Were Adam and Eve literal, historical figures?

Tremper Longman (professor of OT at Westmont College, author of numerous commentaries, and co-author of the acclaimed An Introduction to the Old Testament) explains in the following video that for him it’s an open question as to whether or not Adam was a literal, historical figure, and that to “insist” that Gen 1-2 conveys this is dependent on a “very highly literalistic” reading.

I’ve never seen a survey to this affect, but I suspect that many evangelical OT profs and science profs feel the same way. I also wonder if we’re seeing a preview here of a new issue here that some evangelicals will cast doubt upon.

Finally, I wonder how Longman would address the common-sensical point made by N.T. Wright (“Romans,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, 10:526).

Paul clearly believed that there had been a single first pair, whose male, Adam, had been given a commandment and had broken it. Paul was, we may be sure, aware of what we would call mythical or metaphorical dimensions to the story, but he would not have regarded these as throwing doubt on the existence, and primal sin, of the first historical pair.

HT: James Grant

Update: Good post here by Dr. James Anderson (RTS-Charlotte) in response.

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100 thoughts on “Tremper Longman on the Historicity of Adam”

  1. pduggie says:

    Yep, I have a sin nature because of something some guy did in a story.

  2. Sean says:

    I wonder how Longman squares his openness to Adam being non-historical with his ordination vows as a PCA teaching elder and with the PCA’s 2002 creation study report that specifically requires a belief in a historical Adam…

  3. Mike B. says:

    I find this kind of middle ground very hard to maintain.

    If Genesis 1 & 2 are works in the genre of of other ANE creation myths, then you need to read them in the way that you read those other myths. That is to say, that the people telling the story believed and expected others to believe that this is the way it really happened.

    If you want to argue otherwise, that it is a divinely inspired allegory that is revelatory, but not reflective of actual historical events, that we can have confidence in its “literal” truth because it was never meant to be taken “literally” (if you catch my meaning), then you need to throw out everything you just said about Ancient Near Eastern literary categories.

    Longman seems to be simultaneously unwilling to say that the Bible says anything untrue, and to say that its version of the story of creation accords with the true history of the world. This has forced him to erroneously create a genre of ancient literature that never actually existed. Just because modern readers see ancient myths as applicable only as metaphors and not as real history does not mean that ancient readers did the same. Myths look at the contemporary world and seek to explain, “how did things get to be the way they are now?” and to do so in a way that has relevance for the contemporary situation in which they were composed. It is both a telling of history and an interpretation of the present. While it is true that we can, in some respects, separate out the interpretational aspect, exegete it and find value in it by itself, it is fantasy to suppose that this is the way that the text was intended to be read.

  4. Kevin Davis says:

    Professor Longman is right, but he needs an alternative proposal. Such as, it can still be claimed that the first man/men/women were endowed with a free will that chose idolatry over the guidance and protection of God. As such, we can still maintain a covenant of works — and the broader logic of federal Calvinism — while not insisting on the specific historicity of the Eden narrative.

  5. This is truly disappointing.
    I don’t know, of course, all that has gone on in Longman’s thinking, but it makes one wonder if he is also weighing in the apostolic witness to this found in the NT. Too often this seems to be missing even in evangelical OT discussion.
    It is hard to read paul in Romans or 1 Timothy and not think he thinks of a literal, personal Adam.

  6. pduggie says:

    Mike B:

    I’m not sure that categorizing them as ANE creation mythology means you have to assume that everyone needs to believe that’s what happened.

    At the very least, you might assume the layman believes what the ANE priest tells him, but the priest himself may very well know that it’s just a story. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what evangelicals really have: Longman taught presbyetrian pastors for years. How many think like him in private, but don’t really come out and say that in public? They just barely teach on the historicity of Adam, and what that entails, and instead preach law/gospel from Romans.

  7. I believe Adam was a real historical character for two reasons.
    Firstly, the New Testament support for Adam and Eve being real historical figures (e.g. sin and death came through Adam – Romans 5:12).
    Secondly, surely Genesis 5 proves that Adam is intended to be seen as an historical figure. What would be the metaphorical use of saying Adam was 130 when Seth was born, and 930 when he died – surely these numbers are there because that is how old Adam actually was?

  8. Ben is right on. If you deny the historical Adam, you have to throw out many texts of the Old and New Testaments. Specifically you’d have to reject Genesis 5:1-5; Deut. 32:8; 1 Chron 1:1; Luke 3:38; Romans 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 45; 1 Tim 2:13, 14; and Jude 14.

    All these refer to the literal man Adam in Genesis 2-3. Just stick to the literal meaning of the text, and everything will make sense.

  9. btw, Deut 32:8 literally says, “Sons of Adam”, “mankind” is an interpretation.

  10. Scott Christensen says:

    If Adam was a mythological figure, then the logic of this position must entail that Seth, Enosh, Cainan, Mahalaleel, etc… were also mythological. And of course if we carry that down the line, then Jesus Christ was also mythological. Otherwise, tell me how you interpret His senealogy in Luke 3:23-38?

    Shame on Longman for trying to impress the mocking world with PC interpretations than to honor the plain meaning of the inspired Word of God and thus glory God Himself.

  11. Jeremy Carr says:

    Longman recently endorsed John Walton’s new book “The Lost World of Genesis 1,” which supports evolution as being compatible with the Genesis creation account. Seems like there is a parallel here with a non-literal Adam and evolution.

  12. Mike Francis says:

    Dr. Longman’s smiling ambivalence on this question saddens me because I cannot escape the conclusion that the New Testament writers–under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–interpreted Genesis 1–3 as teaching a single, literal, historical Adam.

    As has already been noted above, the force of the parallel in Romans 5:12–21 depends–to my mind–on a literal, historical Adam. The text necessitates this conclusion on two levels, I believe: the macro and the micro.

