Four Views on the Historical Adam

Written by Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday, eds. Reviewed By Richard P. Belcher Jr.

This book contains an “Introduction” that lays out issues that are important in the discussion of the historicity of Adam, four contributors who interact with each other’s views, and two pastoral responses. Only one contributor and one pastoral response makes a strong case for the historicity of Adam according to the way the biblical account presents the creation of Adam. The other participants, to one degree or another, argue in such a way that allows for the process of evolution to be included in the discussion of the formation of human beings. Thus one walks away from reading this book with the impression that very few within the evangelical world believe that Gen 2 presents the way God actually formed Adam. The challenge for these views is that evolution and the presentation in Gen 2 are incompatible with each other.

Denis Lamoureux sets forth the Evolutionary Creation View. This view assumes that biological evolution is true and that the debate whether Adam really existed is over. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, which leads to the conclusion that the Adam the Bible presents never existed. Evolutionary creation asserts that God created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent evolutionary process. Humans descended from pre-human ancestors, and the image of God and human sin were mysteriously manifested at some point of the evolutionary process. Several times Lamoureux asserts that the Holy Spirit makes statements about how God created when in fact Lamoureux believes these events never happened. He says this about how God created the universe in Gen 1, about how God created life in Gen 1, and about how God created Adam in Gen 2. Real history in the Bible does not begin until Gen 12, which means that Gen 2 cannot be accepted as literally true. But it is not a problem that God makes statements that never really happened because God accommodated himself to the ancient view of the world as a three-tiered system. The purpose of Scripture is to reveal spiritual truth, not biological truth. Thus, even though Jesus and Paul refer to Adam as an historical figure, we know that Adam did not really exist.

It is disturbing to read that the Holy Spirit makes statements in the Bible that in fact never happened. In other words, the Bible asserts things that are wrong. This is justified through a false view of accommodation: God accommodates himself to the false views of the biblical authors concerning their primitive view of the universe to reveal spiritual truth. Accommodation, however, should not be used to justify error; otherwise, God becomes a God of falsehood (for an excellent discussion of these issues, see James W. Scott, “The Inspiration and Interpretation of God’s Word, with special reference to Peter Enns: Part 1; Inspiration and Its Implications,” WTJ 71 [2009]: 129–83). Also, the fact that Jesus and Paul taught that Adam was a historical figure when he really never existed has implications for one’s view of Christ and for Paul’s theological statements about Adam and Christ. Doubt is cast not just on the biblical account of Adam but on the biblical presentation of the origins of death, suffering, and decay. The result of this approach is that anything we do not like in Scripture, or that does not fit into current, acceptable views, can be reinterpreted. Others argue in similar ways for homosexuality. Science, they would argue, has confirmed that homosexuality is genetic, a view which was not known by the biblical authors. Therefore, they were operating with a false sense of homosexuality when they wrote statements that condemned homosexuality. The statements in Gen 2 about God’s design for marriage cannot be taken in a literal way because it is not real history. Therefore, we do not have to take at face value the statements in the Bible about homosexuality. In the evolutionary creation view we do not have to accept the clear statements of the Bible about the creation of Adam in Gen 2.

John Walton argues for an archetypal view of creation. He believes Adam and Eve were real people in a real past. However, the Bible does not give scientific information about human origins, but is concerned about Adam and Eve’s function as archetypes for all humanity. Thus Adam and Eve may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Walton argues this view on the basis of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) accounts. If the text of Scripture is not addressing material origins, there is no biblical claim being made about the process of human origins. Thus the description in Gen 2 of how Adam and Eve were created is not significant for understanding the process of the creation of Adam and Eve. The important thing is what is being taught about the function of humans based on their roles as archetypes. Walton also sees this view expressed in the New Testament. He argues that his view does not promote evolution, but offers a biblical and theological interpretation that would allow evolution.

Walton’s view operates with false dichotomies. There is nothing mutually exclusive about the biblical account presenting both how God formed Adam and Eve and how they functioned as archetypes. There is a false dichotomy between science and history, where the biblical account is basically removed from scientific discussions of origins. Walton comments that the Bible should not predetermine scientific outcomes of origin (p. 113). Notice he does not say interpretations of the Bible should not predetermine the outcome, but that the Bible itself should not predetermine the outcome. This means that the Bible should not be used to argue against evolution. The same dichotomy continues into the discussion of the New Testament. Walton argues that Paul accurately reflects the text of Genesis that Adam was formed first, but then he immediately states that no claims are being made about how humanity was formed! Walton’s view also leads to the conclusion that the Bible presents events that never actually happened.

