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Creating Adam

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April 6, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Creating Adam

Today's entry was written by Pete Enns. You can read more about what we believe here.

Understanding the Adam story in Genesis and Paul’s use of the Adam story in Romans and 1 Corinthians is important and challenging. An informed discussion engages topics such as Old Testament views of creation and challenges in understanding Paul.

We have glimpsed these in the previous weeks. These posts have raised awareness and encouraged dialogue. But this is just the beginning of the conversation.

So, where are we with respect to Adam?

For Paul, Adam and Eve were the parents of the human race. Do all Christians have to accept Paul’s interpretation of the Adam story?

1. What if we allow Paul (and other biblical writers) to settle for us the question of human origins? This is an option for many Christians today. In fact, groups like Answers in Genesis consider it the only truly Christian option.

Those who maintain this position, however, must address the scientific and archaeological evidence that created the problems.

1a. Evidence can be ignored. We can argue that nothing take precedence over God’s Word, and move on. This is possible but not satisfying for those familiar with either the scientific or archaeological data. Ignoring evidence will produce considerable cognitive dissonance.

1b. Evidence can be challenged. Mainstream scientific and archaeological evidence can be reinterpreted. We do not ignore or brush aside the evidence. We provide a persuasive alternate account of the evidence. By persuasive I mean an account that practicing scientists and scholars would consider good faith responses to the data. Idiosyncratic “theories”—actually hypotheses— such as the appearance of age, however, are not alternate scientific hypotheses but idiosyncratic assertions that are completely foreign to normal scientific explanation. They belong in 1a, not in 1b.

Accepting Paul’s assumptions about human origins means the scientific and archaeological evidence must be ignored or mainstream theories must be replaced with better ones.

I speak as a biblical scholar, not a scientist. But ignoring evidence is not a reasonable option. And reconfiguring the evidence to support Paul’s assumptions of a 6000 year-old earth and two humans as parents of the entire human race is, quite simply, impossible.

2. What if we affirm that Paul’s view of human origins does not settle the matter for us today? Of course, this leaves us with a pressing question: how do we think about Adam today?

This is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left “Paul’s Adam.” We are all “creating Adam,” as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.

Thoughtful Christians today achieve this reconciliation in several ways. Some say Adam and Eve were not individuals but representatives of humanity as a whole. Alister McGrath calls these “stereotypes.” John Walton uses the term “archetypes.”

Others emphasize that Adam and Eve may not be our biological first parents, but rather our spiritual first parents. This is often reconciled with evolution by supposed that God endowed two hominids with his image at some point in natural history. In other words, God “created” Adam and Eve several thousand years ago out of a larger population.

I will not comment here on the viability of these reconciliations. That question is far too large to be answered by any one person. It is a group effort, and BioLogos is bringing these issues into general conversation among Christians, working to preserve the integrity of both science and the Christian tradition.

Any version of #1 above is, at the end of the day, or even the beginning for that matter, unrealistic and wrong. But once you move to option #2, you have left Paul’s Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion. The question is: What solution to the problem best respects both theology and science?

That is the conversation encouraged by BioLogos. Indeed, it is a conversation that is both desperately needed and, in this modern age of science, inevitable.

Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

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John Roberts - #11640

April 29th 2010

Incidentally, I think the primary way that Jesus interpreted Scripture was to live it out and fulfill it. An incarnational approach. For example, when Jesus was driven into the wilderness for 40 days and nights by the Holy Spirit immediately after his baptism by John this was to test his calling as the true Israel of God.

Jesus refutes each temptation of Satan on the basis of the covenant that JHWH made with Israel in the wilderness. It is written: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Matt 4.4 from Dt 8.1-3) It is also written: Do not test the LORD your God. (Matt 4.7 from Dt 6.16) For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. From Dt 6.13: Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. which is in the context of Dt 6.14-15.

So Jesus reenacted Israel’s testing in the wilderness and prevailed where they had failed.

