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Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

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September 17, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

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

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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Paul D. - #30770

September 18th 2010

@ Chip - #30671

1 Cor. 14 is a good point, but it is narrowly construed and not a claim on everything Paul says. I hear pastors say “what I’m saying is the lord’s commandment” every week, but that doesn’t mean they’re divinely inspired.

2 Peter’s claims about Paul have to be taken with a grain of salt, considering that most scholars think the epistle is pseudonymous—i.e. misrepresenting its own provenance.

@ Benyachov - #30761

I agree it’s plausible that the Holy Spirit gave Paul direct revelation on the existence of Adam. However, I think it’s also unlikely. At any rate, you asked what reason one might have for not putting Paul’s knowledge of Christ on an equal footing with his knowledge of Adam, and I gave you a pretty good reason.

If I were to tell you a story about someone I met last year, and then another story I read about a legendary character who allegedly lived thousands of years prior and possessed super-human characteristics, you would be entirely correct to believe my store about the first person and doubt my personal knowledge of the second person.

Barry - #30773

September 18th 2010

@ conrad - “The Adam story is a fact”

No it isn’t. You might believe it is. But it isn’t. And you have zero evidence to establish otherwise. If the Adam story were true there wouldn’t be humans.

Barry - #30774

September 18th 2010

@ Benyachov - if all you are going to do is take a quote out of context we might as well just give up now. Of course we need philosophy - that’s not what I was saying. And if you read it again I think you will agree. We do not need philosophy, however, to establish whether Adam existed.

Benyachov - #30775

September 18th 2010

@Paul D.

> and I gave you a pretty good reason

I reply: Only if I accept your unstated & as of yet undefended theological & philosophical presupositions over and against mine.  Because from where I’m sitting it is clear both Paul & Jesus spoke of a real Adam. 

Thus unless you are a Catholic Christian in full communion with Pope Benedicit XVI, accept all the infallible Dogmas & theological presupositions of Catholicism and you are philosophically a Thomist then there exists the likelyhood we will talk past each other.  I accept you are giving me your private interpretation of Paul but even if I went so far as to reject my Church’s interpretation as either Infallible or at least authoritative then I still have no good reason to accept your interpretation over hers.  As far as I can tell the Church has always taught in her ordinary magesterium the existence of a real Adam.  Her Dogma of Original Sin presuposes it.  Thus here I am.


Benyachov - #30779

September 19th 2010


>  if all you are going to do is take a quote out of context we might as well just give up.

I reply:  If you are going to demand empirical scientific evidence from your opponents “you have zero evidence to establish otherwise…” but not provide any when you make unsubstanciated charges ” take a quote out of context” then I agree.  I clearly understood you.  It is you who does not understand.

I’ll rephrase; Dennett, I don’t think would agree with your claim “we do not need philosophy, however, to establish whether Adam existed”.  He would make a philosophical argument that humans where likely material monistic beings only & that by definition would excude a hymorphic dualistic being from existing.  Thus there could be no Christian view of Adam.  Unless he redefined “Adam” narrowly as two hominids humanoids only who constitute a genetic bottleneck origin for presently existing humanity.  But of course I don’t use that definition (since I accept a possible biological polygenism) so it is irrelavent.

Anyway I give up on you.  See you around.

Paul D. - #30787

September 19th 2010

@Benyachov - #30775

There’s no need to agree with me or accept my position, so long as the basic logic of my argument is understood.

I appreciate much of what Catholic doctrine teaches, especially its position on the relationship between science and religion. I do disagree with other doctrines like Original Sin, however.

Matthew - #30788

September 19th 2010

Paul D.:

I heard a sermon on this verse recently: Psalm 138:2. This shows that God’s word is significant. In the past he spoke through prophets to give his words to the people of Israel. Now he has given a message in Christ, which was given by the apostles under Jesus’ authority. So that is where the idea comes from that Paul’s teaching (as with any apostle) came with authority. Paul could make mistakes just like anyone, but I think even he understood that his message had authority - and I think it fits the character of God as seen in the Old Testament that He established his word in Scripture - New Testament and Old Testament.

“I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” - gives significance to both - and the apostles were the means by which the Word of God about Jesus was given - so I think the people who put together the Canon had the right idea.

BenYachov - #30793

September 19th 2010

>I do disagree with other doctrines like Original Sin, however.

I reply: Original Sin is an infallible dogma to us.  Thus we can never come to an accord.  But I wish you well.

Jon Garvey - #30794

September 19th 2010

@Nancy R. - #30729

Nancy, you’ve explained why we *can* sin, but not why we all *do* sin.

