Book Review: Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives

Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives by Michael Reeves and Hans Madueme,Baker Academic, 2014, 353 pp.

 The Historical Adam is a hot topic which has led to much debate within the academy. With the publishing of The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns, Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) and C, John Collin’s Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care, and now John Walton and N.T Wright’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate, there is enough reading to go around for a long time. While I have read most of these other monographs, I was very excited to read this extensive resource by Reeves and Madueme. 

 The introduction by Reeves and Hans Madueme, discuss the importance of the topic:

Adam seems today a figment of ancient imagination. His ghost still haunts the edifice of original sin, but the Augustinian structure is falling apart, crumbling, gone with the wind. Emil Brunner linked its underlying patristic picture of time and space with the centaur of mythology, something like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale; such notions, he wrote, have “irrevocably been swept away, even for the most orthodox people.” Affirming Adam’s historicity in the twenty-first century is thus a quaint, but hopeless, attempt “to place the Augustinian ‘Adam in Paradise’ in a post-Copernican world.” Of course, we can choose to defend the traditional Adamic narrative with the careful rhetoric of anxiety-ridden theological guardians, but all that noise is pathetically “quixotic and reactionary”—much ado about nothing. So goes the diagnosis of Brunner, a faithful spokesperson for modern theology. After Darwin the doctrines of the fall and original sin have become simply incredible for many people today. What is perhaps surprising is that even evangelicals are increasingly losing faith in these classical doctrines. They are looking for new ways to make sense of Adam in Scripture. In 2007 Francis Collins, now director of the National Institutes of Health, was awarded a large grant from the Templeton Foundation to launch his new organization BioLogos.3 Its mission is to address “the escalating culture war between science and faith” and to model a better way: “the harmony of science and faith” (see http://www.biologos.org).

BioLogos stands on firm ground since this approach embodies a long tradition that stretches back to the natural philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This ground has become slippery, however, and controversy soon followed when BioLogos raised questions about the historical reality of Adam and Eve. Bruce Waltke, the noted evangelical Old Testament scholar, resigned from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS, Orlando) after recording an interview explaining how he reconciled his belief in theistic evolution with his interpretation of Genesis 1–3. In an excerpt of the interview, published on the BioLogos website on March 24, 2010, Waltke warned that evangelicals who reject the overwhelming consensus for evolution are in danger of becoming a “cult.” In Reformed circles and within broader conservative Protestant theology, those were fighting words. Although Waltke eventually clarified his unflinching commitment to Adam’s historicity, the fallout led to his resignation from his position at RTS (however, he was soon hired as distinguished professor of the Old Testament at KnoxTheological Seminary).

Not long after, another interview surfaced, this one by evangelical Old Testament professor Tremper Longman. In the video, he cautioned against a “very highly literalistic” reading of Genesis 1–2. He was uncertain whether “Adam” referred to an actual individual or to humankind as a whole; he also suggested that the early chapters of Genesis “do not prohibit the idea that there is an evolutionary process.” The original interview by the Wilberforce Fellowship was recorded in September 2009 and was posted online the following year. Soon after, RTS released Longman from his adjunct teaching responsibilities. The dominoes were falling. Already in 2005 Peter Enns had invoked the incarnation to revitalize the doctrine of inerrancy.7 He accused the traditional evangelical doctrine of Scripture of docetism and offered instead the humanity of the Bible as key to understanding the nature of the Old Testament text. The book proved too hot to handle and, in 2008, he resigned under a dark cloud from Westminster Theological Seminary. He extended his thesis in a sequel volume, claiming that Christian theology can dispense with a historical Adam and Eve with no harm done. –

Given the length of the book, I will offer some of the highlights from what I considered to be the most important chapters. Please note that the other chapters contain relevant data as well.

