The Evolution of Adam | Notes & Review

Peter Enns. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Brazos Press, 2012. (172 pages)

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Gospel Coalition review by John Collins; The Aquila Report by Rachel Miller; Direction review by John Brubacher; Disoriented. Reoriented review; Huffington Post blog post by Peter Enns; Answers in Genesis response by Lee Anderson, Jr.; Rachel Held Evans review; Patheos response by Peter Enns; The Colossian Forum by Andy Saur;


Why This Book? The most faithful, Christian reading of sacred Scripture is one that recognizes Scripture as a product of the times in which it was written and/or the events took place — not to merely, so, but unalterably so. (xi)

I am not arguing in this book that Adam evolved. Rather, 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. Furthermore, all of this can be done in a way that respects and honors the authority of the Bible. Indeed, reflecting on the nature of Scripture like this is the very expression of honor and respect. (xiii)

“Science and Faith” or “Evolution and Christianity”? Also, although what “image of God” means in its fullest biblical witness may be open for discussion, in Genesis it does not refer to a soul or a psychological or spiritual quality that separates humans from animals. It refers to humanity’s role of ruling God’s creation as God’s representative. We see this played out in the ancient Near Eastern world, where kings were divine image-bearers, appointed representatives of God on earth. This concept is further reflected in kings’ placing statues of themselves (images) in distant parts of their kingdom so they could remind their subjects of their “presence.” Further, idols were images of gods placed in ancient temples as a way of having a distant god present with the worshipers. (xv)

The image of God is not that spark in us that makes us human rather than animal — like reason, self-consciousness, or consciousness of God. In Genesis it means that humans represent God in the world, nothing less but certainly nothing more. (xv)

It is easy to see, how, for some, a clear choice has to be made: either evolution is right, about human origins, or Paul and Genesis are right. That is the dilemma many face. Deep Christian commitments lead one to read Paul and Genesis with utmost seriousness, but scientific sensibilities do not allow one to dismiss evolution. (xvii)

As I see it, there are four options before us:

  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.

Overview of the Book. Genesis is an ancient Israelite narrative written to answer pressing ancient Israelite questions. (xviii)

The Old Testament is not aimed at simply providing objective historical information, and certainly not scientific information that conforms to modern expectations. Genesis in particular shows us how Israel thought about itself amid its own troubled history and among the surrounding nations. (xviii-xix)

Moreover, as much attention as we might give to preserving the past, it is equally important to give adequate thought to preparing the church for the future. I feel that if we do not engage Scripture with future believers in mind, we will unwittingly erect unnecessary and tragic obstacles to belief. Part of what drives this book is my concern to help prevent that scenario. (xx)

Part One: Genesis: An Ancient Story of Israelite Self-Definition

1. Genesis and the Challenges of the Nineteenth Century: Science, Biblical Criticism, and Biblical Archaeology

For Christians, the nineteenth century was rough. (3)

The final form of the creation story in Genesis (along with the rest of the Pentateuch) reflects the concerns of the community that produced it: postexilic Israelites who had experienced God’s rejection in Babylon. The Genesis creation narrative we have in our Bibles today, although surely rooted in much older material, was shaped as a theological response to Israel’s national crisis of exile. These stories were not written to speak of “origins” as we might think of them today (in a natural-science sense). They were written to say something of God and Israel’s place in the world as God’s chosen people. (5)

Placing Genesis in its ancient Near Eastern setting strongly suggests that it was written as a self-defining document, as a means of declaring the distinctiveness of Israel’s own beliefs from those of the surrounding nations. In other words, Genesis is an argument, a polemic, declaring how Israel’s God is different from all the other gods, and therefore how Israel is different form all the other nations. (6)

2. When Was Genesis Written?

The question of when the Pentateuch was written and why is not an outside imposition of modern biblical critics. Rather, many of the questions that modern scholars address are generated by the Pentateuch itself and had already captured the attention of some readers long before the modern period (as we will see below). (9)

The Problem of the Pentateuch.

  • In Genesis 1, how can there be days 1, 2, and 3 (1:3-13) before a sun and moon are created on day 4 (1:14-19)?
  • Why doesn’t Genesis 1 mention the creation of angels, since they are a part of God’s creation and play such prominent roles later in the Old Testament?
  • Why does God say, “Let us make humankind” (1:26; 3;22)?
  • What does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God (1:26)?
  • How does the formation of one man (Adam, in 2:7) and one woman (Eve, in 2:21-25) relate to the creation of humanity as a whole, male and female (1:26-27)?
  • Are Adam and Eve created perfect and immortal?
  • Why does God not want Adam to have the knowledge of good and evil (2:15-17)? What does it mean to be like God (3:22) if Adam does acquire that knowledge?
  • What drives Adam and Eve to disobey God and Cain to kill Abel?
  • Is Adam’s sinfulness hereditary in some way?
  • Who is really to blame, Adam or Eve?
  • Why are Adam and Eve only banished for eating the forbidden fruit (3:22-24) when God said they would die on the very day they eat of it (2:17)?
  • If Adam and Eve are the first humans, and Cain their only surviving offspring, how can Cain be afraid of retaliation for murdering his brother (4:13-16)? Where did he get his wife (4:17)?
  • Who/what is the serpent in the garden, and what is it doing there in the first place (3:107)?
  • Why does God need to ask where Adam and Eve are in the garden (3:9)?

