Today there was an interesting post on Justin Taylor's blog where he posts a video where Tremper Longman suggests that the existence of a historical Adam and Eve is an open question. The question was then raised, what do we do with passages like Romans 5:12-13 which presupposes a historical reading of Genesis 1-3? As one who does not think that a literal Adam and Eve existed I find this to be a very interesting and important question.
The first thing to point out is that Paul is making an analogy, 'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man...' (Rom 5:12a - TNIV). This is made clear in verse 18 when Paul picks up this thought again (5:13-17 are a digression - see e.g., Schreiner p. 268) saying, 'Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people...' (Rom 5:18a - TNIV). The 'just as' at the start of each clause signals that Paul is making an analogy. Does the analogy break down if there was no historical Adam?
Let's take a quick aside and examine another use of analogy in the NT. What about Jesus and the sign of Jonah? Does Jesus reference to the sign of Jonah require that Jonah have been in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights in reality? Why isn't it enough that in the story Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights? The analogy still works. It still gets across Jesus point that he will rise again from the dead in three days. Similarly, while not an analogy, Jude can cite a non-canonical text like 1 Enoch that certainly is not historical (see Jude 1:14) to make a point.
Thus, analogies and comparisons in general do not need historical referrents to make a valid, true, point. Obviously, though, I have not proved that this is the case in every instance or even in Romans 5. What's Paul's point in this section of Romans 5? He's attempting to show that all human beings subsequent to Adam have entered a world alienated from God and thus we commit sin which alienates us from God; and Christ undoes all of that. Does this argument require that a literal Adam have existed? Could Genesis 3 be a metaphorical way for explaining that somehow humanity fell, it sinned, it failed to achieve it's God given purpose (a suggestion, if my memory serves me right, allowed by Henri Blocher in Original Sin - if I'm wrong let me know and I'll correct it)? Would not Paul's argument still work? His point seems to remain in tact.
I realize this post leaves many other questions left unaddressed, I hope to address some of them in the next couple of posts.