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Paul’s Adam, Part I

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March 9, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Paul’s Adam, Part I

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

In my last post I suggested that the Adam story could be viewed symbolically as a story of Israel’s beginnings, not as the story of humanity from ground zero.

But some might ask, “Why go through all this trouble? Why not just take it literally? The Bible says Adam was the first man. That’s the end of it.”

It’s not that simple, and if it were, people wouldn’t be talking it about it so much. First of all, reading the Adam story symbolically rather than as a literal description of history is not a whim, and it is certainly not driven by a desire to undermine the Bible. Rather, as we have seen, the Bible itself invites a symbolic reading by using cosmic battle imagery and by drawing parallels between Adam and Israel (to name two factors).

There is also considerable external evidence that works against the “just read it literally” mentality.

The biblical depiction of human origins, if taken literally, presents Adam as the very first human being ever created. He was not the product of an evolutionary process, but a special creation of God a few thousand years before Jesus—roughly speaking, about 6000 years ago. Every single human being that has ever lived can trace his/her genetic history to that one person.

This is a problem because it is at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains.

There are human cultural remains dating well over 100,000 years ago. One recent example is 130,000-year-old stone tools found on Crete. (Their presence on an island presumes seafaring ability at that time.) Ritual/religious structures are known to have existed as far back as 40,000-70,000 years ago. Recently, a temple complex was found in Turkey dating to about 11,500 years ago—7,000 years before the Pyramids.

In addition to cultural artifacts, there is also the scientific data from the various natural sciences that support a very old earth (4.5 billion years old) and the evolutionary development of life on it—things most readers of this Web site hardly need me to point out. Most recently, the genetic evidence for common descent has, in the view of most everyone trained in the field, lent great support to the antiquity of humanity and sharing a common ancestry with primates.

There is a third line of evidence that is a problem for a literal reading of the Adam story. Archaeological evidence gathered over the last 150 years or so has helped us understand the religions of the ancient Near East during and long before the Old Testament period. As is well known, Genesis 1 and the Adam story bear unmistakable resemblances to the stories of other peoples—none of which we would ever think of taking as historical depictions of origins. (We looked at some of this in previous posts.)

A strictly literal reading of the Adam story does not fit with what we know of the past. Some choose to ignore the data altogether. Others marginalize or interpret the data idiosyncratically to salvage some type of literal/historical reading. But, by and large, everyone—even including this latter group—has to do some creative thinking about how to handle the Adam story. A “just read it literally” mentality is not an available option. “What do I do with the Adam story?” is a real and pressing question for most people of faith.

In my experience, a lot of Christians—I might even guess most—have come to some peace with all of this. They may handle it in different ways, and some may not have arrived at a conclusion, but they at least recognize that something has to be done. They sense that a simple literal reading of the Adam story won’t work without creating a lot of cognitive dissonance, and so they are open to ideas.

But, sooner or later, another issue comes up that is hard to get around and for some simply ends the discussion entirely.


Christians have to account for more than Genesis vis-à-vis archaeology and science. They have to account for what Paul says about Adam. As I see it, this is as non-negotiable as accounting for the data mentioned above.

In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul draws a parallel between Jesus and Adam: Adam disobeyed (eating of the fruit) and brought death to “all”; Jesus obeyed (in his crucifixion) and (in rising) brought life to “all.” Jesus came to undo what Adam did. He came to reverse the curse of Adam.

There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person, the first created human from whom all humans descended. And for many Christians, this settles the issue of whether there was a historical Adam. That is what Paul believed, and for his argument to have any meaning, both Adam and Jesus have to be real people. If there was no Adam, there was no fall. If there was no fall, there was no need for a savior. If Adam is a fantasy, so is the Gospel.

For people who take the Bible seriously, Paul’s understanding of Adam can be an insuperable obstacle to accepting what we know about the past from other sources. Some feel there is really no choice but to reject science and archaeology completely. I really don’t think this is a viable option.

Others will accept to some extent the data we have, including evolution, but will insist that at some point along the line there was a first historical pair chosen by God to bear his image and from whom all true, image-bearing, humans are related. Placing an “Adam” somewhere on the evolutionary timeline is hypothetically possible, and there are knowledgeable people who find this a good way to reconcile Paul and science. (Although for others, this kind of “Adam” is too far from the kind of Adam Paul was thinking about, so it is not much help.)