John R

Pete Enns - #11658

April 29th 2010


I agree with the line of question you are asking, namely how to reconcile “two truths.”  That is the point where the conversation begins.

I also agree that Jesus “embodies” Israel, and the Jesus’ testing in the wilderness for 40 days is a clear example. There are many more. And you put it well: Jesus prevailed where Israel failed. This pervades the Gospels and Paul. Just for fun, we can replace “Israel” with “Adam” and say that Jesus prevailed where Adam failed, as Paul argues. That brings us back to the Adam/Israel connection that Daniel Kirk and I have been blogged about.

John Roberts - #11793

April 30th 2010


Yes, the idea that Adam in Gen 2 & 3 is ‘proto-Israel’ and that this is actually a creation mythology for the Hebrew people when they were brought out of Egypt by Moses is intriguing. The parallels you draw between Israel and Adam would indicate that the story of Adam in Gen 2 & 3 is prophetic for the people of Israel as they entered the promised land. Note that most of the people of Israel who came through the exodus failed the test in the wilderness and didn’t enter the promised land. This included Moses himself. The time in the wilderness was a selection process. Is there a hint of a selection process for the Garden of Eden in Gen 2.5 ‘there was no man to work the ground’? So God had to create someone suitable for the garden in Gen 2.7?

Apart from these suggested parallels between Adam and Israel what other evidence do you have that Adam is proto- or prophetic Israel? I think you mentioned that other scholars have made this suggestion. Do you have any references? Is there any Biblical evidence for making this connection?

John Roberts - #11796

April 30th 2010


I just found something on the internet which shows another kind of parallel between Adam and Israel, or rather Adam-Eve and God-Israel. http://hubpages.com/hub/Adam—Jesus-and-Their-Wives

As Eve was married to Adam, so Israel was married to God. (or maybe the other way around) In Ex 19:5-8 Israel agreed to keep the ways of the Lord and in Dt 26:16-19 Israel and the LORD exchanged marriage vows. As Eve was tempted and disobeyed God, so Israel also disobeyed God and became unfaithful to him. And so on. The story of Adam and Eve in Gen 1 & 2 is therefore also a story of God and his people Israel.

John R

Bryan Hodge - #11832

April 30th 2010

Dr. Enns, as I said before, I think the analogy with Adam and Israel is a good one, but I do wonder if this could not be done with almost anyone who once was purposed for God but then committed apostasy? For instance, couldn’t we say that Solomon didn’t exist because he’s a picture of Israel (or any of these kings for that matter). Of course, their stories in Scripture may hint to that in the text that is primarily theological in nature, but this does not negate their existence, does it? The narratives allow us to see what is theologically true, but they do not allow us to see what is historically or cosmologically true, with that I think you would agree. But isn’t it the case, therefore, that we can say nothing as to these issues that are past and unrepeatable? Or are you saying that Adam could exist, but you just don’t believe that he is the original human due to the popular theory of common descent?

Hun - #14044

May 18th 2010

Makes me think of the ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ and ‘Y-chromosomal Adam’. The results of scientific study is coming closer to the testimony of the scriptures. It’s usually the scientists who are surprised, not the Christians.

The real problem, however, in trying to understand Adam just as a prototype is that it overlooks the organic union of Christians with Christ. Redemption is not merely a payment made by someone else; it is unjust for someone to be punished on behalf another man; Jesus’ death can be truly ours only if we are unified with Jesus. This mystical union is exactly what Paul mentions in Ephesians 5:31-32 when he describes marriage and the relationship between Christ and the church. Indeed, this union is the basis of Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-21 where he explains that all humanity have sinned in Adam; we are born organically related to him; it is a philosophical nonsense to make ourselves disconnected with Adam’s transgression. (to be continued)

Hun - #14045

May 18th 2010

(continued) Thus, as our relation with Adam and his transgression is real and organic, so is the relation with the New Man and Christ; not only Christ passive obedience is ours, but also His active obedience! Just as God views husband and wife as one flesh, so does He with Christ and the Church, but much more. Trying to understand Christ’s redemption outside the mystical union is just abstract nonsense.