The following reflect these various modern concerns at various points in Genesis:

  • Why are there two such clearly different creation stories at the very beginning of the Bible? (1:1-2:3 and 2:4-2:5)
  • Why is proper sacrifice mentioned so suddenly at the dawn of time? Why does it play such a big role with Cain and Abel? (Gen. 4)
  • Why is the flood story so choppy, repetitive, and internally inconsistent? (Gen. 6-9)
  • Why are there two stories of the nations being dispersed? (Gen. 10 and 11:1-9)
  • Who is Melchizedek? How can he be a priest of “God Most High” way back in Abraham’s day? (14:18)
  • Why are there two covenant-making stories with Abraham? (Gen. 15 and 17)
  • How can Abraham be described as a law keeper long before the law was given? (26:5)
  • How can the concept of Israelite kingship be mentioned long before Israel existed as a nation? (36:31)

…modern biblical scholars, beginning especially in the eighteenth century, did not create a problem where there had been one. They were heirs to a long-standing history of probing the meaning of Genesis, because Genesis itself demands close inspection. Genesis generates its own questions. (13)

Two Early Examples. In other words, “beyond the Jordan” means just what it says: the side you are not on. It is a relative geographic term, not a fixed one. (14)

Abraham Ibn Ezra found some biblical evidence difficult to reconcile to that tradition [that Moses wrote the Pentateuch] and was forthright in noting it:

  1. Moses did not cross the Jordan (the problem of Deut. 1:1-5).
  2. With respect to Moses’s writing the Pentateuch, Ibn Ezra refers cryptically to a “mystery of the twelve.” The seventeenth-century philosopher Spinoza (see blow) understood this to refer to Deuteronomy 27 and Joshua 8:32, where the entire book of Moses was inscribed on an altar that consisted of twelve stones. Apparently the “book of Moses” was small enough to fit on such a small space and so could not have included the entire Pentatteuch during Moses’s day.
  3. Ibn Ezra felt that the third-person account of Moses’s life was a problem for Mosaic authorship, citing Deuteronomy 31:9 (“Moses wrote down this law”).
  4. According to Genesis 22:2, 14, the mountain of God is called Mount Moriah. Moriah is mentioned elsewhere only in 2 Chronicles 3:1, as the site of the temple. By citing this example, Ibn Ezra may have thought that a reference to Moriah in Genesis is anachronistic. Hence the writer of Genesis lived much later and placed a reference to Mount Moriah in Abraham’s day to legitimate the temple site. This would require a date at least in the fifth century for Genesis 22:2, 14, since Chronicles was written no earlier than the middle of the fifth century BC.
  5. According to Deuteronomy 3:11, the nine-0cubit-long bed of iron of Og king of Bashan “can still be seen in Rabbah.” This sounded to Ibn Ezra like an explanation for an ancient relic. He attributed this comment to the time of David, who conquered the city (2 Sam. 12:30).
  6. At Genesis 12:6, during Abraham’s sojourn through the promised land, the narrator comments, “At that time the Canaanites were [still] in the land.” Ibn Ezra concluded that this was written when the Canaanites were no longer in the land — pointing to a time after the final conquest of Canaan udner David, a thousand years later. Ibn Ezra, understanding the implications of this passage, writes: “There is a secret meaning to the text. Let the one who understands it remain silent.”

…is the Pentateuch an essentially Mosaic document that was merely updated here and there, or do these examples indicate when Genesis and the Pentateuch as a whole were written (no earlier than the time of David)?  (17)

God Has Two Names.

Wellhausen and a Postexilic Pentateuch. Wellhausen’s theory, if correct, completely overturned — frankly, obliterated — any sense of the Pentateuch’s value as a historical document, and so one can easily understand the controversy that Wellhausen generated. The historical picture the Pentateuch gives is actually a deception. Only after we untangle the mess created by the propagandist editor and put the sources into their proper order is the true history of Israel revealed. That picture shows a movement of Israel’s religion from simple to complex, or better, from free to legalistic, and this is why Wellhausen placed the sources in their particular order. (21)

…it is hard to maintain the notion that Israel’s legal and ritual dimensions are entirely postexilic when we consider that other ancient Near Eastern religions displayed similar patterns of legal and ritualistic behaviors centuries — even millennia — before the exile. (22)

The Pentateuch was not authored out of whole cloth by a second-millennium Moses but is the end product of a complex literary process — written, oral, or both — that did not come to a close until the postexilic period. This summary statement, with only the rarest exception, is a virtual scholarly consensus after one and a half centuries of debate. To admit this point does not in any way commit someone to one particular theory of how the Pentateuch came to its present form (and it does not in and of itself disallow some writing by Moses, hypothetically). It is only to admit that what we have cannot be explained as an early (second-millennium-BC) document written essentially by one person (Moses). Rather, the Pentateuch has a diverse compositional history spanning many centuries and was brought to completion after the retun from exile. (23)

  1. The entire Pentateuch is written int he third person and in the past tense.
  2. There is no claim in the Pentateuch that Moses is its author, and only certain passages refer to Moses as doing any writing (Exod. 17:14; 24:4; 34:27-28; Deut. 31:9, 24).
  3. The Pentateuch contains numerous explanatory comments that reflect a time well beyond that of Moses.
  4. The Pentateuch assumes that conditions present at the time of writing were in existence in ancient times.
  5. There are a number of “doublets” in the Pentateuch (two versions of the same story). The presence of these doublets suggests a complex literary (perhaps oral) history rather than just one author repeating himself in various ways on the same topic.
  6. Related to the previous point, these doublets are not easily harmonized but present significantly different points of view.
  7. Although beyond our scope, the Hebrew in which the characters of the Pentateuch speak did not exist during the second millenium BC. Rather, by comparing Hebrew with other langauges of the ancient Near Eastern world, linguists have demonstrated that the language of the Pentateuch reflects the state of Hebrew in the first millennium BC.

