t f p g+ YouTube icon

Pete Enns on “Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Bible: Moving toward a Synthesis”

Bookmark and Share

April 3, 2010 Tags: Biblical Interpretation
Pete Enns on “Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Bible: Moving toward a Synthesis”

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Over the past two months, BioLogos Senior Fellow Pete Enns has explored various interpretive challenges related to the Creation accounts in Genesis and New Testament passages related to Adam. Today we want to highlight a new essay by Enns, placing it in context:

Cosmic Battle Series

In a series of four posts (found here, here, here, and here), Enns argued that the themes of creation, flood, and exodus all tell the same story throughout the Old Testament—the victory of Yahweh and the salvation of his people. In a fifth post, Enns presented an “Israel-centered” view of Adam, wherein Adam is the beginning of Israel, not of all humanity. This interpretation, while not well appreciated among lay Christians today, has been widely recognized by both pre-modern and modern scholars.

Paul’s Adam Series

Building upon this foundation, Enns began a related series (found here, here, here, and here; still ongoing), which has outlined numerous interpretive issues related to the Apostle Paul’s view of Adam. To truly understand Paul, we need to consider, among other things, how Adam appeared and was understood in the Old Testament; the nature of the Fall in Genesis 3; Paul’s purpose in drawing a parallel between Adam and Jesus in Romans 5; what the book of Romans would have meant to Jews in Paul’s day; Paul’s ancient view of the world; how he used the Old Testament in his writings; and how Adam was understood by Jewish interpreters during Paul’s time. These are just some of the inescapable issues that must be considered.

New Scholarly Essay: Moving Toward a Synthesis

But why are all these issues important, exactly? Why invest so much time in trying to understand Genesis as the ancient Israelites would have, or in reading Paul in a non-literal way? In a new essay, Enns argues that Christians must engage in these activities, because ignoring the scientific and archeological evidence for evolution is not an option for believers in the twenty-first century.

First, Enns clarifies that the controversy is “Christianity and evolution,” not “science and faith.” Many Christians accept that science and faith can in principle exist in perfect harmony, but nevertheless reject evolution. Why? As Enns explains,

If the fundamental historical value of Genesis is called into question, and if therefore there was no first pair created by God and who disobeyed and “fell”—as the argument goes—you are not far from questioning how Jesus’ crucifixion can really be about reversing a fall that never happened.


The stakes are high indeed.

Enns offers four paths forward for Christians: 1) accept evolution and reject Christianity, 2) generate a scientific model to place Adam within the evolutionary process, 3) reorient our view of Scripture to achieve a true synthesis with the science, or 4) accept Paul’s understanding of Adam and reject evolution.

Obviously the first and last options are untenable, and Enns points out why the second is problematic. The remaining option, then, is to foster a hermeneutical reorientation. Enns helps us think clearly about three areas which must be addressed:

  • How we think about the purpose of Genesis

  • How we understand Paul’s interpretation of Jesus as the second Adam

  • What it means to read the Bible well

We look forward to more thoughts from Pete next Tuesday. In the meantime, let’s discuss. Is the main controversy between Christianity and evolution, or are the issues broader than that? Do you agree that Christians should adjust their theology when it contradicts strong scientific evidence? Why?

Learn More

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 2 of 2   « 1 2
Jeffrey L Vaughn - #8945

April 6th 2010


Sorry I didn’t make myself clear.  Especially when trying to explain such a confusing concept.

I was referring to Paul’s use of the word “body,” soma, not the corporate body concept.  The corporate body is central to Paul’s theology.  It occurs everywhere.  But Paul tries to be careful with his context when using the word body.

“The whole lump” is the corporate body in 1 Cor. 5:6.

In 1 Cor. 6:15, “Have ye not known that your bodies are members of Christ?” is commonly and properly understood as “bodies” means individual human bodies and “Christ” means the corporate body of Christ, the Church.

I have no disagreement with Holland there.


Pete Enns - #8949

April 6th 2010

One thought here. To read Adam as “Old Covenant” in Romans 5 may not due justice to the issue of Gentile inclusion that is so clearly an major issue in Romans (regardless of what one thinks of the New Perspective).

Pete Enns - #8953

April 6th 2010

sorry….DO justice and A major issue

Who in the world set up these comments so we couldn’t correct our spelling” 

Norm - #8963

April 6th 2010

Dr. Enns,

Paul probably has some clearer language concerning the Gentile/Jew inclusion in Eph 2. If you notice that through Christ the two bodies Jew/Gentile are brought together.

Eph 2:11-19 remember that AT ONE TIME YOU GENTILES IN THE FLESH, … that you were at that time separated from Christ, ALIENATED FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL and strangers to the covenants of promise, HAVING NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD. But now in Christ Jesus YOU WHO ONCE WERE FAR OFF have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who HAS MADE US BOTH ONE … by abolishing the law of commandments … that he might create in himself ONE NEW MAN IN PLACE OF THE TWO, … and might RECONCILE US BOTH TO GOD IN ONE BODY through the cross, … And he came and preached peace TO YOU WHO WERE FAR OFF AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR.  For through him WE BOTH HAVE ACCESS IN ONE SPIRIT TO THE FATHER. So then YOU ARE NO LONGER STRANGERS AND ALIENS, BUT YOU ARE FELLOW CITIZENS WITH THE SAINTS AND MEMBERS OF THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD,

I would be interested specifically what you think may present concerns regarding Gentile inclusion in Romans. I can think of the grafting in to the Olive tree as one portrait.

