The Fall and Sin After Darwin 3 (RJS)

We’ve been looking at the essays in a book Theology After Darwin centered around a simple question: What are the implications for Christian theology if Darwin was right? In conjunction with this we are also looking at three articles in the recent theme issue of the ASA Journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (v. 62 no. 3 2010) Reading Genesis: The Historicity of Adam and Eve, Genomics, and Evolutionary Science.

On Tuesday we began a discussion of the article by Daniel C. Harlow, After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science (pp. 179-195 – pdf available at the link to the left). Dr. Harlow a professor of religion at Calvin College, he obtained his Ph.D. at Notre Dame studying the ever fascinating Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch). In his article in PSCF he takes a nonconcordist approach to Genesis and looks at the text as story rather than history. He considers Adam and Eve as symbolic literary figures. We discussed the portion of his article where he puts forth his reasons for this conclusion in the last post.

The next part of his article looks at the consequence of taking Genesis 2-3 on its own terms and looks as well at Paul and his discussion in Romans 5. Dr. Harlow upholds what he considers a viable doctrine of both original sin and the fall. He finds the biblical support for these doctrines, not in Genesis or the Old Testament, but in Paul. The doctrines don’t stand or fall with a historical Adam, he suggests, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ preached by Paul.

Do you think there is any evidence in the Bible to support the doctrine of Original Sin prior to Paul?

Sin, Death, and the Fall. One of the first things to note here is that our classical doctrines of sin and death are rooted not in the text of Genesis in itself, but in interpretations of Genesis; in the interpretation of Paul, but even more significantly in the interpretations of Augustine. Peter Bouteneff’s book Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives is a study of the early interpretation of Genesis in both Jewish and Christian sources. Dr. Harlow refers to this book often in his discussion. His purpose here is not to undermine the doctrines of sin and death or to declare them wrong, but to understand their real source in our Christian tradition.

Harlow’s main points, quoted from the article:

  • Read on its own, Genesis does not teach that the first human beings were created immortal and that death entered the world only after and as a consequence of their transgression. …  According to Genesis, then, human death was a natural part of God’s created world, not part of the fallout of a fall. (p. 188) (This is a point I’ve made on a number of posts. It is self-evident in the text.)
  • Genesis itself does not picture the first humans being created in a state of spiritual maturity and moral perfection. (p. 188)
  • Genesis 3, read in its immediate context, does not depict the man and woman’s transgression as an act that infected all subsequent humanity. (p. 189)
  • the Adam and Eve story does not have as its main themes sin and death but knowledge and immortality. The “knowledge of good and evil” the couple gain by eating of the fruit is the experience of autonomous wisdom—deciding what is right without reference to the divine will, and having to face unforeseen but inevitable consequences. (p. 189)
  • not only are Adam and Eve nowhere referred to elsewhere in Hebrew Scripture, but the rest of the Old Testament (and the New Testament apart from Paul) assumes that sin is avoidable. This is true already in the story of Cain, (p. 189)

Adam, Christ, and Paul. Other than the stylized reference in the genealogy of Luke, Adam is mentioned in the NT only by Paul. Jesus references the fact that God instituted marriage as told in Gen. 2, but does not reference Adam, Eve, or Gen. 3.  The key passages in the letters of Paul are found in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22; 45-49.  It is common for evangelical interpreters to state that because Christ was a unique historical individual Paul’s typology, and his Christology, will fail if Adam was not a unique historical individual.  This kind of reasoning has problems and twists the typology to use it as a proof for historicity. Whether Adam is a unique historical individual or not this “proof” reasoning fails. Harlow here quotes Dunn’s commentary on Romans and adds some comments:

It would not be true to say that Paul’s theological point here depends on Adam’s being a “historical” individual or on his disobedience being a historical event as such. Such an implication does not necessarily follow from the fact that a parallel is drawn with Christ’s single act: an act in mythic history can be paralleled to an act in living history without the point of comparison being lost. So long as the story of Adam as the initiator of a sad tale of human failure was well known…such a comparison was meaningful… [T]he effect of the comparison between the two epochal figures, Adam and Christ, is not so much to historicize the individual Adam as to bring out the more than individual significance of the historic Christ. (Dunn, Romans 1-8)

In formulating his typology, Paul’s main interest is to depict Christ as a representative figure, one whose act affected not only himself but the entire human race. He brings in Adam less as a figure of history than as a type of Christ – a symbolic stand-in for fallen humanity. Paul, like Luke, no doubt regarded Adam as a historical person, but in his letters he assumes the historicity of Adam instead of asserting it, … (Harlow p. 190)

Harlow builds a case that Paul taught that sin entered through Adam but that death spread to all because all sinned.

Adam was the first sinner, but humanity’s sin falls squarely on the human race as a whole. … [Paul] attributes to Adam less a casual role in the sin of all humanity than a temporal and representative one. (p. 190)

This view is also found in a number of other ancient sources, including 2 Baruch (a Jewish apocalypse near contemporary with Paul) and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho.  And this leads to a key conclusion.

If this reading is right, then Paul is not really the initiator of the doctrine of original sin. That credit must go rather to Jerome, whose Latin translation of Rom. 5:12, which says that Adam was the one “in whom” (in quo) all humanity sinned, and was taken up and interpreted by Augustine. (p. 190)

Paul reasoned from Christ – the solution – back to the the human condition and humanity’s need for redemption. The entire discussion is Christ-centered not man centered.  Quoting from Bouteneff, Harlow emphasizes a key point, one central to Christian faith:  Christ is the beginning and the end, the first true human being, and the model or image for humanity. Christ is not a patch to fix what went wrong (what we did wrong).

Original Sin. Clearly, if this is correct we need some rethinking of the nature of the doctrine of original sin – the transmission and ontological nature of Original Sin. Yet neither evolution, nor a literary interpretation of Gen 2-3 as story undermines the theological truth of Gen 2-3, the teachings of Paul, or the insights of Augustine. Augustine’s “theological intuition” concerning the inevitability of sin and the inability of human beings to overcome or avoid sin remains as true today as it was 1500 years ago. His understanding of how and why needs some serious reconsideration.  Truth remains truth, yet every generation has and must recast and rethink the formulations of  key doctrines.  Harlow concludes his article with a call for a theological recasting of the classical doctrines of Christian faith.

For Christianity to remain intellectually credible and culturally relevant, it must be willing to revise – and thereby enrich – its formulation of classic doctrines if the secure findings of science call for revision. The task of Christian theology in every generation is not simply to repeat or paraphrase the tradition but to re-present it in fresh ways so that it can continue to speak meaningfully. Doctrines invite revisiting and possible reformulation when the church is confronted with new interpretations of Scripture and new understandings of the theological tradition, with new insights from the creation itself, and with new challenges from contemporary intellectual culture.

Where do we go from here? There are several key points raised in Dr. Harlow’s article. The most important relate to the biblical foundation for the doctrine of Original Sin. While the doctrine of human sinfulness and the inevitability of sin are well founded in scripture, the concept of sin as infection from Adam to all mankind has little, if any, biblical support. Reading Genesis 2-3 on its own terms teaches no such thing. Paul can be interpreted in this fashion – but it is far from the only possible interpretation. The classical formulation of Original Sin by Augustine uses an inaccurate translation of Romans 5 by Jerome. The truth revealed in God’s creation, in the evidence for common descent, belies this interpretation.

These points are worth discussion.  But Harlow’s approach to Paul and Romans 5 is not the only one out there – and it is certainly not the last word on the issue, even for our generation. Henri Blocher’s book Original Sin contains a different look at some of these same issues in an intellectually credible fashion, with an approach that retains a much higher level of concordism. Blocher agrees with Harlow that we must revisit doctrines and stand on the shoulders of those who came before to enable us to see farther. He maintains belief in a literal Adam along the lines of the options given in the last post, but not because of Original Sin. In fact he also argues that the ontological aspect of original sin as infection misreads Paul. Blocher suggests that Paul did not consider sin as existing without law – it was simply undefined. Thus Romans 5 does not really deal with Original Sin. The role of Adam and of his sin in Romans 5 is “to make possible the imputation, the judicial treatment, of human sins.”

What do you think? Is original sin as infection from Adam to the entire human race found in scripture? Is it an explicit teaching, a plausible inference, or a mistaken reading?

And another issue that comes up often in this discussion,

Is it reasonable to let science, our observation of the world, influence our selection between possible interpretations of the biblical witness?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Paul D.

    “Is it reasonable to let science, our observation of the world, influence our selection between possible interpretations of the biblical witness?”

    If we don’t, then we refuse to allow the Bible to be relevant to the actual world in which we live.

  • smcknight

    Original sin is a “construct”: by it we explain both what the Bible says and the reality of sin in this world universally. Some of the most vital elements of the doctrine, such as being born in sin as a sinner and as condemned by God because of original sin, are extensions and extrapolations of what the Bible says instead of what the Bible actually says.

    I consider Rom 5:12 crucial here: the expression almost certainly means ‘because” and it was only later than the idea of “in whom” entered the picture. Yet, 5:18-19 connects Adam to death and judgment — so we construct a doctrine.

    Somehow I wish we could hold the construct of original sin more lightly than the reality of universal sinning.

  • John I.

    The quote, “For Christianity to remain intellectually credible and culturally relevant, it must be willing to revise” is the ground of liberal theology and the reason why most evangelicals will, or should, reject his approach. Because it has the power of the Spirit, it does not need to be intellectually credible or culturally relevant: early Christianity was neither but still “succeeded”. Most Christians, even very devout ones, could not give much of an intellectual defence of Christianity but can attest to its power in their life. Missionaries are often very successful without being terribly culturally relevant.

    Although I am open to better understandings of theology, and am Christocentric rather than Bibliolatrous, I am not open for those reasons. Rather, I am open because I pursue truth and beleive that tradition should constantly be questioned. If some of my current answers are not intellectually credible or culturally relevant (by early 21st century western standards), so be it, I’m not the least motivated to change them because they aren’t. What is considered to be intellectually credible and culturally relevant will continue to change, Jesus won’t.

    John I.

  • rjs

    John I,

    Yes and no. I found that quote a bit troublesome in the way the idea was expressed. But – evangelicalism has, in my opinion, been mired in a “ghetto think” approach to understanding and knowledge that loses all credibility when one moves beyond the ghetto. It isn’t just science, it is the whole framework.

    We need to emerge from the ghetto and learn to think biblically and intelligently, in faith. Jesus won’t change – nor will the gospel, although our understanding will mature. We need to use our God given minds. This is actually why I value NT Wright’s work so much. While remaining faithfully Christian it was a breath of fresh air that showed there is a path to think both intelligently and faithfully.

  • Rick

    “That credit must go rather to Jerome, whose Latin translation of Rom. 5:12, which says that Adam was the one “in whom” (in quo) all humanity sinned, and was taken up and interpreted by Augustine.”

    “I consider Rom 5:12 crucial here: the expression almost certainly means ‘because” and it was only later than the idea of “in whom” entered the picture. Yet, 5:18-19 connects Adam to death and judgment — so we construct a doctrine.”

    For some reason the EO get and teach this “other view”, yet it is almost unheard in the west, largely due to the influence of Augustine. I find that a facinating development, yet one that needs to be recognized in the west.

  • Justin

    “According to Genesis, then, human death was a natural part of God’s created world, not part of the fallout of a fall.”

    I’d disagree with this. I think human death is a result of Adam and Eve’s being exiled from Eden and especially the tree of life, from which they could have eaten and lived forever.

    That being said, I’ve wondered if when Paul writes sin and death entered the world in Romans 5, whether he’s using “world” as a reference to all humans, not all of creation everywhere. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to think that death didn’t exist outside of Eden prior to Adam and Eve’s exile from it.

  • smcknight

    John I.,

    Well, yes, but also not quite right. Yes, relevance can be liberalism, but you can’t tell me Jesus wasn’t “relevant” when he captured hope with the word “kingdom” and Paul relevant when he used Roman legal and commercial terms or the writer of Hebrews relevant when he captured soteriology through priestly images or … Ignatius or Irenaeus or Athanasius or Augustine … the word “relevance” has good and bad with it, and our task is to be faithful and capable of speaking the gospel into the idiom and worldview of our day.

  • dopderbeck

    This is a tricky and scary one for me. It’s not only bound up with a central historic heresy — Pelagianism — but with what we make of the historic creeds and confessions of the Church, particularly for those of us with Reformed leanings. Harlow acknowledges that his view places him in tension with the creeds affirmed by his own CRC denomination, for example. It also would not be a viable approach for Catholic theology, I think.

    If we want to substantially revise Augustine’s view of original sin, how do we avoid Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism? (Blocher, BTW, for all his tweaking of the doctrine of original sin, insists on a literal Adam and literal Fall exactly for this reason).

    I personally only want to wrestle with this one if there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do so. IMHO, we can easily conceive of an ontological breach resulting form Adam’s sin and the propagation of that breach throughout humanity within the empirical framework of human evolution given to us by the natural sciences.

    Human ontology is deeper than the physical. There are numerous “spiritual” representative individuals in scripture: Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, David, Christ. None of these are the physical progenitors of all the human race, yet in some real sense they represent us all. We need to think more carefully about what sort of ontological breach original sin represents, and how that breach was transmitted, but IMHO we don’t need to otherwise significantly revise the doctrine.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    Very interesting discussions, especially as I have begun re-considering the early Genesis chapters and narrative. I actually recently posted an article on whether science can inform our faith. This is why I appreciate a lot of what people like the
    BioLogos Foundation and what they are providing for those interested in considering how our faith and science are not opposed, but can complement one another.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#8),

    “I personally only want to wrestle with this one if there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do so.”

    1) I think we have good cause to be deeply suspicious that there was never a historical Adam and Eve given both Evolutionary Science as well as ANE Scholarship.

    2) If there was no historical Adam and Eve, I think we have cause to be deeply suspicious that an original, single fall of man from a state of innocence/sinlessness ever happened.

    3) If there was no single fall from grace, I think that any ideas about a series of multiple/progressive falls are specious, so we should be deeply suspicious about those as well.

    4) If there was no fall or series of falls that we have good warrant to believe ever happened, original sin no longer appears to be a tenable Biblical doctrine.

    Does this provide a sufficient basis to prompt you to want to wrestle with this issue? I’d love your feedback :)

  • jayflm

    Has anyone else noted that what Paul does with Jesus and Adam in Romans closely mirrors the comparison in Hebrews 7? Melchizedek is described as “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” Yet no one supposes that Melchizedek was actually an immortal man, or continues as a priest today.

    As my prof in NT interpretation of the OT used to say, the biblical writers get away with stuff we could never claim today because their accepted standards of truth and the role of allegory in instruction are very different than ours.

  • David Dunbar

    “Genesis 3, read in its immediate context, does not depict the man and woman’s transgression as an act that infected all subsequent humanity. (p. 189)”

    Really? So the “curse” section of Gen. 3 (vs. 14-19) does not suggest some kind of “infection” not only in the human race but is all creation? Was Paul not referring to this in Rom. 8 when he talks about creation’s “bondage to decay” (vs. 21)which includes our own bondage as well?

    And does the story of Abel’s murder by Cain in Gen. 4 have no relationship to what happened in Gen. 3? Or is it rather intended as an elaboration and commentary to help us understand what has happened to the human race?

    Add to this the stories of declining life-spans (chaps 5 & 11); the increasing evil on the earth that results in the flood (chaps 6-9); the drunken carousing of the righteous man Noah (9:18ff); and the arrogant confidence of Babel (chap. 11).

    The church’s doctrine of “original sin” may need some tweaking, but modern dismissals seem to be guided more by extra-biblical presuppositions than by a close reading of the text.

  • Tim

    Continued to Dopderbeck (#8),

    After re-reading your post, it looks like the most relevant issue is the implications of ANE scholarship rather than exclusively evolution, given your focus on Adam as a “spiritual representative.” I would argue that viewing Genesis 2-3 in light of ANE scholarship renders such an interpretation unlikely. What are your views?

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#10) — no, it doesn’t. We certainly need to be more careful about what we mean by a “historical Adam and Eve.” But even if everything we know about human evolution is true — and I don’t doubt that it’s substantially true — this can neither prove nor disprove that there was a spiritual representative man living at some time in that stream of human evolution. To put it differently: an “Augustinian realism” does not necessarily require the precise sort of biological monogenism that Augustine assumed.

    Original sin is a vital doctrine. It’s not unfair to suggest that Western Christianity hinges on this doctrine. IMHO, it shouldn’t be trifled with.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#13) — I don’t see why. John Walton’s scholarship on the ANE background of the Bible demonstrates that kingly or priestly individuals often were understood to be “representative” in the ANE worldview. If anything, I think ANE scholarship supports the notion that “Adam” is spiritually / morally representative in some ontological sense of all of humanity.