In a book on evolution, why is it so important for us to see the Pentateuch as a postexilic work? Because it helps us understand the broad purpose for which it was compiled. (26)

The Old Testament, the Exile, and Israel’s Self-Definition. There is little serious question that Israel documented, recorded, told, and retold its own story — orally and in writing — long before the exile. Few would dispute this. It is unlikely, however, that these early records of ancient deeds, court politics, and temple liturgies were thought of as sacred Scripture at the time. That is a later development, and the motivation for it was Israel’s national crisis. (26)

The exile was the most traumatic event in Israel’s ancient national history and was therefore extremely influential on how the Israelites thought of themselves as the people of God. (27)

Since these long-standing ties to Yahweh were no longer available to them, the Israelites turned to the next best thing: bringing the glorious past into their miserable present by means of an official collection of writings. (27)

Whatever older materials may have been utilized (and the use of old materials can hardly be doubted), the exile and/or postexilic location of the final form of the text suggests that the Old Testament materials, understood normatively, are to be taken [understood] precisely in an acute crisis of displacement, when old certitudes — sociopolitical as well as theological — had failed. – Walter Brueggmann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997)

The creation of the Hebrew Bible, in other words, is an exercise in national self-definition in response to the Babylonian exile. (28)

Connecting postexilic Israel to its preexilic glory days is why 1 Chronicles begins with nine chapters of names. Most readers today gladly skip over them, but for postexilic Israelites, the genealogy made a vital point: it traced Israel’s history from the postexilic period all the way back to Adam. (1 Chron. 1:1 is the only explicit reference to Adam in the Old Testament after Gen. 5). Thus Chronicles is a postexilic rewriting of Israel’s entire history to remind the Israelites that they are still the people of God — regardless of all that has happened, and regardless of how much they have deserved every bit of misery they received. They remain God’s people, and their lineage extends to the very beginning, to Adam. (30)

Chronicles is not a “history” such as we might expect as modern readers. It is a “theological history” that can only be properly understood as a response to the exile. (30)

It was after the exile that Israel’s sacred collection of books came to be — not out of a dispassionate academic interest on the part of some scribes but as a statement of self-definition of a haggard people who still claimed and yearned for a special relationship with their God. The Bible, including the Pentateuch, tells the old story for contemporary reasons: Who are we? Who is our God?

| The questions that led to the formation of the Old Testament are the same ones that have occupied the minds and hearts of people of faith ever since. The Bible already models that process of bringing the past to bear on the present, which leads to the following and final point of this chapter. (32)

The Creation Story and the Church’s Self-Definition. The Old Testament is not a treatise on Israel’s history for the sake of history, but a document of self-definition and spiritual encouragement: “Do not forget where we have been. Do not forget who we are — the people of God.” (32)

The creation stories are to be understood within this larger framework, as part of a larger theologically driven collection of writings that answers ancient questions of self-definition, not contemporary ones of scientific interest. … Christians today misread Genesis when they try to engage it, even minimally, in the scientific arena. Rather, they must follow the trajectory of the postexilic Israelites and ask their own questions of self-definition as the people of God: In view of who and where we are, what do these ancient texts say to us about being the people of God today? (33)

The first Christians were in an analogous situation. Their view of that same history was shaped by a defining moment — not one of crisis but of good news, the appearance of the kingdom of heaven and the Son of God, crucified and raised. That defining moment shaped how the New Testament writers engaged Israel’s story — better put, it forced a fresh engagement of that story. They believed Jesus to be the focal point of that drama. (33)

Reducing Genesis to a book of scientific interest is not just awkward and off topic; it also is sub-Christian since it fails to follow the path blazed for us by the New Testament writers. (33)

3. Stories of Origins from Israel’s Neighbors

Genre Calibration. Placing Israel in its broader cultural and religious context has been referred to as the “comparative approach.” … Perhaps a better way of thinking about the issue is to introduce the phrase “genre calibration.” Placing Genesis side by side with the primordial tales of other ancient cultures helps us gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis and thus what we as contemporary readers have a right to expect from Genesis. (35)

…similarity derives from a shared culture — in this case, influence of the dominant culture — and direct literary dependence is not required to produce these similarities. (41)

These are not gods to be reckoned with as they are in some other ancient stories, but objects placed at the true God’s command, put in the heavens where he wishes. By depicting God’s work of creation so differently while drawing on a set of familiar themes, Genesis argues that Israel’s God is superior to the gods of the surrounding nations. (41)

The assertion that Genesis must keep a safe distance from its historical moment is rooted in what I consider to be a faulty theological assumption about the Bible: “The Bible is inspired by God and therefore simply can’t reflect the sort of nonsense we see in the ancient world. God is the God of truth and wouldn’t perpetuate lies, but correct them” (42)

We should be more reticent about claiming to know what God would or would not say. … To claim that Israel, of all world cultures, somehow escaped that influence is, frankly, a peculiar assertion, resting on a theological presumption that is beneath God to adopt these forms of speech. But what would that say about God himself? The Christian and Jewish God is not one who refuses to enter into the particularities of history. Rather, this is a God who gets dirty, who constantly shows up and allows himself to be described according to a particular people’s ways of thinking. (42)

Keeping God at arm’s length from a biblical text’s ancient context does not “protect” him. Instead, it gives us a God that neither the Jewish nor the Christian Bible can support — a God who will do neither sacred book much good. Isolating Israel form its environment like this violates a foundational principle of interpretation, one ironically championed by conservatives as much as any: a text’s meaning is rooted in its historical and literary context. (42)

…the polemic is effective only because of the shared cultural/religious categories. …in a world full of stories about gods’ creating through violence, the Israelites bucked the trend by ascribing to their one God a complete and utterly effortless act of ordering creation. (42)

