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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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Jeffrey L Vaughn - #6578

March 11th 2010

No Martin,

The Scriptures do not present Adam as the first human being.  They present Adam as the first human being that Scriptures are concerned with.  All those human beings that were before Adam or concurrent with Adam get little mention.  Whether they were residents of Eden, or Nod, or lived elsewhere, they got little mention.

Just like the millions of people who survived the flood got little mention.  Of those millions, only Cain’s descendants and the Nephilim are mentioned.  Just like the thousands of servants that Abraham and Jacob had got little mention.

You believe they were not there because of your modern, Western, rationalistic culture.

I suspect most here do not have Adam as an ancestor.  I certainly don’t.

Gordon J. Glover - #6579

March 11th 2010

John VanZwieten - #6537—good one!  Lol.

Martin Rizley - #6580

March 11th 2010

Jeffrey,  I completely misunderstood your earlier post, although what you say about Adam being the first of his tribe, I quite agree with; only, I believe Adam’s “tribe” is the entire human race!  That Scripture views Adam as the first man is evident from his name.  The name Adam is related to the Hebrew word “adamah” meaning ground, land, or earth; this points to the fact that Adam had no ancestor, but was created directly by God from the substance of the ground.  Whereas those in Adam’s genealogy are said to be the “son of” some other human being, Adam alone is said to be the “son of God,” meaning that he had no ancestor, either human or bestial.  He was created directly by God, who first formed Adam’s inanimate body,  then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life so that he became a living soul.  There was no life in the body of Adam before this divine inbreathing; therefore, he did descend from another living creature.  He was God’s special creation, the father of the human race. . .and yes, that means he is your ancestor, too, Jeffrey!  That’s why you need the redemption provided by Jesus, the last Adam.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #6584

March 11th 2010


Then why did Adam say, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh?”

Is the Church the Bride of Christ?  Was Israel God’s Bride?

In Revelation 21, The new H&E is the Bride of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem. Heaven and Earth is a group of people.  The Sea is a group of people.  The Sea becomes part of the new Heaven and new Earth.

That is the way Scripture uses Heaven and Earth and Sea.  It is not a cosmology.  It is a culture.

Adam came from the dust of the earth.  The earth came from the sea.  They were all people.

Were the disciples inanimate before Jesus breathed on them?  (John 20:22)

Martin Rizley - #6588

March 11th 2010

I’m afraid that I can’t follow you in what seems to me like a “hyper-spiritualizing” of the text of Genesis.  To treat the creation narrative as an elaborate allegory of God’s “creation” of Israel from the “sea” of humanity seems to overlook entirely the way that this narrative is viewed by other biblical authors in both the Old and New Testament.  They clearly view God as the creator of the physical universe, who created the entire human race from “one blood”—the blood of Adam, through Noah and his sons.  Paul viewed the human race as fallen in Adam—that is, fallen in the first man, through the transgression of that first man.  Jesus spoke of God having instituted marriage when He made made man “male and female” at the beginning of history.  There are countless other examples that show that the biblical writers understood the creation narrative to be a straightforward account of historical events, not an elaborate allegory of God’s creation of Israel.  So, I’m sorry, but I just can’t follow your allegorical approach to these chapters.

Martn Rizley - #6644

March 12th 2010

I looked at the links you gave.  I was somewhat disturbed by the fact that there is nothing at all on the web page to identify the source of the quotes, just two photographs of “anonymous” charts. If Snelling did prepare those charts—which nothing on the web page indictates—, it seems to me that he is not saying no progress has been made on developing a creation model since the publication of the Genesis Flood.  He is saying, rather, that there is still no consensus on many of the issues among creationists, and that none of the models out there are “complete” in the sense of answering all the questions one might possibly raise about the existing data.  Many creationists have admitted as much in the past; but like all quotes, these need to be taken in the context of the larger presentation that was given—something the website fails to do.  It simply ‘snatches’ a couple of charts from a “power point presentation” that Snelling allegedly gave and posts them.  I suspect that, if one were to have access to the entire presentation, the tone might be somewhat more balanced and positive.

Harry - #6651

March 12th 2010

Martin, those slides are from the Sixth International Conference on Creationism in 2008. I just included them as they are what you asked for, the rest of the article by a mathematics professor who attended it can be found here.

I particularly enjoyed the part about how Snelling thought creationists focused too much on the evidence. This view of ‘science’ which you seem to advocate seems to me to relegate it to simply a bunch of opinions held by individuals groups, with no real explanatory power, and people essentially saying the evidence is irrelevant. What about those who are trained in science and advocate geocentrism because of how they view the Bible? What about other religious groups who decide to interpret ‘science’ in light of their scriptures? If science is not ultimately decided by the evidence, and the ability to tell competing models apart, then what is the point of it? It seems to me this is the defintion of pseudoscience.

Harry - #6652

March 12th 2010

Correction:ignore previous post

Martin, those slides are from the Sixth International Conference on Creationism in 2008. I just included them as they are what you asked for, the rest of the article by a mathematics professor who attended it can be found here.

