The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels

Brandon D. Crowe, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. pp. 288. $29.99, paperback.

Matching to traditional Reformed theology, Brandon Crowe believes that Jesus’s whole life (and death) is one of vicarious obedience as the covenantal head of his people and mediator of the new covenant. That is, Jesus is the second/last Adam. Further, Crowe believes that the four Gospels themselves, not just Paul, view Jesus’ obedience this way also. Showing from the Gospels that Jesus is the last Adam is the burden of this book.

With the book being published by Baker Academic, a significant portion of the intended audience is the liberal/critical academic guild of Gospels scholarship. This guild reasonably recognizes the Gospels’ emphasis on the obedience of Jesus, but many do not seem to recognize any salvific connection to this. Crowe, Associate Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (and a graduate of RTS Orlando), well understands the guild. In fact, his Ph.D. dissertation (University of Edinburgh), which is published as The Obedient Son: Deuteronomy and Christology in the Gospel of Matthew, BZNW 188 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012), is also related to this topic. Crowe has crafted this book, in part, to convince the guild of the many “last Adam” aspects in the Gospels.

Crowe opens the book by asking provocatively, “What was it about the life of Jesus that was necessary for salvation—from the manger to the cross and everything in between?” He answers that there is a “shared perspective among the diversity of the four Gospels that the obedient life of Jesus—in its entirety—is vicarious and salvific in character. More specifically, . . . Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as the last Adam whose obedience is necessary for God’s people to experience the blessings of salvation” (p. 2).

Before moving to the Gospels themselves, Crowe shows that much of the early patristic interpreters of the Gospels saw Jesus as the last Adam (pp. 7-10).

For much of the book, Crowe exegetes and theologizes about various biblical passages that evidence at least to some degree an assumed “last Adam” stance by the Gospel writers. For example, the comment in Mark 1:13 that during Jesus’ wilderness temptation he was “with the wild animals” is seen by Crowe as invoking Adam connections (pp. 23-28). The Luke genealogy explicitly mentions Adam (Luke 3:38), and the Matthew genealogy by its use of βίβλος γενέσεως evokes Adam through the verbal connections to Gen 2:4 and 5:1 (pp. 29-35). Crowe surmises that Jesus’ appearance in the garden to Mary Magdalene post-resurrection may be Adamic garden imagery (p. 195).

Pilate’s “behold the man” (John 19:5) links Jesus as a king to Adam, the first kingly man (pp. 135-36). The expressions “Son of Man” and “Son of God” at some level may be Adam and obedience-of-a-son-to-his-father connections (pp. 38-53, 55-61). Adam was head of the original creation, and Jesus is head of the new creation (p. 52). Jesus’ miracles are overcoming the curse due to Adam (pp. 169-70).

Many Gospels scholars see a parallel between Jesus and Israel. Crowe perceptively expands this to a three-fold parallel between Jesus, Israel, and Adam. He then argues that the Adam parallel is more fundamental than Israel (pp. 53-55, 63-67).

In addition to these approaches, Crowe includes more traditional arguments for Jesus’ vicarious and covenantal obedience. For example, Jesus’ baptism reveals his vicarious work for his people (p. 68-70). The quote of Hos 6:6 (“I desire mercy, not a sacrifice”) in Matt 9:13 and 12:7 connects to Hos 6:7 which Crowe sees as related to Adam’s covenant of works (pp. 172-77). The Good Samaritan parable and Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler presuppose the covenant of works;, that is, Jesus uses the second use of the law (pp. 178-83). The grand “ransom” statement of Mark 10:45 and Matt 20:28 is well exegeted with the conclusion that all of Jesus’ life includes both his active and passive obedience (pp. 183-205).

In the last chapter, Crowe summarizes his arguments and more explicitly uses systematic categories for his conclusions, which all confirm that traditional Reformed theology is correct. He admits that for purposes of the book he did not significantly discuss Jesus’ death and resurrection, the person of Jesus, and the application of Jesus’ work (p. 201). Crowe also argues that good exegesis should include both redemptive-historical and systematic theology assumptions. Crowe chides the guild for being interested in seeing the Gospels in light of various non-canonical background literature and at the same time tending to neglect seeing the Gospels “in light of the entire New Testament and indeed all of Scripture” (p. 211). That is, the Adam/Christ parallel is clear in other parts of Scripture, and hence should be considered background to the Gospels. The book ends with J. Gresham Machen’s dying words, “I’m so thankful for [the] active obedience of Christ. No hope without it” (p. 215).

For me, this is a fascinating book. Crowe has looked under every rock in the four Gospels to see implicit and explicit evidence of a two-Adam scheme. Often he qualifies himself as to his own level of exegetical certainty for this or that reading. In several instances I was not “buying” his exegesis; but in many others, he enlightened me to see more of “Adam” in the Gospels than I had previously.

Some of the readers of this journal may not appreciate as much I do that the (liberal/critical) academic guild is part of audience of this book. Still, my advice is to buy the book. Appreciate the slow building of Crowe’s argument, and enjoy his many nuggets hidden under various rocks. For the preacher, this book will certainly aid one in seeing Jesus’ vicarious and salvific obedience in a multitude of Gospel pericopes.

Both Crowe and I are convinced that Jesus fulfilled the covenant of works and that his active and passive obedience before his death is a significant part of that fulfillment. Amen!


Robert J. Cara
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte