Comments on the Four Views of the Historical Adam Reviews

Posted By on January 18, 2014

As promised, I want to post a few thoughts on Nijay Gupta’s posted reviews of the four views book on the Historical Adam. These comments presume you have read the reviews (here and here).

On Lamoureaux’s view (“Evolutionary creation and no historical Adam”):

1. I think Nijay is correct about the fact that biblical scholars ought to avoid being armchair scientists. This is pretty common. Within evangelicalism and fundamentalism there has historically been an antipathy and a heartfelt mistrust of scientists. That shifts to portraying people like Lamoureux, who is a scientist, as biblical ignoramuses. That really doesn’t work here, since Lamoureauz also has a doctorate in theology to go with his science doctorate. So does Alister McGrath. There are others. While we always have to hold out the possibility that the science is being done wrong, it seems quite misguided to conclude that scientists who are strong believers are deliberately deceiving the faithful — hiding the flaws of evolutionary science for some (?) motive. I personally know a good number of PhDs in the hard sciences who are strong believers. They would opt for Lamoureaux’s view (or theistic evolution). Sure, they may lack the sensitivities to theology or the biblical text since they don’t have doctorates in theology as well, but they can defer to those who do. There are plenty of evangelicals who aren’t scientists whose view of how Genesis can or should be interpreted accommodates Lamoureax. The “willful deception” or mistrust of science just seems to go nowhere.

2. Readers know I’m comfortable with the concept of accommodation since it obviously happens in Scripture. Example: We really do know where babies come from and how we get them genetically. A full human person can only exist genetically inside a woman who is pregnant. That is not possible in a man in any natural situation. Hence the writer of Hebrews’ comments about Levi paying tithes to Melchizedek while in the loing of Abraham is a scientifically impossible (not just implausible) statement. But God didn’t bother to correct the pre-scientific misconception as the writer wrote. Why? Because the point being made was a theological one, not a biological one. The passage doesn’t put forth any scientific proposition. It puts forth a theological one. The writer happens to use a scientifically untenable argument to get the point across. That is true regardless of what the passage *theologically* means. God accommodated to the scientific ignorance of the writer. In other words, God didn’t care. The writer still got the job done, as God knew he would. Accommodation is real, and so it’s on the table as a possible way to look at what’s going on with Adam (and other material in the Bible).

3. I might disagree with the way Lamoureax talks about the “entrance” of sin. Even if we don’t have a historical Adam, we still have sin and the Adam story could simply be telling us that it began as soon as we had humanity. In other words, there’s still a conceptual connection in Lamoreauz’s view that I can imagine. I’d need to be in conversation with him to know more precisley what he’s thinking here.

4. I don’t really have Nijay’s angst about the fall since I view the fall as telling us simply “humans lost immortality when they sinned” (and do so unto this day). Due to my view of Romans 5:12, I don’t see the Adam incident dealing with guilt before God being transmitted to all humans. I see the teaching point of the Fall story as all humans are mortal now, apart from God’s presence, where there is eternal life. All humans in that condition who are allowed to live long enough (i.e., they’re born and reach an age of willful acts that transgress Scripture’s moral laws) will invariably sin. The only exception was Jesus, because he was also God. This is all old stuff for Naked Bible readers.

5. The question is “Do we need a historical Adam for Mike’s view?” I would answer that this way. If there was no historical Adam — i.e., that the Adam story is analogous (under inspiration) to the story of Israel (a la Seth Postell, though Pete Enns gets the credit for the view), the teaching point isn’t lost, and neither is the real life reality. In other words, if ALL that is said is that the Adam story is to teach us ideas: (1) human mortality; (2) human inability to avoid sin; (3) the need for cure for sin outside human merit, then it looks to me like our theology is intact without Adam. Again, I’m imagining out loud here — If God’s point in inspiring the Gen 3 account was to tell us these things through a story that had no historical reality — deciding that a story was the best way to get the points across — I don’t see us losing anything. What about Jesus, you ask? He’s still the new (second) Adam. He is the person who reverses the problems we learned we all have through the Adam story. Theologically, it’s all intact. The rub is Paul’s language (“second Adam” sounds like it presumes there was a first – historical – Adam). It is at this point that Enns says “Paul was wrong about Adam and right about Jesus.” I’m not convinced that’s necessary, since the real issue with the Adam and science thing is statistical genetics. The results of Venema’s research have been questioned.1 I still think it’s going to be a long before we know that a single human pair is impossible to reconcile with the genetic record. If that happened, then we could file Paul’s statement under accommodation like we’d (I’d) file the remarks in Hebrews 7.