Genesis 1 and Monolatry. …the question throughout Exodus is, “Whom will Israel ‘avad: god-Pharaoh as slaves or God-Yahweh as worshipers?” (43)

Moreover, the purpose of the comparison is to exalt Yahweh by way of contrast. For the comparison to have any real punch, both entities must be presumed to be real. (45)

The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Atrahasis. The Genesis story we have is written in a dialect of Hebrew that did not exist until the first millennium BC. Hebrew culture is also a later development than Babylonian culture, and it strains credulity to think that Mesopotamian superpowers would bind their national story to that of a tribe of wanderers. (47)

The biblical flood is not the impulsive act of a cranky, sleep-deprived God. The actions of both the “sons of God” and of the human population threaten the created order established by God in Genesis 1. God has put everything in its place and assigned all things their role. The earth is the abode of created life, not of divine beings. (49)

Humanity is not fulfilling the role in God’s created order for which it was made. Humanity has become an agent of disruptive chaos. (49)

The flood is not a divine fit of rage but, theologically speaking, the proper response. Heavenly and divine beings have become forces of chaos, not order. God responds by reintroducing chaos in earnest, wiping the slate clean, and starting over with a second creation. (49)

It is not a journalistic report of an event but Israel’s answer to Mesopotamian theology. (50)

Israel’s Second Creation Story. Genesis 1 is not the symbolic, less historical, “poetic” account of creation and Genesis 2-3 the narrative and therefore more historical one. Both reflect ancient ways of thinking; we need to understand them first on their own terms and appreciate the tensions between them for what they tell us about their theologies. (53)

Adam and Atrahasis. …whatever theological differences there are between Genesis and surrounding literature, Genesis reflects an ancient world, not a modern one. (55)

To put it this way in no way discredits the story or devalues it as God’s Word but Respects the story on its own terms as it functioned in the world in which those stories were written. When faced with these considerations, insisting that because the biblical creation accounts are GOd’s Word they must be historical seems wrongheaded. (56)

Only such a theological reorientation can preserve the integrity of Scripture and engage responsibly the massive amount of scientific and literary knowledge we have. (56)

Reorienting Expectations of Genesis and Human Origins. Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (often implicit) stemming from the belief that GOd’s Word requires a literal reading. (56)

A noncontextual reading of Scripture is not only methodologically arbitrary but also theologically problematic. It fails to grasp in its entirety a foundational principle of theology that informs not only our understanding of the Bible but of all of God’s dealing with humanity recorded there, particularly in Jesus himself: God condescends to where people are, speaks their language, and employs their ways of thinking. Without God’s condescension — seen most clearly in the incarnation — any true knowledge of God would cease to exist. (58)

4. Israel and Primordial Time

The Adam story mirrors Israel’s story from exodus to exile. … In doing so, Israel claims that it has been God’s special people all along, from the very beginning. But this is no mere triumphalism. Israel is also asserting that (1) its sorry pattern of disobedience and eventual exile has marked their existence since the very beginning; (2) despite this pattern, their creator and savior has always been with them… (66-67)

In my opinion, the editors of the Pentateuch subsumed the older story under the newer one so that Genesis 1 became the story of the creation of the cosmos and Genesis 2 became the story of Israel’s creation against that universal backdrop. This may be why these two different creation stories are placed next to each other as they are. The editors of the Pentateuch may be expecting their readers to read the two stories sequentially: Genesis 2 presumes the events of Genesis 1. (68)

For ancient Israelites, as well as any other ancient Near Eastern peoples, origin stories are focused on telling their own story, not everyone else’s. These stories are about self-definition. It is questionable, therefore, whether the Adam story is even relevant to the modern question of human origins. (69)

Creation and Sanctuary. It is routinely accepted among biblical scholars that presenting creation as a six-day affair reflects Israel’s later liturgical life, particularly in the context of the exile. By placing their Sabbath week at the dawn of time, the Israelites express their deep belief that they are uniquely connected to the God of creation. (70)

Both tabernacle and cosmos come to exist through a sixfold creative act culminating in a seventh act of rest. … This suggests to many readers, past and present, that building the tabernacle is a microcosm, the re-creation of the cosmos on a smaller scale. (71)

The tree from which Israel’s first parents were barred is now symbolically available to the Israelites in worship. (72)

When we read Genesis 1, therefore, we are not to think simply of a description of cosmic events. The creation story was written with Israel’s temple and the Sabbath rhythm in mind. (73)

There is no more holy place on earth than the sanctuary and no more holy time than the Sabbath. (73)

The Gospel and Primordial Time. In the New Testament, Jesus i the final and unsurpassed intersection of primordial time in history. (74)

…the sanctuary is the nexus not just between heaven and earth, between “there and here.” It is also the place where the creator of primordial time takes up residence in earthly time; the tabernacle is the meeting palce of “then and now.” Jesus as sanctuary is an instantiation of primordial time. (75)

Part Two: Understanding Paul’s Adam

5. Paul’s Adam and the Old Testament

Doesn’t Paul Settle the Matter? As a first-century Jew, Paul, along with his contemporaries, assumed various ways of thinking about the world; these almost certainly include the issue of cosmic and human origins. Also, as a trained Jewish interpreter of his Scripture, Paul’s handling of Adam must be seen against the backdrop of the variety of ancient Jewish interpretations of Adam, all of which grapple with the significance of this story for their time and place. Paul’s Adam is one example among many in the ancient world. (80-81)