    Contra Harlow, I don’t see the NT as substantially revising the OT on this point. In the OT, Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David clearly are representative figures — Adam and Noah of all humanity and Abraham and David of the covenant people. This theme is certainly amplified and recontextualized in the NT, in Paul’s theology and also notably in the book of Hebrews, in order to establish the representative role of Christ. But it’s already there in the OT and in the earlier ANE culture.

  • scotmcknight

    Does Harlow deny representativeness or that the OT sees Adam that way? T

  • Ann

    What does ANE stand for?

  • scotmcknight

    Ancient near east

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    I think it is a rather naïve reading of the Bible to think that Adam’s corruption, spiritual and physical, was merely incidental and had nothing to do with the subsequent corruption of every human being, as if it is merely a coincidence that everyone has sinned. The point of Paul’s comparison between Adam as the First Man and Christ as the Second, or Last Adam, is that they are both representative ~ not merely illustrative, but representative, indicating a true connection ~ of the human race. The contrast is seen in Romans 5 as between sin and righteousness, but also in 1 Corinthians 15 between death and life.

    “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:17-18)

    “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
    Notice that this does not say that “like Adam, all died,” but rather “in Adam all die.” In the same way, it says “in Christ all shall be made alive,” not “like Christ, all shall be made alive.” The contrast here is between physical death and the resurrection of the body; the resurrection of the body is the point of 1 Corinthians 15.

    Paul sees an actual connection, not merely a coincidence, between the sin and death of Adam and that of all humanity. Because it is a connection, and not merely a coincidence or an illustration, I believe Paul took Adam to be an actual historical person, not merely a literary device. One cannot have an actual connection with a literary device.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    ANE stands for Ancient Near East. What effect the stories, myths and views of the nations that surrounded the ancient Hebrews has on Genesis 1-11 is a matter of speculation.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #11 jayflm

    Interesting comparison.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff (#20) — we agree on quite a lot in this thread! I have to disagree with you about the “speculation” comment, however. John Walton’s text on this is outstanding. And if you have the money, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary is amazing and fascinating on the OT’s ANE background.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #6 Justin

    “I think human death is a result of Adam and Eve’s being exiled from Eden and especially the tree of life, from which they could have eaten and lived forever.”

    If Adam and Eve were immortal why would a tree of life be a concern? The story assumes they were created mortals who might achieve immortality by eating from the tree.

  • dopderbeck

    Oh and folks also might be interested in Fuller Seminary’s new center for ancient near eastern studies, which also has a very cool Facebook page.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    What Genesis 1-11 means in the light of ANE culture is certainly a matter of speculation, not established fact.

  • rjs


    I think you are right that what Gen 1-11 means in the light of its ANE context is a matter of speculation. But if we interpret it outside of that context, or with disregard for that context, we will almost certainly go wrong. Many of the errors are minor, few have any significant impact on doctrine. But I think that some of the more extreme inferences from “Original Sin” are significant errors that arise from ignorance of this context and from a failure to take all of scripture seriously.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff and RJS — no, it is not all merely “speculation.” The alternatives are not “speculation” vs. “established fact” — this is a fallacy of the excluded middle. As the sources I’ve cited demonstrate (along with many, many other sources of scholarship), there is a more than reasonable basis for certain conclusions about the relationship between the OT texts and their ANE context.

    Perhaps conservative Bible scholar Richard Averbeck’s endorsement of the Zondervan commentary series sums it up well: “This is a unique and important commentary…. The interpretations provided are usually cogent and convincing. Where there is legitimate debate, the explanations generally show due caution. There will always be disagreements between scholars on such matters, but the many comparative and archaeological resources assembled in these volumes make it a veritable gold mine for those who desire to take the ancient context of the Lord’s work and word seriously in their study, teaching, and preaching of Holy Scripture.”

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #18

    “Because it is a connection, and not merely a coincidence or an illustration, I believe Paul took Adam to be an actual historical person, not merely a literary device. One cannot have an actual connection with a literary device.”

    I too think Paul thought of Adam as an historical person. But I think the question is whether or not Paul’s accuracy on this matters.

    Paul and people of his era (including Jesus) were without the historical/archeological/scientific knowledge we have today. What if the Genesis stories are a controlling theological narrative about primordial events that are not necessarily “reporter on the scene” descriptions of actual events? The stories could be effective at communicating critical aspects about our human existence that God intended to be revealed without needing to be historical accounts. The actual history is rather superfluous to God’s intent.(By analogy, is necessary to engage your 4 year old child with processes of DNA and cell division when she asks “Who am I and where did I come from?”)

    If so, then Paul believed in an historical Adam and was not using a literary device, but it isn’t essential that Paul was right about his historical assumptions.

    And I’ll also add that while ANE studies are not hard science they are considerably more than speculation.

  • rjs

    David (#12),

    That the sin of Adam and Eve had consequences for their off-spring, including Cain and Abel, and all of us, is taught in Gen. 3. But does This mean an infection or an “ontological” change? Could it be the kind of effect we see throughout scripture with the sins of the fathers “paid for” by their off-spring?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    RJS, I’m not suggesting that we ignore that context, but whether the concerns of Genesis are the same as the other ANE cultures, and how Genesis may or may not be addressing those concerns is a matter of speculation. The OT understands itself, not as on a par with the ANE culture, gods and religions, but as distinct from them. So I don’t think that ANE scholarship and how the ancient surrounding nations viewed the world is the arbiter of how we must understand Genesis. I find Walton’s ideas of how the creation text functions in terms of God’s temple to be interesting and helpful, but I do not think it negates the material view of the creation text.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Dopederbeck can articulate this better than I can but in some recent legal business I was privy to we were talking about the difference between:

    Preponderance of the evidence – There is 51% certainty that an event happened.
    Clear and convincing evidence – A 65-75% certainty.
    Evidence beyond a doubt – Say 85% or more certainty.

    I think something similar is at work with these issues. The evidence may not be beyond a doubt but it isn’t simply speculation.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Michael W. Kruse@28, yes, whether Paul was accurate in what he said is a different question. For the record, I accept that he was. But my point of my earlier post was to demonstrate that Paul took Adam to be an historical person. Yesterday, I noted why I think Luke took Adam through Nahor (father of Terah and grandfather of Abraham, and part of Genesis 1-11) to be historical. I also believe Jesus took Noah (part of Genesis 1-11) to be historical. I don’t take any of them to be mistaken, but that what they wrote was by divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And while they might not have been aware of the current state of the physical sciences, I believe the Holy Spirit has always been well aware of how God created the heavens and the earth.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    A key piece to this discussion would seem to be the way Adam and Eve were used in the Jewish tradition prior to arrival of Christ. This is something I haven’t personally explored much. I just picked up a copy of “The Genesis Reflection” by Gary Anderson, which I understand gets at some of those issues. (Anyone know of other resources?) My impression is that Paul is innovating with his uses of Adam.

    I confess my view of sin has been moving toward something along the line of E. Orth. view over the years. I’m questioning the ontological interpretation.

  • dopderbeck

    Michael (#31) — good illustration. Without belaboring this too much more, there are people who’ve spent their lives learning the original languages and studying all this stuff, and we are blessed with the fruits of their scholarship in resources like those I’ve mentioned. Certainly the question of how all this relates to the Bible as scripture and how we should interpret the Bible as scripture is a matter of reasonable debate. But the general and in many instances specific relationship between the Bible and its ANE context not only is more than speculation, it’s securely established.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    No doubt, there may be a great deal of evidence for how the surrounding nations of the ANE understood the world, but it simply does not follow that this is how the ancient Hebrews would have understood it. Indeed, God chose Israel, not to be like all the other nations, but to be distinct from them in faith, behavior and their understanding of the world. This does not mean that there would be no similarities ~ but there are also some very profound differences. So, to interpret Genesis as merely another example of ANE is susceptible to the fallacy of totality transfer.

    Inasmuch as Jesus, Luke and Paul, who were considerably closer to the ANE, and were more in touch with the traditional Jewish understanding, took Adam and Noah and the people of Genesis 1-11 to be historical, I am inclined to give their understanding of these things much more weight.

  • dopderbeck

    re: ontology — what I’d like to suggest is that because of our Western scientific approach to things we’re too ready to flatten the nature of the human person to the individual biological entity. If we can conceive of humans as spiritually connected to each other in a way that transcends the physical, however, I think we can begin to understand how each of us might participate in Adam’s sin, as well as in Christ’s victory over sin.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    As to original sin, Michael, my own view is more line with EO, at least as far as I understand EO, than Western theology. I do not believe in original guilt, i.e., that we are all guilty of sin because Adam was guilty, but rather in original corruption, i.e., that we are all morally and physically corrupted by Adam’s sin and his consequent death.

  • Rapha

    @ MIchael #28

    “What if the Genesis stories are a controlling theological narrative about primordial events that are not necessarily “reporter on the scene” descriptions of actual events?”

    Speaking of excluded middle … isn’t there a middle option here, that while the form of the narrative is arranged to make a theological point (and/or uses ANE forms), the people/event actually happened?

    That’s what I’m uncomfortable with regarding the way people seem to be (to me) speaking of the connection/influence between Gen 1-3 and other ANE creation myths … there seems to be a subtle implication that because other ANE creation myths are just that (fictional myths), than since Gen 1-3 follows a similar form we should be equally skeptical about its basic claims. What’s to say that the parallel ANE creation myths aren’t distortions/perversions of the original account (oral tradition or something?), which would explain why they are so similar?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Rapha, since we are talking about ANE studies, John N. Oswalt, research professor of OT at Wesley Biblical Seminary, has studied the ANE creation myths. In his book, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature, he shows how the Genesis account is very different from the ANE myths. Sure, there are some similarities, but there are many more differences which are much more profound.

  • Tim


    I want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly. Are you arguing that Adam historically existed as a representative of humanity, and that his sin impacted humanity as a whole, not just his descendants, but every other human alive at that time as well as their descendants?

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #32 and #35

    What I’m getting at is the issue of God accommodating to human understanding.

    How should a parent respond to a daughter’s questions about where she came from? Do they need to put here through an extensive class in biology so she can learn all about DNA and cell division, or is it sufficient to give her a story that, while likely erroneous from a historical/scientific view, gives her an adequate sense of where she came from and her place in the world … she was born of Mommy and Daddy’s love and she is cherished.

    Similarly, if God wishes to communicate to pre-scientific ANE humanity about the origins and purposes of creation, must God first bring the culture up to speed on the scientific nature of the universe, or is it sufficient to give them a narrative that accommodates to their understanding of how the world works.

    Early in Genesis 1, the idea of a flat world with a dome that separates the waters above from the waters and land below is taken for granted. Is this error? Does this mean that God did not know what he was talking about through revelation? Hardly. It is God accommodating to the people in their context. He did not deem it necessary to correct their science.

    Similarly, I suspect that the early chapters of Genesis are metaphorical theology that has only loose concordance, at best, with historical events. The cultures of the time merely took the stories as historical in some sense. What alternative understanding would they have had to compare? Thus, the fact that Paul and others (and Jesus in his self-limited knowledge while on earth in human form) would have merely assumed these events and persons to be true … drawing comparisons and reasoning form these “events” and “persons” … tells us more about Paul and others than the events and persons.

    Yes, the Holy Spirit knew full well the historical/scientific truths. The Spirit also knew the audience to whom communication was being given and accommodated accordingly. The fact the Paul and others treated these Genesis figures as historical people says little about their historical reality and it says nothing about the work of accurate inspiration by the Spirit.

  • John I.

    Re the quote “For Christianity to remain intellectually credible and culturally relevant, it must be willing to revise – and thereby enrich – its formulation of classic doctrines if the secure findings of science call for revision. The task of Christian theology in every generation is not simply to repeat or paraphrase the tradition but to re-present it in fresh ways so that it can continue to speak meaningfully.”

    There is a substantial difference between making christ and theology understandable and accessible to other cultures or newer generations and actually revising our views on, and understandings of, or beliefs about, Christ and theology. Harlow confuses or equivocates on these two different concepts. If by “re-present” he is referring to making our faith understandable to others who are different from us, then he is correct. But he is saying much more than this because he speaks about revising our theology. And it is not clear that he means anything less than that when he speaks of “re-presenting”, that is, by “re-presenting” he appears to mean that we can make a new and fresh presentation of our theology because we have changed our theology in response to changes in culture. But that approach certainly has the cart before the horse.

    While it is legitimate to make a meaningful presentation of Christ to another person without using the 4 spiritual laws, etc., it is not legitimate to toss out our belief in Christ’s deity or Adams historicity just because its no longer intellectually credible or culturally relevant.

    At one time, to be intellectually credible one had to speak through logical positivism. That is no longer true, and so any “revisions” to our theological beliefs made on that basis are now illegitimate and not “intellectually credible” (according to current veiws on truth and access to truth).

    If we come to the conclusion that God’s revelation does not necessitate a belief in an historical Adam for reasons other than trying to be au courant, then fine. But if we come to the conclusion, or stay with it, that Adam was historical, then so much the worse for currently fashionable intellectual credibility and cultural relevance.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — basically yes. Here is something I wrote about this for BioLogos.

    As a really rough analogy, what if we think of sin in some ways like a viral infection? It starts somewhere, then propagates laterally and vertically.

  • John I.

    Regarding Oswalts book (re #39 above), I’m not inclined to give it much weight, given review comments like

    “Though taking aim at the scholarly literature, Oswalt’s book rarely interacts with it in any detail in either the main text or footnotes. Thus the book appears to be aimed at a popular rather than a scholarly audience.

    “The tone of the book is very polemical as he labels adherents of the opposing position as “the enemy” (28). At times Oswalt characterizes those who disagree with him as “scholars who can-not admit the possibility of revelation” (13) and claims that those (unnamed) scholars who would deny his claims do so because “they do not want to admit that the Bible has a different origin than the myths” (63 n. 1). In fact, it appears that Oswalt is con-tent to point to scholars’ suspect motives to refute contrary positions rather than actually interacting with their arguments.”

  • dopderbeck

    @John I — but theology has always been “revised.” You can see from this thread that I think the Western original sin tradition very important, so I don’t think I’m a radical revisionist. But we do need to be clear that the Augustinian idea of original sin doesn’t just drop from the sky — it has a history and hasn’t always meant the same thing.

    BTW, can anyone here competent with Greek comment on whether Augustine really did mess up his prepositions regarding being “in” Adam? I’ve seen different views on this argued and have no idea what to think about it.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    And let me just add that this is where I appreciate what RJS is saying so much. The issue of sin and our sinfulness does not begin with Genesis. The center point of the biblical story from which everything else flows and is interpreted is Jesus’ life, death, and bodily resurrection.

    Much like reading a novel, we can speculate all we want about whether the characters have everything understood just right and are fully articulating all that should be articulated. Only when we get to the end of the story and know the ending can we go back and evaluate what came before.

    We are sinners in need of a savior. Only through Jesus life, death, and bodily resurrection is there salvation and entrance into a new community. That is the fulcrum of the story, not Genesis.

  • AHH

    With regard to Adam playing a “typological” role in Paul’s writings about Jesus, it is important to note that Harlow is hardly saying something novel. Harlow quotes a similar perspective from Dunn. And Wheaton’s John Walton also says that Paul’s usage of “Adam” is typological.

    Now, Walton (unlike Harlow) still wants to keep Adam as a historic individual, for other theological reasons. And it is certainly possible for a real person to be used in a typological way.

    But these and other Evangelical scholars seem to agree that the way Paul uses “Adam” is not by itself a valid argument for (or against) the existence of Adam as a historic individual. Given how often one hears the “Adam has to be historic because Paul said so” argument in conservative circles, the weakness of that argument is an important thing to take home here.

    [Hmm. Why does Patheos say “You are posting comments too quickly; slow down” for the first comment I have posted today?]

  • Tim


    Thanks for your reply – that helps out a lot. Follow-up questions though. Do you see mankind in general, likely distributed across several continents by the time of Adam (assuming his historicity) as living sinful lives up to that point? By that, I mean lives permeated with lust, aggression, etc. as well as the more noble inclinations such as altruism, love, compassion, etc.?

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#48) — if Adam was an individual, I don’t think we could know when he lived. I don’t really buy into the notion that Biblically Adam must have been a neolithic person. If Adam was an individual, was he part of one of the first small band of African homo sapiens sapiens that began to migrate about 150KYA? I don’t know and I don’t think there’s any way of knowing.