If there is one thing that mathematical sciences has taught us is to beware of philosophical nonsenses.

I would agree that the text of Genesis 1 is actually against interpreting 7 days as equivalent to the 7 days we see today. (For instance, the Sun and Earth did not exist on the 1st day.) But I find the arguments against Adam as our common ancestor pretty weak. In fact, the text is clear that there were one man and one woman created. The scientific discoveries are also brining in evidences that a common male and female ancestor for human beings on Earth today exist. (By the way, those common ancestors found by scientific methods can very well be Noah or his wife.) So, as I said in the beginning, who’s feet are on fire? The one who thinks that Genesis is historically incorrect, or not?

Sy - #14052

May 18th 2010

“The scientific discoveries are also brining in evidences that a common male and female ancestor for human beings on Earth today exist. (By the way, those common ancestors found by scientific methods can very well be Noah or his wife.)”

If you think this then you clearly haven’t understood the genetic data. I’d suggest you read these;
Does Genetics Point to a Single Primal Couple?
Who was Mitochondrial Eve? Who was Y-chromosome Adam?  How do they relate to Genesis?

Hun - #14224

May 20th 2010


I think you misread what I wrote; Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam are _not_ synonymous to “common ancestors”. There are methods other than the genetic ones in studying common ancestors.

As scientific studies continued, monogenism became more convincing than polygenism, and is now the dominant hypothesis. Advancement in science has always moved, in the long run, in supporting the testimony of the scripture; and that’s not really surprising, is it?

Bryan Hodge - #17053

June 8th 2010

“The Divine and human natures do not bear the same relation to the one Divine Person, but
the Divine Nature is related first of all thereto, inasmuch as it is one with It from eternity; and afterwards the human nature is related to the Divine Person, inasmuch as it is assumed
by the Divine Person in time, not indeed that the nature is the Person, but that the Person of God subsists in human nature. For the Son of God is His Godhead, but is not His manhood. And hence, in order that the human nature may be assumed by the Divine Person, the Divine Nature
must be united by a personal union with the whole nature assumed, i.e. in all its parts. Now in the two natures assumed there would be a uniform relation to the Divine Person, nor would one assume the other. Hence it would not be necessary for one of them to be altogether united to the other, i.e. all the parts of one with all the parts of the other.” (Summa IIIa q. 3 a. 7).

Aquinas here is dealing with a different subject, but I wanted to point out the distinction between person and nature and how they may relate to one another.

Bryan Hodge - #17057

June 8th 2010

Whoops, that was supposed to go elsewhere. Too bad there’s no edit button.

Alec - #35712

October 21st 2010

I didn’t have time to read all the comments, so this may have been addressed. Paul states that he received his “Gospel” directly from Jesus Christ, so Paul’s Adam would have been Jesus’ Adam as well. How Christ viewed Adam and Eve is how we should view them. If we cannot accept the words of Christ, Paul, Peter and the other apostles as valid in regards to creation and human origins, then why would we accept them in regards to anything else? All of Christianity falls to the ground and we are left with cute morality with no substance, power or hope.

Tile W. - #55464

March 24th 2011

Hello all! I realize I’m commenting on this almost a year after it was written, but that’s because I’ve only just recently discovered this site!
I noticed one thing not mentioned in these posts, and that’s the reference to Adam and Eve in 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, the authorship of the pastorals is a huge debate in itself, but if we accept them as Pauline or at least as closely modeled on Paul’s thought, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that this passage could inform our view of how Paul interpreted Genesis 3.
Interestingly, in 1 Cor. it is Adam through whom sin came, and in 1 Tim. it is Eve. This suggests that Paul chose to emphasize different details when he used the same story make different points. In my opinion this is strong evidence that Paul was not merely exegeting Genesis, but was interpreting it somewhat allegorically as he had need. (Of course this is entirely dependant on 1 Tim. reflecting Paul’s thinking, which is a whole other discussion).
Peace and love

nedbrek - #55478

March 24th 2011

Hello Tile, not sure how many people will see you here…

I probably have a somewhat minority opinion here, but here it is:

Verse 14 (KJV) “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

I take this to mean that Adam was a transgressor with full knowledge, while Eve transgressed in ignorance.  In this way, Adam is more to blame.

