Archive for February 1st, 2012
Between teaching sessions I do get a chance to see the countryside
For as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NASB
The one – Who is the last Adam? Christians are quick to answer, “Jesus.” But Jewish followers of YHWH have provided a different answer for the last 2000 years; an answer that most Christians and Messianic believers simply don’t understand or appreciate. Once we realize that our Jewish brothers and sisters have another answer to this question, an answer that is perfectly legitimate within Judaism, we gain two very important insights.
The first insight is the realization that Paul offers a theological shift within the Jewish rabbinic perspective, not a radical break. The groundwork for a “last Adam” theology was already in place. All Paul had to do was point in a slightly different direction.
The second insight is that contemporary orthodox Judaism still retains the fundamental framework for a “last Adam” theology that could follow Paul’s direction. In other words, if it were not for the additional baggage added by the Church’s dismissal of Torah, Jews today might easily follow Paul’s rabbinic thought in Romans Chapter 5. It’s all there, waiting to be revealed by moving from one exegetical scheme to another.
Notice what Neusner says about this “last Adam” idea. “Israel is like Adam, but Israel is the other, the last Adam, comparable to but ultimately the opposite of the first Adam: God’s final solution to the Adam problem. . . . For Judaism, what is important is how sages explicitly compare Adam and Israel, the first man and the last, and show how the story of Adam matches the story of Israel – but with a difference not to be missed.”
Did you catch the connection rabbinic Judaism provides? The first Adam was that man in the Garden who disobeyed YHWH’s command. As a result, human progeny were propelled into a world dominated by the unrestrained yetzer ha’ra. Then came God’s selection of Israel! Because the sages adopted an exegetical method that employed typology and allegory, they looked at Israel as the last Adam. Israel, God’s chosen people, became the substitute Adam. Israel ushered in the possibility of obedience that reconciled the error made by the first Adam. Because the sages saw the divinely-chosen nation as God’s answer to a lost world, they offered a different answer to the problem of the Fall. Within rabbinic thought, that answer was legitimate. The problem with the answer is not the formula “last Adam = Israel.” The problem is the exegetical method that produces the formula.
When Paul offers a different formula (“last Adam = Yeshua”) he is still working within the framework of rabbinic theology. He is still trying to solve the fall-death problem. But his exegetical method is based on historical event, not on allegory and type. Therefore, he points in a different direction. He points to the actual man, Yeshua, as the solution rather than to a typology found in the idea of Israel. Paul certainly was familiar with the exegesis of typology. He uses it himself. But on this crucial issue, he anchors his claim in the historical record. If Yeshua didn’t live and die and rise again as the Messiah, then Paul’s claim is bogus. Paul recognizes that even the idea of Israel can’t really solve this problem because the people of Israel have not been perfectly obedient. They still need an advocate on Yom Kippur. The high priest can’t atone for his own sins and neither can the nation. God Himself must solve this problem and God does so with a man, the Messiah, not with a type.
What does this mean for us? First, we learn that Paul is much more of a rabbi than we commonly believe. Even in his view of Yeshua as mediator, he does not step out of the rabbinic framework. He merely offers another solution. Secondly, we learn that if we are going to interact with our Jewish compatriots today, we must become sensitive to the exegetical methods they have used for 2400 years; methods that produce the answers they embrace today. If we are going to talk about Yeshua as the Messiah, we better understand how they would view the same original material. And finally, we realize that we too have presuppositions that guide our exegesis. If we don’t know why we believe what we believe, if we don’t understand how our paradigms shape the reading to the text, then we are in no better position than those rabbis who rejected Paul’s other direction. If unity is our goal, the goal that Paul expressed over and over, we have a lot to learn, don’t we?
Topical Index: Adam, last Adam, Judaism, Neusner, Romans 5:19
 Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, p. 57