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Paul’s Adam, Part 4

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March 30, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Paul’s Adam, Part 4

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

Here are three final issues that arise when trying to understand Paul’s use of the Adam story. Based on some of the comments I have read on the previous threads, it bears repeating: raising these issues does not imply how they should be addressed, only that they are inescapable elements in the discussion.

7. Paul was an Ancient Man

Paul was an ancient man, not a modern one. Should we expect him, therefore, to share views of the world, of humanity, the cosmos, etc., common to his time? Or, does Paul’s inspired status mean that his view of physical reality transcends his time and place?

What we are really asking here is “What does ‘inspiration’ mean?” That is a huge question, but let’s remain focused on the Adam issue. The question is this: Does Paul’s status as an inspired author of Scripture mean that his views of human origins and the world as a whole are scientifically accurate (since, as the argument goes, a text inspired by God could not give false information)? Does his inspired status mean Paul cannot share the view of the “ancient science” of his first-century world?

The issue of Paul’s Adam is analogous to Genesis 1. My sense is that few expect the author of Genesis to know about an expanding universe, a round earth, and a heliocentric solar system. The author described the world as he and others saw it, and what they saw represented their reality.

In the modern world, we, too, describe the world that we see. The difference, though, is that we “see” differently: not only with the naked eye and our imaginations, but also with telescopes and microscopes; not by reading the stars but by higher math and other methods.

So, does what we say concerning Genesis 1 transfer to Paul’s worldview in general? Should we assume that Paul’s way of seeing reflected his ancient sight? Again, few expect Paul to have knowledge of scientific theories of an expanding universe, old earth, or heliocentrism.

This brings us to the following question: Does Paul’s ancient view of the physical world extend to human origins (one human pair living about 4000 years before his time)? Is Paul’s view of the physical world an ancient one everywhere else except when it comes to human origins?

Paul shared ancient views about a lot of things. The question is whether his understanding of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of the human race is one of these ancient views.

8. Paul’s Use of the Old Testament

Even casual readers of Paul’s letters are rightly quizzical when watching how he uses the Old Testament. Paul often handles Old Testament passages in ways that are not tied to their original literal meaning. In fact, sometimes his use of the Old Testament looks subjective and even haphazard.

There are reasons for this. Paul’s handling of the Old Testament reflects two very important historical factors. First, he was trained in Jewish interpretive techniques, which were characterized by creative and imaginative engagement with the Hebrew Bible since the early postexilic period. Second, Paul met the resurrected Christ, and now his creative and imaginative training was geared toward drawing out Christological connections to the Old Testament.

The result is that we see Paul (along with other Jewish interpreters of the period) employing the Old Testament in ways that go beyond what those passages were designed to do in the Old Testament.

This raises an important question. Could there be something creative going on in Paul’s handling of the Adam story that goes beyond its literal meaning in Genesis (whatever that might be)? Since Paul is prone to reading the Old Testament in a creative and Christological manner in general, might he be doing the same thing with the Adam story?

This brings us to an unexpected question. Are we actually misreading Paul when we insist that he is reading the Adam story literally? Could Paul’s use of the Adam story in his own mind be a creative theological engagement of that story for a purpose other than what it was originally written for?

What right do we really have to think that Paul was simply doing his version of grammatical-historical exegesis?

Paul’s handling of the Adam story should be seen within the context of a larger phenomenon—his handling of the Old Testament in general. This issue is closely related to the following and final point.

9. How was Adam understood among Jewish interpreters in his time?

It is common among Christians to think of the period between the Old and New Testaments (the intertestamental period) as sort of a dead zone: not much happening. That is not even remotely true. It was during this time that the Judaism of Jesus’ day was taking shape. An informed understanding of the New Testament requires some knowledge of this important historical period.

One thing that happened during the intertestamental period was a lot of biblical interpretation. By the time we get to the New Testament era, there had already been several hundred years of thoughtful readers engaging the many mysteries and conundrums of Scripture. You can see this in such well-known texts as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and other collections of writings from this general time period. This is a huge field of research and publication in Biblical Studies.

All this is to say that Paul was not the first ancient Jewish man to engage his Bible. And he was certainly not the first person to wonder about the Garden story. Being a trained rabbi, it is hard to imagine that Paul was unaware of how Adam had been understood by others in this rich, interpretive world.

How did Jewish interpreters around the time of Paul understand Adam? In various ways. For example, the Wisdom of Solomon (Apocrypha, early 1st century A.D.) refers to Adam as one who was “delivered from his transgressions” (10:1), which is a curious take on the story (wasn’t he punished?). But some Jewish interpreters thought that Adam was vindicated somehow.