So far, that’s the same position as Pelagius, ie that we all start off as little Adams with complete moral freedom. To which the conclusion he drew is that it’s quite possible not to sin and we just need to put more effort into it, assisted with a little encouragement from God. He’s given us all the moral guidance we need and we should expect to see those with the most devotion and rigour leading sinless lives and getting to heaven.

Augustine (his main antagonist) followed by the vast majority of the Church realised that the universal experience of sin demands the existence of some bias towards sin that actually restricts our freedom of will. That’s why “grace” is such an important concept, and why there are so many “ransom”, “liberation” and “healing” metaphors in the Gospel.

Classic theology says mankind started sinless, and it was the fall of Adam that produced the bias towards sin that makes the death of God’s own Son such a necessary remedy. Apart from doing justice to the Bible, that avoids making God the creator of a race bound to sin, and then judging them for it.

So if there’s no Adam, why aren’t some sinless?

BenYachov - #30795

September 19th 2010

I don’t know what I object to more strongly in this thread?  The denial of original sin & a real Adam.  Or the implicit & unstated NeoTheism & or Theistic Personalist errors regarding the nature of God.  Classic Theism is the only way to go.

Paul D. - #30796

September 19th 2010

@ Jon Garvey - #30794

> So if there’s no Adam, why aren’t some sinless?

For starters, that’s one thing that makes no sense if Adam is a person rather than a broader metaphor.

Sin is something we *do*, not someone we are. I sin because I make poor choices, not because anyone else makes me sin. Not my parents, not my friends, not Adam. If Adam is just a man, he cannot make me behave other than how I choose to behave.

But if Adam is a metaphor for something bigger than just some naked dude in a garden, then perhaps there is more universal explanation there of man’s nature and propensity for making mistakes. Adam isn’t one man. In some sense, I think he might be all of humanity.

Jon Garvey - #30797

September 19th 2010

@Paul D. - #30796

If Adam is all of humanity the question still stands: why aren’t some sinless?

Since sin is a Bible word, one ought to define it biblically, and “making poor choices” isn’t what the Bible says. It says (amongst other things) that it’s “lawlessness”, “unrighteousness”, “rebellion”, a governing power (eg Rom 6.6), a characteristic of bodily humanity (eg Rom 8.8), a constant inclination of the heart from childhood (Gen 6.5, 8.21), bondage, slavery, disease.

And yet, as you rightly say, it’s a voluntary act and nobody else is responsible for making us do it. But in classical theology with Adam as progenitor he passes the bias to sin on as one may inherit a fiery temperament or mathematical inability, only with worse consequences.

If the tendency to break God’s laws, be unrighteous, rebel etc is universal, one needs more than free choice to explain it (otherwise we’re doomed to sin for eternity, unless God takes away our freedom which is not a nice prospect).

What the Gospel promises is a new heart - what can that mean unless there’s something badly wrong with the old one?

conrad - #30799

September 19th 2010

Jon I think you re right.
Th Bible promises a new heart ..........and science cannot explain what that is….... but we all recognize it.

Paul D. - #30803

September 19th 2010

@ Jon Garvey - #30797

Thanks for the interesting response.

> If Adam is all of humanity the question still stands: why aren’t some sinless?

One almost wonders if Elijah and Enoch fit the bill, since they managed to get out of the Dying Clause that seems to be part-and-parcel with sinning. But that’s not much of an answer.

> But in classical theology with Adam as progenitor he passes the bias to sin on…

That strikes me more as framing the concept in terms the ANE peoples understood. Lacking any knowledge of DNA, they thought any characteristic, including sin, curses, and whatever you were looking at during copulation (see Genesis 30:37-39). I think there is some relevant theological kernel there, but my actions are not “passed down to me” through biological inheritance.

If Adam is real, he might be a metaphor for the (evolutionary?) instinctual nature of all humans to act selfishly.

> “What the Gospel promises is a new heart”

I don’t buy the idea that hearing the Gospel or saying the sinner’s prayer or proclaiming faith in the right doctrine gives us better hearts or fundamentally changes our natures. I’ve known too many Christians!

Jonathan - #30805

September 19th 2010

Paul D.,

A tree is known by its fruit. If you meet “Christians” who are not putting the deeds of the flesh to death by the Spirit then you are not meeting Christians. Those who have such a hope in Christ purify themselves just as Christ is pure. The change in nature is a change in desires and if that change is not evident (whether it comes through monergistic regeneration or not) then I would say you’re not looking upon an individual who will enter the kingdom of God.

Just wondering, what exactly is salvation and how does the death and resurrection of Jesus relate to it?

Paul D. - #30808

September 19th 2010

@Jonathan - #30805

> A tree is known by its fruit. If you meet “Christians” who are not putting the deeds of the flesh to death by the Spirit then you are not meeting Christians.