    The big picture structure of Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12–21 is a parallel between two figures: Adam and Jesus Christ. Surely Dr. Longman would concede that the latter is unmistakably historical, but does the parallel Paul draws here work at all if the first figure is a historical composite, an archetype? Does the text contain any indication that Paul is speaking of the first Adam in such an archetypal fashion? I don’t think so. On the contrary, over and over again when referring to the first Adam, his actions, and the consequences of those actions, the apostle lays stress on his singleness (thus, implicitly barring any archetypal reading of his argument):

    5:12 just as through one man sin entered into the world

    5:14 the offense [n.b. singular of offense, not plural] of Adam

    5:15a the transgression [singular, again]

    5:15b the transgression of the one–parallel with v.15c’s “the grace of the one Man Jesus Christ.”

    5:16 the one who sinned

    5:16b the judgment arose from one transgression

    5:17 the transgression of the one

    5:18 as through one transgression

    5:19 one man’s disobedience

    Paul’s emphasis upon the singleness, uniqueness of Adam, his offense, and the consequences flowing from that offense, is woven into nearly every single verse in this passage. Any other reading of this text strikes me as unnatural and a rejection of its plainest meaning. (I would also point to the parallel Paul makes in 1 Cor 15:21 and 1 Cor 15:47.

    I also believe Genesis 3 teaches a literal, historical Adam. I believe very strongly that we are meant to understand the events of that chapter as teaching a unique, historical Adam. Here’s some reasons why I believe this:

    1. The text reads like a narrative, not an allegory or fable. The most natural way to understand the text is historical narrative.

    2. The immediate, succeeding context in Genesis 4, which opens with the report that the same Adam and Eve of Genesis 3 are the fountainhead of a trail of historical descendants beginning with Cain and Abel. This is important because if the Adam of Gen 3 is archetypal, how are we to understand when the radical switch between archetypal allegory and historical narrative occurs between Gen 3 and Gen 4? At some point the historical narrative begins, but, if you take Adam archetypally (is that a word?), what possible basis is there for discerning the boundary? Most importantly, the uninterrupted narrative flow between the end of Gen 3 and opening of 4 strongly indicate that the author of Genesis (by the way, I believe this was Moses :>)) believed he was talking about the same people. Again, as with Romans 5, this appears to be the plainest meaning of the text before us.

    3. Genesis 5 makes this argument by implication even less necessary, because it provides us with a table of Adam’s historical descendants. The same, singular Adam who has been the narrative topic since chapter 2 is in 5:3 identified as being 130 years old (what’s the point of such information if the Adam of Gen 3 is a mere archetype?) when he first fathers a son. How do I know it’s the same Adam of Genesis 3? From 5:1–2, which link the Adam of verse 3 with the creation account in Gen 1.

    4. The Genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23–38, which culminates by tracing Jesus’ physical, historical lineage back to Adam.

    What all this adds up to for me, is this: I’m convinced the Biblical writers were asserting a single, historical Adam, and because I’m persuaded the Biblical writers were persuaded of this (by the Spirit’s work, of course), I hold to that conviction regardless of the ways it may put me out of sync with scientific orthodoxy. The bottom line question for me is what does the text teach? Where that’s ambiguous, I hold my convictions loosely; where it does not appear to be ambiguous I hold my convictional ground more tenaciously. If all of Scripture is Christian scripture (Luke 24; John 5; 1 Peter 1), then I believe I’m required to submit my interpretation of an OT text to the way the NT interprets it. In this case, my conscience is happily bound by Romans 5.

  13. Justin Taylor says:

    Let’s not forget Acts 17:26 in this discussion, where Paul says: “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind. . . .”

  14. Jake Hunt says:

    That is disappointing to hear, and really disappointing to hear from Longman.

  15. If the choices are between (1)a “very highly literalistic” reading and (2)(in this case) unbelief, I’ll have to “insist” that Scripture everywhere teaches that Adam was a literal, historical figure.

  16. Todd Bolen says:

    I wonder if there are other truths in the Bible that are dependent upon a “highly literalistic reading” of the text. Like the exodus or resurrection? It only becomes a “highly literalistic reading” when something external to the text makes a normal reading uncomfortable.

    A trend of some scholars is to dub those who hold to traditional views as “ultra-ultra-conservative” or something similar. They need to retain the mantle (be it “conservative” or “evangelical”), but to distinguish themselves, they have to re-label the camp they once belonged to.

    My guess is that his view isn’t new. I bet he’s been challenging Adam in the classroom for the last decade or longer. Here he has the courage to go public. Other OT profs at evangelical schools will see what fallout there is before they make a statement that institutional supporters might see. Longman is safe at Westmont.

  17. Drew Mitchell says:

    No historical Adam, no historical Jesus. No historical Jesus, and we are all in big trouble. This is truly sad indeed.

  18. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    This is not a good development.

    Shall we get into a discussion about primary and secondary doctrines? Or a discussion about salvific and non-salvific doctrines, and that only salvific doctrines are the only ones worth contending vigorously for, and that dividing over non-salvific doctrines is terribly divisive and so unhealthy for the Body of Christ?

    And that any disagreement over the historicity of Adam is at best a secondary doctrine, and not worth dividing over because after all, it doesn’t impact salvation. Just like when the liberal egalitarians (who staunchly favor women’s ordination) complain unceasingly that complementarians favor shining the light on the unbiblical practice, doctrine, and reasoning of egalitarianism which egalitarians claim is a second-order issue.

    By the same general principle, why wouldn’t those in favor of a non-historical Adam claim that critics are harping on a second-order issue?

  19. John says:

    There are several issues here. First, as has been pointed out already, the totality of the Bible assumes Adam as a literal, historical figure. Second, most of the interpretations presented on both sides of the issue are determined by preconcieved ideas that really don’t have to do with coming to grips with the text. It seems like non-literalists don’t want to deny the Bible’s truthfulness, while also trying to get it to admit the findings of modern science. On the other hand, it seems like most of the literalists are concerned with literalness (there is a significant difference between a ‘literal’ understanding of the text and a syntactical understanding of the text) for its own sake, and getting the creation account to match their systematics. In all of this, the major themes and purposes of Genesis 1-4 have been all but ignored. I wonder how many pastors won’t preach through Genesis 1-4 for just these reasons…or for the wrong reasons.

