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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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Roger D. McKinney - #9308

April 9th 2010

Also, science does not prove that evolution is true. All that the evidence for evolution can do is indicate that if mankind evolved from animals, he probably did so according to the workings of natural selection. Science cannot prove that it happened that way. Ancient history lies beyond the capabilities of the scientific method.

Neither can creation scientists prove that God created everything ex nihilo 6,000 years ago. All they can do is provide evidence that evolution can’t do what evolutionists claim it can.

The best we can do to test either propositiion is to use the assumptions of each to predict what we might find in the real world. In that respect, I think young earth creationists hold the view that is most consistent with the real world that we live in and that science investigates.

Roger D. McKinney - #9312

April 9th 2010

Venema: “Even if one assumes that God engineered the human genome carte blanche 6,000 years ago, the pattern of what we see in the genome today still needs explaining (because it bears all the hallmarks of evolution). “

Thanks for the link to the article. The assumption is that similarity requires evolution. It does not. However, it does support the theory of evolution. If the theory is correct, then we would expect to find great similarities in the genomes. We should not get into the mode of thinking that neither side has any evidence for its theory whatsoever. Evolutionist have some very good evidence. I happen to think that young earth creationists have better evidence and more of it. However, that doesn’t mean the evolutionists have no evidence at all.

Similarity in genomes is good evidence for evolution, but it is not the whole story. There are many more things to consider, especially in the field of genetics. But evolutionists need to explain, if the genomes are so similar, why are we so different?

Norm - #9315

April 9th 2010

I just want to remind that if the story of Adam and Eve is the story of the origins of the ancient covenant church and if it is written in an ancient symbolic narrative form then there is a lot of wasted energy in trying to decipher it through science. A better usage of time would be to expend one’s effort trying to understand the symbolic literature itself that actually sheds light on the proper understanding. Scripture interpreting scripture still works when enough elbow grease is applied to these issues.  Let biological and physical science and natural human anthropology deal with their respective realms realizing that they do not answer the questions primarily at issue in Genesis.

Marshall - #9255

In my opinion typology and symbolism is Hebrew defined and the answers are found in scriptures. I keep pointing out that the same Genesis symbolism is used throughout the bible but people want to think that Genesis is special and somehow symbolism doesn’t count there. Paul viewed the Adam and Eve story in Gen 2:24 as symbolic of Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32) We can let that go right over our head or we can stop and realize what that implies concerning the way he read Genesis.

Marshall - #9344

April 9th 2010

Hi Jeffrey and Norm,

For Genesis 1, I think the framework interpretation makes a lot of sense, and it requires no concordism. I think the Eden account is a historical allegory. Another passage in that genre is Ezekiel 16: huge events, spanning centuries and encompassing millions of people, are compressed into a graphic story. The details don’t correspond literally to history, though the story reveals the broader strokes of Israel’s history if read allegorically. More importantly, it reveals the reasons for what happened and what will happen in a way that plain history cannot.

I think Genesis 2-4 reveals humanity’s history the way Ezekiel 16 reveals Israel’s history. Adam and his wife Eve are not individuals any more than the lady Jerusalem and her sisters Samaria and Sodom. They are far more than individuals. God places them in a paradise and provides for all their needs, just as he adopted the child Jerusalem and raised her in luxury. Adam and Eve’s actions allegorically correspond to the actions of humanity toward God.

Marshall - #9345

April 9th 2010

... The serpent is not just a literal serpent: it represents pride, the temptation of selfish ambition, and ultimately Satan. So, the serpent’s curse in Genesis 3:14-15 refers to far more than literal snakes—it foreshadows the second Adam’s ultimate defeat of Satan (Romans 16:20). Similarly, the trees are not literal trees any more than the ring and crown in Ezekiel 16:12 are merely literal. The tree of life represents God’s sustaining, life-giving power (Revelation 2:7, 22:1-2), while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the knowledge of God (Genesis 3:5).