Further, Cain’s “unrighteousness” in 10:3 is not in any way connected to his father—Adam is not to blame. In fact, in 2:23-24, this ancient Jewish author blames the entrance of death on “the devil’s envy.” This last part suggests that he understood the serpent to be the devil, which is an interpretation of Genesis (since Genesis refers to the serpent as a crafty animal, not a supernatural being).

Ecclesiasticus (a.k.a. Ben Sira, Apocrypha, 2nd c. B.C.) talks about Adam (17:1ff.; 33:10) but there is no mention of a fall or sinful nature inherited by his offspring. Adam is a fully positive figure.

In the book of Jubilees (Pseudepigrapha, 2nd century B.C.), Adam is a priestly figure who actually offers sacrifices for his own transgression. This author leaves out Genesis 3:8-13 where Adam and Eve are found out, since it does not contribute to the point he wants to make.

These are three examples of imaginative engagement with the Adam story. A bit closer to Paul’s meaning, we have 2 Esdras 3:7 (Apocrypha, a Jewish work around the time of Christ). Here Adam’s transgression leads to “death for him and his descendents.”

This is very much what Paul says in Romans 5:12, and some have wondered whether Paul got his idea from 2 Esdras. Others argue that Paul came first and that some sections of 2 Esdras are later Christian additions to an originally Jewish work. It’s hard to know if there was any direct influence one way or another.

Interestingly, in 2 Esdras 3:20-22, Adam’s “evil heart” was something Adam seems to have been born with and that God “did not take away.” In other words, Adam was not born morally pure. God sowed in him an “evil seed” from the beginning (4:30). Adam transgressed because God didn’t do anything to prevent the seed from growing. This transgression led to the “permanent disease” for all his descendents. This writer is trying to answer the difficult question of why Adam fell in the first place. He concludes that it is part of the human condition.

In 2 Baruch (another Jewish work from the same time period), Adam is the “father of sin,” so to speak, but in the sense that everyone has the responsibility and choice whether to follow in his footsteps. Adam is not the cause of anyone else's sin. Each of us "has been the Adam of his own soul" (48:42). This may or may not shed some light on Romans 5:12, where Paul says that “death came to all, because all sinned.”)

Perhaps the closest to Paul’s understanding of the Garden episode is found in the first century AD (probably) Jewish text Life of Adam and Eve. There, Adam chides Eve for bringing upon them a “great wound” and “transgression and sin in all our generations” (44:2).

The Garden episode was a pivotal text in ancient Judaism. It was also ambiguous on key points, and biblical interpreters wasted no time digging in and trying to make sense of it: who was Adam, what did he do, and how does that affect us? Paul’s Adam is one example of this rich interpretive activity. And his understanding may even owe something to what other Jewish interpreters of the time had already said.

I realize that some might quickly say, “I don’t care what these other interpreters said. I’m with Paul, and what he says matters.” I agree on at least one level. What Paul says matters. But that does not mean that Paul’s Adam is not a creative handling of the story to serve a larger theological purpose (as discussed last week).

Paul’s Adam should not be isolated from the rich interpretive activity of the centuries leading up and including Paul’s own time.

Next week I want to draw together some of this together and look at the big picture.

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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Bernie Dehler - #9576

April 12th 2010

Pete wrote on 3-30-10:
“Next week I want to draw together some of this together and look at the big picture.”

It’s now been almost two weeks… it must be a doozy!  I can’t wait to see it.  I hope it is clear and to the point.  Too many theologians are vague and say “it could be this or that.”  That’s why I like Denis Lamoureux so much; straight and to the point: “There was no Adam!”  Pete- I’m hoping you can rise to the occasion.  And we both know there will be those waiting to tar and feather you…

Denis O. Lamoureux - #9583

April 12th 2010

Dear Bernie,
And I like you too pal!!!  You’re straight to the point
as well.

OK, just for the record, here’s the first sentence
of the concluding chapter of my book Evolutionary
Creation (2008).

“My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed,
and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational
beliefs of Christianity” (p. 367).  In other words, I love Jesus
and I don’t for a second believe there was a first man named

Now, please note: it takes me 367 pages to get there. I know
how controversial my position is in my evangelical church.

But if I had to summarize my view on Adam in one sentence:
Adam is simply a retrojective conclusion of an ancient taxonomy
(de novo creation “after their kinds”), which is based on an
ancient phenomenological perspective of biology.

Or to put it for my engineering buddies:
        A & E =  ANE
Adam & Eve = Ancient Near Eastern science.