  20. dave bish says:

    Francis Schaeffer makes a great argument for their historicity in Genesis of Space and Time, very forceful in view of the gospel.

  21. cavman says:

    I’ve enjoyed Tremper’s books with Dan Allender. I found them quite helpful.
    This I don’t find helpful at all. Apparently when the Westminster Confession of Faith talks about Scripture interpreting Scripture, it doesn’t apply here. As many noted above, the rest of Scripture treats Adam as an historical person.
    I find this deeply disappointing.

  22. Dan Phillips says:

    pcduggieYep, I have a sin nature because of something some guy did in a story.

    Most bang-per-syllable so far. Beautifully-put.

    Another way I heard it put: if the story in Genesis 3 is symbolic (as opposed to historical), of what historical event is it symbolic?

    I’ve noted before that sometimes Longman’s exegesis seems to be driven by something other than the text.

  23. The tricky part for me is when Professor Longman says that the “very literal” understanding does not read the Adam story as an “ancient near Eastern” concept on God’s creation. I don’t like it when OT professors say this, and I don’t like it when NT scholars say this about Corinth, Galatia, etc. People do not have to understand ancient Near Eastern mythologies to “get” the Genesis creation account. Nor do we need to understand the culutral norms for Philippi to understand Philippians.

    My two cents.

    1. casey says:

      brad – I would disagree.

      It’s not that you have to have an in depth understanding of the culture and language of the original authors and audience to understand any of scripture…but the more you know the better you can understand the meaning. This is just basic hermeneutics. Understanding ANE literature or Philippian culture and history indeed does enhance the nuances of meaning in certain texts.

      Claiming that background knowledge is of no value in interpreting the bible is comparable to saying you don’t even need to know how to read to interpet the Bible, all you have to do is look at the pages and letters and it will come to you.

  24. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Professor Longman looks to be making a move towards irenic accommodation with theistic evolutionists and/or LibProts who favor the hermeneutics of historical-criticism.

    Fuller Seminary, Westmont College, who’s next?

  25. Rich Maurer says:

    I couldn’t agree more with those troubled by Longman’s position, nor do have anything of worth to add to the excellent counterpoints. Just wanted to note my EXTREME DISAGREEMENT AND CONCERN.
    Come on, reformed people! What has happened to your hermeneutic??!!

  26. Chris Martin says:

    My question is: do we necessarily have to believe the Bible in the same way that the original writers and hearers did? I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I just can’t figure out where we draw the line and say “okay, what’s really important is what people believed at THIS point.” For instance, is it important that we have the same beliefs about the trinity that Paul or the authors of the gospels had, or can we differ from them in areas where we think we’ve gained more understanding? I’m honestly asking this question because it just seems like we have refined our beliefs now to the point where there’s a good chance that we believe things not just in a more specific way but in a DIFFERENT way than some of the original hearers did or the authors intended. What do y’all think?

    Secondly, I know this is a huge can of worms, but I just can’t help but asking: at what point is it okay to look at external things (re: Todd Bolen’s comment “It only becomes a “highly literalistic reading” when something external to the text makes a normal reading uncomfortable.”) and say, “Okay, we need to go back to the drawing board and figure this out”? Science can be subjective, of course, and there’s good reason to take scientific claims–as well as religious–with a dose of suspicion. But at what point does the external evidence–in this case, the theory of evolution and almost all anthropological evidence that points to human evolution–simply demand that we rethink a certain doctrine?

    1. Do we have to have the same understanding of the Trinity as Paul, or can we have gained more understanding?

      Well, if the authors of Scripture were inspired by God, as numerous passages claim (for example Jesus, in Matthew 19:4-5 equates what the writer of Genesis said as what God said), then from where can we gain a better understanding?
      The best way to know about God is for God to reveal himself to us – since we cannot see God ourselves, and our sinful minds more naturally invent idols for ourselves rather than accept the truth about God that we do have (Romans 1).
      If the Bible is God’s inspired revelation, then then further development of it by us is not an option. We cannot improve upon God’s word.

      1. Chris Martin says:

        Well, I wouldn’t say that we could improve upon Scripture; I would say that we could understand it in a new way because of the progressive nature of revelation. Please don’t think I’m saying that God reveals Himself to us in the same way He did to the apostles. I’m just saying that we have obviously refined and refined and refined our DOCTRINES (not our Scripture) to a point which was most likely never imagined by the original authors of Scripture. And throughout church history, we’ve done it using Scripture and logic.

      2. Nick Altman says:

        It might also be noted that our doctrine of scripture also was refined over a period of around 600 years (well, really more, but thats besides the point) in a process known as the canon. So just as Chris is correct and Moses’ concept of God was not the trinitarian one so likewise Paul’s concept of “scripture” was likely not identical with either our old or new testament…

  27. Elliott N. says:

    I sense that perhaps behind the scenes Prof. Longman has come to the conclusion that the evidence for common descent with animals is convincing and as a result had to reconsider his understanding of Genesis 1-2. Otherwise, I don’t see any reason to question the traditional view of Adam. Adam as a historical figure is the plain reading of the biblical texts (Genesis, Romans, etc.) and there is a danger at this present time of theological history of espousing a different view, e.g. loss of job for being outside the realm of orthodoxy.

    I don’t say that to fault him. Intellectual honesty demands that we go where the evidence leads us. Just as those who became convinced that the earth did indeed revolve around the sun reconsider their interpretations of Psalm 93 and 104, so also must anyone who finds the evidence for common descent reconsider their understanding of the special creation of Adam. Something has to give if common descent is true. It’s much easier to regard a historical interpretation of the text to be incorrect than to dismiss the overwhelming empirical evidence of science (especially since we have a historical case where the church had to do this in the past).

    1. Paul says:

      Elliot said:
      “Something has to give if common descent is true. It’s much easier to regard a historical interpretation of the text to be incorrect than to dismiss the overwhelming empirical evidence of science…”

      If common descent is true? Overwhelming empirical evidence? Oh, my. This is where the twilight zone music begins eerily filling the background of the discussion. Please spare us the pretentious, intellectual high ground stuff when you state mere opinion. The facts don’t speak for themselves – they must be interpreted through some grid, and your ‘intellectual honesty’ amounts to a naturalistic bias that jibes with what is politically correct among secular profs.

