Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

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September 17, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's entry was written by Denis Lamoureux. You can read more about what we believe here.

Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

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 last 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.

Did the apostle Paul believe that Adam was a real person? Yes, well of course he did. Paul was a first-century AD Jew and like every Jewish person around him, he accepted the historicity of Adam. In fact, he places Adam’s sin and death alongside God’s gifts of salvation and resurrection from the dead through Jesus. In Romans 5:12 and 15, he writes that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. . . . For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and gift that came by the grace of the One Man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Paul also claims in 1 Corinthians 15:21 that “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

It is understandable why most Christians believe that Adam was a real historical person. This is exactly what Scripture states in both the Old and New Testaments. To defend their position, these believers often offer three arguments by appealing to the apostle Paul. First, they use a conferment argument. They contend that since Paul believed in the existence of Adam, then Adam in the opening chapters of Genesis must have been a real person. In other words, the apostle’s belief in the historicity of Adam confers historical reality to Adam. Second, these Christians employ a consistency argument. They argue that since Paul refers to Jesus as a historical person in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, then it is only consistent that his references to Adam in these chapters must also be to a real individual in history. Third, believers point out that the Gospel appears in these New Testament passages. In particular, it is explicitly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1–7 and introduced by the clauses “the Gospel I [Paul] preached to you” (v. 1) and “by this Gospel you are saved” (v. 2). They contend that we can’t just pick-and-choose the Bible verses we want, such as accepting the Gospel and rejecting the existence of Adam. On the surface, these three arguments are quite reasonable. In fact, I used all of them thirty years ago when I was a fiery young earth creationist.

But let’s reconsider these popular arguments. First, the conferment argument. Many Christians argue that since Paul believed in the existence of Adam, then Adam must have been a real person. But what else did this apostle believe? In one of the most important passages in the New Testament, the wonderful Kenotic Hymn, he states that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (1) in heaven, (2) on earth, and (3) in the underworld (Philippians 2:10–11). Paul clearly accepted the 3-tier universe. But, does his belief confer reality to this understanding of the structure of the universe? And since he believed the world had three tiers, do we also have to believe it? More specifically, Paul accepted that there was a subterranean region where beings exist. Does his belief bestow reality to such a place with such individuals under the surface of the earth? And if we decide to reject the 3-tier universe in Philippians 2, but to accept Jesus as Lord, are we to be accused of being inconsistent? Or worse, of picking-and-choosing the Bible verses that we want to believe? I doubt anyone would answer “yes” to any of these five questions.

Second, the consistency argument states that since Paul refers to Jesus as a historical individual in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, then references to Adam in these chapters must also be to a real person in history. However, this common line of reasoning fails to distinguish real history (the existence of Jesus) from an ancient understanding of human origins (the de novo creation of Adam). In other words, the often-used consistency argument is in fact inconsistent! It conflates (collapses together) actual historical events of the first century AD with an ancient biology. This is similar to using the Kenotic Hymn in Philippians 2 and the historical fact that Jesus actually existed in order to argue for the existence of the 3-tier universe presented in verses 10-11; and then to extend the ancient astronomy in this New Testament passage back to Genesis 1 to claim that God actually created a world with three tiers. I am doubtful that anyone would appeal to consistency in such a way.

But let me appeal to consistency in a way that is not often heard in Christian circles. Consistency argues that since Paul accepted ancient astronomy and ancient geology, then he must also have accepted ancient biology. The static 3-tier universe was the science-of-the-day embraced by this apostle and his readers, and so too was the notion that living organisms were static (immutable) and reproduced “according to its/their kind/s”. Paul refers to this ancient biological (taxonomical) conceptualization in 1 Corinthians 15:39 by stating that “all flesh is not the same: men have one kind of flesh, animals have another [kind], birds another [kind], and fish another [kind].” Since he viewed living organisms as separately created kinds, it is only consistent that he understood the origin of life through the ancient biological notion of de novo creation. In fact, the apostle presents this ancient science of human origins in Acts 17:26 when he states, “From one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth.” Paul definitely believed that human life began with the quick and complete creation of Adam. In other words, he accepted the biology-of-the-day. In this light, I am doubtful that there are any Christians today who accept the ancient astronomy and ancient geology so clearly stated in Scripture, and consistency argues that neither they should accept the ancient biology in the Word of God.

