PMW 2023-002 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
1 Cor 15:47: “The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.”
In this verses Paul is comparing Adam and Christ, showing that Adam is a type of Christ. Despite the surface appearance and seeming plausibility, this is not speaking of each person’s source. That is, he is not arguing that Adam came into this world (or into history) from the ground (though that is certainly true), whereas Christ came down from heaven (though this also is true). This interpretation fits neither the context nor the flow of Paul’s argument. Note the following as I build the case.
First, Paul says that “the first man is from the earth, earthy.” This reflects Genesis 2:7, which is translated: “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground.” The Greek of Paul’s statement reads: ho protos anthropos ek ges choikos. The Greek choikos means “made of earth, made of dust, earthy.” As noted, Paul is echoing the Genesis verse, which in the Septuagint reads: choun apo tes ges. Thus, choikos reflects the LXX choun apo tes ges. If this were all there was to the comparison, one might think Paul is speaking of the separate sources of these two figures.
Second, Paul statement is paralleled in the second half of the verse: “the second man is from heaven.” Again, surface appearance can easily lead one to conclude that Paul is highlight source differences between these individuals, Adam and Christ. The Greek here reads: ho deuteros anthropos ex ouranou. The first man parallels the second man in some way; and the parallel is an antithetic relationship because the first man is ek ges choikos, whereas the second man is ex ouranou. This is saying (as we will see) that the first man is earthly, whereas the second man is heavenly. But what does this mean?
Third, Paul is stating that the second man (Christ) is “heavenly” and not that he is “from heaven.” The last two words in Greek are the predicate of the sentence (ex ouranou)— not the last three words (anthropos ex ouranou). Thus Christ is not “a man-from-heaven,” but a “heavenly-man.” This differentiates the second man from the first as a qualitative statement. This qualitative understanding is supported by the fact that in verses 48 and 49 believers are called epouranios, which is the lexical equivalent of ex oranou. Believers certainly do not come down from heaven to be born.
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Fourth, if in v. 47 Paul began speaking of Christ’s pre-existence in heaven, he would contradict his own just stated observation. For in the immediately preceding verse he forthrightly declared: “the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual” (v. 46).
Fifth, if we understand ex ouranou qualitatively (i.e., “heavenly”) and then we note what Paul says about Christ’s pre-resurrection life in Romans 8:3, then the phrase must speak of Christ’s humanity (not his pre-existence) which has been qualitatively elevated by virtue of his eschatological resurrection. For Romans 8:3 informs us that Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” After all, even in his resurrected state in heaven Christ is still spoken of a “the second man” (v. 47).
Thus, Paul is presenting two orders of existence that reflect the two ages of redemptive history. He is presenting the natural order of the current, fallen realm (the first Adam) as over against the resurrected order in the consummate, perfected realm (which Christ as already entered). So then, thirty or so years after Christ’s resurrection, Paul can say: “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). But by God’s grace and through his Spirit, we are now tasting the powers of the age to come (Heb. 2:6) though we have not fully and perfectly realized them, since we are not physically resurrected.
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