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Was Adam a Real Person? Part 2

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September 11, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's entry was written by Denis Lamoureux. 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.

Was Adam a Real Person? Part 2

The historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve. Indeed, there is a wide range of Christian perspectives on this topic, several of which have been explored here on the BioLogos Forum in posts from Tom Wright (here and here), David Opderbeck, Pete Enns, Daniel Harrell, and Alister McGrath.

In the final chapter of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008), Christian scholar Denis O. Lamoureux presents another important perspective, stating, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” Also summarized in a slide-audio web lecture with a two page handout A and B, today's post is the second of a three-part series taken from Lamoureux's I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (2009), in which he argues forcefully against the historicity of Adam, primarily on biblical grounds.

Part 2: The De Novo Creation of Adam

Generations of Christians have firmly believed that the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 is an elaboration of the brief account of human origins on the sixth creation day in Genesis 1. This traditional literal interpretation asserts that human history begins with the events in the garden of Eden. According to young earth creationists and progressive creationists, these passages offer indisputable biblical evidence against human evolution. However, the de novo creation of living organisms (see my “Part I: The De Novo Creation of Life”) was the science-of-the-day in the ancient Near East, and this calls into question historicity the creation of humans as stated in the Bible.

Like every account of origins, Genesis 2 is etiological. It offers an explanation for the existence of things and beings known to the Holy Spirit-inspired writer and his readers—vegetation, land animals, birds, and humans. And typical of ancient accounts of origins, the Lord God created these de novo; that is, they were made quickly and completely formed. But Genesis 2 focuses mainly on the origin of humanity. Adam is made “from the dust of the ground” (v. 7). Notably, the use of earth to rapidly form mature human beings appears in other ancient Near Eastern creation stories. For example, the Atrahasis creation account tells of a goddess who mixes clay with the blood of a slain god to fashion seven males and seven females. In Enki and Ninmah, a drunken divine being uses earth to make imperfect human beings. And a pinch of clay is used to create a man in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The gods in many of these pagan accounts create humanity in order to free themselves from work. The message is that men and women are basically slaves of the gods. In sharp contrast, Genesis 2 features the Message of Faith that the Lord cares for humanity. He meets their physical and psychological needs by offering food and companionship. The God of Love is being revealed at this early stage of biblical revelation.

So what exactly am I saying about Adam? Yes, the forming of a man from the dust of the ground in Genesis 2:7 is an ancient understanding of origins. Adam’s existence is based ultimately on ancient science, and his quick and complete creation from earth made perfect sense from an ancient phenomenological perspective. The ancients saw that humans never change into other kinds of creatures, and that humans give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, etc. It was reasonable for them to retroject (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw) these day-to-day experiences back to the beginning of creation and conclude that the Creator had made an original human or pair of humans. In addition, ancient peoples saw that after an organism died, it decomposed and became dust. This observation, coupled with their own activity in shaping clay into pottery, provided a conceptual framework for the fashioning of humans and other living organisms from earth. In fact, Genesis 2 uses the Hebrew word yāṣar to describe the forming of a man, animals, and birds from the ground (v. 7, 8, 19). This is the same word that is used for the term potter, and it even appears in other passages where God is the Potter who forms man in His hands (Isaiah 16:29, 45:9, 64:8; cf. Jeremiah 18:1–6).

The de novo creation of Adam is example of the Holy Spirit accommodating, that is, descending, to the level of the ancient Hebrews in the biblical revelatory process. He takes their view of human origins, which is the best science-of-the-day, and employs it as a vessel to reveal that He is their Creator. And just like His use of ancient astronomy, when He separates the waters above from the waters below with the firmament in Genesis 1, His forming of Adam from the dust of ground never happened either. No doubt about it, this idea is shocking to most Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle offers perspective on this situation. How God made humans is incidental to the message that He made us. Adam is simply an ancient vessel that delivers inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths.

