Last week, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hosted their Spring conference. The topic of the conference was “The Doctrine of Man:”
Reformer John Calvin wrote that the two most important things for any person to know are who God is and who man is. In order to know God properly, one must know the truth about himself. In our day, there is much confusion about who man is. Is the Bible correct that God made man in His image from the dust of the earth or were the first humans made from primal hominids? Was there human death before the Fall? What role do the creation mandates have in the church today? Because of the seriousness of these questions and others concerning mankind, the faculty and trustees of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are devoting our 2013 Spring Theology Conference to the study of what the Bible says about man.
A number of men spoke on various topics related to creation, Adam, and the fall. Dr. Guy Water spoke on the Covenant of Works. Dr. Joel Beeke spoke on temptation and the fall. Rev. Matthew Holst discussed the issue of death before the fall. Dr. Bill Vandoodewaard discussed Thomas Boston’s “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.” Dr. Nelson Kloosterman spoke on imago dei and the relationship between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Dr. Joseph Pipa discussed original sin and depravity.
Dr. Richard Belcher, Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte, opened the conference with a discussion of the “Supernatural Creation of Man.” Dr. Belcher focused his discussion on Genesis 2:7:
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (ESV)
He spoke particularly about the current attempts by some to reinterpret the creation of Adam in order to reconcile it with some form of evolution. He cited the push to get Christians to accept evolution as the way in which God created. He gave the examples of Francis Collins and BioLogos, which Collins helped found. BioLogos states that they are “committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Bruce Waltke, in a video for BioLogos, said that the church must accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution or risk becoming a cult. Tremper Longman, in his book Science, Creation, and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins, wrote that Darwinian evolution doesn’t threaten Christianity. Peter Enns has written that evolution is a game changer which should cause the church to reinterpret Scripture. All of these men are Old Testament scholars and all have sold out to evolution. All of their arguments for reconciling evolution with Christianity depend on their interpretation of Genesis 2:7, how God created man.
Dr. Belcher stated that his goals in his address were to give an exegesis of Genesis 2:7, present some of the models that attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Bible, discuss the hermeneutical principles that are sacrificed by those models, and consider the implications for the church.
First, Dr. Belcher spoke on the meaning of Genesis 2:7: the creation of man from the dust. Dust in this passage means dirt, dust, loose soil. Looking to other passages to support this reading, Dr. Belcher pointed out Genesis 3:19 “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (ESV)” Referring to Genesis 2:18-22, he noted that the creation of Eve shows that among the animals there were no helpers suitable for Adam. No other living creature would have been a match for Adam. Eve was unique in that she was created from Adam, and she represented the unity of the human family. All humanity comes from Adam. All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. This rules out the idea that Adam and Eve were a couple of existing hominids adopted by God out of a population of other hominids.
Next Dr. Belcher gave a brief overview of some of the current attempts to reconcile evolution with Genesis 2:7. Evolutionary theory teaches that life evolved gradually over time by means of natural selection and genetic mutations. This lead to lower life forms to develop into higher forms. Eventually this gave rise to hominids, of which humans are a part. The evolutionary models all accept that the genetic diversity found in modern human DNA could not have been the result of a single couple.
One evolutionary theory is that humans developed first in Africa and then spread out. Using this theory, some theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve represent a population of humans from whom the rest of humanity descend. This, in their view, would maintain Adam and Eve as the source of human life now.
Another evolutionary theory is that humans developed in different places around the world at the same time. With this view, theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve were a couple of neolithic farmers that God selected. God then gave them a spiritual awareness which set them apart from the rest of the neolithic farmers. Adam and Eve would then be the head of humanity, even though there were others who were physically the same around them.
Dr. Belcher then summarized the evolutionary theories as they relate to Adam and Eve. According to the theories, human like creatures existed before Adam, so Genesis 2:7 can’t be a literal account of how man was created. One option for reconciling the Scripture with evolutionary theory is that Adam and Eve were selected by God out of a group of humans. Another option is that Adam and Eve weren’t the first couple, and so they aren’t the source of all humanity. A third option is that Adam and Eve didn’t actually exist. Instead they represent a much larger population of people. This incorporates the genetic evidence. A further consequence of this attempt at reinterpreting the creation of man is that according to these theories there was no original pristine condition, physically or morally, since humans inherited their sinful tendencies from their animal ancestors.