I agree with that in general, though we might be falling foul of the No True Scotsman fallacy. For example, what do we say of people who bear the traditional Christian fruit but don’t claim to be Christians? Even worse, it sometimes seems like the best people are non-Christians, while the worst people claim to be the most fervent Christians.

> Just wondering, what exactly is salvation and how does the death and resurrection of Jesus relate to it?

I wish I knew! The more I decide to re-examine all the traditional theories I was taught, the more I realize they don’t make sense. For example, penal substitution theory is a total crock in my opinion.

Going by the OT in particular, you can make a pretty good case that the typical image of heaven and hell is also a modern fiction. I’m very curious to read NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope for his ideas on the subject.

Jon Garvey - #30813

September 19th 2010

Paul D. - #30803

There’s a bunch of stuff in Romans 7 etc about continuance of sin in Christians -  the “already but not yet” aspect that perfection awaits the return of Christ. Still “a new heart” is what the Covenant promises, from Jeremiah and Ezekiel right through the New Testament. Which means the old one is in trouble.

The “instinctual selfish nature” may well be a way in. Scripture uses a fair amount of “like brute beasts” analogy, though of course it hasn’t evolution in mind. Higher animals have behaviours that would undoubtedly be called “sinful” in humans (eg chimps ambushing and cannibalising other chimps). But it’s not sin because they have no moral responsibility aka “conscience”.

In Genesis that’s the (literal) fruit of Adam’s disobedience - objectively he forfeits life, experientially he is suddenly ashamed in God’s presence. Yet his communion with God, and conscience obedience to him, predate the conscience that tells him his “animal” behaviour is morally wrong.

How that would fit with a non-Adamic understanding I don’t know, but (a) willing, conscious obedience followed by rebellion doesn’t seem to be our experience now and (b) I’d still expect more than 2 people to pass the test!

Jon Garvey - #30814

September 19th 2010

@Paul D. - #30808

It’s a mistake to look at the OT for a doctrine of heaven and hell, because it’s mainly a New Testament doctrine, primarily taught by Jesus. “Modern” might be considered a strange word for that!

Though I’d argue that NT actually develops the OT teaching that heaven and earth will come together in God’s new creation, where God (whose realm is heaven) dwells with man (whose realm is earth). Hell (Gehenna) does NOT develop from OT Sheol (Hades), the resting place of all the dead, because final judgement is introduced mainly in the NT (by Jesus) as the flip-side to the final revelation of salvation in Christ. That’s why Revelation terms it “second death”.

In fact the modern doctrine of heaven and hell is that they don’t exist at all, which is one in the eye for those who’ve given their lives for Christ and makes his own resurrection rather anomalous. But the cartoon harps, clouds and haloes image is just as untrue to the Bible.

Nancy R. - #30815

September 19th 2010

Many intriguing questions and viewpoints expressed in these posts…
  We’re concerned with the origins of sin, of man’s relationship to God, of our awareness of our moral responsibility. Will we ever be able to prove, scientifically, historically and theologically, which view is correct? I suspect not, and I accept that my views may be in error. What’s important is that my beliefs lead me to faith in Jesus. If our differing views still lead to Him, then our various interpretations of scripture are blessings rather than mistakes.
  Could our free will, theoretically, enable any of us to completely avoid sin? Our free will is not truly “free” - we’re constrained by our mental and physical limitations, by the actions of others in this sinful world (re Jonathan’s point, #30735, about the “pollutive quality of sin”). And even if I attempted to remain sin-free by escaping all temptations and living as a hermit in the wilderness, I would then be committing sins of omission - by avoiding opportunities to do good for others.

Nancy R. - #30816

September 19th 2010

  Jesus explains clearly that all are sinful. In his Sermon on the Mount, he sets the bar for sinlessness way out of our reach: we may believe we are avoiding committing the sin of murder, but if we harbor unkind thoughts toward others, we are culpable. Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ ...22 But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” By Jesus’ standard - the only one that matters - I’m guilty of murder even when I do something as innocuous as read the Biologos comment threads.
  If God created us sinless and placed us in a perfect Garden, would we have had the capacity to continue in a sinless state and remain in Eden forever? Well, what would have happened if Eve had told the snake to buzz off? He would have lurked around and waited for the next opportunity to tempt her or Adam into disobedience. Satan didn’t even give up on Jesus - in Luke 4:13, after Jesus had resisted him, “he left him until an opportune time.” It was inevitable that Adam and Eve would sin - the Garden wasn’t actually perfect, as God had allowed Satan entry. Sin was already there.

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