However you slice it, what Paul says about Adam is a very important point of Christian theology. Clearly, what Paul says must be addressed.

But there is a factor in all of this that does not always get as much airtime as it should. It is regularly assumed that what Paul says about Adam is rather obvious, a sure starting point from which to engage this issue. “Well, I may not know what all the scientific and archaeological data are, but I can read English and I KNOW what Paul says. That is obvious, and I have no intention of messing around with that.”

Yes, we must take Paul seriously. But what if what Paul is saying about Adam is not as straightforward as a simple reading suggests? Maybe the matter is more involved than “Paul says it, that settles it”?

Paul’s Adam is not a simple matter. There are numerous factors that come into play in gaining a broader perspective on what Paul is saying and why he says it. In my next post, I want to list what some of these factors are. This is an issue that cannot be resolved in the series of a few (or many) blog posts. I am only interested in laying out on the table the issues that need to be kept in mind as we think about what Paul says about Adam and why he says it.

The tensions between science and faith, specifically evolution and Christianity, center on the issue of Paul’s Adam. As such, I think this is where our theological energies need to be invested.

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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Martin Rizley - #6684

March 12th 2010

Harry, You say “The facts are the facts and do not depend on interpretation;” but I believe that is philosophically naive.  All facts are interpreted facts, and the interpretation we find plausible depends on the worldview framework out of which our interpretation emerges.  We are not the supreme interpreters of any fact, however, but only the reintepreters of facts that have been infallibly interpreted beforehand by God Himself, the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth.  We are to regard the Bible as God’s infallible interpretation of reality—a divinely inspired revelation of truth that speaks only the truth concerning God, man, sin, redemption, as well as the creation of man, the fall, the flood, and other key events of history.  Jesus chided his disciples for being “foolish and slow of heart to believe everything the prophets had spoken.”  So whatever interpretation we make of any fact at all in any sphere must be agreement with God’s prior interpretation of those same facts, or our interpretation is most certainly in error. 

Martin Rizley - #6685

March 12th 2010

The problem with geocentrists is their exegesis of the Scripture.  They are insisting on an interpretation of Scripture that is unwarranted by sound principles of hermeneutics, and that leads them to distort facts in the natural world, as well.  I commend them, however, for recognizing Scripture as the supreme measure of truth, infallible in all that it affirms; and I agree with them that no “fact” of science can ever overrule what God has plainly revealed in Scripture, since science is knowledge built “from the ground up”—fallible because it is based on the fallible observations of men; whereas Scripture represents knowledge “from the top down”—infallible truth revealed by God which can never be overturned by any ‘discovery’ that man makes.  The Scriptures cannot be broken.  There is a character of infallibility to the Word of God that is not shared by any science textbook or any human writing.  So if the ‘scientific consensus’ conflicts with the plain teaching of Scripture at some point, then it is the scientific consensus, not the Bible, which is in error.  Why would any believer disagree in principle with that statement?

Gregory Arago - #6696

March 12th 2010

“The problem with geocentrists is their exegesis…however…” - Martin Rizley (layperson)

So, you are also a geocentrist, Martin?

And are you also anti-old earth? I.e. do you reject almost the *entire* field of geology?

“if the ‘scientific consensus’ conflicts with the plain teaching of Scripture at some point, then it is the scientific consensus, not the Bible, which is in error.” - Martin

The above statement will keep you out of ‘legitimacy’ for the 21st century.

Wouldn’t you prefer to be heard than to be avoided as culturally-backwards? Surely cooperation can be found?

Other Christians have found a better balance between science and religion. I encourage you to seek such a balance too.

Martin Rizley - #6697

March 12th 2010

Harry,  One further point.  You ask if Snelling and Wise are really doing “science,” because they are committed to uphold the plain teaching of Scripture, regardless of what anomalies they find in the physical world that may seem to contradict the Scripture’s teaching.  I think the answer to that question depends on how you define science.  If you accept the current definition, “Searching for naturalistic answers to naturalistic phenomena, ” then obviously, they are not doing science.  But if you take the older definition of science, “The systematic study of God’s creation,” then yes, they are doing science, but on a radically different footing than that found in any secular institution, for they are presupposing the entire truthfulness of Scripture in what it teaches.  Based on that fundamental assumption, they are looking at features in the material world—such as fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks—and are asking the question, “Given what we already know about the past based on the teaching of Scripture, what possible mechanisms could God have used to produce these features?”  Their theories are then tested by making predictions that are confirmed or falsified through further research, like any scientific theory.

