Jesus and St. Paul thought Adam was a historical person.


pearlie said...

I am not yet convinced either way and so i've conveniently taken Mr Creedy's side for now until convinced otherwise.

Oh, I remember that line from V. Classic.

Sze Zeng said...

I'm leaning towards the "don't know" side. So Creedy's side is not my turf.

Thanks to my gf who bought the V for Vendetta DVD. If not I would have forgotten the quote. Perhaps, that's how a "helper" can be :)

pearlie said...

Melissa, a blogger turned friend was the one who recommended it to me. I bought it and it sat on the shelf for so long before I actually watched it. It was memorable, the scenes are still quite fresh in my mind. And for weeks, my husband kept reciting the "Remember, remember, the 5th of November" until I had to scream at him to shut up! LOL