I have given much attention to Peter Enns’ book. Now it is time to return to C. John Collins’ work Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care. Collins will expound upon passages from the Hebrew Scripture, other Jewish literature, and the New Testament that mention or allude to Adam. Today we begin with his take on Genesis 1-5.
Collins begins by acknowledging that some parts of Genesis may be from different sources. He qualifies this though saying, ”
As for the question of separate sources, the arguments for and against such sources will forever be indecisive, since none of these putative sources is actually known to exist (p. 52).” Against those who seem to think that the person(s) who put together the Pentateuch were inferior minds to our own he writes, “…we have no reason to expect that whoever did put these passages together was a blockhead (or a committee of blockheads), who could not recognize contradictions every bit as well as we can (p. 52).” Rather, Collins emphasizes the unity of the text. He notes that the mention of “God” in Genesis 1 and “YHWH” in Genesis 2 aims to connect the two: Israel’s YHWH is the Creator God.
Why do we have “two creation narratives?” According to Collins:”…we should see Genesis 1:1–2:3 as the overall account of the creation and preparation of the earth as a suitable place for humans to live, and Genesis 2:4–25 as an elaboration of the events of the sixth day of Genesis 1.3 (p. 53).” He elaborates:
“The purpose of Genesis 1:1–2:3, in my understanding, is almost “liturgical”: that is, it celebrates as a great achievement God’s work of fashioning the world as a suitable place for humans to live. “The exalted tone of the passage allows the reader to ponder this with a sense of awe, adoring the goodness, power, and creativity of the One who did all this.” Possibly the best way to read the passage is in unison, in a service of worship (p. 54).”
“…we read Genesis 1 and 2 together when we take 2:4–25 as filling out details of the “sixth day,” amplifying 1:24–31.8 (p. 54).”
After noting several other thematic connections throughout Genesis 1-5 that emphasize the unity of the text he addresses the name “Adam.” Of course, Adam means something like human or man. But the text does put the emphasis on one individual. So Collins is not convinced that we should read Adam as a mere representative. A representative, yes, but a real person too. His first clue is that Adam is part of the genealogy of 5.1-5, so it seems quite apparent that Genesis 1-5 see “the man,” Adam, as a real person (p. 55).
Adam and Eve are seen as the first pair. Yes, like Adam, Eve’s name means something like “Life-Giver,” but Collins doesn’t see the symbolism of the name as equating to a deshistoricized first couple. Adam and Eve matter for the story of Abraham: “The genealogies of Genesis 1–11 link Father Abraham, whom the people of Israel took to be historical, with Adam, who is otherwise hidden from the Israelites in the mists of antiquity (p. 57).”
Yes, the Hebrew story sounds a lot like the creation narratives of Israel’s neighbors. Does that cause Collins concern? No, he writes:
“I see no reason to dispute the view that Israel’s narrative of prehistory bears a relationship with the narratives of prehistory found in Mesopotamia, already mentioned above. This implies that, like those other stories, Genesis aims to tell the true story of origins; but it also implies that there are likely to be figurative elements and literary conventions that should make us very wary of being too literalistic in our reading.19 That is, the genre identification for Genesis 1–11, prehistory and protohistory, does not mean that the author had no concern for real events; far from it, it implies that real events form the backbone of his story (pp. 57-58).”
One obvious difference between the stories of other Mesopotamian cultures and the Hebrews is the Hebrew story doesn’t merely attribute the creation of “humanity” to their God, but a particular pair of humans. This emphasizes God’s role in the creation of individuals, not just a big lump. This story serves to introduce Abraham (as noted above). Collins says,
“Genesis 1–11 is the backcloth of the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob story, which is the backcloth of the Exodus story. This prehistory grounds the call of by showing how all human beings are related, and therefore equally in need of God’s blessing, and equally reachable with that blessing. Abraham is God’s answer to this universal need (Gen. 12:1–3): he is to be the vehicle of blessing to “all the families of the earth,” starting the family through which all mankind, which is now estranged from God, will come to know the true God (p. 59).”
Collins expects Adam to be compared to Israel (something I have discussed when sharing excerpts from Enns’ book). He says,
“There is every reason to expect that Genesis portrays Adam with goals like this in mind: that is, he is “like” an Israelite, so that each member of God’s people will see himself or herself as God’s “new Adam” in the world (p. 60).”