Third, it is necessary to underline that Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross are not dependent on the existence of Adam. Now, there is no doubt that Paul believed in the historical reality of both Adam and Jesus. In particular, this apostle recognized that the Gospel is based on the Lord’s existence and His physical death and resurrection from the grave. Stating concisely the Good News and its implications, Paul writes:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born...

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…. …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins

1 Corinthians 15:1–7, 14, 17

Please Note: This is the Gospel as stated in the Bible, and there is no mention whatsoever of Adam and whether or not he existed. Christian faith is founded on Jesus, not Adam. This religion is called Christ-ianity, not Adam-ianity. Also note that this passage refers to many people who lived during a well-known point in real history (first century AD) and who had actually met the Lord (Peter, the Twelve, 500 brothers, James, Paul). This is not the case with Adam. Of course, Paul believed that Adam existed, and mentions him later in 1 Corinthians 15. But Adam’s existence is based on de novo creation, the origins science-of-the-day for Paul and his readers. Therefore, in the same way that we must separate, and not conflate, the inerrant message that Jesus is Lord from the fact that the 3-tier world presented in Philippians 2 does not exist; we must also separate, and not conflate, the historical reality of Jesus and His death and bodily resurrection from the fact that Adam never existed, because Adam’s existence is rooted in an ancient biology of human origins.

Considering these three counterarguments above, it is possible to suggest a new approach to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 by employing the Message-Incident Principle.

The central message in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 is this: we are sinners and God judges us for our sins; but the Good News of the Gospel is that we are offered the hope of eternal life through the sacrificial death of Jesus and His physical (bodily) resurrection from the dead. In order to deliver as effectively as possible inerrant spiritual Truths about human sinfulness and the divine judgment of sin, the Holy Spirit accommodated to Paul’s level by employing an incidental ancient biological notion from the early chapters of Genesis—the de novo creation of Adam. To be sure, this is a very challenging and counterintuitive way to read Scripture. Nevertheless, we must not conflate, but instead separate the inerrant, life-changing Messages of Faith from their incidental ancient vessel in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. These passages in the Word of God do not reveal how God actually made humans, but that He created us; and that we are sinners in need of a Savior, whom the Lord has graciously sent to die on the Cross for us—the latter is The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen!


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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nedbrek - #30599

September 17th 2010

They are different that’s true.  But we’ve come off the topic as to whether Heaven and Hell are actual places (this “3 tier world”).


Jonathan - #30603

September 17th 2010

Thanks, Dr. Lamoureux, these are all great thoughts, and some I’ve not considered before. I’m encouraged by the honesty of BioLogos and will quickly admit that I have very little familiarity with scientific research. That’s why I’m willing to wrestle with the stuff you guys put out; I am simply not in the place to say otherwise.

That being said, here is my question: Assuming what you say is true, and there was no historical Adam, how else may we explain the entrance of sin into the cosmos? Do you think it is important to know how and when this historical event took place, or is a mythical-theological explanation all we really need since the fact that it exists is the part we have to deal with?

Forgive me if I’m jumping the gun and you’re going to write about this in further posts.


pf - #30604

September 17th 2010

The historical Adam was a story for ancient people whose beliefs included ideas that gods impregnated women, that the success of their tribe in war was dependent on the relative strength of their tribal deities, that they could carry their god in a box and that gods were pleased by the smell of burnt flesh.

That the story of Adam was believed by any ancient person who lived without knowledge of science is not evidence that the story is literal. Paul’s writings demonstrate the beliefs of a particular man living in a particular culture, to read more into it than that is folly.