I particularly enjoyed the part about how Snelling thought creationists focused too much on the evidence. This view of ‘science’ which you seem to advocate seems to me to relegate it to simply a bunch of opinions held by individuals groups, with no real explanatory power, and people essentially saying the evidence is irrelevant. What about those who are trained in science and advocate geocentrism because of how they view the Bible? What about other religious groups who decide to interpret ‘science’ in light of their scriptures? If science is not ultimately decided by the evidence, and the ability to tell competing models apart, then what is the point of it? It seems to me this is the defintion of pseudoscience.

Martin Rizley - #6656

March 12th 2010

The problem with what you are saying, Harry, is that “evidence” is never interpreted from a position of neutrality by observers who are philosophically or religiously “neutral.”  Every human being has fundamental commitments of a “religious” character concerning the nature of ultimate reality, and those commitments shape the way we ‘read’ the evidence and determine which explanations of the evidence we will find acceptable.  Now, I believe that the fundamental religious commitment of the Christian is to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has revealed His divine nature, redemptive plan, and moral will in writings that claim to be of divine inspiration.  The believer has arrived at this conviction, not through the power of his own reason or intellect, but through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who has conferred to the child of God, through the “opening” of his spiritual eyes, an unshakable conviction concerning the infallible truth of the Christian revelation.  It is in light of that fundamental conviction that the Christian interprets everything in the world around him, including the data of the rocks (continued).

Martin Rizley - #6658

March 12th 2010

(continued)  Now, no one, to my knowledge, no one denies the fact that a very strong case can be made that the universe is very, very old if one ‘reads’ the data of the natural world through the lenses of naturalism.  That is because certain features of the earth’s surface, such as layers of igneous rock “sandwiched” between fossil-bearing, sedimentary rock layers, would have taken many hundreds or even thousands of years to form, based on the known, present-days rates at which solidifying lava cools.  But the key phrase here is “based on known, present-day rates.”  If one assumes that these rates have operated uniformly in the past as they do in the present (the principle of uniformitarianism), then one must conclude the earth is quite old.  Such an assumption is unquestionable for the naturalist, for he views the physical world as something that runs “on its own” in an unsupervised manner.  God, if He exists, never intervenes to work outside the framework of natural laws that He has established for the ordinary functioning of the universe.  Therefore we cannot appeal to miracle as a possible cause of anything (continued)

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #6661

March 12th 2010


Do you disagree with my words about heaven and earth in Revelation 21?

My approach is not allegorical as you claim.  I have used the definitions Scripture gives.  I have treated the text as Scripture indicates John understood Genesis.  It fixes contradictions that many see when viewing Jesus’ words and Paul’s words the way you do.  All those things you believe prove your “literal” work just fine with my “literal” view.

Where I use biblical definitions for words, you use your MWR (as you called it) definitions.  You make assumptions about what the text should be about, then match your definitions accordingly.

Demonstration:  What “world” was John talking about in John 1?

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

The world Jesus came to was his own people, first century Jews in Palestine.  The Jews were suppose to recognize him.  The Romans and Greeks didn’t have Scripture.  No one could or should expect them to recognize Jesus.  My naked ancestors in the British Isles never even saw Jesus.  Never had a chance to recognize Jesus.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #6662

March 12th 2010

Martin, (cont)

The world that did not recognize Jesus was his own, those that did not receive him.  That is the world that was made through him.  John is not talking about two different entities here, just one.  Jesus’ own people, the world.

The book has a Jewish context.  Not an all humanity context.  Every man in verse 9 was every Jew in Palestine.  Not you and me.  Not my ancestors in Britannia.

You view the text with modern eyes.  Try viewing the text as John wrote it and meant it.  John was part of Jesus’ culture and was closer to the culture that wrote Genesis than we will ever be.


Martn Rizley - #6663

March 12th 2010

For the full-blown supernaturalist, however, those strictures put on the interpretation of the data simply will not do, for he knows (based on his fundamental belief in the miracle-working God of Scripture) that God is by no means limited to work within the realm of natural law in shaping the geological features we see in the world around us.  For example, at the time of the Flood, God could well have hastened miraculously the rate of cooling of igneous intrusions so as to bring about rapid stability to the earth’s crust after the devastation wrought by the Flood.  If God could cause a mature almond plant to bud and blossom on Aaron’s rod overnight, then He could certainly cool and harden (for example) the thousand feet thick Paliisades material of northern New Jersey in a single day.  There is nothing in science itself to preclude this possiblity, since science looks at what is, not what could be (that is, what God could do).  So the fundamental question every professing Christian must face is this—will I allow the evidence of the rocks interpreted in a naturalistic framework to overthrow the clear and perspicous teaching of Scripture, or will I allow the teaching of Scripture to determine how I read the rocks?

Gregory Arago - #6664

March 12th 2010


I too, accept a ‘historical Adam’.

But I don’t (and nor do *most* living Christians) for a second accept a literalistic, sola scriptura, ‘young earth’ pseudo-interpretation of the Bible, that only a dyed-by-their-signature, bureaucratically-controlled, anti-freedom-to-interpret, professor of English literature who is *not* a scientist would ever promote.

