Thursday, September 8, 2011

Adam, Where Art Thou? PART I

In Genesis 3:9, God calls out to Adam, “Where art thou?” He does this because Adam is hiding from Him. As he hid from God that day, Adam is slowly disappearing from the scene of the more liberal side of evangelicalism. We may look into the histories and theologies of these biblical scholars and theologians, and ask with God, "Adam, where art thou?"
There has been a lot of dust that has been kicked up over the historical Adam issue in recent days, partly due to the denial of my former OT Prof at Westminster, Peter Enns (as well as quite a few others), that Adam ever existed. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a lot lately to challenge Dr. Enns on his views, and has charged them as a rejection of biblical authority and the foundations of the gospel.

To get you up to speed (somewhat), Dr. Enns believes that Genesis 1 deals with Md) as humanity in general, not a specific person. Only in Genesis 2 does the word Md) refer to a specific person, and Genesis 2, he believes, relates the beginning of Israel, not the world in general. He concludes this based upon the fact that Adam’s covenant-transgression-exile mimics the pattern of Israel’s biblical history. Hence, the literary Adam is just a microcosm of the real Israel’s plight. In other words, Israel, along with its history, is condensed into an individual. That individual never really existed.
He has other arguments, such as the fact that Genesis 2 is not cosmic, but local within its purview. Hence, where Genesis 1 is cosmic and deals with the creation of the world without a specific human created called Adam, Genesis 2 deals with the creation of Israel. It is the beginning of Israel’s story. Hence, the genealogies that follow lead us to Israel, and those within Israel’s world, not the entire world.[1]

Mohler, on the other hand, believes that the Genesis narrative is literal, and that teaching there is no singular, historical Adam rips out the foundations of the gospel narrative throughout Scripture.[2]

This is the kind of debate that has the potential of polarizing people who shouldn’t be polarized over an issue. The historical Adam is important, so I am not disagreeing with Mohler there. I think he is right that to deny an historical Adam leads to a different understanding of the gospel—frankly, one that has been viewed as heresy for the past 1500 years, as it would mean that Pelagianism was true. As a Reformed believer, Dr. Enns still needs to explain why his denial of Adam does not lead to Pelagianism, and therefore, an unnecessary gospel. I’ve yet to hear a good answer to this. In fact, because of its implications, I see little in the denial of the historical Adam that will not lead to liberalism.

Now, I say “lead to liberalism,” but in reality what leads to X stems from X in the first place. This is the nature of presuppositions in one’s methodology of inquiry. If one’s ultimate authority is empiricism (i.e., what he and others experience and perceive from that experience to be true), rather than an ultimate belief in the report of Scripture, then liberalism has already been adopted.

It’s not that Dr. Enns doesn’t believe the Scripture as an authority, but that he is letting what he perceives as the implications of modern scientific theories (emphasis on the word “theories”) guide his belief on whether Adam and Eve were literal human beings. If one starts with X is true, but Scripture says Y, and Y must also be true, one is going to have to interpret one in light of the other. And if they are both contradictory, if only perceived so, one must bend and bow to the other.
So I don’t like the idea that we’re starting with modern theories, since I don’t hold modern theories as my ultimate authority concerning origins.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Dr. Enns is only using modern origins theories and interpreting the Bible with it. He is also concluding that if the Bible has some other purpose in communicating the creation narratives to its audience, then (combined with modern origins theories) there is no reason to believe in an historical Adam. But the reason why he seems to be looking for alternate interpretations is driven by modern origins theories he believes to be the standard truth which Scripture must not negate (hence, where we could conclude that Scripture is using history as a backdrop to its theology, we must deny this based on modern origins theories). Now, this seems to be Dr. Enns assessment of the implication of these theories to biblical study, not what these theories actually call for IMHO.