Jonathan, do you really think sin is a historical event? What exact day did “god” decide on a list of sins? Was it before or after he decided to make the tree and the talking snake that left humans forever in hardship? Maybe people wondered why life was hard and decided that bad things happened because they displeased a being they could not see.


nedbrek - #30606

September 17th 2010

pf, do you believe that, if there is a God, he would admit you into heaven?


Fred - #30610

September 17th 2010

Luke seemed to think Adam was a real person. If he got this point wrong, it would seem to bring other important things that he wrote into question. Was this genealogy inspired or simply based on knowledge at the time? Can anything Luke wrote be trusted if this genealogy wasn’t a real genealogy? Or was what he wrote simply “ancient understanding of human origins.”

Luke 3:23-38
23Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,
[clip]
37the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38the son of Enos, the son of Seth,

the son of Adam, the son of God.


rjfaeh - #30612

September 17th 2010

@Jon Garvey - #30576

Ok the “pen” analogy may have been too strong, I agree the style of the author was preserved, but not at the expense of clarity and truth . Obviously, God didn’t sit them down at a desk and move the pen for them.  However working from the wikipedia quote (which I don’t completely agree with)  “Evangelicals see the Bible as a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors’ works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style.” How can it be said that the Holy Spirit preserved the works from error, yet (in your view) allowed for Paul to err when speaking of Adam? For the sake of Paul’s “limited” understanding, or his stylistic integrity?

I have one more question. It is probably addressed elsewhere on this site, however I’m to lazy at the moment to do the research. Is it the position of Biologos that man was originally flawed, or perfect? If perfect then when did sin originate?


conrad - #30615

September 17th 2010

Is Wikipedia our religious leader?

Listen it is NOT necessarily true just because you see it in print!


sy - #30619

September 17th 2010

I think Jonathan raises an interesting question. If Adam was not real person, then when did sin enter the world. If we assume, as I believe we all do, that sin entered the world with the origin of man, then when was that? At the time of Australopithicus? Or someitme after the genus Homo developed? Or when Homo Sapiens, modern humans began spreading from Africa throughout the world? Or, did the origin of sin develop gradually, as humans became aware of themselves and their surroundings?

I think Dr. Lamoureux’s point about not needing a historical Adam to believe in the Christ and his redemption of our sins, is valid. And yet, it would seem to me to be more satisfying if we could think of the Fall as a particular event in human history, and the man who disobeyed God’s command as a real individual. Of course, my sense of satisfaction is of little concern, but if we could place a real historical Adam at some point in human history, many issues might be resolved.


conrad - #30620

September 17th 2010

There was definitely a VERY small population of humans sometime within the last 100,000 years.
All humans do definitely descend from a single female.

The human population definitely started to roam around the globe. This was partly due to the fact that the glaciers were melting and good land became available in previously cold climates.

We are descended from this small population of humans and their story will be very close to the Adam and Eve story if it is reconstructed from reliable independent sources.
The struggled and they relied on BRAINS and CONTINUOUS PROGRESS IN THEIR TECHNOLOGY.
They no longer roamed about and ate fruit like chimps.

They had “eaten from the tree of knowledge” and committed themselves to ever better tools and inventions for survival.
You know in the business world this is similar to 1923 in the car industry.
Ford had the never changing style with ever cheaper prices, the old Model T.

“you can buy them in any color you want as long as it is black.”

But in 1923 GE instituted the annual model change.
Every year the car had to get better.

And that is when the struggles began for the car industry.
Just like leaving the Garden of Eden.
Eating from the “tree of knowledge” condemns you.


rjfaeh - #30627

September 17th 2010

@conrad

Not sure if that was directed at me, but John was the one who quoted wikipedia to explain to me what the greater part of evangelicals believe about the inspiration of scripture. I was simply responding to his argument. I doubt John believes that is the best place to go for good information either.

