Collins, C. John, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011). (Amazon.com)
The following is a short book review of C. John Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care. For more thoughts on the book see my “Series of posts on the historicity of Adam”.
Message of the Book:
The subtitle should inform the reader of the author’s intent. This book is an apologetic for the historicity of Adam and Eve. C. John Collins is a conservative evangelical writing to an audience who shares many of his presuppositions, especially those regarding the “nature” of Scripture (i.e., inerrancy with a more literalistic approach). What he aims to show is that one cannot maintain this approach to Christianity or the Bible if the historicity of Adam is abandoned. Adam as a real person is presupposed in Scripture and central to many forms of evangelical theology.
Summary of Content:
In Chapter 1: Introduction Collins introduces his readers to the debate over whether or not Christians should affirm the historicity of Adam. He states, “My goal in this study is to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressures to abandon it” (p. 13). Collins reads Scripture with a canonical approach identifying themes and concepts that seem to hold together the “big picture”. Adam, his sin, the fall of humanity, and related matters are central to his “biblical theology”. If Adam is removed then the structure itself loses an important part of its foundation.
Collins explains the various ways readers can think about the Book of Genesis (p. 16). Collins is not a strict literalist, so he advocates an approach that argues: “The author was talking about what he thought were actual events, using rhetorical and literary techniques to shape the readers’ attitudes toward those events.” The remainder of the chapter is dedicated to unfolding his canonical approach and why Adam and Eve matter.
In Chapter 2: Story and Worldview Collins continues to emphasize the importance of Adam and Eve to the “big picture” of the Bible’s story. He discusses topics relates to story, narrative, worldview, history, mythology, and how those all matter when thinking about Adam and Eve. Collins’ main focus is the “historical core”, since he does not deny that the narrative of the Bible can use figurative imagery, exalted speech, and other literary techniques to convey a message. What Collins finds unacceptable is the idea that Adam and Eve might be figurative. Rather, Adam and Eve are part of the essential “historical core”.
In Chapter 3: Particular Texts that Speak of Adam and Eve Collins references and allusions to these characters in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Second Temple Jewish literature. This is where one will find his most in-depth thoughts on the Book of Genesis and the Pauline corpus, including important passages like Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
In Chapter Four: Human Uniqueness and Dignity Collins argues that the theological message that necessitates a historical Adam and Eve impact our day to day lives. Ideas like the “image of God” and human’s desire for justice are connected to his view of human origins. In Chapter Five: Can Science Help Us Pinpoint “Adam and Eve”? Collins addresses topics like concordism, reading the Bible well, and how science might impact our understanding of the Bible. In Chapter Six: ConclusionsCollins summarizes his argument (“I trust I have shown why the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as our first parents who brought sin into human experience is worthy of our confidence and adherence.” p. 133) and explains why it matters (the Christian story, the idea of “sin”, the importance of a common origin, the impact of our worldview).
Collins did not convince me that Christianity stands or falls on the historicity of Adam and Eve. He did convince me that how a Christian understands the historicity of Adam and Eve is tied intrinsically to how one understands the Bible and what the Bible does and does not tell us about reality. I do think that this is a serious topic worth studying. I do understand why many Christians hold out hope that the current evolutionary theory will be proven wrong in time. Adam and Eve are a fairly important set of characters to the Christian Bible and Adam and Eve may be even more important to the theological worldviews of some Christians (e.g., conservative evangelicals, traditional Reformed, Roman Catholic).