      No one has ever observed life emerge from non-life, nor has anyone observed one kind of thing become another. This is the modern, mystery religion of the west – not science. And getting enough white lab coat-wearing dudes to agree with each other about origins doesn’t make fantasy a reality. If you feel embarrassed to consider the prima facie reading of Genesis as factual then at least realize that the naturalist fantasy will do more than embarrass you before the throne of God.

      Look, if the scripture isn’t your starting place for reality, then just be ‘intellectually honest’ and admit it. Synthesizing what you believe to be acceptable about a biblical worldview and ‘science’ isn’t exactly being honest as much as it is being accommodating to folks whose opinions matter on campus, in the workplace, or at the coffee table.

      Orthodoxy, to you perhaps, seems like a moving target that is conditioned by contextual norms. But for those of us who wish to be found faithful to the divine witness of the scriptures it is an eternal issue that transcends popular ‘science’ or religious pressures. You make it sound as if Longman is right to flex his beliefs to fit his religious milieu as well as be accepted by the intelligentsia? I fault you and him for this sentiment.

      1. Dan Phillips says:

        Excellent, Paul. Thank you.

  28. Tim Bayly says:

    Tremper’s position on Adam is just one more reason I join my friends at Westminster who were pleased he left for Westmont. His position on this (as on other matters) is perfectly predictable. Also yawn-inducing–as in what else is new? An evangelical academic who rejects the plenary inspiration of Scripture but holds membership in the Evangelical Theological Society (which requires a man to confess the inerrancy of Scripture as one of the terms of membership).

    For many years, Gordon Fee has denied and defied Scripture’s plain prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority over man, yet he’s remained a member-in-good-standing of ETS. So now we’ll see Tremper also remain a member-in-good-standing of ETS while he denies the historicity of Adam.

    This is the principal reason I let my ETS membership lapse. There’s no accountability left.

    1. Dan Phillips says:

      Tim – perhaps simpler just to change the name to “Evangelatinous Theological Society”?

      That way they could keep the cool periodical acronym!

  29. Chris Martin says:

    Another case where people reconsidered the text and their doctrine in light of external evidence would be the Jews during the exile. All of the sudden they found themselves in a place that the people of God were never supposed to be and their God had seemingly “lost” to the gods of Babylon. So they had to go back to the drawing board and think, “If this is true of the world we find ourselves in, and the text is true, then it must be our understanding of it that is wrong.” And I would argue that it wasn’t just that they had a wrong interpretation, but that the authors themselves of the pre-exilic texts believed something that contradicted the situation in which the Jews in exile found themselves.

    One more case might be the coming of Jesus. It doesn’t seem accurate to say that the Jews at the time of Jesus’ coming had just gotten their wires crossed and were missing the point of the original authors of their Scriptures which pointed to the coming of a Messiah. It seems that the authors themselves might have been expecting something different. Obviously, there are several different issues at play in both of these examples, but it’s just something my roommates and I were talking about after I showed them this post.

    1. Nathan Wall says:

      Hey, Chris, a couple things.

      First, the issue isn’t whether ancient people ever misunderstood scripture, but what scripture was intended to mean.

      Second, in this discussion, it doesn’t really matter how ancient Jews understood Genesis if Paul is on record saying Adam was a literal man. Paul, in fact, bases his theology of redemption on the fact that, “In Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22), and that, “Sin came into the world through one man” (Rom 5:12). I don’t think this is a matter of whether Paul was misunderstood. It sounds like if Adam wasn’t a historical person, Paul was just plain wrong. Are you willing to say Paul was just wrong about that? Remember, Jesus had a very high view of scripture, and Peter put Paul’s writing on par with scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16).

      So sit down with Romans and see how Paul treated Adam. If you can make sense of Romans 4-7 without Adam being a historical person, I’ll be impressed.

      1. Chris Martin says:

        Hey Nathan. Thanks for the reply.

        I guess what I’m getting at is that Paul could have been wrong, in the same way that–as I was attempting to point out–some of the prophets might have been wrong about their ideas of what the Messiah would have to look like. Now that we’ve seen what the Messiah is like, we–like the apostles–go back and reinterpret the prophets to find what God was trying to tell us, even if the original author didn’t intend for his writings to make that specific point. There are obviously differences between us and the apostles that we’d have to think of, but I’m just kind of thinking as I type here.

        As to whether or not the Jews understood the creation account one way versus Paul understanding it another way, that’s what I’m trying to get at with my first question. At which point do we say, “Okay, this person’s understanding is the final understanding”? I don’t know. I don’t think that if we say that Paul had a scientifically flawed view of creation that we have to throw out his theology. We just have to reinterpret it with our new understanding.

        I think I probably sound like a heretic or something. I’m just trying to figure this out.

        1. Nathan Wall says:

          Yeah, it’s good to ask questions I think. I have asked these same questions. The kicker for me is I actually sat down with Rom 4-7 over the course of several weeks and tried my brains out to make Adam a non-historical person and couldn’t do it without destroying the text. If you believe Rom 4-7 is true, you have to deal with what it says.

          1. Nathan Wall says:

            So, my encouragement is to try your hardest, and if you figure it out, leave a comment on my blog.

  30. JasonS says:

    Add to this Mt 19:1-6 and Jesus’ statements about marriage and you have a troubling cocktail that actually threatens to explode into a fireball of doubt and criticism that goes on and on. Once one begins to question the beginning and doubt the literal nature of God’s Word (literal, not literalistic) one is on a very shaky foundation, if any foundation at all.
    I just read Longman on Exodus with much profit. Am now reading his book on how to read Genesis. The next chapter deals with the ANE issues. I am now much more interested to see what he has to say there.
    I am disappointed, to say the least.
    I also understand this, however. It is not that new, it seems.

  31. Ken Stewart says:

    I heartily concur with the cautions being sounded about the importance of maintaining the historicity of Adam. Yet in the present case, I think that three things are being obscured.