Now I have a question for you, you said ” There was definitely a VERY small population of humans sometime within the last 100,000 years.
All humans do definitely descend from a single female.

The human population definitely started to roam around the globe. This was partly due to the fact that the glaciers were melting and good land became available in previously cold climates.

We are descended from this small population of humans and their story will be very close to the Adam and Eve story if it is reconstructed from reliable independent sources.
The struggled and they relied on BRAINS and CONTINUOUS PROGRESS IN THEIR TECHNOLOGY.
They no longer roamed about and ate fruit like chimps….”

Do you have some history book that I don’t, or is this just speculation on your part?


conrad - #30633

September 17th 2010

Rifaeh most of that comes from the study of genes around the world.

National Geographic has sponsored Spencer Wells who has taken swabs from the buccal mucosa of thousands of people from every continent.
There is no doubt that humans left Africa as a small band and spread to australia by following the shore line.
Ocean levels were lower at that time.

The story is parallel to the Adam story but not precisely correlated in terms of dates.

There is a theory that the tiny population of humans was due to a world wide disaster when a volcano in Asia, [Tamboro I think} erupted and caused sudden temperature drops.
But other animals do not show the tiny population bottleneck in their genetic base.

I think the tiny population of humans was due to an Adam and Eve scenario.
Perhaps legend arose from of it in multiple retelling but the science backs up the main story line.

The single female ancestor is based on DNA found in the cytoplasm in mitochondria.

There is also a single male ancestor according to the DNA in the nucleus in the human genes.
The scientists do not have them as contemporaries but the calculation methods are different so allowances should be made for that.

Genesis could be true and fit the evidence.


conrad - #30638

September 17th 2010

Correction, I think the volcano that may have caused the bottleneck in the human population was Toba.

IF THERE WAS A BOTTLENECK!
It could have just been the Adam and Eve story.
We don’t really know that there was a larger human population before that time.

BTW don’t put too much faith in the bone guys.
Our supposed nearest ancestor. as seen in all of these charts that school books have showing monkeys slowly turning into men as the parade single file across the page,.. was for years listed as Neanderthal.
But in recent years DNA has been extracted from old Neanderthal bones,....AND WE DO NOT DESCEND FROM THEM.
So bones and skulls mean very little.


rjfaeh - #30644

September 17th 2010

conrad,

I guess I don’t see the parallel to Genesis. I understand that you are saying the earths population may or may not have “bottlenecked” and that is supposedly where we get an Adam/Eve scenario.  To be fair I will tell you ,if you haven’t already guessed, I believe God created the earth/man from nothing, I believe in a historical Adam, I agree Genesis is a narrative, I really don’t even care if the 6 days of creation are literal 24 hour days, but God is more then capable of making something from nothing, and I see no reason why we must try and make our faith fall in line with fallen man’s science, I would bet most scientist don’t think it possible for a man to rise from the dead(forgive me for the worlds longest run on sentence)

All that said I’ll ask you the same question I asked earlier. Was man was originally flawed, or perfect? If perfect then when did sin originate? Where does “the fall” fit in with evolutionary theory?

Thanks for engaging me, just trying to figure you all out.


Paul D. - #30645

September 17th 2010

Here’s a question. Where does Paul himself ever insist that all his own words are divinely inspired by God and thus inerrant and infallible?

Surely one can see the irony in claiming every word of St. Paul was inspired, yet making claims about about him and his writing that he himself would probably have disagreed with.

Paul saw through a glass darkly, as do we all.


BenYachov - #30648

September 17th 2010

I wouldn’t rule out a future change in science that makes a bottleneck more plausible.  But I don’t think we need one.  We should consider the likelyhood Adam’s children simply mated with the unsoul hominids who where their contemporaries. 

There is precidence in Tradition.
http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48931772.html

Dr. Denis Lamoureux’s view that Adam didn’t exist is a pure theological novelty & is 100% unnecessary from the view point of evolutionary science.  Plus this whole nonsense of St Paul speaking of Adam as a real person & him being “wrong” about it crosses the line.  It’s liberal fundamentalism nothing more.