Chapter 1: C. John Collins:Adam and Eve in the Old Testament

Regarding the issue of Adam and subsequent genealogies, Collins says:

The proper name “Adam” transliterates the Hebrew word for “human being, humankind,” ’adam. In Genesis 2:20, “the man” is first called “Adam.”32 Genesis 2:5 says “there was no man (’adam) to work the ground,” and thus in 2:7 the Lord God formed “the man” using dust from the ground. In 2:18 “the man” is alone, and the Lord God sets out to make a helper fit for him. Throughout 2:4–4:26, whether he is called “the man” or “Adam,” he is presented as one person. The man’s one wife is simply called either “the woman” or “his wife” throughout—although once she receives her name Eve in 3:20, that name becomes another option (see also 4:1, where both are used together). The name Adam appears also in the genealogy of 5:1–5. The divine plan to “make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26) may refer to humankind in general (as most commentators think), or it may refer to the man in particular (as Barr argues). Whichever we prefer, we can see that 2:4–25 fills in the details of how humankind came to be composed of male and female members, both of whom are in God’s image. Both the title “the human” (“the man”) and the proper name Adam (“human”) are fitted to someone whose actions are in some sense representative of all humankind.

 

But he might “represent” humankind either as a personification, or as a particular member, or perhaps as both. Which sense fits here? Barr—rightly, I judge—argues the following in regard to 5:1–2: “This text, just here at the start of the genealogy, seems to me to make sense only if the writer intends one human pair, from whose descendants the world will gradually come to be populated.” This reading, that Adam and Eve are presented as a particular pair, the first parents of all humanity, is widespread in the exegetical literature, both from writers who have some kind of traditionalist commitment to the Bible’s truthfulness and from those who do not (such as Barr) At the same time, this does not exclude Adam from being a representative in the sense of being a kind of paradigm through which we learn something about how temptation works.38 At any rate, the man who was once “alone” (2:18) now has a wife; these two disobey God and leave the garden of Eden. They have children, who also have children (chap. 4). The genealogy of Genesis 5 links this pair to subsequent people, leading up to Noah (5:32), from whom came Abraham (11:10–26), the forefather of Israel. It makes no difference for our purposes whether the flood is thought to have killed all humankind (outside of Noah and his family); nor does it matter how many generations the genealogies may or may not have skipped. The genealogies of Genesis 1–11 link Father Abraham, whom the people of Israel took to be historical, with Adam, who is otherwise hidden from the Israelites in the mists of antiquity. I say “the mists of antiquity” to remind us that we are dealing with “prehistory” and “protohistory.- pgs 14-15

He then goes onto discuss the different models of interpretation of Genesis: He says:

In the period that bridges the Old Testament and the New, the Jewish authors most representative of the mainstream consistently treat an Adam and Eve as actual people, at the head of the human race. There are at least four possible ways of taking the material in Genesis: The author intended to relay “straight” history, with a minimum of figurative language. The author was talking about what he thought were actual events, using rhetorical and literary techniques to shape the readers’ attitudes toward those events. The author intended to recount an imaginary history, using recognizable literary conventions to convey “timeless truths” about God and man. The author told a story without caring whether the events were real or imagined; his main goal was to convey various theological and moral truths. I conclude that option (2) best captures what we find in Genesis. There is an irony about option (1): it is held both by many traditional Christians, especially those who are called “young-earth creationists,” and by many biblical scholars who embrace “historical criticism.” The difference is that the young-earth creationists think that Genesis was telling the truth, and the critical scholars think that Genesis is largely incorrect in its history. Mind you, this does not mean that critical scholars find no value in Genesis; they will commonly resort to something like option (4).

That Adam and Eve were real people, though they agree that the author of Genesis intended to write of real people. Those who follow option (3) say that the author never intended for us to think of Adam and Eve as real, while those who follow option (4) say that it simply does not matter. When a particular scholar denies that Adam and Eve were historical, I cannot always tell which interpretive option he or she has followed; sometimes I wonder if the scholar knows!”-pgs 31-32.