Norm - #8964

April 6th 2010

Dr. Enns,

I ran out of space but want to highlight Paul’s statement from above in which he specifically states that two old men are being brought into the One new Man through Christ.

“that he might create in himself ONE NEW MAN IN PLACE OF THE TWO”

You can see here that Paul is thinking corporately of the two bodies of Jew/Gentiles going so far as calling them “One” man in place of the “Two”. When Paul often speaks about Jew and Gentile he often refers to “we” to represent Jews and “you” to represent Gentiles. It’s a subtlety that often goes over our head.  I think we know who represented the Israel man (Adam) but Paul doesn’t declare a federal headship for the Gentiles although he recognizes them as a seperate Body.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #8967

April 6th 2010


I use Mozilla Firefox.  It has spell checking built in.

Your thought on Romans 5 assumes Paul wrote to a gentile church in Rome.  What if Paul wrote to a predominantly Jewish church?

Paul claimed several times that he “taught nothing but the Moses and the Prophets.”  Paul expected his Jewish hearers to have a good enough grounding in Scripture that they could look up his words in Scripture and make the comparison.  Paul commended the Bereans because they tested Paul’s words against Scripture.  Paul ragged on the Thessalonians because they did not.

Paul used no Scripture with his gentile audience in Athens.  He didn’t expect them to know Scripture.

Paul’s salutation in Romans assumes the people are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures.  Throughout the letter, he makes several quotes and allusions to Scripture, to the Apocryphal books Wisdom, Sirach, and 1 Maccabees, and to Enoch.  That requires a more thorough grounding in OT Scripture than is expected of any evangelical preacher.

The references to the Law in Rom. 3.

Were the gentiles in Rome descendants of Abraham?  “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?” (Rom. 4:1)


Jeffrey L Vaughn - #8968

April 6th 2010

“Sin was in the world before the law was given.  But sin was not counted until the law was given.”  Rom. 5:13 (my paraphrase).  Sin was taken counted in Adam’s fall, Noah’s flood, and Sodom’s destruction.  Therefore, the law existed from Adam on.  From Adam on, sin and the law caused “death.”

Sin was in the world before the law was given.  Therefore sin was in the world before Adam.

Rom. 5:14 is a first Adam / last Adam parallel.

By Rom. 5:15, more will live due to the grace of the last Adam than “died” due to the disobedience of the first Adam.  Therefore, the “death” was not universal.

Are we in trouble yet?

Karl A - #8990

April 7th 2010

Jeffery, your interpretation of Romans being (primarily) directed toward a Jewish Christian audience makes sense from another aspect as well.  The purpose of the letter seems to me a defense of frontier missions to the Gentiles, specifically Paul’s calling. “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard” (Romans 15:20).  It was necessary for Paul to defend to the Jewish Christians that they were really on the same footing as the Gentiles, not a notch above, and that Gentiles were also worthy of ministry.  Gentiles would not have assumed a special position for the Jews.

On the other hand, one wouldn’t want to assume that 1 Corinthians has the same target audience as Romans…

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #8998

April 7th 2010

Thank-you Karl,

That is an interesting point I’d not considered.

Like Romans, 1 Corinthians has a lot of references to both Scripture and the Apocrypha, which would indicate a Jewish church.

And 1 Cor. was an undisputed early book, making it more likely to be written to a mostly Jewish church.

But, as Norm noted, In Romans, Paul says “we” a lot, referring to himself and the Roman church, but in 1 Cor. and Ephesians, he says “you” a lot.  In Eph., “you” refers to Gentiles.

However, Ephesians and the letters to Timothy (at Ephesus) and to Titus have very few quotations and allusions to the OT and Apocrypha.

I am inclined to believe the Corinthians were predominantly Jewish, but Paul said “you” because he was appalled by their behavior.


Trevor K. - #10264

April 19th 2010

Pete Enns assumes that the"science” is right. based on this he then wants us to throw out the whole of God’s word.
Perhaps if we started out supposing that God’s word is right - after all God was there when HE created the heavens and earth and sinful man wasn’t - then we have to question the “science”.
No man can determine the age of the earth. Period. Since we have no creation experience to compare to, we can only determine an age after making assumptions of the initial conditions that existed before the clock started ticking. It is these assumptions that are faulty, NOT the word of God. If you don’t believe God when He says he created in six days you are an unbeliever. If you then go further and believe what science of man says[4.5Ga] you are now an idolater. Choose you this day whom you will serve - God or man!

Robert - #56869

April 5th 2011

Romans 16:17-20

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause
dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned,
and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord
Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering
speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of
your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you,
but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.
20 And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The
grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Page 2 of 2   « 1 2