Dr. Belcher moved on then to his next point. Since there is such a difference between how Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man and the evolutionary theories on the origin of man, how does theistic evolution reconcile the two? This is where hermeneutics becomes key. According to Dr. Belcher, there are three ways theistic evolutionists seek to blunt the meaning of Genesis 2:7.
First, theistic evolutionists begin by identifying the genre of Genesis 1-11 as mainly symbolic. According to the theistic evolutionists, the purpose of Genesis 1-11 is to teach theology, not history. It’s story, not history. It’s stylized and symbolic. It’s purpose is to explain aspects of human life like marriage, toil and labor, pain in childbirth, and sexual desire. Genesis account of creation can’t be history since no one was there to witness it. Symbolic elements like the talking snake and the Garden of Eden seen as a type of temple illustrate that the proper genre for Genesis is not history.
Second, Genesis 1-11 should be read and understood in light of the other Ancient Near East (ANE) creation myths like the Enuma Elish. According to this theory, the author or authors of Genesis borrowed sequences, themes, and motifs from the ANE myths, including the creation of man from clay. Peter Enns has written that since the foundational stories of Genesis fit so well with the ANE myths, how can we claim that Genesis recounts revealed, unique events? Because these ANE myths are older, then they must be source material for Genesis. Genesis, therefore, can’t be the original events revealed by God. Dr. Belcher pointed out that this hermeneutical approach question both the historicity and relevatory nature of Genesis.
The third hermeneutical approach used by theistic evolutionists is to see Genesis 1 and 2 as contradictory accounts. According to this view, there are great and insurmountable differences between Genesis 1 and 2. Therefore, Genesis 1 has an unknown number of men and women created on day 6. Genesis 2 tells the specific creation of a single man and woman. Since they believe that the difference between Genesis 1 and 2 can’t be resolved, the best answer is that the creation accounts are symbolical not historical.
In summary, Genesis is mythical or symbolical, and Genesis 2:7 can’t be understood as a literal account of the creation of man.
So then, Dr. Belcher asked, what should our response be? There is a good solid response which Dr. Belcher called the historical, biblical, confessional view: Adam was formed from the dust as the very first human being. Dr. Belcher noted that Dr. Jack Collins had written his own response to the question of the historicity of Adam, Adam and Eve: Did They Really Exist? However, Dr. Belcher stated that Dr. Collins’ response falls short because he accepts too many of the hermeneutical assumptions that are foundational to the evolutionary approach to Genesis chapter 2.
The positive side of Dr. Collins’ book, according to Dr. Belcher, is that Dr. Collins wants some form of the traditional view of Adam to be maintained. However, Dr. Collins defines that traditional view as containing three things: the supernatural origins of mankind, Adam and Eve as the headwaters of human race, and an historical fall. Dr. Collins does not include in his traditional view the meaning of Genesis 2:7.
According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins hermeneutical approach to Genesis is not that different from the theistic evolutionists discussed earlier. Dr. Collins accepts two of the three assumptions: Genesis as symbolic and the similarity of the ANE myths. He does not accept that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict.
Dr. Collins writes in his book that Genesis 1-11 are not straight history, but rather historical. By this he means that it refers to actual events, but it contains a high level of figurative and symbolic description. While Dr. Collins doesn’t believe that Genesis is myth, he does believe the better approach is to read it as symbolic.
Dr. Collins also agrees that Genesis 1-11 are best read in the context of the ANE origin stories. Like the ANE stories, Genesis refers to historical events, but in a symbolic way. Since we don’t take the ANE stories literally, we shouldn’t take Genesis 1-11 literally either. Dr. Collins concludes, then, that Genesis 1-11 contains an historical core. This core includes the historicity of Adam, but does not include the way in which Adam was formed. According to Dr. Collins we should not be too literal with Genesis 2:7. This approach is compatible with evolution.
