December, 2014

A Historic Adam: 1 – Worldly Credibility

The belief in a literal and historic individual named Adam who was the head of all the human race has been a long held belief in the Church. Even with the advent of naturalistic evolution and the rejection of this belief in mainline churches, the evangelical church has largely held firm. Recently, however, the belief in a historic Adam has come under fire within the evangelical church. Many evangelicals, even some in our denomination, are questioning the importance and accuracy of this belief. Isn’t it more important to maintain credibility with a modern scientific world that rejects this belief? Do we really lose anything important if we deny the historicity of Adam? Is it necessary for Christians to affirm the reality of a literal and historic Adam?

The questions raised by skeptics of the historicity of Adam are not new. They are largely the same questions raised by biblical scholars in the 18th and 19th century in response to the Gospel miracles. There is no scientific grid for the dead rising. There is no scientific basis for the virgin birth. We cannot replicate or scientifically explain the feeding of the 5000 or the turning of water into wine. The miracles of the Gospel run contrary to science. The dichotomy that is then presented is that either these miracles have been misunderstood or science if false. Since it is known that science is true, the Bible must be wrong. These Christian scholars clamored that Christianity must acquiesce to the authority of science or be relegated to the dustbin of history as ridiculous and unbelievable.

This is the fearful fate prophesied by those who now argue we must embrace the evolution of man from lower animals. The argument is made that the science is clear and the church’s credibility is at stake. If we reject this scientific fact then we’ll look like fools in the eyes of the world. It is interesting to see where certainty of belief is found. It is not found in the Scriptures but rather in science. Science is undisputed and unquestionable…but the Scriptural account of Genesis 1-3 is entirely disputable and questionable. Where can certainty be found? Certainly not in Genesis! It is as if science is immune to the subjectivity of interpretation.

The apostle Paul warned the church on several occasions to be careful about embracing the world’s ideas and philosophies in opposition to Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Paul teaches that what the world sees as wisdom is not necessarily so. The wisdom of the world will not save. And the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of the world. The “cross is folly” to those who do not believe. It should be expected that those who are outside of Christ would see the Gospel as ridiculous and unbelievable. The desire to be liked by the world, however, is powerful. I’d rather not be seen by those in the Academy as “ignorant” or “foolish.” I’d rather not have my beliefs met with, “You actually believe that!?” It would be much easier to just go with the cultural flow. But in the end, can what they offer match the offer of the Gospel? Their seduction is bondage. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

The desire to be respected in the Academy and in the Marketplace is strong. No one wants to be seen as a fool. The argument that we must acquiesce to science in order to maintain credibility is powerful. And a certain part of our American evangelical DNA understands that it is more pragmatic to sacrifice a supposed peripheral doctrine so that some might come to faith. But does faith in God call us to conform to the standards and beliefs of the world or to be transformed by a renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2)? The accommodation to the current prevailing understanding of science may placate the world for the time being but at what cost?

A Historic Adam: 4 – Must We Believe?

The belief in a literal and historic individual named Adam who was the head of the whole human race has been a long held belief in the Church. Recently, however, the belief in a historic Adam has come under fire within the evangelical church. Many evangelicals, even in the PCA, are questioning the necessity of this doctrine. Must we really believe in a literal and historic Adam?

Our first article addressed the issue of the Church’s credibility in the world. Isn’t it more important to maintain credibility within a modern scientific society? The scientific community and the modern secular society looks at the belief of a literal and historic Adam as an oddity. It is argued that the science is proven and incontrovertible. Man must have evolved from a lower species within the genus Homo. If the Church ignores this fact then it will relegated to the dustbin of history.

