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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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Bilbo - #9111

April 8th 2010

Chris:  Your suggestion is that two people in the same generation were born with the same critical mutation (what are the odds?) that made them fully human,....

If they were brother and sister, not problematic.

... they happened to hook up with each other (again, what are the odds?),

We can imagine some divine influence here, or don’t you think God can or would do that?

... God gave them souls, they sinned and their genetic haplotype came to dominate the entire human population.

The souls part would be up to God.  Dominating the entire human population could be because of a naturally selective advantage.

And somehow tens of thousands of years later the author of Genesis knew who these two people were?

You mean God couldn’t inspire a mythological story that actually embodies historical facts? 


Bilbo - #9113

April 8th 2010


Chris:  I’m afraid all the logical gymnastics seem silly to me. Eve was based on the Sumerian goddess Ninti known as the “Lady of the Rib”. Ninti was given the title “Mother of all Living”, the exact description of Eve in Genesis 3:20. I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but Genesis is entirely bound up in ancient near eastern MYTHOLOGY. To look for historical figures in it is a dead end.

Again, you’re assuming that MYTHOLOGY must be completely unhistorical.  On what basis?

Bilbo - #9114

April 8th 2010

aberg:  If Genesis 1 is not meant to speak authoritatively about astronomy, why should Genesis 2 speak authoritatively about biology?  The idea of a single mutation finally resulting in a unique human is a non-starter.

Genesis 1-2 may or may not contain historical facts.  If theologians such as Bruce Waltke think it important that they do, and if there is a way to reconcile our genetic knowledge with our theological understanding, why not consider it?

Bilbo - #9115

April 8th 2010

So Peter,

Is my proposal worthy of consideration?

dopderbeck - #9117

April 8th 2010

@Bilbo—I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but it’s really impossible to locate a “literal” Adam in genetics.  It just isn’t a fair reading of what evolution does to say that there was a single mutation that gave rise to “true humans,” and the population genetics data won’t allow for all of the present human genomic diversity to be accounted for by two individuals.  But I agree with you that “etiological myth” does not have to mean “no connection at all to historicity.” 

If you move the search for a “literal” Adam away from genetics and into the spiritual and relational aspects of human nature, however, I think you get towards firmer ground, for two reasons:  (1) it’s more faithful to the text, which cannot possibly be concerned with modern genomics; and (2) it isn’t something that Science can comment on one way or the other—in essence, it’s indifferent to the puzzles posed by the genomic data.

dopderbeck - #9119

April 8th 2010

Some folks will call this special pleading, but I would respond that, however we frame the doctrine of scripture, it is “revelation.”  Scripture illuminates the significance of many events that would not be apparent to ordinary reason.  So if scripture and Biblical theology seem to require that there was “one man” who was the spiritual gateway to primordial human history, then I’m epistemically entitled to hold that belief.  It simply is not a matter that the tools of the natural sciences are competent to decide, any more than the natural sciences could decide, say, the nature of God’s call of and covenant with Abraham.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #9142

April 8th 2010

>Any version of #1 above is, at the end of the day, or even the beginning for that matter, unrealistic and wrong.

I reply: The above statement is just philosophically & logically unsupportable(& do note I accept Evolution is compatible with Scripture & I believe in science and an Old earth).

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #9149

April 8th 2010

>Do all Christians have to accept Paul’s interpretation of the Adam story?

I reply: Yes otherwise they are NOT Christians.  If you bother reading the NT Paul himself CAST OUT of the Church individuals who dissented from his interpretations of Scripture.  BTW Enns HAS NOT proven to my satisfaction HIS INTERPRETATION of what HE THINKS is Paul’s interpretation is the correct one.  Respectfully all Prof Enns is doing here is begging the question IMHO.

>Others emphasize that Adam and Eve may not be our biological first parents, but rather our spiritual first parents. ...etc I will not comment here on the viability of these reconciliations.

I reply: Brute fact time.  You will not get Evangelicals on your side by dogmatically insisting on this unnecessary dichotomy between either believing in a Real Adam vs believing in Evolution.  Also your implied mixing of methodological naturalistic scientific investigation with Theology is dogging you IMHO.  But believe what you like.

dopderbeck - #9150

April 8th 2010

BenYachov—c’mon, let’s not play the “they are NOT Christians” card.  Paul certainly did not cast out everyone who disagreed with him about anything whatsoever.  You can have a wrong hermeneutical perspective on Paul’s view of the historicity of Adam and still be a Christian.  And we can disagree on what the right hermeneutical perspective is or even not really know what the right perespective is without putting anyone’s salvation on the line.

You are right, however, that the dichotomy that seems to be getting drawn here is not in the least bit helpful to the ongoing conversation.  Many thoughtful evangelicals will accept common descent, but most, myself included, won’t accept any view that requires an entirely non-historical Adam.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #9153

April 8th 2010

>BenYachov—c’mon, let’s not play the “they are NOT Christians” card.

I reply: I’m sorry but as a Catholic with absolute Catholic presuppositions I am forced by my conscious & reason to live there.  It’s not personal it’s doctrinal.  I’ve met some Mormons & Oneness Pentecostals in my lifetime who where descent people but technically speaking they where not “Christians”.  I knew some Protestants where into “private interpretation” in that they put their interpretations above the Popes & the Councils.  But over an Apostle?!!!  That is intolerable to me.  I’m sorry.

