Adam at the Cross

Posted: January 1, 2012 by J in Theology

I’m still thinking about the incarnation, sorry!

We’ve been asking, how close did God come to us at Bethlehem? We described this dilemma, was Jesus truly one of us, inheriting the fallen, sinful humanity of Adam (though without sinning!) or was he a new sort of human, unfallen, not sinful at all?

Evangelicals tend to say the latter. I’ve been calling for a rethink.

A new area I want to explore: I’m afraid that getting this wrong could have catastrophic effects on our view of the Cross.

Here’s what I mean: If it wasn’t the fallen, sinful humanity of Adam that hung condemned by God and man at the cross, then how exactly was Adam’s sinful flesh condemned there? Wouldn’t it have been something else that got condemned? The word of judgement spoken at the cross: how was it spoken upon Adam’s race, if it wasn’t a genuine son of Adam hanging there, but someone else? Hard to see how the cross would function as a condemning of corrupt mankind. It would, strictly speaking, be a condemning of pure and innocent mankind.

To put it another way, it’s not clear how Jesus at the cross could have acted as our representative. We believe that God’s ultimate word of judgement, his NO to sin, was spoken at the cross, right? But if that word wasn’t spoken over Adam’s fallen flesh, then when Jesus was condemned he wasn’t really acting as our representative. He was not the summing up of sinful humanity, for he didn’t even belong to that group. So God’s verdict was directed at someone else besides Adam.

Instead, we would have to say something like: Jesus was a replacement, someone from outside the group of sinful humanity, acting as a substitute for us. The sort of substitute that is not truly representative of the ones he stands for, because he is not like them or from them.

This is a bad place to take our atonement theology, for all sorts of reasons. But let’s just focus on the Cross as God’s word of condemnation. If God had put up one of us, a representative chosen from amongst Adam’s guilty offspring, and hung him on the cross in the place of us all, condemned him to death – that would make some sense. We could see how his condemnation was in some sense ours. We could even perhaps see that his death spelled (or represented) death for the whole race: if the champion is killed, the whole army loses.

But how if God puts up a replacement instead, from outside the group? And judges that outsider? Is this a clear word of judgement against us? Hard to see that it is. Does the one’s death spell death to Adam’s race? Can’t see why it would.

Of course you can develop a theological construct where the things that happen to this innocent Jesus are transfered across the boundary between his humanity and ours, and apply somehow to us. But that takes some explaining.  And ethical objections spring up all along the way. It all gets terribly complicated. And it’s a hard slog coming up with any proof texts for it!

Even with a complex atonement theology like that, what you can’t really salvage is the clarity and persuasiveness of the gospel idea of representation. The message that at last, after the long dark history of mankind, a champion arose, a David figure, who bore all our liabilities, took responsibility for the whole mess, paid the whole price, stepping forward to face our worst curse, death itself. Jesus is not God by-passing our humanity, he is God redeeming and restoring it. Jesus takes our humanity and does what needs to be done – he puts it to death. He steps up, our representative, and – is killed. And so the whole race dies in him.

You really can’t get that unless he comes from Adam’s sinful stock. Taking another, pure humanity to the Cross won’t do the job.

But, Jesus putting our humanity to death, that’s how the apostles tell it, right?

“We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died… So we no longer view anyone purely in terms of sinful flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:14,16)

“God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as a sin offering. He condemned sin in the flesh...” (Romans 8:3)

“I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:19).

“for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

“We know that our old self was co-crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed” (Romans 6:6)

“ I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop…31 Now is the condemnation of this world, now its ruler will be thrown out. 32 As for Me, if I am lifted up  from the earth I will draw all |people| to Myself.” 33 He said this to signify what kind of death He was about to die. (John 12:24ff)

16 Jesus reconciles both [Jew and Gentile] to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death the hostility through it (Ephesians 2:14-16 –  Jesus’ death puts human hostility to death).