The central purpose of Genesis 2 is to reveal infallible Messages of Faith about the human spiritual condition. Radically different from the pagan beliefs of the nations surrounding the Hebrews, this chapter complements the Holy Spirit-inspired theology of Genesis 1, which reveals humans are created in the Image of God (v. 26-27). Genesis 2 underlines our special and privilege status in the world, because we are the only creatures in a personal relationship with the Lord. The second creation account in Scripture also discloses that men and women were made to enjoy the mystery of marriage. So beautifully stated, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (v. 24). And most importantly, Genesis 2 reveals that the Creator sets limits on human freedom. He commands Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you shall surely die” (v. 17). In other words, we are accountable before God, and failure to respect His commands has serious consequences.


Denis Lamoureux is the associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. He holds a PhD in evangelical theology and a PhD in evolutionary biology. Lamoureux is the author of the books Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008) and I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution (2009). More on his work can be found here.

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sy g. - #29367

September 11th 2010

Denis

Perhaps it is appropriate for you to have posted this essay today, on what is almost a national day of mourning in the US. I say that because the question you are addressing, what is the nature of Man, is one that is especiaily poignant on a day when we contemplate human evil, and the deaths of so many innocents.

You write “The central purpose of Genesis 2 is to reveal infallible Messages of Faith about the human spiritual condition…” and I think this is key to the question of Adam, and the nature of man, along with the origin of sin. Man is a physical creature, a hominid, descended by the process of natural selection from other hominids. But that is not what makes us human. The divine gift of a soul, breathed into the first man (Adam)  is what does that.

So my question to you is, when you consider the origin of man, do you separate the body of man, which we agree is a product of biological evolution, from the creation of a spiritual being, a being truly made in the image of God, represented by Adam, who very well could have been an actual Homo Sapiens?


conrad - #29382

September 11th 2010

NOW ON A WEB SITE FOUNDED BY THE MAN WHO SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED THE HUMAN GENOME PROJECT, ...WE SHOULD AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE DNA.

  Humans have 95% chimp genes.

  The Bible CLEARLY says Adam was made from material already on the earth.
  We have mentioned the almost infinite variety of DNA found in a spoonful of soil, so “de nova” doesn’t quite describe the event.

He put together the DNA in a different way. .... But it is like making a little wagon out of tinker toys.

It is not the same as making the SET of tinker toys, [drilling all those little holes etc.]

The genes selected for the human may have evolved in other life forms over eons.

  But the mix was different in man.
Just because the latest model car uses a transmission similar to last years model doesn’t mean it was designed last year.
It is still a brand new model.

The reason I think Our Creator is getting a bum rap here is because Genesis makes a big point of saying He used old parts already found in the earth.

And yet,.. when some people find these same genes in chimps,..... they treat it like a discovery plagiarism in a book.

GOD SAID HE USED THE PARTS LYING AROUND. And some of them were old designs.


conrad - #29383

September 11th 2010

AND I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT THINK MAN WAS CREATED BY “NATURAL SELECTION”
, [even though some of his genes were.]


Andre - #29412

September 11th 2010

Please pardon what must by now be a tedious question to regular readers (I am not one), but assuming and accepting all of this to be true : why did Jesus have to die on the cross?


Norm - #29433

September 11th 2010

Andre,

To do away with Law by overcoming it and thus removing sin derived from breaking the law that was burdening God’s covenant faithful. It begin with the comandment given to Adam per Paul in Rom 5:12 and was increased by adding the Law through Moses verse 20. Finally it (spiritual death from Adam’s begining) was defeated and victory was gained through Christ.

Rom 7:24-25 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  (25)  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, ...

1Co 15:56-57 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  (57)  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Andre - #29436

September 11th 2010

:”...the commandment given to Adam per Paul ...”?

Thanks for trying, Norm, but this type of pretzelising (for me, not you) is what makes faith for me an impossibility.