Chapter 2: Adam in the New Testament: Robert W. Yarbrough

Yarbough says:

“Adam’s integral importance is implicitly verified by the Jewishness of the Gospel and Acts accounts. As was indicated in the previous section, Second Temple and rabbinic thought about Adam contains substantial variation. But Adam receives widespread attention. He is, in Jewish thought, the starting point of humanity and key to the truth of human nature, whatever that turns out to be. Similarly, in all the Gospels as well as Acts, there is no doubt that the story of Jesus is the extension and indeed fulfillment of redemptive promises stretching back to primordial humanity (and to eternity prior to it) and primal sin. The hundreds of Old Testament citations, allusions, and echoes in the Gospels and Acts are inexplicable apart from the acceptance by New Testament writers of the Old Testament’s veracity, authority, and continuing relevance when properly interpreted. In view of this, paucity of direct reference to Adam is no necessary indicator of his significance. However many times his name is mentioned, he serves centrally in the role in which the Old Testament casts him: the starting point of human existence, flourishing, and sin, with all its attendant woes.

And because his sin was met with the seed of divine saving promise (Gen. 3:15), he is also at the root of human redemptive hope. Adam is a dominant if unspoken presence in the redemptive narrations of the Gospels and Acts. From God’s viewpoint in its canonical representation, Adam was the gateway through whom creation gave birth to all those to whom God has given life, as Acts 17:26–27 states: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God.” From Christ’s viewpoint Adam is the one who is part of a pristine “beginning” involving “male and female” (Matt. 19:4; see also 24:21), the aftermath of whose misdeeds Christ has come to address. Adam is implicit in the angel’s reference to a “Son of the Most High” to whom “the Lord God will give . . . the throne of his father David” and who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32–33). Rarity of reference to Adam in the Gospels and Acts does not mean that Jesus or his earliest followers were oblivious or indifferent to Adam and his implications, whether for his direct descendants all the way down to Jesus, for human nature universally, or for divine deliverance. Romans 5:14 This verse appears in a passage whose details are disputed (Rom. 5:12–21).”- pgs 40-41.

Chapter 3: Adam And Modern Science: William Stone (a pseudonym)

Stone says:

Under the conventional chronology, this would place Adam at around 1.8 million years ago. Many have preferred to place Adam later in the record, placing the dividing line between humans and nonhumans within the genus Homo. But these models face two challenges from the paleoanthropological record. First, these models are faced with the lack of a clear morphological and behavioral division between what are regarded as humans and what are regarded as nonhumans. In recent years new data have slowly pushed further back in time the appearance of features that were thought to be unique to modern humans, and the genetic evidence for interbreeding between different Homo species is accumulating, so that any such division within the genus Homo is increasingly difficult to support. Second, these models need to account for the morphological and behavioral gap between the australopithecine genera and the genus Homo. The australopithecines form a uniquely distinct group of primates, and the identity of the hypothesized ancestor of the genus Homo remains shrouded in mystery. In conclusion, when the paleoanthropological data are considered in isolation, the evidence points to placing Adam at the root of the genus Homo. This proposal also solves some difficult theological issues that encumber other models for the integration of the biblical witness and the fossil record. It enables us to fully affirm the traditional doctrine of Adam and Eve’s historicity, their special creation, and the fall and original sin. Taking the embodied nature of humans into account, we should not be surprised by the variation in physical features observed in the fossil record of Homo. Instead, we can affirm the humanity of all fossil Homo species and recognize them as descendants of a common father and mother, in accordance with our expectation of the unity of the human lineage.

He goes onto say:

An important problem concerns chronology: did Adam live about 1.8 million years ago, the conventional date for the origin of Homo erectus? If so, what does that mean for our reading of the genealogies and the apparently Bronze or Iron Age context of Genesis 4–5? Or do we need to consider a radical revision of the scientific chronological framework? And how does our interpretation of the paleoanthropological record interact with our understanding of Noah’s flood and the spread of humankind over the earth? Much work remains to be done, but I am confident that with an investment of time and research.” -pgs 80-81.

