Monday, February 27, 2012

Did Paul Get Adam Wrong?

I appreciate both the biblical acumen and practical ministries represented by those within The Gospel Coalition. They are men I respect and often look to for biblical/theological insight. Recently, though, I have begun to see the importance for my own spiritual journey in not simply re-affirming the declarations of TGC (or other people/organizations I normally agree with), but, rather, completing the appropriate due diligence on the issue-at-hand.

A few weeks ago, I began a series on thinking through the historicity of Adam. On a much more popular level, this was followed up by Kevin DeYoung, as well as responses from James McGrath and Pete Enns (amongst many others).

After reading (and re-reading) their posts, I wanted to offer a few ruminations.

To begin, we ought to be cautious when declaring that those “others” are either not E/evangelicals or that they are trying to destroy what the Bible is teaching. Admittedly, I am not far-off from having done this (e.g. see my review of Rob Bell’s book); however, I have eased a bit since then by attempting to build bridges, rather than walls. In other words, although I might stridently disagree with someone over a specific issue, my conviction is that Christ will not be honored and people will not be satisfied with snarky, arrogant attitudes. I am, however inadequately, trying to do my part in building bridges.

Moving on…

I do not think that denying the historicity of Adam is necessarily a capitulation to evolution (theistic or otherwise). God, in his divine majesty and incomprehensibility, could have determined to historically create our founding father and mother as well as prescribe for the Genesis account to be written a specific way. In other words, I am not yet comfortable affirming evolution (theistic or otherwise) primarily out of ignorance to the scientific data (or lack thereof).

With that being said, I think that both McGrath and Enns, in their respective responses to DeYoung, are correct in stating that narrative does not necessarily equate with history (although it can be historical at times), and that poetry does not always have to be non-historical in nature. We cannot simply affirm the historicity of any ancient document because it is in narrative form. We must allow other factors to contribute to, and perhaps determine, our affirmations about historicity.

This is also why DeYoung’s quotation of Keller irks me. He quotes Keller as stating that, “When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of biblical authority…” But this is most certainly an interpretative difficulty, wholly dependent on whether one believes that the author clearly wants the reader to understand the specific text in question as literal. For me, it seems most appropriate to suspend judgment on the literary genre of Genesis (in particular), being that I have not had sufficient time to study it on my own, nor do we have anything less than a “hung jury” on this matter of genre interpretation.

To be sure, though, Enns is not allowed to get away free and clear. It appears that Enns’ affirmation consists of viewing the Bible through a scientific lens, rather than viewing science through a biblical lens, or, perhaps, attempting to permit both science and the Bible to run as parallels. Now, as stated in my previous post, I am by no means a scientist, nor, at this point, even in the same realm of Old Testament scholarship as Enns. With that said, I am not yet comfortable affirming a scientific view of the Bible contra to a biblical view of science.

Enns, along with another dear friend who has been helping me think through this issue, seems to think that Paul misunderstood the historicity of Adam based on his scientific ignorance and possible misinterpretation of the Creation story. This, from their perspective, is what leads Paul to provide the following argument in Romans:

Paul expects to face the following argument from the Judaizers in Rome:

If the Jews received the Law/circumcision from God, then they are righteous/justified before God.
They did receive the Law/circumcision.
Therefore, they are righteous/justified before God.

Which also provides the following corollary:

If the Gentiles did not receive the Law/circumcision from God, then they are not righteous/justified before God.
They did not receive the Law/circumcision.
Therefore, they are are not righteous/justified before God.

Paul’s response to them is as such:

If Adam is the father of all, then Jews are equal to Gentiles before God.
Adam is the father of all.
Therefore, Jews and Gentiles are equal before God.

Now, if Paul did misinterpret the Creation story, we could still make an argument for the inclusion of Gentiles (i.e. the scope of salvation) based on the authority of Christ and Old Testament prophetic literature, but should we assume that Paul got it wrong?

Could Paul have had a better understanding of the genre and intent of Genesis than we do?

Should we take a scientific view of Scripture, or should we take a biblical view of science?

Can they run as parallels?

What do you think?


  1. Fickster (new nickname? why not?),

    Another great post. It makes me wish we lived closer. Alas, the internet will have to do.