Adam and Eve, representing fledgling humanity, disobey God by grasping for this knowledge that they are not ready for. As a result, they do gain some knowledge, but in the process lose their innocence. Their communion with God is broken. God confronts Adam and Eve, revealing the consequences of their actions. They are banished from their paradise, no longer having access to the tree of life—God’s special sustaining power.

That’s all I have room for here. I do see some details that accord with natural history, but they are not the focus. Like Ezekiel 16, the point isn’t in the history lesson but in the lessons behind the history.

Roger D. McKinney - #9347

April 9th 2010

Marshall: “The serpent is not just a literal serpent: it represents pride, the temptation of selfish ambition, and ultimately Satan.”

How do you know. It sounds nice, but you could be very wrong. People on this site don’t seem to care much for the rules of hermeneutics. The science of hermeneutics was developed to provide honest interpretation of scriptures. Most of what theistic evolutionists do with the Bible violates those rules. TEs would get very upset if we violated the rules of science. What about the rules of the science of hermeneutics?

Marshall - #9405

April 10th 2010

Hi Roger,

Yes, I could be wrong. I agree that we need to use good hermeneutical principles, though I don’t believe they are as clear-cut as “rules”. One hermeneutical principle I use is looking at how Scripture interprets itself. Sometimes this doesn’t give us much to go on, but in the case of the serpent and its curse, it does.

Revelation 20:2 recalls the imagery of Eden by referring not merely to a serpent, but to “that ancient serpent”, which is identified as “the Devil and Satan”. Whether the idea of Satan existed already at the time the Eden narrative was written, or it came later and put a name to what already had a face, I think it’s reasonable to connect the serpent with Satan.

When we look at the serpent’s curse, we don’t read anywhere in the rest of Genesis or elsewhere of one of Eve’s offspring stepping on a serpent that bites them. Even when we look to Jesus’ life, the Gospels never describe him stepping on a serpent. However, if one takes the allegorical view, then it’s quite possible to see Jesus’ work as crushing the serpent underfoot. Paul makes this explicit in Romans 16:20, while also joining all of us (or at least early believers) in this metaphorical action.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9469

April 11th 2010


I’ve found liberals, TE’s, and others have reasons for their interpretations.  First and foremost being, they read the text precisely the same way the Fundamentalists do, assume some of the same things Fundamentalists do, and conclude, “That can’t be right.”  Then off they go trying to twist their understanding of Scripture to match Truth.

The Fundamentalists react by denying the observations of these other “lessor” truth seekers and demand that their own interpretation is Truth.

The conservative view is to realize that my interpretation of nature is not nature and that my interpretation of Scripture is not Scripture.  My interpretations are not Truth.

Everybody assumes Genesis 1:1 refers to the physical creation.  Assumption is not sound hermeneutics.

Everybody takes the words literally.  Why?  They weren’t written to be taken literally by modern English speakers.

The Church is the new creation.  Why does no one ask, “Who were the old creation?”


Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9470

April 11th 2010


In Revelation 21:1-2, does John see one thing or three?  In 21:9-10, John was promised he would be shown the bride of vs. 2.  He was shown the city of vs. 2.  Did the angel pull a bait and switch?  Or are the bride and the city the same thing?  Are the bride and the city and the new heaven and new earth the same thing?

We know who the bride is.  We know who the new creation is.  We then know that the new H&E and the city are the Church.  (Seems redundant, but it must be said.)

What did John not see in Rev. 21:1?  John did not see the Gen. 1:1 creation.  It has passed away.  It is what Norm calls the old covenant church.

This is sound hermeneutics.  Let Scripture interpret itself.  Do not force modern definitions and sensibilities on ancient texts.

Scott S - #9496

April 11th 2010

“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.”

What is the Biblical basis for the Apostle Paul thinking World is 6000 years old?

I would appreciate an answer to Paul’s view on the age of creation, as I think 6000 is incorrect, and therefore, the statement has the appearance of a “straw-man” argument. Maybe I’m reading that wrong, so I’m hoping for some explanation.

