In the last few post I have given my attention to C. John Collins understanding of how Adam and Eve function in the biblical canon. In part 11 we surveyed Collins reading of the Book of Genesis. In part 12 we did the same with the rest of the Hebrew Bible. In part 13 we moved to non-canonical Jewish literature. In part 14 we did the same for the Gospels. Today I will relay Collins’ interpretation of the Pauline Epistles and the rest of the New Testament.
Collins begins his examination of Paul by alluding to passages that don’t necessitate a historical Adam in his view, though they may be useful for understanding the biblical view of Adam: 1 Corinthians 11.7-12; 2 Corinthians 11.3; 1 Timothy 2.13-14. On the other hand, he finds no wiggle room in 1 Corinthians 15.20-23, 42-49; Romans 5.12-19; and Acts 17.26 (technically Lukan, though about Paul) (Kindle Location 1246).
Collins interprets 1 Corinthians 15.20-23 as explaining why Jesus had to raise from the dead. Although Adam is representative this doesn’t remove the reality of Adam’s impact on the world as Paul understood it (Kindle Location 1268). I know readers of this blog understand the basic debate over this passage so I won’t rehash it. Simply put, either Adam’s historicity is essential to Paul’s argument or it is not. For Collins it is because it is for Paul. Those who disagree with Collins will highlight the representative function of Adam. Collins interacts with C.K. Barrett as someone who didn’t think Adam needed to be historical and N.T. Wright as someone who presumes this is what Paul believed. Most people do agree that Paul affirms a historical Adam in this passage, so Collins argument here presumes that Paul’s foundational presuppositions must be retained for his argument to work. Since Collins’ understand Paul’s writings as Scripture without error he argues for his exegesis and moves along. Again, one of the biggest problems I have with this book is Collins flippant approach at times. It seems that he feels the burden of proof is on people like Peter Enns to prove that Paul’s argument can work if we remove Paul’s presuppositions. This may be true, but it makes Collins’ argument seem passive while lacking depth (Kindle Locations 1246-1315).
Again, the same approach is taken with Romans 5.12-19. Paul’s argument uses Adam as an archetype. Someone like Enns may preserve that approach while saying the historicity of the archetype doesn’t matter for his symbolic function to be retained. Collins disagrees.
In Acts 17.26 Paul is presented as assuming Adam’s history. Collins follow suit.
This is important to recognize: Collins and Enns agree that Paul assumes Adam’s historicity in his argument in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. So does Barrett, Wright, and many others. That is not where they disagree. Where they disagree is whether it matters that Paul believed this for his argument to work.
Other NT passages that seem to allude to a historical Adam would be the mention of Abel, Enoch, and Noah in Hebrews 11.4-7. This assumes the historicity of these figures in Collins opinion (Kindle Location 1432). Revelation 2.7; 22.2, 14, and 19 allude to the Tree of Life. Revelation 12.9 and 20.2 allude to the Satan-Serpent figure. Of course, there is much “Genesis symbolism” in Revelation, which does matter because the Apocalypse seems to depict redemption as creation restored and enhanced which is built off of the Genesis story. Again, Collins doesn’t try to theologize from this. He represents the traditional position. He states it. He leaves it as it is and forces those who disagree to carry the burden of proof.
When I return to this series I will spend several posts on Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam which gives much space to Genesis and Paul.
Thanks for your very helpful summary, Brian, and for explicitly listing the distinction between the thought here of Enns, Collins, Wright, et al. Also, one minor note: I think that you have archetype misspelled.
Brian you said:
“It seems that he feels the burden of proof is on people like Peter Enns to prove that Paul’s argument can work if we remove Paul’s presuppositions. This may be true, but it makes Collins’ argument seem passive while lacking depth.”
“He leaves it as it is and forces those who disagree to carry the burden of proof.”
It’s not clear why you critique this. If Collins is going with the flow of conventional scholarship, why would he invest words proving (what he feels) is the norm (economy of argument)? It may be, in your opinion, his position isn’t synchronous with the scholarly norm (the idea that Paul not only asserted the historicity of Adam but also that the validity of Paul’s belief matters to modern academics), that Collins is less familiar with scholarship on the matter then he should be, or whatever … but that’s an entirely different criticism than – he was being ‘flippant’ and ‘lacking depth’.
Mathematicians frequently presuppose proofs they feel are established, and revisit them only when an underlying axiom has been called into question. Perhaps this is Collin’s approach. If it’s true that the validity of Paul’s belief about Adam has been shown to be incidental to the integrity of his theology, than Collins then should be held accountable against this new development. No?
You’re welcome and thank you for notifying me of the spelling error.
