The Worship of Adam and Jesus

Speculative idea: Perhaps the worship of Jesus in early Christianity can be informed by an understanding of the tradition regarding the worship of Adam.

The Life of Adam and Eve (originally composed in the first century AD, and possibly springing from older traditions), relates the following story:

The Devil answered, “Adam what are you saying to me? On account of you I was cast out from heaven.  When you were formed, I was cast out from the face of God and was sent forth from the company of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael led you and made you worship in the sight of God. The Lord God then said: ‘Behold, Adam, I have made you in our image and likeness.’

Having gone forth Michael called all the angels saying, ‘Worship the image of the Lord God, just as the Lord God has commanded.’ Michael himself worshipped first then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God Jehovah.’ I answered: ‘I do not have it within me to worship Adam.’ When Michael compelled me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why do you compel me? I will not worship him who is lower and posterior to me. I am prior to that creature. Before he was made, I had already been made. He ought to worship me.’ (Life of Adam and Eve 13-14)

Two important early Christological passages, Php 2.6-11 and Col 1.15-20, reflect similar language to this passage from Adam and Eve. They speak of Jesus as, in arguably Adamic terms, the “image” (eikon) and “form” (morphe) of God. Some (e.g. Dunn) would argue for a thoroughly Adamic Christology of the Philippian hymn.

Another passage which immediately springs to mind when reading the above passage from Adam and Eve is Hebrews 1.6:

When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Note how just a few verses earlier, the author of Hebrews says that Jesus is the “exact image” (charakter) of God’s being. So perhaps the idea that God had commanded Adam to be worshiped (since he was a visible image of God) could be warrant for the worship of Jesus in early Christianity (as he too was considered to to be a visible image of God).

On an interesting and tangential note, this tradition of Adam worship is also found in the Qur’an (2:34 and 18:50).

13 responses

  1. Are you aware of the opinion of De Jonge & Tromp that The Life of Adam and Eve is probably from Christian origin and should be dated somewhere in the 2nd to 4th centuries? (see here)

    If that is the case, then the idea that Adam should be worshipped could spring from the parallel with Christ that the author already knew. Then the parallel says not so much about the worship of the earliest Christians.

    • Yes, I am aware of their date for Adam and Eve; it has been dated anywhere from the 1st – 6th centuries. But I was under the impression that the most commonly held date is the 1st century (my impression could obviously be wrong though). I know Charles, in the second volume of his Pseudepigrapha, notes that chapters 8(?)-17 of Adam and Eve are probably from earlier Jewish traditions.

      I think that the tradition of angels wanting to venerate/worship Adam in Rabbinic literature would go against the notion that the worship of Jesus was the parallel from which sprang the worship of Adam in Adam and Eve.

      • OK, but given the uncertainty regarding the date and provenance of the Life of Adam and Eve, I think it should be preferred to be very cautious with resting only on this writing to establish analogies to early Christian practices of the 1st century. As you indicate already, there are also Rabbinic parallels, so that would indeed give support to the idea of a Jewish tradition in which Adam was venerated by angels that can possibly go back to the 1st century.

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  3. Thanks for this – Crispin Fletcher-Louis has made a similar case. For what it is worth, I think that a link between this scene in the LAE and Pauline Christology is misleading if taken too far – Paul’s Christology is quite different in shape and emphasis (and doesn’t have much to say about the worship of Christ at all). In fact, Christology in many ways better corresponds to relationship with God in the LAE. I have a chapter on this in my Phd which I (of course!) think is conclusive. Trying to get that baby published at the mo.

    • Let us know when you get your PhD published.

      Paul’s Christology … doesn’t have much to say about the worship of Christ at all.

      Good point to keep in mind!

      • I can confirm that Chris’ treatment of the parallels between the relation with God LAE and the relationship with Christ in Paul is conclusive. That might be the best chapter of the entire dissertation!

        Get that thing published already Chris! The world needs it!

  4. These are really interesting thoughts. I’ve not spent much time with Adam & Eve, so I’m finding it intriguing.

    I don’t think you need A&E, however, to put forth, at least, an intertwining human-divine language. Of course, the “image” language of Gen 1-5, along with Adam & Eve’s commissioning, sets out, at the very outset, an intended human-divine cooperative on the earth. Naturally, Paul picks up on this in his Christology, highlighting Jesus’ accomplishment of what Adam had failed to do, namely, perfectly represent the Father. I would think that this is the source of Christ worship, that this one finally accomplished what no other human had prior.

    I’d be skeptical, though, of placing that worship on the basis of a merely contemporary Adam worship. If we could show that some sort of Adam veneration went back through a significant portion of Jewish thought for generations, I’d be more inclined to place some weight there. If it’s simply a 1C phenomena, I’d hold it very loosely, if at all.

    • I’d be skeptical, though, of placing that worship on the basis of a merely contemporary Adam worship. If we could show that some sort of Adam veneration went back through a significant portion of Jewish thought for generations, I’d be more inclined to place some weight there. If it’s simply a 1C phenomena, I’d hold it very loosely, if at all.

      I wholly agree.

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  7. For what it’s worth, worship of Adam is described in the Qur’an:

    “And [mention] when We said to the angels, “Prostrate before Adam”; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers.” (2:34).

    (Iblees, as you are probably aware, is the Devil.)

    Have a great day!

  8. It would be interesting to know what the Greek word for
    “worship” is in this text on Adam. Some have suggested, for
    instance that LATREUO worship is revealed in the lexicons to have
    ONLY been used in worship of divine entities. However, according to
    D. Steenburg, LATREUO in early Christian literature demonstrates
    why Christ can receive worship. Regarding the thought that nowhere
    ―do we find any suggestion that the worship of any exalted being
    other than God alone was admissible, let alone actual, he observes
    that because “Adam had been worshipped may have provided a crucial
    warrant for the worship of Christ.” He cites latreuo applied to
    Adam in The Sibylline Oracles: God speaking says, Behold, let us
    make man In a form altogether like our own, And let us give him
    life-sustaining breath; Him being yet mortal all things of the
    world Shall serve, and unto him formed out of clay We will subject
    all things. (Milton S. Terry, translator. The Sibylline Oracles,
    8:587-592. [p. 62]). This partly demonstrates why LATREUO,
    translated “serve” above, is used of a human. Steenburg says “that
    it accounts for the use of morphe [form]” because Adam is seen as
    being in the form morphe or image of God, justifying using LATREUO
    worship of him. He then shows how this also accounts for
    Adam-Christ Christology found in Philippians 2:6-11. Here, the
    pre-existent Christ, rejects the notion of grasping at equality
    with God but chooses to humble himself and become a human servant,
    willing to die on a cross. Thus he is given glory and honor for
    what he has done. (See D. Steenburg, “The Worship of Adam and
    Christ as the Image of God,” Journal for the Study of the New
    Testament 39 [1990], pp. 96-97).

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