Yes, Eden is a lot like the Promised Land as well, but again, Collins doesn’t see this as mythologizing Eden as much as creating anticipation for the land. What about “death” in Genesis 1-3? Collins says,
“And what shall we make of the “death” that God threatens in Genesis 2:17? I have argued that the primary reference is “spiritual death,” as exhibited in Genesis 3:8–13. But that is not all: it would appear (to me at least) that this is followed by their physical death as well (v. 19). …it looks like the author presents them as two aspects of one experience. In other words, physical death is not any more “natural” for human experience than spiritual death is (p. 62).”
Collins realizes that some of the language regarding the serpent, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life seem mystical and magical, but he seems to affirm their reality as well. This is his caveat that ends his discussion on Genesis 1-5:
“In sum then, we have plenty of reasons from the text itself to be careful about reading it too literalistically; and at the same time we have reasons to accept an historical core. The historicity of Adam is assumed in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1:1 and Luke 3:38. Similarly, although the style of telling the story may leave us uncertain on the exact details of the process by which Adam’s body was formed, and whether the two trees were actual trees, and whether the Evil One’s actual mouthpiece was a talking snake, we nevertheless can discern that the author intends us to see the disobedience of this couple as the reason for sin in the world. It explains why the Mosaic covenant will include provisions for the sins of the people: Mosaic religion, and Christianity its proper offspring, is about redemption for sinners, enabling their forgiveness and moral transformation to restore the image of God in them. This story also explains why all mankind, and not just Israelites, need this redemptive, healing touch from God (p. 66).”
There isn’t much to say about Collins’ view. It is fairly traditional while cautious about being hyper-literal. Yet Collins seems to see things like the serpent, Eden, the trees, and so forth as real things in history coated in the language of “pre-history.” In my next post I will relay Collins thoughts on Adam and Eve in the rest of the Old Testament. In the meantime, thoughts anyone?
Matthew 23:34-38. I don’t think Collins used this text as logic for his side, but, it’s valuable for it.
Brian, 2 comments on this one (placed efficiently in one ‘Leave A Reply’ box:
1. Reacting to this comment:
“Against those who seem to think that the person(s) who put together the Pentateuch were inferior minds to our own he writes, “…we have no reason to expect that whoever did put these passages together was a blockhead (or a committee of blockheads), who could not recognize contradictions every bit as well as we can (p. 52).” Rather, Collins emphasizes the unity of the text.”
Isn’t this somewhat exposing a problem with academic presupposition? When we address issues of unity in the text, or apparent diversity in the origins of textual sources, aren’t we really seeing problems with how ‘humans’ codified scripture (the underlying presupposition being we cannot appeal to God’s influence?). But if scripture is as we say it is, human endeavours underwritten by God, why are issues like this worthy of debate? (Don’t we have an automatic ‘out’)
What if ‘God’ inspired multiple humans to record a prophecy of how the earth was created, how humanity came into being (in a literal sense or not)? What if God inspired these prophecies to survive as oral traditions, safeguarding their integrity long enough until, his people as a culture were literate and able to record them on some medium? If God played any role what-so-ever in the transmission or creation of scripture, how can questions of textual origins have any influence over our theological thinking or hermeneutics? Aren’t we acquiescing to skepticism in some sense?
2. Considering the series of posts you’ve done comparing these two authors Collins and Enns, and the recurring theme juxtaposing questions about Adam onto Israel, aren’t we really looking in the wrong person (you alluded to this before but didn’t pursue it)? The influence of Adam, as the progenitor of humanity (either actually or figuratively) is limited by the fact there was a flood. Most of his descendants died off, save for Noah. Isn’t Noah the one we should be looking at in this motif, given it was his descendants that survived through the genetic bottleneck?
One reason these appeals to the biological sciences get serious attention from traditionally-minded theologians is the work of Francis Collins, the Christian biologist who led the Human Genome Project to a successful conclusion. Collins has written about how his faith relates to his scientific discipline, advocating a kind of theistic evolution that he calls the “Biologos” perspective. Collins agrees with those biologists who contend that traditional beliefs about Adam and Eve are no longer viable.
Question, can you recall the gentleman you mentioned earlier who was an atheist and who had a theory that stated natural selection might be wrong?
I should be approaching the NT soon. I will make sure to relay what Collins and Enns say about that passage.
I guess for some the “faith” card can remove their need to investigate these matters. I have a personal; interest in knowing more about them and how our understanding of the development of Scripture relates to calling the Bible “the Word of God” so I don’t mind thinking about it.
I don’t know that Noah is important. Adam and Israel are mentioned because of the parallels in their stories in the Pentateuch.