My apologies, I didn’t mean to derail the discussion.


dlwood - #29437

September 11th 2010

May I suggest that Biologos identify a minimal core of Christian doctrine which they claim to believe.  Claiming to be a Christian does not make one a Christian.  You truly must be born from above by a miraculous work of God through the hearing of the Word and by the work of the Spirit in the heart.  You must be made a new creation in Christ.  Rightly understanding the relationship of Adam and the fall to Christ’s redemptive work is not peripheral but critical to one’s profession of being a Christian.  It becomes disingenuous to claim to represent a Biblical/Scientific viewpoint if individuals who do not truly know and love Christ as the God/man Redeemer and King are merely promoting opinions that make them comfortable in their unbelief.  Without some confidence in where one’s true belief lies with regard to foundational Biblical doctrine, there can be no credible dialogue about truth on any level, and we are left with every man ‘saying’ what is right in his own eyes.


John VanZwieten - #29461

September 11th 2010

dlwood wrote:

Rightly understanding the relationship of Adam and the fall to Christ’s redemptive work is not peripheral but critical to one’s profession of being a Christian.

So which is it?  Miraculous work of God/new creation in Christ, or that plus “rightly understanding” (aka “agreeing with me”) on a particular doctrine that makes one a Christian?


sy g. - #29501

September 11th 2010

dlwood

I dont think anyone, including Denis, would disagree that Christ came to free us from sin, and that sin entered the world with man. Was Adam an actual man? When did he live? Was he created in body and soul, or just in soul, all of these questions are beside the key issue. Christ is Lord, who came to earth to save us from sin.

I was not born into or raised in the Church, but came to my fatih in Christ through grace and, as you so eloquently put it “by a miraculous work of God through the hearing of the Word and by the work of the Spirit in the heart.” I dont think that questioning others’ Christianity is useful or in fact consistent with the Word.


dlwood - #29520

September 11th 2010

John, you implied ‘agree with me.’  No, not at all, but there is a body of truth clearly delineated in Scripture, historically held to by the Church which is inviolable and without which any pretensions of ‘faith’ are fallacious.  And without an understanding of and belief in, there can be no miraculous transforming work.  Faith does not rest upon opinion or preference, but upon truth, sound doctrine found in the Word of God.  It would be reassuring to know that those who represent Biologos, hold to those foundational truths for the ‘natural man does not receive or understand the things of the Spirit of God,’ and thus their insights will flounder on the shores of limited humanistic thinking.  The issue of how we view the fall, does have tremendous implications with regard to the work of Christ and it would be helpful to know one’s position as they write on this topic.


dlwood - #29521

September 11th 2010

sy g.
I honestly was not here trying to question any specific persons faith, but rather clarifying that there are certain foundational truths which must be believed in order for a person to be a Christian, not just to call themselves one.  If we cannot define those foundational doctrines which clearly identify who Christ is and what He did, then we have lost our way in a world full of man-made religious opinions.  Since the natural mind cannot interpret Scripture due to a spiritual blindness, it is imperative that those who would be our guides in understanding Scripture, clearly identify their foundational doctrinal beliefs so that we may have some confidence in what they say.  A last note, questioning not only others, but even our own faith is most consistent with the Word. ‘Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith.’  ‘Try the spirits whether they be of God.’ etc.  But that is a topic for a different forum. Grace.


beaglelady - #29531

September 11th 2010

Well, Adam is conspicuously absent from both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed.


Justin Poe - #29539

September 11th 2010

I agree Adam is not essential for salvation, BUT…why does Scripture go through all the trouble of even naming him, telling us about his wife, his children, his offspring, his geneologies leading to the virgin birth of Christ?  Why is he mentioned by the apostles and Christ in the NT?  Did they all know something that we are learning 2,000+ years later???


John VanZwieten - #29551

September 11th 2010

dlwood,

Would you care to share with us the exact extent of the “body of truth ... which is inviolable and without which any pretentions of ‘faith’ are fallacious?”


dlwood - #29552

September 11th 2010

Touche. 