    Nevertheless, your question is still important with respect to the whole line of human evolution, which stretches back millions of years. I think it’s a category mistake to label non-human behaviours as “sinful” or as “lust” or “love” or “compassion.” These are moral categories that assume a certain kind of moral agency and responsibility.

    Obviously, for, say, H. Erectus, there were plenty of behviors that would be “sinful” for you or I to engage in. I could say the same about my dog, but I don’t think my dog is a “sinner.” It’s just doing what dogs do. The fact that, from a sociobiological standpoint, you and I have probably inherited a predisposition towards some of the nastier behaviors of our hominid forebears, doesn’t really trouble me. Even in the Biblical narrative, “Adam” has the capacity to disobey God before he eats of the tree. “Sin” is not just a capacity or disposition, it is an act of moral agency and will.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT


    Why don’t we ever seem to talk about the elephant in the room? The snake.

    Seriously, we are all sitting around a campfire and Grandpa Moses is telling the kids the story of how we got here. The kids are starting to fall asleep, so he the starts “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals”! Isn’t that (more than) a clue that we are not talking about physical history here? Paul does not need to say he does not believe it is fact, it is obvious, I think.

    Why does the existence of the serpent not make the story mytho-historical immediately?

  • Tim


    I wasn’t labeling non-human behaviors as lustful, aggressive, loving, compassionate, etc. I was labeling human behaviors as such. We have evidence of very “human” behavior, including elaborate burials, dating back to over 35,000 years ago. So, if Adam was any more recent than 35,000 years back, he would have lived in the company of humans. And in all reality, the behaviors that are hallmarks of humanity I think most of the relevant scientists would place back probably much further than that.

    So I really am talking about humans here. No need to bring Homo heidelbergensis or Homo erectus into it.

    So given the above, I’d like to ask the question:

    1) In order for your idea to hold water, would Adam have had to have lived just prior to the time when humanity became “truly” human, which would have to date back at least 35,000 years at a minimum, and likely much further?

    2) If not (1), then would Adam’s “truly” human contemporaries have lived lives permeated not just by pro-social altruism, but sin as well?

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    DRT –

    I also believe the talking snake is one of a handful of pointers to the early chapters of Genesis being in the genre of myth. But what do you do when someone points out that God had a donkey talk (Num 22:27-30)? Or maybe you think that is myth as well?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    ScottL, my natural inclination would be to interpret that as a fiction.

  • norm

    It is seems apparent that Paul read parts of Genesis 2&3 as analogy himself. He says that Gen 2:24 is prophetic of Christ and the church. He takes Adam’s death as not physical but spiritual separation from God. We seem to over extend the literal when we think the Ancients didn’t understand their own analogy of scripture. This Death separation of Adam was due to sin in regard to the implementing of Law regarding relationship with God. Christ removed the Law from the Garden by imposing Grace through Faith instead. The story is about people who seek the one true God and their bondage to that “original Law”. The renewed Garden does not incorporate the vestiges of Law.

    1Co 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

    The historicity of Adam has pros and cons on both sides. Since it appears to be a dispensational headship in regard to Adam can we deny that there wasn’t a first man who attempted to abide with God through Law through his own efforts? Surely if Israel had this as an approach it had its beginning somewhere back in time with somebody? I believe that is really all that needs to be realized is that the works of the Law origins is how Adam is being referenced. Look at Rom 5:12 and notice that Adam was the beginning and in verse 20 the Mosaic Law was “added” to the original Law to increase the trespass.

    I don’t think one can call the sin of breaking Law as original to mankind at large until one attempts to use that method as a means of reconciliation with God. Only when men begin to call on the name of the Lord does this sin of the Law come into play. Otherwise humanity that does not seek God is still outside the purview of what Paul is talking to the faithful about.

    Gen 4:26 … At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

  • Percival

    I think that the belief in innate human corruption will always be with us, because it is so obviously true. (That is not to say that the way it is formulated could not use some revision.) It is the only Christian doctrine that is proven every day in common experience. Every mother or father who catches their toddler lying knows that they did not teach this behavior; it came from somewhere inside.

    However, not every religion holds to this truth and it has far reaching effects. Essentially, I believe the denial of this truth leads directly to legalism and the denial of need for a savior.

    Islam, for example, teaches that Adam and Eve sinned because they “forgot” what they were supposed to do. They teach that sin is mainly a result of ignorance. The era before Islam arrived is the “time of ignorance.” They teach that all prophets were sinless, as well, even though they record Mohd as asking God for forgiveness.

    However, common knowledge shows the reality of innate sin. That’s why Muslims also have the belief that after they are born pure, every baby’s heart is touched by Satan. (Every baby is born a Muslim, by the way.) At one point in his youth, Mohd had his heart removed by an angel, who washed away that satanic touch with snow and returned it to him pure. There are other common beliefs which show skepticism about human nature in contrast with orthodoxy.

    It seems that those who do not believe in innate human sinfulness usually operate in a closed religious system like Islam, Communism, or Naturalistic Materialism.

  • Justin

    @Michael Kruse (#23),

    “If Adam and Eve were immortal why would a tree of life be a concern? The story assumes they were created mortals who might achieve immortality by eating from the tree.”

    I never said Adam and Eve were immortal, so I’m not sure how you got that from my comments earlier. I think Adam and Eve’s exile lead to their deaths because they were no longer allowed to eat from that tree. I don’t think the text states that they lost an inherent immortality through their sin.

  • Dana Ames

    dopderbeck @8,

    I feel like I’m in over my head here, but I’ll take a stab at it.

    Your question “How do we avoid Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism if Augustine’s view is substantially revised?” I think is answered by moving away from the concepts of legality and merit wrt soteriology. These was never a part of the understanding of the eastern church, from what I understand. Pelagianism wasn’t the major heresy in the east; it was Arianism. So the focus there is more toward the ontologic end of the spectrum.

    Christos Yannaras’ “The Freedom of Morality” is back in print; or perhaps you could find it in the ND library. I recommend it for a good explanation of the eastern view on these interconnecting issues. It’s not merely an explanation of doctrine, but really delves into the meaning of Personhood – and I think it would be useful for you, though it’s somewhat dense (but I managed to read & understand it, so I’m sure it will be a breeze for you).


  • David Dunbar

    rjs (29)
    I am not sure of whether “ontological” is the correct word and maybe the metaphor “infection” is not the best either. But if this is only the children paying for the sins of the fathers, are we not moving pretty directly to the Pelagian notion that all human beings come into the world like Adam and Eve before the “fall”? Like dopderbeck (#8), I am not interested in making that move unless there is much stronger exegetical grounding than I have seen to date.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles


    I don’t think God is telling us about creation, in Genesis 1, in terms of natural science. There is no explanation of what physics or processes were involved in the heavens and earth coming into existence, or in the earth bringing forth plants and animals, or in the creation of light. Nor does it tell us what physics are now at work because of the creation of those things. So I don’t take Genesis 1 as an explanation of natural science. But I take Genesis 1-11, like I take Genesis 12-50, as historical in intent.

    Regarding a flat earth, I don’t know what all the ANE cultures believed about that, though there were many civilizations that existed centuries before Christ which recognized that the earth is not flat but round. More importantly, I find in Genesis no indication that would suggest that the earth is flat.

    Regarding the “dome,” though the meaning of the Hebrew word raqiya’ (translated as “firmament” or “expanse”) derives from the idea of beaten bronze, it is not used in Genesis to speak of a solid dome but of the atmosphere, the expanse of sky and space. That is why it is called shamayyim, “heaven.”

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    The serpent in the garden of Eden is not indicative of myth. Though it is certainly unusual, there is nothing of the mythical worldview involved. It is not the unusualness of a thing that indicates a myth but, rather, it is the worldview contained in an account this indicates whether it is in the form of myth.

    The garden is presented as a place on earth. The serpent is depicted as a creature of earth, not some cosmic being, and certainly not as a god. There is not conflict of the gods out of which arise the troubles of the earth. The mythical worldview is absent.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    John I. @44,

    Yes, I have seen a number of reviews of Oswalt’s book. But I have learned that the better way to evaluate the material of a book is to actually read the book itself, since reviews can often be very biased. Having read the book, I found it to be interesting and informative about the nature of myths in the ANE. So I am inclined to give more weight to the book itself rather than to the reviews of the book.

  • Tim


    I think what you’re missing is that the serpent has been frequently used in archetypal ways in several ancient near eastern myths. It’s appearance in Genesis raises a red flag as to the account being literal history.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com pds

    Public service announcement:

    Discovery Institute v. Biologos: The Debate

    Should be interesting.

  • scotmcknight

    So pds that’s where you’ve been!

  • rjs


    Both you and dopderbeck are better versed in theology than I am. But I thought – and some one will correct me if I’m wrong – that the core error in Pelagianism was a claim that humans have the ability in and of themselves to obey God and be right with God. Paul certainly teaches against this and it is contrary to the scriptural witness from beginning to end.

    Now there are other aspects in the discussion of course – but the above is the core error that made trouble. As I understand it Augustine developed much of our doctrine of original sin in in response to this challenge and connected it to Adam (correct me if I’m wrong). But Augustine was not infallible, and original sin as developed by him and those who stood/stand on his shoulders could have errors in presentation.

    Harlow, in his article, suggests that the support for the more significant doctrine of sin begins with Paul and Paul’s theological insights in the context of his Christology. I think that this is the right place to start. When Paul says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” this is not original sin, nor is it a sin and sin-nature we can escape through human effort – the solution comes through the grace of God. Now we can read this through new glasses (Christ) all the way back to Adam inclusive of all. But the doctrine of “Original Sin” is something a bit different and less defensible it seems to me. I think that Harlow and others I’ve read have a case for the claim that Paul when he says “so death spread to all men, because all sinned” is not talking about the sin of Adam transmitted to all in an infection or ontological change.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#51) — I think you’re begging the question of what “human” means. H. Erectus was “human” in scientific terms. Were the human creatures alive during the apparent cultural explosion 35KYA or so ago “theologically” human? I don’t know.

    As to your question (2), I suppose I would have to say that “Adam” had no “theologically” human contemporaries except perhaps those members of the human biological species who were in immediate contact with him. And under the current scenarios from biology and physical anthropology positing a relatively small (10,000 or so) group of immediate African ancestors of modern humans, I’m not sure that’s a major problem.

    Regardless of what you think of “Adam,” you need to somehow explain why and when certain human animal behaviors began to take on a “moral” quality. Otherwise, you’ll end up reducing “morality” to biology — the basic mistake of hard-core sociobiology.

  • Tim


    I don’t think I’m begging the question, I think what we have is some confusion over semantics. Replace “human” with “spiritual” then.

    I would argue that creatures that didn’t possess what we know conceptualize as spiritual traits wouldn’t have any incentive to bury their dead – particularly not in any sort of elaborate way which would impart some sense of meaning to their passing.

    In light of this semantic replacement of “human” with “spiritual” could you take another stab at my original point?

  • dopderbeck

    @Dave Dunbar and RJS — I’m not sure why you guys are so hesitant about words like ontology and infection.

    The nature of the human person — human ontology — is the core issue in this whole discussion. What is a “human”? Dave Dunbar, I agree with you on the difficult exegetical issues, but don’t we also have to let general revelation inform our conclusions? Whatever or whoever “Adam” was or represents, it cannot have been the Superman in Paradise of some classical Reformed theology. The book of nature doesn’t allow that sort of scenario anymore.

    Maybe a better word than “infection” is “corruption,” since that is both a Biblical term and one used by the Fathers, particularly Irenaeus. Ireneaus’ Demonstartion of the Apostolic Preaching, I think is a great starting point for thinking about “Adam” not as some kind of Superman, but as having had all that he needed to grow into the tasks God intended for humanity, and of the corruption that spread to all of humanity because of Adam’s sin.

    That corruption, Biblically and in the tradition, is a change in the nature of the human person — an ontological change. The prescientific Reformed divines and others were wrong in this sense: his was not evidently a material change in human biology or in any discernible natural history. But the human person is more than a body, and it is entirely consistent with scripture and the tradition to speak of a change in human nature — a corruption of the “soul” (without having to think of “soul” in substance dualism terms).

  • Tim

    …”know conceptualize” should be “now conceptualize”

  • dopderbeck

    Tim, you said: I would argue that creatures that didn’t possess what we know conceptualize as spiritual traits wouldn’t have any incentive to bury their dead – particularly not in any sort of elaborate way which would impart some sense of meaning to their passing.

    I respond: that’s a fair argument, but ultimately I think a reductionistic one. In the way I think of this, you can’t reduce human ontology to any particular set of human characteristics, including “spiritual” inclinations like burial of the dead.

    Ontology is relational. It is our relationship to God that ultimately constitutes us as fully human — this is one reason the theme of being “united” with Christ is so important in NT soteriology. I don’t know whether the Neanderthals and so on that apparently burried their dead had the sort of relational connections with God, each other and the rest of creation that comprise the nature of a human being imago Dei. I also don’t know whether God related to these fascinating creatures in some way other than how He relates to us, the “sons” of “Adam.”

    The “data” of revelation tell me that we who are carrying on this conversation are bound up with the being of “Adam” in sin and bound up with the being of Christ in redemption. Apparently I don’t need to know much more than that with respect to other hominids and human species that have walked the face of the Earth, or else God would’ve said something about it.

  • Michael

    I am also genuinely wrestling with this issue at the moment and do not yet have a clarified position on it. However, my tendency is to interpret sin as intimately connected to broken relationship – with God, self, others and creation. Rather than original sin being something that has corrupted our DNA or any other part of us so that we are ontologically corrupted and rebellious, perhaps a different way to look at it is to recognise that Adam and Eve (whether real individuals, or more likely as symbolic individuals) demonstrate the desire for independence from God which leads to the brokenness in these relationships.

    As these relationships break down, all of humanity rather than being exposed to harmony and the ‘good’ of Genesis 1, are exposed to the consequences of this relational breakdown e.g. jealousy, deceit, idolatry etc. This being the case there is now no ability for humans to live perfectly, not because we are actually inherently evil, but because we have no context for understanding what it really means to be the kind of human beings that God desires for us, and certainly no ability to simply change our behaviour to do so. We are complex beings who are all first victims of sin. This shapes our personhood so much so that our only response to the sin we experience, is to sin in return. Jesus becomes the first man to refuse to do so. And his resurrection invites us into His kind of life where are called to do the same. I’m aware this is not watertight but its some of what I’m thinking on this topic.

  • dopderbeck

    BTW I’m getting some of my ideas about the nature of the human person from Christian Smith’s new book What is a Person, which is incredibly dense but rewarding, and also from Chritopher Kaiser, Towards a Theology of Scientific Endeavor.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com pds


    You almost sound like you missed me! :)

    No, I’m here. I just don’t have much more to say on Adam and sin. Kind of Adam and Eve’d out.

  • Dana Ames


    the view of the eastern church is that, in the fall, something about humanity is indeed lost, but not that humans undergo any sort of ontologic change. Summary here:

    “Corruption” is less about being stained, and more about being the usual result of death, so d&c are often spoken of together. Or sometimes it indicates something about the drive for survival that death engenders in us.

    The view of the eastern church is that human nature (essence) remains human nature; that didn’t change with the fall. What changed was our taking up the preference for self and existence without relation to God or others, which is pretty much the definition of death. All of this is profoundly relational.

    I’m probably not expressing this very well. Do read Yannaras.


  • David Dunbar

    rjs (64)

    So now I’m getting confused. Let’s work with the definition you gave: “the core error in Pelagianism was a claim that humans have the ability in and of themselves to obey God and be right with God.” Good. Augustine argues against this: humanity before Gen 3 is “posse non pecare” (able not to sin); humanity after Gen 3 is “non posse non pecare” (not able not to sin). Why is this the case (universally)? Is it that the first humans provided a bad example that we have all followed? Is universal sinfulness based on universal imitation, or is there something deeper?

    It seems to me that you are saying that it is simply about imitation. Augustine (who I agree is not infallible) articulated a view that the church largely embraced, that there is more to the biblical presentation than imitation.

    And of course Paul speaks of sin as more than just specific transgressions. He talks of sin in the singular and uses images of sin as power and enslavement that humanity cannot escape from apart from grace (Rom 7). Is this power only external to us, or is it in us? If it is in us, then metaphors of decay, infection, corruption, and death seem appropriate. If Pogo is right that “we has met the enemy and they is us,” perhaps the church has read the data of Scripture pretty accurately.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#70),

    OK, let me see if I got this. You are seem to be claiming the following:

    1) Humans before Adam may have had traits we associated today with spiritual behavior, such as mourning those who pass on from this life and the attribution of meaning to their passing.

