Straw Men Created by the ‘Historical Adam’ Debate

Depiction of Adam and Eve being cast out from ...
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Statements like this – all the gospel will be lost if – has been uttered and repeated time and time again when those entrenched against new information cannot handle it and create fear scenarios . Dr. Mohler writes,

Thus, the denial of a historical Adam means that we would have to tell the Bible’s story in a very different way than the church has told it for centuries as the Bible has been read, taught, preached, and believed. If there is no historical Adam, then the Bible’s metanarrative is not Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation, but something very different.

If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.

Adam and Eve: Clarifying Again What Is at Stake .

The issue is, is one of of intellectual dishonesty. This is not a slight against Dr. Mohler. This happens all the time and is natural – see the theory of motivated reasoning. What happens is you start with a position, A, and you reject anything that changes it, or outright dismisses it. You don’t challenge or otherwise defend against the evidence – in fact, all that is happening is that one has set up a position as unchangeable and defends that position by not allowing any contrary facts to exist.

The fact is, is that John Walton has placed along side the so-called ‘plain reading’ of Scripture Scriptural facts and evidences that the aforementioned reading is wrong. Yet, because that changes a particular narrative, it is not considered, or not considered fairly. This is what is happening. It is not that the Gospel is at stake – it wasn’t at stake at Nicea; it wasn’t at stake at the Great Schism; it wasn’t at stake in the Reformation. It’s not at stake now. What is at stake is entrenched interpretations – as the above mentioned moments in Christian history – and those who needed them to believe the Gospel. The fact is, is that with Walton’s evidences, the Covenantal theme becomes that much more clearer in Scripture. Perhaps, then, that is what troubles so many. Perhaps a change in the narrative is what is troublesome.

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

12 thoughts on “Straw Men Created by the ‘Historical Adam’ Debate

  1. I despise people like Mohler, but he’s right about this. If you really understand these writings in context, it becomes apparent that they are human productions influenced by the surrounding cultures and ideas and limited by the knowledge of the day.

    It’s hard to realize that and then take the leap into seeing the writings as somehow sacred or representing eternal truth by the creator of the universe. Fundamentalists don’t want anybody to go down that road because they fear that the truth will undermine their religion, but they are right — it does.

  2. I in no way disagree with you, and your appeal to clear and critical thinking is refreshing as always. However, what do you do with what looks like Jesus’ and Paul’s literal reading of the creation accounts?

    1. I’m not sure that I would agree that Paul was a literalist – especially given his use of Jewish Scripture to prop up his Christian (i know, I know) interpretation. Further, I think that the way Jesus used Scripture wasn’t about supporting a literal Creation account, but using Scripture to set up a narrative.

      1. They might not have been “literalists” in a philosophical sense, but of course Jesus and Paul believed that the Hebrew scriptures were true and they almost certainly believed in a literal creation account. Because Jesus or Paul thought Hebrew history of creation was true, however, doesn’t make it so.

        What else would they have thought? Evolution had not been discovered. Every ancient had some outdated view of creation. It would be nice to parse scripture to try and make Jesus as never wrong or that he was enlightened in a modern sense, but that does as much disservice to the writings as the fundamentalists.

        1. But, PF, you can’t say for sure that they believed in a literal creation account. Philo didn’t. Many of the writers of the books around that time didn’t either. You can think something true without taking it literal. Further, you can use it as Truth without thinking that it is a literal action by action account. Paul used Genesis in several different ways, and many, in a non-literal sense. Further, Genesis shows up in Revelation when John is writing with nothing by prophetic allegory. Further, simply because some thought it a certain way for so long doesn’t make it correct. My contention is that Genesis 1 was not written about Creation, but about politics.

          I have a three part series (here, here and here) on Genesis in 2nd Temple Judaism.

          1. Of course, there is very little one can say for sure about Jesus or Paul. But given that they dedicated their lives to the spread of their religion, which was based on the Hebrew scripture, and that they quoted the scripture as representing absolute truth, I’d say the odds are good that they had a strong opinion about the literal truth of the scripture.

            Like everyone, they used the scripture literally and metaphorically at times to suit different purposes. But I think it would be a stretch to say that they had a modern enlightenment mindset about what constitutes truth. I think the evidence is that they probably would have believed the literal creation accounts and not thought twice about it.

            As far as Genesis goes, the book was stitched together from two or more accounts by an editor, as is demonstrated in the two versions of the creation account. So I think each author and the editor(s) may have had an independent motive. Certainly politics (unifying Judah and Israel) was one motive behind the combining of the accounts.

          2. Agree with most of what you say here, except for the literalism bit. I’m not sure, given Philo, Enoch and others, that we can rightly say that they started with a literal framework.

  3. Also the full humanity of Jesus necessitates that his knowledge be historically and scientifically limited to that of his contemporaries.

  4. isnt the problem that we are reading Jesus and Paul’s “interpretative method” in the light of how we understand it today?
    They, for example, didnt have problems with people understanding greek and hebrew, the cultural issues of the day, the way language and image was used etc, etc, etc, as we do today.
    I hardly think Jesus and Paul had to deal with the issues around Genesis that we have today, and would have taken it was it was meant; a theological recounting of how things came to be (that is, the story of origins from a theistic perspective).

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