I have been doing a blog series on the “historicity” (or lack thereof) of the biblical Adam. In my last post Bobby Grow asked where I stand at this juncture. It is a fair question, so this is the answer I gave:
“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.”
In a later comment I admitted:
“My guess is that I am a few years and much reading, thinking, and praying away from coming to any solid conclusions.”
I should make a few points of clarification: this isn’t about so-called inerrancy or anything like that. I don’t lose sleep over whether Scripture has errors, especially historical or scientific ones. I see Scripture as being Christocentric. That is how I understand its inspiration. It is useful to teaching, correction, and so forth, but I would argue that this function is Christocentric as well.
I am a bit more hesitant when it comes to “big themes.” Adam seems like an important figure, so I want to make sure I understand how Adam “works” in Scripture. As I said above, my main concern is that it appeared that Jesus himself affirmed a historical Adam. That is far more problematic for me that Paul’s affirmation of a historical Adam. I confess a high Christology, so I need to be sure that I understand what I am affirming as relates to the person of Christ if I conclude that Adam is ahistorical.
Also, I am woefully ignorant of the science of human origins. I won’t pretend like I can pick up a few books and suddenly become an expert. But I do need to read more on this topic. This is why I admit that I am a few years away from reaching a conclusion on this matter.
That’s refreshingly honest. I’m not convinced that reading more is going to clarify the issue. It hasn’t for me. I thing that it’s more likely to require the passage of time. I guess I’m waiting for Peter Enns and others (Brian LePort?) to further clarify the theological issues while the evolutionary biologists further clarify the scientific issues, or for the Second Coming, whichever comes first.
If I were a gambling man I would put my money on “the Second Coming.”
Issues of in-errancy aside, is your current sense that resolving the status of the historicity of Adam can potentially undermine a high Christology?
Not sure yet.
Regardless, it’s a good thought to ponder.
Should we be worried about the idea of a “science of human origins” that is not itself christological? It seems like we’re going to run into problems if we keep trying to reconcile a “natural” anthropology with our reading of Scripture, which you rightly call “Christocentric.” What do you guys think about that?
Do you mean that we should seek to interpret the science of human origins through a Christological lens? If so, as Christian, I say that makes sense, but I’m not sure what that “looks like.”
Yeah, something like that. But you’re right that this is probably impossible to nail down in any sort of definitive way (but perhaps not more difficult than biblical interpretation?). It just seems like the current scope of scientific investigation will not be able encompass anything close to what Christians mean when they talk about human beings.
That said, I definitely appreciate and agree with the spirit of your post–especially its candid presentation!
Thank you! I agree that scientific anthropology cannot say the same things as theological anthropology though I imagine there are some bright thinkers who can find ways to build a bridge between the two. I’m not that person though, unfortunately!
My perspective is that I worry we give science too much credence in our thinking. Science is useful in understanding the physical universe only, and presupposes no metaphysics (though relies on metaphysics such as mathematics and logic).
Science is often given near absolute reverence though presuppositionally it is built on on fallacy, rarely achieves consensus, and when it does treats consensus as evidence of truth, is the product of ‘man-thinking’ and therefore changes and shifts just like the material universe at its own foci.
Science provides a framework for understanding – yes, but one that should never be given unwavering faith, or uncritical acceptance.
(I justify my assertion that science is built on a fallacy because the scientific method is modus ponens’ disjunctive forms (such as ‘affirming the consequent‘ or ‘constructive dilemma’:
If p, then q.
Let ‘P’ be ‘there is a blackhole at the centre of the universe’
Let ‘Q’ be ‘we see massive gravitational lensing there’
If ‘there is a blackhole at the centre of the universe’ then ‘we see massive gravitational lensing there’.
‘We see massive gravitational lensing there’.
Therefore ‘there is a blackhole at the center of the universe’.
(How about that gravastar at the centre of the universe rather than the blackhole that isn’t?)
This is false clearly false though – consider it again:
Let P be “It rained”.
Let Q be “I was wet”.
If ‘it rained’ then ‘I was wet’.
‘I was wet’.
Therefore ‘it rained”.
Perhaps I was wet because I was in a pool.)
The science of human origins is just that – “Science”, our best guess, subject to change, different in 50 years time than now – and possesses no where near the authority of the bible – even if we are apt to construct false notions about what the bible actually says. Corrupted views or not, the bible possesses a far greater truth coefficient (at 1) than science.
