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The Apostle Paul and Adam

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March 10, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features Pete Enns. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this video conversation, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns discusses the Apostle Paul and his understanding of Adam as the progenitor of the human race.

Enns writes about this issue in a recent blog post, and in today’s format, he reemphasizes a few key points—but namely that we must consider Paul within his first century context, and not in our contemporary one. What this means is that Paul wouldn’t have had 21st century scientific discovery and knowledge available to him at his point in time. He wouldn’t have understood the theory of common descent, so he would have seen Adam as a historical figure. “There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person, the first created human from whom all humans descended,” Enns says.

One might wonder: does that violate the theological point Paul is trying to make of connecting Adam to Jesus? More importantly, does the “non-literalness” of Adam affect the validity of Jesus?

Not so, says Enns. And as you watch this video, pay close attention to Enns' emphasis at 1:22.

While in Paul’s mind, there may be a more “organic” connection, Enns points out that for most Christians, this has no bearing on the “literalness” of Jesus.

“How Paul handles Adam does not determine modern scientific discoveries about the origin of humanity. Paul does not determine that for us. Paul is a first century man, and what he says about Jesus and Adam has to be understood in that context,” says Enns.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

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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C Biehl - #6769

March 13th 2010

Peter:  Did you hold to the view expressed in this video during your time at Westminster Seminary when you claimed adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith, or does this represent a recent change in your view?

Joe Francis - #6789

March 13th 2010

Common descent is the most important principle to understanding redemption
I appreciate the discussion.  Let me summarize my understanding of Adam.  My views and the proof of my existence as we discussed earlier, are meaningless and not important in the long view of history.  According to science I am nothing more than a complex assembly of parts which was once dust and which will soon be reduced to dust.  Theologically,  speaking I am an insignificant pitifully lost being before a Holy God.

  However, I find meaning in this life because of my common descent from Adam.  Not only did I inherit Adam’s DNA, but I inherited his rebellious nature which puts me at odds with this Holy God.  Without this common descent, which connects me back to the Creator, I am nothing, because I have no relationship or identity with the second Adam who adopted me and made me more than a son of Adam; He made me an adopted child of God.  Thus I believe strongly that the basic principles of Christianity will become meaningless and impotent   If we abandon the biblically declared truth of Adam’s creation and humanity.

Gregory Arago - #6797

March 14th 2010

I can accept all that Joe (except for the first part, above my name). What I’m waiting for now is you to admit, like many others here already do, that ‘historical Adam,’ though he must have had ‘fixed dates’ (i.e. birth and death), is a difficult figure to pin down in terms of time. That is, using the Bible to determine the ‘age of Adam’ is only going to get us part of the way and we must also trust in scientific methods which God has given us to make sense of the natural world around us. Science is not evil.

You insist that the world is ‘young’ based on the ‘expertise’ of those who are considered ‘wrong’ by the vast majority of living scientists. If you have any respect for science, which I assume you do, being a scientist yourself, then why don’t you accept the validity of the physical evidence for an ‘old earth’ offered by almost every practising geologist in the world?

Until you let go of your ‘young earth’ hypothesis, Joe, you will *not* get respect from other scientists; you will be seen as an outcast, not a martyr or ‘fool for Christ’, but simply as a rebel who will not accept a place at the table from the hand that actually feeds him.

Joe Francis - #6802

March 14th 2010


First, I don’t reject data.  If there is cosmological data which suggests the earth is old, I don’t reject the data.  I think its silly and stupid for creationists to reject data.  And I don’t have a complete solid answer for why some aspects of the universe look old.  There is some contraindications of an old universe like, pristine craters on venus, and the existence of comets and the rarity of super-nova and all that but as you have pointed out this is not my field.  In addition there is biblical data which supports a young earth like the geneologies and so on.  As a scientist I have to weigh all the data and I have to consider my worldview presuppositions.  Because I place a higher weight on scripture than science, that is where I stand.  Also, the Fall of man was a historical space-time event, as Francis Schaeffer would put it, and I do not see a provision in scripture for God using death to create life in the beginning.  I think that goes against everything I know about his character.

Joe Francis - #6804

March 14th 2010

Greg #6797,

WIth regard to God using death and disease and destruction to create life.  Richard Dawkins makes this point:

“ I think that’s a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.”

I think he has a point don’t you?

Joe Francis - #6808

March 14th 2010


I do reject the interpretation of data, not the data itself.  Data is data, it cannot be waved away.  But all scientists interpret data.  As I stated above, some scientists are now saying that the 20 year old data in favor of a pre-biotic origins of earth is now false….the interpretation of that data they say no longer supports the pre-biotic soup.  There is probably going to be profound disagreement over this.  So would you label scientists on one side of this argument fools?  If so, I don’t think you understand the scientific process.  Have you read Kuhn’s work?  Shifing paradigms are the norm in science.