C. John Collins presents the Old Earth Creation View, which allows for the biblical account of Adam but does not require that the biblical account be accepted if someone is convinced by evolution. Collins tries to carve out parameters of “right thinking” within the context of evolution, which consist of certain beliefs that must be accepted based on the biblical account. These beliefs include that humankind is one family with one set of ancestors for us all; God acted specially (supernaturally) to form our first parents; and our first ancestors, at the headwaters of the human race, brought sin and dysfunction into the world. Evolution is able to fit into this scenario as long as God supernaturally acts upon a hominid to set him apart as the first man. If science concludes that the current DNA situation could not have been produced by one original couple, but requires thousands of individuals, then Adam can be viewed as the chieftain of the tribe. Such a scenario does not necessarily contradict Gen 2:7 because Collins allows for a symbolic interpretation of this text based on comparisons of Gen 2 with ANE accounts and a definition of historical that sees Gen 1–11 as only presenting a historical core. Thus the details are not all that significant. Collins argues against a literal approach to Gen 2, and prejudices his case against a literal approach by calling it “literalistic.” Thus, “dust” in Gen 2 can be taken in a symbolic way. Such a hermeneutic is not able to present a credible case for the way Gen 2 describes the creation of Adam, even if Adam is viewed as historical.

William Barrick presents the Young Earth Creation View that argues for a historical Adam who was created in the way Gen 2 describes his creation. God took actual dust from the ground, formed a human being from it, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. God took a rib from the side of Adam and created Eve. These two were the first human beings, and from them all humanity has descended. Genesis 1–11 is no different than Gen 12 or the rest of Genesis, so the same hermeneutical methodology should apply to both.

In the first pastoral response Gregory Boyd argues that even though he is “inclined” toward the view that Adam was a historical figure, he does not view the historicity of Adam as central to the orthodox Christian faith. He asserts that we should interpret large portions of the Bible in a nonliteral way even if the original author intended his writings to be taken literally. Such an approach virtually abandons authorial intention and gives free reign to the interpreter to reinterpret portions of the Bible that are problematic to the interpreter. Philip Ryken, on the other hand, shows how the historicity of Adam is essential to Christian life and doctrine. He shows how moral evil and natural evil go back to the fall. He points out the importance of our unity in Adam and that there is no room for human beings coming from different lineages. And finally, he connects Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 15 for the resurrection to the reality of Adam’s physical body so that eschatology is connected to ontology.

One easily gets the impression from this book that very few evangelicals either believe in, or are willing to argue for, the way the Bible presents the creation of Adam. It appears that most evangelicals have already accepted evolution as the paradigm of how God formed this world or are willing to accommodate their approach to evolution so that the Bible must be interpreted to allow for evolution. Many of the participants deny this fact, but the “Introduction” to the book demonstrates the impact of Francis Collins and BioLogos, the goal of which is to get the evangelical church to accept evolution. Evolution is the paradigm driving the exegesis of Gen 2. Thus, three of the four contributors allow evolution to have a significant place in the discussion of the formation of Adam. In this way the book is not balanced. The view that argues for the biblical account and does not allow for evolution presents a young earth understanding, which is viewed with disdain by many within the evangelical world (this comment is not meant to disparage Barrick’s presentation). Why not present an old earth view that argues against evolution and for the biblical account? Why not have someone participate who argues for the literary framework view of Gen 1 but then argues against evolution and for the biblical account in Gen 2? Such presentations would also present a hermeneutical approach to Gen 2 that is not against a proper use of the word “literal” to describe the historical events of Gen 2. The hermeneutical issues surrounding the interpretation of Gen 2 are vital for the future of evangelicalism. Some will read this book and see a bright future, but others will read this book and conclude that the hermeneutics presented by most of the views in this book are inadequate to uphold the biblical account and will be concerned about the consequences for future generations.

Richard P. Belcher Jr.

Richard P. Belcher Jr.
Reformed Theological Seminary
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

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