    1)Longman is being treated as an isolated case. But one could have read this decades ago in the late Derek Kidner’s Tyndale (IVP) commentary on Genesis. This was the work of the man who was librarian of Tyndale House, Cambridge and former lecturer in Hebrew at Oak Hill. I think that American evangelical eyebrows were justifiably raised at this concession to evolutionary theory. But it did not keep evangelicals from benefiting from his _Genesis_ commentary, or his commentary on _Proverbs_. Bruce Waltke can be seen to give theistic evolution quite a wide berth in his recent _O.T. Theology_, and so on. I plead not for tolerance of their weaknesses, but that we avoid a jaundiced view which concludes that such brothers have nothing to offer us because they let us down on one major issue. We, not they, are the losers when such a perspective reigns.
    2)Questions are raised about the integrity of the PCA in allowing Longman’s view to go unchallenged. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that Longman is a PCA teaching elder. (Peter Enns was not either, though I think he had the status of ruling elder). If Longman is an elder or a deacon, rest assured that the PCA in his region will show a real interest in discussing this with him.If he is neither, then theological accountability will be tougher to insist on.
    3)Suggestions are made that there is no accountability in the ETS. I beg to differ. Those present in 2001 in Colorado Springs saw the society hold accountable Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. It was a time-consuming process, given the brevity of the ETS doctrinal statement. It had to be argued out that the positions of these brothers was out of accord with the implications of the statement of faith. In Longman’s case, anticipate that there may be some similar process given that the ETS statement addresses the contested question by implication rather than directly.

  32. Glenn says:

    If Adam is not a true historical character then we have no sin and we are not all needing salvation because of that sin.

    Genesis is a historical factual document and is treated as such by our Lord and Saviour the Christ Jesus.

    No one in the Bible treats Genesis as anything other than historically accurate.

    This treatment by Longman is sad and troubling.

  33. Chris Martin says:

    Justin, is there any way to enable a “Notify me of replies via email” feature on the comments section? That would be really helpful.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Good idea. I’ll check into that.

  34. Joe says:

    A century ago, orthodox Catholics watched as liberal Protestants emasculated the Protestant faith world by embracing similar views of Genesis. Rome at first would not let them embrace higher criticism. Check out the inspiring statements of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

    Then Rome pulled a turn similar to Longman’s. Look at Catholicism today. The view of Scripture could not be much lower. One commentator rightly observed that in France, once Genesis was approved as mystical myth, there was no keeping the faithful.

    Evangelicals expect any different? the only hope ios there is a far wider number of informed Evangelicals to respond and object. PTL.

  35. Simon K says:

    Wow! There’s a lot of comments here – I haven’t read all of them, I’m afraid.

    From my reading of The Reason For God, Tim Keller seems to hold Longman’s position too. Is this a fair assessment? I think it may be, and I don’t have an issue with this position. I haven’t heard anyone question Keller’s orthodoxy, either. Perhaps because it’s difficult to?

    1. Nathan Wall says:

      There’s a difference to being open to understandings of Genesis 1-3 that take evolution into account and outright denying the historicity of Adam. In other words you can deny a 6 day creation account without denying the historical person of Adam.

      Augustine, for instance, wasn’t a 6 day creationist, but he believed Adam was a historical person.

      1. Glenn says:

        Sadly Tim Kellers position is also untenable. I have the utmost respect for Tim Keller and as such was deeply saddened when I read his opinion that Gen 1 is poetry, but Gen 2 is not????

        As to Augustine, no he didn’t believe in the 6 days of creation, he believed that was too long; he believed that God created everything instantaneously all at the same time. Which is why it has always mystified me why supporters of evolutionism try and use him to discredit creationism as he so obviously would not have agreed with any form of evolutionism.

        Let me say again, if Genesis is not historical narrative then we remove the foundations of the Bible. All major doctrines are rooted in Genesis, such as how did sin come into the world, why do we need a saviour, why did Jesus have to die on the cross etc etc.

        It also answers questions like why do we wear clothes, why do we marry and why is it one man with one woman. The list goes on and on.

        1. Of course it answers questions like that. That’s what creation myths are supposed to do.

  36. Simon K says:

    That’s a really good point, Nathan. I assume you’re saying that is what Keller holds to. Simple difference, really. I was actually just pondering that very point about denying 6-day creation, yet retaining the historicity of Adam after I posted my comment. I just read your other comments re. Romans 4-7, and I might follow that for a bit and see where I come arrive.

    1. Simon K says:

      Or perhaps just arrive.

    2. Nathan Wall says:

      Well, I can’t exactly speak for Keller, but that is the impression I’ve gotten from several things I’ve heard him say.

  37. I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..

    -Bill-Bartmann

  38. Foolish Tar Heel says:

    It seems Glenn has captured the logic of many here, “If Adam is not a true historical character then we have no sin and we are not all needing salvation because of that sin.” Presumably Glenn’s participation in Reformed interpretive-traditions about (i.e., Glenn’s reading of) Gen 1-3 and Rom 5 (among other places) stands behind this comment? Thus even being open to discussion about the historicity of Adam apparently disqualifies one from Reformed-Evangelical(-Christian?) status.

    Rich Maurer, seemingly in line with Glenn’s and others’ sentiment, chimes in with, “Come on, reformed people! What has happened to your hermeneutic??!!”

    Funny you should ask. In the WTS faculty symposium entitled Inerrancy and Hermeneutic (in which Tremper published an essay about genre and inerrancy), Moises Silva writes the following fascinating tidbit, “Let us consider a more disturbing example: the historicity of Genesis 1-3. All inerrantists, as far as I know, believe in the factual character of that material. This state of affairs creates a certain presumption that inerrancy by itself demands such an interpretation. But the presumption is false; indeed, it is an equivocation. There doctrine of biblical infallibility no more requires that certain narratives be interpreted literally than it requires that certain prophetic passages be interpreted literally. That decision must be arrives at by textual evidence and exegetical argument” (74-75). Now, Silva goes on to say he believes in the historicity of Gen 1-3 and its theological importance. But, his attitude remains one of openness to discussion about such issues among Evangelicals without quickly labeling and dismissing them.

