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 The BioLogos Foundation. 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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Kendalf - #6482

March 11th 2010

“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.”

Reading this makes me think of the response of some of the Athenians to Paul’s message in Acts 17:31-32, “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

These particular Greeks scoffed at Paul’s message because their knowledge of medicine and physiology informed them that dead people simply did not rise from the dead.


Kendalf - #6483

March 11th 2010

{cont}  Today, the scientific opinion on people rising from the dead has not changed. But would this validate a non-historical understanding of the resurrection of Christ? Why then does Enns believe that our current scientific knowledge ~requires~ a non-historical understanding of Adam? It seems to me that the scientific evidence against the resurrection of dead people is even more conclusive than the “external evidence” that Enns cites against the view that Adam was a literal historical person, so if any belief should be rejected on the basis of science it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Where (and how) do we draw the line between the beliefs that we accept by faith, in spite of the fact that they go against our current scientific understanding, and the beliefs we reject because we are more scientifically informed?

I find myself asking the same question as Gregory Arago (#6424): “Why not leave the door open and *not* insist on ‘non-historicity’”?


Nick Altman - #6491

March 11th 2010

Kendalf -

#6482 - “These particular Greeks scoffed at Paul’s message because their knowledge of medicine and physiology informed them that dead people simply did not rise from the dead”

Where did you get last part from textually - this seems like an ad-hoc insertion into the text?

Pax Christi…Nick


Nick Altman - #6492

March 11th 2010

Kendalf

#6483 - “It seems to me that the scientific evidence against the resurrection of dead people is even more conclusive than the “external evidence” that Enns cites against the view that Adam was a literal historical person,”

I would disagree. The resurrection is a one time event 2000 years ago. Science cannot say anything about it because it leaves no empirical evidence. If a thousand years ago someone fell into a volcano, science can’t reconstruct that this actually happened (outside of perhaps attested writings) because there is nothing left to examine and test. Naturalistic philosophers (ala David Hume) can make philosophical arguments against miracles in general, but this is metaphysical naturalism, and it isn’t the same thing as “science” (methodological naturalism) something which I think everyone, YEC or TC/EC agrees on. Science just can’t speak about 1 time phenomenon, it only can talk about reoccurring patterns.

Thankfully this lack of evidence isn’t the case for common descent and the age of the universe. The evidence that these events let is overwhelmingly conclusive.


David - #6494

March 11th 2010

Joe #6468,
Really?  So, are you more certain that Adam was a real historical person than you are of, say, the historical event of your own birth or your having sat down at your desk to read this comment?  Hermeneutical issues aside, that is a breathtakingly odd claim to make epistemologically speaking.  I have to think that you don’t really mean that.


Joe Francis - #6496

March 11th 2010

David,

It seems like we are creating absurd extremes here to show how someone’s view is non-tenable.

Lets put it this way, how do you know about your birth?  How do you know that knowledge of your birth it is not some kind of tape implanted in your brain to make you think you were born?  How is that idea, that ultimately, from a human perspective you cannot prove your birth, any different from the idea that we can come up with some human logic that Adam was not a real person?  You hit it you on the head, that this is about epistemology.  The Bible declares itself to be God’s truth.  Therefore, it is the most trustworthy source of truth I know,  and so in that sense, I am more certain of Adam’s existence, then my birth.  Yet, at the same time, the Bible declares this reality to be “real.”  And because life begets life, as C.S.Lewis put it, I am a son of Adam, and this flows from scripture also.  So my birth is not totally non-biblical in that sense.


ktc - #6497

March 11th 2010

One of the arguments for accepting modern science is God wouldn’t deceive us with
His natural revelation.

Well….what about Special Revelation (the Bible)? Are you willing to make the same argument there?

It is agreed Paul REALLY believed Adam existed as per the Genesis narrative. Fine.

However, if Adam didn’t really exist, then the Bible deceived/tricked Paul into believing he did.

How is it consistent to INSIST that in natural revelation God wouldn’t trick or deceive us into
believing something false, however, with the Bible (especially Gen 1-11) that’s exactly what He
did.

Paul and his belief in a “real life Adam who doesn’t really exist” is proof.


eddy - #6498

March 11th 2010

“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”,

These sorts of statements - especially when spoken by Christians - are really confusing. Now I understand why Coyne, Dawkins, et al., find this very thing really aberrant and creepy, at best.

If this is the middle ground that BioLogists want to establish between the evolution-creation debate, this is going extreme. You cannot easily dismiss Paul - at the heart of his ministry - about what he says on Adam or Jesus, in favor of a certain scientific theory and expect to be taken seriously.