Denis O. Lamoureux DDS PhD PhD
Associate Professor of Science & Religion
St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta

bernie_dehler@intel.com - #9584

April 12th 2010

And Denis, may I point out your wonderful paper on the internet.  It is undiluted and gets the whole message out quickly:


I refer a lot lot lot lot lot of people to it.

For others who want more evidence about why one has to accept the fact of evolution of man from animal, I also suggest people watch the (multipart) YouTube videos by (evangelical Christian) Prof. Dennis Venema:


bernie_dehler@intel.com - #9585

April 12th 2010

The evidence is so obvious for evolution (biologically, man from animal) that it is very (intellectually) sad to see people denying it.  What kind of witness does denying human evolution do, for Christianity? It shows that these Christians are intellectually stunted when it comes to modern science and comprehending their world.  And I also say shame on the seminary professors who dance around it and are afraid to talk about it.  It should be their job to be on the fore-front in dealing with it.

But I know the reason why it is denied.  I think it is because the resulting theology becomes incoherent (obviously Lamoureux would disagree with me here).  This is the main reason why I think young and old earthers still reject evolution: they are being asked to dump a theology that seems to make sense with one that becomes very muddy, at best.  So they’d rather ignore modern science and stick to the old theology.  The problem is, reality gets distorted in the process… even more when an alternate version of science is created called “Creation Science.”  Even more shame on Christian intellectuals who are afraid to confront “Creation Science”... because I think it comes down to cowardice.


bernie_dehler@intel.com - #9586

April 12th 2010

I agree with Lamoureux about these things:
1. Human evolution from animal is so sure that it can be called a fact.
2. There was no Adam (we know because of the way evolution works).

Therefore, original sin needs to be re-thought.  Even the old earthers know that there was death way before “the first sin from humans.”  Why do tsunamis and earthquakes kill so many people? It isn’t because of anyone’s sin… it is because of plate tectonics!


Humblesmith - #9592

April 13th 2010

What I see in this post is a strong tendency to read the inspired scriptures through the lens of uninspired ancient writings, ones that the church fathers rejected. Further, this author says the inspired Apostle Paul’s writing of holy scripture was “subjective and even haphazard.”

How one could make these statements and still hold to orthodox Christianity is beyond me.

O. Bower - #9634

April 13th 2010

This is just a small comment, but it’s worth mentioning.  We don’t abide by everything the early church fathers affirmed or perpetuated.  Otherwise we might be a bit more dualistic in our theology (Origen), every Christian would pray intercessory prayers through the saints (several 4th century fathers and beyond)....the list continues.  This in no way pacifies our current issues, but it should cause us to question.

Trevor K. - #9730

April 14th 2010

This is how it happens: Little by little nibbling away at the easily understood truth in the word of God. First you undermine the foundations and soon you can climb into the real body of the word and blow it all apart. Start of by doubting Genesis and soon doubt spreads it’s vicious tentacles into the rest.
How many time must it be repeated: Read Exodus 20:11. Six days for man = six days for God in which to create. What is there to be misunderstood or interpreted according to custom or ancient socialogical norms? It’s plain, clear and simple. Straightforward. The word says God created in six days and that’s IT. Hence by implication Genesis is true as a literal, historical account as it stands.
If that is so then the whole argument of what to do with Paul and Adam is just a whole lot of hot air and sophistry on the part of those who do not want to believe in God’s word and God’s AUTHORITY!  At the risk of sonding totally dogmatic, I’ll ask again: Who is your spiritual authority? The infallible, unerring God who created everything or fallen, evil mankind?

Roger D. McKinney - #9752

April 14th 2010

Merv: “But ‘perfect’, I argue, goes far beyond Scripture support and begs the question of just what that would mean in the first place.”
O Bower: “I’d have to agree.  Perfect cannot be the intent otherwise the Fall becomes impossible.”

I think we need to remember CS Lewis’ point that evil does not exist on its own. It is a parasite. Evil is nothing but a distortion of the good. I don’t want to get into a discussion of the definition of perfect, except to say that God looked at what he had created, including man, and said it was good. So it must have been good, whatever one’s definition. And that included man’s free will. God knew that man would rebel against him and distort his good creation and bring about evil, but he still concluded that it was good and not evil. And that means that God did not create or cause evil of any kind. And the NT confirms that God is not the author of evil. Man created evil, not God. However, TE makes God the author of all evil.

Roger D. McKinney - #9753

April 14th 2010

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) - #9585: “The evidence is so obvious for evolution (biologically, man from animal) that it is very (intellectually) sad to see people denying it.”

There are many scientists who disagree. For one good example, check out Dr. Walt Brown’s book at creationscience.com, or “Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome” by Dr. John C. Sanford of Cornell U. In fact, many evolutionists don’t have any where near the absolute confidence in the theory that TEs have. See Roger Lewin’s “Bones of Contention”. And if the science is so absolute, why did punctuated equilibrium become so popular? And why do science textbooks spend so much time on theories explaining the lack of fossil evidence?