If what Jesus says about gender, marriage, and the blood of Abel in Mark 10:2-9 and Luke 11:51 gives you the most pause with respect to the question of Adam’s historicity then why don’t his words about the scriptures in Matt 5:17-18 and John 10:35 similarly bother you with respect to the question of inerrancy? Personally, I think that a stronger (albeit still unsuccessful) argument could be made that Jesus affirmed something like the inerrancy of the Hebrew Bible than that he affirmed the historicity of Adam.
I may not affirm “inerrancy,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a high view of Scripture. I wouldn’t disagree with Jesus’ words that all of Scripture will be fulfilled (though I think Mt. 5.17-18 is slightly hyperbolic as any study of textual criticism will confirm) nor that Scripture cannot be set aside. Scripture authority and fulfillment do not equate with being correct on all matters of history or science.
Quick example: I think the intent of something like the Matthean and Lukan genealogy is to connect Jesus with David and Abraham (and all humanity for Luke by referencing Adam). I confess this to be true. Matthew and Luke’s message is true: Jesus is this fulfilling figure. Does that mean every name in the genealogy must be correct? I don’t think so. Scripture can be truthful, authoritative, and we could argue “infallible” in intent without being “inerrant” in history and science.
My point is that when Jesus says something like “not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” in Matt 5:18 and “the scripture cannot be annulled” in John 10:35 you have to admit that he’s much closer to affirming something like biblical inerrancy in those texts than he is the historicity of Adam in Mk 10:2-9. At least in the case of Matt 5:18 and John 10:35 he’s talking about the scriptures whereas Adam isn’t even mentioned in Mark 10:2-9. Perhaps the difference is that you’ve spent more time thinking about your understanding of the scriptures and what Jesus says about them than you have similar questions concerning the historicity of Adam.
For the record, I don’t hold to either biblical inerrancy or infallibility and almost certainly have a lower view of the scriptures than yourself so there are no worries from my end about where you stand on this issue.
Strangely Brian, I agree with you – though would say I hold to ‘biblical inerrancy’ and prefix with that to mean I don’t believe ‘a translation’ is perfect, or ‘all manuscripts in their original language are 100% guaranteed to be without error’.
With respect to factual correctness, I might even entertain the idea that biblical facts are subject to scrutiny (for correctness) with the provision that if there are errors they are a product of the human author, copiest, or translator and capable of explanation. I have a high view of biblical science/history, and somewhat less than a high view of our ability to interpret or understand correctly science/history.
In other words, though the idea of biblical errors can be entertained, it seems more reasonable to scrutinize either the hermeneutic, the extant manuscript or it’s production first.
Brian wrote: “On some days I think a first human had to exist because it has become imbedded deeply into my worldview. […] Also, I am woefully ignorant of the science of human origins. I won’t pretend like I can pick up a few books and suddenly become an expert.”
However, I am quite certain you will find it impossible to reconcile a literal interpretation of Genesis with the facts of evolution, including human evolution. Whether one is looking at physical anthropology and archeology, or whether one is looking at genetics, the answer comes up that humans have been around for a long time, and there never was a time when we had just a single male and female ancestor co-residing.
As critical as I am of certain aspects of Biologos, they are trying to help evangelicals out of the literalist trappings that American fundamentalism finds itself. Unless you are willing to look at Genesis and large segments of the Bible symbolically, your religious system will be shipwrecked when trying to deal with the real universe that science researches.
“Unless you are willing to look at Genesis and large segments of the Bible symbolically, your religious system will be shipwrecked when trying to deal with the real universe that science researches.”
What “large segments” of the Bible do you have in mind?
Not unlike Genesis (which is almost completely fictional), pretty much all “historical” references in the compilation we in the West call the Bible, before the late Post-Babylonian return of Jews, are doubtful factually, though the stories may contain kernels of actual events (such as the reign of Josiah and his followers.) That is, only from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah are the Jewish records more in accord to what we know of as an accurate history of the region.
Apocalyptic literature is also written to be clearly symbolic.
Uh huh. Personally, I highly doubt that our knowledge of the pre-exilic period is sufficiently complete that we can rule out as much of the biblical record outside of Genesis as you suspect. It’s not as if we have an accurate historical reconstruction of the pre-exilic period on the one hand and the biblical record on the other and then observe that the two are different at almost every point, which is what you seem to be suggesting. I’ve read enough OT historical criticism to know that a great deal of uncertainty abounds with this kind of ancient history.