But the question is really one of authority. What has the final say in what is true in life? Authority in liberal theology is found in reason and experience. For the liberal theologian it is perfectly acceptable to see science as the supreme authority of truth and to force the Bible to conform to it. With this presupposition, a historic Adam is simply a myth. But the same can be said for the miracles of the Gospels, the virgin birth, and the resurrection. Any doctrine that cannot be conformed to a modern scientific understanding is minimized or outright abandoned. But what is the Christian faith when separated from the supernatural or divine? It is simply a philosophy of ethical imitation. What would Jesus do? You should do that…except for the weird stuff, that probably was just a mythological fabrication.

The apostle Paul understood the temptation of conformity to the popular wisdom of the day. What the world sees as wisdom is not necessarily so. In fact, the truth of the Gospel will appear as folly to the world (1 Cor 1:18-31). While no one wants to be seen as a fool, the Bible tells us that repentance of sin and faith in Christ will not lead to popular acclaim. We must recognize that the allure of being seen as wise in the world is fleeting because it ultimately leads to bondage (Col 2:8).

Our second article addressed the question of what the Bible actually says about Adam. Whenever the Bible speaks of Adam or references the creation of man and woman, it does so with an understanding that they were literal and historical people. Even if one is able to explain away the historicity of Adam in the Genesis account by calling it a creation myth that does not necessarily have to be literally true, the rest of the Bible (the Chronicler, Luke, Jesus, Paul) clearly understands Adam as a real person. If you deny the historicity of Adam in Genesis then you must be prepared to say Paul was wrong. But the apostle Peter anticipated the view that what we believe is just a myth. “For we do not follow cleverly devised myths…we have something more sure, the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:16-19). The prophetic word is short-hand for the whole of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not the product of man’s imagination but the work of chosen men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit (v. 21). If Paul (and Peter) was wrong, then the whole structure collapses on itself. These are not myths, but they are the sure word of God. In fact, Peter argues that this word is “more sure” than even his own experience.

Our third article examined the theological implications if we deny the historicity of Adam. In short, the goodness of God, the Imago Dei, the Fall, original sin, the guilt of sin, the necessity for atonement, and redemption is rendered obsolete if the historicity of Adam is refuted. Essentially, those doctrines which make Christianity distinctively Christian have no theological basis. As Dr. Albert Mohler states, “If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what the story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.” [1]

So, the original question posed comes into focus. Must we believe in the literal and historical person named Adam from whom all mankind descended by ordinary generation? As we have seen, the answer to that question comes at a cost. The answer will either cost us ridicule and scorn at the hands of the Academy and the Marketplace or it will cost us the theological truths that form the heart of the Gospel. I, like most of you, do not find it enjoyable to swim against the cultural current. I don’t want friends and neighbors to think of me as a narrow-minded dolt. But the greater desire is to not be found wanting at the day of Christ’s return. So, must we believe? In spite of the cultural climate, the answer is unequivocally yes.

 

[1]    http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/08/31/adam-and-eve-clarifying-again-what-is-at-stake/, accessed April 9, 2014

A Historic Adam: 2 – Interpretation of Scripture

Last week we looked at the temptation to subvert the authority of Scripture to the current perception of science. The cultural pressure to look to the wisdom of this world is profound. No one wants to be ridiculed in the Academy or in the Marketplace. But these pressures have to be weighed against the theological cost of following them. The accommodation to the current prevailing understanding of science may placate the world for the time being but at what cost? What do we lose if we reject the biblical teaching of a literal and historic Adam?

Today many reject a historic Adam because the prevailing scientific opinion is that the evolutionary process does not allow for mankind to have descended from only two people. Evangelicals who need to square this scientific view with the biblical narrative then enter into a complex issue of interpretation. Their view of Scripture must accommodate their view of science. Science then becomes the more trustworthy and sure discipline…as if science is neutral and theology is hopelessly biased. Instead, we would be better served to follow the instruction of the Westminster Divines. “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (WCF 1.9). To understand obscure texts (or at least passages that are not totally clear), we should look to other places in Scripture to shed light. How did other biblical writers understand this doctrine? This will also help us understand what is at stake in this doctrine.