Here’s another way of putting it: when you look at Jesus on the cross, who do you see? Just one man? Or do you see yourself there also? And all of us?

It’s only as you see Adam’s son there on that bloody cross that you realise that death is what humanity had to face. His condemnation is truly ours.

Otherwise, you’ll end up stuck with a doctrine of the cross that majors on substitution, without ever being able to ground it in the thing the New Testament really insists on: representation. And so you’ll never get a clear message of the condemnation, of the ending that was achieved in Jesus’ death. You’ll have a crucifixion that speaks of life, more than death. You’ll tend to see the judgement as a largely future event, and not pick up on the NT message that the judgement has arrived at the Cross. That would be an empty cross indeed!

If it wasn’t one of Adam’s fallen sons hanging there, then ultimately it’s hard to make sense of his final words:

“It is finished!”

  1. Mike W says:

    Amen to representation as the basis for substitution!

    When we say that God condemned sinful flesh in the body of Jesus, why restrict the condemnation to the father. Why not also say that Jesus, the Son, also condmened sinful flesh by obedience, even unto death?

    I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Gunton wrestles with this problem by means of Irving’s ‘Spirit Christology’. Worth a look.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Hi Wellsie, that sounds fair enough. Could you tease it out a bit: why do we want to say it was the Son who also did the condemning? Are there Scriptures that point in this direction, or does some other doctrine imply this?

  3. Anil G says:

    Thanks for posting on this subject, Jonathan.

    I’ve not really encountered the “representation” vs “substitution” concepts before, so it’s stimulating for me to consider the discussion. I’m not at all sorry you are (still) thinking about the incarnation. You’ve chosen an unbeatable topic!

    I have a response. I don’t think we can possibly afford to consider Jesus as sinful in any way. This looks like a core contradiction of explicit scripture to me. If a sinless Jesus causes theological problems, surely there must be something wrong with the theology somewhere else?

    Anil Gulati


    We cannot possibly have a “new sort of human” in Christ. The Bible never mentions “two humanities” so it is enough that when 1 Timothy 2:5 says “the man Christ Jesus” we know it means “man”, just as it always does.

    Romans 5 provides explicit direction. Verse 12 tells us that “by one man sin entered”, referring to Adam. Verse 15 refers to “one man, Jesus Christ”. These two are clearly the same sort of man. Jesus Christ is a man just as Adam was a man.


    But the first alternative is not correct either. Jesus does not have to inherit the sin of Adam to be “truly one of us”. Sin is not definitively part of humanity. It’s something we do, not something we are.

    Jesus was a fully legal human “born of a woman”, “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Since his father was without sin (Luke 1:35 et al), Jesus had no sin to inherit (Exodus 34:7).


    It wasn’t the fallen, sinful humanity of Adam that hung condemned by God and man at the cross. It was Jesus!

    Adam’s flesh was *already* condemned! Adam’s flesh would already be condemned *irrespective* of whether the cross ever happened.

    Does humankind need a cross to function as their condemnation? The whole reason the cross was needed was because the condemnation of humankind was *already* complete!


    Humanity is defined by families, not by our actions, sinful or otherwise. We are not a family of angels. We are not a family of monkeys. We are a family of people, all descended from Adam.

    Jesus qualifies as a *man* on the Cross. He didn’t have to belong to the “group” of “sinful humanity”. He explicitly *does need* to belong to the “group” (of one) of “sinless humanity”.

    Jesus absolutely had to be *fully human* on the cross in order to be a **legal substitute**, but he absolutely had to be *sinless* in order to be a **sufficient substitute**. These are the absolutes that can never change, irrespective of any perceived theological need for some specialised sort of representative.


    The whole race does *not* “die in him” in the sense of “losing life”.

    We die to *sin* (Romans 6:2). When we are “dead indeed to sin” we are “alive … through Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

    The body is dead “because of sin” (Romans 8:10), *not* because of the Cross, and *not* because of Jesus. We were *already dead* because of “trespasses and sins” and Jesus made us *alive* (Ephesians 2:1).