Kendalph #6483 speaks it better than I would have said it myself.

This is not to say I hold a YEC position myself even though - for spiritual reasons -  I sympathize with the position. But I feel that there is a much better middle ground along the evolution - creation spectrum than this anti-Christian position suggested by Enns.


Joe Francis - #6506

March 11th 2010

Nick #6492,

So according to your logic science “can’t speak” about the big bang because it is a one time event. Yet the big bang is related to evidence about the age of the universe.  This would then make the age of the universe more of a historical science rather than laboratory science and thus open for debate (?).


Daniel Mann - #6514

March 11th 2010

Pete and BioLogos,

Your problem isn’t simply with Paul. Luke also regarded Adam as historical according to the genealogy that he recounts (Luke 3:38; also 1 Chron 1:1 and Jude 1:14).

Although Jesus didn’t mention Adam and Eve by name, He indisputably made reference to them as historical: “…at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-6 quoting Gen. 1:27 and then Gen. 2:24). Jesus then states that because God had joined man and woman together, they should not be separated.

Are you going to throw away everything in the Bible that doesn’t accord with the present scientific consensus? Where does it end? It might be easier to simply reexamine Darwin.


Gregory Arago - #6515

March 11th 2010

That one’s a keeper! ; )

“I am more certain of Adam’s existence, then [sic] my birth.”

Some Protestants who go into Orthodox churches are stunned that believers line up to pray to/through and then to kiss icons. They superficially think these icons are ‘false idols’ based usually on their simple reading of Scripture. They are culturally imperialistic in judging other Christians about how to worship.

After reading some comments here, I can’t help but think that some Protestants are on another end of the spectrum wrt their idolization of Scripture.

The phrase ‘the Bible declares’ can be used as a powerful tool of Satan, sowing the idol of ignorance and lazyness, if one refuses to accept God’s truths which are *not* inside the Scriptures.

One thing I’ve learned from participating on the BioLogos blog is how difficult a project it is that they have taken upon themselves, both to educate people about actual science and also t demonstrate that literalism is more a dangerous ideology than a responsible approach to Scripture. Care and prayer for this great task is required!


Gregory Arago - #6517

March 11th 2010

I researched Adam’s (non-)historicity before 6424, but the links made it look like spam. So, trying again…

~
Excellent points, David O. (#6413/4)!

@ Pete, Some ‘scientific models of human origins’ are a challenge, but not impossible, to reconcile with an ‘historical Adam.’

Whereas throwing Adam completely overboard (as John said) into *non-history* is much more problematic, difficult to reconcile with mono-theism, especially in this case, with Christian evangelicals.

Examples supporting Adam’s ‘historicity’:
<link>http://www.reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/Adam.htm</link>
<link>http://proginosko.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/was-adam-a-real-historical-individual/</link>
<link>http://www.confessingevangelical.com/?p=2611</link>
<link>http://www.godandscience.org/evolution/evolution_contradict_genesis.html#intro</link>
<link>http://www.godandscience.org/evolution/darwin_genesis_fairy_tale.html#T5oSIGQgmanh</link>

And a link related to Terry Gray’s ‘heresy’ story, recently referenced; heresy for denying A&E’s historicity: <link>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_heresy_in_the_20th_century</link>


Daniel Mann - #6520

March 11th 2010

Pete and BioLogos,

If we are obliged to understand Paul, and consequently the other NT writers, as limited by the same worldview limitations and ignorance that plagued the people of their day, then what can we trust about the NT? Wouldn’t it have also been subject to the theological limitations and errors of its day? If we can’t trust what it taught about the physical/historical world, how can we trust its teachings about the spiritual?

Instead, it seems that you are limiting Scripture to merely a human understanding and fail to also understand it as the product of the Spirit:

•  “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Consequently, it wasn’t merely Paul who regarded Adam as historical, but also the Spirit!


Gordon J. Glover - #6527

March 11th 2010

“Are you going to throw away everything in the Bible that doesn’t accord with the present scientific consensus?”—Is this the sort of loaded statement that you use in the classroom, Daniel?

Nobody here want’s to throw any of Scripture away.  When there are disagreements over how a passage is read and applied, it’s not helpful to characterize someone else’s position as “thorwing away everything in the bible”—but I guess that is just the sort of scare tactic used by literalists.

I come from a theological tradition that has great respect for the Old Testament Law.  Yet, there is so much of the Law that is not literally observed today—not because we have “thrown it away” but because the circumstances surrounding those passages have changed, and thus our understood and appication of those passages have changed.  Much of God’s law, especially the ceremonial aspects, are “put out of gear” (as the late Greg Bahnsen used to say).  But that is quite a different approach than throwing away the bible.