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #9154

April 8th 2010

BTW FYI Catholics believe non-Christians can be saved.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9174

April 8th 2010

Chris Massey - #9083,

In Sumerian, rib and life are the same word (ti or zi).

Neither Nin nor Ninti in is in the Sumerian Lexicon.

Lady (free-woman) of the rib would be mu-ti.

Mother of the living would be ma-ti.

Instead of assuming Ninti was the source of Eve, why not consider that Ninti and Eve were the same woman?  They have the same name, same origin, and nominally the same date.  They might be two different traditions, that is two different witnesses for the same woman.

“A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Bilbo - #9191

April 8th 2010

Hi Dave,

Yes, genetics can only narrow the original human population down to several thousand.  However, if speciation occurred through a series of mutations that spread throughout the population, then it stands to reason that the last mutation that resulted in a new species would have first occurred in only one or a few individuals.  There seems to be no scientific reason to deny that this could have been Adam.

Unapologetic Catholic - #9196

April 8th 2010

“then it stands to reason that the last mutation that resulted in a new species would have first occurred in only one or a few individuals.”

Not true.  You don’t understand the concept of “species.”  A single mutation doesn’t result in a new species.  Ther is no “bright line” between individuals to be drawn whern you can say “parent=speices A”  “son=species B.”  That’s not the wayy it works.

Bilbo - #9199

April 9th 2010

Hi UC,

Feel free to enlighten me as to “the way it worls.”

Marshall - #9255

April 9th 2010

Hi Norm,

I found your comments insightful, and I do see parallels between Paul’s Adam and the beginning of the church. However, I think this works better as another layer, rather than replacing other meanings.

This same issue comes up with whether Genesis 1 is about a temple or Eden is about Israel. Maybe these stories speak to ultimate creation yet contain these other resonances due to when they were told/written. Similarly, many historical psalms retell the exodus story through a later lens, such as the height of the Davidic monarchy, or in exile. The story is told differently due to this, but it’s still, to some degree, about the original exodus.

I think this may be the case with Paul’s use of Adam as well. This wouldn’t be the first time Paul packed extra meaning into a symbol. Another example would be Christ’s body in the Lord’s supper. This is first about Jesus’ literal body broken through death, yet we as believers are also the body of Christ. Paul says we need to discern the body so we don’t let other members of it go hungry while we gorge ourselves. Yes, we’re the body, so we make a mockery of the ordinance if we partake while divided, but that doesn’t remove the original imagery where it points to Jesus.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9259

April 9th 2010


Paul denied “packing extra meaning into a symbol.”  His frequent claims, “I teach nothing but Moses and the prophets,” and his appeal for everyone to become Bereans suggests that the “extra meaning” was there in the text, obvious to those who read it carefully.

We can’t see this “extra meaning.”  That doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  We are blind to it.  We do not understand that cultural.  We do not understand what that culture produced.

Just as Christ is 100% divine, so is Scripture.  And just as Christ was 100% human, so is Scripture.  Scripture is a product of that time and culture.  We have enough problems understanding different modern cultures.  The culture that wrote our Scripture ended 1940 years ago when Rome burned the Temple.


Marshall - #9264

April 9th 2010

Hi Jeffrey,

I don’t think Paul either denied or claimed that he packed extra meaning in a symbol. My point was only that he did it. But, if that language gave the impression that Paul created these meanings from nothing, without precedent, then my apologies for not being clear.

What I was trying to convey is that there is not an either/or relationship between these meanings: in communion, Christ’s body is *both* Jesus’ literal flesh that was literally broken on the cross, *and* the body of believers in which each of us are members. Both are true, and neither meaning replaces or competes with the other. I think the same holds when we look at Adam, or the creation hymn of Genesis 1.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9271

April 9th 2010


Your example of communion is fine, but I don’t believe it matches the issue with Genesis.

No view of Genesis as physical creation can concord with origins science.  Most people believe it is supposed to.  That is why we have the Science vs. Religion war.  Both sides read Genesis as if it is supposed to concord with origins science.

Maybe Genesis is not supposed to concord with origins science.  Maybe Genesis is discussing something else.  This is Norm’s and my view.

Maybe I’m misreading you, but you seem to be saying that Genesis must concord with origins science and there is an extra layer of meaning where Genesis can’t concord with origins science.

How can something be A and not A?  What am I not following?

Roger D. McKinney - #9306

April 9th 2010

“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…. 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.”

To be honest, we have to separate science from the opinions of scientists. Science can tell us nothing at all. Science is a technique, a tool. It cannot speak. Scientists use the tools of science to discover evidence for a proposition. When the evidence conflicts, scientists can disagree about the conclusions and they do so in every field of science. There are scientists who call themselves creationists who present scientific evidence for their position and scientists who are evolutionists who present evidence for their position. But “science” says nothing about either. Why insist on absolute uniformity with no dissent among scientists in the field of evolution? Rational, honest people can read the exact same evidence and come to differing conclusions. It happens all the time. So the distinction between science and religion is a false dichotomy.

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