FYI: I’m familiar with the Bishop Ussher’s chronology and many YEC arguments, but not Paul’s. 

Thanks in advance.

norm - #9501

April 11th 2010

Scott S - #9496
I’m not sure where the idea that Paul thought the world was 6000 years old came about in this discussion but just to throw a little Jewish Second Temple theology at the matter let us consider the 1st Century Barnabas Epistle. Barnabas said that the Creation of the world was going to end when Christ abolished sin under the old covenant Jewish Law bringing in the Sabbath Rest. He utilizes the same quote from 2 Pet 3:8 to illustrate his point. This quote should possibly be attributed to the Book of Jubilees 4:29-31 concerning the Day that Adam died written about 150 BC. It (1000) was a common numeral metaphor to describe eternal completion and should not be taken literally as Jubilees demonstrates.

In other words Barnabas does not take 1000 years as literal and neither would Paul or the Apostles.  We that are without Hebrew instruction might want to take it that way but we would be wrong.  Understanding the Hebrew metaphorical meanings is the key to most of our problems of application. Here is the quote from Barnabas 15 and notice at the end that the 6000 years ended with the Sabbath rest.


norm - #9502

April 11th 2010

You might also take a look at Heb 4:4-11 and notice that the Hebrew Author thought the same thing but it was not going to be some far away event but was related to the coming end of the Jewish Law, Temple, Priesthood and sacrifices which was about to occur at the hands of the Romans to fulfill Christ prophecy in Matt 24.
Barnabas 15:3
Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God made the works of His hands in six days, and He ended on the seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it.
Barnabas 15:4

Give heed, children, WHAT THIS MEANETH; He ended in six days. HE MEANETH THIS, that in six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; FOR THE DAY WITH HIM SIGNIFYETH A THOUSAND YEARS; and this He himself beareth me witness, saying; Behold, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. THEREFORE, CHILDREN, IN SIX DAYS, THAT IS IN SIX THOUSAND YEARS, EVERYTHING SHALL COME TO AN END.
Barnabas 15:5

And He rested on the seventh day. this He meaneth; when His Son shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and SHALL CHANGE THE SUN AND THE MOON AND THE STARS, THEN SHALL HE TRULY REST ON THE SEVENTH DAY.

Bryan Hodge - #9533

April 12th 2010

I’m wondering if anyone has explored the question as to whether the author of Genesis’s Adam is Adam. The Adamic tradition predates the Book of Genesis, and appears in numerous texts throughout the Bible. Perhaps, the Adam in Genesis represents the Adam of history rather than describing him in any sort of scientific, anachronistic way. There seems to be little distinction being made here between event and literary and theological description of an event. The two are not the same, yet the modern theory of origins, which is attempting to recreate the event, and the representation of the event in a literary and highly theological text are being confused.
Second to this, Paul’s acceptance of a literal Adam may not, therefore, be the Adam of Genesis. Instead, it is possible that he sees the portrayal of Adam in Genesis as a theological representative of the real Adam, similar to the way he sees Sarah and Hagar in his allegory as representative of literal persons, and vice versa.  Just a suggestion. Interesting discussion (at least it was until all of these biblical scholars started discussing origins theory and evolution, which is like a brain surgeon discussing theories of metallurgy).

Bryan Hodge - #9534

April 12th 2010

In regard to the last statement, I’m wondering if there is as much skepticism toward these origins theories as there is toward the Bible. It seems that they are received with great faith, with all evidence seen as plausible, and traditional interpretations of the text are scrutinized beyond measure (and many times unfairly). Could this imbalance stem from the fact that we are postmodern when it comes to biblical interpretation (i.e., we don’t trust others’ opinions about what is opinion), but still modern when it comes to what ever claims to be science (i.e., what is considered fact and unquestionable)? I’m wondering who would simply trust the majority of evangelical scholars when it comes to biblical interpretation if he or she was not a biblical scholar him or herself? Why is this same skepticism not applied to scientists by non-scientists when it comes to historical theories of unrepeatable events?