    So first question, where does one find this "Adam is the father of all therefore Gentiles are equal before God" argument in Romans?

    Second, I see a very simple rejoinder to Paul's supposed response to the Judaizers. It would go like this: Jews and Gentiles were equal before God, Paul, but only until the law was given exclusively to the Jews. From then on, any equality was nullified by God's act of giving the law to us as custodians.

    Third, I see Paul settling the issue of Jewish advantage in Romans long before Adam enters the picture. I'm thinking for example of Rom. 2:25, 3:9!, 3:22-23.


  2. Personally, I think Paul had a better understanding of everything in scripture than we do! First of all, wasn't Paul a 'Pharisee among Pharisees'? Didn't he intently study and follow the Jewish Torah? So I think because of that, he would've known what literary genre in which Genesis was written. Second, I believe that the authors of the Bible, all of them, were divinely inspired when they wrote; that is, none of them wrote from their own reasoning or thinking, it was the Holy Spirit guiding their pen, so to speak. 2 Tim. 3:16 states this: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". Therefore I must personally conclude that Paul was not mistaken, unless God misled him.

    I also think that we as Christians have to test EVERY spirit, be it doctrinally, worldly, or scientific. but what are we to test it with? We are to hold everything, all teachings, up to the Word of God to see if they agree with what God says.

    Lastly, I too admit that I come off arrogantly sometimes, most recently, my latest facebook post did come across that way. I do not make statements like that without hearing the other side though, It's just that my convictions on this particular subject are very strong. I guess part of it was also to see what kind of response I would get, wether that is right or not, I'm not sure, but in any case, in a discussion like this one we must all remember to be respectful so in the end God may be glorified.

    I enjoy reading your blog Dan, I've known you my whole life and It's cool to see the journey you've taken and where you are now, I admire your passion!

  3. Daniel,

    Thanks for sharing your processing through this. I've been reading/listening to a lot on this as well. I'll have to read some of the links you posted since they might answer some of my questions. Here's a couple at a high-level:

    1. What is the driver for interpreting Genesis as non-historical? Nothing in the Bible, from what I can tell, would lead us to believe this wasn't literal/historical.

    2. If the primary driver is to bring evangelicalism more inline with supposed affirmed science (which I think it is), what else do we try to "reconcile" with supposed affirmed science? Virgin Birth? Resurrection?

    3. What are your thoughts on the implication of imputed sin and righteousness if Adam wasn't a literal figure?

    You can probably tell where I land on this, but I will vicariously live through your exploration. I always enjoy peering over the shoulders of those who are smarter than I am.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Honestly, this makes no sense to me. Hearing someone say Paul misunderstood the historicity of Adam seems silly and prideful. Especially to say that about Paul! It is to say, “The author of scripture is mistaken and got it wrong. I have it right.” To completely honest, it is one of the most arrogant things I have ever heard, and I find it very confusing. I agree with Ryan Copeland’s comment about Paul and how the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God. I am still interested in how the genealogies in scripture are explained by people who view Adam as allegorical. I would also be interested in where they think allegory stops and history begins.

    As a science major, the whole evolution discussion is frustrating. The laws of thermodynamics don’t allow evolution to be possible, unless it is theistic evolution since God can do what he wants to. Actually, the discussion isn’t even based upon science, it is based upon a worldview and it uses science to try and back it up. Theologically speaking, it is the difference between eisegesis and exegesis. People read into science based upon their own worldview just as people read into scripture based upon their worldview.

    Here is an example of this. Some snakes have a pelvic girdle along with “two small limbs” in their skeletal structure inside their body. This is a known fact. Now, we can look at it in some different ways. The evolutionist would say, “Hey look! The snake evolved from an animal that had legs! This is obvious proof! I can see the validity of evolution!” The Bible believing Christian may say, “Wow! In Genesis 3:14 God curses the serpent to crawl on its belly and here is proof that it used to have legs! I can see the validity of scripture!” Two very different conclusions can come from the same piece of evidence based upon what worldview the person holds.

