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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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GregORY Arago - #6570

March 11th 2010

just pinch yourself, joe francis. that might help! 

Joe Francis - #6571

March 11th 2010


I did. And the words “God created Adam”  did not change.


Gordon J. Glover - #6581

March 11th 2010


You said: “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!”

Suppose, Daniel, that you are in a room with 20 Christians—each from different denominations But despite their theological differences, they all agreed with the Apostles and Nicean Creeds (which don’t mention anything about scripture, but that’s a another post), and they accept the Bible as God’s Word.  I could be in that room with you.

Now, if you posed a thological question to this group, whether it be about the days of creation, the role of Law and Grace in the life of believers, or how we Baptize, or what the 2nd coming will entail, or about the gifts of the spirit—you would get a vareity of contradicting answers.  If the group were forced to reach a consensus before exiting the room, no doubt some would rather starve and poop themselves than conceed that their theological position might be wrong.

Gordon J. Glover - #6582

March 11th 2010


Now, if you posed a scientific question to this same group, whether it be the average distance between the earth and sun, the freezing point of water, or the acceleration of gravity—you would get the same answers for each question.  In fact, you would get the same answers even if you put people of different faiths in there with people of no faith tradition, you would still get the same answers.

Why?  It’s really quite simple, Daniel.  When it comes to questions about physical world (ie: the domain of natural science), we can have a much higher confidence in what is true - what is real.  However, when it comes to those other issues you listed above, you can’t even get two people in the same congregation to agree!  Just think about it.

Gordon J. Glover - #6583

March 11th 2010


I can assure you that there is no certainty when it comes to questions of either a scientific or theological nature.  This tentative should create in us senses of humility.  It should make us willing to continually check ourselves and be open to correction and willing to discuss our ideas.  Certainty is for those too lazy to think things through—or too proud to change their minds. 

What we can have, however, is greater and lesser degrees of confidence.  For instance I have a greater degree of confidence that 1st and 2nd Peter are Canonical, but 3rd Peter is not.  I have a much greater degree of confidence that Christ’s tomb was empty than I do that there was a world-wide flood some 4500 years ago.  That’s how it works, Daniel.  You actually have to take things one issue at a time.

Joe Francis - #6589

March 12th 2010

Gordon #6582
You said:

“Now, if you posed a scientific question to this same group, whether it be the average distance between the earth and sun, the freezing point of water, or the acceleration of gravity—you would get the same answers for each question.”

Gordon I am surprised by this answer because it doesn’t appear to represent a good understanding of how science works.  There are very few laws in science, and most science works on tentative hypothesis and ideas.  For instance, consider the multitude of origin of life theories, the RNA first world, lipid first world, protein first world, and the recent major announcement which suggested that the pre-biotic soup theory was obsolete.  There are many scientists on each side of these issues, with most likely heated and healthy debate.

Based on this I have to believe that your premise above is false.

Gordon J. Glover - #6590

March 12th 2010


I don’t disagree with anything you said.  In fact, I made sure to emphasize that science is tentative and the there is no such thing as certainty.  The reason why I used the example above is because these are questions that can be answered by observation.  They basically involve taking measurements (hight degree of confidence).

Joe Francis - #6600

March 12th 2010


yes I see that you mentioned the tentativeness of science, but to set up a scenario which shows that people of faith disagree about issues more than they differ about certain scientific questions seems like your stacking the deck in favor of science….you could ask questions about science which everyone would disagree about also, if they had a science background or were working in the field of science.  Sure questions can be answered with a high degree of confidence, but not total assurance in my opinion.  This can only be obtained using an unchanging standard outside of science (?).

Kendalf - #6603

March 12th 2010

@Nick #6491
“Where did you get last part from textually - this seems like an ad-hoc insertion into the text?”

I admit that this is my guess of the reason for the mockery from these Greeks, and not implied within the text. Feel free to disregard if you wish. My main point is regarding the modern scientific opinion on resurrection.

“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.”

But the issue under question is not common descent or the age of the universe. Even granting common descent, does this provide sufficient justification for ~requiring~ a non-historical understanding of Adam?

Kendalf - #6604

March 12th 2010

Let me go back to your earlier statements:
“The resurrection is a one time event 2000 years ago. Science cannot say anything about it because it leaves no empirical evidence….  Science just can’t speak about 1 time phenomenon, it only can talk about reoccurring patterns.

It seems that the points you make for why science cannot say anything about the resurrection can also be applied to the person of Adam. The creation of Adam was also a one-time event. What kind of empirical evidence would we expect to find today if Adam was in fact a real historical person? In your own example of a person falling into a volcano, the only way we might reconstruct what occurred is if there is a written record. But isn’t that what we have with respect to Adam?

Gregory (#6517) provided some interesting links supporting the historicity of Adam. As some of them point out it isn’t just Paul that appeals to Adam as a real historical figure.

Kendalf - #6605

March 12th 2010

What I question is whether these external evidences that Enns cites is really so conclusive that we are required to reconsider taking these multitude of passages at face value. I am not advocating for a woodenly literal interpretation of every verse in the Bible. But the number passages of Scripture that we have that reference Adam seem to provide a strong prima facie case for accepting that Adam was a historical figure. And this does not require marginalizing or interpreting the scientific data “idiosyncratically to salvage some type of literal/historical reading” as Enns writes in Part I of his post on “Paul’s Adam.” There is a range of reasonable possibilities between the “just read it literally” mentality that Enns says is not an option and the view that Adam ~cannot~ be a historical figure. Earlier (#6424) Gregory cited Tim Keller, who supports an EC position yet also holds to the historicity of Adam. Why the insistence that Adam cannot be historical?