On Walton’s View (“Archetypal ["Representative"] Adam”)

Here was the excerpt of Walton Nijay used in his review:

[Walton]: In my view, Adam and Eve are historical figures –real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that the biblical text is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. This is particularly true in the account in Genesis 2 about their formation. I contend that the formation accounts are not addressing their material formation as biological specimens, but are addressing the forming of all of humanity: we are all formed from dust, and we are all gendered halves. If this is true, Genesis 2 is not making claims about biological origins of humanity, and therefore the Bible should not be viewed as offering competing claims against science about human origins. If this is true, Adam and Eve also may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Such an archetypal focus is theologically viable and is well-represented in the ancient Near East.

There’s a lot to like here (at least for me as an ancient Near East guy). It allows for historical figures. The portrayal of those figures presumes the intent of the author was to present an archetype and not be claiming the origin of the entire human race.

1. The difficulty for many would be that the view says that the traditional understanding (Adam is presented as the first of all humans) is a misreading. This view says that it is wrong to interpret Genesis 2-3 as literal history OR as science. And yet Adam and Eve did exist. The intent of the account under inspiration was not to convey literal history in terms of detail and chronology, but neither was it to invent two characters to make a point. They did exist, but what we learn about them here must be filtered through the archetypal intent of the material.

If this view is correct, it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful tradition has erred in its reading of the Bible. I don’t care much about tradition, so this doesn’t bother me.

2. For me, this view is easily married to the Adam as Israel view. I’m not saying John would like the marriage, but it’s do-able. Adam is an “archetype” for Israel as well as humans. It’s easy.

3. Walton’s view helps us realize that the issue must be broken down into smaller questions, each one of which must be worked through to see the options:

  • Adam and Eve existed. Were they the original human pair, or an original pair in the focus of the biblical writer. (Were they original only for the sake of the story, or for sake of its inspired representative strategy?)
  • Does the Adam and Eve story aim to tell us about science? The history of humankind? Or something else? What did the author have in his head in terms of the purpose of the material? Could it have been representation of humanity (or Israel) in the context of the rest of Genesis 1-11 and the story of Israel? How can we definitely rule that out?

On John C. Collins’s view (“Historical Adam: Old Earth Creation View”)

Here is the passage used by Nijay in his review:

[Collins]: In this chapter I argue that the best way to account for the biblical presentation of human life is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the headwaters of humankind. By “biblical presentation,” I refer not only to the story in Genesis and the biblical passages that refer to it, but also to the larger biblical story line, which deals with God’s good creation invaded by sin, for which God has a redemptive plan; of Israel’s calling to be a light to the nations; and of the church’s prospect of successfully bringing God’s light to the whole world. That concerns the unique role and dignity of the human race, which is a matter of daily experience for everyone: All people yearn for God and need him, must depend on him to deal with their sinfulness, and crave a wholesome community for their lives to flourish.

I argue that the nature of the biblical material should keep us from being too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve, leaving room for an Earth that is not young, but that the biblical material along with good critical thinking provides certain freedoms and limitations for connecting the Bible’s creation account to a scientific and historical account of human origins. (p. 143).

Nijay makes two notes at the outset with Collins’ view.

  • He observes that Collins is concerned with Walton’s approach to sin. Collins, per Nijay, would ask: Where did it come from? Does Walton’s approach make clear “the foreignness of sin in God’s plan”
  • Collins’ use of “headwaters”in the above excerpt distinguishes his view from the earlier two. It requires that Adam and Eve were *the* ancestors of all humans and that what they did brought sin to all humankind.

Despite my view on Romans 5:12, which Collins would not like, it agrees with the second bullet point. My view of Rom 5:12 works with a literal-historical Adam and Eve or archetypal. The human condition extends from them. As noted above, it can work with no historical Adam and Eve if ever pressed into service for that. The teaching points are always the same. Only the referent (a story, an archetype, two real humans) differs. Consequently, Collins’ second concern here is one that doesn’t trouble me.