What does Scripture say about the historicity of Adam and Eve? The account in Genesis is a great place to start because it contains the initial history of Adam’s creation (Gen 1:26; 2:5-8) and how long he lived (Gen 5:5). It does seem odd for a specific age at death to be included in the narrative if Adam was only a metaphorical representative of a group of hominids.

Outside of Genesis, the writer of 1 Chronicles mentions Adam as the head of David’s ancestry (1 Chron 1 & 2). Luke also looks to Adam as the genealogical head when he includes “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38) in Jesus’ family tree. Why would either writer list a genealogy full of real, literal, and historical people only to cap it off with a fictional symbol?

Job likens the concealing of his sin to the concealing of Adam’s transgressions (Job 31:33) and Hosea refers to Adam’s transgression of the covenant (Hosea 6:7). It is granted that these two references could be translated in a way that does not refer specifically to “Adam” but instead to “mankind” in general. But in the same vein, strong arguments can be made that each does refer to a literal and historical person in each passage. These don’t form the crux of the argument for the historicity of Adam, but they do add weight to overall testimony of Scripture.

Often more significance in theological arguments is given to the words of Jesus, the “red letters.” It is true that Jesus is never quoted in the Gospels as referring to “Adam” or “Eve.” But this argument against the historicity of Adam is a red herring. First, if we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, then the “red letters” are no more weighty than any other part of Scripture. The Word of God is authoritative whether it comes from Moses’ pen or Jesus’ lips. There is no difference in importance. Second, Jesus did speak about mankind being created from the beginning as “male and female” (Matt 19:4). In the context of marriage Jesus affirms the creational norm of male/female marriage by referring to the literal creation of a man and a woman at the beginning. So, while the “red letters” aren’t more important, Jesus still speaks in favor of a literal, historical Adam and Eve.

Outside of Genesis the clearest evidence for a literal and historical Adam comes from the apostle Paul. Paul argues that the reason for death and condemnation was because of the representative and imputed guilt of Adam (Rom 5:12-21). Paul mentions both Adam and Moses as recipients of the external law. If Adam was not a historical person then neither was Moses. Paul also explains that the solution to the condemnation merited through Adam’s fall is reconciled through the obedience of a second Adam, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:12-21). He makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49. If Adam was not a historical person then neither was Jesus. Paul’s use of parallelism with Adam and Moses and Adam and Jesus requires Adam to be historical person. A final point regarding Paul’s writing is that he also argues for the respective roles of men and women in the church by referencing back to the order in which man and woman were created and were tempted (1 Tim 2:13-14). Paul is arguing that male headship goes all the way to the beginning. He obviously takes the account of the Garden in Genesis as a historical record.

To argue that Adam and Eve were fictional or mythological symbols requires one to say that Paul was well-intended but wrong. And to their credit, many who argue this say as much. Peter Enns, writing for Biologos, notes, “[Christians] have to account for what Paul says about Adam (emphasis in original)…. There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person, the first created human from whom all human descended.”[1] However, Enns then notes that one must “affirm that Paul’s view of human origins does not settle the matter for us today.”[2] Paul suffered from living in a pre-modern world and his understanding of science and nature was faulty. Simply put, to argue against a literal and historical Adam requires the interpreter to say, “Paul was wrong.” But, if one holds to sound biblical interpretation (cf. WCF 1.9) then the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that the Bible presents a literal and historical Adam and Eve.

 

 

[1]    http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/enns_adam_white_paper.pdf, accessed March 26, 2014

[2]    ibid

A Historic Adam: 3 – Theological Problems

Over the last two weeks we have looked at some of the issues involved in the debate around the historicity of Adam and Eve. There is an increasing cultural temptation to jettison the Scriptural account of Adam and Eve for a naturalistic narrative of man’s evolution. But the Bible is clear about the reality of a literal and historical person named Adam. Even critics of a historical Adam admit that the Scriptural accounts of Adam have to be excused because Moses, the Chronicler, Job, Hosea, Luke, Jesus, and, Paul clearly thought Adam was real. Did they simply suffer from living with a pre-modern understanding of science? What if we go with that? What if we affirm the current evolutionary theory about man and believe that Genesis 1-2 is simply a mythological accounting of man’s creation? What do we lose theologically? What’s really at stake if there is no literal and historical Adam?