    2) Nevertheless, such pre-Adam humanity did not possess a relationship of any kind whatsoever with God, so they were not truly spiritual creatures.

    3) Since pre-Adam humanity had no relationship whatsoever with God, there could be no sin, as sin is rebellion against God.

    4) Adam was the first man to be granted a relationship with God, making Adam both the first truly spiritual human being, as well as representative for humanity as a whole.

    5) At some point during Adam’s relationship with God (unclear if pre or post-fall), the rest of humanity developed a relationship with God as well.

    6) When Adam sinned, this was the very first instance of rebellion against God.

    7) Following this sin, the rest of humanity, through some sort of spiritual link/transference/sharing, was contaminated/corrupted by Adam’s original sin against God, thus all of humanity acquired a sinful nature.

    Am I getting this right?

  • John I.

    If Paul portrayed Adam and Christ as coordinate, but Darwin is right, then Christ is in reality coordinate to nothing (i.e., nothing real). Doesn’t that destroy the persuasiveness and structure of Paul’s argument? If Adam is only a literary figure and so is only symbolically representative of us in our sin, then isn’t Christ also merely symbolically representative of our salvation in God? If it’s all about symbolism and representation, then Christ’s death is not a real cause of our salvation, but only symbolic of our death, rebirth and salvation [at least interms of Paul’s form of argumentation).

    John I.

  • Tim

    …should add to my comment (#75) that I see spirituality as resultant from a relationship with God. No relationship, no ultimate source for spirituality.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #59

    “Regarding a flat earth, I don’t know what all the ANE cultures believed about that, though there were many civilizations that existed centuries before Christ which recognized that the earth is not flat but round.”

    That ancient folks thought the world was flat may not be precise. Some perceived the land to be set atop a dome with another dome above it setting the waters above from everything below. Either way, the imagery is of a land mass, either flat or arched, underneath a dome of sorts. (Wikipedia has a useful article under “Flat earth.” Daniel Kirk has a graph that shows the ancient view.)

    About the Fourth Century BCE, some Greek intellectuals began to postulate a round earth. It was not universally accepted among the intellectuals for centuries and it certainly was not part of the popular understanding. I’m unaware of any culture pre-Christ that held to a spherical earth suspended in space. If there are many cultures that held to this then, someone please identify one or two to me. Until then, I dismiss this as urban legend.

    The Genesis passage need not specifically identify a dome. If I say “John Doe found fame when he intercepted a pass and ran it back for touchdown to win the Super Bowl.” Have I said anything about the equipment he was wearing? Have I said anything about the venue he was playing in or how the field was marked? No. But when our mind’s eye envisions this, we see a man in football uniform running down a gridiron in a large stadium. Similarly, when Gen. 1:6-8 is talking about separating the waters above from the waters below, and when Gen. 7:11 talks of the opening of the “floodgates” or “windows of heaven” … doors believed to exist in the surface of the upper dome … we do not need a full descriptive account to understand what imagery is being evoked.

    Scripture unmistakably assumes and ANE view of the world and God accommodates to that view rather than correct it. And if it does so here, then why not with regard to other primordial events?

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#70) — close enough. I don’t assume that all members of the human species prior to “Adam” had “no relationship with God whatsoever.” But whatever that relationship was, I assume it was not the same as the relationship between God and “Adam.” And I would be more careful about the use of the word “humanity,” which I think ought by defnition to mean all of us who are “in Adam.”

    I also would not necessarily insist that the Biblical “Adam” must always refer to only one individual. I’d want to say at least that the “individual” Adam is prototypical of the collective adam — in much the same way that the Bible doesn’t use a proper name for “the man” until later in the narrative. But I do want to affirm that in this individual and/or the group represented by this individual, some distinct event or set of events happened that changed human nature — that by altering the human person’s coinherence in God corrupted the nature of the human person — making all of subsequent humanity in essential nature incapable of not sinning.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #60

    If we encountered a document, ancient or current, that features talking animals, what would be our immediate assumption about the genre of literature we are reading? Yet when this appears in the Bible this raises no questions?

    Furthermore, I don’t think the snake is always cast as supernatural entity in ANE or African stories. The Jewish and Christian tradition certainly identify the serpent as Satan. Are you saying Satan did not tempt us into sin?

    Similarly, yes, “The garden is presented as a place on earth.” C. S. Lewis wrote a book called the “Screwtape Letters.” It features letters exchanged between two demons discussing their plans to capture a human. The events are described as if happening at places on earth with contemporary events woven into the dialog. There is not one hint from preface to conclusion that Lewis intends this to be understood as anything other than factual historical account of events. Was it a factual historical account? Why or why not?

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#79),

    OK, thanks for confirming that for me :)

    I would say the following lays out my possible objection to this line of thinking:

    1) You are asserting a some spiritual discontinuity between modern humans (dating from the time of Adam assuming his existence as individual or collective) and earlier humans

    2) You are asserting this discontinuity despite the fact that anthropological findings depict ancient man as behaving both socially, cognitively, and culturally (in terms of basic expression, theirs was far more primitive of course) in ways very similar to modern man.

    3) What this starts to sound like was that while something walked like a duck, looked like duck, and quacked like a duck, it wasn’t a duck. It was a duck minus a certain essential trait that you assert wasn’t there but is outside the realm of any anthropological verification.

    4) So given the above, I guess my position is you’ve taken the story laid out in Genesis of Adam, Eve, Eden, and the serpent, developed a highly speculative idea of Adam and original sin based on that basic story but departing from it dramatically in its manifestation from Genesis 2-3, and articulated this idea as a hypothesis conveniently removed from any attempt to either validate or falsify through empirical anthropological findings.

    5) To me, the ability to test an idea for truth is a strength, even though a failing of that test would open the window for falsification. I’m not talking about empiricism here. Just the idea that one ought to be able to test their ideas and the ideas of others. When someone defines their idea outside of any realm of feasible testing, particularly when the formulation of that idea seems speculative to start with, that strikes me as a weakness rather than a strength. So right now I have to see your idea concerning Adam in that light.

    6) But I don’t want (5) to be my final take on the matter if some further defense or support of your idea could be offered. If such could be the case, I’d really like to avail myself of the opportunity to hear it.

    I look forward to your thoughts (and hope this wasn’t too confrontational – just good civil discourse). Thanks Dopderbeck!

  • Tim

    …should be Dopderbeck (#80), not Dopderbeck (#79). Sorry :)

  • rjs

    David (#75),

    I may get over my depth here, but I have long had a problem with some of these ideas.

    You said “Augustine argues against this: humanity before Gen 3 is “posse non pecare” (able not to sin); humanity after Gen 3 is “non posse non pecare” (not able not to sin).”

    I don’t think that this argument is scriptural – that there was a change from “able not to sin” to “not able not to sin” consequent to the sin of Adam. I think it was and is an addition to scripture. If I’m wrong – why and where?

    Certainly I see taught in scripture, and in Paul, a reality that we are “not able not to sin”. Perhaps the essence of the teaching of Genesis 3 is that even then we were “not able not to sin,” that inherent in the nature of humans is the tendency to rebel from the creator, that this is both fact, and inevitable fact.

    I don’t buy the argument that this makes God responsible for sin while Augustine’s view does not. I think we can argue convincingly that Augustine’s model makes God responsible for sin as well – unless you wish to argue that God did not know what would happen. The argument for human responsibility has to have a much better foundation – and I think it does have a better foundation in the idea that God made us with the freedom to rebel. Why should I accept the idea that Augustine’s construct somehow solves a “God problem?”

    Central to much of my thinking here is the conviction that Christ is not an after-thought but part of the plan from the very beginning; this is all one coherent creation.

    I need to think about this more – and I always learn from comments of others.

  • Tim

    …to add to my post (#82) above,

    You would also have a scenario where the outcome of the fall of Adam (whether individual or collective) resulted in humanity behaving in ways that look identical to the type of behavior one would expect from evolutionarily-derived urges. Examples of this would include the evolutionarily imperative urges to procreate, establish dominance in one’s social unity, and ensure self-preservation (i.e., the sins of lust, aggression, and greed).

  • dopderbeck

    @Tim — Good discussion. You make some fair points.

    I think your premise #2 is highly problematic.

    First, your point #2 continues to assume that certain behavioural traits are the sine qua non of what “spiritual” means. I think that’s overly reductionistic.

    More significantly, your point #2 is empirically quite overstated. Take a look at the fasicnating book “The Last Human,” for example. While it’s true that there is lots of interesting continuity, it simply is not the case that earlier human species were “very similar to modern man.” This is also discussed in Wentzel Van Huyssteen’s Gifford Lectures, published as Alone in the World: Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology.

    Your premise #3, then, doesn’t follow. An H. Erectus or H. Heidelbergensis or H. Neanderthalis didn’t walk and talk and live and reason and create like a modern homo sapiens sapiens. They walked and talked and lived in the wild; they perhaps created and reasoned to some degree but left no extensive works of literature or philosophy or theology; and they probably didn’t talk at all (though maybe H. Neanderthalis did) and certainly didn’t have detailed conceptual language.

    Your premise #4 is mixing methodologies. Empirical testability is an important method for the natural sciences. It is not necessarily a helpful method for “theological science” as it treats the data of revelation. Much that is revealed to us about God in scripture is not entirely logically comprehensible, much lest empirically testable. Can you construct an empirical test for, say, the doctrine of the Trinity, or the hope of the new creation?

    My methodological presumption in these theology-science conversations is that each discipline must proceed according to its proper methods and then we need to try to bring everything together in a coherent way while still respecting that each discipline is principally engaged with different layers of reality. Van Huysteen’s approach to interdisciplinarity is helpful here as well, as is McGrath’s critical realism.

    All of that said — I don’t claim I can “prove” my approach is right, nor do I suggest it’s the only “right” way to think about this. My purpose is only to explore how we might respect the integrity of both the scientific and theological sciences.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim re: #85, you said: “urges to procreate, establish dominance in one’s social unity, and ensure self-preservation (i.e., the sins of lust, aggression, and greed).”

    I respond: the urges to procreate, to provide leadership, and to preserve one’s self are not sinful. What is “sinful” is the choice to act on these urges in ways that destroy the relationships that constitute us as truly human. “Lust,” for example, is not just the desire to have sex, it is the cultivation of desire for someone other than the person God provides in marriage, or for God Himself. Without the predicate of the possibility of truly “spiritual” relationships with God and with others (including a spouse in a covenenantal marriage relationship), there are only biological drives, not “lust.”

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#84) said: Central to much of my thinking here is the conviction that Christ is not an after-thought but part of the plan from the very beginning; this is all one coherent creation.

    I respond: I think the same way. However, I don’t think this is at all inconsistent with “Adam” having had the free possibility of not sinning prior to the “fall.” It is the question of compatibilist free will and primary / secondary causation; otherwise, through a supralapsarian sort of view, you deprive humanity of any free will.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Good happy hour here!

    I don’t find dopderbeck’s refutation of Tim’s point 2 at all convincing. First, you give no evidence, only a reference for us all to go and self study. Second, you don’t give any sort of alternative hypothesis about the nature of discoverable evidence. All you say is the evidence given is not satisfactory. Third, I think Tim’s hypothesis is valid, ie those are valid signals of modern humans.

    I think dopderbeck’s refutation of #3 calls on the same sort of evidence that Tim used in 2.

    I think the whole line of thinking in the dopderbeck vs. Tim centers on whether there is some sort of discontinuity.

    I could be wrong since I am casually looking, but I don’t think there is any compelling evidence to say there is a discontinutity in Adam outside of Home sapiens.

  • dopderbeck

    DRT — the “cultural explosion” or “upper paleolithic revolution” at about 35KYA is a very well-known phenomona in the relevant literature. If you’re not aware of it as background information, you probably shouldn’t be commenting.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John I.@77

    If Paul portrayed Adam and Christ as coordinate, but Darwin is right, then Christ is in reality coordinate to nothing (i.e., nothing real). Doesn’t that destroy the persuasiveness and structure of Paul’s argument? If Adam is only a literary figure and so is only symbolically representative of us in our sin, then isn’t Christ also merely symbolically representative of our salvation in God?

    In the first century, do you think the readers of Paul’s letters would have thought any sort of “divine inspiration” associated with every word he said? I think the original hearers would have thought that he had revelation concerning the Christ.

    I don’t believe the people then would be looking for that level of physicality. His argument is contingent on the argument, the parallelism of accepted concepts, not the actuality of the events. Said another way, it seems to me that the point of Paul’s argument is that the Adam story has a widely accepted truth associated with it and that truth does not have to be bound in physicality. People believed the truth of result if not the method. That is all that is required.

  • Tim


    Part of my point is your particular scenario represents a gigantic leaping beyond what the Biblical text reveals. You are fishing for a possible scenario where there might be something like the story of Adam’s fall in a manner consistent with modern scientific findings. So I am granting that you have every right to base sound theology off the Biblical text, obviously, but I don’t see how the case could be made that your speculations are Biblicaly grounded rather than mostly speculation based on the kernel of revelation concerning Adam and original sin.

    I find this kind of thinking common among fundamentalists. A sort of, “if I can find any possible scenario, no matter how otherwise speculative or seemingly unlikely, to harmonize two discrepant scripture passages, I can hold on to my doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.” I think you are taking a similar approach with respect to original sin. You’ve identified a “possible” though extremely speculative scenario that is NOT laid out in the Bible, so you seem to express that leaves you all good with respect to holding onto that doctrine.

    Gosh, that did sound confrontational. I swear that’s not my intent, but don’t want to re-write it. Sorry!

    Concerning my point (2) from post #82, I would note that I was not arguing that those anthropological traits discovered dating all the way back to 35,000 years ago necessitate spirituality. Just that they express a continuity with our current nature, so much so, that one would have to have some good reason to posit a meaningful discontinuity.

    Take a futuristic scenario where our historical records are lost, and some future archeologist is trying to put together the pieces of human culture in our day and age. Let’s say they find the shell of an automobile dated to 1860, and have whole automobiles complete with combustion engines dating as early as 1920. So, they reason that the automobiles in 1860 were likely powered by combustion engines, as the automobiles in 1920 had similar functional designs plans. This isn’t being “reductionistic.” It’s merely inferentially reasoning up based on a commonality. Sure the automobile could have been powered by something other than combustion for all they knew, but based on the striking similarities, why would they suspect that without some good evidence to the contrary?

    Concerning an overstating of my case on similarities between ancient and modern man, I will look into that further and get back to you.

    I would also add my post #85 for your consideration:

    “You would also have a scenario where the outcome of the fall of Adam (whether individual or collective) resulted in humanity behaving in ways that look identical to the type of behavior one would expect from evolutionarily-derived urges. Examples of this would include the evolutionarily imperative urges to procreate, establish dominance in one’s social unity, and ensure self-preservation (i.e., the sins of lust, aggression, and greed).”

    By the way, please do not bring Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, Home Heidelbergensis, or any other non-Human into this discussion. These aren’t pertaining to any point I am making, so it doesn’t help move the conversation forward. If it is relevant to a point you’re making, perhaps I just don’t understand it yet, and you could clarify that to me.

    I agree that this is a great conversation, and I look forward to your feedback on these points. Thanks Dopderbeck!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT


    I would think the change from about 1500AD to present is even a more compelling change of the same genre. Is that evidence of divine intervention?

  • Tim

    …continued from #92,

    Just realized you answered #85 Dopderbeck. Sorry!

    I would say in quick response, that our sinful nature is seen as inclinations and urges, that we can in isolated instances try to choose not to capitulate into, but really inevitably do in part. I fail to see how evolutionarily-derived urges function very different to this. People can choose either way, but the urges are strong enough that we inevitably fall.

  • dopderbeck

    @DRT — nope, not even close.

    @Tim — fair enough re: the scenario seems overly stretched or complicated. At the end of the day, the need to construct such thought experiments will be driven by one’s committment to a doctrinal position. It’s absolutely true that I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think the doctrine of original sin is very important.

    But I don’t think what I’m doing is exactly the same as harmonizing to save some strict idea of “inerrancy.” Strict inerrancy is a house of cards because even the tiniest discrepancy topples it.

    What I’m doing, I think, is what every theorist in every discipline does — including natural scientists. I have a working theory that explains lots of “data.” There is other data that doesn’t fit neatly into my theory, so I do my best to construct plausible scenarios that accommodate all the data. Consider, for example, the bizarre “dark matter” and “dark energy” that is necessary for the big bang theory (a theory I accept as the best working cosmological theory) to work. Nobody has any idea what dark matter and dark energy are or what they do, but we need them for the math to work out. This problem doesn’t cause us to jettison the big bang theory.