There has been a very great deal of archeology done in the southern Levant, and the summary I gave you is just a top level view of what one finds in the academic literature. I realize that popular literature, especially that written from a contemporary American evangelical view, discounts the academic research, but that is indeed what this very topic is all about.
Just as researching genetics and physical anthropology will lead one a great distance away from the Genesis creation stories, so researching ancient history and archeology of the Levant will lead one away from accepting the stories in many other parts of the OT as being historical or factual.
This is why in the various religious communities often self identified as “fundamentalist” or “evangelical” there is disdain for the academic work. The Bible as reliable as a history book does not survive in the light of modern research, so one ends up rejecting one or the other.
Yet the other choice available – and some take it – is to bury one’s head in the sand and go on pretending the results of vast amounts of research, in various fields, does not exist.
Inevitably the religious person is confronted with contradictions with their beliefs and the resolution of such ends in just a handful of paths, and that is why these types of issues are so difficult. Why pretend otherwise? The path the original poster (Brian) discusses will be a bumpy one and if he is open to it the journey will change him and his beliefs.
It’s true that the academic consensus has rapidly shifted in the space of a few decades from their being a historical basis for the biblical record beginning with the Exodus as recently as the latter 70s/early 80s to the entire Hebrew Bible being dismissed as (more or less) ahistorical propaganda by more radical scholars in recent times. However, this rapid change in the perspective of the scholarly community has not been driven by any great new discoveries (a la the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 40s/50s) but by the ever-fluctuating consensuses of academics driven to speculation due to lack of data. It’s really that simple, the scattered bits of archaeological remains and the surviving portions of various extra-biblical annals, which are no different from their biblical counterparts in having biases of their own, aren’t even close to being enough to come up with a historical reconstruction of the pre-exilic period against which much of the Bible can be judged. You see, scholars constantly need to find new things to write about even as the relevant data about which they are writing remains as meager as it always has. I trust that a smart fellow such as yourself can put two and two together.
There’s no comparison between the findings of geneticists and the speculations of archeologists working in the Levant concerning history that’s 2500+ years old. The former are scientists that base their results on sound theory while the latter are the rough equivalent of artists that work with a very limited set of materials. Try again.
I have enough common sense to admit that Gen 2-3 is an ahistorical myth (I don’t need genetics for that by the way) but do you have enough to admit that we don’t know the history of the pre-exilic period of Israel’s history with any real confidence? Actually, I’m not sure we know the history of any place 2500+ years ago well enough to make the sorts of judgments you’re willing to make.
You are overlooking the extensive archeology of various Canaanite cities/towns during the last couple of decades. Even those serious archeologists, such as A. Mazar, who are trying to avoid the low chronology, have to admit that what has been found contradicts the Biblical story of the invasion of the Israelites under the storied Joshua (and his successors).
Furthermore, evidence indicates that the northern areas were the prosperous ones, and the southern areas such as Jerusalem were rather insignificant until the neo-Assyrian empire captured the north. This additionally provides evidence for those trying to figure out how the competing religious traditions found there way into the Hebrew writings that, if any, can be traced back to the 8th through 6th centuries BCE.
Reconstructing older periods have been helped too by excavations. There is plenty of physical evidence to show that, for example, throughout much of what was thought of as traditional Israel that the religion was polytheistic and indeed is no different than what is thought of as “Canaanite”.
The bottom line is this – the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, etc. are historical fiction, created by the religious writers in the much later 1st and 2nd temple periods. That also explains why peoples/customs of the later period get written back into history hundreds of years before they should be.
And that barely touches on work done in what is today within the boundaries of modern “Israel”, for the period before the neo-Babylonian conquest.
There are literally (and I use that word properly) hundreds upon hundreds of compilations of scholarly work done in this field that have been made available the past 25 years or so, from textbooks to monographs. I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, but I have read widely enough to realize the magnitude of the work that has been done.
And I’ve not even touched on the work done in the 1st BCE to 1st CE period, that covers the NT timeframe.
Again, I think this is such a touchy issue for the person from an evangelical or fundamentalists background that one has to be upfront about this: serious academic study of these type of issues tend (strongly) to dissuade one from traditional beliefs. This is why pastors discourage people going to seminaries, or why in some Christian colleges and seminaries dismiss faculty that don’t teach within the proscribed bounds.
