Many Christians debate how best to interpret the creation account in Genesis. Was it 6 literal days that took place about 6,000 years ago? Was it allegorical days a long time ago? Did God direct the process of evolution to bring about the diversity of animal life we see today? Did Adam and Eve really exist? All of these are questions that have been the source of numerous books and articles in recent years.
While there are a great variety of answers to these questions, most conservative Christians believe that Adam must be an historical figure of some kind. The source of their belief is that regardless of how one interprets Genesis, the New Testament teaches that Adam was the first man and the reason we are all born with original sin. In his book, The Evolution of Adam:What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Dr. Peter Enns disagrees. Or rather, he accepts that Paul believed Adam was the literal first man, but he doesn’t believe that this means that all Christians must believe it too.
Dr. Enns’ book sets out to explain what the Bible teaches about human origins. Since the Bible and evolutionary science explain human origins so differently, Dr. Enns’ goal in writing is to demonstrate that a synthesis between Christianity and evolution is possible and desirable (10). He believes that “[a] healthy theology is one that shows a willingness – even an expectation – to revisit ways of thinking and changing them when need be” (13). Dr. Enns explains his purpose this way:
I am arguing that our understanding of Adam has evolved over the years and that it must now be adjusted in light of the preponderance of (1) scientific evidence supporting evolution and (2) literary evidence from the world of the Bible that helps clarify the kind of literature the Bible is – that is, what it means to read it as it was meant to be read (13).
In looking at the various ways people have attempted to handle the differences between Christianity and evolution, Dr. Enns lays out four options:
- Accept evolution and reject Christianity.
- Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution.
- Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process.
- Rethink Genesis and Paul (18).
He then begins to explain why he believes that only the last option is a viable one. He believes that it is important to: “reevaluate what we have the right to expect from Genesis and Paul” (18) because “[u]nless one simply rejects scientific evidence (as some continue to do), adjustments to the biblical story are always necessary. The only question is what sorts of adjustments best account for the data” (15). Dr. Enns explains that “[d]eep Christian commitments lead one to read Paul and Genesis with utmost seriousness, but scientific sensibilities do not allow one to dismiss evolution” (17).
Most importantly, Dr. Enns maintains that:
[Paul’s] use of the Adam story, however, cannot and should not be the determining factor in whether biblically faithful Christians can accept evolution as the scientific account of human origins – and the gospel does not hang in the balance (20).
The Evolution of Adam is divided into two parts. Part one focuses on Genesis and part two on Paul. In part one, Dr. Enns makes three main points. First, the majority of the Old Testament was written after the Babylonian exile. Second, Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch were not written as history, but instead as a polemic against the surrounding cultures in an act of self-definition by the postexilic Israelites. Third, the story of Adam is therefore best understood as proto-Israel and was not meant in any way to be a story of universal origins. Continue reading