Creating Adam

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

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

Creating Adam

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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Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9647

April 13th 2010

I don’t believe the ancients cared where slaves and barbarians came from.  They cared about their special status as citizens.

In that sense, Adam is Romulus, the founder of Rome.  Romulus was not alone.  He was the leader of the unnamed horde that were the first citizens.

It was Adam’s fall which condemned all men (citizens).  Just as it was only to the citizens (those who were expecting Him and should have recognized Him) that Jesus came (John 1:10-11, 14).

The Adam Paul was discussing was the first citizen, the man who established Gods’ city.  Just as Jesus established God’s new city, the New Jerusalem.

Blessings.


BenYachov - #9695

April 14th 2010

Why not assume Genesis is an allegory that contains real history?  Specifically it’s a stylized telling of how the first man with a soul rebelled against God & lost original grace.  This “Adam is only a symbol & not a real person is tedious and unnecessary.


BenYachov - #9697

April 14th 2010

>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.

I reply:  Why assume any concordance at all?  The King Arthur of legend it seems was based in part on a real roman general named Auturus Castus.  Why can’t Genesis be a divinely revealed parable about how the first real man rebelled against God.  This “He was just an ahistorical symbol” Meme is really unnecessary.


Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9733

April 14th 2010

BenYachov,

It is commonly assumed that “Genesis concerns the same issues as modern origins.”  That is at the core of the whole Science vs. Religion battle.  If that assumption is true, then either Genesis or Science is, in modernist terms, “false.”

Your suggestion still renders the Genesis account “false.”  In those terms, it is a legend or myth and not “literally” true.  This sort of thing has been done to death.

Why not consider my suggestion above?  Genesis has nothing to do with the creation of the physical universe?  Adam was never meant to be the first man but was instead the first father of the Jews?


Roger D. McKinney - #9738

April 14th 2010

Bryan: “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…”

That’s a very good point. I have noticed the same split personality in people. The natural sciences are irrefutable and absolute truth, but everything else is relative and nothing but opinion. That’s an odd bifurcation of knowledge, but I think it fits well with the history of ideas. FA Hayek’s “Counter-Revolution in Science” shows how the West came to worship the natural sciences. His argument is against using the methods of natural science in economics, but it has a lot of bearing on the issue of TE. The first socialists in early 19th century France were atheists who believed that the natural sciences could lead society to paradise if only scientists ruled. At the time, many areas of knowledge were considered science.


Roger D. McKinney - #9739

April 14th 2010

Theology was the “Queen of Sciences.” But socialists managed to push everything out of the definition of science except the natural sciences and they elevated the natural sciences to be the only truth and everything else was religious dogma. Hayek calls that attitutude scientism, and rightly so.

But the truth is that there is a lot of debate, controversy, junk science, circular reasoning, and logical fallacies in the theory of evolution. The theory of punctuated equilibrium (the hopeful monster theory) came about because of a several lack of evidence for the theory. It was an attempt to rescue evolution from ridicule. There is less talk about scientific problems with evolution today because the evolutionary community has closed ranks and initiated an inquisition against anyone who even suggests that the theory is not absolute fact. That was the whole point of Philip Johnson’s books and Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled—No Intelligence Allowed.”


Roger D. McKinney - #9740

April 14th 2010

And you can’t claim that Stein is a Bible thumping fundamentalist. Stein is an orthodox Jew with a PhD in economics and a law degree. His main point is that there are many scientists who are not creationists who have problems with the theory of evolution but are persecuated by the Church of Scientism.

So as you asked, I can’t help but wonder why “believers” are so ready to shred the principles of hermeneutics and re-write the Bible but will accept the theory of evolution as if it were an irrefutable fact.


Roger D. McKinney - #9748

April 14th 2010

The problem with interpreting Genesis as allegory of any kind and not historical is that it violates the principles of hermeneutics. Did the author of Genesis intend it to be allegory? Clearly not. Evidence exists throughout the book, especially the geneologies, that the author intended it to be historical. If the author intended it to be historical and it’s not, then the author was wrong and not trustworthy.


Roger D. McKinney - #9749

April 14th 2010

Marshall - #9405: “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”.

I agree that the serpent in Genesis was Satan, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t also be a real serpent at the same time. Satan probably took on physical form in order to appear to Adam and Eve. However, that doesn’t mean that the serpent/dragon of Revelation is a literal physcial serpent because of the allegorical nature of Revelation. But Genesis was clearly intended by the author to be history.


Jeffrey L Vaughn - #9756

April 14th 2010

Roger,

The problem with interpreting Genesis is that it is an ancient document and few people treat it the same way they treat other ancient documents.

We assume Genesis was written to us.  It wasn’t.  It was written thousands of years ago by and to people who are completely foreign to us.  Certainly more foreign to us than an Arab or Cambodian from 100 years ago.

We assume it is a cosmology.  We have no evidence that it is.  We just assume it.

When the King James Bible was written, there was no such thing as Planet Earth.  The translators made some poor assumptions.  Since then, the meanings of the words have changed, leading to more poor assumptions.

Genesis is history.  But it is not the same sort of history as we commonly imagine.

Blessings.


BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #9784

April 14th 2010

>It is commonly assumed that “Genesis concerns the same issues as modern origins.” 

I reply: Assuming we use a concordant interpretation scheme.  OTOH if for the sake of argument I reject concordance like Barr or Jaki & take an allegorical view like Philo, Origen or Augustine then it’s not a problem.

>That is at the core of the whole Science vs. Religion battle.  If that assumption is true, then either Genesis or Science is, in modernist terms, “false.”