Roger D. McKinney - #9754

April 14th 2010

TE’s are the ones in danger of anti-intellectual attitudes. The idea that evolution is an established fact with no problems whatsoever is very anti-intellectual. Any honest person will admit that the science has a lot of problems, even if you believe there is more evidence for it than against it.

Roger D. McKinney - #9791

April 14th 2010

Denis O. Lamoureux: “I pray that my scientific colleagues never read your stumbling block post . . . “

No. You certainly wouldn’t want them to think for themselves, or have to struggle with the contradictory evidence for evolution. But it is true that many evolutionists have serious doubts about the theory. You won’t find many in the US because of the ongoing inquisition, but there are many on record in Russia, China and elsewhere. Only American scientists are as dogmatic about evolution.

bernie_dehler@intel.com - #9813

April 14th 2010

Roger said:
“And if the science is so absolute, why did punctuated equilibrium become so popular?”

As if “punctuated equilibrium” is against evolution? Didn’t you know that “punctuated equilibrium” was proposed by an evolutionist?  How is that supposed to discount evolution?  The mechanisms of evolution are many and very complex and still being discovered; but the point that evolution actually happened is a fact.  It is obvious from the DNA evidence.  Francis Collins outlined it in detail in his book “The Language of God” as does Dennis Venema, an evangelical professor in biology, explain it on YouTube.

Roger said:
“But it is true that many evolutionists have serious doubts about the theory.”

If that’s true, then name your best example to illustrate your point.


Bernie Dehler - #9814

April 14th 2010

Roger said:
“Only American scientists are as dogmatic about evolution.”

If what you say is true about mostly the American’s accepting evolution, which is highly debatable, maybe the reason is that we are the most educated and advanced nation on Earth.  Look how many world-renowned universities we have compared to other countries.  Who can beat America on that score?  And universities pride themselves on being on the forefront of science, so that’s why science is so big here.  Science works.  Science is real.  To sing the song, click here:


Roger D. McKinney - #9858

April 15th 2010

Bernie_dehler: “As if “punctuated equilibrium” is against evolution?”

I did not write that punctuated equilibrium proved evolution wrong. I merely presented the theory as an example that there are problems with the theory of evolution and the PE theory was an acknowledgement of some of those problems and an attempt to solve them. TEs act as if there never have been any scientific problems with the theory of evolution. There are many and always will be many.

Bernie_dehler: “but the point that evolution actually happened is a fact.  It is obvious from the DNA evidence”

Roger D. McKinney - #9859

April 15th 2010

Any good genetic scientists disagree completely. Again, see Sanford’s book on genetic entropy.
Bernie_dehler: “If that’s true, then name your best example to illustrate your point.”

I did. And Ben Stein’s film offers others.

Bernie_dehler: “If what you say is true about mostly the American’s accepting evolution, which is highly debatable, maybe the reason is that we are the most educated and advanced nation on Earth.”

That’s highly debatable. Russia and China have some pretty good scientists, and most are evolutionists. And they have books written by Americans translated into their languages, so they know pretty much all that American scientists know. They’re just not as dogmatic as Americans. They are honest enough to admit the scientific problems with the theory. Americans have decided to destroy all opposition in an inquisition.

Bernie_dehler: “Science works.  Science is real.”

I agree. But scientists are human, prejudiced, and fallible. As God wrote through Paul, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness so that they can continue in their rebellion. To believe that evolutionary, mostly atheistic scientists are infallible is to join the cult of scientism.

Bernie Dehler - #11420

April 27th 2010

Pete wrote:
“Next week I want to draw together some of this together and look at the big picture.”

It’s been nearly a month… will it still be coming out?  I’m really looking forward to it! 

Bernie Dehler - #15905

June 1st 2010

“Next week I want to draw together some of this together and look at the big picture.”

It’s been two months.  Isn’t the ‘big picture’ going to be published?  I’d really like to see it.

Alexandra Creasy Liefman - #70016

May 19th 2012

It’s been 2 years - i still can’t find part 5…

Matthew Chauncey - #70248

June 4th 2012

For those looking for it, the fifth installment is here…


For whatever reason it isn’t listed here as part 5, but it was his next article and the context makes it clear it was meant to generally conclude this series. I think it wasn’t included as part 5 though since it also went along with the direction and focus of his main series of posts at the time. 

Alexandra Creasy Liefman - #70250

June 4th 2012

Thanks Matthew. Perhaps they should rename it or at least have provided a link.

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