Martin Rizley - #6699

March 12th 2010

Gregory,  I believe that the entire Western world is in a state of appalling cultural, moral and spiritual decline, so if people who feel “at home” in this age of apostasy find me “culturally backwards,”  I really can’t worry about that too much, any more than a Christian living in a Muslim country needs to worry about being “out of step” with his culture.  He may be the only person in his village who knows the truth about God—everyone around him may view him as an “oddball”—but that doesn’t make him wrong and the majority right.  C. H. Spurgeon once said, “Long ago I ceased to count heads.  Truth is usually in the minority in this evil world,” and that’s just how I feel about modern attacks on the teaching of Scripture in the name of science.  I regard such attacks as “science falsely so called.”  Moreover, I don’t think science and religion need to be “balanced.”  I believe that theology is the “queen” of the sciences and provides the only solid epistemological foundation for research in any of the sciences—social, political or physical.  Science is a “subset” of theology, in that theology is the study of God Himself, science the systematic study of God’s material creation and how it works.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #6701

March 12th 2010


You have the Apostle John changing his definition of “world” every other chapter.  Yet every verse works just fine with the one meaning, Jesus’ own people.

“Jesus’ own people” was the creation.

“Jesus’ own people” were created trough Jesus.

“Jesus’ own people” did not recognize Jesus

For God so loved “Jesus’ own people” that He sent His son.

One definition works.  This is the way John saw his “world” and used language.  You change the meaning of “world” from verse to verse and think you understand.  But you are forcing a 1st century document into a 20th century culture.  Read it in its own culture.  Read it the way John defines and uses his words.  The context of these passages are all nominally the same.  One meaning of world suffices for all of them.

Gregory Arago - #6727

March 12th 2010

Three very specific questions were asked to you, Martin. Are you willing to have dialogue or not?

Here they are (from #6696):
So, you are also a geocentrist?

And are you also anti-old earth? I.e. do you reject almost the *entire* field of geology?

Martin Rizley - #6730

March 12th 2010

Gregory, I am not a geocentrist, because I believe the Bible contains phenomenological language.  When it speaks of the sun rising and setting, it is giving a description of the world as it appears to human sight; it is not making a cosmological statement about the structure of the universe.  The Scripture’s descriptions of the natural world are simple observationa statements, not scientific or pseudo-scientific statements, so there is no foundation for saying that the Bible teaches a geocentric cosmology.  I believe the Bible clearly teaches that God made the world in six twenty-four hour like days.  By that I mean that the six periods of creation were determined by the rotational cycles of light and darkness, each day being composed of a day and a night, a period of light followed by a period of darkness—just like the days we experience.  I am not dogmatic about the exact time frame involved for several reasons:  First, the first three days were not solar days in the sense of being days “ruled by the sun.”  Second, the first day began in a period of initial darkness that could conceivably have lasted a very long time.  Third, we have an example of God stretching a natural day to twice its length in Joshua 10 (continued)

Martin Rizley - #6737

March 12th 2010

Regarding my view of geology, I take with a grain of salt the historical reconstructions of earth’s history by geologists who reject the Bible’s teaching on a global flood, because the theories they promote are all based on uniformitarian assumptions (the present is the key to the past).  That is to ignore the fact that God has intervened at key moments in the history of the earth to do “mighty works of power” in which He has acted outside the realm of natural law to produce results in the natural world.  At the time of the Exodus, for example, He sustained Israel in the desert miraculously for forty years.  During that time, the soles of their sandals did not wear out, so that if you examined them after their forty year trek in the wilderness, you would have seen no signs of wear.  They would have appeared like new sandals, when in fact, they were forty years old!  Now, if God can make old things appear young, He can also make young things appear old.  In other words, He may have acted supernaturally to produce geological features that appear older than they actually are.  For example, He may have greatly accelerated the rate of cooling igneous intrusions at the time of the flood(Continued).