I’m also not troubled by the first bullet point. Of course sin is foreign (in my view, as applied to any and all of these Adam views). The original humans (literal or otherwise) are portrayed as in God’s presence. There is no sin there, so any sin has to be foreign. I don’t see a problem until we get to the word “plan”. Collins’ is a staunch Calvinist, so it’s natural he can’t process the material in any other way than God predestinating what happened — and that requires the people at the heart of the event to be historical. I don’t have that problem either. The *teaching point* is that sin (my view) came voluntarily, by free will, which must be genuine else we could not be imagers of God, and so our guilt before God is earned by us — we are to blame. That is the human condition (and that approach is viable in all the views).2

On Bill Barrick’s View (Historical Adam, Young Earth Creation View)

Here is Nijay’s excerpt:

In my view Adam is the originating head of the entire human race. Adam’s historicity is foundational to a number of biblical doctrines and is related to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This traditional view of Adam rejects accommodation to evolutionary science, upholding instead that the Holy Spirit superintended the author of Genesis so that he wrote an objective description of God’s creative activities in six consecutive literal days.

The biblical account represents Adam as a single individual rather than an archetype or the product of biological evolution, and a number of New Testament texts rely on Adam’s historicity. More importantly, without a historical first Adam there is no need for Jesus, the second Adam, to undo the uniqueness of the Genesis record and give it priority over ancient Near Eastern materials and modern science in all discussions of primeval history and the historicity of Adam and Eve.

I see several problems here. That’s a little hard to say since I know Bill. He’s a wonderful guy and very gifted with languages. But there are some coherence gaps here.

1. He writes “a number of New Testament texts rely on Adam’s historicity.” This sounds like everyone who’d argue otherwise is making up how to understand those texts — and should just admit that and reject Christianity. It’s an either-or fallacy. It’s not true that either we adopt Bill’s view or we might as well scrap everything.  Bill can reject the other views without this sort of gauntlet, which anyone who reads the other views will see through immediately. It’s unnecessary for articulating a view that would reject any point of modern science that interferes with a straightforward reading of Gen 2-3.

2. No matter what view one takes, the human condition of sin and guilt before God has no other solution than Christ. Again, the language Bill uses is too categorical. No one in this debate is looking for, or claiming to have found, an alternative solution to human guilt before God. Even if the other views are wrong, those who hold them are still depending on Christ for salvation. Their “error” doesn’t cancel out their faith as though it can’t be real apart from a young earth view.

3. Bill talks about undoing “the uniqueness of the Genesis record.” I’m not sure if he has only Gen 2-3 in mind here (that’s the context of his essay) or Genesis in general. In both cases the concern fails. No other ancient Near Eastern creation of humankind account (archetypal or otherwise) has humanity in a guilt relationship before God / the gods linked to the loss of immortality. That detail — accountability that affects the whole human race (again, literal or archetypal) and which needs atonement — is still unique no matter what view one holds of Adam.  I fail to see the validity of this point of concern.

This last comment also has sub-problems: Must something be unique to be true? To be inspired?  On what grounds? Are the other items in the OT (or just Genesis) that aren’t unique still true? Inspired? You get the idea. It’s logically fallacious. Nothing hinges on “uniqueness.” God can use whatever strategy he likes to communicate something through the people he chose as authors. He doesn’t need to them to writer material that has no connection with the world in which the recipients of the revelation live.

  1. For those who didn’t read my posts of some time ago about Adam and recent human genetics work, see here to catch up.
  2. This is a no-brainer for those of you who’ve read my “Myth” draft; sorry if you’re out of that loop.

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20 Responses to “Comments on the Four Views of the Historical Adam Reviews”

  1. Keith R. Starkey says:

    What is most imporitant here is the real driving thrust God has communicated through His word, regardless of what view one takes about the origin of sin: we are helpless, hopeless and without the power and ability to re-align ourselves into a righted relationship with God (which is to say our relationship starts out at odds with God), and that only Jesus the Christ was able to accomplish righting it. This truth simply cannot be gotten away from. I’m greatful, Doc, that you emphasize this.

    Imagine, if you would, if Christians of all creation-beliefs could aquire the relaxation from understanding this truth and discover the rest, peace and unity we would share among ourselves if this truth were to be the foundation upon which the structure of belief for all origins of sin is grounded. Discussion and not argumentation with each other; respect and not disrespect toward each other; learning from and not stifling of each other…(wait! I don’t think that’s going to happen. I guess that’s one good thing about a post-tribulation view: when the hell hits, none of us is really going to care much, if at all, about whether Eve really did speak to a snake!)

  2. kennethos says:

    Heh…given that Dr. Collins was one of my seminary professors, I have to admit to being a bit biased toward his view. It’s good to read all of these views, to see the reviews, and the bullet points, to what’s possible, even what’s likely, and to try to figure it out and understand. Thanks, Mike.

