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.