I find this characteristic of the book disappointing because I don’t understand why someone would write a book on this subject knowing the current debate only to side step the entire discussion. Everyone knows the classical position so why write it out and then do the literary equivalent of a blank stare. It would have been far more helpful if he would have provided reasons for why the views of people like Enns won’t work rather that either (A) ignoring them or (B) acting as if they are self-evidently false. It would be like writing a blog post saying, “I believe in a historical Adam” then not saying anything and when people comment I would reiterate that I believe in a historical Adam. That doesn’t help anyone.
By the way, for those interested, Bobby Grow is addressing the question of Adam’s historicity on his blog. See his first post here: http://recreatedinchrist.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/brians-interlocutors-did-adam-really-exist/
I should clarify that it is not Collins’ view that is my main concern. I chose his book because I know he holds a traditional perspective. What I find disappointing is that the book comes across as if readers don’t know the traditional perspective and the only thing needed is for someone to say, “Oh look, these passages of the Bible seem to present Adam as historical.” Hermeneutics is more complex and this discussion is more complex. For instance, Enns wouldn’t deny that these passages affirms Adam’s historicity, but he does assume that our place in history (post-Darwin, post-Human Genome Project) forces us to recognize that Adam’s historicity is scientifically unverifiable (he might say impossible). I think Collins will address the science later in the book, but his section on these passages avoids the work of interpretation and that makes it a weak dialogue partner.
Your response makes sense; apparently Collins is not only not defending his view, in your view he’s also adding little to the debate …
That’s correct, it makes me wish I had chosen another book. Collins book is OK, but it doesn’t put forth an effort that matches Enns. Enns works hard to show readers his presupposition, worldview, hermeneutical paradigm, and why he argues what he argues. Collins just presents his reading and moves along.
Thanks for the link, Brian. I need to spend a little more time with this issue.
You’re welcome. I hope some of those who have been reading my posts here have a chance to interact with your thoughts on the matter.
I hope so too, Brian. What is your conclusion at “this” particular moment. Where do you stand, right now? If your life depended on giving an answer on whether or not you think that Adam was a literal flesh and blood person, what would your answer be? Just curious … I am not really that bothered by people who think Adam wasn’t real, I expect that people are going to be wrong about some stuff every now and then, they’re only human 😉 .
The reason why I think that Adam was real, is because I think Jesus thought Adam was real. I have problems with the idea that for Jesus to be fully human in the Incarnation also require that somehow his fully God part is not present and informing and shaping his humanity by the Spirit. In other words, Jesus, while fully human, was highly unique. I have never heard of a God-Man before, before Jesus that is. Anyway, I don’t buy the kenotic christology that folk like Enns must in order to marginalize what Jesus did or didn’t know about the history of Adam. I’m still thinking though …
I agree. I also think Adam was real.
I’d be honest and I’d admit that I live with cognitive disconnect here. On the one hand, I think Adam is more important to the biblical narrative than some people insinuate. It is evident that ancient Israel, Second Temple Jews, and people like the Apostle Paul affirmed his historicity. Jesus’ allusion to the creation of gender and the murder of Abel make it very hard to argue that Jesus saw these people as ahistorical (honestly, this is what makes me pause the most before denying Adam’s existence). On the other hand, I admit that there does not seem to be scientific evidence for this. I am not scientist, but those that have given their lives to this work (like Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project) know far more about these things than I do. I don’t feel like I have the ability to denounce their findings and conclusions. Rather, I rest in the reality that scientist are not epistomologically infinite and therefore it is quite possible that there is a blind spot in their findings that may someday allow for us to reconcile the biblical claim of a first man with the genetic evidence. Unfortunately, the bridge between the findings of scientists and the claims of Scripture awaits to be built though (I know many are trying).
So my answer is “yes” and “no.” On some days I think a first human had to exist because it has become imbedded deeply into my worldview. On other days I don’t know how I can say Adam existed with much confidence because I recognize my inferiority in matters of science, human genetics, and the study of origins.
Brian, a ‘cognitive disconnect’ is a good sign it’s time to re-examine presuppositions. Personally I agree with your point that there “does not seem to be scientific evidence for this” where ‘this’ is defined as the narrow (but traditional) concept of ‘Adam and Eve alone in idyllic Eden in an empty world’.
Not only is it true that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” but it is also true that the problem here is historicity of Adam when in fact we should be starting by confirming the traditional belief (or understanding of Adam and Eve) is warranted. If there is scientific evidence all humans are descended from one man, and similar evidence all humans are descended from one woman – there’s cause to believe in Adam’s historicity but perhaps not one that matches our stereotype.
This suggests we ask questions, not about his historicity, but our hermeneutic and the concepts it appear to give rise to. For example, since Paul’s theology suggests Adam was responsible for widespread death (which some interpret as sin) is it legitimate to examine if this is true because Adam’s sin denied him direct access to God (along with all his descendants). What is the biblical argument for believing Adam and Eve were alone in the world physically (exclusivity idea) verses Adam and Eve were alone in that they walked and talked with God?
