Update: I realize that some may not have followed this series so there may be some confusion about the the aims of this book. I will be posting a short review in a couple of days but let me make this important point: Enns writes for evangelicals who (A) want to continue to affirm a high view of Scripture yet who (B) find no reason to reject the majority view of scientist studying human origins that there was no “first man and woman” as depicted in the Book of Genesis. One can reject these two ideals, but then one must realize that this book will likely disappoint because either (A) you’ll think Enns is trying to preserve the Bible when it should be cast aside or (B) you’ll think Enns gives too much credence to modern scientific views of human origins. For a good example of how some who affirm both (A) and (B) are trying to “move forward” in this discussion see David Williams’ post “Who Needs a Historical Adam?”
In Pt. 24 I shared some thoughts from Peter Enns on Paul as an interpreter of his Bible. Today’s post surveys Enns’ understanding of Paul’s understanding of Adam.
In Chapter 7: Paul’s Adam Enns begins with this claim:
“If Adam had stayed within the confines of Genesis 2–5, there would be far less difficulty in synthesizing evolution and Christianity—a “historical Adam” would likely be no more crucial to Christian faith than a literal talking snake or a literal garden paradise. The symbolic nature of the garden story would be even clearer if we see Adam as a proto-Israel figure, not the first human…” (Kindle Locations 2774-2777)
“Paul…presents Adam as the first human and responsible for the problem of universal sin and death that Jesus came to eradicate. This is why the question of a historical Adam is understandably so important for many Christians and why digressing from a historical Adam can generate great concern.” (Kindle Locations 2777-2779)
I think Enns is correct. When I read Genesis 1-11 I read ancient Israelites explaining their place in this world through their own cosmology and mythology. It is a perfect precursor to Abraham–the real, important figure in the Book of Genesis. Yet Paul creates trouble!
Enns evaluates Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 44-49. Adam brings death and condemnation. He makes his descendants into sinners. He represents limited, physical, dying humans.
Enns does not side-step the reality that Paul thought of Adam as a real, historical person. He writes:
“At the outset we should admit that Adam is a vital theological and historical figure for Paul. Without question, Adam plays a significant theological role for Paul. But Adam’s theological significance cannot be distanced from Paul’s assumption that Adam was the first man created by God. To be sure, Adam is more than merely a historical figure for Paul, but one of penetrating theological significance.” (Kindle Locations 2788-2791)
So yes, Adam is theologically important, but that is because Paul affirms that he was a real person in history. In other words, his figurative representation doesn’t mean that Paul thought of him as merely a fictional character.
When interpreting Paul Enns cautions that we must remember that he (1) presumes a context that is shared with his readers but lost to us; (2) there are grammatical aspects of Paul’s letters that make it difficult to understand his point; and (3) he is a passionate, pastoral writer rather than a systematic thinker and he did not write with a focus on “…nonnative speakers two thousand years removed from his moment in time, hanging on his every syllable.” (Kindle Locations 2826-2827)
But what does appear clear is that Paul’s Adam was unique. This Adam shares a lot with the Adam of Genesis, and the Adam of other interpreters, but “…distinct portrayal of Adam reflects his Christ-centered handling of the Old Testament in general…In other words, Paul’s understanding of Adam is shaped by Jesus, not the other way around.” (Kindle Locations 2834-2837)
Paul interprets Adam Christocentrically.
Enns asks whether or not the denial of the historicity of Adam ruins Paul’s argument about Christ. Enns says, “no”. He states that, “The way forward, I believe, is to recognize the profound historical (not simply symbolic) truths in Paul’s words that remain despite his view of human origins.” (Kindle Locations 2847-2848)
Can we discuss sin and death without a real Adam?
Death remains universal, even if the symbol of Adam never existed. So Paul’s concern about death remains grounded. Enns writes:
“Admitting the historical and scientific problems with Paul’s Adam does not mean in the least that the gospel message is therefore undermined. A literal Adam may not be the first man and cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, but what remains of Paul’s theology are three core elements of the gospel:
“The universal and self-evident problem of death
“The universal and self-evident problem of sin
“The historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ”
(Kindle Locations 2863-2869)
According to Enns all that we really lose is “Paul’s culturally assumed explanation for what a primordial man had to do with causing the reign of death and sin in the world.” (Kindle Locations 2870-2871) Death and sin remain whether or not Adam existed. Resurrection happened if Jesus rose from the dead whether or not Adam existed.
What does this do to the doctrine of “original sin”? Enns appeals to Lutheran theologian G.L. Murphy who explained that we may have different understandings of original sin, but we can observe the “sin of origin”–that every human is born into a world tainted by human evil: “Murphy and others counsel that we must remain open on the ultimate origins of why all humans are born in sin (original sin) while resting content in the observation that all humans are born in sin (sin of origin).” (Kindle Locations 2892-2893)
There is much more to this final chapter, but for my purposes (thinking about the historical or non-historical Adam) I think it is time to close this series. What I will do is provide a short book review on both Enns’ and Collins’ works. Then I recommend that if you were provoked by my (excessive) series of posts you go purchase and read these books.
