Was Adam a Priest?

This might seem a strange question to ask. Few of us consider him in that light, primarily because it is not a title given to him by any scriptural writer. However, I would argue that he was, albeit a failed one.

We ought to consider what a priest actually is. I speak now of Biblical theology rather than any man-made theologies and related priesthoods, such as Mormonism or Catholicism. A priest is one who mediates between man and God, who is authorised to enter God’s presence in order to enact ritual, lead worship and offer atonement. In ancient Israel, these functions were performed by Levi and his tribe, and specifically Aaron and his sons, who populated the national priesthood. There was at least one other who is formally given this title, Melchizedek, who was the priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18) and was a type of the Lord Jesus Himself, whose great high priesthood is described throughout the New Testament book of Hebrews. Although Adam is never named along with Melchizedek, Levi, Aaron, and their sons, I would suggest that Adam may be included as a co-holder of their priestly office, albeit with considerably less success.

Adam communed with God

Like a later priest, he was appointed to his role by God; it was not a position for which he applied or had to evidence a ‘call’. In Gen 3:8, before the full horrors of the Fall are realised, we catch a glimpse of Adam’s previous relationship with His Maker- the two of them walking through the garden in the cool of the evening. Just as the Jewish high priest entered the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God on earth, so Adam shared God’s company in the Garden.

Adam represented all people to God

Hebrews 7:10 explains that Levi was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. In other words, the future chief of the Levitical tribe was present ‘in’ Abraham when he met with Melchizedek. In the same way, each of us was ‘in’ Adam when he communed with the Lord. This is why the Fall has affected each one of us, even though we were not directly present nor culpable. A similar point is made by Paul in Romans 5:12:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men…

Through that one ancestor, each one of us was corrupted and defiled, our relations with God severed. We might therefore state that when we were ‘in’ Adam before He fell, ‘we’ enjoyed communion with God through our ancestor. When he was right with God, we were right with God. When he rebelled and fell, we all rebelled and fell. He was therefore our representative, our federal head, our priest. Adam’s ‘ministry’ affected many more than himself.

Adam was custodian and administrator of a temple

May we consider Eden to be one giant, tropical temple? Although it was a garden rather than a building, it clearly had demarcated borders with this rest of the earth. It was a place where God himself chose to dwell, a place particularly showcasing His beauty and creative genius, where Adam might lead His worship on behalf of the whole planet.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. (Gen 2:15)

I believe this was to manage it, ensuring this great shrine was not defiled by anything unclean, such as the serpent. Just as the priests of both tabernacle and temple administered their shrine’s upkeep and maintenance, so Adam maintained the sacred land to which he had been appointed minister and viceroy.

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”.

If Adam lived in Eden and was responsible for tilling and managing it, ‘subduing the earth’ must be a call to expand it, to enlarge its boundaries, to cover the rest of the earth with God’s glory and presence. This is echoed in Psalm 72:19:  And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Similarly, we Christians spread Christ’s reign over the whole earth as we take his gospel to its four corners.

It is interesting that in the tabernacle and temple, there were garden motifs built into the furnishings, reminders of our lost Edenic heritage. The seven-branched menorah surely reminds us of the tree of life and Numbers 8 describes the golden flowers to be on the lamps’ shafts. Of the Solomonic temple in 1 Kings 6:18, we read:

The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with ornamental buds and open flowers. All was cedar; there was no stone to be seen.

Furthermore, the ark was pictorially guarded by two cherubim, whose images were also rendered onto the designs of the tabernacle curtains (Ex 26:1). For a faith so devoid of imagery and for which idolatry was anathema, depicting angelic beings must have been a deliberate call to remember the fiery guardians who barred our entrance to Eden.

Furthermore, the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 is presented as Eden restored, another huge garden-city-temple. God Himself dwells there (“I saw no temple in the city”) yet it is home to a river and a huge, fruitful and leafy tree of life. The Bible ends with a glorious Eden Temple just as it started with one. If Eden was a temple, Adam was its priest, just as New Jerusalem is the final cosmic temple of which Christ Jesus is Priest-King.

Adam’s failed priesthood necessitated the Second (or Last) Adam's to put aright his catastrophe

By disobeying God and polluting both himself, his temple and his descendants, Adam’s priestly ministry was curtailed and disgraced. No longer would he enjoy access to God’s presence. Expelled from the sacred precincts, he would now toil for his food in the very ground which was cursed on his account. The uninhabited lands which he should have conquered and claimed for his temple would now be his only home. God would be heard from afar, and only then, rarely. Yet the very Creator who pronounced judgement upon him became the next Great Adam, the life-bringer whose obedient life and fruitful ministry was acceptable to God the Father. We needed a great high priest for our first great priest was an abject failure, and the human priests in between were only ever temporary sign posts and portents of the great One to come.

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Faithful regales Christian with his encounter with ‘Adam the First’:

I met with a very aged man, who asked me what I was, and whither bound. I told him that I am a pilgrim, going to the Celestial City. Then said the old man, Thou lookest like an honest fellow; wilt thou be content to dwell with me for the wages that I shall give thee? Then I asked him his name, and where he dwelt. He said his name was Adam the First, and that he dwelt in the town of Deceit. [Eph. 4:22] I asked him then what was his work, and what the wages he would give. He told me that his work was many delights; and his wages that I should be his heir at last. I further asked him what house he kept, and what other servants he had. So he told me that his house was maintained with all the dainties in the world; and that his servants were those of his own begetting. Then I asked if he had any children. He said that he had but three daughters: The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes, and The Pride of Life, and that I should marry them all if I would. [1 John 2:16] Then I asked how long time he would have me live with him? And he told me, As long as he lived himself.

Yet it ended badly:

Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave. So I bid him forbear to talk, for I would not come near the door of his house. Then he reviled me, and told me that he would send such a one after me, that should make my way bitter to my soul. So I turned to go away from him; but just as I turned myself to go thence, I felt him take hold of my flesh, and give me such a deadly twitch back, that I thought he had pulled part of me after himself. This made me cry, "O wretched man!" [Rom. 7:24] So I went on my way up the hill.

Soon, Moses, representing God’s moral law, comes to kill him, for having heeded Adam’s call and followed his example. Thankfully, Christ appears to deliver him. Those outside of the gospel will never enjoy Eden restored, for their priestly minister will be Adam, who reeks of death and rebellion. Those who heed the gospel have that perfect advocate, the Last Adam, who not only refused the serpent’s sweet temptations, but crushed his head into the bargain.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22

Image by Andres Nassar from Pixabay