I’m not advocating this as ‘true’ because I haven’t personally investigated it – but I am saying enough eyes likely haven’t been on the problem. We can throw out Adam or we can throw out our understanding of Adam. The two are not the same.
… should have said “that the problem here is one of the historicity of Adam, when in fact …”
Good question, I know we have the oddity of Cain’s wife in Scripture itself. I think the only problem with Adam as one among other humans would be the claims in Acts 17 and Romans 5 that Adam is connected to all humans. Maybe there is a way that this works out within the current model?
Thanks for being forthright. I think a “scientism” pervades our culture, such that science is given too much objective priority. And in fact, I also think that the way that the subjects (the scientists) are related to their object of study needs to be critically considered; realizing that they have their own “cultural” conditioning that does not allow them the kind of objectivity that their work is purported to have. I am not questioning the genuineness of motive of those who worked on the genome project etc., but I am questioning prior assumptions that they have brought to their own interpretive strategies when it comes to exegeting their data (so I am concerned with their hermeneutics … what I know of them). Anyway, this issue does not cause me a lot of angst. 🙂
I agree that there is a “scientism” that is quite distinct from the work of scientists. As you know one of the things I want to know from people is their presuppositions because I don’t believe we humans can be objective. This is part of the reason why I hope to read T.S. Kuhn’s The Structures of Scientific Revolutions to help my mind get a better grasp on the “culture” and “presuppositions” of the scientific community. That said, one thing I don’t want to do is pretend like I know more than I do. Even if I were to come to a position where I felt Adam had to be historic for my worldview to remain Christian and “work” I wouldn’t want my local church community to make this a “line in the sand issue” nor would I want to teach as an institution where there is not freedom to disagree on this topic. The same is true if I came to find Adam as merely a metaphor.
My guess is that I am a few years and much reading, thinking, and praying away from coming to any solid conclusions.
Brian, with respect to ‘line in the sand’ issues, isn’t Paul’s point about Yehshua (Jesus) not Adam? Let’s assume Paul is wrong about Adam – your question (reframed) is fundamentally “Does Paul need to be correct about how we obtained the problem of sin, for him to be correct about how we obtain the solution to sin?”
Clearly the answer is ‘no’. Logically, Paul may have false premises but still true conclusions (though clearly his argument might be faulty). Biblically, it’s another matter however, because it will raise issues for doctrines of infallibility.
Regardless, we show scientifically that everyone alive today has exactly one common single ancestor genetically who was not alone at the time he was alive, I’m pondering why it is biblically necessary we MUST assert that Adam (later Eve) were alone. If the genetic impact of one man (who lived amongst many) has been truly global, why cannot the spiritual impact be the same?
What happened at the Fall could indeed effect every human being, rendering every human in need of a Savior, who is Christ. In other words Adam’s sin (whether he was physically alone at first or not) could have put humanity in the position where they could only share eternity with the true God by virtue of some redemptive act on the part of God. I’ve not quite seen a biblical case for why this requires Adam to be the first man physically.
If Adam’s fall affected all humanity by depriving us of the conditions under which we abide with God in a state of non-sinfulness, what then biblically necessitates him not having historical contemporaries? (I’ve seen no such theological argument on this front) Adam would have been ‘alone’ or ‘the first man’ in that the impact his actions had on the world commenced with him. This doesn’t mean we cannot hold to a historical Adam (in some scientific sense), nor does it mean Paul’s argument about Christ is false.
Before we throw out Adam, I think we first need to understand the limits of what the bible says about his role in the fall, and whether or not we’ve misconstrued his role as our ancestor. We tend to take the ‘naked Adam in the Garden of Eden image’ and presuppose this matches exactly the biblical account.
I wouldn’t want to make this an issue of Christian fellowship either, but it does have very important ramifications, by way of second order, that implicate much more important issues; like someone’s hermeneutical commitments in general. And so in that sense it could serve as a reason not to go this pastor/teacher’s church for example (if a pastor/teacher taught something like this about Adam, like Enns does, for example). I understand things are more complex than people often want them to be, but then I also realize that the complexity is often appealed to as a cloak to hind behind; in other words, complexity of thought can be detangled w/o necessarily being a scientist, for example.
It does have a trickle down effect. I can see one’s view of Adam potentially impacting everything from gender discussions to eschatology. Often I have tried to keep pastoral concerns in my mind since theology cannot be divorced from the life of the church. It has got to be tough for some pastors, no matter which side of the debate they affirm, because you don’t want to go to battle with people over this matter, yet I imagine that it is impossible to avoid in preaching and teaching.
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