Paul’s handling of his Scripture is marked throughout by a creative engagement of his tradition. That creativity stems from two factors: (1) the Jewish climate of his day, likewise marked by imaginative ways of handling Scripture; and (2) Paul’s uncompromising Christ-centered focus. In other words, Paul’s understanding of the Adam story is influenced both by the interpretive conventions of Second Temple Judaism in general and by his wholly reorienting experience of the risen Christ. Paul is not doing “straight exegesis” of the Adam story. Rather, he subordinates that story to the present, higher reality of the risen Son of God, expressing himself within the hermeneutical conventions of the time. (81)

I do not think that Romans is a primer for systematic theology, so to speak. Rather, I see a dominant theme in Romans to be Pauls’ case that Jews and gentiles together make up one people of God. (81)

In making this case, Paul does not begin with Adam and more to Christ. Rather, the reality of the risen Christ drives Paul to mine Scripture for ways of explicating the wholly unexpected in-breaking of the age to come in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God. Adam, read as “the first human,” supports Paul’s argument about the universal plight and remedy of humanity, but is is not a necessary component for that argument. In other words, attributing the cause of universal sin and death to a historical Adam is not necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a fully historical solution to that problem. To put it positively, as Paul says, we all need the Savior to deliver us from sin and death. That core Christian truth, as I see it, is unaffected by this entire discussion. (82 )

Not Paul’s Adam. As important as Adam is for Christian theology — elevated as he is to that status by Paul — it may be surprising to see how relatively absent explicit reference to Adam is in the Old Testament. (82)

If Adam’s disobedience lies at the root of universal sin and death, why does the Old Testament never once refer to Adam in this way? (82)

…the Adam of Paul’s theology — as the explicit cause of human sinfulness and death — does not seem to be found in the Old Testament either. The Old Testament portrays humanity in general and Israel in particular as out of harmony with God, but the root cause of this condition is nowhere laid at Adam’s feet. (84)

Adam’s disobedience is not presented as having any causal link to Cain’s. Rather, the two acts are presented as two successive examples of the same problematic pattern: command given, disobedience, consequence. (86)

Rather than explaining what it is about the human condition that answers why Israel continues to disobey God, the Old Testament restricts its gaze to God’s commands to Israel and the clear expectation that obedience is not only required but also easily within Israel’s grasp — if only this people would leave its stubborn ways. (87)

Adam and Wisdom. Rather it [tree of knowledge of good and evil] tells the story of naïveté and immaturity on the part of Adam and Eve and the loss of childlike innocence in an illicit move to grasp at a good thing, wisdom, represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (88)

Knowing the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, is desirable; it is the wish of every parent for their children, the very goal of what it means to be a mature, faithful, covenant-keeping Israelite. … The issue at stake in the garden narrative is how humans are to obtain such knowledge: in God’s way or in some other way. (89)

It is perhaps no coincidence that the first trespass between people recorded in the Bible is murder and that the first warning the son receives in Proverbs is not “to lie in wait for [someone’s] blood” (1:11). (91)

It is compelling to read the Adam story as a wisdom text — a narrative version of Israel’s failure to follow Proverbs’ path of wisdom. (91)

6. Paul as an Ancient Interpreter of the Old Testament

Paul as an Ancient Man. We do know, however, that the Judaism of Paul’s day spoke of heaven as having various levels, as few as three, more often seven, and as many as ten (and even seventy-two in one Christian text written around AD 200, 1 Apocalypse of James). (94)

We are fully warranted in concluding that Pauls hared with his contemporaries certain assumptions about the nature of physical reality, assumptions that we now know are no longer accurate. THe real issue before us is not whether Paul shared those assumptions, but what the implications are for how we read Paul, especially his view of Adam. (94)

Paul engaged his Scripture against the backdrop of hermenetical conventions of his day, not ours, and we must understand Paul int hat context. In other words, in the same way that we must calibrate the genre of Genesis by looking at the surrounding culture, we must also understand Paul’s interpretation of hte Old Testament within his ancient world. That is a courtesy we owe any writer, especially a biblical one. (95)

Judaism is the postexilic transformation of Israel’s preexilic faith as it answered one fundamental question of national identity: “How can we be connected to our past and be God’s people here and now when things are so different?” (96)

This turmoil also prompted something that for us is just as important when the topic turns to Paul: the beginnings of the interpretation of that sacred text. … The stories of the past became the vehcile through which Israel could continue hearing the Word of God. This focus on the written Word of God prompted a learned class of teachers and scribes to rise to the challenge of what we today call “exegesis.” (96)

…just as we calibrate the enre of Genesis by looking to the surrounding religious cultures, we can calibrate the interpretive approach of Paul and any New Testament writer by paying close attention to the interpretive culture surrounding them. (98)

Various Adams of Jewish Interpreters. Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach/Ben Sira), Sirach, First Timothy, …

JubileesOne can chide this author for playing fast and loose with the text to fit his own agenda, but one of the lessons to be learned from these early interpreters is that they all read selectively and with an end goal in mind, to support what one knows to be the case. (100)

Thus far we have seen Adam as victim, exalted human, priest, and ainnocent bystander to Eve’s shenanigans; in no case is Adam responsible for human sinfulness, which is what Paul says. (101)

Paul’s Adam is one example of this rich interpretive activity, where Adam was called upon to address various theological concerns. Some might quickly say, “I don’t care what these other interpreters said. I’m with Paul. He gets it right.” I agree on one level. Paul gets it right, but the “it” he gets right ist he gospel; Paul’s Adam is a vehicle by which he articulates the gospel message, but his Adam is still the product of a creative handling of the story. In that sense, Paul’s handling of Adam is hermeneutically no different from what others were doing at the time: appropriating an ancient story to address pressing concerns of the moment. That has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the gospel. (102) What makes Paul stand out is not his exegetical fidelity to the Old Testament context but how the authority of the risen Christ drives him to read the Old Testament in fresh ways. (103)

