The works I’ve read so far on the creation account have assumed that Adam and Eve were historical characters, but Peter Enns‘s latest book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins argues that they are not. Many of you who know me will be surprised that I find his points persuasive. His argument makes more sense to me than all the other approaches to Genesis 2-3 I’ve considered. His earlier book Incarnation and Inspiration: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament created more than a stir in the evangelical community, and this book may have a similar effect.
Enns puts it plainly that the modern church faces a challenge with what science has unearthed about human origins. If a Christian comes to believe that evolution is reality, does that mean he should abandon his faith? Does he have any reason to continue believing in a Bible that portrays a man created out of the dust of the earth and woman formed from part of man’s side? A number of Christian leaders believe that a nod to evolution is a step away from the Christian faith. Embracing evolutionary thought leads to apostasy. It’s that simple. But Enns argues that this is not the case.
He begins by showing that the Pentateuch was largely written with history in mind, though it is not all historical. The compilers used a number of sources which may include Mosaic material (though Enns seems to steer clear of this). The final product was produced sometime after the exile. At that time, you can imagine that the Hebrews were looking for their own identity–their own history–and the compilers of the Pentateuch provided it, including a creation account. That creation account had similarities with neighboring creation accounts, but was (and is) theologically instructive. Since the Pentateuch was written to give the Hebrews a history and identity, it only makes sense that Adam would embody the very character of the Hebrews’ disobedience which ultimately led to their exile. Adam was a kind of prototype of the Hebrew people, a “Proto-Adam,” who made the same mistake that the Hebrews made. To those Israelites who remembered the tragedy of the exile brought on by their disobedience, they could certainly relate to Adam’s exile from the Garden. His sin, also led to tragedy and expulsion. The connection is tremendous. Such a “Proto-Adam” is not likely a real, historical character, but is–for those of you familiar with this terminology–a type of Israel.
Many of the lessons drawn from Genesis 2-3 through exegetical study are largely unchanged by such a conclusion. Men and women are sinners, disobedient to God, and incur his judgement because of that disobedience. There is a cosmic villain that pursues to do us harm and destroy God’s good work. God has made mankind in his image and appointed them to rule the earth as He rules it, with goodness and wisdom. But what about the prospect of sin and death in the Garden? Didn’t Adam’s sin curse humanity with death? It certainly doomed Adam and Eve. God condemned them both and cast them from the Garden, forbidding them access to the tree of life. They were doomed to physical deaths: “…for you are dust; and to dust shall you return” (Gen. 3:19 ESV). Didn’t they die spiritually, too? Perhaps, but that is not explicitly stated in Genesis 3. Rather, it comes from the Apostle Paul’s expositions hundreds of years later.
It is perhaps better to view the Adam and Eve event as an illustration of wisdom and the lack thereof. Enns compares the terminology and concepts between Genesis 3 and the Book of Proverbs, also appealing to the writings of second-century apologists Theophilus of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons. In their view, Genesis 3 did not recount the historical origin of humanity and the loss of their perfection. Instead, they see it as the loss of humanity’s innocence. It was the story of the couple’s initiation into adulthood, beginning the process toward maturity. They represent Israel. They represent us. We fail, but as we heed God’s instructions, we learn to become wise. (This is not a comment on salvation as taught in the New Testament. Remember, this is Old Testament theology!)
I was really intrigued at Enns’s argument at this point. I found this next point to be a staggering truth. A traditional approach to Genesis 3 teaches that Adam’s sin was catastrophic to the world, bringing the judgment of God upon all mankind. If that is true, why don’t we see it referenced as such even ONCE in all of Old Testament? Why isn’t the Garden event referenced repeatedly by Moses, or the prophets, or the writings as the cause of God’s wrath in all of creation? It’s true that Paul cites Adam this way, but the Old Testament authorities do not. If Paul is just reiterating what the Old Testament had taught already, then shouldn’t we find it repeated within the pages of the Old Covenant? …We don’t. If we consider just the Old Testament, then Adam does not seem to have a major influence on theology. It is Paul’s interpretation of Adam’s importance that makes Adam so critical to New Testament Christian theology. Enns has a good answer for that one too. I’ll discuss that in my next post.
I highly recommend this book. You can find it at the link above or even on Kindle. I don’t know if I’m ‘all in’ with it’s arguments yet, but it seems quite convincing to me!