Last month, with the help of our friends at Zondervan Academic, we posted a series of different perspectives on the question of biblical inerrancy. Today, we turn to another topic that relates to the discussion about biblical interpretation: the question of the “historical Adam.”
The question of whether Adam and Eve actually existed—as real people who lived in real history and who are the parents of all humanity—has become a touchy question within evangelical Christian theology.
Some scholars insist that a historical Adam is necessary; after all, the apostle Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus and seems to view Adam as equally historical, and many Christian doctrines have traditionally hinged on Adam. Other scholars doubt both the existence of a man named Adam and his necessity to our faith.
Underlying the disagreement about Adam are questions about evolution and the inerrancy of Scripture, the kind of issues by which institutions define themselves and over which professors can lose jobs.
To give you a taste of the different views and what’s at stake in this debate, we’ve collected new videos from contributors and editors of the new Zondervan book, Four Views on the Historical Adam.
A Young-Earth View on the Historical Adam
(With Contributor William D. Barrick)
The Historical Adam as “Archetypal Figure”
(With Contributor John Walton)
The Historical Adam Debate
(With General Editor Matthew Barrett)
Why is the Historical Adam Debate Essential?
(With General Editor Ardel Caneday)
Unfortunately we could not obtain videos with contributors Denis O. Lamoreux and C. John Collins, but you will find some of their major points summarized below.
What are the Four Views on the Historical Adam?
Here are key points from all four of the book’s contributors, taken from their “Four Views on the Historical Adam” talks at the latest meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. To learn more about the essential debate over the historical Adam, check out the new book from Zondervan, Four Views on the Historical Adam. -Zondervan Academic (@ZonderAcademic)
1. No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View — Denis Lamoureux
- Since Scripture is true and science at its best is true, it may be reasonable to assume that the Bible and science should align—but they don’t. “Scientific concordism,” which has been a default position among many evangelicals, is not itself taught by Scripture.
- What we find in Scripture, instead, are examples of ancient perspectives on taxonomy and human history. “Adam” was the best of ancient science, but he never existed.
- The ancient science in Scripture shouldn’t harm our trust in Scripture, because God was simply accommodating his word to the original readers. The science is incidental, but the spiritual truths are inerrant.
- Evolution is teleological, meaning guided by God, and it was the process by which he guided the creation that he continues to sustain and oversee.
2. A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View — John Walton
- Although most scholars have traditionally viewed the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 as a fuller explanation of God’s creation of man and woman on Day 6 in Genesis 1, Walton questions that understanding.
- Genesis 2 is a “sequel” to Genesis 1. Walton outlined the use of “sequels” as a literary feature throughout Genesis.
- Genesis 2 is not focused on the material creation of humans. It is focused on God’s purpose for humans. Adam and Eve were real people, archetypes of the human race, but they may not have been the very first people or the parents of all humanity.
- Scripture doesn’t include an account of the biological or material creation of humanity. Since the Bible doesn’t make claims along these lines, Christians are free to consider various methods for the creation of humans including evolution.
3. A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View — John Collins
- “Historical” does not equal “literal.” Nor does it mean “prose,” “complete in detail,” “free from ideological bias,” “told in exact chronological sequence,” etc. Collins stressed that the Genesis creation accounts are intended to be history, but that biblical history needn’t match modern understandings of history.
- In response to the assertion that the Bible and other ancient near eastern literature creates history out of mythology, Collins quoted K. A. Kitchen: The ancient near east did not historicize myth… there was, rather, a trend to ‘mythologize’ history.” In other words, ancient near eastern people did not turn myths into history. Instead, some people added mythic aspects to real history.
- According to Collins, history matters because biblical faith is based on a narrative of God’s creating and redeeming work; it is not based merely on assent to timeless spiritual truths. Thus, the historical existence of Adam is essential to the Christian story and our faith.
4. A Historical Adam: Young Earth Creation View — William Barrick
- Barrick’s underlying assumptions: the universe is not billions of years old (though he holds to an earth that’s older than 7,000 years), God is the ultimate author of Genesis, Scripture is independently accurate (thus it doesn’t need outside verification), Scripture should be interpreted the same way all throughout it, Genesis 1-11 is universal in scope, and both the Old Testament and New Testament assume a common and historical human origin stemming from Adam.
- The contrasting assumptions Barrick rejects: evolutionary science, an old earth, the view that biblical authors held a pre-scientific perspective (he believes that ancient Hebrew believers did not hold to a solid firmament in the sky, a 3-storey universe, etc.)
- His conclusion: If you read the text straightforwardly, not reading between the lines, a historical Adam created directly by God is what you find.
Learn more about these views in the new Zondervan book Four Views on the Historical Adam.