Martin Rizley - #6741

March 12th 2010

(continued) The naturalist assumes, on the other hand, that God either could not or would not do such things, for in that case, they say, God would be deceiving people.  However,  if God has clearly spoken in His Word about His “mighty works”  in the past, then we are only deceiving ourselves if we refuse to receive His testimony and if we refuse to read the data in the rocks in light of that inspired testimony.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #6745

March 12th 2010


You assume that God does things that God did not say he did.  You then make your assumptions into Scripture.

There is only one clear miracle in the flood account and two possible miracles.

The one clear miracle, someone got a weather report right, 120 years in advance.

The two possible miracles, the animals coming to Noah and the door of the ark closing.

No other miracles in the entire account.

The account claims that the total depth of the flood was 15 cubits.  That 15 cubits was enough to cover the high “har” (typically translated hills or mountains).  It does not say that the water was the depth of the highest mountain plus 15 cubits as YECs typically claim.  It does not say that the mountains grew up out of the flood waters either, another typical YEC claim.

YECs invent thousands of miracles to explain their view.  They imply millions of miracles.

You are deceiving yourself with your extreme either-or view and your refusal to receive His testimony that there were very few miracles invoked in the flood event.

Martin Rizley - #6748

March 13th 2010

I believe in the economy of miracles, by which I mean that true miracles—events involving a suspension of natural law—are extremely rare in the course of history.  Most of the time, God governs the universe in regular, predictable ways that make life possible to live.  If there were no orderly patterns in the natural world, we could not learn how to cure disease, build rockets to the moon, develop aerospace technologies, mass communications, etc.  So miracles are extremely rare in the economy of God.  However, I do believe there are certain unique moments in the history of redemption in which God “lays bare His mighty arm” and performs works of power that involve a whole complex of miracles.  The event of the flood required many miracles to “pull it off,” many more than we have recorded in Scripture—but then, that was one of those unique moments in history of which I am speaking (continued).

Martin Rizley - #6749

March 13th 2010

Likewise, the Exodus event involved many miracles to “pull it off,” many of which are mentioned only in passing—such as the miraculous preservation of the Israelite’s footwear, their miraculous physical sustenance in the desert, their deliverance from snake venom by the brass serpent, their guidance by the pillar of cloud and fire, to name a few.  So it seems to me quite in keeping with what we know of these “special” moments in history that they all involved a whole cluster of miracles which are only hinted at in the Bible, if mentioned at all.  If that is true, then it seems likely that the event of the Flood would have involved many, many miraculous works of God of which we have no biblical record.  There is no question that the coming of the animals to Noah was a miracle—that sort of thing doesn’t happen in the ordinary course of nature.  The sudden triggering of all the fountains of the great deep and the coordination of that event with the opening of the windows of heaven was also miraculous.  Rain which lasts 40 days is miraculous, and so on.  So I am not exaggerating the number of miracles required by an event as “impossible,” from the standpoint of naturalism,  as the biblical Flood.

Gregory Arago - #6762

March 13th 2010

You answered 1 1/2 out of three questions Martin.

If I understood your long answer to short questions:

1) You are not a geo-centrist.

2) You’re not sure if you are anti-old earth or not. You might believe in a ‘young’ earth, i.e. you wrote “God made the world in six twenty-four hour like days.” What does ‘like’ mean - wriggle room? Your use of the word ‘period’ leaves some confusion as if you might also accept an ‘old’ earth.

3) Though you are not a geologist, you reject the geology of any ‘naturalist’, even if they are really smart and work at the top universities and laboratories in the world. Naturalist = bad. If the geologist in question is a religious person (which you seem to equate with ‘cannot be a naturalist’), and especially if they’re a Christian scripture-literalist, then you will perhaps trust their geology, as long as it fits with your interpretation of Scripture, which is the ultimate measure of Truth.

Am I in the ballpark here?

Oh yeah, and sandals can look new, even if they are in fact old.