    2 Corinthians 5:14 **if one died for all, then were all dead**

    Jesus was the one who died, because all were *already* dead. We didn’t die because of Jesus. We were already dead.

    2 Corinthians 5:15 **that they which live … unto him which died**

    And because he died, they lived. We didn’t die because of Jesus. We lived.

    Jesus went from life to death (and rose again 3 days later). All others went from death to life.

    The Cross was an event where only one man, Jesus, died. We do not all “die in him”, but we “live through him”.

    ROMANS 8

    Romans 8:3 **God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh**

    The Son came in the *likeness* of sinful flesh. Not *actually* sinful flesh. The flesh was actual but the sinfulness was just a similarity.

    Romans 8:3 **and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh**

    It was *sin* that was condemned, *not* flesh. Humanity was not condemned, sin was. And the flesh that did that was Jesus’ flesh, not ours. The flesh of Jesus put an end to sin.

    Romans 8:4 **That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us**

    The effect of Jesus condemning sin with his own flesh was that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us (not that we might be condemned).


    Galatians 2:20 **I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me**

    My crucifixion with Christ is the death of my old sinful “life”. Nevertheless I have been resurrected by Christ who lives in me. Sinfulness is crucified. I am resurrected.

    Galatians 2:19 **For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.**

    My death on the cross is only my death to the law. The law was my death because of sin, so my death to the law is now my life unto God. This does not constitute condemnation.


    Colossians 3:3 **For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.**

    What manner of death this is, is apparent from the preceding verses. It is a voluntary and desirable death, and contains no condemnation, except (again) of sin (not me).

    Colossians 2:12 **Buried with him in baptism, where in also ye are risen with him**

    After I died, I was buried. After I renounced my sinful life (and he destroyed it for me), I was baptised. The implied death is the death of sin, not the death of me.

    Colossians 2:13 **And you, being dead in your sins … forgiven you all trespasses**

    I was already dead, and he forgave me, not condemned me.

    Colossians 2:20 **Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world,**

    I am dead to the world, which is life, not a death of condemnation.

    ROMANS 6

    Romans 6:6 **our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.**

    The “old man” is crucified, which is only an aspect of ourselves, possibly even only our behaviour, our wilful disobedience. The “body of sin” is destroyed, not we ourselves.

    Romans 6:7 **For he that is dead is freed from sin.**

    We are freed by this, not destroyed or condemned.

    JOHN 12

    John 12:24 **Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.**

    This refers specifically to Jesus’ death. It can also refer to acts of personal sacrifice. This again specifies the death of *one* leading to the *life* of many (fruit). This is not our death or condemnation, and results in eternal life (verse 25).

    John 12:31 **Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.**

    The judgment (some have condemnation) of “this” world is distinct from the “the” world, and this distinction is confirmed or enhanced by the association with “the prince of this world”. This is again either the condemnation of *sin* or even actually a judgement on the devil, resulting in action to cast him out (“the prince of this world is judged” John 16:11).

    John 12:33 **This he said, signifying what death he should die.**

    This (again) refers only to Jesus’ death.


    If Jesus’ death puts human hostility to death, this is a good way of phrasing the *death of sin*, which is life to us, not our death or condemnation.

    Ephesians 2:14 **For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;**

    The word is translated in the King James to indicate a “barrier partition wall”. This is referring to the bringing in of the Gentiles into the convenant of promise, and thus the elimination of the division between Jews and Gentiles. This is more to do with the reconciliation of humanity to God.

    Ephesians 2:15 **Having abolished in his flesh … the law of commandments … so making peace**

    The death of the law. Making peace for humanity, not death.

    Ephesians 2:16 **reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby**

    The death of the enmity, not the death of humanity.

    Ephesians 2:13 **But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.**

    The effect of the death (blood) of Christ is to bring us close (nigh) to God, not to condemn us.


