Thursday, May 13, 2010

On the historicity of Adam and Eve

Ref21 has posted an excerpt from a book published last year by IVP UK entitled Should Christians Embrace Evolution. Fortunately, our friends at P&R have obtained rights to publish this book for the US market and will be releasing it this year.

One of the contributors, Michael Reeves, addresses the importance of maintaining the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Evangelical Christians have generally resisted the demythologization of the events of the Gospels, whereby, for example, the resurrection of Jesus is interpreted as a mythical portrayal of the principle of new life. Indeed, they have argued strongly that it is the very historicity of the resurrection event that is so vital. However, when it comes to the biblical figures of Adam and Eve, there has been a far greater willingness to interpret them as mythical or symbolic. The simple aim of this chapter is to show, in sketch, that, far from being a peripheral matter for fussy literalists, it is biblically and theologically necessary for Christians to believe in Adam as first, a historical person who second, fathered the entire human race.

Adam was a real, historical person

The textual evidence

The early chapters of Genesis sometimes use the word 'adam' to mean 'humankind' (Gen. 1:26--27, for example), and since there is clearly a literary structure to those chapters, some have seen the figure of Adam there as a literary device, rather than a historical individual. Already a question arises: must we choose between the two? Throughout the Bible we see instances of literary devices used to present historical material: think of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, or the emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus' death at the time of the Passover. Most commentators would happily acknowledge that here are literary devices being employed to draw our attention to the theological significance of the historical events being recounted. The 'literary' need not exclude the 'literal'.

The next question then must be: does the 'literary' exclude the 'literal' in the case of Adam? Not according to those other parts of the Bible that refer back to Adam. The genealogies of Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 all find their first parent in Adam, and while biblical genealogies do sometimes omit names for various reasons, they are not known to add in fictional or mythological figures. When Jesus taught on marriage in Matthew 19:4--6, and when Jude referred to Adam in Jude 14, they used no caveats or anything to suggest that they doubted Adam's historical reality or thought of him in any way differently to how they thought of other Old Testament characters. And when Paul spoke of Adam being formed first, and the woman coming from him (1 Cor. 11:8--9; 1 Tim. 2:11--14), he had to be assuming a historical account in Genesis 2. Paul's argument would collapse into nonsense if he meant that Adam and Eve were mere mythological symbols of the timeless truth that men pre-exist women.

The theological necessity

We can think of the passages cited above as circumstantial evidence that the biblical authors thought of Adam as a real person in history. Circumstantial evidence is useful and important, but we have something more conclusive. That is, the role Adam plays in Paul's theology makes Adam's historical reality integral to the basic storyline of Paul's gospel. And if that is in fact the case, then the historicity of Adam cannot be a side issue, but must be part and parcel of the foundations of Christian belief.

The first exhibit is Romans 5:12--21, where Paul contrasts the sin of 'the one man', Adam, with the righteousness of 'the one man', Christ. Paul is the apostle who, in Galatians 3:16, felt it necessary to make the apparently minute distinction between a singular 'seed' and plural 'seeds', so it is probably safe here to assume that he was not being thoughtless, meaning 'men' when speaking of 'the one man'. Indeed, 'the one man' is repeatedly contrasted with the many human beings, and 'oneness' underpins Paul's very argument, which is about the overthrow of the one sin of the one man (Adam) by the one salvation of the one man (Christ).

Throughout the passage, Paul speaks of Adam in just the same way as he speaks of Christ (his language of death coming 'through' Adam is also similar to how he speaks of blessing coming 'through' Abraham in Gal. 3). He is able to speak of a time before this one man's trespass, when there was no sin or death, and he is able to speak of a time after it, a period of time that, he says, stretched from Adam to Moses. Paul could hardly have been clearer that he supposed Adam was as real and historical a figure as Christ and Moses (and Abraham).

Yet it is not just Paul's language that suggests he believed in a historical Adam; his whole argument depends on it. His logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolic one (Adam). If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall. With a mythical Adam, then, Christ might as well be - in fact, would do better to be -- a symbol of divine forgiveness and new life. Instead, the story Paul tells is of a historical problem of sin, guilt and death being introduced into the creation, a problem that required a historical solution.

To remove that historical problem of the one man Adam's sin would not only remove the rationale for the historical solution of the cross and resurrection, it would transform Paul's gospel beyond all recognition. For where, then, did sin and evil come from? If they were not the result of one man's act of disobedience, then there seem to be only two options: either sin was there beforehand and evil is an integral part of God's creation, or sin is an individualistic thing, brought into the world almost ex nihilo by each person. The former is blatantly non-Christian in its monist or dualist denial of a good Creator and his good creation;(1) the latter looks like Pelagianism,(2) with good individuals becoming sinful by copying Adam (and so, presumably, becoming righteous by copying Christ).
Read the entire excerpt HERE.

In related news, John (Jack) Collins, an Old Testament scholar at Covenant Seminary who was also trained in the sciences at MIT has written a book defending the historicity of Adam and Eve which will be released by Crossway.

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