Martin Rizley - #6773

March 13th 2010

Gregory,  The term twenty-four hour “like” days is meant to highlight the fact that the days of creation were both like and unlike the days that we experience.  They were not identical to our days in every sense.  That seems obvious from the text.  How were the creation days unlike our days?  Well, the first three days were not “ruled” by the sun, because the ‘light bearers’ had not yet been “formed” and “placed” in earth’s sky.  We have never experienced days not ruled by the sun, so we cannot dogmatic about the duration of such days, because the 24 hour duration of our days is based on earth’s rotation in relation to the sun as the source of light.  The first three days were unlike our days, in that sense.  They were not solar days.  On the other hand, they were like our days in the way defined by verse 5—each day was composed of a single day and night, involving one complete rotational cycle of light and darkness, with a morning and an evening.  So I am not dogmatic regarding the issue of the duration of the creation days (especially the first three), since I have no way of knowing the precise duration of non-solar days. (cont.)

Martin Rizley - #6776

March 13th 2010

This position is sometimes referred to as “young biosphere creationism,” for while it leaves open the possibility of an old earth and cosmos (old in terms of the duration of time that the earth and cosmos have been here), it sees the fossil record as best explained in terms of a global flood, since the fossils are a record of catastrophic death and judgment on a global scale. Evidence of cancer, carnivory, and animal suffering in the fossil record suggest that it was laid down after man fell into sin.  However, since the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, it doesn’t surprise me that most geologists, having no faith in the Bible as an infallible record of God’s works, reject the bibical record of the Flood.  That rejection predisposes them to embrace a uniformitarian approach to the science of geology—one that discounts in an “a priori” manner the possibility that miraculous divine intervention has played a role in shaping the earth.  So, yes, I take with a grain of salt the historical reconstructions of those geologists who reject the Bible as an infallible revelation of truth, refusing to be guided by its teaching in their own geological research.

Martin Rizley - #6777

March 13th 2010

By the way, sandals would not look “new” if you had been walking around in them over hot burning sand every single day of your life for the last forty years! Moreover, God says that the Israelities’ garments did not wear out, either:  “Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years” (Deuteronomy 8:4).  I would call that pretty miraculous!

Karl A - #6842

March 15th 2010

Martin, just one small point from a non-scientist (so take my words with a grain of salt): it seems you are equating naturalism with uniformitarianism but I don’t think that is accurate.  For example, the current consensus position from scientists who follow methodological naturalism is that the dinosaurs were mostly wiped out by a catastrophic meteor strike.  I wouldn’t think many geologists would likewise reject evidence that floods or other natural phenomena can change things pretty dramatically in short periods of time.  (But these geologists do generally reject a worldwide flood for because of evidence that has been discussed in other recent posts.)

Martin Rizley - #6845

March 15th 2010

Your point is well taken about the difference between naturalism and uniformitarianism.  Naturalism can be a methodology or a philosophy.  Philosophical naturalism is the belief that “nature” is all there is.  The “natural world” is self-explanatory, self-organizing, and self-directing, subject to no higher power outside itself.  In a natualistic worldview, natural law is absolute.  “Nature” must conform to natural law because those laws are eternal and can never be suspended.  Methodological naturalism, on the other, is an approach to studying the natural world that looks for “natural” explanations of “natural” phenomena; invocation of supernatural causes (causes outside the natural world)  is “out of court” in scientific research conducted by the principle of methodological naturalism.  Uniformitarianism is the belief that, when it comes to interpreting the natural world, the present is the key to the past.  That is, we take our knowledge of known observable processes, and interpret the data in the natural world in that light, to explain how various features in the natural world have come into existence (continued).

Martin Rizley - #6846

March 15th 2010

Now, it seems to me that there is an inherent conflict between a Christian worldview and all three of the concepts described above.  First, Christianity is diametrically opposed to philosophical naturalism, because we most emphatically believe that “nature” is not all there is.  There is no such thing as a “natural world” that is self-explanatory, self-organizing, and self-directing.  There is only God’s created world, which remains subject to His overruling control at every point.  Nature must conform, not ultimately to any “law,” but to the Lawgiver, whose sovereign will is supreme.  ‘Natural law’ is a term to describe the way God ordinarily governs the world around us—but those ‘laws’ are descriptive, not prescriptive.  Any time God wills, He can direct the creation in different ways;  there is no ‘law’ that prevents Him from doing so.  As a result, science conducted according to the principle of methodological naturalism is valuable only in a limited sense.  When we are trying to understand the ordinary processes by which God governs the created world generally, such a methodology is useful.  (cont.)

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