Paul and His Bible. Paul does not feel bound by the original meaning of the Old Testament passage he is citing, especially as he seeks to make a vital theological point about the gospel. (103)

2 Corinthians 6:2 and Isaiah 49:8. Paul’s “day of salvation” refers to the period of time inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Christ, not the release from Babylonian captivity. Neither is Paul referring there to the individual’s “now,” the moment they become followers of Christ. The “now” in Paul’s purview is the larger picture of what God is doing now in hsitory through the crucified and risen Son of God. (105)

The entire point of the promise is that the offspring will be many, not one. Paul, however, exploits the singluar form of seed to argue that the promise to Abraham was for one son, not many, and that that son was Christ. (106)

Paul does not derive this notion from reading the Old Testament. Rather, he begins with his conviction that Christ is God’s final word; then he reads Old Testament seed theology in light of that fact, even if that means claiming that “seed” means “one” when the immediate context of Genesis calls for the plural. For Paul, whatever meaning the Old Testament had in this regard now has a deeper meaning in light of Christ’s coming. As we shall see, this is an extremely important point for our understanding of how Paul handles the Adam story. (107)

Galatians 3:11 and Habakkuk 2:4. Habakkuk 2:4 commends as righteous those who keep the law. Paul, however, uses Habakkuk 2:4 to take law-keeping out of the equation entirely. (109)

…for Paul, Habakkuk’s words are transformed in light of the gospel. The latter drives his reading of the former. Habakkuk’s words now serve Christ, just as Paul does. (109)

Romans 11:26-27 and isaiah 59:20.

Paul’s “out of Zion” is not simply an interesting twist but an alteration designed to prodcue a fresh meaning. Whatever the text meant originally, it now serves the proclamation of the gospel. (111)

As we saw concerning Chronicles in chapter 2, the Old Testament already does in principle what Paul is doing here: reworking the past to speak to the present. That interpretive conviction is seen time and time again throughout Second Temple Jewish literature where the past needs modern readers: it is the very act of altering the past to address prsent circumstances that ensures its continuation as the active and abiding Word of God, not a relic of a bygone era. … The text is not the master: it serves a goal. (113)

Paul’s use of the Old Testament is a creative, Christ-driven exercise. Likewise, we can expect from Paul a similar Christ-driven creativity in the handling of the Adam story. (113)

Paul and His Interpeted Bible. What earnest Bible readers think the Bible says is sometimes a merging of what is there in black and white and how one’s faith tradition has come to understand it. And that merger is often seamless, so much so that most readers are not even aware of it. (114)

It is clear to biblical scholars that Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament reflects his Jewish cultural context. What makes Paul so interesting, and sometimes difficult to read, is that his use of the Old Testament is informed both by the ancient conventions we are looking at here and his conviction that the crucified and risen Jesus requires Israel’s story ot be reinterpreted. Rather than a modern adcademic giving a neutral interpretation of the Old Testament, when we read Paul we must learn to expect from him an interpretive challenge. (116)


Simply put, we cannot and should not assume that what Paul says about Adam is necessarily what Genesis was written to convey — any more than we should assume that what Pauls says about Isaiah or Habakkuk is exactly what those authors had in mind, or that Jannes and Jambres actually were the names of Pharoh’s magicians, or that a rock followed the Israelites through the desert. If we fail to grasp that point and assume that Paul is an objective interpreter of Genesis, we will paint ourselves into a corner where we will expect to find something in Genesis that Genesis is not prepared to deliver. (117)

When we keep in mind some of what we have seen thus far — the ambiguous nature of the Adam story in Genesis, Adam’s functional absence in the Old Testament, the creative energy invested into the Adam story by other ancient interpreters, and Paul’s creative use of the Old Testament in general — we will appraoch Paul’s use of the Adam story with the expectation of finding there not a plain reading of Genesis but a transformation of Genesis. (117)

7. Paul’s Adam

Paul’s Adam: The Historical First Man, Responsible for Universal Sin and Death. At the outset we should admit that Adam is a vital theological and historical figure for Paul. (120)

Bearing in mind all of these factors, let me summarize my understanding of Paul’s use of the Adam story before we move on. … Adam’s primordial act of disobedience invariably brought all subsequent humanity to be enslaved to the power of death and sin. The reason behind Paul’s distinct portrayal of Adam reflects his Christ-centered handling of the Old Testament in general, as we saw in the previous chapter. Israel’s story, including Adam, is now to be read in light of its climax in the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, Paul’s understanding of Adam is shaped by Jesus, not the other way around. (122)

I want to suggest…that the uncompromising reality of who Jesus is and what he did to conquer the objectively true realities of sin and death do not depend on Paul’s understanding of Adam as a historical person. (122)

The way forward, I believe, is to recognize the profound historical (not simply symbolic) truths in Paul’s words that remain despite his view of human origins. (122)

Sin and Death without Adam? Admitting the historical and scientific problems with Paul’s Adam does not mean in the least that the gospel messages it herefore undermined. A literal Adam may not be the first man and cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, but what remains of Paul’s theology are three core elements of the gospel:

  1. The universal and self-evident problem of death
  2. The universal and self-evident problem of sin
  3. The historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ

These three remain; what is lost is Paul’s culturally assumed explanation for what a primordial man had to do with causing the reign of death and sin in the world. (124)

[ref. to George L. Murphy, and the distinction between “original sin” and “sin of origin.” (124)]

…we must remain open ton the ultimate origins of why all humans are born in sin (original sin) while resting content in the observation that all humans are born in sin (sin of origin). (125)