    Rich, I suspect you will find that it is because Longman has reflected in quite sophisticated ways about “hermeneutics” that he made the comment so many here are reacting against. You all may disagree with him, but to do so in the quick reactionary almost black-and-white fashion on display here does not reflect the nuance and sophistication you all Reformed-Evangelicals so love to claim (do you think Longman is somehow unaware of Rom 5 and/or has just chucked the Bible’s authority?). More than that, it does not really reflect the charity and humility we should have towards each other. Rather than deciding at the outset that you already know Longman and his reasons (better than he knows himself?) and connecting him with something else you have recently denounced, perhaps a little more in the way of reserve is in order? Who knows, perhaps Longman (and the MANY OTHERS WITHIN the Evangelical world) who have similar opinions may be onto something (by the Spirit?) that could lead you to think God calls us to something different through his Word than you currently think? Of course, this necessitates taking Sola-Scriptura seriously enough that none of your/our doctrines are immune from Scripture’s criticism of them, through what its authors “say directly” and/or through how Scripture actually behaves. It also necessitates no longer disqualifying people from discussion before it starts just because they disagree with you…though that is an efficient way to maintain mastery over your theological field.

  39. Tony Stiff says:

    Really appreciated the soberness of your comments “Foolish Tar Heel.”

    I think Tremper Longman’s life and scholarship have modeled this Shorter Catechism response;

    “Q. 90. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
    A. That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.”

    It is out of his diligence and humility, and no doubt with prayer, that he is able to say what he does in this short video clip, knowing that comments like he’s received here were sure to follow. My prayer is that we can hear Longman, show him charity, and thoughtfully engage why a scholar of his faithfulness and experience continues to wrestle with this question.

    And somehow through that engagement hopefully be deepened ourselves. . .

  40. The presumption of many commentators here is that if we allow any reading of the early chapters of Genesis other than a literal-historical one, then all of the rest of the Bible falls apart, particularly Paul’s key passage of Romans 5. A secondary presumption is that any reading other than the literal-historical automatically and inexorably leads one to “liberalism.”

    Unfortunately for both of those assumptions, there are a growing number of us Evangelicals who refuse to fit your mold, no matter how loudly and forcefully you consign us there. We do not insist upon the early chapters of Genesis being read literally-historically. We have accepted the overwhelming evidence for life emerging over long periods of time by the process of evolution, and yet we continue to believe that human beings are imago dei; that we all have a sin nature; that our sin needs atonement, forgiveness, and cleansing that can only be provided in the (historical)life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. So call us what you will, but the classic label of “theological liberal” just won’t stick.

    Now how we maintain all those core Christian beliefs without a literal-historical reading of every page of the Bible is another discussion, and one we would welcome. But that discussion can never happen when, as Foolish Tarheel pointed out above, you have already shut down any possibilities but your own.

  41. Dan Phillips says:

    The presumption of many folks like Longman (here) and his defenders is that we can shave off some select unpopular Biblical teachings here, without a negative impact on other equally-unpopular Biblical teachings there.

    A secondary presumption is that any reading that today’s flock of intelligentsia do not consider sufficiently “sophisticated” or “nuanced” should eo ipso be left at the roadside.

    Unfortunately for both of those assumptions, there is a steady core of us Evangelicals who do remember history that stretches back more than ten years, and thus remember how the exact same line of argument in the late 1800s led to the apostasy and liberalism that vitiated the professing church through the 1900s, no matter how loudly and forcefully we are urged that “this time, it’s different!”

    We also remember that some of the first defectors maintained some core Christian beliefs that they liked, without the other equally-Biblical beliefs that they didn’t — for awhile. But then their disciples applied their own premises more considerably, with an inevitable jettisoning of more and more core belief, until the core was pretty much gone.

    So we decline the latest float in the parade, knowing (remembering!) that the ephemeral roses which make floats so pretty today won’t smell so sweet tomorrow.

    1. Dan,
      Regarding shav(ing) off some select unpopular Biblical teachings, it would seem that Longman et al. are coming out with a revision of the Jefferson Bible, complete with Old Testament.

      The Genesis Account, AKA God’s Account of Creation, is sure to be missing as will any mention of Jonah, Elijah, Noah, Daniel and several other characters and events.

  42. pduggie says:

    Hi Mark

    I wouldn’t say it will lead to liberalism. It seems like we’re developing a tertium quid: post-evangelicalism. I think many in the evangelical movement were hopeful that things like creation science, or intelligent design would produce good knock-down arguments against materialism. But time has passed and instead cognitive dissonance and tensions mount.

    Note Longman’s need to say its something “unresolved” that he “struggles” with (in a different video)

    What I liked was Justin Taylor asking the question: “why isn’t Longman willing to say what EVEN N T Wright is willing to admit, that Paul certainly wouldn’t question the existence of an historical person who brought sin into the world.

    I’m certainly willing to live with a bunch of cognitive dissonance. I disbelieve half of the people above who are proudly proclaiming Longman is clearly wrong, because though I might agree, I certainly don’t think going to the stake over the issue is the right thing to do.

    “you have a sin nature because of the actions of one historic individual” has always been a hard sell for the reformed anyway. I expect that “you have a sin nature, and this myth has some ideas that will help you understand your sin nature” (it comes from selfishness, its against God, it’s associated with bodily life [food]) will win the day. But it won’t be your grandfather’s Reformed faith anymore.

    1. Glenn says:

      The notion of sin coming in to mankind via one man is a biblical idea, not an assumption. It is stated clearly in the NT and in fact is the basis of the need for salvation and the Cross.

      If it is unsophisticated (supposedly) to stand by the truth of Gods word then I will gladly be called an unsophisticated man for I would rather stand on the clear truth of Gods word than bow to the dictates of those who would compromise with notions that have their origins with the world.

    2. To set the record straight on Wright, JT lifted the quote he used in the opening post from Wright’s Romans commentary out of its context. Readers should go read pp. 525-26 to see what I mean.