Chapter 9:

Original Sin in Biblical Theology: James M. Hamilton

Due to the popularity of Peter Enn’s work on Adam, This chapter was of great importance.

Hamilton says:

Seeking to show that the Bible does not require a historical Adam, Enns writes, “Many Christians, however creative they might be willing to be about interpreting Genesis, stop dead in their tracks when they see how Paul handles Adam.”3 As they should. In his effort to show that the Bible does not require a historical Adam, Enns seeks to explain away the interpretive moves Paul makes. The claims Enns makes must be tested against the Scriptures themselves. The contention here is that Paul is not the only biblical author who interprets Genesis 3 to indicate that Adam’s sin has made all his descendants moral cripples. Removing from the biblical narrative the historical Adam and his initial transgression, with its consequences for everyone who descends from him, and replacing these realities with some other explanation of the origin of humanity and its propensity for evil, is comparable to an attempt to make The Hobbit the first volume in the Harry Potter series rather than the setup for The Lord of the Rings. Try as we might to make the different stories work together, Bilbo finding the ring will not frame the plot the way the story of Harry being left on the Dursleys’ doorstep after Voldemort tried to kill him does. This is the kind of move attempted when the story of Adam and original sin is. So when Enns writes, “If Adam’s disobedience lies at the root of universal sin and death, why does the Old Testament never once refer to Adam in this way?,”6 my reply is simple: it does! The problem is not that the Old Testament does not tell the story as Paul reads it but that Enns has chosen to interpret the story in a way that diverges from Paul’s reading. No explanation needs to be offered about how Cain became someone who could murder his brother.

 

The explanation has been given: Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, bringing sin and death into the world (see Rom. 5:12). Moses connects the account of Cain and Abel to the preceding narratives with key words and phrases: Adam did not “keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15), and Cain sarcastically asked if he was supposed to “keep” his brother (4:9). The villain has been introduced—the serpent, who challenged God’s word and tempted the woman to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1–5). When God spoke judgment, only the serpent heard the words, “Cursed are you” in Genesis 3:14, and when God speaks of the “seed of the serpent,” he refers not to those who descend from the snake physically but to those who act like the snake. Moses makes this point by showing Yahweh repeating the words spoken over the serpent, “cursed are you,” over Cain (4:11), and then showing Noah cursing Canaan, descendent of Ham (9:25).pgs 190-192.

He goes onto say:

In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” and then in verse 45, he writes, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Paul speaks of Adam again in 1 Timothy 2:13–14, and Jude 14 refers to “Enoch, the seventh from Adam.” Every one of these statements fits with what we have seen from the Old Testament. Each assumes that Adam was a historical person whose initial transgression had devastating consequences for all his descendants. We see from this statement by Enns that it is neither the Bible’s teaching nor the history of interpretation that drives him to his novel reading of Adam. Enns writes, For Paul’s analogy to have any force, it seems that both Adam and Jesus must be actual historical figures. Not all Christian traditions will necessarily see it that way, but this is clearly a commonly held assumption today and the root reason why Christianity and evolution are in such tension for many, in my opinion. A historical Adam has been the dominant Christian view for two thousand years. We must add, however, that the general consensus was formed before the advent of evolutionary theory. To appeal to this older consensus as a way of keeping the challenge of evolution at bay is not a viable option for readers today.  It is “the advent of evolutionary theory” that pushes Enns to abandon the “older consensus.”