But I would note that the first Adam is there by inference and the second Adam is most decidedly there; and their relationship is not without significance to the Gospel by which men come unto Christ.

Again, my only point being that apart from being born ‘from above’, one cannot understand and thus rightly interpet the Scriptures.  Faith and repentance being necessary for regeneration, it is imperative that those who speak for the Church, give some consistent statement as to their belief in fundamental truths.  I am making no assumptions about the author of this article or any others.  I was only suggesting that given the critical importance of understanding spiritual truth with a regenerated mind and heart, it would seem natural that those who wish to represent themselves as Christians would happily put forth their articles of faith.


dlwood - #29554

September 11th 2010

John
You can start with the Creeds, but our theological ignorance today leaves us exposed without further clarification.  I think what needs to be clear in particular has to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Do we believe that He is both God and man. Two natures in one person.  Do we believe in His substitutionary atonement for fallen man.  This is where our understanding of Adam and our efforts to explain him becomes critical to faith.

Clear historical statements of basic doctrine have been delineated over time which I could not improve upon.  Take the major Confessions of the Church from the 17th century and some abbreviated forms in which they have been stated more recently.  I am of the Reformed persuasion, but there are other statements out there by various churches or organizations that summarize critical doctrines well.  It would simply be nice to know what the contributors to Biologos consider to be critical to the Christian faith.  The absence of certain doctrines is inconsistent with calling oneself a Christian, no matter how persons may squeal, ‘unfair’, judgmental, etc.


dlwood - #29567

September 11th 2010

John
The Voice of the Martyrs has a succinct statement with which I think most Christians would agree.  Can Biologos subscribe to a similar minimal clarifying statement?

We believe the Bible to be the inspired, authoritative Word of God. God is eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in his virgin birth, in his sinless life, in his miracles, in his vicarious and atoning death through his shed blood, in his bodily resurrection, in his personal return in power and glory. We believe that for salvation of lost and sinful men, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in Christ.

We do have a sin problem.  How much can we adjust our understanding of Adam and the Fall to fit our scientific suppositions before we abandon critical doctrines that underly the necessity of the death of Christ?  As we examine the problem are we committed to spiritual truth first or is it expendable?


Bev Mitchell - #29582

September 11th 2010

dlwood,
Thanks for the note on Voice of the Martyrs. I did not know of the site. As you say, they have their statement of faith near the top of their FAC page. Another interdenominational organization, Renovaré uses the Apostles’ Creed as their statement http://www.renovare.us Judgi.ng from the nature of these two sites, I imagine they both have folks who have no problem reconciling modern biology with their reading of the Bible and other folks who do.Yet, they work together in extremely important parts of the Vineyard. As for those putting their lives on the line for Christ, they may question the urgency some of our concerns. Your mention of that site reminds us to keep things in perspective.


merv - #29600

September 12th 2010

I think dlwood nailed it early on with “You truly must be born from above by a miraculous work of God…”  though it gets a bit dicey to demand too many more details after that.  I can’t imagine Christ checking if the thief on the cross had his check list of doctrines all in order before promising him paradise.  Just a simple plea from a broken man to the (also broken) King of kings was all it took.  May we all be so freed from the tyranny of our intellectual and doctrinal treasures that we can just simply see our need for God, pure and raw.  And once so freed, those things can again be taken captive *for* Christ instead of placed as stumbling blocks to keep people from him.

—Merv
Romans 10:13   For, Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.


John VanZwieten - #29603

September 12th 2010

merv,

AMEN!  The thief came to my mind as well after reading dlwood’s post.


dlwood,

I haven’t seen any post by any of the authors at BL (even visiting ones) that would take issue with the VOM statement.  So it seems we can adjust our understanding of Adam and Eve to fit with modern biology without losing the doctrine of sin or redemption.


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