    I’m very thankful how very hard it is to see how the cross could ever function as a condemning of corrupt mankind. When I look at Jesus on the Cross I see the condemnation of my *sins* and the fulfillment of his *righteousness* in me. I remember the condemnation *from* men (Mark 15:29), and the *forgiveness* of God: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).

    My life *starts* on the Cross. Jesus faced death so that I didn’t have to!

    **But I also see the whole of (saved) humanity, of which I am a part, lifted up to sit “at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:2 et al).**

    I find it impossible to conceive of greater glory for our Lord, nor of a more intensely populated Cross.

    • Jonathan says:

      Anil, thanks for posting. Normally I don’t let comments this long through, but as it’s your first time, and you’re such a nice guy…

      I do appreciate you taking the time to respond in detail to my post. I won’t try to respond in kind, but just mention a few things.

      – you might like to look back at a few of the previous posts in this series, as they deal with some of the issues you raise. At some points they might offer you a different perspective on Jesus’ humanity. The first was simply titled ‘Incarnation’.

      – regarding my two alternatives, you don’t like the first, that Jesus was a different sort of human from us. Nor do you like the second, that Jesus was one of Adam’s fallen race. In the rest of your comments I think I’m hearing that you don’t think Jesus had the same human nature we inherit from Adam. To me it sounds like you’re going for the first alternative: Jesus humanity was different from ours.

      Maybe you could clarify for us by stating in a phrase or sentence a third option that is neither of these two. I had thought they were the only two options, like ‘black or not black.’ But I’m open to hear another suggestion.

      – I feel it’s worth mentioning that in one of the Scriptures you quote, the KJV translation is too inaccurate to be let go. Sorry if it sounds like nit picking, but the verse is a key one. You have:

      2 Corinthians 5:14 **if one died for all, then were all dead**

      Jesus was the one who died, because all were *already* dead. We didn’t die because of Jesus. We were already dead.

      This translation is not really possible. There are two instances of the verb ‘die’ in this sentence, and they are practically identical: both aorist actives. They really ought to be translated the same way ‘one died for all, therefore all died.’

      I’m heaps happy to disagree about interpretations of texts, but ‘All were dead’ is no good as a translation here. I hate to be saying this – I know you just read it out of your Bible, which is totally fair enough…

      Anyway, the sense here is pretty clear: The one died on behalf of all, and as a result, all died.


      • Anil G says:

        Thanks for your kindness, Jonathan. I *was* perturbed that my post seemed longer than your article :-), but I wanted to cover all the scripture that you quoted! This post is a bit long too, because I’ve explained the same point in 3 or 4 different ways to answer your question.

        Regarding your two alternatives, I’m interested in the scriptural view, not my own preference. I believe I have demonstrated there is no scriptural justification for a *different kind* of human, and you agree there are problems there too. I don’t see how we can equivocate Hebrews 4:15 etc. either, but just because Jesus is sinless that doesn’t make him a *new kind* of human.

        Sin is something we *do*, not something we *are*. Jesus *is* “one of us” but there’s no compulsion *in that* for him to be sinful. A sinless Jesus is still 100% human, fully “one of us”, without being a “new kind” of man.

        It may help to remember the first Adam. Adam and Eve were the original humans created “very good” and they lived in harmony with God *before* the fall. The change in sinfulness did not change the humanity of Adam and Eve. They were still the same humans after the fall.

        In terms of black and non-black, a human can be a black human or a non-black human, but they are still equally human. Just as my colour does not stop me being human my sinfulness or sinlessness doesn’t stop me being human either. Humanity is a biologically defined identity. We can know someone is human without needing to know whether they are sinful or sinless.

        Jesus is a pristine human, I am a much less than pristine human. Jesus’ pristine quality doesn’t make him less representative of the other degraded stock.

        You want a sinless man to be a “new kind” or a “different kind” of man from sinful men, so that you can say that Jesus in his role as representative is not sinless, but this alternative is not really available.