It is commonly argued that, as goes the historicity of Adam, so goes the historicity of Christ. I disagree and suggest that we need to move beyond that obstacle. (126)

The One People of God. Paul’s goal is to show that what binds these two utterly distinct groups together is their equal participation in a universal humanity marked by sin and death and their shared need of the same universally offered redemption. Paul’s Adam serves that goal. (127)

This movement is often referred to as the New Perspective on Paul, which is an unfortunate term, since its focus is not innovation but the recovery of Paul’s theology within the thought world of first-century Palestinian Judaism. (127)

As the argument goes, this focus on one’s personal inner state has spawned the well-known Protestant focus on making a “personal decision” for Christ, and this template has been placed over Paul himself — he too must have been burdened with a guilty conscience of being unable to live up to God’s law and finally found relief for his personal plight in Christ. (128)

Jews did not think of themselves as earning their way to God’s favor through the scrupulous observation of the law (Greek nomos) — they were not “saved by works.” Rather, they understood themselves already to be part of the people of God by grace; God formed a covenant people, from Abraham on down. The function of the law is not to “get in,” to become God’s people. It is about “staying in” for those in the covenant already. (128)

…law follows grace; the law is a gift to a people already chosen. (129)

The New Perspective does not argue that Paul was wrong about Judaism but that Paul’s post-Lutheran interpreters were wrong not to read him against the backdrop of his cultural context. For neither Paul nor the Jews of his time was the law seen as the entryway into God’s covenant. For both Christian and Jew, entry was by God’s grace. The crucial (and obvious) difference, however, is that Christians saw God’s grace in the cross and resurrection of Christ; Jews saw grace in their election in Abraham and subsequent ethnic and national identity — and circumcision was a sign of that identity. (129)

The question of how gentiles would be included in the family of the Jewish God without first becoming Jewish was a virtual preoccupation in the early church, and the New Testament lets us in on the controversy with some of Jesus’s encounters with Jewish exclusivism (e.g., Luke 4:24-30; 10:25-37; 14:15-24; John 4:1-42), much of the book of Acts (esp. chap. 15), the entire book of Galatians, and much of what undergirds Romans. (130)

The Solution Reveals the Plight. The real problem is not that Jews have failed to keep the law. The real problem is that all sin and all die — Jew as well as gentile. That is the true plight of all humanity, and the resurrection of Christ has brought that to light. Paul now began a process of understanding Israel’s national story in light of this unexpected universal ending, which accounts for much of how Paul interpreted the Old Testament. (131)

If God’s solution was Christ’s dying and rising from the dead, the root problem must be death — and for Paul the cause of death can be traced to the trespass of Adam, understood as the first man. (131)

Paul seems to reason that, since Adam’s trespass resulted in both his death and the death of all humans, his trespass, the cause of death, was handed on as well somehow. Hence, if Adam’s death is ours, so is his trespass. (134)

…the impetus for Paul to connect the dots in this innovative way was not an isolated decision to take a closer look at Genesis on its own terms. Rather, it was the death and resurrection of Christ that drove Paul to go back to Genesis and engage that text in a fresh way. (134)

Paul’s Adam as first human, who introduced universal sin and death, supports his contention that Jew and gentile are on the same footing and in need of the same Savior. (134)

To say that the law is neither the real problem nor the solution is in effect saying that Israel’s story is not God’s sole focus. The main drama began with the first Adam and ended with the last Adam. That is why being a Jew or gentile is no longer the primary distinction among humans, but rather being or not being “in Christ” is. The heart of Jewish identity is therefore marginalized, and the God of Israel and his salvation and denationalized. (135)

Christians who take Paul’s theology with utmost seriousness are not also bound to accept Paul’s view of Adam historically. How we today explain the origin and development of human life does not affect our acceptance of the reality of the human plight of sin and death or of God’s unexpected, universal solution. (135)

Conclusion: Adam Today: Nine Theses

  • Thesis 1: Literalism is not an option.

Literalism is designed to protect the Bible but in reality subjects the Bible and its literalist interpreters to ridicule. (138)

Literalism is not just an outdated curiosity or an object of jesting. It can be dangerous. (138)

  • Thesis 2: Scientific and biblical models of human origins are, strictly speaking, incompatible because they speak a different “language.” They cannot be reconciled, and there is no “Adam” to be found in an evolutionary scheme.

…for example, it is sometimes argued that Adam and Eve were two hominids or symbolic of a group of hominids with whom, at some point in evolutionary development, God entered into a relationship. (138)

First and foremost, it is ironic that in trying to hold on to biblical teaching a scenario is proposed that the Bible does not recognize: gradual evolution over millions of years rather than the sudden and recent creation of humanity as the Bible has it. (139)

Second, another problem with this scenario, though not as central, is that it presses “image of God” (Gen. 1:26) into service beyond its limits.

Third, searching for ways to align modern-scientific and ancient-biblical models of creation–no matter how minimal–runs the risk of obscuring the theology of the biblical texts in question. (139)

  • Thesis 3: The Adam story in Genesis reflects its ancient Near Easter setting and should be read that way.

  • Thesis 4: There are two creation stories in Genesis: the Adam story is probably the older and was subsumed under Genesis 1 after the exile in order to tell Israel’s story.

The primary question Israel was asking was not, “Where do people come from?” (a scientific curiosity), but “Where do we come from?” (a matter of national identity).

  • Thesis 5: The Israel-centered focus of the Adam story can also be seen in its similarity to Proverbs: the story of Adam is about failure to fear God and attain wise maturity.

  • Thesis 6: God’s solution through the resurrection of Christ reveals the deep, foundational plight of the human condition, and Paul expresses that fact in the biblical idiom available to him.

  • Thesis 7: A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors–whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis. Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment.

