What Depends Upon An Historical Adam?

I’ll be following up on my previous post, but in the mean time, this post by Steven Wedgeworth from The Calvinist International is a must read.  Just consider a few quotes:


“If the first Adam was mythical, then the nature and work of the Second Adam, precisely as Second Adam, would have to be mythical as well. This does not mean that the Judæan man whom Paul identified as the Second Adam was himself a myth, nor that his life did not unfold in real history. Rather it would mean that his redemptive identity, along with the nature of what He said was his work, was merely mythical, not an objective event with objective effects. He would have been seeking to fulfill a myth.

The resurrection sometimes figures in this discussion in an especially complicated way. Its historicity is undeniably a hallmark of orthodoxy, a non-negotiable doctrine whose status as such has been hard-fought in the last century. Some of those who wish to deny the historicity of Adam think they can take a stand on the doctrine of the historical resurrection. We must remember, however, that our belief in the historical resurrection is not merely a product of proof-texting, as if 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 simply commands fideistic assent. No, the historicity of the resurrection is tied in with the historicity of death and the sure reality of the world to come. The resurrection is where Christ completes the re-capitulatory atonement, and so again, if the Adamic backstory is mythical, so too is the recapitulation.”




It would be argued by some that the historicity of Adam is not true simply because a particular theological system requires it to be so in order to stand. Of course, my response is “What about the historicity of the Resurrection? Does your theological system require that to be true?” Apparently, it’s ok with regard to doctrines that are acceptable, not so much with those we wish to explain away.

Update: See also Dr. Enns’ Brief Response

And Steve Hays contribution: Adam in Scripture



11 thoughts on “What Depends Upon An Historical Adam?

  1. I just wanted to say that when bilical scholars use the word “myth” they are not claiming that the Adam story is “untrue”.

    Just to be clear, most Christians who are moving away from the idea of a literal/historical Adam still would hold to the idea that the Adam story is revealing something true about the nature of humanity and our sinful predicament.

    Jesus (in line with Paul’s argument) is then perceived to be dealing with the very real problem that is presented in the early parts of Genesis.

    The fact is that one can believe that the human predicament is a reality without believing in a historical Adam. Jesus is the answer to this predicament.

    • Hey Brian,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I’m familiar with the use of the term. However, upon what historical grounds do we assert the truth of the Fall? Do we point to a “story”? Not very compelling.

      That’s on par with me asserting the story of the tortoise and the hare is “true”. Slow and steady wins the race. The point of the story may be true, but in real life the tortoise never beats the hare. It’s not grounded in historical reality.

      But Wedgeworth addresses your point in the post when he says:

      “Yes, ‘Is it possible to affirm the point Paul wishes to make… without simultaneously affirming the assumptions with which he illustrated these things to be true.’ This is possible because “the story” is not really dependent upon history, at least not until we get to the crucifixion and resurrection. We can “retell the narrative” and “reimagine the story” just so long as we retain the Christological center. There is an essential kernel to the faith which can be intelligibly removed from the its husk.

      The dispute is not an exegetical one. It is barely a hermeneutical one. Rather, the current debate is a metaphysical one. The answers will be dependent upon prolegomena. Must the Biblical story be grounded in real history, or will it suffice if only “the Christ event” is so? What is never openly discussed, however, is the way in which separating “the Christ event” from its backstory changes the story itself. In fact, the story can no longer enjoy a definite article in the world-scope. Apart from its foundation in creation, it must rather become a story.

      What exactly does this reimagining accomplish? The none-too-insignificant answer is that it changes our narrative of reality altogether. The Scriptures, and our religion, no longer tell a story about the structure of reality, but rather only of a particular subset of experience within it. In short, this retelling and reimaging also accomplishes a significant privatization of religious truth.

      …we offer this unreserved thesis: The historicity of Adam determines the public nature of our religion. If Adam was a historical individual, then the Bible makes authoritative claims about all of humanity and indeed all of the cosmos. It can, at least in theory, be falsified, and it is thus a legitimate topic of dialectical discourse. It is rational and not a retreat to commitment. If Adam was not a historical individual, and if instead the Genesis account is a sort of mythical story which was employed in order to make a uniquely religious point, then Christianity is necessarily rendered merely metaphorical, expressing truths of the human condition through symbols. The Bible in this case is no longer an authoritative account of human origins, history, and final destiny. It no longer addresses all men in all places and times, but rather expresses one faith-narrative that seeks to convey a meaningful but wholly internal truth.