Have you studied natural-physical sciences at any time in your life, Martin?

These NPS disciplines offer knowledge valuable to people who live in God’s kingdom that all Christians would be wise to at least honestly consider, aside from the propaganda that is promoted in various American evangelical churches.


Martin Rizley - #6666

March 12th 2010

I agree that the term “world” is used in different way in Scripture, but in every case, the context (both the immediate and larger context of Scripture) must determine what is meant.  God so loved the world (the fallen race of mankind) that He gave His only Son to redeem sinners.  But John tells us not to love the world (that is, the evil world system).  So your point is well taken that words do not always have a meaning which is “obvious.”  Still, it seems to me crystal clear that God is the Creator of “all things”—not just His own people (Revelation 4:11, Psalm 104).  When God told Israel to keep the Sabbath day because ‘in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day’ it frankly seems incredible to me that anyone would seriously believe the Israelites understand God to mean, “For in six days I created you!”  Of course He created them as a people, but God is clearly speaking of a larger reality here—namely, the creation of the entire cosmos, both the things above (the heavens) and the things below (the earth and the seas).

Martin Rizley - #6668

March 12th 2010

Gregory,  When you ask me, “Have you studied natural-physical science at any time in your life?” I wonder if you would ask the same question of Kurt Wise, who got his Phd. in geology studying under Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard, or Andrew Snelling, who is a practicing, professional geologist who got his Phd. from the University of Sydney?  Would you accuse them of ignorance of the facts, as you accuse me?  But it is a common tactic for those who oppose creationism to accuse their opponents of being ignorant of the facts.  As I pointed out, however, the difference between creationist and anti-creationist is not necessarily a difference in the degree of factual knowledge that each possesses, but rather, the approach one takes to interpreting the data.  The anti-creationist is committed to interpret all the data within the framework of uniformitarianism (the present is the key to the past; God never acts to shape any geological feature by immediate, supernatural intervention.)  This is not the only way to read the data, however; and from a Christian perspective, serious questions must be raised about assuming a strict, naturalistic view of God’s working in earth’s ancient past.

Harry - #6673

March 12th 2010

Martin, the whole purpose of science is to remove as many biases as possible so that the assessment of the data is as neutral as possible. Trying to force the data to say something it doesn’t will simply not work in the long run, it will be exposed by peers and ultimately rejected. With regard to the geocentrists, are they doing science too? They are apparently interpretating the evidence in light of what they say the Bible says. They too have training to the PhD level in the relevant sciences.

The facts are the facts and do not depend on interpretations. The earth and the rest of the planets either orbit the Sun, or the Sun and the planets orbit the earth. Both of these cannot be true. Do you not think science can have something to say on this?

Harry - #6674

March 12th 2010

... cont

Likewise, the earth is either 4.6 billion years old or it is not. Humans and chimps either share ancestors or they do not. There was either a recent genetic bottleneck across all groups of organisms or there was not. There was either a migration out of the middle east by all of these organisms or there was not. Surely you agree science can assess these claims.

Both Snelling and Wise are on record as saying they would believe in a young-earth even if there was no scientific evidence for it. Are they really doing ‘science’?

Bruce Russell - #6678

March 12th 2010


Help me understand your theory of knowing ultimate reality…because when I read Genesis 1:3, it says “Let there be light.”  Not until Genesis 1:14 do we read “Let there be lights…to separate the day and the night.”  Then in Revelation 22:5 we read…“Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Doesn’t this teach both moderns and ancients that light and life are not dependent on the laws of the existing physical world…the sun, moon and stars?  And doesn’t the biblical cosmology of the future present a universe that while in some ways continuous with the present—it is the same world glorious transformed—isn’t it true that there is no naturalistic way to explain the prophesied transformation into glory?  Does that make it harder to believe?

Certainly there is no comprehensible evidence apart from the Bible of the future resurrection.  Why do you expect to find comprehensible evidence of God’s supernatural special creation?  Also, why is it surprising that any human directed assembly of evidence of earth’s origins points to near infinity?

Bruce Russell

Bruce Russell - #6681

March 12th 2010


I think the young earth creationists are wrong in thinking that they can create a convincing sample of evidence that the earth is young.  I think God created the universe with a convincing appearance of near infinity because he wanted to display His eternal power and divinity.  A created world that appeared only six thousands year old would look plastic, Lego like.  Our modern technology has given us a sliver more knowledge than the ancients had of God’s creation.  There is vastly more to learn.  We must humbly seek to gain the knowledge of God and His universe understanding that its appearance reflects the eternity and divinity of its creator.

Therefore, if I were an atomic physicist I could easily seek the age of the oldest rock in the universe without shaking my faith in the Bible.  God is not being deceptive when He leaves evidence of near infinite time scales.  He is declaring his eternal power and divinity.

I think your view of science is similar to that of many young earth creationists.  You present a man-centered arrangement of the evidence.  But the physical laws you trust in are not eternal, as the resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrates.


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