The Evolution of Adam: Moses, Paul, and Enns- Just Men of their Times

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:

  1. Accept evolution and reject Christianity.
  2. Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution.
  3. Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process.
  4. 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

Enns: ” the Westminster Confession of Faith leaves no room for anything other than a first couple read literally from the pages of Genesis and Paul”

In a fascinating article this week, Dr. Peter Enns, formerly of BioLogos, reviewed Jack Collins’ book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?. While Dr. Enns appreciates Dr. Collins attempt to explain Adam and Eve in light of evolution, he does not believe that Dr. Collins was successful in advancing the discussion between conservative Christians and evolutionary scientists. In particular, Dr. Enns does not think that the view that suggests that Adam and Eve were specially chosen hominids is a plausible one. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Enns’ article:

John Collins has taken on the important task of explaining who Adam and Eve were in view of evolutionary theory—which he accepts, at least in its broad outlines. More importantly, Collins wishes to instill in his readers a firm confidence in Adam and Eve as the historical “headwaters” of the human race, and so retain the biblical metanarrative of creation, fall, and redemption. In other words, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? is an apologetic for the traditional view of Adam and Eve as the first human pair in light of evolutionary theory. I commend Collins for attempting to bring under one roof the truth of evolution as the proper paradigm for explaining human origins and the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The topic is timely, thorny, and absolutely unavoidable.

I see two audiences for this book. The main audience is those who share Collins’s doctrinal commitments but may be skeptical of, or hostile to, the Adam/ evolution debate. Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America (in which he is ordained). The document that governs their theological deliberations is the seventeenth-century Westminster Confession of Faith, which clearly stipulates a first couple. I commend Collins for the courage to engage this group in a conversation about evolution.

The other audience is a broader Christian one, already invested in and knowledgeable about this discussion, but not necessarily committed to Collins’s theological predispositions, and not pressured to conform to them.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? may help the former audience by nudging them toward some openness to accepting scientific realities and addressing the theological ramifications. Those familiar with these sorts of delicate negotiations will quickly perceive where Collins goes out of his way to remind readers of his firm theological commitments.

In the long run, however, I am not convinced that all—or even most—of these readers will feel comfortable following Collins. Collins’s synthesis requires an ad hoc hybrid “Adam” who was “first man” in the sense of being either a specially chosen hominid or a larger tribe of early hominids (Collins is careful not to commit himself to either option). Although I am sympathetic to Collins’s efforts to blaze such a path (and he is not alone), I do not see how such an ad hoc Adam will calm doctrinal waters, since the Westminster Confession of Faith leaves no room for anything other than a first couple read literally from the pages of Genesis and Paul, and therefore entails a clear rejection of evolutionary theory.

Further, this type of hybrid “Adam,” clearly driven by the need to account for an evolutionary model, is not the Adam of the biblical authors. Ironically, the desire to protect the Adam of scripture leads Collins (and others) to create an Adam that hardly preserves the biblical portrait. Evolution and a historical Adam cannot be merged by positing an Adam so foreign to the biblical consciousness.

You can read the whole article here.

Peter Enns on Original Sin

I’m currently reading Peter Enns’ new book, The Evolution of Adam, and I came across an interesting point that Dr. Enns makes. In discussing how Adam is viewed by the Old Testament versus Paul’s Epistles, Dr. Enns writes the following:

[t]he notion of ‘original sin,’ where Adam’s disobedience is the cause of a universal state of sin, does not find clear – if any – biblical support. (The Evolution of Adam, 138)

Of course, Dr. Enns is hardly the first scholar to dispute the concept of original sin. His point seems to be, though, that the Old Testament does not make Adam’s sin the reason we are all born sinful. He accepts that sin is a universal state for mankind and that it is inescapable. He just doesn’t believe that the Old Testament speaks to why we are all sinful from birth.

In reading this, two thoughts occurred to me. One, Dr. Enns’ view of Scripture (the subject of his Inspiration and Incarnation book) is so impoverished that he loses all sense of it being “God-breathed.” In all of his writings, he speaks again and again of what the author of Genesis was trying to accomplish or what Paul was attempting to communicate, but never does he speak of God as the author and preserver of His own Word. To Dr. Enns, there is no majesty, purity, or internal consistency to Scripture. Paul and the other authors are simply men of their times with their own goals and motivations.

My other thought was that there is always a domino effect when one begins to “reinterpret” Scripture. Dr. Enns does not believe that God created the world and all things in six days. Therefore, Adam cannot be an historical figure who is literally the first man created by God from the dust of the earth. Therefore, Paul must be mistaken. And, therefore, the doctrine of original sin must be “rethought” as well.

As his understanding of Scripture and doctrine continues to unravel, what will Dr. Enns be left with when he’s finished?

