Interview with Books at a Glance

May 09, 2018

by Brandon Crowe

Fred Zaspel, editor at Books at a Glance interviews Dr. Brandon Crowe on his latest book, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels.

Zaspel: Adam Christology is not new, but our guest today wants you to know that it’s not just a Pauline doctrine. I’m Fred Zaspel, editor here at Books At a Glance, and I’m talking to Dr. Brandon Crowe of Westminster Theological Seminary here in Philadelphia and author of the new book, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels. Brandon, welcome, and congratulations on your new book!

Crowe: Thanks, Fred. It’s great to be here.

Zaspel: What was the purpose of Jesus’s earthly life? His work culminates of course in his death and resurrection, but what about his thirty-some years before that?

Crowe: That’s the million-dollar question! It’s a question that I’m happy to see a lot of people have been asking, particularly about the Gospels, in recent years. So that’s the question that I’m trying to tackle in this book—what do we make of the Gospels?

The starting point, really, that I ask is—people have called the Gospels passion narratives with extended introductions. And then, what happens is the conversation becomes so tilted towards the passion narratives that, in these books, the Gospels, which are the only books that really expand upon the life of Christ, of course, we have so much in there that are not passion narratives that are narrated for us in such a way as to connect the work of Christ and the person of Christ to salvation. But they don’t put all the pieces together in the way that a didactic letter might do it. And so, we’re left with a lot of conversations about Gospels that tilt toward the passion narratives. Whereas, what I’m trying to do, here, is look at what do we do with all of this volume of material that deals with, in some cases, the infancy and the childhood of Jesus and his work from his baptism on to before he gets to Jerusalem. As we look at that, what I’m trying to argue is that what you have here is a representative person, a figure who is fully in conformity to the will of God, fully in conformity with Scripture; and he is accomplishing something throughout his life, even before he gets to the cross.

Zaspel: Okay, let’s talk about your title and your thesis: In what ways do the Gospel writers present Jesus as the new Adam? Can you give us some examples? Maybe you could mention some of the more obvious and some of the more subtle ways that they present him as the new Adam.

Crowe: Probably the most obvious place . . . if I had to take just one text, it might be a text like Luke’s genealogy, which is going to trace Jesus all the way back to Adam. He is Son of Adam, Son of God. So, there you have an explicit reference of Christ to Adam. And what’s really interesting there in Luke, is the way that that is right in between his baptism and his temptation, which encourages us to view those together so that as he is baptized as Son of God, and that Son of God is qualified, then, as Son of God and Son of Adam in the genealogy, then this Son of God/Son of Adam is going to be obedient in temptation. In contrast, not only to Israel, but also, in contrast to Adam, which is going to be that near antecedent to the temptation account. There’s a text that you can see both Son of God and Son of Adam which are going to be tightly correlated in the Gospels, you see them together. And then, if that’s the case, that gives us a lot of room for exploring similar texts. For example, in Mark’s temptation account, which is different from Matthew’s and Luke’s, which have the threefold temptation and the threefold response of Jesus from Deuteronomy. What you have in Mark is different. Jesus is with the wild animals and there is a peaceful coexistence between Jesus and the wild animals and he is being ministered to there in the wilderness. There have been some scholars who have seen that as an Adam Christology, but it’s not quite as common as you might think. But even where it is common authors often recognize that this is exceptional. I don’t think it’s exceptional, I think it actually fits with Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation accounts and, though it is distinctive there, it’s not completely exceptional. And so, you have that.

You also have, I think, a broad category that’s helpful here is Son of Man. Son of Man most likely comes from Daniel 7, which is a reflection and a vision of this kingdom of one like a son of man, in contrast to the beastly kingdoms, and that is going to be building on the imagery from Psalm 8, which builds on Genesis 1 and 2. And so you have the Son of Man, which is the one created in God’s image, who is the one who is supposed to have authority and dominion. And you see that realized in the Son of Man figure. And as you come to the Gospels you see Jesus over and over again as Son of Man, as one who suffers and yet one who has glory. And so, you have this temporary inversion of that Danielic image of Daniel 7 of glory, but ultimately at the end you see through that suffering he will enter into glory and will realize that vision of the authoritative Son of Man which is inherently an Adamic image.

So those are a few big ways we see the genealogy, the temptation, the Son of Man. But as you start to get your foot in that door, exegetically, then you start to consider other possible avenues. And I think it really opens up to consider other texts as well.

Zaspel: Now this kind of sounds like something that would fit very well in today’s biblical theology and seeing how themes and passages are picked up. In some sense this could sound a bit new, but this area of study is not new, is it? You’ve seen this in the early church as well, right?

Crowe: That’s exactly right. I started the volume in many ways looking at Irenaeus. Irenaeus, the second-century church father, had this view of the coherence of the Scriptures and recapitulation. Some have even called him the first covenant theologian. I don’t know if that’s the proper term or not, but what you have with Irenaeus is the view that Christ accomplishes salvation throughout his life by undoing what Adam messed up, by recapitulating Adam and fixing what had been messed up. So that is there with Irenaeus and it’s not unique to Irenaeus, but you see it very strongly in many of the church fathers, who had this biblical theological impetus in them. Even someone like Cyril of Alexandria sees Christ as the key to the Scriptures; and not just Christ as the key, but, in many ways, it’s this connection between Christ and Adam, so that Christ is overcoming what Adam has messed up. This is there all through the history of interpretation. You see it in the Christian pseudepigraphical work called The Cave of Treasures, which is not well known. And you see it, of course, in some of the great reformers like Calvin. You see it in Bavinck, and you see it in many of these systematic theologians who are looking to bring things together. And if you pay attention to the history of exegesis, I do think it’s there, and I think the exceptional thing is really the past couple hundred years where this has been downplayed in biblical scholarship. But, if you look at the wider context of the history of interpretation, then what you see is this biblical theological impetus is there, consistently.

. . . continue reading at Books at a Glance.

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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