      Put more simply: if Adam is mythical, then so is redemption. While it does not follow that if Adam is mythical, then the historicity of Jesus must also be denied, it does follow that if Adam is mythical, then the historicity of Jesus as Second Adam must be denied. And Christianity is founded on Jesus as Second Adam.”

      Ours is a historical faith, not a story book of theological points. Given your position, you cannot reasonably assert Jesus is any less myth than Adam. If you object, please provide the argumentation.

      • So then…are you asserting that it is impossible for non-historical stories to be authoritative? Even if the non-historical story expresses things (in figurative ways) that are true of the human experience?

      • By the way, I do not know of anyone who would deny that the Christian faith is a historical faith that is grounded in actual historical events. The debate is usually over which events are truly historical.

      • Brian,

        Stories are fiction. Is fiction authoritative? If so, why is Christian fiction any more authoritative than Hindu fiction?

        Would you say the story of the tortoise and the hare is authoritative because it expresses a truth about human experience (if it were in the Bible)?

        With regard to your second comments, upon what basis can such a person assert the historical events of the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, etc. and deny the existence and record of events surrounding Adam, Abraham, Moses, etc.? It’s completely arbitrary. To be consistent, it should all be denied as historical and asserted as metaphor.

  2. I guess that we should ignore the parables of Jesus then? These are fictional stories presenting truth about the human experience, which are in the bible, and thus authoritative…no?

    That is just one example.

    The key is to try to understand the kind of literature that one is reading. This is a difficult task, assuredly. To explain why I believe that the earliest parts of Genesis are not literal/historical would take much more than a comment on a blog post (many books have been written on this subject as I am sure you know).

    However, that does not mean that one should forgo the task. There is no biblical justification for assuming that a literal/historical hermeneutic should be the default mode for reading scripture. As with all portions of scripture (like the parables, or apocalyptic, or whatever) we must seek to understand how we are to read each portion before we can rightly understand it.

    A simple answer I can give to your final question is that I think that the book of Genesis, the Gospels and the letters of Paul are all very different kinds of literature.

    • Brian,

      The parables are didactic in nature and not presented as actual historical accounts. So, along the lines of what you assert above, the parables, the gospels, Genesis, etc. are different kinds of literature. The account of special creation is not presented in the literature as a parable or a storybook tale for ancient peoples to understand that God is Creator. It is recorded as history. The same can be said for the historical narratives found in Kings, Chronicles, etc. You can cite nothing in the text, or the genre of the literature, that can make it into myth and metaphor. It is presented as historical accounts of God’s dealings with Israel in time and space. God’s promises to Abraham, for example, are through his descendants.

      What I have found from those who follow Peter Enns with regard to these matters is they do not want to defend their position from the text. Pete declined to do so in my interaction with him, retreating to issues of “prolegomena”. However, you cannot assert a historical Jesus, or the crucifixion, resurrection, etc., while denying the historicity of almost everything else, without an argument from the text.

      The history of Jesus life and works must be maintained for there to be any remote connection with orthodoxy. That is why I think Enns and others want to hold to it. I can see no other reason why they do, because it is inconsistent with their overall position.

  3. Hold on there a minute…

    First, to insinuate that Peter Enns refuses to deal with the biblical text is at best a distortion, and at worst slanderous. How about some accuracy and perhaps a little bit of generosity? The fact is that you and Peter Enns’ (and I myself) have no quibble whatsoever regarding the authority of God in Christ or the centrality of the text with reference to Christian doctrine and life. To say anything else would be an utter falsehood! Where you and Enns (and I) differ is with regard to how we are supposed to read the text, how we are to supposed understand the text, and what the text means for us as Christians living in the 21st century.

    Second, to argue that neo-Puritan theology (my shorthand for your own theological school of thought) is the standard bearing philosophy for all things logical and rational is laughable. Apparently you have not spent much time engaging with post-structural and/or post-colonial philosophy, which have done a terrific job of deconstructing the epistemological framework and its accompanying “logic” upon which neo-Puritan theology has been constructed. Of course, you will probably say that you do not care about post-structuralism or post-colonialism, because the “plain reading” of the biblical text is sufficient to guide you; however this would only serve to prove the shortcomings of and to reveal a major blind spot in your approach to scripture.