Patrick, check out:
Stephen Wolfram, inventor of Mathematica, and discoverer of Rule 110 a system whose properties reflect complexity, in the same way nature reflects complexity, led him to develop a computational model for the natural world (as though creation is some type of finite automata) which suggests the computational design of the universe itself produces the complexity evolutions and creationists try to explain.
Evolutionists say that nature’s ability to ‘naturally select’ from amongst mutations create the complexity we see. Creationists say ‘bunk’, complex things are evidence of design (such as pocket-watch found on the beach), not random chance which in turn is evidence of a designer; except that creationists can’t produce a convincing scientific process (to compete with evolution) that relates the work of creation to a creator.
Stephen Wolfram provides that scientific process when he discovered that the universe itself may be an extant computation (or finite automata) producing the complexity we see, over the course of its own reckoning. Think about that for a second .. if the universe is an extant computation (like Rule 110), exhibiting complexity, is not the complexity creationists are so desperate to explain a function of the design of the computation, and thus the design of the system?
I cited his problem with Stephen Jay Gould and his shells, where he showed that Natural Selection was un-necessary to produce the same results Gould attributed to Natural Selection.
Finally don’t be threatened by the 1197 or so pages in Stephen Wolfram’s book “A New of Science”. It’s surprisingly readable.
Brian, I wasn’t criticizing academic pursuit or curiosity, but I was wondering how this particular pursuit could influence our theology. If God was part of the process of constructing Genesis, by whatever means, it seems to be irrelevant.
WRT Noah, I would think that a comparison between Noah and Israel would be more appropriate than between Adam and Israel, or even a comparison between Adam and Noah, then Adam and Israel. See where I’m going with that …?
Patrick, I should add – I don’t want to leave you with the impression Stephen Wolfram has commented on God. He hasn’t. As an atheist he avoids God. However, if you claim the universe is an extant computation, its rather hard to avoid the question ‘Who articulated the compuation?’.
Brian, I think your right that there isn’t much to say about Collins’ view. I don’t think that downplaying the literal but holding on to the historical works. It’s like someone with one foot on a boat and the other foot on the dock. It would be better to say that the story is not a historical fact but the point of the story is true.
I think I am missing the importance of the Israel-Noah connection. I see the juxtaposition of Israel-Adam in the similarities between their stories, but I don’t see the same parallels with Israel-Noah.
Re: Noah and the genetic bottleneck: it is interesting that a scientific study of mitochondrial DNA shows that humans were at some point pared down to about 4000 individuals. I know this doesn’t line up exactly with the Biblical version, but it is interesting none the less.
I don’t think it’s possible to deny that Gen 1:1 – 2:3 and Gen 2:4 and beyond were of different origins, but as Andrew (I believe) said, if we regard Scripture as being directed by God, I’m not sure it matters.
Andrew: Thank you for the reference to Rule 110. I am fascinated with the idea that God built the ability to create life into the very structure of the universe. Rule 110 seems to demonstrate that complex structures can arise from simple rules. Well, mathematicians have known that for a while, but Rule 110 has some interesting properties, such as being Turing Complete, that make it a good candidate for an explanation of how complex structures (like Adam!) can arise in a world where (as the Creationist are quick to point out) entropy rules and watches don’t suddenly assemble themselves on the beach!
About the Israel to Noah connection, we could look at it this way: God chose from amongst all the nations of the world Israel (the person of Jacob and the nation that sprang from his loins) to represents salvation by righteousness (specifically Abraham and Issac’s), just as God chose Noah and his descendants from amongst all the people of the earth to also represent salvation by righteousness. Putting it this way presupposes we see salvation from the flood, the same way we see salvation from Egypt and the wilderness (a metaphor for the world), the same way we see new covenant baptism (the parallelism suggested by verses such as [1 Peter 3:20-22] and [2 Peter 2:4-10])
Adam’s comparison to Israel (the man or the nation) is diminished the the fact Adam is mostly associated with a curse, his descendent Noah a blessing the same way Israel is. Adam’s claim to be father of us all, is likewise only true through Noah. Likewise Noah’s claim as mankinds forefather is as valid (or more so) than Adam’s is and Adam is credited with rebellion (much of which was punished by a flood), while Noah is credited with salvation (which was rewarded with a promise, and a rainbow).
knsnortum, precisely, and you’re quite welcome. What fascinates me about it (besides the comparison of the universe to a finite automata) is the implications it has on the Calvinist Arminian debate about the sovereignty of God and theological determinism.
I see what you are saying. Yes, there does seem to be a “missional” parallel between Noah and Israel. I don’t think that minimizes some of the Adam-Israel parallels though.
Comments are closed.