Scripture…is the working out and application of the central fact of revelation: the incarnation of the Word. the Word (logos) has become flesh (sarx), and the word has become Scripture; these two facts do not only run parallel but are most intimately connected. Christ became flesh, a servant, without form or comeliness, the most despised of human beings; he descended to the nethermost parts of the earth and became obedient even to death on the cross. So also the word, the revelation of God, entered the world of creatureliness, the life and history of humanity, in all the human forms of dream and vision, of investigation and reflection, right down into that which is humanly weak and despised and ignoble…All this took place in order that the excellency of the power…of Scripture may be God’s and not ours. – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

There is a reason why Scripture looks the way it does, so human, so much a part of its world: it looks this way to exalt God’s power, not our power, according to Bavinck. The Bible reflects the ancient contexts in which it was written, and this very fact proclaims the glory of God. The “creatureliness” of Scripture is not an obstacle to be overcome so that God may finally be seen. Rather, just as Christians proclaim concerning Christ, it is through creatureliness that God can be seen. We can only see God truly because of the limited, human form he has chosen as a means of revelation, and if we try to look past it, we will miss everything. (144)

…incarnation is God’s business. (145)

For many, it is important for the future viability of faith, let alone the evolution-Christianity discussion, that we recognize and embrace the fact that the Bible is a thoroughly enculturated product. … It is important for future generations of Christians to have a view of the Bible where its rootedness in ancient ways of thinking is embraced as a theological positive, not a problem to be overcome. … Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether. (145)

  • Thesis 8: The root of the conflict for many Christians is not scientific or even theological, but group identity and fear of losing what it offers.

  • Thesis 9: A true rapproachement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not simply adding evolution to existing theological formulations.

Death may hurt, but it’s evolution’s ally. (147)

Often Christians focus on the need to be faithful to the past, to make sure that present belief matches that of previous generations. I support the sentiment in general, but we must be just as burdened to be faithful to the future, to ensure that we are doing all we can to deliver a viable faith to future generations. (147-148)

…the light of science does not shine with equal brightness in every corner. There is mystery. There is transcendence. By faith I believe that the Christian story has deep access to a reality that materialism cannot provide and cannot be expected to know. …at some point we must trust in something or someone beyond logic and evidence, even if is to declare that there is nothing beyond what we see. (148)

…our theologies are provisional; when we forget that fact, we run the risk of equating what we think of God with God himself. (148)

…if we have learned anything from the saints of the past, it is that surrendering to God each day, whatever we are facing, is not meant to be easy. Taking up that same journey now will add our witness for the benefit of future generations.

— via review —

First, a few critical notes.

On page 40, Enns writes,

Yet the deep is not a god but an impersonal entity. Genesis depersonalizes the symbol of chaos.

It should be noted that in the Hebrew, the word word for “deep,” “tehom” (תהום) does not have the definite article, “the” (“ה”) which would be the linguistic marker of depersonalization. All this simply means is that Enns’s statement is interpretive, but then again, so is this entire enterprise! :-).

On page 61, Enns writes that,

the annual “birth and death” of the crops and seasons were commonly thought to be connected to some divine prototype of a dying-and-rising god.

However, as mentioned by Ehrman, “there is no unambiguous evidence that any pagans prior to Christianity believed in dying and rising gods, let alone that it was a widespread view held by lots of pagans in lots of times and places.” (Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? p. 230; cf. Mark Smith’s, The death of “dying and rising gods” in the biblical world: An update, with special reference to Baal in the Baal cycle.) The main source of the “dying rising gods” mythology is chronicled in Sir James Frazer’s book, The Golden Bough. [See also p.125, “…given the commonality of resurrection stories in the ancient word — not only in Paul’s time but also in other religions throughout antiquity.”]

On page 66, Enns writes,

I am not suggesting that the Adam story can only be read as a story of Israel’s origins. It is, however, a compelling way to read it, for it makes sense out of some well-known interpretive difficulties while also helping along the evolution discussion. If the Adam story is not really a story of the beginning of humanity but of one segment of humanity, at least some of the tensions between Genesis and evolution are lessened…

The problem I had with this statement is that the word “ADAM,” (אדם) means “humanity.” It could simply be that Israel is claiming to be the “true humanity,” but regardless, this is a hurdle that is important to address, one that any interpretive narrative needs to explain. In fairness, Enns’s argument rests more on the narrative than the linguistic force of the text, but I wish there was more discussion around how the definition of “humanity” is understood. The vast majority of this book rests on the idea of Adam as a “person” or a “man,” one of two, the other being “Eve.”

On page 105, Enns writes,

It is self-evident that Paul’s reading of Isaiah’s words is not bound by its original meaning. Rather, Isaiah’s words are transformed to speak to a new situation. And this transformation is much more than an “application” of Isaiah’s words; it is a revelation of what those words — which are God’s words — ultimately refer to.

So, here’s where the tension gets even more tense. Does this mean that a “creative contemporary contextualization hermeneutic” is essentially Christian? In other words, just as Paul did this with Isaiah, are we now allowed/permitted do do this with Paul? This is a significant problem that I have not heard too many push forward into our current day. This argument would seem to substantiate the contemporary “re-interpreting” of the sacred text, many of it doing significant damage to “authorial intent” or even “the spirit of the law.” How do we accept Paul’s “reading of Isaiah’s words,” and at the same time make any demarcation, hermeneutically, today?

Okay, I hope that Enns, and other readers understand my critique to be in concert with high respect, that to debate and discuss someone’s scholarship is evidence that I believe the content is highly worthy of that engagement. Enns is a gift to the Church, even if he is a threat to it (see also TGC’s article).

About VIA

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