Dr. Belcher gave an example from a Christianity Today article where Dr. Collins said that if the genetic evidence says that one couple can’t be the source of all humans, then Adam and Eve should be seen as a tribe with Adam as the chieftain. Also, in Dr. Collins book, Science and Faith, he writes that while he prefers the view of dust in Genesis 2:7 as loose soil, he can commend the view that dust is the body of a hominid. Dr. Belcher disagreed. Dust cannot mean the body of a hominid. He gave the example of a judicial case from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that addressed that very question. The OPC decision was that dust can’t mean the body of a hominid.
According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins approach gives away too much hermeneutically. It can’t be used to support the historical, biblical, confessional view of Adam.
Dr. Belcher then offered his response. The literary nature of Genesis 1-11 is key, he said. Genesis should be read by it’s own literary character. There is no difference in genre between Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50. The Hebrew narrative use of the WAW or VAV consecutive is consistent throughout the whole of Genesis. Dr. Belcher also said that it is a false dichotomy that narrative history can’t be theological. Genesis is narrative, historical, and theological. He also said that the exegesis of the passage must determine if there are symbolic or literary devices, not assumptions made about the text beforehand.
Dr. Belcher went on to say that it is a misuse to use the ANE myths as a guide for understanding Genesis. The similarities that exist between Genesis and the ANE myths are superficial and insignificant in light of the differences between the them. Genesis is not dependent on the ANE myths, nor are the ANE myths guides to Genesis. That approach downplays the supernatural relevatory nature of Genesis. Instead, Dr. Belcher said that the ANE myths should be seen as derivative from the original stories, the ones given to us in Genesis, handed down over time.
Dr. Belcher also pointed out that Genesis 1 and 2 do not contradict each other, but can be understood as a broad versus a narrow look at creation. Genesis 1 gives the broad view, and Genesis 2 focuses on the events in the Garden of Eden.
Lastly, Dr. Belcher spoke about the implications for the church in accepting evolution as the way God created. Most importantly, it affects other passages of Scripture. If Genesis 2:7 isn’t actually how God created man from the dust, then the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is also out. However, Paul refers to the creation of Adam and Eve, and the specific details, like woman made from man. Was Paul wrong?
If Paul was wrong there, was he also wrong when he makes the great parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Christ? Paul’s use of Adam to explain the origin of sin and to contrast that with salvation through sacrifice of Christ argues for the necessity of an historical Adam. If Adam wasn’t the first human through whom all humans descend, then there is no salvation for those who are not descended from Adam. Christ took the nature of Adam and died for those in Adam. Any who are not of Adam would, therefore, not be saved.
Dr. Belcher closed with a call for the church to stand firm in preserving this truth. Pastors and seminaries must teach the truth. Presbyteries must be careful in examining men regarding their views on evolution and Adam. As he noted earlier, there are those who would say that they believe in the historicity of Adam but mean an evolutionary Adam. The confessions are clear on the supernatural creation of Adam.
Dr. Belcher also noted that given the changing nature of scientific theories it’s dangerous to attach ourselves to one of these theories as it could easily change in time. In our society, evolution has become a “sacred cow” which must not be questioned. When science and the Bible disagree, it seems that the Bible must always be the one to give ground.
However, opposing evolution is hardly the only unpopular view held by Christians. The church holds the minority position on almost all modern ethical debates. What we believe is abhorrent to society. Salvation by Christ alone is considered intolerant. Sex outside of marriage is seen as prudish. The ordination of men only is seen as out of touch. Believing homosexuality is wrong is seen as bigoted and hateful.
If the culture hates our views on all these, why then are we surprised that the view of the historicity of Adam is also seen as uneducated and out of touch with mainstream culture. Are we willing to stand for the truth of God’s Word even if that means we are looked down on as uneducated? The inerrancy of Scripture and the gospel of Christ are at stake. May God give us the courage to stand for His truth.
[Note: Conference audio may be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling the seminary at (864) 322-2717.]