      In the full context, Wright: 1) tries to steer readers of Romans away from such questions (of the historicity of Adam); 2) affirms that Paul probably believed in a literal Adam and Eve, etc.; 3) asserts, with very good reason given what Philo does with the early chapters of Genesis, that Paul would have been aware of possible “mythological” dimensions to the story; 4) urges against consigning the Adam and Eve story to the dustbin of “mythology” (in a UK and European context of that term); 5) and then goes on to offer a construal of Paul’s point about Adam and the primal sin and the entry of death that would remain valid regardless of the position one might take on human evolution and Adam and Eve.

  43. pduggie says:

    Longman and Mark T i think should engage with the tacit statement of many of the critics (myself included).

    Which is

    “If I accept what you’re saying about Adam, etc, *I* don’t see any reason not be become liberal/give up the faith, etc”

    And then come at it from a pastoral position of love for the weak persons (us) struggling with our faith that is seeking for tangible things, not just pretty ideas. The tacit question deserves an answer, even if the fighting doesn’t.

    1. Thanks, pduggie. Unlike the first two replies to my comment above, you at least are seeking to pursue a dialog, and seeking to understand me and my ilk on our own terms (even if you ultimately disagree with us) rather than on the terms of a corner others have already painted us into.

      Your statement in quotes is a very good one, and very much encapsulates what my friends and I struggle with every day. I know some in this thread sneer when they hear Longman or us say we “struggle.” All I can say to that is it must be very comforting to never struggle with anything in the Bible. It certainly is “safe.”

      What hurts most in the criticisms above is the assumption (on the part of some) that people like me have arrived at where we’re at out of some sort of laziness or peer pressure or mere accommodation (going along to get along just to reduce social embarrassment or to be accepted by the “in” crowd). Certainly those are very human tendencies that I need to be watchful for, but so do all of us. I know from my own experience that clinging to a tradition can be just as influenced by those factors as casting a tradition away. I’ll borrow a talking point from my homosexual friends here: why would anyone choose to go the way I’ve gone? If I were truly a lazy or accommodating man, I would have chosen to stay on the more conservative path, no matter what my learning was telling me. Leaving that path has caused me considerable anguish and alienation from the communities I grew up with, and even with some family members.

      Now to your question: I’ll start with a (too) brief response, as to really go into it “from a pastoral position of love” would require me telling my whole personal story. It’s been a journey, a long one, and not one I could properly encapsulate in a couple of paragraphs.

      So here’s the short answer for now: How can I be ambivalent about the historicity of Adam and not become liberal (in the classical sense) or give up the faith? Because for me confronting the Bible as it is (not as I’m told it has to be because of certain doctrinal presuppositions) and coming to terms with the preponderance of evidence in archaeology, geology, biology, historiography, etc., has caused me in the end to be more “real” about my faith. What I mean is, to come to terms with the fact that–at the end of the day–all we really have is faith. Anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves, in my opinion. Have the things I’ve learned as I opened my mind shaken my faith at times? Unquestionably. But at the end of the day, I still find myself with faith. I can’t quite shake off Jesus the Christ, no matter how hard I might try at times. He seems doggedly persistent in wanting to hold on to me. He’s captured my heart and imagination in ways I can’t “prove” but also can’t deny.

      So the short answer? I continue in faith because faith is all I have. I realize fully how unsatisfying to those who think that their faith must rest in some kind of certainty, for I was once there, too. I don’t see how I can ever have that kind of certainty again; I think that genie is out of the bottle as it were. So I walk by faith, not by sight.

      1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        “So here’s the short answer for now: How can I be ambivalent about the historicity of Adam and not become liberal (in the classical sense) or give up the faith?”

        Well, here’s one commenter’s response: “If I believed Longman’s view had any validity at all, I’d cast my Bible into a volcano and become an agnostic.”

        Read the whole post.

        1. Many people have cast their Bibles into volcanoes and become agnostic, because of such rigid insistence that the Bible only can and must be read in such a way. They start reading outside the closed and very protected walls of fundamentalism and encounter too much cognitive dissonance to continue to hold the faith. That’s why some of us are committed to a third way that maintains Christian faith while accepting the Bible’s humanity.

  44. I think a lot of people here are taking Longman to be saying something stronger than what he’s actually saying, and I think there’s also a fallacious inference about its implications about inerrancy or a plenary view of scripture. My comment got too long, so I decided just to post it on my own blog and link to it here.

  45. Chris Zodrow says:

    The ancient gnosticism rears its head once again. As always (snore) it comes packaged in a pretty wrapping. “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh”. — Paul.

    A denial of the historical Adam is a denial of the body and the origin of sin. It is, effectively, a denial of the Gospel. Why do I need Christ if there is no historic fall?

    I will be naming my next dog Tremper. No wait, that would be mean to my dog. Why does the church give these guys any quarter?

    1. Assurs says:

      Presumably the same reason that Christ gave sinners like you and me quarter.

      1. Chris Zodrow says:

        One has to admit to sin, inherited from Adam, before Christ gives quarter.

        And, before I get involved in a highly subjective discussion: every saint is a sinner, but not every sinner is a heretic. The entire apostolic cloud will back me up on that one. Good luck.

        1. Foolish Tar Heel says:

          Wow, Chris, I suppose you will offer some texts from Deuteronomy saying “show them no mercy” as your proof-texts for the acceptableness of you saying “I will be naming my next dog Tremper. No wait, that would be mean to my dog. Why does the church give these guys any quarter?”

          Admitting that it might be possible for an evangelical to think Adam was not a historical figure renders one a heretic?

          Ok Chris, do you believe in the historicity of God’s creating the world by combat against other beings-monsters? Do you believe God “broke the heads of the monster in the waters” and “crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert” as part of his conquering and bringing order during his “creating”? Do you think someone is a heretic for allowing the possibility that legitimate discussion could take place over whether or not such things the Bible says are historical-fact or not? Come on, it is all there in Psalm 74.13-17! This is the Bible on Creation! To deny the historicity and reality of how God created is to deny the historicity, reality and truth of how God brings about New Creation/Salvation (Jesus and his work)!