    Now, it may be that the problems become so enormous that an entirely theoretical construct has to be replaced by a different research program (to use Lakatos’ terminology). With respect to faith-and-science discussions, I think that was the case long, long ago with respect to the young earth creationist theory. But, I don’t think we’re even in the same ballpark with respect to the relationship between human evolution and original sin. And original sin is such an important theological theory / doctrine that I think we have to work long and hard before adopting a different research program.

    In fact, I’d say that this is just about a line in the sand for me — and I’m reasonably comfortable saying that because I think the proof or disproof of “original sin” is not something that is even amenable to the methods of the natural sciences.

    Re: inclinations — “original sin” is not just about inclinations and urges. There is nothing sinful about an inclination or urge in itself — these are only emotion. What is sinful is the act of the will in orienting one’s self away from God.

  • Tim


    Good theories don’t provide ad hoc explanations of data. It looks like your “theory” is very much ad hoc and not rather informed from the ground up.

    I agree that inerrancy falls far easier than the doctrine of original sin. But I think the type of thinking at here is the same. Ad hoc speculations as to how one can maintain a certain doctrine of scripture that otherwise seems to run afoul of the evidence. We know the story of Adam and Eve as primordial pair in a perfect garden runs afoul of the evidence, so you have constructed an ad hoc explanation that doesn’t. Still seems like apples to apples in that respect.

    I also wouldn’t take my “thought experiment” as a weakness. That was just my own way of trying to illustrate a point through analogy. I could have avoided doing so, and I didn’t think it was necessary for my point, just helpful to better communicate what I was getting at.

    Concerning “dark matter”, I think most cosmologists and astronomical physicists concede that this is speculatory. But it isn’t all ad hoc. Gravitational lensing provides some level of direct empirical support for dark matter’s existence, even though they don’t yet know what that is. In any event, I think most cosmologists would give up dark matter and dark energy if they could find a better model to go with. I don’t see you doing the same with original sin.

    I appreciate that you have made a personal commitment to draw a line in the sand on the doctrine of original sin. Given this line, you probably really don’t need an explanation of original sin at all, just a commitment that you won’t abandon it. You could say something like, “well, God knows the answer.” You don’t really need a speculative scenario. However, I hope you appreciate that others who haven’t drawn a similar doctrinal line that otherwise use science and Biblical scholarship to best inform their views might not find your explanation all that compelling.

    On the issue of urges with respect to sin, I agree that it is not the urge that makes it sinful, but the willful capitulation into that urge against a calling by God not to. Nevertheless, the urges are so strong regardless of where you think they come from that willful capitulation would be seen as inevitable. I would also argue from a practical standpoint that there doesn’t seem to be a real difference as to whether such urges came about from the fall of Adam or whether they were evolutionarily inherited. I would also argue that inheritance of such urges from evolutionary means seems a more than sufficient explanation given the evidence we have.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Michael W Kruse @79,

    I don’t think the Hebrew use of raqia’ to refer to the expanse of sky indicates they thought of that expanse as beaten bronze or as a solid dome. Nor does their use of arubbah to refer to extraordinary rainfall indicate that they believed the sky was literally a solid dome but that there were holes in it where the water poured through.

    You may think Scripture unmistakably assumes the ANE beliefs of the surrounding nations, but I think you are mistaken about that.

    @81, C. S. Lewis did not present his Screwtape Letters as history. But Genesis 1-11 is presented as history in the same way that Genesis 12-50 is. One indication of this is the presence of elleh toledoth, “these are the generations” that runs through both sections of Genesis. It is a structural element of the narrative that narrows the focus of what was previously spoken about and goes on to tell what came from it. It occurs 10 times in Genesis: 6 times in chapters 1-11 and 4 times in chapters 12-50.

    The generations of the heavens and the earth (2:4)
    The generations of Adam (5:1-2)
    The generations of Noah (6:9)
    The generations of Shem, Ham and Japheth (10:1)
    The generations of Shem (11:10)
    The generations of Terah (11:27)
    The generations of Ishmael (25:12)
    The generations of Isaac (25:19)
    The generations of Esau (36:1)
    The generations of Jacob (37:2)

    There are a couple of additional uses found in the OT. One is at Numbers 3:1, the generations of Aaron and Moses. The other is at Ruth 4:18-22, which speaks of the line from Perez, through Boaz and on through to David.

    The intention and use of elleh toledoth is as an historical reference.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — I don’t think it’s ad hoc, because (a) there is lots of Biblical / theological “data” in support of the doctrine of original sin; and (b) there is lots of evidence from the history of humanity for the present reality of original sin, even if it’s origins remain obscure. You might dispute the Biblical and theological “data,” but that is a different issue. If the Biblical and theological data are there, then efforts to explain how that data relates to the data from the natural sciences aren’t in any way ad hoc. In any event, ad hoc hypotheses aren’t always necessarily wrong, as Einstein’s work shows.

    In addition, you said: “I would also argue that inheritance of such urges from evolutionary means seems a more than sufficient explanation given the evidence we have.”

    To which I respond: Not at all, unless you’re taking a very strongly reductionistic sociobiological view of human nature. Do you contend that there is a complete and self-contained evolutionary explanation for “free” human decisions / agency? If not — if you accept that whatever humans have inherited from our evolutionary past, we still have some sort of free will — then evolutionary explanations cannot fully explain “sin,” because sin is by definition a free act of human will.

  • John I.

    Re DRT @91: “That is all that is required.”

    That may have been all that was required for Paul’s recipients, but it is no longer all that is required for us if Darwin is right. If Adam did not exist, then the part of Paul’s argument relying on Adam’s existence is wrong and hence not convincing to us. And, further, if the part of his argument on Adam is wrong, what assurance do we have of the validity of his argument on Christ?

    If the substance of Paul’s argument is (to us, post Darwin) only typological, symbolic and representative because it is literary and fictive (to us), then why should we posit a substantive efficacy to Christ’s death? Why shouldn’t his death and resurrection (even if historical) be merely symbolic of what God is doing, rather than an efficacious way of bringing it (God’s doing) about?

    If Darwin is right, then the argument in Romans has has to be reworked in a very significant way.

    John I.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#98),

    I agree there is Biblical evidence for the doctrine of original sin depending on one’s hermeneutic.

    I disagree that there is evidence for the scenario you lay out. Biblical or otherwise. I also disagree that speculations that go far beyond the Biblical text or any other source of evidence aren’t ad hoc because they affirm a Biblical principle. I think what you are saying is that it is OK that they are ad hoc.

    I agree that there is plenty of evidence for sin within humanity.

    I disagree that there is external evidence that points to it being inherited by a fall. Actually, the evidence goes the other way on that and offers a satisfactory evolutionary explanation as to the urges that lead to sin when capitulated to. As far as the remainder of your arguments on this issue of explanations for sin, I would argue that I see no problem with human urges being biologically inherited, and our ability to (imperfectly) try to follow God and resist as best we’re able and grace affords not to capitulate into them is owing to God’s connection and relationship with us. So you have both a biological as well as a spiritual side of the coin.

  • AHH

    Regarding the firmament in Genesis 1, I’m no Hebrew or Ancient Near East scholar, but Paul Seely is. He did a thorough job, showing that the word in context referred to the solid dome that ANE people thought was above us. It was published in the Westminster Theological Journal (a quite conservative journal) and is available online here:

    In case that URL is too long to reproduce on this platform, you can type
    Seely firmament
    in Google and it comes up first.

    Of course this sub-discussion is really more germane to the previous RJS post, another example where the literal/concordist idea that Genesis must in all respects “line up” with correct science simply doesn’t work.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim – “ad hoc” doesn’t mean “speculative.” It means “unnecessary to the explanation.” I fully agree that my thought experiment is speculative; it isn’t intended as anything other than a speculative thought experiment. But, in my view, for a complete picture, some such scenario is necessary to explain at least these three data points: human evolution, the “fall” of “Adam,” and original sin. A scenario that attempts to explain all the data, no matter how speculative, isn’t “ad hoc.” A scenario that doesn’t explain all the data isn’t more elegant — it simply isn’t an explanation of the data.

    Now, what I take you to be saying is that the Western doctrine of original sin is unnecessary to a Biblical / Christian understanding of humanity. Fair enough. That’s a Biblical / hermeneutical / theological claim about essentially non-scientific “data”.

    You also seem to be saying that it’s easier to understand the data of human evolution without having to consider the doctrine of original sin. Again, fair enough. I completely agree that the absence of a doctrine of original sin would make the facts of human evolution much less complicated to incorporate.

    In my view at this point in my theological study, however, the complication is necessary, even if uncomfortable. In fact, I think that, on balance, doing away with the doctrine of original sin ultimately makes things more complicated because then you have to work really hard to explain a host of other important doctrines, including the atonement. The work I have to do to explain original sin in light of human evolution seems to me less arduous than the work I have to do to explain the atonement, etc. without original sin.

    I could be wrong, but that’s how I work through it.

    What is your view of sin and the atonement?

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #97

    “I don’t think the Hebrew use of raqia’ to refer to the expanse of sky indicates they thought of that expanse as beaten bronze or as a solid dome.”

    I said nothing about raqia.

    Gen 1:6-7

    “6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it.”

    What you are telling me is that the earth, whatever shape it is, is not a globe in space with virtual nothingness beyond our atmosphere? Instead, our atmosphere is a compartment between the surface of the earth and waters above the atmosphere? Am I missing something?

    How else might we deal with the passage? How about we look around at surrounding cultures and see what they thought. What we see is a pervasive view that the atmosphere has a dome above separating the waters above from the surface. Therefore, what is the obvious conclusion about what was being communicated in Genesis 1:6-7? It is accommodation to ANE culture. ONLY an a priori assumption that the text would not be saying this prevents the obvious from being grasped.

    “Nor does their use of arubbah to refer to extraordinary rainfall indicate that they believed the sky was literally a solid dome but that there were holes in it where the water poured through.”

    Arubbah is not simply referring to an extraordinary rainfall. Genesis 7:11 refers to two actual events (following your literal hermeneutic that events described as historical are historical no matter what.)

    1. Springs of the great deep open up
    2. Gates/windows in the heavens open up.

    Are these intended as factual statements or simply colorful metaphors to describe a great deluge. Look at the chart I linked by Kirk (#79). The ANE perspective was that there were waters beneath the earth that came up through springs and there were windows in to dome that covered the earth that let the waters come down. If you are going to flood the earth, according to ANE understandings of the earth, this is a factual (scientific?) description of what happens. Furthermore, there is zero evidence that there was a competing cosmology or understanding of the earth that would cause us to think this was purely metaphorical.

    So when we have a talking serpent in the garden, that is irrefutable historical fact because it is presented as history. But when we have springs of the great deep opening, and windows in the heavens opening, also presented as factual history, that becomes metaphor? Again, ONLY a priori assumptions about what the text must say according to preconceived notions about inerrancy prevent the obvious from being acknowledged.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #97 Jeff

    “@81, C. S. Lewis did not present his Screwtape Letters as history.”

    He most certainly does. If you have a copy, you must ignore all other prefaces that came after the original publication. Lewis’ preface begins:

    “I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.

    There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight. The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but ill-disposed or excitable people who make bad use of it shall not learn it from me.

    Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle. I have made no attempt to identify any of the human beings mentioned in the letters; but I think it very unlikely that the portraits, say, of Fr. Spike or the patient’s mother, are wholly just. There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth. …”

    And so the book goes on to the very end. There is no debate about this. Absolutely nowhere in the book does Lewis say he is using a clever device or that this is just fiction. Therefore, I put the question again: How do we know that “Screwtape Letters” is not an historical account just as Lewis has written it?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Thanks, AHH. Other scholars disagree. John H. Sailhammer, in his commentary on Genesis in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, understands the Hebrew raqiya’, as it is used in the OT, to mean, not a solid partition, but “that place where birds fly and God placed the lights of heaven.”

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #97

    Were genealogies constructed and used in the way we use them today?

    Compare two genealogies. Joseph and Levi were contemporaries. Four hundred years later, Joshua and Moses were contemporaries. Joshua was descended from Joseph and Moses from Levi. Now check out the genealogy from Joseph to Joshua in 1 Chron 7:20, 23-27. Eleven generations elapse. Look at the genealogy from Levi to Moses in Exodus 6:16-20. Three generations elapse.

    The genealogies are somewhat mysterious. They clearly were intended to locate various players within the biblical narrative. Relationships to various figures in ANE culture, fictive or real, said something about the person to whom the genealogy was referring. Thus, the way the genealogy was constructed carried truths about the person under discussion. The internal evidence from the Bible alone, much less comparisons to ancient cultures, shows that the genealogies were not records of history as we would use them.

  • normbv

    I noticed that another poster is signing on as “norm”. Just so there is no confusion with my positions I’m going to start signing on as “normbv”.

    By the way I must say this has been a very educational piece and thread here today. I opened the ASA link and read Daniel C. Harlow’s piece and I must say I was very impressed with Harlow’s breath of coverage in that brief article. I’m an Adam historicist’s adherent yet Harlow makes one of the best presentations to consider otherwise that I’ve encounter. I’m still holding to the idea that Adam was taken from a historical figure somewhere in the ANE past but I may want to reconsider some of my contemplations. I believe the reason that Harlow comes off better than some of the others such as Denis Lamoureux is his NT skills in handling Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 appear much more sound and thus convincing. Although I believe he still doesn’t fully recognize that the analogy of Genesis scripture was recognized by Paul and its implications, his piece none the less was impressive. I highly recommend everyone following this thread read it fully.

    I want to thank David D. and Tim for an extremely informative and well-handled debate between themselves today. I tend strongly toward Tim’s position yet I appreciate David’s insights to a large extent as well.

    PS. Note to self “never get in a debate with Tim”

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#102),

    “‘ad hoc’ doesn’t mean ‘speculative.’ It means ‘unnecessary to the explanation.'”

    This is completely untrue.

    In science and philosophy, ad hoc means the addition of extraneous hypotheses to a theory to save it from being falsified.

    When I say “ad hoc” in reference to your idea concerning Adam, this is precisely what I mean. You are generating extraneous hypotheses (from which there is no Biblical, anthropological, historical, scientific, or really any other conceivable support) to save the doctrine of original sin (for which depending on one’s hermeneutic there is Biblical support) from being falsified.

    “Now, what I take you to be saying is that the Western doctrine of original sin is unnecessary to a Biblical / Christian understanding of humanity.”

    I have not taken a firm position on that. I just think the doctrine of original sin isn’t as clear cut as some make it out to be. Nevertheless, I do think that it is conceivable that Paul reasoned backwards concerning his notions of sin all the way back to, what he accepted as a historical event as this was background information in his day, Adam’s fall. God could simply have accommodated a fallible perspective of Paul’s in this (and accommodation of fallible ideas can be demonstrated throughout the Biblical text).

    “You also seem to be saying that it’s easier to understand the data of human evolution without having to consider the doctrine of original sin.”

    I am more arguing that the evolution does such a great job of explaining our proclivities that get us into trouble in terms of sinning that any doctrine of original sin seems superfluous. Not only that, it seems somewhat incredible that the outcome of original sin would end up generating a nature that looks identical in terms of proclivities as we would expect evolution to just generate on its own.

    “In my view at this point in my theological study, however, the complication is necessary, even if uncomfortable.”

    OK, I can accept that’s a personal decision you’ve made.

    “In fact, I think that, on balance, doing away with the doctrine of original sin ultimately makes things more complicated because then you have to work really hard to explain a host of other important doctrines, including the atonement.”

    You seem to be making the argument that your theology hinges on original sin. I would argue, however, that any process of forming a reliable Biblical hermeneutic to illuminate such doctrinal specifics as you aim to do is far more difficult than forming an interpretation of how human nature came to resemble what it is today via our excellent and extensive scientific and anthropological evidence. Perhaps it would be better just to accept that connecting to an NT text written 2,000 years ago, with all the complications that accommodation of fallible human perspectives entails, is something that you may never have the degree of certainty or clarity that you would otherwise like to have.

    “What is your view of sin and the atonement?”

    I will go a little further on this than just sin and atonement, so bear with me.

    My view is that our base inclinations are biological. Our pro-social and higher inclinations are still rooted in biology, but they achieve their most meaningful and aesthetic expression spiritually. Perhaps an example of this awkwardly phrased concept would be: I love my daughter. I am biologically geared to respond to my daughter with love, nurture, and protection. But what makes my daughter beautiful and wonderful is God. What makes my love for her beautiful and transcendent is God. Now, if anyone ever hurts my daughter, even if it’s unintentional carelessness, my biologically based inclination is to hurt them back. But my desire to stop myself and seek a more compassionate way forward I attribute to my relationship with God.