BenYachov - #30650

September 17th 2010

We should disbelieve Paul when he talks about a read Adam but we should believe him when he talks about seeing the Risen Lord on the road to Damacus?

Why?  .

The really tragic thing about this false belief is the unnecessaryness of it all.  Theistic Evolution does not eliminate a real Adam.  There is no science that does.


Paul D. - #30651

September 18th 2010

@BenYachov

“We should disbelieve Paul when he talks about a read Adam but we should believe him when he talks about seeing the Risen Lord on the road to Damacus? Why?”

Because Paul never had a personal experience with Adam or personal knowledge of him.

“Theistic Evolution does not eliminate a real Adam.  There is no science that does.”

Perhaps it depends what you mean by “real Adam”. Genetic studies show the existence of a single male human progenitor a scant 6000 years ago to to be a virtual impossibility.


Jon Garvey - #30659

September 18th 2010

rjfaeh - #30644

Lots of discussion on these points across the site. But to address in general…

Talking of a “Biologos position” is to try and pin down an approach to the varying tentative conclusions some of its followers make.

Largely, those interested in that Biologos approach are followers of historic, and mainly, Evangelical Christianity who have enough knowledge of modern science to find cognitive dissonance with their Christian tradition.

Some who post here, like yourself, will happily shrug that off in terms of “fallen human science”, which removes the dissonance. But when that is worked out in detail, most of us find such an approach untenable. It’s the equivalent of asking an Evangelical to believe that though something was bought at a bakers, looks like bread and tastes like bread God says it’s the body of Christ so that’s the way it is (no offence intended to any RC brethren here).

So what do do about something like the historic Adam? Well, various things, some more successful than others. My impression is that many responders here prefer to believe Adam existed as the author of sin.


Jon Garvey - #30662

September 18th 2010

rjfaeh

You asked about he question of inerrancy, much discussed here. But “error” is a loaded word which, in the Biblical case, needs defining anyway.

Much discussion here is about creation and the prescientific cosmology of Genesis. I for one am persuaded that the attempts to downplay that to defend inerrancy actually do injustice to the text. Indeed, it would have been perverse for God to say, “Before I teach you as my Covenant People my relationship to the world you inhabit, I must first tell that the earth is not founded on boundless waters, as you suppose, but on a molten nickel-iron core. What’s iron? Well…”

Next one has to address whether Paul, say, teaching his theology from a similar cosmological base in Phil 2, would also be given a crash course in geophysics to avoid stepping on our scientific toes. Human error, or Divine condescension?

When it gets to the theology itself, unless one does a Taliban and tries to live in a 1st century bubble, the same questions need discussing. Where does the vital spiritual truth overlap with the prescientific human worldview?

Your question about the origin of sin sharpens the theological thinking, which is essential. The answer can’t be, though, to demonise science.


Nancy R. - #30666

September 18th 2010

Is there a real Adam? Yes - it’s me.
In many of the comments to these posts I’ve seen concerns with what we give up when we drop the belief that Adam was a real person - we no longer have a clear explanation for how sin entered the world; we cannot accept genealogies as historically accurate, and so on.
But we gain something vitally important - the universality of God’s message that all humanity is sinful, we are all subject to God’s judgment, and we are all in need of the savior promised in Genesis 3:15.
The various attempts to reconcile a historical Adam with evolution lose the universal application of God’s message. If Adam lived 6,000 years ago, but humans evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and spread across the earth, then were Adam’s ancestors without sin? Or were they not quite human? What about people living in China and Peru at the time?
In order to believe in both a historical Adam and human evolution, you end up contorting the meaning of the text so much that God’s clear message becomes obscured. Accepting Adam’s story as a God-given parable brings His truth to center stage: we are all created in God’s image, we all sin against Him, and we are all in desperate need of the savior He promised to us all.


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