If Paul is wrong on his “Adam theology”, I can’t understand why I should have any confidence in any of Paul’s other theology. Either Paul was or he was not inspired in his thoughts concerning Christian theological ideas I would think.
Can you explain why Adam causes Enns such heartburn?
I understand Enns &evolution, I just don’t get why Adam can’t be the first evolved human? I have no problem with Adam being evolved is why I don’t understand Enns’ concerns.
Adam is also theologically important because Jesus used his 2 son’s life events as partial logic to judge Jerusalem.
“Heartburn” is a bit dramatic. As stated in the first post of the series, he is writing to fellow evangelicals who hold a high view of the Bible but find no reason to deny the common affirmation of modern science that there is no evidence for a first couple. One can disagree with him that the Bible is important or one can disagree with him that the majority of scientist are correct about a “first man”, but he isn’t writing for those folk. He is trying to have a conversation with those who share the aforementioned basic premises.
Maybe this post and the one to which Enns links will provide a picture of how some think about Adam’s role in Paul’s Christology. Again, one can reject it, but the point is that this is how some are approaching it because they do believe that there is no good reason to oppose what they believe to be good science: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/11/who-needs-a-historical-prometheus-uh-i-mean-adam/
Patrick, if Paul thought there was a dome over the Earth, do we have to think he was right or think everything he said was wrong? Of course not. The problem with Adam as you note is theology. If Christians in the 21st cent. have genetic evidence that there was no single first human do they need to reject the idea that Paul was inspired at all? Or can we separate Paul’s first century world view from his theology?
The problem with Adam being the first evolved human has to do with genetics. Another problem is that the Adam in the Bible could not be the first human and have one son a farmer and one son a herder. It took too long a time to domesticate plants and animals.
I’m a bit late to this conversation. However, I found an essay by Catholic science fiction author Michael Flynn about Adam as the first evolved human very convincing. Adam was not the first human physiologically but rather the first human spiritually who contributed to the overall gene pool of humanity, one first ancestor rather than the only one. Also, I would recommend Pope Benedict XVI’s In the Beginning from a philosophical standpoint. Personally, I think Adam to be the first person with language with which he was able to “create” the world around him and recognize God. I also tend to consider the Book of Jubilees and the Testament of Adam and Eve as enlightening even though I do not believe they are historical. They are mythological in the truest sense. I believe that God “took” Adam out of his hostile environment into His Presence – a prototype of the Jewish high priest. If Adam had obeyed God, he and humanity would have been given spiritual bodies – theosis for the Orthodox – through the first coming of the Word. As it is, the Serpent (who refused to accept a creature of dust as being superior to an angel/elohim/”god” like himself) tempted Adam to achieve divinity wrongly in defiance of God. I picture the Fall as in “Odyssey 2001” which depicted the first humans learning to kill and develop a lust for control and power. The Bible dramatizes this with Cain, the father of agriculture and civilization, being banished from the Paleolithic existence into the Neolithic one, reflective of Hesiod’s Five Ages. Even though I do not agree with his conclusions, Egyptologist David Rohl makes a convincing case that the genealogy in Genesis reflects the Sumerian Kings List and the first cities in Mesopotamia. After the false start with Noah, Abraham was the new Adam – a plan which failed at the Golden Calf apostasy. Jesus is the recapitulation of Adam in the truest sense.
I think the problem here may be Enns likely thinks Paul is saying Adam has to be all our literal father and I don’t think that’s what Paul stated. Tradition says so, the bible doesn’t.
Paul said Adam introduced sin into the kosmos. Adam did it first is all Paul said. It could have been the other peoples became sinners when associating with Adam’s family, including Cain. Eventually it spread to all the people around then. Doesn’t have to be genetic.
I just don’t see a contradiction between science and the narrative as it stands when we take it as is and not as tradition has it. Plus, there are “other people” already present in the earliest narrative to explain the genome findings.
Regarding a “sin of origins” concept without original sin, that had been pursued by Teilhard de Chardin. It is not entirely off base. Humans became fully aware of their own mortality through language. Death before humanity was not evil but became evil when humanity confronted it in face of their greater promise from God. This reality is starkly demonstrated in the Epic of Gilgamesh with the innocent Enkidu’s fall into civilization and human peril. I believe St. Augustine had made a comment similar to this – that the conditions of nature, thistles and thorns, had existed before Adam and Eve were cursed but became a problem through their own awareness. Yet, I have difficulty accepting then how death is in any sense the result of sin, the falling away from the vitality of God as St. Athanasius described mortality, if there was not a primordial intention of deification which had been frustrated.
To be fair, I don’t think Enns would have any problem with speculation over the meaning of Genesis 1 as regards his being the first human (though he makes it clear that he doesn’t find it useful to speculate on these things). Obviously the Genesis text is somewhat vague. People have come to see Adam as the first human, but the text doesn’t demand this, per se. I think Paul might demand this though. It is hard to read Paul as saying something like Adam was one of a bunch of humans and he happened to be the one to sin and that impacted others. This might work as a theological statement of our own, but I don’t see it in Paul and Paul is the one who causes interpretive problems for Christians.
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