    Concerning atonement, I think all humanity is dependent upon God’s grace. I think God’s grace is primarily dispensed based on our hearts for him. I think that for those who try to express a heart for God, as evidenced by behavior and attitudes such as one finds prescribed in the beatitudes, the sheep and the goats, and the parables on forgiveness, are reaching out for God and I feel God, in his grace, will reach back. I think one could certainly make the argument that the atoning blood of Jesus would wash these people clean as well, not just those who believe. I understand this runs counter to the Johannine soteriology certainly, and Paul’s soteriology likely. But I feel we get those two different messages in the Bible, and I feel a stronger argument can be made that the beatitudes and sheep and the goats represent a likely more authentic picture of the sort of soteriology that Jesus taught than the others.

  • Percival

    The doctrine of innate human corruption does not rise and fall with the apostle Paul. He is, however, the one who pointed it out as a foundational truth for the gospel. There is the Adamic nature and there is the new nature in Christ. In this sense it does not really matter whether Adam existed or not. (Just as Jayflm pointed out way back in #11 with Melchizedek.) Paul uses Adam to illustrate what is obvious to him, that humans are unable to keep the law.

    Reading, (then skimming, then skipping) over Dopderbeck’s and Tim’s long discussion of the issue of original sin is frustrating. They both seem to agree that the doctrine depends on the historical Adam, but it just doesn’t. Paul is only pointing out what is obvious about human sinfulness and connecting it to the new creation of Christ.

  • Tim

    Percival (#108),

    I am not making the case that innate human corruption rises or falls with Paul. You could say that such a nature was always there, as long as there have been humans. That’s certainly the perspective I take. What I am arguing against is a discontinuity in human nature resultant from an original fall of man. So I’m not really sure that we are in disagreement here Percival.

  • Percival

    Sorry, Tim. I should have done more reading and less skipping, I guess.

  • John I.

    Re J. Dole’s comments about the factual historicity of Genesis 1 & 2, etc.

    If one must accept the factual historicity of early Genesis because a face-value literal reading of Genesis requires such an interpretation, then that same approach also requires us to believe that there are things that God did not know (see Genesis 18 & 22, etc. -such stories as God not knowing the nature of Abram’s faith). If, however, one does not take the latter passages literally for reasons that are not apparent from those texts, then the same approach can be take in early Genesis (i.e., not follow an alleged literal interpretation).

    John I.

  • John I.

    Paul argues that he could not know what sin was without the law. Before the Eden incident, there is no command / law of God given to humans (or their predecessors). Without any such command to disobey, how can it be said that they sinned or even knew what sin was?

    John I.

  • Tim

    Addition to my response #108 to Dopderbeck (#102),

    After some more thought, it seems part of your difficulty relating to letting go of the doctrine of original sin involves (and I’m guessing here) a view that this could call into question why Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary in the first place. In response to this possible objection, I would note that the Israelites in the OT little if any focus on original sin. It certainly was never developed following the Genesis story in their theology. I would argue that the Israelites felt very comfortable with the reason they engaged in sacrificial atonement via sacrifice at the altar. If the OT did not need a doctrine of original sin to support atonement through animal sacrifice, why would the NT need a doctrine of original sin to support atonement through Jesus’ sacrifice? All that changes is instead of a Jesus’s blood purifying humanity spiritually and creating a path for a relationship with God following a separation/corruption of that relationship following some earlier fall (thus restoring some previous, plan A relationship), it would simply be a purifying and creating of a path for a relationship with God that was necessary due to man’s inherent sinful state resultant from our proclivities acquired via our evolutionary heritage that lead us to continually fail in our efforts to fulfill our duty and privilege to be good image bearers of God.

  • normbv


    Adam was put in the Garden to serve and guard the Garden Temple in which Paul speaking as one of the members of the Body of Adam’s death states that Garden life without Law bears no Sin. That is the implication of Paul’s polemic from Rom 5-8 and other locations against the Law and the need for its removal through Christ who accomplished what Adam could not do in the Garden setting. Christ essentially in Paul’s view renewed the Garden (for the faithful God seeker) so that Law is of no account any more.

    Outside the Garden (see the parallel of life in the City in Rev 21) still resides those who are unclean. Removing the law/works and establishing Grace essentially allows the faithful to escape separation from God (Death). Before Christ the faithful were only viewing the City from afar and were no better off than those not seeking God except for their hope (Heb 11). The curse has been lifted but it was always only in regards to the faithful people of God who reside with immortality now in Garden life without Law. Paul declares man as naturally mortal and Adam’s state was supposed to remedy that issue but it required a second Adam to put on immortality.

    1Co 15:54-56 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and THE MORTAL PUTS ON IMMORTALITY, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (55) “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and THE POWER OF SIN IS THE LAW.

    So the Sin regarding the Law is not your typical sin of the unclean or unfaithful as it was a Sin specific to breaking of God’s commandment only for those in covenant with God. Those not seeking God reside in a natural state of sin that bears no relation to the sin of breaking Law.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    There is a mistaken idea that goes around that if I take some things literally, I must therefore take everything literally. That is no more true than to say that if I take some things figuratively, I must therefore take everything figuratively. It is a mistaken idea about what a literal reading means.

    I read and understand things according to their genre. In the Bible, there are a number of different genres. There is poetry, there is parable, there is wisdom literature, there is epistle, there is apocalyptic, there is chronicle or history. Each one operates in a different way. There may be literal elements in each, as well as figurative. Some are more figurative than literal, some are more literal than figurative.

    I take the book of Genesis to be a historical form, for reasons I have already alluded to. That does not mean, however, that there are no figures of speech used in it. So, for example, I am not obligated to interpret “windows of heaven” or “floodgates of heaven” as actual windows or floodgates.

    There are figures of speech used throughout Scriptures, including such things as anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms. When the Bible speaks about the “hand of God,” I do not take that to mean that God has a literal, physical hand. It is a figure of speech. The fact that I take some things to be literal does not mean that I must therefore take everything to be literal.

    I take Genesis 1-11 to be historical in intent because it is cast in the same form as the rest of Genesis (12-50). I do not think the original recipients of the book of Genesis would have taken chapters 1-11 to be a different form from chapters 12-50, nor do I think they were intended by the writer to be taken as different forms to be understood in very different ways.

  • Tim

    Jeff (#116),

    There are 2 main arguments against taking Genesis 2-3 as literal history.

    One is ANE scholarship. There are many motifs within the Genesis 2-3 story that are found in older Sumerian and Babylonian accounts: a perfect garden where eating forbidden fruit leads to a curse of death, the lady of the rib, the tree of life, the serpent, a state of perfect innocence but naïvete disrupted by the actions of a woman that brings worldly wisdom/knowledge, people being made out of clay, etc.

    So perhaps the most appropriate literary genre for Genesis 2-3 is morally/theologically instructive myth.

    The other main argument against taking Genesis 2-3 as literal history is evolutionary science that demonstrates that humanity never descended from some primordial pair but rather evolved from earlier hominid ancestors with population bottlenecks likely never reducing below a few thousand due to genetic diversity studies.

    So, you combine our evolutionary science with ANE scholarship and you have a very strong argument indeed against taking Genesis 2-3 as literal history.

  • normbv


    I’m in basic agreement with you on the analysis of Genesis literature but I do question one assumption that is commonly read into the Genesis account. That is the idea that Adam is being set up in Genesis as the progenitor of the human race. It seems more accurate that he is being postulated as the covenant progenitor of Israel in regards to Law to which it seems possible and credible that in this context he could be considered a historical figure.

  • Tim

    Normbv (#117),

    I can see how a case could be made for that.

    For instance, we have the mythical account of the Epic of Gilgamesh. For a while, ANE scholars thought Gilgamesh was simply a mythical figure. Well, certainly as portrayed in the fantastical epic he was. But it turns out that a real Gilgamesh lived and ruled in ancient Sumeria. So he is now considered to be a historical figure.

    However, I do think that Adam is depicted in Genesis is as progenitor of the human race. Why else would God make him out of clay and his female companion out of his rib if he could have chosen from an existing population? But I do agree that Genesis 2-3 could use the language of mythology to convey some underlying truth concerning a historical Adam that was a covenantal progenitor.

    I think interpretation of the Genesis 2-3 story could go a lot of different ways. I do think that a robust argument can be made that a good number of elements in it are mythological, but as to whether or not there is a layer underneath all that that reveals some real historical truth, perhaps. Who’s to know?

  • Tim

    …sorry, should have been Normbv (#118),

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles


    Yes, I am aware of the ANE scholarship. It is not monolithic ~ not all the scholars agree. Yes, there are some similarities between the Genesis account the Sumerian and Babylonian stories. But the differences are many and profound. As I noted earlier, John H. Oswalt demonstrates those differences in his book, The Bible Among the Myths. He concludes that the Genesis narrative is not myth at all, that it is very different in form and in worldview.

    Evolutionary science was not known in the days when Genesis was written, so neither the writer nor the first recipients would have thought about the world that way. To argue that they did not take Genesis creation as an historical account because scientists today have a different view of how the world and its inhabitants came into existence is to argue anachronistically ~ reading present day ideas into an ancient document. It is eisegesis, so I don’t think it helps us to understand what the writer of Genesis actually meant, what his intent was or how the first recipients would have understood it.

    Though you consider them to be a strong argument indeed against taking Genesis creation as being historical in intent, I don’t find them to be convincing, neither individually nor taken in combination.

    What is more compelling to me, in regard to how Genesis 1-11 was intended and how it was understood, is that it is part of the larger narrative of a book that is presented as historical, with no indication that chapters 12-50 are to be understood differently from chapters 1-11.

    So we disagree at that basic level. No surprise there. But thanks for your comments.

  • John I.

    The Genesis chapters concerning the sacrifice of Isaac, etc. are presented as “literal” history and so, by the reasoning above respecting how one should understand such history, God literally did not know things. My point is that if one does not interpret something as factually true in a section of Genesis (c. 18, 22, etc.) that is “history”, why does one treat other sections (Gen. 1, 2, etc.) differently?

    That is to say, if one is willing to disregard factually presented truth in Gen. 22 for reasons that lie outside the immediate text, one should be prepared to do the same in Gen. 1. In Gen. 22 YECs would claim that God did in fact know Abram’s heart even though the text directly says that he doesn’t–based on their theology derived from other texts and their alleged implications. How is that any different from old earthers claiming that the earth was not created in a “literal” 144 hours based upon knowledge that is not directly derived from Genesis 1?

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    On related issues, the Hebrews did not take descriptions of the firmament as solid with water on the other side metaphorically, they took it “literally” and believed in the truth of it. There is no evidence at all that anyone in the ANE believed otherwise. The only evidence available indicates that they all believed that a giant ocean lay underneath and surrounding the land, and that a hard dome kept the other half of all the water on the other side.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim, you said: “In science and philosophy, ad hoc means the addition of extraneous hypotheses to a theory to save it from being falsified.”

    I respond: yes (at least that is how Wikipedia, from which you’re quoting, defines it). “Extraneous” means “not forming a vital part,” or, more simply, “unnecessary.” So, unless you have a novel definition of the word “extraneous,” what I said about the meaning of “ad hoc” is correct.

    It’s interesting that you try to cabin my understanding of original sin as a “personal decision,” as if doctrinal determinations can have no objective basis. I don’t view this as merely a “personal decision. I view it as compelled by a reasoned explication of the historic Christian faith.

    Your views about God and sin are interesting but, respectfully, it seems to me that they fall too far outside the tradition of Christian thought. (I’m not judging your relationship with God or your ethics here, just the ideas as they relate to what I understand as the historic Christian faith).

    These seem to me essential, not extraneous, elements of a Christian anthropology: (a) at one time in our primordial past, humanity possesed the potential for such relationship to God that we could have lived without sinning and thereby could have exercised the cultural mandate in perfect fellowship with God, each other, and the rest of creation; (b) from our primordial past to the present, human beings rejected that potential and became constitutionally incapable of not sinning, while remaining morally accountable, resulting in separation, disclocation, and great human suffering; and (c) the atoning sacrifice of Christ allows human beings once again and in the eschatological future to become united with God, without sin, and without the curse of sin.

    I think that at least these ideas are the starting point for a Christian anthropology in the tradition of “faith seeking understanding.” At the same time, we have to take the science of human evolution seriously, and work on interdisciplinary frameworks in which the theological and natural-scientific accounts of human nature can be understood as complementary. The theological truths can’t be elided as extraneous.

  • Tim

    Jeff (#121),

    “ANE scholarship…is not monolithic ~ not all the scholars agree.”

    OK, that’s essentially just saying it’s scholarship right? I mean what area of scholarship ever has 100% agreement? Historical scholarship doesn’t have 100% agreement on the holocaust (as there are holocaust deniers out there), so that isn’t “monolithic” either. I could forward you to some books that argue that it never did happen, authored by people with their Ph.D.’s. What would that prove? The overwhelming consensus goes the other way (and for the record, I fully acknowledge the holocaust).

    If you are waiting for 100% consensus before you accept something as true, I hope you enjoy waiting.

    Concerning arguments from ANE scholarship, that is certainly not anachronistic.

    Concerning arguments from evolution, that would be anachronistic if I was using that to establish authorial intent or how the audience would have received the work. My arguments concerning ANE scholarship follow those lines, but my argument concerning evolution do not. What I am simply asserting is that the literal REALITY of it having happened has been falsified by science. Just like the REALITY of the cosmology commonly accepted at that time, and permeating Genesis 1 and other Biblical passages has been falsified by science. That’s not anachronism as it doesn’t speak to authorial intent or how the text would have been received.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#123),

    Briefly, what makes your explanation ad hoc is that the scenario you give of Adam’s original fall is so far removed from the text that it is littered with extraneous arguments not derived from the Bible or any other scholarly source. Claiming that such explanations are vital to uphold a doctrine that you having Biblical support does not make them not extraneous. They can be both extraneous and vital. They are extraneous as you essentially invented them to deal with a difficulty you encountered, and they are vital because without such an invented explanation, the doctrine of original sin gets falsified.

    So, you have engaged in ad hoc reasoning to generate extraneous explanations that are necessary/vital to prevent the doctrine of original sin from being falsified.

  • Tim

    …continued from #125,

    “at one time in our primordial past, humanity possessed the potential for such relationship to God that we could have lived without sinning and thereby could have exercised the cultural mandate in perfect fellowship with God, each other, and the rest of creation”

    Granted, this is what is depicted in Genesis 2-3.

    “from our primordial past to the present, human beings rejected that potential and became constitutionally incapable of not sinning, while remaining morally accountable, resulting in separation, dislocation, and great human suffering”

    Paul appeared to interpret the Genesis account along those lines.

    “the atoning sacrifice of Christ allows human beings once again and in the eschatological future to become united with God, without sin, and without the curse of sin”

    Paul appeared to teach as much.

    So Dopderbeck, none of what I am criticizing as “extraneous” involve any of those points.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    John I @122, Neither Genesis 18 nor Genesis 22 says that God did not know something. That is merely an assumption you are making. When God asks a question in the Bible, it does not mean He does not already know the answer. Nor does taking Genesis 18 as historical require that we must think God did not actually know those things.

    In Genesis 22, I expect you are talking about verse 12, where God says, “For now I know that you fear the LORD.” However, that does not mean that God did not know before what was in Abraham’s heart. The difference is not between knowing and not knowing. The difference now was in the way God knew it ~ He now knew it along with Abraham because what God knew beforehand about Abraham had now been actualized. It had now been demonstrated in time and space.

    So the sauce for the goose and the gander is fine by me. I don’t think you have proven anything here, nor do I think you have disproven my position by your argument.

    Nor do I accept your argument that the Hebrews must have taken the “firmament” to be a literal solid dome. The creation account in Genesis is profoundly different from the creation myths of the surrounding nations (see The Bible Among the Myths, by John H. Oswalt ~ the book, not the reviews), so I believe God was leading them to a very different understanding about the world than the surroundings cultures held.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles


    Yes, there is never complete agreement among scholars in any given field. So, to make a blanket argument about ANE scholarship as if it all supports your position would be fallacious to the extent that not all ANE scholars agree about whether the creation accounts in Genesis are myth. And, indeed, not all agree about that.

    My position about the meaning of the creation accounts in Genesis is about authorial intent ~ how was it meant to be taken ~ and how the Hebrews understood it. I believe it was intended by the author as historical, and that it was received that way by the Hebrews.

    Whether that accurately reflects how the earth and its inhabitants came into existence is a different question, and it is certainly fair game to talk about that. But my point in this thread has been about intent.

