Historical Adam: Wrestling with Romans 5

Daniel Harrell

February 21, 2013

Thanks, Daniel, for trying to wrestle with this passage. I realize that many can be too quick to pass over this passage and it's importance.

At the same time, I think that this article makes several assumptions about the event nature of the early Genesis narrative. Is it really too easy to read Adam and Eve as figurative? It may be, but unfortunately, I'm not sure you really address that as a real possibility.

My concern is that with the kind of reading presented here we end up with what Dennis Venema has elsewhere called a "Ratcheting Concordism" - we keep trying to make the events of the Biblical account line up with some sort of historical/scientific sequence and keep having to reinterpret the passage trying to maintain some sort of concordism.

February 21, 2013

Thanks Daniel for you article, and K for your comments. I agree with you, K, in recognizing the way so many serious students of the Bible attempt to interpret Scripture to fit with the findings of God’s revelation in nature (scientific findings). Whether one falls on the side of a literal Adam and Eve or metaphorical Adam and Eve we are left with a myriad of problems. All sides want to protect the integrity of Scripture.

Daniel, your comments in regard to eternal death rather than physical death, that God’s warning to Adam and Eve was not in reality in regard to physical death but had to do with our spiritual relationship to God., has some problems. The Old Testament view of an afterlife is very dissimilar to a New Testament view. For the Jew, the cessation of physical life was pretty much the end of life, period. You may find a text or two to support the idea of something beyond physical death, but you will find much more to support the idea that physical death brings finality. You seem to be reading a New Testament perspective into your theory, in regard to the Genesis account.

So was God giving comfort, hope and assurance to the Old Testament crowd or only the New Testament crowd. For Old Testament readers the logical explanation of Adam and Eve’s fall and punishment was physical death, if only an eventual physical death. And after all, the Jews were the original audience to Moses’ writings.

Again, with this view, and the many others there are a lot of problems. In all these attempts to explain Genesis, Christians are infinitely cautious to protect the truthfulness of the Bible (no errors). Many Christians are very willing to dismiss “evolution” altogether and others, large parts of it, even though our natural world reveals God very clearly. The idea of evolution just can’t be true or reconciled to the teaching of the Bible. But many Christians are trying.

It seems amazing to me that with the volumes and volumes of books and scientific study that has been done in regard to evolution, still Christians can discount all that scientific inquiry based on a single book, the Bible, or even more so, based on a few short pages of the Bible. The few pages outweigh all scientific inquiry. Why? Because Scripture is without error.

There are a lot of other religions that go far back into history. All of them claim their Scriptures are the only authoritative word of God. Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and more recently Mormonism. Are they all inerrant, or why just the Bible and not the Koran or the Book of Mormon or the writings of the Hindu religion. A more likely explanation is that none are inerrant, including the Bible. All these religious writings were primitive attempts to explain the God they saw in nature but didn’t understand. And now Christians are putting their single volume (the Bible) up against the multitudinous volumes of scientific study. I believe most Christians feel badly that so many people can’t take hold of their perspective (especially in regard to Christ) but can’t you see the other side of the coin where non-Christians feel equally bad for those who claim Christianity as the world’s only hope?

February 25, 2013

Terrific piece. I find few pieces that dare to start getting into some of the weeds in these positions but into the weeds we must go because that's where the wheat is. :) pvk

February 25, 2013

There's no question that competing inerrant texts among religions groups presents an obvious challenge and a potential point of doubt or all involved, especially imagined "outside" observers.

It is precisely in this presumed "outside" observer stance where the observation breaks down. It is a naive view of both science and religion. These sacred texts aren't simply filled with "facts" that are compiled by theologians into equations that attempt to explain truth. Unfortunately what Modernism has yielded are religious people approaching their texts in these ways, and thus we see the comparison.

I think a more honest approach to all of them is to recognize that these texts create an interpretive framework from which these highly complex religious-cultural communities approach these matters.

One might then ask what interpretive framework the "outside observer" brings to their seat of judgment?

There is no doubt that Christians bring deep, psychological and motivational axes to grind to their publishing mills. Many of them are easy to expose, as you have done.

More difficult, and more constructive, is try to have productive conversations between members of these communities where we can explore together. pvk

March 2, 2013

1) If Adam were a 'cultural figure' as opposed to historical would Jesus or Paul have made different statements? In other words, if Adam were not strictly historical, would Jesus or Paul (having divine knowledge/revelation) have corrected the general population?
2) Can Adam be historically ancient but not 'first' and still be representative of Israel and humanity?
3) Is the first sin best understood as physical disobedience? Is not choosing/loving God, a first inappropriate spiritual-relational act, a better understanding?
4) If natural selection is God's agency in creation, how can it produce physical selfishness that God would count as sin?

March 2, 2013

"..there are basically two options for [Adam and Eve's] existence within an evolutionary rubric."
Before we dismiss Adam and Eve as either metaphorical or simply representatives of a group of evolved "hominids", consider that the odds against evolution are greater than, for example, the odds against Jesus fulfilling all the prophecies pertaining to Him in the OT. Jesus beats the odds, as testified to in Scripture and history. Evolution doesn't. There's more on evolution's probability problem here: http://carm.org/secular-movements/evolution/problem-genetic-improbability
"We are left to wrestle with the necessity of death for the sake of biological life, but pondered in light of the cross, we might view such death as an aspect of God’s sacrificial character writ large across the entirety of creation."
Death in the context of evolution is driven largely by the "self-interest that serves to benefit life". This "self-interest" is not sacrificial in any way. It benefits only the survivor. No animal ever laid down its life for the good of another. "Survival of the fittest" is not analogous at all to Christ's atoning sacrifice on the Cross.
Also, for death of any kind to be "an aspect of God’s ... character", it must be inherently good. This notion is contradicted by Scripture. Death is antithetical to all that God is. He is life. Death has its roots in sin, not the character of God. And one day death itself will be destroyed - it is "the last enemy" (1 Cor. 15:26, Rev. 20:14) - and the "creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay" (Rom. 8:21).
So, attempts to harmonize evolution and Scripture face many hurdles. These efforts are ultimately unnecessary if evolution never happened - and the odds say it's impossible.

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