However, having said that, Mohler is mixing up a lot in the same salad bowl. One can believe in an historical Adam, but not believe in Adam’s singularity. One can believe in an historical Adam that was created by God through the process of evolution. Mohler believes that the Genesis narratives are literal, and so we end up with a singular Adam of direct creation; but I would contend that one can take Genesis 1-3 as symbolic presentations of Adam and Eve, and their fall, rather than literal ones, and still believe in an historical Adam and Eve and a literal Fall. In other words, the historicity of the couple is not reliant on the Bible, but it is also not negated even by modern theories concerning origins. The only thing negated by modern origins theories are that Adam was a singularly made human and that he came into existence through an immediate and direct act of God. So what I’m trying to say is that these are different issues than whether Adam really existed in history.

Both Dr. Enns and Mohler seem to think that if the Bible does not literally teach a singular Adam as a fact of history that God wants us to believe, then Adam didn’t exist. All I have to say to that is, Hugh? All this does is say that the Bible doesn’t teach it, not that it isn’t true. In reality, neither the Bible, nor modern origins theories, negate the existence of an original Adam (in fact, the Bible supports it), so why is Dr. Enns negating it? Likewise, if the Bible does not require a singular Adam who was directly made by God without the process of evolution in order to sustain the gospel narrative, then why confuse people, as Mohler is doing, by painting the affirmation of these issues as just as important as the historicity of Adam?

It’s my contention here, however, that Dr. Enns has no reason to deny an historical Adam. It’s pure speculation in the opposite direction. In other words, we have a massive amount of texts, both ancient Near Eastern and in the Bible that speak of an “Adam” with whom deity makes a covenant on behalf of mankind. Why deny the existence of such a one when there is no evidence to warrant against it? The existence of Adam is an historical question that cannot be answered by science, and seems to have some evidence in Scripture and the larger culture, so what’s the deal? I don’t get it. In my opinion, Dr. Enns at the very least should remain agnostic on the subject, but I think agnosticism on this issue is silly, since we don’t require massive proof for ancient historical figures the way some are requiring of Adam today. Any small evidence toward one side is more than none, and since it retains the biblical and orthodox narrative of the gospel, which is supposedly our ultimate authority, why deny it for the sake of no evidence and complete speculation in the face of evidence the other way? The only thing I can think of is that when he denies the existence of Adam, he is not really denying his existence, but the existence of Adam as the presentation of Scripture has been interpreted down through the years (i.e., as a singular human made by direct creation) if we were to take Scripture’s depictions of historical figures literally. But many people take these texts as symbolic presentations of historical figures, so why say that Adam did not exist at all? Perhaps, Dr. Enns will clarify that in his book (or maybe he has and I missed it).

It is also my contention that Mohler is wrong for confusing the singularity of Adam and means through which he was created with the denial of an historical Adam. This, again, may be the denial that Genesis 1-3 are literal descriptions of creation and Adam, but not a denial of Adam’s existence itself.

Hence, this is all very confusing, and I’m sure will lead to a much bigger mess than it should. Let’s stay on the gospel. Let’s consider the evidence. Let’s look at the way the narrative communicates truth to us. Let’s focus specifically on what we’re critiquing or denying, and what exactly is the importance in believing or denying each specific element within a particular view.

As I said, I agree with Mohler in terms of his critique of denying an historical Adam. I don’t agree that believing in Adam’s singularity or that the Genesis account of his creation is literal is something that holds the gospel up. If Mohler’s point is that the denial of an historical Adam is equal to a denial of taking the presentations of Adam literally, then I think I would have to completely reject that assessment for the same reasons I would reject Dr. Enns’s view that seems to suggest the same thing.

I don’t deny Adam’s singularity or that he was created by a direct act of God instead of a divinely governed evolution; but I do deny that believing in an historical Adam is equivalent to believing in the literal presentation of Adam in the creation narratives.[3] I’ll explain why the other options are just as right as rain with the gospel narrative in the second part of this post.

[3] Primeval history is always meant to be real history presented symbolically. It could be that Scripture differs here, but all of the evidence from the Scripture itself, as well as its continuity in terms of its genre with other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, suggests that it does not.

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