Monday, January 30, 2012

Adam: Actual or Allegory?

It has been almost 10 years…

I remember the summer after I turned 20 when I was first challenged with a new theological perspective: Calvinism.

Up to that point I had not heard much, if anything, about Calvinism, but I remember being simply blown away by the idea of God’s electing love, efficacious call, etc.

Since that summer I have not been simply blown away like that by another biblical/theological topic…until now.

This new (well, perhaps new for me) concept has given me reasons for pause.

My reasons for pause are twofold:

The first reason is somewhat similar to my recent attempt to precisely outline my theology of hell based on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s most recent book, Love Wins – you can read my review here. My hope is that throughout this process I might be able to precisely outline what I believe and, perhaps more importantly, why I affirm said belief. In other words, whether a critique has been issued from a differing perspective or I am attempting to provide some insight to those within the same perspective, my desire is to be able to provide a clear, intelligent, and biblical argument for my affirmation(s).

The second reason is fairly dissimilar to my recent attempt to precisely outline my theology of hell. Throughout that recent process, I felt comfortable with where I thought I would end up, namely that upon completion of my studies I would remain “where I began” but with a bit more acumen. However, this time, I feel much less comfortable with where I think I will end up. My concern is that I will not end up “where I began.” I am also concerned about the implications of such an affirmation (i.e. How will this affect my theology? What will people think about me? Will I be ostracized from the conservative evangelical “family” because of my viewpoint?).

The above two reasons should clearly demonstrate why this issue is so important for me to think through.

Now, to the issue…

Painting broadly, the issue revolves around a few questions:

Is the Genesis account actually about human origins?

Could it possibly be about something else?

Something bigger?

Something more meaningful?

These are questions that need answers.

I recently posted a similar question as my Facebook status and received several challenges. I think what might be best, at least for me, is to address two of those challenges and demonstrate why, at least for me, they hold little weight within this discussion.

One challenge was posited as such: “[H]ow does one truly know which stories actually happened and which are just narratives? One could use this then to say that the story of Christ is just a narrative.”

I think we can nullify this challenge for three reasons:

  1. We need to be sensitive to genre-specific criticism, wherein we are charged with elucidating the text in its appropriate grammatico-historical context
  2. “To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive, quasi-scientific, account of human origins is an absurd logic.” (Pete Enns)
  3. The secular accounts of Jesus’ existence (Celsus, Lucian of Samosata, Josephus, Babylonian Talmud, etc.)
A similar comment was made and ended with a declaration that we need to submit to the authority of the Bible. Let it be known: I affirm the authority of the Bible! And yet, I do not think it is that easy. Affirming the authority of the Bible is empty without a proper understanding of the text (i.e. what did the text mean then, before what does the text mean today). More often than not, Christians seek to affirm various texts as authoritative without having first completed their exegetical due diligence. Therefore, it is not enough to simply declare that we must affirm and submit to the authority of the Bible, as this affirmation and submission to authority can be harmful (if not damning) based on our understanding of the texts we declare are authoritative.

A few questions I will be pondering throughout this process:

What was the purpose behind the Genesis account? Was it a declaration of human origins? Was it a declaration of something else? Was it both?

In light of Enns’ statement above, what if God in his wisdom, majesty, and sovereignty determined to reveal (at least in small part) the origin of the universe (and humanity) through his “special” book to his “special” people?

How does theistic evolution, or Adam as metaphor, figure into a Pauline understanding of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15?

As I continue my deliberatoin, my goal is to read several books (I Love Jesus & I Accept EvolutionThe Evolution of Adam, and Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?) and follow several blogs (Pete Enns, Karl Giberson, and The BioLogos Forum).

I encourage you to engage the issue(s)!

Lastly, please note that in no way am I claiming that I have this issue figured out...

In no way am I claiming any type of scientific or biblical/theological expertise on the matter...

My attempt is to wade through the mire that this issue presents (just as any Christian ought to!). And I do so with great trepidation...

Also, please know that I am open to, and, perhaps, expecting, your comments on this issue (regardless if they are affirmative or critical). Both types of comments should help me and those reading this blog as we collectively think through this issue.

