Alice C. Linsley
Genesis presents Adam as real in the Platonic sense. This is how St. Paul thinks of him when he writes of the first Adam and the Second Adam. St. Paul was comfortable with Platonic thought having been raised in Tarsus, a Greek-speaking city with a famous philosophical academy. In his writings, he compares (1 Cor. 10:6d) and contrasts (Rom. 5:15) Adam and Christ, the temporal and the eternal, which for Paul are equally real.
Paul recognized the usefulness of platonism in explaining eternal truths known to the Jews to Gentiles. In his writings, Paul often employs platonism in comparing and contrasting temporal figures with eternal Forms. He speaks, for example, of Adam as a type of Jesus Christ. By the first came sin and death, and by the Second Adam came forgiveness and life.
In Platonic thought, the temporal is a reflection of the eternal. The temporal passes away, but the eternal can neither pass away nor be corrupted. The eternal Form of Man exists outside time. So when Adam was made in the image of the eternal true Form, he was truly made in the Divine Image. Jesus Christ's incarnation marks the radical event of Divinity 'begotten' in the human image, but without the fallenness since His existence is from before time.
Adam must be platonically interpreted as the Form of Man in order to speak theologically of him as the federal head of all humanity. Likewise, Genesis speaks of certain ancestors as federal heads of entire peoples, i.e., Cain is the head of the Kenites and Abraham's son Midian is the head of the Midianites.
Genesis distinguishes between archetype and ancestor and often poses them as parallel. Consider Psalm 8:4 which poses Enoch as the temporal head of the lines of Cain and Seth (Gen. 4 and 5) as the parallel to Adam the archetype. What is man (Enoch) that you spare a thought for him, or the son of Man (ben' adam) that you care for him?
We should not be surprised to find archetypes in Genesis. Plato conceived of archetypes as the pattern of real things. He didn't invent this idea. He borrowed it from the ancient Egyptians, who asserted that the pattern is the real thing and the earthly shadow, but a reflection. In this view, the material world resembles, participates in and aspires to the transcendent Forms. To understand the worldview of Genesis, which is really the worldview of Abraham's Kushite ancestors, we must grasp the realness of archetype, something that we fnd difficult, living in western societies which are define real as having material substance.
Related reading: The First Historical Persons in Genesis; Are Adam and Eve Real?; Adam and Eve as Archetypes; The Loss of Wisdom