Jeff Fischer, self-described lay person

Metaphor: one thing conceived as representing another; a symbol.

Adam is best understood as a metaphor. He represents, or is a symbol for, all of mankind. I have not always believed this. I was taught that Adam was an historical figure. But now science has got in the way, and I’ve had to completely re-think my position.

Modern science informs us that the human race evolved from more archaic hominins, and geneticists have determined that the population of the human race has probably never been less than a few thousand. (Dennis Venema has provided an excellent summary of these findings.)

According to science there was never a single original pair of humans. No scientist ever set out to prove or disprove the existence of Adam and Eve. The evidence simply brings us to this conclusion.

I’m a Christian of Baptist tradition, and we Baptists tend to take the Bible pretty seriously. (Please understand, I am not attempting to speak for my fellow Baptists. Many of my brothers will undoubtedly have some strong reservations about my thoughts here). My personal stand on Scripture is similar to what Chaplain Mike wrote in a great post over at iMonk.

The Bible is completely true, fully authoritative, and it not only can, but must, inform the church. It’s also incarnational, meaning that “it comes to us in fully human form”, as Chaplain Mike puts it. Given all this, how might Christians like myself read the opening chapters of Genesis? How are we to understand Paul’s teachings when he speaks of Adam?

I’ll be brief in my treatment of Genesis, as space doesn’t permit a lengthy explanation, and there are many good books on the subject. Also, at this point, let me hasten to clarify that I am not a theologian. My vocation and training are strictly secular.

I think that the origin accounts found in Genesis are written from Moses’ ancient understanding of cosmology. The early chapters of Genesis were intended to give the Israelites a solid grounding of who God was, how they related to Him, and in some ways, how they were to relate to each other. These chapters are not primarily concerned with scientific or historical matters.

How we can strongly believe that Adam is merely a metaphor when the apostle Paul writes about him as an historical figure? We can’t just wave this off, saying that Paul was using a figure from a story to make a point, such as we might do today by quoting Darth Vader. (I’m sure, somewhere out there, Vader’s quote “I find your lack of faith… disturbing” is the centerpiece of a sermon.)

But getting back to Paul, my best guess is that Paul believed Adam was the first man, a historical figure, created specially by God, and that the entire fallen human race descended from him.

We find Adam referenced briefly in I Corinthians 15 and again at some length in Romans 5. In both these passages Paul contrasts Christ with Adam, and by doing so powerfully communicates this truth: the entire human race is condemned in its unrighteousness, but then through Jesus Christ alone, “the many will be made righteous,” Romans 5:19.

A question we need to ask is this. Is Paul’s theology damaged by the very possible fact that Adam is not historical? My personal position: no.

But at this point I will slowly back away and stay tuned to better-informed theological voices. My position on the historicity of Adam, though firmly held at the moment, remains tentative. After all, I’ve been sternly warned by my teenage daughter that when I get to heaven, Adam is not going to be happy with me.

You’ve heard why Jeff Fischer affirms a metaphorical Adam. Let him know what you think in the comments section (and keep it civil). We will take somewhere between six to eight of these guest post at most and we’d like it to represent a range of views on the subject. If you are interested in writing a guest post read the instructions here.

(We hope that this post makes Dr. James McGrath feel a little better after his worried comment yesterday!)