For Enns, “The problem is self-evident. Evolution demands that the special creation of the first Adam as described in the Bible is not literally historical; Paul, however, seems to require it. Christians either choose Paul over Darwin or abandon their faith in favor of natural science.”Enns intends to offer a synthesis and repeatedly accuses conservatives of forcing a false choice, but here Enns himself seems to be the one presenting an oversimplified false choice: (a) choose Paul over Darwin, or (b) abandon faith in favor of natural science. The “synthesis” Enns here proposes demands the rejection of the Bible’s teaching on the historical Adam and the universal consequences of Adam’s sin. I wonder why evolution is so authoritative in Enns’s reckoning. He never discusses the reality that there is not one agreed upon theory of evolution, that there are scientists who reject it or qualify it beyond recognition. What happens when the scientific consensus shifts or continues to evolve? Enns has radically oversimplified what scientists think about evolution, but he nevertheless submits the Bible to the authority of evolution. Against the bad logic of Enns, when we read the Bible’s big story, everything coheres nicely. There is a “through-line” from Moses to the Prophets to Jesus to Paul. Adam’s sin had devastating consequences for humanity, and Jesus triumphed where Adam failed.” pgs 206-207.

Chapter 11: “The Most Vulnerable Part Of The Whole Creation Account: Hans Madueme

Madueme says:

Once the fall is rejected, something must fill the void. There are plenty of candidates. Some theistic evolutionists use the concepts of nature and nurture to do the theological work. On this understanding of human nature, sin and guilt originate from the tension between genes (nature) and culture (nurture). As one scholar put it, “We share a transtemporal and universal biological and cultural heritage that predisposes us to sin.” Another concept that is often employed is human freedom. The Adamic narrative on this view is a premodern symbol for the evolutionary and psychological complexity of humans. “Falling” is “an inevitable consequence of human freedom.” The Eden story evokes human freedom and moral responsibility; since Adam is everyman, we can legitimately talk of a “fall” without appealing to a historical fall. Others point to entropy as the real meaning of the fall. Our moral capacities for evil (and for good) emerge from analogous capacities within precursor animals, and these in turn originated from the physical processes of the world. As the measure of disorder, entropy is the “background, predisposition, or precursor to what emerges in us as sin.” We can therefore trace the origin of sin to the microphysical infrastructure of the universe. Finally, relationality has also been identified as the proper background to our sinful condition. Ian Barbour, who seeks to take the fall seriously but not historically, sees its main lesson as “a violation of relatedness.” Fallenness, then, “needs to be explored in light of a relationalist model for apprehending the interconnectedness of the living and nonliving domains.” These are all creative attempts to demythologize originating sin.

 

They become even more compelling when joined to three further motifs that recur in this literature. First, there is a shift in emphasis away from an originating sin to Christology and soteriology. Who needs a historical fall if you can invoke humanity’s need for salvation, the deeper reality to which the Adamic story points? At one level this move makes sense, for it is hard to see how science can ever falsify the reality of the resurrection or salvation. “The paradise story and the concept of inherited sin,” Lutheran theologian Ted Peters explains, “are the dressing for the otherwise naked proposition that God and God alone is responsible for establishing a divine-human relationship that is salvific.” Conor Cunningham suggests, “It is folly to interpret the Fall or the existence of Adam in either positivistic terms or strictly historical terms, in the sense that there is no Fall before Christ”—Christ is “the only Adam.” Adam is swallowed up by Christology and soteriology. The second motif is a shift from protology (the origin of the created order) to eschatology–pgs 230-231.

He goes onto say:

Paleontology, paleoanthropology, and associated disciplines are judged basically reliable as sources of truth and they provide the main story; the task of the theologian is then to find a way to identify the historical Adam within that story. Thus Adam and the fall are held hostage to the fortunes of science (e.g., many of the pre-Adamite scenarios surveyed earlier are already meaningless in light of current paleoanthropology). Consider Henri Blocher. He originally dated Adam at around 40,000 BC, but as new evidence came in, he was forced to reject that thesis and retreat to a date earlier than 100,000 BC.56 He is searching for Adam within the gaps of the paleoanthropological record. Among Roman Catholics, Karl Rahner was on a similar hunt. In his early work, he insisted that monogenism is nonnegotiable for orthodoxy.But later, as pressure from the sciences grew, he found polygenism consistent with original sin. In one of his scenarios, “Adam” was one man among other co-Adamites, his fall affecting the entire group; in another scenario, “Adam” was a community of hominids that fell as one and thus affected all their descendants. A potential way to resolve this Adam-of-the-gaps tension is to accept some form of human evolution on scientific grounds and maintain the historicity of Adam on theological grounds; thus Adam fits in there somewhere but, because the scientific scenarios keep changing, one remains agnostic about where. These matters give us a window into vexing methodological questions on how to relate science and theology. For over 1,700 years the catholic tradition confessed a real, historical fall of Adam and Eve based on texts like Genesis 3; Romans 5:12–19; and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22. Furthermore, the doctrine of original sin lies at the heart of our understanding of God, Christology, soteriology, hamartiology, and theodicy. On what grounds then can extrabiblical, natural science change, or overturn, a doctrine authorized by God’s Word? Some will find the question grating, especially if well-grounded scientific claims are de facto judged more secure epistemologically than Christian dogma. But as we shall see, this question is the hinge on which our discussion turns. The Scripture question lies behind the different pre-Adamite scenarios.