May we have wisdom as we investigate.


  1. Being partially distanced from the conservative evangelical family (as well as any/all iterations of its liberal counterpart) might actually be a really great reason for wandering down this rabbit hole. We're probably never doing the best exegesis when we're too firmly rooted in a tradition.

  2. I really like the tone of this post, Dan. This is an important question and sorting out the implications of various positions is really important.

    I don't think Enns's use of the Israelites' cultural context is at all compelling. It makes me wonder if Pete thinks the Israelites were capable of contributing anything unique to their own cultural context. If they did then why couldn't they contribute something new on the human origins front too? Even without taking inspiration into consideration (!) it seems historically plausible to me that, in fact, their version of human origins was unique. There's no absurdity to that logic. It may be surprising, but so are lots of things about the Israelite's creation account.

    But I see a bigger problem lurking in his quote and that is an attitude that reduces all historical interpretations of Gen. 1 to "definitive, quasi-scientific, account[s] of human origins." The question I want to hear asked is this: Is it possible that Genesis 1 has no extra-textual referentiality and still has implications for science?

    To use another example, the fact that Jesus' parables do not refer to real people does not mean they have no implications for how real people live. Too many in this debate think that removing a historical Adam and Eve from the picture frees us to accept whatever answers science gives us about human origins. I don't find that to be a safe assumption at all.

    I'm not yet convinced that Gen 1-2 are non-historical accounts (and, of course, every genre can refer to real people and events which makes genre identification necessary but not definitive.) But even if I was convinced they were non-historical it wouldn't settle the issue of human origins for me. I would still have to answer the question: what, if any, implications does the theology of Gen 1-2 have for the scientific theories being offered today?

    Hope that makes sense.

  3. In your quest for the historical Adam, may I suggest Meredith Kline's Kingdom Prologue. He was the first OT scholar I studied under in seminary. He would have been of the "both" camp (where I tend to be). K.P. is not published by a regular publisher - you might be able to get a copy by contacting the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Bookcenter (My copy is packed away at my parents house for now). It is a commentary on all of Genesis but the chapters dealing with the creation week and the events leading up to the flood are fascinating. He argues for the creation week as a poetic framework of "real days" but not necessarily 6 24hour periods. The purpose of Genesis 1-3 according to Kline is to reveal God's Suzerain kingship over the universe and humanity's vassal kingship (under God) who has dominion over the under-vassals of creation. Days 1-3 introduce "kingdoms" (like Light and Darkness) over which "creatures" (like the Sun & Moon) "rule" as kings. He says all the "ruling/governing" language is very intentional. He also argued/demonstrated an entire world history preceding the flood. This allows for a much older than 6,000 year-old earth but doesn't rule out Adam and Eve as actual individuals. Kline was not an evolutionist by any means - he was a creationist through and through. But he did see room for a much older planet than most creationists hold. As for Adam & Eve, Paul & Jesus seemed to deal with them as real individuals - "if it's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me, man!" Seriously, studying under Kline a few years before he was graduated to the Lord's presence was one of the most faith-revolutionary times of my life. He showed us the continuity of scripture from cover to cover. He was also a staunch Calvinist of the Orthodox Presbyterian variety. Fascinating scholar. I recommend him. - Jonathan

  4. Oh I mean to give two more book recommendations. Should Christians Embrace Evolution: Biblical & Scientific Responses got some attention from World Magazine as one of their books of the year.

    Another one I have not read but have kept an eye on is Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong by Conor Cunningham.

  5. Reasonable and wise questions and theological pursiut. I myself have wanted to pursue this topic too, but haven't been able to make it materialize. I will be anxious to hear what your quest opens up. Keep me posted.

  6. Always have been interested in this myself Dan and curious to see what you find. Obviously I am a Christian but hold more to an intelligent design view point rather than strict creationism. Strangely enough I still believe in "Adam" and "Eve" so to speak and for some reason that doesn't feel contradictory to me. I guess I just know I have my faith in Christ and in the end that is all that really matters.