Posted By MSH on May 4, 2012
This review of Peter Enns’ short but important book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, is getting some discussion on the web. I just finished Enns’ book, so I want to share some impressions of this review and what Enns is saying. I’ll eventually post something of greater substance on this. I’ve been following the discussion between Christian geneticists, biblical scholars, and certain science apologetics sites relating to the problem of a historical Adam. I say “problem” because the recent work mapping the human and Neanderthal genome (and comparing both to other primate genomes) has brought the issue of whether there was a historical Adam to the forefront. And this concerns more than Genesis 1-3; Romans 5 and the whole idea of the sinfulness of humankind is tied to Adam.
In a nutshell, when it comes to the Old Testament, Enns’ position is that evolution is a given, and that Adam in Genesis was designed by the biblical writers to typify Israel (see here for a brief overview of his view). He does a good job of briefly demonstrating that (incidentally, a longer academic monograph on this subject just appeared in print: Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh). When Enns gets to the New Testament and Paul (if I read him correctly) his position is that Paul was wrong about Adam, but right about Jesus (who is the “second Adam”). To explain, Enns is saying Paul’s view of Adam assumed a single historical individual, which is untenable in the wake of evolutionary science. Paul’s use of that pre-scientific point of ignorance, however, does not mar the correctness of his conclusions about Jesus as being the necessary and exclusive Savior of all.
Readers know that I would agree that the Bible is a pre-scientific document. I would also agree that theological conclusions based (in part) on pre-scientific misunderstandings are not undone (presuming the idea and argument is demonstrable from the text in other ways — ways also used by the biblical authors). So, in principle, I’m not offended by Enns’ take; but I actually don’t agree with the way he expresses things. I would talk about Adam and Paul differently. But that is for another post.
Getting to the review linked above, I’m wasn’t impressed with it, though others have been. It’s foundational criticism of Enns is not coherent, and that fact mars the efficacy of it as a critique. The brief excerpt below illustrates why. The author writes of Enns’ approach:
There is literally no mention (that I could find) in which the meaning of the Scriptures is linked to what the divine Author might have intended. So when Enns speaks of what Genesis means, he always and only refers to “the biblical authors” (xvii) or “the Israelites” (42)—these are the only operative “authors” in the entire analysis. . . . Note who populates the terrain of biblical interpretation here: Genesis (or the “authors of Genesis”), Paul, and us. Does it feel like anything is missing? Or Anyone?
His implication is that God is missing, but that reflects flawed thinking. The reviewer’s God is too small. When scholars like Enns (or myself, or John Walton, whom the review also mentions) insist that Genesis was produced by people, we affirm the (biblically and practically) obvious: God used people to produce the inspired text. When we insist that the product of their hands (and other hands, with respecting to any editing) resulted in what God wanted, God is still very obviously in charge. He doesn’t take days off. We presume God was pleased with the result (and of course knew of the result). When we insist that the biblical material must — to be correctly understood — be interpreted in light of its ancient Near Eastern environment, as opposed to an interpretive context like the Reformation, the early Church, the Enlightenment, or modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism, we affirm God’s own decisions in the matter and process of inspiration. In other words, GOD chose the time, the place, the people, the cultural-religious context, the pre-scientific context, etc., for intervening in human affairs and lives to produce this thing we call the Bible.
To say Enns is divorcing God from the biblical content is to demonstrate ignorance of where Enns and other scholars are really at, intellectually and theologically. Think of it this way: Enns (and myself, along with other scholars) think of inspiration as a process akin to the way virtually all orthodox Christians (and so, surely, the reviewer) think of canonicity. Human fingerprints are all over the canonical process, but God was providentially present and active through the entirety of the process. Inspiration worked the same way. Inspiration of the biblical material came via a process, not a paranormal event. Why is the reviewer unwilling to take as a view of inspiration the precise view he (if he is in the orthodox mainstream) takes of the canon?
At any rate, I recommend Enns’ book since the issue is of great importance, and his work is readable. I’ll return to the topic at some point in the near future.