Keller: “Noah’s flood … was a regional flood”

One of the hot debates over how to interpret Genesis is what to make of Noah’s flood. Is it myth or history? Was is worldwide or local? Here is Tim Keller’s answer:

In order to be true to my own principle, I won’t bother you with information about the different views of the flood. Let me just lay out my own assumptions. I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a world-wide flood. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a world-wide flood seem to ignore too much the scientific evidence that there was no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend seem to ignore too much the trustworthiness of the Scripture. After Genesis 1, the rest of Genesis reads like historical narrative. If, it is asked, ‘what of the Biblical assertions that the flood covered every mountain over the whole earth (Gen.7:19,21), we should remember that the Bible often speaks of the ‘known world’ as the ‘whole world’ — compare Gen. 41:56,57; Acts 2:5,9-11; Col.1:23. (Tim Keller, Genesis: What Were We Put in the World to Do? [New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006],81)

It is interesting to compare his answer to what Peter Enns wrote over at BioLogos:

However, a balanced interpretation of Scripture does not force the reader to believe that the Flood was a worldwide phenomenon. The scientific and historical evidence summarized below supports the idea that the flood was indeed catastrophic, but that it was local, recent and limited in scope.

Dr. Peter Enns and BioLogos: Going Separate Ways

I learned late last week that Dr. Peter Enns is not part of BioLogos anymore. On his blog, Dr. Enns had this to say:

My contract was not renewed in September. They are moving in a more conservative direction, i.e., keeping Southern Baptists and other literalists on board.

His departure from the BioLogos Foundation follows that of Dr. Karl Giberson who left earlier this year. Dr. Giberson wrote an article in April entitled, “My Take: Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you.”

I’m not sure what to think about Dr. Enns’ departure from BioLogos. His articles affirming macro-evolution, denying the Biblical flood, and redefining the historical Adam are still available on their website. Daniel Wells has some interesting thoughts here on Dr. Enns and BioLogos.

What do you think?

What About Adam?

There has been a good deal of debate in the last 100 years over how to understand the first few chapters of Genesis. One of the important issues to consider when thinking about which view you are most comfortable with is what effect each view has on other parts of the Bible. A traditional view of creation (6 days, no macroevolution, special creation of Adam, etc.) has no difficulty reconciling the Adam of Genesis with the Adam of Romans. However, one of the issues with trying to reconcile macroevolution with the Bible is what to do about Adam. Was he an historical figure specially created by God? Was he a hominid or group of hominids chosen by God to be in His image? Is he merely symbolic? Does it matter?

Actually it matters a great deal. When you consider the parallels that Scripture draws between Adam and Christ, how you view Adam can have a very significant impact on your theology and your view of the trustworthiness of the Bible. A couple of authors have written recently on the historicity of Adam and the challenges to the traditional view of Adam that come because of modern evolutionary theory.

One of these authors, Dr. Peter Enns, recently spoke at a conference on the historicity of Adam hosted by Metro New York Presbytery. An elder who is a member of MNY wrote a review of the symposium here. Dr. Enns also wrote up a summary of the talk he gave on his own blog. He briefly summarizes the challenge of trying to synthesize evolutionary theory and evangelical Christianity:

Evolution can either be accepted (in some form) or wholly rejected. If rejected, one has no problem with an historical Adam as first man, but then one has to find ways to neutralize the scientific data, which is attempted in various (but unconvincing) ways. (Google Al Mohler, Ken Ham, and Hugh Ross.)

No need to get into that here. This group of pastors was already (largely) aware that evolution cannot be dismissed, and so we proceded to other things.

If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.

Hence, if one wishes to bring Adam and evolution into conversation, one is left with the theological burden and responsibility of bringing them together somehow in a manner does justice to both.

He goes on to say that there are two choices: Adam is historical or he’s not. If Adam is historical, then there are two options: Continue reading

What is the BioLogos Foundation?

When I was reading Peter Enns’ books and the related articles in preparation for writing my review of his Bible curriculum, I ran across several mentions of the BioLogos Foundation. After doing some additional research, I discovered that Dr. Enns is listed as a “missionary” for his work with the BioLogos Forum. This made me curious about what exactly BioLogos is, so I did some more research. Here is what I learned.

According to their website:

The BioLogos Foundation is a group of Christians, many of whom are professional scientists, biblical scholars, philosophers, theologians, pastors, and educators, who are concerned about the long history of disharmony between the findings of science and large sectors of the Christian faith. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation. Founded by Dr. Francis Collins, BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two. We are committed to helping the church – and students, in particular – develop worldviews that embrace both of these complex belief structures, and that allow science and faith to co-exist peacefully. Continue reading