Nobody can take you seriously when you spout off that kind of rubbish.  Think before you type.


Gordon J. Glover - #6528

March 11th 2010

Daniel Mann said, “If we are obliged to understand Paul, and consequently the other NT writers, as limited by the same worldview limitations and ignorance that plagued the people of their day, then what can we trust about the NT?”

Exactly!  That’s why we have biblical scholars and learned theologians who are willing to roll up their sleeves and answer these difficult questions!  I guess being a Christian and having respect for both God’s Word and God’s works requires a level of maturity, humility, and clear thinking that scares some who expect certainty.  I guess rather than expect easy answers to every important question, we’ll just have to settle for slugging through the challenges of keeping an ancient faith in a modern world. 

As much as you want everything to be black and white—that is not the world we live in.  You can’t keep God in your little logical box where everything is either ‘A’ or ‘not A’—God is bigger than that.


Daniel Mann - #6534

March 11th 2010

Gordon,

I wrote that that BioLogos is using an inadequate hermeneutic – regarding Scripture as merely a human product divorced of the Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Understandably, you don’t like what I have to say, but you still have a responsibility to rationally engage them if you are going to respond at all. Instead, you label my challenges “rubbish” – not a very rational or persuasive response.

If Paul and the other NT writers, including Jesus, were wrong about Adam’s historicity, what reason do we have to suspect that they are right in other matters? Are there any Bible verses that justify our dismissing certain NT teachings and not others? You will not find them. Instead, if the Bible isn’t fully God-breathed, this leaves our wills and intellects in charge of what teachings we accept and which we discard. Hence, instead of the Bible judging us, we are left to judge the Bible.

Sadly, you respond, “You can’t keep God in your little logical box where everything is either ‘A’ or ‘not A’.” If you disdain logic, how else do you propose that we approach Scripture?


John VanZwieten - #6546

March 11th 2010

Gregory,

It goes even worse than you suggested.  “Idolizing” sacred scripture would be one thing, but what ends up “idolized” is the particular interpretation of scripture handed down in one’s own tradition/denomination/church.  Throw in an unwillingness/inability to even see the influence of one’s own group in that interpretation, and you’ve got quite a mess.

It seems to me that BioLogos would do well to approach the science-faith challenge from a good variety of traditions in order to help us understand what we learn from science within any faith tradition that can possibly accomodate it.

Care and prayer—a great start!


Gordon J. Glover - #6547

March 11th 2010

Daniel,

“...this leaves our wills and intellects in charge of what teachings we accept and which we discard. Hence, instead of the Bible judging us, we are left to judge the Bible.”

This must be the ultimate nightmare for a literalist / fundamentalist—to actually have to use the “will” and “intellects” God gave them.  This is just a fact of life, Daniel.  When a group of Christians gets together and descides what books are “in” the bible and what books are “out”—they are judging.  When they have two different versions of an ancient manuscript and have to descide which one “right” and which one is “wrong”—they are judging.  When you decide that the 67 biblical reference to geocentrisicm shoudl not be taken literally in the light of modern astronomy—you are judging the bible.  When you allow your wife to attend church without a head-covering or to speak out loud because you feel Paul’s words on the matter reflect different cultural concerns—you are judging.  Why do you pretend this doesn’t happen.  This is life, Daniel.


Daniel Mann - #6552

March 11th 2010

Gordon,

Before, you were criticizing me for being too logical. Now you criticize me for failing to “use the “will” and “intellects” God gave.”

The question I raised is this: “Are we above the Word of God to judge it or must we submit to it?” In response to this, you raised a series of questions and uncertainties, making me wonder whether theistic evolutionists have an adequate basis for faith in Christ.

Everything has become very uncertain for you – the Canon, the manuscripts, the historicity of events that are explicitly historical, interpretation. The one thing that seems to be very certain is the modern scientific consensus. No wonder the perplexity about spiritual things!

In contrast, Jesus was adamant that we couldn’t stand above Scripture and choose:

•  “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)


Joe Francis - #6553

March 11th 2010

Greg #6515

My comments about my birth are also informed by the philosophy of science as well as scripture.  I think it is pretty well accepted in science, unless your a positivist perhaps, that ontological reality lies outside of provable,  testable science. I do accept that there is evidence for my birth, however my knowledge of that which is dependent on my fallible mind and experience is less reliable than the words of God which claim that Adam was a real person.

The superiority of Gods words to man’s words and thinking, seems to be part of Christianity 101, don’t you agree?


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