Must Adam Exist? Part 2

A responsible Bible interpreter is sensitive to the historical context of any given scripture passage. Those who hold to the doctrine of inspiration understand that God didn’t robotically push and pull the hands of the writers. Rather, through the mystery of His sovereign will, he moved them to write what he wanted, utilizing the distinctions of their personalities and cultural norms. Since those ancient writers were writing to an ancient audience, we understand when we see the following mentioned in scripture:

-The earth is upon pillars (“[God] shakes the earth out of its place; so that its pillars tremble.” Job 9:6 [cf. Ps 75:3])

-The heavens are also on pillars (“The pillars of the heavens tremble and are amazed at his rebuke.” Job 26:11 [cf. 2 Sam. 22:8])

-The earth rests upon a foundation (“Where were you; when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding!” Job 38:4; [cf. Ps. 104:5])

-The netherworld exists, and it’s underground (“Even if they could dig down into the netherworld [Sheol]; my hand would pull them up from there. Even if they could climb up to heaven; I would drag them down from there.” Amos 9:2. [cf. Ps. 139:8])

The Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe--Michael Paukner

The book of Job speaks of the foundations of the earth, that it has pillars upon which it stands, as do the heavens. Amos mentioned heaven as the highest place and spoke of digging down into the deepest place–the “netherworld”–in the same breath. The psalmist marveled at how the Lord could take the four corners of the earth in hand and shake the very ground under our feet. These are just a few examples of how the scripture reflects and interacts with ancient cultures and ideas. As God inspired the writers, he could have led them to write on a level that we would have found more palatable in our modern scientific era. The book of Job could have said that God placed the earth in its orbit and established the heavens around it. Amos could have put a footnote on his comment about the netherworld, stating that there really isn’t a place underground where the dead live out eternity. The psalmist could have put in Hebraic parentheses “I’m just being poetic here!” (there are no parentheses in Classical Hebrew, but if there were…!).

But that’s not realistic. Instead, God interacted with ancient people using ideas common to the ancient world. Scientifically verifiable statements written to such an old world would have been wholly irrelevant to a pre-scientific culture. The writers of scripture were ancient people, and the Holy Spirit moved through them to reveal eternal truths by using pre-scientific conceptions of reality.

The Apostle Paul, too, was an ancient writer who had a pre-scientific awareness of reality. Therefore, we would expect that his theology assumed that Adam was literally the first human being God created.

In my previous post, I described some of Peter Enns’s new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, and I found it a challenging yet enlightening read. He shows how one might reconcile the ideas of evolution with the creation account of the Bible. He argues that Adam may have never existed at all. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this position is Paul’s view of a literal Adam. Paul’s theology about Christ seems to rest on his understanding about how sin and death entered the world. Paul stated that Adam’s disobedience introduced sin and death to the world. In contrast, because of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection, we might all have victory over that sin and death.

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12)

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. (1 Cor. 15:21)

Enns makes a very good point here. In the Old Testament, we don’t find the doctrine of depravity or Original Sin as presented in the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible does not highlight the sin of Adam as the bringer of death to the whole world, but Paul (in the New Testament) does. Why? Because that theology was common among the Jewish community during Paul’s lifetime. The idea that Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden developed during the intertestamental period and was a part of the way people thought in Paul’s day. Paul was interacting with the theology of his day. In his own experiences, he had seen how Christ brought forgiveness of sin and victory over death. Based on an ancient yet normative understanding of Adam, Paul proved both of those points. Christ physically resurrected from the dead, and showed that those faithful to Christ would be forgiven of sins.

Saint Paul, Byzantine ivory relief, 6th – earl...

Image via Wikipedia

Paul was an ancient man, who thought that Adam was also a real man. That was a cultural reality in his lifetime, and so to be culturally relevant, God interacted with those concepts to reveal eternal truths. Just like he did through those who wrote about the pillars of the earth, the netherworld, and the corners of the world. These concepts are not scientifically accurate, but we excuse them because they were culturally relevant at the time. In these cases, the theology is correct–scientific truth is not the point! Similarly, Paul’s use of Adam is not scientifically accurate, but we excuse it because it was culturally relevant in his day. The theology is correct–scientific truth is not the point! So, an evolutionary view does no violence to good theology.

Peter Enns’s book has helped me a great deal (Thanks a lot Dr. Enns!). It’s challenged me to grow, giving me a new theological paradigm. I’ve got to say, it is not a comfortable or easy shift for me to make (…thanks a lot, Dr. Enns!). I’m very uncomfortable even posting this entry, but feel it is necessary to codify my new position. I’ve had to remodel my theology in an important way. I’m very happy with the results but I’m certain folks within my own theological circles will not approve. Still, I think that’s the way personal/theological growth goes.

