Tim Keller, ANE Myths, τύπος, and the Mythological Adam

Tim Keller – THE GOSPEL COALITION – supports the allowance of science to teach about God’s Creation. Further, he understands the nature of myth:

Kenneth Kitchen, however, protests that this is not how things worked. The prominent Egyptologist and evangelical Christian, when responding to the charge that the flood narrative (Gen 9) should be read as “myth” or “proto-history” like the other flood-narratives from other cultures, answered:

The ancient Near East did not historicize myth (i.e. read it as imaginary “history”). In fact, exactly the reverse is true—there was, rather, a trend to “mythologize” history, to celebrate actual historical events and people in mythological terms.

In other words, the evidence is that Near Eastern “myths” did not evolve over time into historical accounts, but rather historical events tended to evolve over time into more mythological stories. Kitchen’s argument is that, if you read Genesis 2-11 in light of how ancient Near Eastern literature worked, you would conclude, if anything, that Genesis 2-11 were “high” accounts, with much compression and figurative language, of events that actually happened. In summary, it looks like a responsible way of reading the text is to interpret Genesis 2-3 as the account of an historical event that really happened.

He goes on to speak about the use of Adam in Paul’s writings, specifically, Romans 5. He is correct, that for the bible to retain the authority traditionally assigned to it, that we must allow the authors to retain their authority of interpretation:

When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of biblical authority.

But, again, what if we are applying to Paul the strict literalism of a physically identifiable pair when his rhetoric may in fact imply something different? Do we continue to force Paul to abide by our understanding of him, or allow that we may not completely understand him? Paul calls Adam a tupos,

ἀλλὰ ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος ἀπὸ Ἀδὰμ μέχρι Μωϋσέως καὶ ἐπὶ τοὺς μὴ ἁμαρτήσαντας ἐπὶ τῷ ὁμοιώματι τῆς παραβάσεως Ἀδὰμ ὅς ἐστιν τύπος τοῦ μέλλοντος.

That particular word is used in the Maccabean books to represent a pattern or an example (3 Maccabees 3:30; 4 Maccabees 6.19). Why then would a pattern need to be ‘real’ any more than some of the opponents in Galatians and the letters of Ignatius need to be? What? You say you don’t know rhetoric or the criticism in this field being used to reach into the mind of Paul who was arguably, the greatest rhetorician of his day? What if Paul was using the story of Adam as a pattern or an example? Does a physical identifiable pair, etched forever in history, need to have actually existed  for Paul to have used it to show to the Jewish readers the pattern fulfilled by Christ?

Paul was using history, of that I am assured of; however, he doesn’t need to be a literalist in the modern sense.

Click here for another response to Keller.


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