Barth on “Adam and Christ” vs. “Christ and Adam”


The following is a quote from Karl Barth’s short book on Romans 5. In this Barth argues that the proper order we have to think through is not “Adam and Christ” but “Christ and Adam”. That is to say, Christ first then Adam, and therefore Adam only in the light of Christ. This reframes the doctrine of sin and the doctrine of atonement by placing the justification of the sinner first before the knowledge of sin and of the sinner, because, as Barth later argues in the Church Dogmatics, we can only know sin in the light of the One who conquered it! Furthermore, as best shown here, Barth also argues that the fundamental nature of human beings is not in Adam but in Christ. Since this order is reverse, since we know Adam only in the light of Christ, we likewise can only know ourselves and human nature in the light of Christ. (Bold text is mine.)

“The meaning of the famous parallel (so called) between ‘Adam and Christ,’ which now follows, is not that the relationship between Adam and us is the expression of our true and original nature, so that we would have to recognize in Adam the fundamental truth of anthropology to which the subsequent relationship between Christ and us would have to fit and adapt itself. The relationship between Adam and us reveals not the primary but only the secondary anthropological truth and ordering principle. The primary anthropological truth and ordering principle, which only mirrors itself in that relationship, is made clear only through the relationship between Christ and us. Adam is, as is said in v. 14, typos toumellontos, the type of Him who was to come. Man’s essential and original nature is to be found, therefore, not in Adam but in Christ. In Adam we can only find it prefigured. Adam can therefore be interpreted only in the light of Christ and not the other way round.

For Christ who seems to come second, really comes first, and Adam who seems to come first really comes second. In Christ the relationship between the one and the many is original, in Adam it is only a copy of that original. Our relationship to Adam depends for its reality on our relationship to Christ. And that means, in practice, that to find the true and essential nature of man we have to look not to Adam the fallen man, but to Christ in whom what is fallen has been cancelled and what was original has been restored. We have to correct and interpret what we know of Adam by what we know of Christ, because Adam is only true man in so far as he reflects and points to the original humanity of Christ.

(Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5pp. 39-40 and pp. 74-5, Collier Books ed. 1962)

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One thought on “Barth on “Adam and Christ” vs. “Christ and Adam”

  1. Barth’s reverse order seems to be based on the relationship of Christ and Adam BEFORE the latter’s fall, whereas the order of Adam and Christ is based on the Adam AFTER his fall. Barth’s reverse order may sound valid theologically, but in experience, a sinner would always firstly relates to the post-fall Adam than Chrrist as a sinless one to understand his being a spice of post-fall Adam to be condemned by Goad.

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