The advocates are wrestling with the scientific implications of the biblical material. There is a trade-off between what is biblically plausible and what is scientifically plausible. To the degree that the doctrine of the fall reflects the biblical story, to the same degree is it inversely faithful to the evolutionary story. The pattern that emerged repeatedly with the rise of the modern world is that the natural sciences often triggered the theological shifts, and hermeneutical justifications came after the fact. Is this an ominous pattern? Not necessarily. The qualification we should make is that God may use science providentially to bring to light genuine realities about our world, which then alert us to faulty readings of Scripture. Even if science was the genuine trigger for shifts in theology, that fact in itself does not automatically disqualify theological change.

Sometimes theological change is necessary in order better to align our thinking with God’s Word and with the world God created. So how should we relate science and theology methodologically? Ian Barbour gave the classic statement for how science and theology relate. He says there are four ways to view the relationship between science and theology: independence, dialogue, integration, and conflict. The independence approach is often adopted by Christians who reject the historicity of Adam’s fall.

The mantra is that original sin and evolutionary biology are complementary not contradictory (the Bible answers “why” questions; science answers “how” questions). No one denies the element of truth here, but taken as a full account this approach comes at the expense of the biblical narrative. Adam’s fall, like Christ’s resurrection, was an event within our space-time universe and impinges inescapably on the evolutionary story (“why?” and “how?” are not neatly separable). Others reject Adam’s fall to promote dialogue or integration between science and theology—but, as I shall argue, such proposals fail to satisfy. That leaves the conflict position, classically embodied in “concordism” (e.g., as seen in Christian pre-Adamism), the view, roughly, that there should be harmony between the claims of science and the teachings of Scripture. These two domains can be in conflict, but when all the facts are known any conflict dissipates. The weakness of concordism was brought to light in a trenchant essay by Charles Goodwin in the controversial 1860 Essays and Reviews. Goodwin saw nineteenth-century geology as the analogue to Copernicus in the seventeenth century. The two disciplines forced Christians to revise their understanding of divine revelation.”– pg 237-239.

My thoughts are the following:

I guess I don’t understand why some Christians are so quick to jump on the BioLogos bandwagon and assert there is no need for a Historical Adam. I am not saying everyone that might be an advocate of BioLogos believes this. I also know there are godly Christians who might disagree on this topic.  For some that have jumped aboard the BioLogos view, it is clear to me that many of them simply feel the enormous pressure to be accepted by the academy or elsewhere. In the end, we don’t answer to the academy and the reputation of our scholarly friends. So my suggestion is that we need  do our homework and make sure we don’t ditch one of the most foundational doctrines to our faith because modern science has supposedly shown it to be impossible to hold to a historical Adam. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for science. But let’s make sure we have all correct information. This debate will carry on. Please read the one’s mentioned at the start of this review. Also, see  other resources such as Hugh Ross. Casey Luskin along with Ann Gauger and Doug Axe have also discussed this issue in great detail. 

Overall, I found Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives to be a wonderful resource.

 

 

 

 

 

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