    Third, you can only fault Enns’ for “retreating to issues of prolegomena” because you so arrogantly equate your theology, its philosophical underpinnings, and the so-called “logic” that you derive from these things with the “word of God”. Since Enns’ (and I) do not believe that the neo-Puritan (your) reading of the text is authoritative (not to be confused with a rejection of God’s authority in Christ or the centrality of the bible!) he sees the need to move the conversation backwards in order to address those issues which impact the ways in which we read, understand and apply the scripture today.

    Most certainly, our hermeneutics must be examined in light of the testimony of scripture (and I believe that Enns’ does a far better job of this than any neo-Puritan biblical scholar, theologian or pastor that I have ever encountered) nevertheless, scripture alone, as an instrument for examining and correcting the philosophies, traditions and experiences which have a profound impact (at times enlightening, and at other times deceptive) on each and every person’s reading of the text, will not suffice.

    So then, if you so desire, you can refuse to engage Enns’ and others in this conversation, claim the moral high ground, insist that the neo-Puritan reading is the “plain reading” of the text, boast of your “graciously granted” intellectual superiority, and dismiss any and all people who disagree with your logic as “irrational” and “illogical” while hypocritically chalking up all of the apparent inconsistencies and illogicalities inherent within your own theological and hermeneutical system to that grand old category of “mystery”. However, your arguments will only be persuasive to the choir, they will mislead our less theologically driven sisters and brothers, and they will cause division in the body of Christ. If that is your desire….preach on brother.

    • Brian,

      When I interacted with Enns on his blog, I pressed him with regard to the covenant, the resurrection, and some other doctrinal issues, he would not engage on the level of the text. That is an accurate depiction of what took place, you are free to peruse his blog of recent posts dealing with the historicity of Adam and the corresponding comments. He would not even affirm the historicity of the resurrection based on the text. So, how about a little generosity on your part?

      Secondly, it is hardly agreement with regard to the authority of the text for Christian life and doctrine when you deny the perspicuity of Scripture and apply a post-structuralism philosophy to your hermeneutic. If every reading of the text is a misreading of the text (Jacques Derrida) where exactly is God speaking in the text? As a philosophical movement, deconstructionism didn’t even carry much intellectual weight back when I was in college. It certainly isn’t a Christian philosophical movement. Why would I use it to understand Scripture? If it’s principles be applied, nothing can be objectively understood on any level, and of course, society cannot function that way (much less Christian life and doctrine). However, it is a convenient tool to remove oneself from under the meaning of words and sentences.

      You are free to disagree with me or any of my fellow bloggers here, but when commenters make assertions we expect them to also present cogent argumentation to defend those assertions. You will have to do better than throwing out invectives because you don’t like what we say.

      So then, back to the main point. How is it that Jesus’ life and works are asserted to be historical, but almost everything else myth and metaphor? How do we know, based on Scripture, which events actually took place?

  4. You said:

    “However, your arguments will only be persuasive to the choir, they will mislead our less theologically driven sisters and brothers, and they will cause division in the body of Christ. If that is your desire….preach on brother.”

    But how could my arguments “mislead” anyone if every reading of the text is a misreading of the text? Under post-structuralism, how can anyone be misled? Doesn’t the possibility of being misled presuppose objective truth, and therefore refute post-structuralism?

    By the way, anyone interested in reading my interaction with Enns can go here and judge whether or not he engages the text.

  5. Brian,

    I’m not sure if you intend to interact any further on this topic, but it is important to note that post-structuralism didn’t come to any prominence until fairly recently (1960s). Its’ tenants existed prior to this, no doubt, without the label. However, if it’s necessary to utilize it in order to discover truth in the Scriptures, the generations which existed prior to the 20th century are to be pitied.

    It also creates some big problems for communication when the primary center of meaning is transferred from the author to the reader. We don’t communicate that way verbally. When we speak and the hearer doesn’t understand what is said, it is incumbent on us to clarify. The speaker’s intention is primary, not the hearer. God chose to reveal Himself in a book, which would be a poor choice given post-structuralism.

    And lastly, it is odd that Deconstructionists/Post-Structuralists like Derrida and Foucault chose to convey their ideas/concepts (as well as their meanings) in articles and books. They somehow expected their readers to understand authorial intent. Rather self-contradictory, given their epistemology, don’t you think?

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