As I mentioned yesterday (Pt. 1) I will be reading through C. John Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care and Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. In order to understand the direction these authors aim to take us we need to give heed to the introductions. Let me begin with Peter Enns.

Enns accepts the theory of evolution as fact. He writes, “The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, has shown beyond any reasonable scientific doubt that humans and primates share common ancestry. “(Kindle Locations 133-134). Our current intellectual climate demands that we discuss this reality, especially in the face of militant groups like the “new atheist” who seek to undermine the intellectual viability of the Christian religion. Enns does not deny that Christians have a problem that needs to be addressed. If human evolution is the best explanation for our origins what do we do with Adam and Eve? Unlike some who may want to set the Bible aside as archaic and irrelevant Enns states, “My goal is to focus solely on how the Bible fits into all of this.” (Kindle Location 139). Elsewhere he adds, “…the issues I raise in this book and the conclusions (exploratory and tentative at some points) that I reach are an outworking of my Christian convictions of what it means to be a responsible reader of Scripture in my time and place.” (Kindle Locations 198-200). In summary:

“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.” (Kindle Locations 210-212).

So for Enns (1) evolution is a trustworthy account of human origins and (2) the Bible still matters, but we must reinterpret it.

Many may walk away from the discussion at this point. It is likely that they do not see a connecting point between evolutionary origins and origins as depicted in the biblical narrative. They may be Christians. They may not be Christians. Enns seems aware of this so he writes,

“Let me begin by explaining whom I see as my primary audience. I make two assumptions my readers. The first is that they consider themselves Christian, of whatever tradition or stripe, and so respect Scripture and recognize that what it says must be accounted for somehow. A significant subset of this group is an evangelical readership, particularly in an American context.” (Kindle Locations 144-147).

“Second, these same people are convinced, for whatever reason, that evolution must be taken seriously.” (Kindle Locations 155-156).

Now that Enns has clarified his presuppositions and his intended audience he introduces us to his hermeneutical approach:

“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 merely so, but unalterably so.” (Kindle Locations 168-170)

For some this is another point of departure. In a review of the book James K.A. Smith criticized Enns’ devotion to the historical-critical approach (see “Whose Bible? Which Adam?”). He suggested that Enns ignores the canonical context writing:

Enns’ approach leaves little room to recognize such recontextualization within the canon—nor does he accord any positive, constructive role to tradition (cf. 114).  In fact, if it becomes a contest between “the authors of Genesis” and Paul, Enns sides with “the original meaning” of Genesis as the determinative meaning: “what Genesis says about Adam and the consequences of his actions does not seem to line up with the universal picture that Paul paints in Romans and 1 Corinthians […]. I do not think the gospel stands on whether we can read Paul’s Adam in the pages of Genesis” (92).  To use Enns’ language, Paul attributes something to Genesis that the “authors of Genesis” are not trying to give us. Again, this account is entirely “from below,” as if it is Paul alone who “invests Adam with capital he does not have either in the Genesis story, the Old Testament as a whole, or the interpretations of his contemporary Jews” (135).

Obviously this is one opinion on the matter. Some like Steven Douglas in “James K.A. Smith on the missing Author in authorial intent hermeneutics” and Daniel Kirk in “What’s Wrong with Theological Exegesis” have responded to Smith already. I share this little debate not as a primary point, but to show how as early as hermeneutical presuppositions one’s theological trajectory can begin to move in a radically different direction from that of others. I think this is the case with Enns and C. John Collins. Let’s save that point for later.

More from Enns:

“(1) Our knowledge of the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel greatly affects how we now understand the Old Testament—not only here and there but also what the Old Testament as a whole is designed to do. (2) Because Scripture is a collection of discrete writings from widely diverse times and places and written for diverse purposes, the significant theological diversity of Scripture we find there should hardly be a surprise. (3) How the New Testament authors interpret the Old Testament reflects the Jewish thought world of time and thus accounts for their creative engagement of the Old Testament. It also helps Christians today understand how the New Testament authors brought together Israel’s story and the gospel. Further, this “human dimension” of Scripture is not an unfortunate state of affairs that must be tolerated, an unhappy condescension on God’s part. Instead, the “incarnational” reality of Scripture is—as is the actual incarnation of Christ—a mark of God’s great love for his people, evidence of how low he is willing to stoop in order to commune with his creation.” (Kindle Locations 176-184).

Enns is pleased to accept a Bible that contains “God’s Word in human words” as Kenton L. Sparks has phrased it.

In my next post I will summarize Collins’ introductory thoughts as well. Then I aim to juxtapose the two. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts on Enns’ approach.