I reply: Ah the congenital either/or fallacy that has dogged Protestantism for the past 500 years.  As a Catholic that means little too me.  The fallacy is based on the unproven assumption they are in the same category.


BenYachov - #9787

April 14th 2010

>Your suggestion still renders the Genesis account “false.”  In those terms, it is a legend or myth and not “literally” true.  This sort of thing has been done to death.

I reply: So when Revelations describes the Beast as having 7 heads & 9 horns that’s “false” because neither Nero nor the future anti-Christ will literally have those appendages growing out of their bodies & I should believe Nero never existed & Rev contains no history?  Sorry but I find such ideas odd & your rejection of a real Adam & fall equally so.


BenYachov - #9789

April 14th 2010

>Why not consider my suggestion above?  Genesis has nothing to do with the creation of the physical universe?  Adam was never meant to be the first man but was instead the first father of the Jews?

I reply: Because it’s a walking talking violation of the correct teaching of Pius XII & Jp2 on evolution & creation.  It’s board line heterodox & it’s 100% unnecessary since I can believe Genesis is an allegorical history of how the 1st human fell & transmitted original sin, an Old earth & Evolution. It’s not hard bro.


Marshall - #9911

April 15th 2010

Roger, you suggested that the serpent was Satan taking the form of a literal serpent (#9749). I don’t think that works, because in that case, his disguise would have fooled God!

Remember how Adam passed the buck to Eve, and Eve to the serpent? The serpent didn’t say, “I’m not responsible—I was being possessed by Satan!” The buck stopped with the serpent (and with A&E), and the serpent’s curse, read literally, affected snakes and not Satan. It’s only in an allegorical interpretation, where the serpent represents Satan rather than being possessed by Satan, that what God says about serpents really applies to Satan.

Even most who take the account literally recognize allegory in the serpent’s curse in order to connect it with Jesus. I don’t think that part of the text is an abberation. It’s a clue that the whole account (note: I am not saying the whole Bible or all of Genesis) should be read consistently in that form. There are other clues too. My primary basis for preferring an allegorical interpretation here is the way the account is written, not any external evidence.


David T. - #9994

April 16th 2010

How about God’s acceptance of a literal Adam?

Hosea 6:6-8 (NASB)

  6 For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
      And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
  7 But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;
      There they have dealt treacherously against Me.
  8 Gilead is a city of wrongdoers,
      Tracked with bloody footprints.


Bryan Hodge - #10031

April 16th 2010

David,

I believe in a literal Adam, but one could simply argue that the analogy is between a symbolic piece of literature and a real event. In other words, it would be like saying, “But like Isildur the Nazis were deceived by the lust of power . . .” This is common. We make no hard distinction between analogies from fiction and analogies from literal history. We may be aware of which is which is which from other sources, but there is no way to gain access to the referent of the analogy apart from perceiving a literal analogy through some other means. Again, I do believe Adam is a literal person, but also acknowledge that the texts themselves are constructed around him for theological purposes rather than for historical purposes (although I acknowledge that this is probably a modern distinction, not an ancient one).


John Roberts - #11610

April 28th 2010

Pete,

I notice that while the Adam of Paul is mentioned in this discussion the Adam of Jesus has not. In Matt 19.4-6 Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question about divorce:

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Here Jesus refers to Gen 1.27 in the first creation account (Matt 19.4) and to Gen 2.24 in the second creation account (Matt 19.5). So he links the general creation of mankind described in Gen 1.26-27 to the specific creation of Adam and Eve described in Gen 2.4-25. He also says this happened ‘at the beginning’ as Genesis recounts it. So on this basis Jesus regards Adam as an historical person and as the first man. Jesus’ teaching on marriage is based on historical facts and on historical personages which he points out to the Pharisees.

If Adam was not a real person and not the first human being then we have to say that Jesus got it wrong, don’t we?

John Roberts


Pete Enns - #11636

April 29th 2010

So John, are you suggesting that Jesus’ statement here mean that modern accounts of human origins are necessarily wrong? Can we now just pack up scientific inquiry and move on?

Re: Jesus, is it possible that, as a fully human 1st century man, Jesus shared common understandings of all sorts of things, like where people came from or how to interpret Scripture? Or do you think Jesus was untouched by his humanity when it came to those things? You say this would be Jesus getting it “wrong.” Could it be Jesus was a product of his time.


John Roberts - #11638

April 29th 2010

Pete, I am saying firstly that Jesus’ statement in Matt 19.4-6 confirms the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. Secondly, Jesus claimed to both be the truth (Jn 14.6) and to speak the truth (see the several passages in John’s Gospel where Jesus says ‘I tell you the truth’). So Jesus cannot be wrong. But, on the other hand, modern science gives a completely different account of human origins and this is based on the ‘truth’ of scientific research and evidence. From this perspective the Biblical account of human origins is science fiction (literally!). How should we reconcile these two irreconcilable truths?

cont’d ...


John Roberts - #11639

April 29th 2010

cont’d ...

One way is to do as you suggest and say that Jesus was fully incarnate and thought and spoke as a 1st century man. But what are the guiding principles for relating this to 21st century man?

For example, from a 1st century perspective Jesus understood that Adam and Eve (Matt 19.4-6), and Noah (Matt 24.37), and Abraham (Matt 3.9), and Moses (Matt 19.7) were all real people, and the events that these people were involved in (as described in Genesis) are historical. Should we use a 21st century scientific perspective to decide which of these Biblical characters are real and historical and which are ‘mythological’ or ‘symbolic’? Or should we use some other criterion, such as the Scriptures themselves?

John R


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