          1. Chris Zodrow says:

            FTH,
            I am not saying anything that has not been said by the church fathers. The denial of the historic Adam is the basis for the gnostic heresy, and leads to the denial of history in toto. It is ultimately a denial of the Gospel. I don’t have time to flesh out the logical flow here. Others have said much more than I and said it better.

            Tremper is a dog. The church should condemn him as a heretic. About the Psalm— so what? I have no problem with the Word of God. Let God be true and every man a liar. So, God destroyed the sea monsters. Yep. You know, of course, this is not some veiled reference to the Clash of the Titans, right?

          2. Chris Zodrow says:

            Further, the Psalm is not about creation, but about God’s sovereign rule over everything. Where you get that He subdued the monsters as part of His creative act is a bit of a stretch. Yes, creation is mentioned, but not in regards to the monster thing. I would rather believe a thousand things I did not know, then submit myself to the empty ramblings of a modernist who flattens all experience to the hell of what he can imagine.

            My favorite line is this:
            22 Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
            remember how fools mock you all day long.

            23 Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
            the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.

            Amen.

            1. Assurs says:

              You should read the book of John brother – I think you deny Christ’s direct command that there is a no debate about:

              “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples”

              A non-christian friend reading your post (and to be fair others here) made the comment that this was one of the most spiteful conversations they have ever read.

              1. Chris Zodrow says:

                Assurs,
                I love the brethren, but there is no command to love the heretic. Read the whole Bible.
                Good day, sir.

              2. Assurs says:

                “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

                Jesus response on the Good Samaritan follows.

                I assume that you are incorporating Christ’s teaching in the Bible. Samaritans were considered apostate by the Jewish people during Christ’s time when he gave the proverb. So, yes, the Bible and Christ speaks directly to loving heretics unless you want to claim that the orthodox reading of this textis wrong. If that is so I would call you a heretic – but I would be much nicer about it =P

  46. Justin Taylor says:

    For those denying Adam’s historicity, I’d be curious to hear what you find wrong in the following argument. Which premise or premises do you find unconvincing? Or would you say that the following is accurate and hence “inerrancy” is defeated?

    1. Jesus and Paul both believed in a literal, historical individual named Adam.
    2. Jesus and Paul based arguments on this belief and intended to convey this belief in teaching the implications of it (for covenant headship, marital headship, the marriage ideal, common humanity, etc.).
    3. If there was a literal, historical individual named Adam, then Jesus and Paul were not only mistaken in a belief, but taught an incorrect belief.
    4. If so, Jesus and Paul were in error on this, and so is the Bible.

    1. Justin,

      My response to that argument flow is already posted in response to your comment on Jeremy Pierce’s blog, which he linked in his comment above.

      1. Nathan Wall says:

        Mark,

        In response to your comment on Jeremy’s blog, the problem is that Jesus and Paul used the historicity of Adam as grounds for their teaching on the issues Justin mentioned. So on what grounds can you argue for male headship? Paul argued for male headship from the fact that Adam was made first, then Eve. If Paul was wrong about the grounds for his argument, was he also wrong in the implication he drew (male headship)?

        1. Nathan, I’m not going to get sidetracked into debates about male headship, but let me address your main challenge. I don’t accept that it is a necessary reading of the passages in question that Jesus’ and Paul’s arguments were grounded in the historicity of those people. That is not to say that they didn’t believe in Adam’s historicity; I think they probably did. It’s just to say that I’m not persuaded that the theological points they were making necessarily stand or fall on the historicity of Adam.

          1. Assurs says:

            ^Agreed – and I do believe in a historical Adam. However, my faith would not collapse as others here without a historical Adam. The relevation of God in the person of Christ is sufficient to sustain my faith.

            1. Foolish Tar Heel says:

              Amen!

            2. Chris Zodrow says:

              Explain the origin of sin without Adam.

          2. Nathan Wall says:

            Well, it’s not that I’m not willing to go there with you, Mark. It’s just that in this whole discussion I haven’t seen anyone defending your position actually deal with any of the New Testament texts to show how they stand even if Paul isn’t a historical person. If you ever feel like getting around to writing something addressing that at greater length and with some precision, maybe to post on your blog or something, send me a link.

            1. Nathan Wall says:

              “Adam”, of course, not “Paul”

              1. Assurs says:

                I don’t think he is trying to incorporate the New Testament text and why he explicitly limits the discussion to interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Correct me if I am wrong but he all starts by making reference to Genesis 1-2. At the 30 second mark he makes reference to the “difficult questions associated” with a non-literal interpretation of the text. I don’t think it is fair to interpret this as a absolute stand that there is no historical Adam. I think Jeremy Pierce might be the most fairminded about what actually was said in the comment.

    2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      Justin Taylor: “For those denying Adam’s historicity, I’d be curious to hear what you find wrong in the following argument….”

      Incidentally Justin, the same line of reasoning that you use to argue for the historicity of Adam is the very same line of reasoning that I use to argue for the historicity of Jonah. Because Jesus (AND the people He was speaking to) believed in the historicity of Jonah.

      And there are a good number of LibProts and skeptics who don’t believe in the historicity of Jonah.

  47. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..

    -Bill-Bartmann

  48. Andy says:

    The apostle Paul believed in a historical Adam (Rom 5:12), that’s enough evidence for me.

  49. Ryan says:

    I think many Christians have intellectually melded evolution to a real or metaphorical Adam and Eve. They think that evolution existed and God evolved man into an “Adam and Eve”. (This would still fit with N.T. Wright’s comment.)

    I disagree with them, wholeheartedly.

  50. Steve Skinner says:

    Why is anyone surprised when one of the so-called Doctors of the church make such outlandish statements. Guys, these fellows act like Rock Stars, who seek a following in order to boost their own egos. Seems like I remember reading somewhere about those who would arise within the fellowship to draw away disciples after their own perversions. We had better wake up!

    1. Chris Martin says:

      Steve, what makes you say Dr Longman acts like a rock star? And on what grounds do you make the claim that he seeks a following and does so just to boost his ego?

  51. Justin Taylor says:

    Comments closed.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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