IF you believe in an old earth, you believe in a death process which has contributed to the formation of life forms….thus the creator of this system would rely on death to create life…simple Darwinian biology.

Joe Francis - #6809

March 14th 2010


When you say I don’t trust someone that implies that I judge their character….and I do not do that.  I respect all believers.  I have many friends who are OEC or TE.  I respect their views and respect their logic. That does not mean I agree with them or have to agree with them.

Please don’t impune motives where there are none.

Joe Francis - #6810

March 14th 2010


Truth is truth. Sometimes those we disagree with speak the truth.  I think Dawkins sees a problem with OEC and I think he is correct.  Why would God use millions of years of suffering to create?  This is not in the Bible and it is not part of God’s character.  I think Dawkins sees what millions of people in this country see when they answer in the polls that they believe in a literal creation.  Why believe in a handicapped God who uses death disease and suffering as part of His creation process.  It just does not make a lot of sense.

Drew Setliff - #6812

March 14th 2010

Joe, I could not agree more with your statement.  Why would God use death, disease and suffering as part of His creation process.  God is perfect and everything he created was “good.” I would not at any stretch believe God used the horrible things of this earth as part of His prized creation process. I think sometimes we get too caught up in the Bible for instance in this situation of a young or old earth.  God clearly states in the Bible that His ways our not our ways.  We will never be able to understand how exactly God created the earth in seven days or millions of years.  The fact of the matter is that God created the earth period.  My faith will not change if I believe the earth was created in seven days or millions of years.  The only fact I care about is that God created the earth!!!!

Joe Francis - #6814

March 14th 2010

sorry Greg, no offense intended.

Joe Francis - #6815

March 14th 2010


As stated above.  I don’t reject Geologists, I reject their interpretation of the data, but like in biology, I don’t reject all the interpretations.  I like the work of geologist Andrew Snelling among others.  Also, as you know i do not reject common descent, I reject the interpretation of common descent within the context of monophyly and accept it in the context of polyphyly.  Also, as stated above, common descent from Adam is an important principle in Christianity.

Since I have responded to your inquiries, I would sincerely like to hear your basis for believing that Adam was a historical person?

Gregory Arago - #6826

March 14th 2010

Apology accepted.

You are in the 1 percentile, Joe. You are not qualified (to judge) in geology. How do you decide whose ‘interpretation’ you accept or reject?

The issue of common descent is tricky, as I just wrote to Gordon in another thread. He seems to agree with both you and I in an historical Adam, real, flesh and blood person, along with most people who have posted in this thread. The Catholic church accepts ‘historical Adam’.

You can surely continue to ‘do biology’ Joe, without the heavy baggage of pretending that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. There is no need for this in order to do your work. It is simply ‘local community support’ that holds you to this view.

The Hebrew word for ‘human’ is ‘Adam.’ I believe there must have been a ‘first man.’ We call this first man ‘Adam.’ Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha’is and others accept this. Some liberal Christian theologians don’t.

No need for YEC, literalistic, scripture-centrism to say that!

Joe Francis - #6831

March 14th 2010

Thanks Greg,

Its been good chatting with you.  Its the end of spring break and I have to go back to work.

I will check in every now and then.


Hosea - #6945

March 16th 2010

Dear all, readers,

Thank you for this brilliant piece of article which has stimulate a constructive discussion. I certainly benefited from that. I am a Biologos - scientist in training with strong evangelical background. I am still having difficulty even in convincing my parents who are YEC. Personally, I still have some questions (please forgive me if these have been addressed somewhere - but I would be grateful if you could help me point out where I could read the discussion).

1. In Genesis, post Gen 2-3, there are many others ‘actors’ which are crucial in Bible such Enoch and most of these people lived >100 years old. How TE can explain this?
2. Genealogy in the Gospels, clearly mentions from Adam to Jesus - really explicitly mention name by name..

Look forward to hearing from you all..

God bless.


Bruce - #7111

March 18th 2010

Paul’s evaluation and proposal of original sin is his own. Jesus did not, in the scriptures we have, mention types or categories of sin. I am convinced that Paul invented original sin as a way of expressing the tendency of man towards rebellion. I believe Paul found incongruity between a creation by God and the creation rebelling against the creator. So he invented an explanation whereby sin enters the picture. A follow up to the fallacy of original sin is the inventions of grace for souls who die prior to an understanding of salvation. What does one do with peoples who have never in their history heard of Jesus? Elaborate theories of accountability and ignorance simply cloud the issue.

Chris Bloom - #7989

March 29th 2010

Greg @6657—

As you state, you don’t live in the US.  You also clearly have little experience with Southern Baptists, very few of whom would argue that the Authorized (KJV) Bible is the perfect and literal Word of God.  Such sentiments have arisen only in the last hundred years or so, and are largely confined to the fringes of evangelicalism.

I realize that this has little bearing on the actual topic of discussion here, but you surely realize that a failure to present the small details correctly will cast doubt upon your larger argument.

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