I just finished reading through Daniel Kirk’s three part series for The Biologos Forum on “The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ”. It is a stimulating engagement with the question of the historicity of the biblical Adam. This discussion is applied most directly to the role of Adam in the writings of the Apostle Paul.
In part one Kirk argues that the historicity of Adam is not essential for Israel’s reading of a text that is dealing primarily with Israel’s role to restore creation as the descendents of Abraham. Israel is to be the new humanity. In part two he understands the Apostle Paul to be adopting this same theme while applying it to Jesus as the one who adopts the vocation of Israel to become the new human, especially as this relates to Rom. 5. In part three he continues this discussion while focusing on Christ as the new human animated by the Spirit who provides humanity with the opportunity to follow him in this.
While I agree with Kirk that the historicity of Adam does not determine the theological validity of Paul’s statements regarding Jesus, I do wonder about other Pauline passages such as 1 Cor. 11.9, which implies the Adam-Eve creation order is real history with a moral point for modern male-female relationships, should cause us to proceed with more caution. It seems that Paul did think of Adam as a historical man and Eve as a historical woman. If his presuppositions are incorrect does this challenge the rest of his argument?
Likewise, I wonder why it is so important to deny, as N.T. Wright has said, that “something like a primaral pair getting it wrong did happen”. At some point our relatives arrived a place where there was a man and a woman very much like we see today. Why can’t these people be the one’s who are Adam and Eve? Cannot the evolution from dust (the man) and from the “side of a man” (the woman) be some sort of poetic description of unknown origins while retaining that humanity did arrive at the point that reflect what we see today and that those two failed to care for creation (i.e. “the garden”)?
While Kirk’s articles leave questions like these unanswered they are very valuable for understanding Paul’s view of the new humanity in Christ becoming the ideal humanity which is Paul’s primarily theological point afterall. I recommmend reading them!
I’m curious. From your summary above it sounds like Kirk’s argument amounts to contending that its possible for Paul to have written what he did even if he didn’t believe in an historical Adam. But, as interesting as such an argument might be, mere possibility is insufficient. He needs to establish that this is the most plausible way to understand what a first century Jew would have meant when referring to Adam in theological discourse. Did he succeed in this latter task?
And, wouldn’t the evolutionary narrative that you describe above also cause some problems? If we have an evolutionary process that leads to the production of a group of hominids, and if Adam and Eve are just the two hominids that God selected for special interaction, what about the others? Did God kill them off? Or, do we have humans who did not descend from Adam and Eve? Or, do you have another answer?
This is why I ask, “If his presuppositions are incorrect does this challenge the rest of his argument?” I am sure that Paul understood Adam to be a historical figure. While as interpreters we can argue that his theological point is still true even if we “know now” that human origins did not begin from a first man it is begging the question for us to assume he was right about his theological assertions while wrong about his historical ones. Kirk may have responded to this in the comments section so I may browse through those next because this is unresolved for me.
As regards your second set of questions it would appear that the best answer would be that whatever was the “ancestor” of humans is not included in the Genesis narrative. Adam and Eve would be the first at the stage of development where there was a male and female that mated and reproduced as we do today. I do not think this necessarily includes any more than two creatures. Furthermore, I do not think this must necessarily be an deistic endeavor. God could have been active in this leap on the process to the point where we may call it a “miracle”. Whatever “group” came afterward would have had to have been their descendents.
This is all off the top of my head though. I have no idea how the scientifically minded would react to such a hypothesis.
I’ve been following this series of 3 from Biologos also and you have written a beautifully concise synopsis, which is salient enough to encourage folks to go on and read the three articles in their entirety.
Brian, may I request permission to cross-post.
Brian, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing something here with Barth’s idea of humanity as constituted by the divine summons to being through the Word. In other words, Barth argues that humanity doesn’t first come into being and then gets summoned to covenantal relationship by God, but humanity becomes humanity by being so summoned. If such a divine summons is ontologically decisive, would it be possible to use this idea here and see God’s act of calling Adam and Eve into covenantal relationship with himself as the event in which Adam and Eve became truly human?
Always feel free to cross-post!
While I am not familiar with Barth I am open to third option constructs for this discussion of the humanness and historical nature of Adam and Eve. What I reject is a Godless evolution. Whatever happened that took some sort of ancestor and made it into what we are now was not an accident in my mind. It was an act of God.
This is not to say that we should abandon seeing what took place from a scientific angle. I just think we should acknowledge that there is a God side of things as well.
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