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9565

April 12th 2010


Wiseman, Ancient records and the structure of Genesis: A case for literary unity, concludes that Adam physically wrote his portion of Genesis on a clay tablet, writing in Sumerian pictographs.

I am convinced that Wiseman is essentially correct.

1) Wiseman’s argument
2) Radday’s statistical linguistics results are consistent with Wiseman’s and demonstrate that the Genesis text predates Exodus (which Radday demonstrated was written by Moses).
3) Genesis does not have the signs of being derived from an oral tradition
4) Early Genesis accurately describes the hydrology of Lower Mesopotamia, a place Moses had no knowledge of.
5) The city of Eden no longer existed at the time of Ezra.


Bryan Hodge - #9582

April 12th 2010


Thank you for your response. It seems clear to me that the text is written by H in the 5th or 6th cent. using multiple sources, both Israelite and foreign, with which he interacts, and many times transforms. I think the text of Genesis probably does predate Exodus, but I would not assign either text to Moses for a few reasons. Many of the Adamic traditions, therefore, in my mind predate Genesis. I would also argue that what is said about Adam is described in two different ways even in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. Ezekiel and Job’s concept of Adam, I think, is taken from Genesis + certain Psalms. My question, then, is in regard to whether we are confusing a real person with what is presented in a theological narrative utilizing that person as a character in the story. I realize that some just think he is a character, but that is certainly not what the ancient Israelite, or 2d Temple Jew, like Paul, would have believed; but whether they believed “the Adam of faith” represented something other than the “Adam of history” is another issue all together.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9595

April 13th 2010


I’m a bit confused.  Did I misunderstand your first remark?

“I’m wondering if anyone has explored the question as to whether the author of Genesis’s Adam is Adam”

Regardless, I think you have an interesting point about Sarah and Hagar.  And the more I’ve thought about it today, the more intrigued.


Bryan Hodge - #9641

April 13th 2010

Hi Jeffrey,

Yes, I think there was a misunderstanding there. My question was whether the Genesis author was depicting Adam as an historical person or Adam, the historical person, is used by the author of Genesis as a character in the story. I think most would believe the latter. My question then was whether the Adam of history has been transformed by the Genesis author into an Adam of faith, representing the historical Adam. In other words, I think Dr. Enns has pursued whether Adam is symbolic in Genesis 1-2, but I don’t know that anyone here has considered whether Adam is both symbol in Genesis and Paul, and real, although altered in the Bible, at the same time.

Hodge - #9642

April 13th 2010


I’m thinking in terms of the Gilgamesh Epic, where the real king, Gilgamesh is transformed in literature to represent something else. He is both historical and symbolic. The historical Adam seems to have been a priori rejected on the basis of modern origins theories, but it seems to me that most characters in the narratives, although transformed by the authors, are also historical persons as well. If that is true, then it is possible that Paul believes that the Adamic story in Gen 2-3 is a real story that occurred in history AND symbolically portrayed in the Genesis text. He, then, might be pursuing his own symbolic portrayal in terms of Christ in the NT. I guess I’m just wondering why he must be thrown out as historical because the symbolic uses of him have been transformed in the literature.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9646

April 13th 2010


“The historical Adam seems to have been a priori rejected on the basis of modern origins theories.”

Yes, because topic of Genesis has been assumed to be the topic of modern origins theories.  One bad assumption doesn’t prove the logical conclusion to be true.

Try this syllogism:
If Genesis concerns the same issues as modern origins, then Genesis is ahistorical.
Assume Genesis concerns the same issues as modern origins.  (Highly questionable)
Therefore Genesis is ahistorial.

Now try this one.
If Genesis concerns the same issues as modern origins, then Genesis is ahistorical.
Assume Genesis is historical (not ahistorical)
Therefore Genesis does not concern the same issues as modern origins.

A historical Adam is rejected on the grounds of poor or incomplete logic.

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