  3. Nijay Gupta says:

    Thanks for this, Mike.

  4. CMA says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the post. I was pretty intrigued by Walton’s approach when I read the book. I wondered what your take would be? Now, I know.

    Quick comment about Bible scholars speaking on science (evolution). If they are well read in the area, I think it can be done. They just have to be careful not to overstate things.

    However, the other side has to chill out as well. To argue against the shortcomings of Neo-Darwinism is not anti-science (many scientists do so). It might be anti-establishment, but not anti-science.

    The other problem, of course, is that too many on both sides are very poor philosophers. This creates an additional set of problems.

    I have always wanted to ask you something – now is as good a time as any. Is there some ANE understanding to be had concerning nakedness and shame? It is relevant to Gen 3. It shows up again with Noah and Ham. It shows up again in Lev. 18.

    I ask because before death even entered into the story the idea of nakedness and shame did. It seems pretty significant, but I can’t find much about it. Clearly they were already naked. So after the fall did they now see themselves aging or something? Did they realize they now had to reproduce? Any thoughts?

    • MSH says:

      Short answer to your question: This is largely a textual issue (Noah and Ham). If you email me I can send you what I think is the best treatment of this.

  5. Ron Dupree says:

    Thanks for this Mike. It’s helpful for me in thinking about these things.

    I hope more Christians will develop more patience, graciousness, and accurate understanding of differing views. I think your intellectual honesty and sound, critical thinking should be considered exemplary even among those who don’t share your perspectives.

  6. Patrick says:

    As it stands, I tend to see them as historic people still, but, also archetypal for humanity and Israel.

    Your view of the (A) “2 creation” stories was compelling to me, so I am convinced they are not meant to be regarded as the (B)”first 2 humans”, therefore I have neither theological nor scientific objections to seeing them this way.

    I am convinced guys like Peter Enns haven’t exposed themselves to the possibility of (A) and all it entails and are reacting to (B). They’re determined to mythologize Adam when it may not be needed at all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The questions about Adam don’t bother me as much as they use to because I’m learning more and more about ANE stuff. (Thanks to you Dr H) I’ve found a question and an illustration to be helpful when talking to traditionalists on these topics.

    When someone argues there must be a literal beginning to sin, I agree then ask this question. Yes, there must be a literal beginning to sin but, why is almighty God obligated to give us an *exact account* of the event? If God chose to tell us about the fall through a fable, a poem or a dirty limerick, who are we to question it? I think this question forces people to realize they are putting restrictions on God when they insist scripture is a certain genre against all evidence.

    The illustration has to do with Paul’s comparison between Christ and Adam. Imagine someone said “William Lane Craig is the Batman of apologetics.” You would immediately realize this is simply a compliment to Craig and does not require a belief in a literal Batman to work. What if a child who really did believe in Batman said it? It would still just be a compliment.

    Those are fairly easy hurdles. The tough one is explaining my (yours, Dr H) view of Romans.

    • MSH says:

      I’ll have to tell Dr. Craig about the batman line next time I see him. He’ll get a kick out of that!
      Agreed – it’s silly to expect that God/the Bible has to give us exhaustive information about anything.

  8. Shaun says:

    There must be a literal beginning to sin. However, why is almighty God obligated to give us an exact, blow by blow account of the event? If God chose to tell us about the fall through a fully, slightly, or even non historical story the message about our condition is still the same.

  9. Ok, Mr Heiser I have officially elevated you to Guru-status. :-) This was very informative. Is there any good way of getting this out some 500 million creationists, to get them to relax a bit on the issue? ;-) Sadly I think the whole origins debate has dissuaded a lot of people from faith because they thought they had to choose one or the other. I have come to consider more and more what Jesus deemed important to convey. Judging by his legacy in John 14-17, he was mostly concerned with love and unity, not in theology but as a family. We should be to. Origins seamed a minor issue for him.

    • MSH says:

      Had to laugh! Since many have made one particular view of creation an article of faith, I wouldn’t look for a massive shift in direction.

      • BTW, It would be great if you at some point could write a similar expose of flood theology, such as local, global, 4000yrs ago or really long time ago such as proposed by Reasons To Believe. Tried to find something on your websites but came out empty handed. All the best!

        • MSH says:

          So much of that stuff is already online that it would feel like reinventing the wheel. I thought I had linked to Paul Seely’s articles somewhere in here, but I guess not. Maybe that’s worth a post.

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