Tile W. - #55494

March 24th 2011

Yeah, after I posted that I wondered if anyone would read it…

Hmm, having taken a closer look, I think your understanding of vs. 14 makes more sense then what I suggested.

Still though, it’s interesting me that he only brings Eve into the picture when he needs her. If his primary concern in Romans and 1 Corinthians was historical (asking “through what historical event did human sin first begin?”), he might have pointed out that Eve’s lesser sin occurred <em>chronologically</em>before Adam’s greater sin (as he seems to in 1 Tim.). But of course he doesn’t, because his primary concern is the comparison between Adam and Christ, and history is only a secondary concern, if that.

nedbrek - #55520

March 24th 2011

Hello Tile, some people get the comment RSS feed (as I do), so they will see us…

I see the historicity of the A&E story as going well beyond Paul’s (and also Jesus’) exegesis (although those are very important).

It is impossible to have a smooth transition from “good” animals (the world before sin), and “evil” man (the world after sin that we find today).

Scott H - #55744

March 26th 2011

After reading the 4 Paul’s Adam articles, and now this article, I am trying to see if you could simply make the point.  You seem to call into question a lot of things that aren’t even held as beliefs by many Christians.  The side tracks into whether people believe sin has been ‘genetically’ inherited or passed on like an infection, seem to stray from the point.  Bringing up some people’s supposed confusion between Biblical principles and the US Constitution is merely cheap shot that has no bearing on the discussion.

This commenter is awaiting your real point to be described.  Who do you think that Paul says Adam is (and of course there could be layers of meaning)?  Why such a focus on Paul and not the totality of scripture?  Also, what is Jesus’ purpose on Earth if not to be a sacrifice to allow humanity to come into a lasting un-dying fellowship with God?  Death is a central point in Christianity whether you mean a literal death (ashes to ashes) or a spiritual disconnect from God.  Also, if your understanding of the physical world via scientific method is lacking, either because we lack the ability to understand, OR because it is unobservable, then the idea that “Evidence can be challenged” loses meaning.  It doesn’t account for the full Truth, which might not be attainable ever, by human means.

So I’ll ask in the plainest way I can figure.  What are you really trying to say?  Please answer simple, sloppy, succinctly, stupendously, whatever it takes to get a reasonably concise answer. (details can be debated later).  Simply tossing out “what if’s?” might be fine to a point. But there should be a point.  Humanity’s science and humanity’s religion can differ, and this doesn’t logically mean that either is accurate.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Faith doesn’t have to wait for the scientific arguments to be resolved. And the fullness of Christianity tells us that ultimately, it is our willingness to simply trust in God that saves us.

Tile W - #55970

March 29th 2011

I definitely believe that the fall was a historical event, and the result of human rebellion against God, I just don’t necessarily think it had to involve a literal piece of fruit, that’s all.
It seems to me that, at this point, the best interpretation of the scientific data (as I understand them) is that Adam and Eve are not historical, and the best interpretation of the scriptural data (as I understand them) is that they are historical. And when I meet my Lord He’s not going to ask me, “Did you figure it out? Did you manage to synthesize evolution and Christianity?” He’s far more likely going to ask, “Did you feed the poor? Did you loose the chains of the oppressed?” or something along those lines. So I need to learn the humility to accept that I don’t understand all these things, and to focus instead on what matters to Him.

nedbrek - #55975

March 29th 2011

Hello Tile, I can understand the difficulty of trying to figure everything out.  But is this really so hard?  You say one set of assumptions leads to the conclusion that A&E are ahistorical.  Another says they are historical.  Isn’t believing both cognitive dissonance?

Tile W - #56628

April 3rd 2011

I guess what I believe is that I don’t have all the facts.

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