I believe my earlier question is still on the table, “Where do we draw the line between beliefs that we accept in spite of the fact that they go against our current scientific understanding, and the beliefs we reject because we are more scientifically informed?”

Daniel Mann - #6624

March 12th 2010


I’m all for humility regarding what we can know. However, I’m more “humble” about the present scientific consensus regarding evolution (2 Cor. 10:4-5). This view should not cause you consternation. You might recall that it was science that had given us the flat-earth hypothesis or geocentrism. (Remember, it is you who have stated on many occasions that the Bible errors had been predicated on the errant science of that age.)

You state, “science is tentative and the there is no such thing as certainty.” If this is the case, you can’t make this statement of CERTAINTY! In fact, according to the Bible, there are things that can be known with certainty:

•  Acts 1:3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many CONVINCING PROOFS that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

•  Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves KNOW.

Daniel Mann - #6625

March 12th 2010

More on Certainty:

In fact, the ID evidence for God is so incontrovertible that Romans 1 asserts that these evidences render humankind “without [an] excuse” (1:20) for rejecting God. It not only His external creation that contradicts us, but it’s also written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15).

Interestingly, it was the evidence of the inescapability of the moral law that had coaxed Francis Collins out of his atheism. It is therefore ironic that BioLogos has so vigorously opposed the reasoning of ID, in opposition to Scripture.

Gordon J. Glover - #6626

March 12th 2010

Joe Francis - #6600,

The point is that when it comes to questions of a scientific nature, we can have a much higher degree of certainty about being “right” than we can about spiritual matters.  Think about it in terms of history.  Question such as the age of the earth, or whether the earth or sun revolves, or whether the earth is flat, or how far the stars are away from the earth, or whether the moon is a light, etc… can easily be answered today.  However, prior to the illumination of science, people got these answers wrong based on their understanding of Scripture.

Gordon J. Glover - #6627

March 12th 2010

“This view should not cause you consternation. You might recall that it was science that had given us the flat-earth hypothesis or geocentrism.”—That is correct, Daniel.  However, you leave out one very important point.  That is, when science did eventually progress to the point where the falseness of these hypotheses became evident, it was the Church that argued in favor them BASED ON SCRIPTURE. 

Daniel, surely you are joking about claiming certainty of historic events based on a 2000 year old eyewitness account.  No doubt that those sentiments reflected the hight degree of confidence that the biblical authors had in the events that were unfolding around them.  Had the risen Christ allowed you or I to touch his wounds as he did Thomas, I would be very certain!  But when you or I read these accounts thousands of years later, we must believe by faith.

Gordon J. Glover - #6629

March 12th 2010


Since your are in a position of teaching, I have to believe that you posess the ability to nauance the subtleties of delicate issues.  But you failed to do that in your comments above (#6625).

First of all, nobody here affiliated with BioLogos denies that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe.  And every one on the BioLogos team would agree wholeheartily with Paul that all of nature testifies to God as the designer and creator. 

The question of ID vs. evolution has nothing to do with this.  It rather has everything to do with the mechanism that God used to created and sustain all things.  The evidence suggests that creation is/was dominated by ordinary processes that God ordained from the foundations of time.  The ID crowd leaps straight from “design” (Rom 1) to special creation by fiat.  So your entire comment (#6625) is misguided at best, inflammatory as worst.  You’ll have to do better than that.

Anthony Smith - #6630

March 12th 2010

Hi all,

I’ve just watched this video and skimmed the comments. I want to make sure I’ve understood correctly, as I’m finding it a bit hard to swallow.

(1) Some of the things Paul wrote about Adam were wrong - but he was following the general, mistaken, view of his culture, and this is no surprise.

(2) Paul’s understanding of Jesus - even though it was linked in Paul’s mind to his mistaken views about Adam - is still entirely correct.

I’m struggling with (1) because it seems to have consequences for the authority of the Bible, and with (2) because it seems to preclude a fundamental disconnect between history and theology.

Am I understanding this correctly?

Appreciate the quality of the discussions here - very refreshing!


Daniel Mann - #6634

March 12th 2010


Good questions. Continue to follow the scent! If we can’t believe what Paul said about Adam, how can we believe what he said about Jesus?

Gregory Arago - #6635

March 12th 2010

I’m a bit concerned that some people are combining the pre-theoretical with the theoretical wrt the ‘evidence’ of ‘design, evolution or creation.’

Daniel says ‘ID evidence is incontrovertible.’ But can he (or anyone else) come up with a ‘theory’ that passes muster of ‘scientific accuracy,’ since ID claims it simply *is* science & not *just* philosophy of science? I doubt Daniel can do this. The ‘evidence’ Daniel speaks of is not *unique* to ID; it is just evidence per se.

One label for Joe is ‘denier of reality’ - even in his own reality he doubts! One who would have a field day with this is none other than Ayn Rand; a powerful force in 20th century understandings of personhood, objectivity and self-identity. She would laugh at Joe & Christian literalism, though I won’t.

Wrt Gordon’s insistence on ‘ordinary processes,’ I’d just like to leave open the possibility of extra-ordinary. Surely GjG agrees!

Let us return to the ‘real’ topic of this thread, however, which is Dr. Enns’ & the Apostle Paul’s views of ‘Adam’ and ‘adam’.

Gordon J. Glover - #6638

March 12th 2010

“Wrt Gordon’s insistence on ‘ordinary processes,’ I’d just like to leave open the possibility of extra-ordinary. Surely GjG agrees!”

Absolutely Gregory!  In fact, OoL as well as the BB singularity are both good candidates for such a thing.  Both events appear to us as breakes in the continiuity of ordinary processes.  But I don’t look to these as “proofs” of God or creation per se.

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