If there was no Adam then man evolved from other species of the genus Homo. There was no first man created perfect in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (WCF 4.2). There was not common descendant of all mankind. There was also no man responsible, by his own free act, for sinning against his Maker. The account of the entrance of sin into the world and the Fall of creation would just be a metaphor, a myth, that was written to attempt to give meaning to evil and suffering or to give universal truths about all mankind. If this is true, then God is evil.

Is it too much of a theological stretch to say that a denial of a literal and historical Adam means that God is evil? I don’t think so. If sin did not enter the world at a particular point in time with a literal and historic first sin (Rom 5:12), then we have to say that God created a world that was sinful and fallen from the beginning. And yet God declared that this world was “very good” (Gen 1:31). Either God had a significant lapse of judgment, which is unlikely given how the Scriptures speak of his omniscience (Job 37:16, 1 John 3:20, 1 Cor 2:10-11, Ps 139, Heb 4:13, etc), or God is evil. A denial of a literal and historical Adam denies the goodness of God. Robert Strimple summarizes the problem by saying, “The question ‘Was Adam an historical person?’ is really the question ‘Was the Fall a real event in human history?’ For if Adam is simply [something] which stands for the truth about every person who ever lived, from the very beginning of that person’s life, what does that mean? That means that sin is simply a part of what it means to be human!”[1] That means that sin is not simply a distortion of God’s good creation but sin is in fact God’s creation.

If sin is simply part of what it means to be human, then there is no guilt in sin. There is no need for forgiveness. Why would I need forgiveness for being what God created me to be? If anything, God would need forgiveness from me.

Without a real and historic Fall there is no need for redemption. The work of Jesus Christ as Redeemer (Gal 3:13; 4:4-5; Titus 2:11-14; Heb 9:15; Rev 14), the “second Adam” (1 Cor 15:45), would make absolutely no sense. Why would God send someone to ‘redeem’ or ‘restore’ that which was never broken or fallen? If Adam is a myth then he was just a model of what is true for every person. What is needed is not redemption from sin but another model. If there is no real Adam then we don’t need a Redeemer, we need a teacher or an example to follow. The hope of the Gospel becomes “do better and try harder.”

Apart from these problems relating to the Fall and Redemption (if that isn’t enough!), the denial of a literal and historical Adam creates other difficulties. Without an historical Adam there is no common descendant for all mankind. We lose any firm basis for the belief of an Imago Dei (the image of God). We lose any commonality in our sin problem. We open ourselves to the reality that some groups of people within the species may be superior to others because there is no real connection. Perhaps other groups of people are genetically superior? Perhaps they have evolved beyond the rest of the species? What if there is a group of hominids who have evolved beyond the species of sapiens? Would they have reason to claim a superiority to the rest of mankind? Without an historical Adam the very definition of what it means to be “human” is changed and a theological argument for the inherent dignity of all people or a cogent argument against racism collapses.

So, what do we lose if we deny (or fail to affirm) the historicity of Adam and Eve? The goodness of God is denied. In fact, God is made a moral monster. The entrance of sin into the world and the Fall of mankind is rendered obsolete. The necessity for redemption, atonement, and forgiveness of sin is gone. The very definition of what it means to be “human” is changed and the inherent dignity and worth of all people is undercut. If we deny the historicity of Adam, we have little basis for any doctrine that makes Christianity distinctively Christian.

 

[1]    http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/was-adam-historical, accessed April 2, 2014