I understand what you’re saying, but a lot of the archaeological scholarship you’re referring to is by necessity rather speculative and doesn’t really speak against the Hebrew Bible with anywhere near the level of certainty that you suggest. Of course, the scholars in those areas are loathe to admit this in their monographs and books, but it’s true all the same.
Speaking for myself, I am much more familiar with the scholarly conversation concerning the NT and its historical context as well as the literary nature of the Hebrew Bible and know firsthand that much of what’s been written in those areas is garbage that will easily be overturned in the coming years, so my experience in those areas where scholars have much more to work with doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the findings of ancient historians thinking about the pre-exilic period who have by comparison very little to work with.
This kind of statement reveals more about yourself than anything else. Of course the ancient Hebrews had polytheistic tendencies! Their own traditions are unanimous on this point and even use it to explain why Israel went into Babylonian exile and will experience future eschatological punishment (i.e. Yahweh is punishing them for their idolatry and unfaithfulness to him). Hence, any archaeological evidence that finds polytheism in ancient Israel only supports the Hebrew Bible, so I’m not sure what your rhetorical purposes are in mentioning this.
There’s no real evidence for this kind of statement.
I’m not sure what you’re thinking of here and in any case don’t have any confidence in our ability to assess what customs peoples in the very early period under discussion couldn’t have had but even if I grant the point you then have to explain the widespread presence of these characters in the tradition and why the ancient Hebrews developed their eschatological hopes for the future after the pattern of these characters. The problem is that in order to answer these sorts of questions you typically end up with a patently absurd scenario like the ancient Hebrews inventing legends for fictional characters concerning their national origins so that they could then imagine their future national hopes after the pattern of the same legendary fictional characters. It’s all so ridiculous the more you think about it, which is why some scholars feel the need to go full retard and assert that the entire Hebrew Bible is little more than pseudo-historical propagandistic fiction even though at least some of it has been archaeologically verified and/or consistent with the annals of surrounding nations.
We could probably go forever about these things, but I suspect the blog owner has moved on to more recent topics. Nevertheless, I thought I’d follow up about a couple of topics:
First, on the archeology of Canaan and the implications for Joshua: the biblical texts state pretty clearly about a wide invasion throughout the land by Joshua and his army, nominally “Israel”, in a relatively narrow time frame. The most famous story is about Jericho, but there are plenty of other locations discussed.
When modern archeologists dig through the remains of these cities/areas, and do *not* find such simultaneous destruction, but rather slow changes in a city, or destructions happening over long periods of time, that indeed contradicts the canonical Biblical story (which itself has inner contradictions.)
Likewise, recent work has indicated pretty clearly that Jerusalem wasn’t a large or dominant city until the time Josiah, which definitely undercuts the claims about a superior Davidic/Solomon established empire centered there. This is not a particularly novel claim, btw, and I’m merely repeating what I find in the academic literature.
These type of issues, when looked at in detail, do indeed force one to confront their doctrines of “inerrancy” of their religious books.
This is the same challenge that one will have when, say, genetics shows that a claim of an Adam and Eve 6000 years ago is wrong. The same issue is challenged: the idea that the current Christian canon is somehow privileged.
Put another way: if one accepts that Gen 1-11 is not historical, but rather a fictional tale to teach morality or to create a backstory for Israel as nation, then why would one accept that from chapters 12 on that Gen is historical (in the modern sense)?
Anyway, I’ll leave it at that. Perhaps I’ll put up a much lengthier and detailed response, but that will be on my own blog pages (check link on name.)
You can’t make an argument from silence about events that putatively took place 3000+ years ago given that we have very little idea about what actually happened.
The problem with this argument is that almost nothing is “pretty clear” about the ancient city of Jerusalem on the archaeological evidence alone. Now, this may be our best guess on the present state of the archaeological evidence but that’s hardly saying much. On the other hand, if David wasn’t a great king of some sort and only the local chieftain of a relatively minor city who never subdued the other peoples around him then why would the ancient Hebrews like their glorious conquering eschatological king after the pattern of David in their prophetic writings?
Agreed, this is a real problem for people who want to hold on to the historicity of Gen 2-3.
I disagree, the early church councils got the NT canon right save 2 Peter by correctly identifying the writings connected with the earliest phase of Christianity.
Well, I think there is at least some kind historical basis for much of what we find in Gen 4-11, but it’s a good question nonetheless; however, to properly answer it would require a good deal of space and this conversation is winding down anyway.
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