    In saying all of this, it is good to research a subject in a humble way because we are all sinful and finite beings who are wrong about a lot of things. We are all in need of correction in some area, and Philippians 1:6 is an encouragement to me. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

    1. Wish this blog had a "like" button. You have said what I try to say, only with class. As a like minded individual about evolution and the lack of proof it is great to read others who can post with out sounding crass (as I often do)

  5. I am curious, if Paul had misinterpreted the Creation story then what implications does that have on the rest of his writings especially the book of Romans being included in the Cannon of scripture? What I mean is as it being God inspired? Wouldn't it change the context of what Paul was speaking about if he was in error? That for me would have major implications on our current hermeneutics.
    Also as you probably already know my feelings on this you also know I cant resist ;)
    I believe the Bible and science go hand in hand. Our biblical beliefs are based on a set of proofs and a very specific set of criteria. So to science, real science requires a specific set of criteria. But the two are not diametric. If all of creation (science) screamed that the bible was not accurate I would have no choice but to reject my current beliefs (which I would have no problem doing if it is false)
    Problem is, we have been conditioned by society (albeit a unGodly society) that you can have science or the bible but not both. I reject that! not because I was "raised" in church but because there are too many interesting scientific questions posed in biblical and extra biblical writings. Good examples are Behemoth and Leviathan, Marco polo's writings of "dragons" carvings on Cambodian pyramids and Babylonian gate mosaic's of dinosaurs which all provide evidence of man and dinosaurs having encountered each other. This would be taught as non scientific but the evidence is there none the less. It is a small example of scientific or archeological sciences and the bible going hand in hand.

  6. I'm confused. If we are to say Paul erred in his taking the existence of Adam literally, wouldn't it be easier just to say that Moses erred in his writing of the creation account. That at leasts saves us a step. Or better yet, we could simply cut to the chase and throw out inspiration altogether.

    If we accept the plenary inspiration of the Bible and allow scripture to interpret scripture, then Paul's treatment of Adam, along with the genealogies, put to death any theory that runs alternate to an acceptance of Adam as a real historical figure.

    I must agree with John Speier in regards to science and the Bible. What comes down to us from the scientific community may be labeled science but often is only their consensus. Most people, when pressed must admit that they believe in evolution (I think this Adam issue IS fallout from a growing acceptance or desire to accept evolution) based on the overwhelming consensus of scientists, not on the basis of their own observation or reasoning. So if at any point there is contradiction between the Bible and "science", we must be sure to recognize that it is the authority of a community of men against the authority of an ancient book that claims to be from God. It is not reason vs. faith. It is faith vs. faith, and the truth must be found by examining both claims. We of course must be ready to take a fresh look at our interpretation of the Bible, but let us do it on the basis of facts that actually contradict, not on the basis of the interpretation of data by men who may have a priori assumptions that lead them to conclusions that don't necessarily follow facts.

    For me, out of a desire to reconcile opposing views, I held to theistic evolution for a long time. That is, until I realized that there could not be peace between evolution and the Bible. I chose science (at least that's what I thought I was choosing)! This resulted in a compromised view of the Bible and my having no confidence in any part of it.

    God woke me up to the fact that I was viewing the scientific consensus on the subject as an objective authority, only interested in the facts. But, if the Bible is true, then these men do not exist in neutral territory, but as a part of the greater spiritual battle. It was then that I went looking for the proof, eager to follow the trail of truth wherever it led.

    In my own studies I have found the evidence for evolution tenuous at best and it most cases conspicuously absent. I kept thinking I was missing something, but it really was just a big joke. There were no claims or supposed evidences that couldn't be explained more simply with divine creation. Yet the Bible defends herself day after day. And century after century she has withstood attacks from all sides.

    As your post illustrated, this Adam thing is a big deal. We abandon a lot if we concede that he was not a historical figure. The ripples from such a conclusion will drown many of our most beloved doctrines and utterly destroy our confidence in the Bible. If it's true, then let us abandon the Bible, but let's not accept it because a majority of men say that it is a necessary concession we must make. Let the evidence speak for itself.

    1. Reagan thank you so much for your insight. You and I have spent a lot of time in the past talking about this issue, but I never knew what conclusion you came to, if at all you ever came to one. I look forward to hearing more from you in this discussion.

  7. One quick question about Pauls logic that was cited in your article. What Chapter/passage in Romans is that? I love it when people provide references so we can look it up. Thanks Dan.