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10 thoughts on “Must Adam Exist? Part 2

  1. Jim Aldridge

    I understand the tension some people feel when trying to reconcile Biblical truth with what science is currently telling us about the world in which we live. If we look at the history of theology, we must maintain a certain humility with regard to this (consider the Copernican revolution for example), but at the same time, it is imperative that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    When one begins down the road that God condescended to fallen man in the context of the culture and time period in which he lived, (a valid, but limited principle) it is wise to know what lines are crucial and where they must be drawn to maintain the objective nature of truth, the gospel, and the authority of Scripture. Once one begins to make the revelation of God somehow bend too far to the culture of the recipient, we have to ask what, if anything, lies beyond this principle? Essentially, we must beware the slippery slope. For instance, in a pluralistic culture that embraces the subjectivity of all truth (postmodernism) does the message of God essentially change from grace as the answer for sin to the idea that sin is a nonsensical concept altogether? After all, if God was willing to let Paul interpret the gospel in the light of a faulty theological perspective of his day (the actual existence of Adam), why can’t Hegel, Nietzsche, or anyone else for that matter?

    Essentially, Jason, my question is, “Where are the brakes?” I think if Enns is to be consistent, there may not be a very effective way of guarding against the descent into subjectivism, and for that reason (in addition to the fact that I consider the general direction of his work to be grounded in a faulty epistemology) I would have to reject this approach.

    Interesting read, though.
    Jim

  2. Truth is, Jim, the “brakes” are subjective anyway. Are the brakes the Westminster Confession? The Apostles’ Creed? A fundamentalist perspective?
    Each tradition has their own idea of where we should brake. I believe we should always examine whether these safeguards are viable. Some of them are more about fear than about the truth. Fear of change. Fear of unseen risk. Fear of the work it would take to modify ones views. All of these I’m working through now.
    The brakes before Galileo Galilei were obviously too restrictive. I think they need adjusting again.
    Seems to me, the creeds are a good brake.

  3. Edward

    I think Paul said it bes to Tim

    Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.
    Grace be with you all. (1 Timothy 6:20, 21 NIV)

    • Thanks Edward! It is true that we should keep our eyes on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. I am grateful that Christ still saves us from sin and death!

  4. Lesa

    Be careful, my friend! Maybe,you are at a place of frustration and uncertainty in your life. Many christians question God when the things of life are not working out the way they thought they would. You are a very intellegant man so, it makes perfect sense that Satan would attack you through intellect, reason, and logic. “See to it brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But, encourage one another daily,…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:12,13

    • I appreciate that, Lesa. As I said, this is not a comfortable shift for me, but I cannot ignore it with a good conscience. I assure you, my faith in Christ is intact. In Christ, we are free from sin and death. As Genesis teaches, we are in God’s image. When Paul says that Christ fixed what Adam broke, I agree completely!

  5. Jim Aldridge

    Back to our original discussion, Jason, it seems to me that the creeds, while they do a great job of consolidating some of the essentials of the faith, would not function very well as “brakes” when it comes to an issue that is so strongly determined by one’s epistemelogical leanings. They themselves are contingent upon the very Scriptural authority that is threatened by the “slippery slope.” That being the case, they would seem (in my estimation) arbitrary at best for the purpose of putting brakes on the slide towards total subjectivism.

    I can tell that there are some people who are concerned about the “end result” of some of the questions with which you are struggling and with some of the answers you are entertaining. I get the tension. After all, I was the first person to address the “slippery slope” issue. I would only caution those who want to address the issue with a few Scriptural quotations to be careful that they are not approaching the issue in a way that is so simplistic that it could give rise to spiritual pride. Although I would agree with their position more than I would with the Peter Enn’s position, I think we need to be careful in the church that we don’t shirk from the legitimate struggle that surrounds such issues in favor of a non critical retreat into a theological comfort zone. There is growth and wisdom to be had from engaging in difficult struggles in “dangerous areas.” This isn’t an accusation against anyone, their position, or how they arrived at it. It’s just a word of caution.

  6. dmwilliams83

    Glad you liked Pete’s book. We had him speak about these things on a panel for us here at NC State. I’ll have video up on my blog eventually. Blessings!

  7. Thanks for visiting, David! I did enjoy the book, and I’ve gleaned a whole lotta good stuff from it. I sure had to count the cost before moving to his position, though!
    I’ll be looking for that video on your blog. Thanks for the heads-up!

  8. Pingback: A Call to End Original Sin! « Who Said Life Wasn't Complicated?

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