  • Percival

    You keep talking about John Oswalt’s book, which I haven’t read but I’ve heard is good. He used to be one of my teachers in college many years ago so my memory may not be 100% accurate.

    What I remember him saying is that the ANE and the Hebrew prophets often shared the same images, but the prophets put a different twist on things. For example, Ps. 29 seems to be largely plagiarized from a pagan psalm to Baal. A listener from the ANE would understand the images better than we would because the symbolic language would be shared. I think that idea is key.

    So, when there is language about the firmament, for example, both Hebrews and ANE pagans would conceptualize essentially the same image. It is how the image fits into the story that is different.

  • John I.

    Regarding Genesis 22, God does not say that he now knows differently (that interpretation is a reading into the text what is literally not there). What God does say is that “now” he knows, which literally means that before the “now” he did not. There is nothing anywhere in the story of Abraham, or later reports of it, that the key thing for God was a change in the manner of his knowing. The sort of interpretation that advocates for a change in the way God knows is an interpretation placed on that portion of Scripture in order to maintain a particular view of God’s omniscience.

    As to the hard shell firmanent, given that the word itself refers to a hard shell, and given that all extent writings and depictions of the world by ANE peoples only describes a world with a hard shell firmament, the onus is on those who disagree to provide some evidence otherwise. There is no such evidence otherwise, and so a different (gaseous) interpretation of “firmament” is a reading of something into the text that is not there but only present in the minds of 21st century readers.

    The fact that God does not attempt to introduce modern science to the ANE relates to his concerns and emphases, and modern science was not one of those. One only has to recall (true) stories like the “King and I” where the children at the school would not believe the English teacher’s tale of frozen rain, or missionaries who cannot make tribes believe that there are buildings 20 times as tall as the tallest tree. The introduction of modern science to the ANE would have been just as incredulous and would have interfered with the message God was trying to get across.

    In any event, the point of the original post was about what we do if Darwin was right. If he is right, then we have to come up with an alternate way of understanding Genesis 1. Consequently, it is beside the point to argue (in this thread) that Darwin was wrong and that the earth is young–the assumption we are to work with is that Darwin was right.

    John I.

  • normbv


    It seems from scripture that Adam does portray what Israel defined as the “true man” contrasted to those outside of Israel who typically are treated less than royal subjects. This is picked up in the NT where one still needs to be one of the faithful to be considered in covenant with God. In the ANE world of the Suzerain King and his subjects it appears that the subjects of the Kingdom were the only ones given status as truly man. This is amplified in Ephesians 2 where the Gentile (alien) and Jew division (wall of separation) is broken down and now the faithful Gentiles are being brought into the fold of God’s people. The wall of separation is removed in the New Covenant and as Revelation states the rulers (Beast) of those contra Nation Kingdoms have been defeated as competitors of Gods Kingdom.

    The exclusive understanding of man relating to service to God is illustrated by Jer 4 which depicts the lack of a Man [adam] as a world without Light and returns it to one of chaos and darkness. This application to Israel’s unfaithfulness appears to mimic the Gen 1 and 2 depictions before Man’s [adams] creation.

    Jer 4:23-26 ESV I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. (24) I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. (25) I looked, and behold, THERE WAS NO MAN [adam], and all the birds of the air had fled. (26) I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

    Gen 2:5 ESV When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there WAS NO MAN [adam]to work the ground,

    Man as being formed from the clay of course goes hand in hand with the ANE stories of the creation of their legitimate man. This is appropriated by the Jews to illustrate the true man of God and appears again to be related to man in covenant. I realize this steps on the sensibilities of our inclusive culture to make an exclusive argument but the reality is that both the OT and NT support the idea of man in the Image of God as being the faithful man or the true man.

    Rev 22:11-15 ESV Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” … (14) Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (15) Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

  • dopderbeck

    Argh! Lost a long comment b/c of the “posting too quickly” nonsense!!

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles


    In Genesis 1:8, “God called the expanse [raqia] Heaven [shamayim].” Deuteronomy 4:17 speaks of “the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky [shamayim].” If Moses and the Hebrews understood that the birds fly in it, it seems to me that they did not take it to be solid.

    As I noted earlier, John H. Sailhammer believes the Hebrews understood the raqia to be the place where birds flew and the lights of heaven were placed, and not literally, as a solid partition (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 2. Genesis pp. 28-29).

  • dopderbeck

    (briefly reconstructing the longer comment) — Tim — you acknowledge the doctrinal positions that underly my theological anthropology are not “extraneous.” You’d agree, I’m sure, that the evidence of human evolution from the natural sciences is not extraneous.

    In an interdisciplinary thought experiment, I relied on Van Huyssteen’s Gifford lectures; Rohde & Chang’s published, peer-reviewed geneological studies; Walton’s (and other) scholarship on the ANE background of the Bible; the Church Father Ireneaus; and the Bible’s own typological treatment of Melchizedek, Abraham, David, and Christ, particularly in the book of Hebrews.

    Now, if Van Huyssteen, Walton, Ireneas, peer-reviewed scientific literature, and the Bible are “extraneous” to an interdisciplinary discussion of theology and science — well, then, I suppose I plead guilty to “ad hoc” reasoning. I suspect, however, that the issue has more to do with your eagerness to “falsify” the doctrine of original sin because of your own confirmation biases.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    John I@130, we disagree about Genesis 22. You are merely assuming that “now I know,” if taken historically, must mean that God did not know beforehand whether Abraham feared Him or not.

    As to what the Hebrews understood the nature of the “expanse” to be, see my comment @133.

  • Tim

    Jeff (#128),

    “So, to make a blanket argument about ANE scholarship as if it all supports your position…”

    When did I do this exactly? I referenced ANE scholarship in general, and noted that many motifs are shared between the Genesis 2-3 account and other older Sumerian and Babylonian accounts. Nowhere did I then make the leap and issue a blanket statement like, “therefore all ANE scholars agree with my point that Genesis 2-3 should be considered myth.” I think you are reading into my arguments claims I have not made.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#134),

    Let me clarify exactly what I consider extraneous, and how I see this ad hoc reasoning develop:

    Genesis 2-3 does paint a picture of mankind as having the potential to exist in a state of perfect harmony with God. But it doesn’t just throw that out there as some abstract concept. It reasons that such a potential existed as man was created originally in a state of perfect innocence/goodness, with the only vulnerability to threaten that state being man’s free will to reject the commands of God, but no pervasive presence of base proclivities that essentially demand capitulation are seen as being present. It is only when the entirely avoidable rebellion against God’s command to Adam is exercised that the “fall” happens and all humanity is thereafter corrupted (according to Paul’s perspective on Genesis anyway).

    So, here are the difficulties with that:

    1) Without the benefit of evolutionary science, pretty much every theologian within traditional Christianity was willing to accept that humanity began in a state of perfect harmony with God as a consequence of their (Adam and Eve’s) perfect, sinless, harmonious natures.

    2) Without the benefit of evolutionary science, pretty much every theologian saw the emergence of lust, aggression, greed, etc. into humanity’s nature as occurring subsequent to and as a consequence of the fall.

    3) Evolutionary science has now falsified the notion that humanity’s ancestry ever derived from perfectly harmonious beginnings, devoid of lust, aggression, greed, etc. Instead, we have an anthropological picture of early man fighting over mates, fighting over resources, and even murder within and between tribes.

    4) So the picture of (1) and (2) is seriously discrepant with (3).

    5) Now, you don’t want to give up the idea of an original potential of perfect harmony with God and a subsequent fall from grace depicted in (1) and (2). So, you need a method to deal with (3).

    6) So you have come up with the following:

    A) Humans (or ancestors to humans that for all intents and purposes are anthropologically indistinguishable from modern humans) before Adam were lustful, greedy, and aggressive (among other things), but were not accountable for such behavior as it existed outside of a relationship with God and they could not have known or processed that it was sin. *Ad hoc explanation #1 – designed to deal with evolutionary findings concerning the red in tooth and claw nature of early man and its ancestors. But ground-up support for this explanation is found nowhere in the Bible or in the anthropological sciences*

    B) Adam shared a spiritual link with the rest of these pre-human/newly human creatures, with him as the representative, such that when he sinned, his sin transformed their natures as well, not just that of his own descendants *Ad hoc explanation #2 – designed to deal with genetic findings that show that human populations never bottlenecked below a few thousand. But ground up support for this explanation is at best highly strained from arguments that Christ shared a spiritual link with humanity, combined with notions of moral representation of key figures and kings in the Bible and other ANE literature. There are no Biblical grounds for combining those two notions within the non-divine being of Adam such that he spiritually links with those who don’t descend from him in an actually transcendent manner.*

    So, it is the fact that (A) & (B) are constructed by you (or perhaps other authors whom you are drawing from) specifically to deal with the evolutionary evidence against the sort of picture painted in Genesis 2-3 as later interpreted by Paul that makes this ad hoc.

  • John I.

    The raqia is not, as far as the Bible is concerned, the atmosphere because Genesis 1:17 states that God placed the sun and moon in the raqia: “17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”. Furthermore, how can a nonsolid divide the waters below from the waters above? Not in the understanding of the ANE because a nonsolid (gas) cannot hold up liquid water-the mighty heavenly ocean. In addition, the Hebrew word used for “made” is one used for manufacturing, a notion that is consistent with the meaning of raqia as a solid (an item that is hammered or beaten out). All Jewish and Christian interpreters until recent times concurred that the firmament was a solid (including Augustine, Jesuits, etc.).

    As for birds, they are never said to fly in the raqia, but only before it or across it (e.g. Gen. 1:20). The word shamayim is not an exact replacement for raqia but has a broader meaning than raqia. In the Psalms it is apparent that the shamayim includes space above and below the raqia, and hence it is possible for birds to fly in it. In the OT birds may fly in the shamayim, but never in the raqia: the words are not equivalent. As in Gen. 1:10 (the dry land is called earth) the writer uses two close but not equivalent terms in order to draw attention to God’s power to name things.

    It is important to note, however, that the distinction in the characteristics of the raqia and shamayim is maintained throughout the OT.

    John I.

  • John I.

    re #135: “You are merely assuming”??

    It’s what the text states, I don’t need to assume anything. How else does one literally understand the use of “now”?

    The meaning of The meaning of God’s explanation for this knowledge — “since you have…” is completely unnecessary on J. Doles interpretation (and also opaque), but natural on a literal interpretation.

    Now note that I am not disagreeing with the classic interpretation of Gen. 22. What I am saying is that if the classic interpretation is true, then we have an instance where the literal words of direct history are not taken to mean what they literally appear to mean. If we can legitimately do that in Gen. 22, then surely we can also do that in Gen. 1. Indeed we have to if we are to work with the assumption stated in the lead post, viz., that Darwin was right.

    John I.

  • Tim

    Normbv (#131),

    Could you perhaps sum up or re-phrase what your primary point is in #131? I want to make sure I’m following you correctly :)

  • John I.

    Re #137 and the ad hoc nature of ” were not accountable for such behavior as it existed outside of a relationship with God and they could not have known or processed that it was sin.”

    How does one deal with Romans 2:14 “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”

    It seems that pre Adamic humans would have had the law written on their hearts just as much as post Adamic, as there is no text that suggests that there was a time when the law was not written on mens hearts.

    Or Romans 5:13 “for before the law was given, sin was in the world”. It suggests all time before the law was given, not just the more limited period of time between Adam and the giving of the law.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — sigh. The idea that “sin” involves “volition” and not just “inclinations” is very deep in the tradition of moral theology — read Aquinas. The idea that “Adam” is a “federal” representative is very deep in the tradition of Reformed and Augustinian theology — read Augustine and Calvin. I didn’t make any of this up and all of it was developed before the theological problem of human evolution was known. And if you think it’s “highly strained” to rely on “notions of moral representation of key figures and kings in the Bible and other ANE literature”, then I have absolutely no idea what you would consider reasonable and not “strained” when dealing with, well, the Bible and its ANE context.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    No, John I @139, the text does NOT say that God did not know that Abraham feared the LORD. It merely says, “Now I know.” You are only assuming that it means that God did not have any knowledge beforehand that Abraham feared Him. To understand this text as historical does not require us to think that God had no knowledge of Abraham’s faith before Genesis 22:12.

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#142),

    You have completely misread my post.

    I did not dispute that sin involves volition. Where do you see this in my post? I was very careful to use other descriptors such as “harmony” with respect to God specifically to avoid using the term “sin.”

    I did not dispute that Adam is seen as a representative theologically. Where did you see this in my post? In fact, I actually acknowledged that there is basis for this not just in the Bible, but in the ANE literature as well! I merely pointed out the idea of linking the non-divine Adam transcendently with contemporaries in a spiritual manner via the sort of mechanism attributed to Christ has no Biblical support.

    Please read my post again.

  • John I.

    re 144

    I’m referring to the natural literal interpretation of the text, and teh context of testing, without bringing to it a preconceived notion about omniscience. The use of the word “now”, and the explanation given by God only make natural sense if it is new information. God’s explanation is not, “I knew it before, but now I know it in a different way” (which does not satisfy the issue of omniscience anyway, knowing something in a different way still counts as a kind of knowledge that he did not possess previously, but I digress).

    I think that the fact that commentaries and apologetics and Bible answer web sites address the issue of whether Gen. 22:12 means that God is not omniscient, strongly indicates that the natural literal meaning of the passage must be addressed with an explanation that goes beyond and outside of the literal meaning. A review of such commentaries and books indicates that the response is always “the words do not mean what they appear to mean, but rather that . . . ”

    But it appears we’ll have to remain in disagreement. And so this is my last post on the topic.

  • John I.

    I meant re 143, J. Doles’ post

  • normbv


    Sorry about the overload. :)

    My premise is that the scriptures paint the view of Man [adam] within the ANE concept. That view is of God as King and his subjects as His Image bearing subjects under a covenant jurisdiction. Man [adam] is utilized primarily in scripture to denote those men who comprise this covenant world. Just as the subjects of Marduk comprise his dominion. Israel’s construct of their Heavens and Earth is a refutation of the H&E of those such as Babylonians H&E of Marduk. Therefore the creation of Adam is a creation account of Israel’s H&E which is exclusionary toward those outside of covenant. The definition of Man in scripture is primarily tied to this recognition. The Messianic fulfillment expanded this physical H&E of Israel because Christ defeated His enemies and the Kingdom is now a spiritual one.

    You might refer back to Harlow’s graph and discussion contrasting Adam with Adapa and reflect upon how the man is considered in the ANE construct. These stories are not inclusive of their neighbors unless they conquered them and they were brought into the fold of that particular god of say Marduk’s H&E.

  • Tim

    Normbv (#147),

    OK, got it :) I can see how you can interpret Genesis 1-3 like that, and I don’t deny that that has some support. I think some aspects of what you are arguing for could be debatable. Is the H&E account in Genesis polemical against Babylonian H&E? I think that is a viable possibility, though not by any means a slam dunk case. Is Adam depicted as an image bearer of God? I’d say yes. Is he depicted in such a manner as to highlight some covenantal exclusivity? I’d say that might be a possible interpretation, but I’m not convinced its the most likely one. How do you deal with characters in the OT that are seen as righteous/in a right state with God that exist outside a continental framework? There is Noah for instance. There is no indication that Noah was already in a covenantal framework with God, but that God saw the quality of his heart and only then established a covenant with him. There are some other Biblical figures as well I can’t pull to mind right now but am relatively sure are mentioned in the OT as being right with God.

  • Tim

    …”continental” should be “covenantal”. Patheos spell check mucked that one up :)

  • normbv

    John I. #141,

    The verse in Rom 2:14 is referring to those faithful Gentiles that have embraced Christ as they have met the requirements of the Law; they have achieved what the unfaithful Jew has not achieved even though they were without Law. This section of Rom 1-3 is a construct of Paul’s to demonstrate that neither Jew nor Gentile is without sin and especially the Jew. The resolution is through the fulfillment of Law which is predicated in Paul’s position here in Romans as fulfilled through Christ. Therefore when the Gentiles through faith embrace the fulfillment of Law through Christ they have met the requirements of the Law without having been under Israel’s form of jurisdiction. They are a Law unto themselves only in Christ.

    Here is Paul’s summation of the previous 2 ½ chapters.

    Rom 3:21-24 ESV But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– (22) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
    27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

  • normbv


    Actually Noah is considered to be in covenant and the flood reflects a covenant judgment against the lineage of Seth whom becomes corrupted. As the offspring of Eve (the mother of the living) to replace Abel the lineage of Christ is to be kept pure. This is indicated by their intermarriage outside that brings corruption. Remember the instructions to Israel not to intermarry? This only applies to the covenant lineage that will bring forth Christ. Another indication is the long life spans that are only given to those in this covenant arrangement. These symbolic long lives continue until Moses to indicate a theological implication of promised redemption is continuing. The recurrent degradation of the long lives becoming shorter theologically reflects a continual deterioration and highlights the need for redemption from the Law. Rom 5:14 is used by Paul to illustrate the continuity of sin within this lineage including Noah, Abraham and Jacob who all resided under Adam’s curse.