        Regarding 2 Corinthians 5:14, my understanding is no other translations use the same source text as the KJV so it’s a certainty that you won’t find the same translation elsewhere. This moves the discussion to the comparative merits of the original texts. I don’t see this establishing an obvious “blooper”.

        2 Corinthians 5:14 **if one died for all, then were all dead** KJV


        2 Corinthians 5:14 **one died for all, therefore all died** OTHERS

        I agree your comment is not nit picking, but would this verse then be the only scriptural support for your view? All your other verses support the KJV reading.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Anil, thanks for clarifying.

    I don’t think there’s a manuscript issue in 2 Corinthians 5:14. All the greek texts I’ve checked have the same reading, including the so-called ‘Textus receptus’, which the KJV is working from. So it’s a translation issue. The reason all the others (including the NKJV) have a different translation is because the KJV at this point does not do a good job of conveying the meaning of the greek.

  5. Anil G says:

    Thanks for bearing with me, Jonathan. I’ll see if I can do more research on 2 Corinthians 5:14. What do you think about the rest?

    Surely a “lamb from the flock, without blemish” is the perfect paradigm for one who is fully human and fully “one of us” (of the flock) yet without sin (without blemish) (Leviticus 1:10, Hebrews 4:15, etc.) ? Can you agree this is neither of your two initial alternatives?

    How do you understand Ephesians 2:1, 5 etc. which tell us we were “already dead”, and Romans 8:3 etc. which tell us it was sin that was condemned, not us? Shouldn’t these verses affect your reading of 2 Corinthians 5:14?

    What about the “reconciliation” verses “not imputing … trespasses” (forgiving, not condemning) immediately following 2 Corinthians 5:14? Isn’t this a direct contextual contradiction of the meaning you are looking for there?

    What do you regard as the major scriptural support for your position other than 2 Corinthians 5:14?

    • Jonathan says:

      Sorry Anil, I’ve been away on hols. I don’t think I’ll manage to comment helpfully on everything you’ve written, but I’ll make a couple of comments.

      On ‘the lamb without blemish’, see the article I posted on that topic recently. I think it’s called Jesus a sinner? It’s not always so easy to pin down the meaning of a metaphor. In that article I question whether the way the lamb metaphor is normally understood (i.e. the way you take it) is necessarily the best way.

      How do you understand Ephesians 2:1, 5 etc. which tell us we were “already dead”? Shouldn’t these verses affect your reading of 2 Corinthians 5:14?

      So this is a metaphor also. We were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. A mixed metaphor at that, for when we were dead, ‘we walked in sins’! The metaphor needs to be interpreted in its own context, i.e. in that of Ephesians 1-2. I would suggest that there ‘dead’ describes the misery of living enslaved to sin, living amongst the disobedient, living as ‘children of anger’. I think Paul expands what he means by dead through the following passage, and espeically in v.12 ‘You were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.’ I don’t think there’s much hint of judicial issues in Ephesians 2. It’s about relational issues more generally. So the metaphor ‘dead’ there should be interpreted similarly.

      In 2 Cor 5 things are a bit different. ‘Death’ here is an event, not a state. Also, it is not primarily a metaphor: Jesus did actually die. Also, the passage is framed with judicial language: ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.’ and also ‘he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’. So the question is what does it mean that when he died, we all also died? Whatever it means, it needs to link in with us coming to new life because Jesus rose.

      It’s probably worth saying that I see Jesus death and his resurrection as achieving different things. And both being essential to our salvation. Often people in the evangelical tradition see the death of Jesus as the place where salvation happens, and his resurrection doesn’t really add that much. I see it differently: Jesus’ death and resurrection achieve the two things needed for mankind to have a future: judgement and redemption, putting to death and bringing to new life.

      So I agree that 2 Cor 5 is about reconciliation. But reconciliation through death. ‘If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has passed away; see, new things have arrived!’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s