    Rom 5:14 YLT but the death did reign from Adam till Moses, even upon those not having sinned in the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of him who is coming.

  • Tim

    Normbv (#151),

    I don’t see that. Genesis 6:1-7 indicates God’s desire to inflict wholesale destruction on what he considers an irredeemably wicked mankind (and the reason why they became wicked seems to imply supernatural creatures procreating with humans, which has strong parallels in other ANE mythology). There doesn’t seem to be any covenantal language there at all. I’m with you that inappropriate breeding led to this state of affairs as far as that story is concerned, but interbreeding with supernatural creatures is a very different sort of thing than interbreeding with forbidden foreigners. I would be cautious about drawing any close parallels there.

    Concerning Noah, Genesis 6:8-9 states:

    “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

    This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”

    There is no indication of Noah inheriting some sort of covenant, though certainly one was established later. In fact, the language suggests that any of mankind could have walked with God had the not succumbed to wickedness. I don’t see exclusivity there.

  • payne

    @151 normbv – How do you account for Rahab and Ruth?

    Enjoying reading through the lively comments here!

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#144) — I think I understood you correctly. But maybe I didn’t — and if you’re really making all these concessions, then whether you agree with my ultimate conclusions or not, you certainly can’t just dismiss them as “ad hoc.” You have to do the hard work of dealing with them on the merits.

    At this point your objection seems to be narrowed to this comment of yours: “I merely pointed out the idea of linking the non-divine Adam transcendently with contemporaries in a spiritual manner via the sort of mechanism attributed to Christ has no Biblical support.”

    to which I respond: Well, I agree that the Bible doesn’t say anything about Adam’s “contemporaries.” The Bible certainly does not “teach” human evolution. It doesn’t know anything of that science, and we can’t impose that expectation on the Bible. I never said otherwise.

    Now, whether my idea has “Biblical support” is an interesting question. In terms of theological method, I don’t think the only admissible ideas are those that are specifically taught in the Bible. We have a quadrilateral — scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. As a Protestant I take the Bible as the final norm, meaning if something is utterly inconsistent with the thrust of the Bible’s narrative I have to reject it, even if reason, tradition or experience suggest otherwise. However, my theological method also tells me that ultimately there is a harmony between these different sources of authority, so I expect that most such conflicts will be resolved with better understanding. And I’m not a strict, literal inerrantist, so it doesn’t trouble me that the Bible’s narratives are prescientific.

    In terms of “Biblical support,” then, I think all I need to do in terms of method is to show that my way of thinking about this is broadly consistent with Biblical themes. On this front, we have, among other things:

    — the strange problem of “Cain’s wife” and the “mark of Cain,” which demonstrates at the very least that the Bible is unconcerned with many of the questions we might want to ask of it about all the other “people” that must have been around who didn’t biologically descend from Adam.

    — the obvious example of Romans 5:12 linking Adam to all humans just as Christ is linked to all humans — which in the case of Christ obviously isn’t a biological link.

    — the example of figures such as Abraham, the “one man” who is the founder of all the Hebrews (Heb. 11:12 — same language as Rom. 5:12).

    — the ANE background of representative kingship and its use throught the OT and NT.

    Does this mean my “solution” is the best one? No, of course not. But I’ve given four strong points of “Biblical support” for it, so whatever else you might say, you can’t claim it has “no Biblical support.”

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Sad to report:

    The Debate Is Off: Is There a “No Debating ID” Policy at Biologos?

    dopderbeck, do you know what happened?

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (#153),

    First, I think you are reading too much into my “concessions.” We might have different perspectives right now on exactly how I agree or disagree with your positions, so some clarity should probably be brought to bear there.

    Second, the position you describe here necessitates ad hoc reasoning whenever the occasion arises:

    “I take the Bible as the final norm, meaning if something is utterly inconsistent with the thrust of the Bible’s narrative I have to reject it, even if reason, tradition or experience suggest otherwise. However, my theological method also tells me that ultimately there is a harmony between these different sources of authority, so I expect that most such conflicts will be resolved with better understanding.”

    This position obviously leads to the point where you will always, if you’re able, come up with explanations as to how the Biblical doctrine at hand and whatever outside evidence that calls that into question can be harmonized.

    This is the very essence of ad hoc reasoning. Finding ways to reconcile the evidence to your theory to avoid having to reject your theory. It is an a priori commitment to your theory such that any possible explanation of the evidence that can be made, even on the fly and in response to each bit of evidence that comes up, tacking whichever way necessary as to harmonize the evidence with your theory, will be taken to preserve your theory.

    Concerning Cain’s contemporaries, you are right that the Biblical account does not address them. But that is not to say that the Biblical account doesn’t present Adam and Eve as the first of creation. It does. And it certainly doesn’t portray Cain’s contemporaries as arising over some spiritual jump-start via Adam and Eve’s actions. I attribute the Adam and Eve story as having mythical roots, given all the ANE mythical motifs that pop up in it, and I think some of the inconsistencies concerning population size stem from an imperfect integration of that mythic story into the rest of Genesis.

    In a nutshell, what I am claiming has NO Biblical support, no ANE scholarly support, no anthropological or otherwise scientific support – and furthermore represents ad hoc reasoning for the express purpose of maintaining the doctrine of original sin is:

    1) Humans (or ancestors to humans that for all intents and purposes are anthropologically indistinguishable from modern humans) before Adam were lustful, greedy, and aggressive (among other things), but were not accountable for such behavior as it existed outside of a relationship with God and they could not have known or processed that it was sin – so it was therefore not sin.

    2) Adam shared a spiritual link with the rest of these pre-human/newly human creatures, with him as the representative, such that when he sinned, his sin transformed their natures as well, not just that of his own descendants. *Please note that I disagree here with your assessment that Paul didn’t feel this link was biological. I feel Paul felt it was inherited ancestrally, though of course he wouldn’t have had modern genetics in mind at the time. It is likely he saw spiritual inheritance of a sinful nature passed down through biological descent. Not some kind of transcendent manner such as how he taught people could connect to the grace of God and Jesus’ sacrifice. I agree that Paul and others saw Adam as representative, but only patriarchally so.

  • Tim

    …should be Dopderbeck (#154),

  • Tim

    …to add to #156:

    I do of course recognize that other Biblical figures, figures in other ANE literature, and some subsequent theological work engages the notion of non-patriarchal representativness, like that of a King being representative of his subjects. When I stated that, “I agree that Paul and others saw Adam as representative, but only patriarchally so,” I had in mind mainly Paul and other NT refernces on the subject of Adam. Wanted to clarify that. Also want to note that such representativeness never entails any inheritance or transference of any spiritual qualities, or otherwise mystical links between humans. I don’t consider that a minor issue.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — we disagree. I’m worn out. If anyone’s stretching or ignoring or explaining away the relevant evidence in order to tenciously cling to a discredited preconceived notion at this point, I think it’s you. You want the Bible to fit into your box so you can dismiss it. It doesn’t and you can’t.

    I think there actually is one thing we agree on — I do take some faith commitments from the Christian tradition as starting points. I don’t think that’s inherently a problem. Everyone has to do this. Positivism is a failure as an intellectual project. Having some presupposed starting points is not “ad hoc reasoning,” its how all human beings come to know anything. The question of which starting points are the wisest and most meaningful is an enormous question. Mine might be wrong. I think they’re laregly right.

    But we’ll probably disagree about that too — which is ok and not something I have any more time to contest.

  • Tim


    “If anyone’s stretching or ignoring or explaining away the relevant evidence in order to tenciously cling to a discredited preconceived notion at this point, I think it’s you.”

    I think that’s a hell of a way to end a debate that up to this point I personally felt was civil. I don’t believe in dropping a bomb like that and then say, “well, I’m through.” I want to let you know I don’t appreciate it.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    John I@145.

    In Genesis 12:1-4, God commanded Abram to leave his country and his family and go to a land that God would show him. Abram obeyed, and God would have known that.

    In Genesis 12:6-7, Abram stopped at Shechem and built an altar to the LORD. God would have known that.

    In Genesis 13:3, Abram returned to the altar between Bethel and Ai and called on the name of the LORD. God would have known that.

    In Genesis 13:17-18, Abram believe and obeyed God, and he built an altar to the LORD, at Mamre.

    In Genesis 14:18-23, Abraham honored the LORD with the tithe when he gave it to Melchizedek, “the priest of God Most High.” God would have known this.

    In Genesis 15:6, Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” God certainly must have known this because He would have been the one who counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness.

    In Romans 4, Paul notes that Abraham believed the promise of God about having many descendants and becoming the father of many nations. “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” God would have known this also, because Abraham gave glory to God ~ and this was before he offered Isaac in Genesis 22.

    In Genesis 17, Abram, now Abraham, obeyed the LORD and had himself, his son, Ishmael, and all the males in his house circumcised, as a sign of the covenant. God would have known this.

    In Genesis 18:19, Abraham showed hospitality to the LORD. God would have known this.

    God knew that Abraham obeyed God, believed God, glorified God, called on God and worshiped Him, showed God hospitality, and honored God ~ all before Genesis 22. The fear of the LORD is about all these things.

    So, when God said, “Now I know that you fear the LORD,” whatever else it may mean, it does not mean that God did not already know that Abraham feared Him. And indeed, it does not say that God did not already know. You may wish me to read it as “I did not know that before,” but that is not what it says. And it is obvious from the context ~ all the passages before Genesis 22 where Abraham repeatedly demonstrates the fear of the LORD ~ that such a reading is not required. Indeed, it is not permitted by that context.

    I don’t read any of Genesis with flat literalism. I read it as historical, telling us about things that happened in time and space. Likewise with Genesis 22 ~ I believe those events happened, and God was not caught napping by them.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • normbv

    Tim #152,

    Luke appears to verify the covenant lineage understanding of Abraham, Noah through Seth and ultimately Adam. Also the second Temple Jewish literature of Enoch and Jubilees both emphasize this covenant understanding concerning Noah and if you examine their works carefully you will see how strongly they tie those listed to the origination of ancient Israel. The exclusivity is demonstrated also upon their calling upon YHWH which is the exclusive name of God in relation to Israel (using YHWH (Lord) selectively in early Genesis which Cassuto and Blocher and others highlight is a flashing neon signpost illustrating covenant ties specifically to Israel). Conversely the use of Elohim (God) suggests a greater worldview inclusive of the Nations. There are many means upon which to determine this issue and it’s not considered a reach by many scholars.

    Yes you are correct that any man could have walked with God and there are those listed in scripture that did who were outside of Israel and they would be considered as covenant people although as converts. I think you may be contrasting faith in God with those who were held accountable to their prophetic calling as Gods specific established people. Israel picked up various peoples throughout their existence that became folded into their identity but when it comes to establishing the lineage of Christ that particular lineage pertained strictly to a prophetic covenant calling and emanated from Eve and can be traced as the covenant fulfillment of Christ. The lineage fulfillment was of utmost importance to the Jews and thus their preoccupation with keeping track of it, even from the inception of their ancient history.

    In regards to the intermarriage with the Nephilium (giants of the land) as a supernatural encounter. I think we can overstate the hyperbole of the ANE language and read a physical message when it carries more of a theological inclination. That is the challenge before us in Gen 1-11 in discerning the theological intent instead of subscribing to the literal that wants to jump out at us.

    However the flood account is probably written from the perspective of the eventual judgment upon God’s people and is why it is often referred to in the NT as the example of judgment upon the Second Temple Jews and their corruption. Daniel uses it and Christ and other NT writers and since Genesis was possibly written around the time of the First Temple destruction it may be intended more as a prophetic polemic toward future Israel than it is considered historical. Scholars have recognized that there are many prophecies within Gen 1-11 that relate to an eschatological end and that tends to illustrate one of the purposes of its writing. The Jews had a penchant for taking the ANE stories and turning them on their head and applying them toward their prophetic purpose.

    PS. Tim give David a break as this has been a grueling exchange between the two of you and I’m sure mentally exhausting for both of you as well. It’s hard to always keep ones guard up over such an extended period of exchanges.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #116 and onward

    I was not suggesting that all passages must be taken as either literal or figurative. What I’m pushing for is how you distinguish them. You say you look at the genre and evaluate accordingly. But how do you determine genre? You said Genesis reads like history … it must therefore be history.

    I pressed you on the “Screwtape Letters” and you would not respond. It was written as history. Lewis says nothing in the book to dissuade us from thinking otherwise. Yet you and I know it is not history. (We can substitute countless other works of fiction or movies.) We know because some things don’t square up with how we typically experience the world. (Serpents don’t talk and demons don’t write letters.) That raises questions. We know things about the author. We know things about the culture and assumptions being made. We know about other pieces of literature and devices that are used. From all this we make a judgment. Simply reading a text and saying “it reads like history to me,” is insufficient grounds for declaring it history.

    What is frustrating to me is not that you see some things as literal and others as metaphors. What is frustrating is the seeming arbitrary way in which you do so. We have a talking serpent. If we encountered that in any other ancient or present text, then we would certainly have red flags about its historical nature. Yet because it reads like history, you insist it is history.

    Genesis 7:11 refers to windows/gates opening in the heavens. It is said as history, yet you say this is just metaphor. But when we look at Genesis 1:6-8, we see a perfect description of how the waters are separated from the earth below. Elsewhere we see this understanding exhibited:

    Ps 148:4-6

    4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
    5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for he commanded and they were created.
    6 He set them in place for ever and ever;
    he gave a decree that will never pass away.

    We also see passages like this one that perfectly comport with the ancient view of the world:

    Ps 24:1-2

    24 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

    As I demonstrated above, the ancient view believed there were windows/gates that let the water come down. Furthermore, there is no evidence that anyone in Israel or surrounding cultures had an alternative view of the world. Thus, when Genesis 7:11 says “the floodgates of the heavens were opened” the overwhelming evidence is that this language was description of actual events. Yet here you conclude it is just metaphor with no justification.

    Last I checked we do not live in a vault between waters above and the surface below. There is no water above the skies. The earth is not stationed on waters below. There are not window in the heavens. God accommodated his message to the pre-scientific cultural context into which he was speaking and used ANE genres to communicate his purposes for creation and humanity.

    I find John’s (above) analysis of the firmament similar to what I’ve read elsewhere. And Sailhammer is probably technically correct that looking at the text alone, the passages you are taking as metaphor need not be taken as literal. That also means it is possible they are not metaphorical. How to arbitrate? Looking at the cultural context and genre the evidence is clear and convincing (nothing is ever 100%) that it was not metaphorical and was describing actual processes.

  • Tim

    Normbv (#162),

    I think your exclusivity argument in the first paragraph deserves serious consideration. As I’m not familiar enough with the material, it looks like I have some reading to do :)

    Concerning the Nephilium, I don’t really think I’m overstating the case, as earlier in the passage they are actually referred to as the “sons of God.” Such language in other ANE myths typically refers to lesser deities. And of course, this is contrasted to the “daughters of men.” Given the motif of the lesser deities in other ANE myths mating with women and wreaking all havoc on the land as a result, I think the parallel is actually as good as you’re going to find in the Biblical text.

    Concerning the Noahic flood story, this seems to be an obvious appropriation of the Atrahasis flood myth. Too many details are far too similar for it not to be. What the theological purpose for such an appropriation is up for debate I suppose. I notice that you stated that the Hebrews had a penchant for taking ANE stories and turning them on there head. You might be right, and perhaps your explanation is as good as others I’ve heard. I have to think on it further.

    All in all Normbv, I feel this was a very good discussion. I’ll have to do more reading so before I can fully weigh your points, but it seems you have a good understanding of the material and I appreciate you sharing your insights with me. So I want to thank you for a great conversation :)

  • Tim

    Dopderbeck (Final Post),

    Per Normbv’s P.S. at the end of his post #162, I agree that I probably came down too hard in #160 following what really was an excellent debate. So I apologize for that.

    I would sum up my position by saying that my #1 obstacle in accepting your explanation of original sin has less to do with whether or not your reasoning was ad hoc (though that certainly was where our discussion ended), and far more to do with the seemingly incredible scenario of having an evolutionarily determined nature (violent, lustful, etc.) expressed by early homo sapiens -> followed by a state of actual/potential perfect harmony between Adam and God -> followed by a state of corruption owing to a spiritual fall that just happens to perfectly mirror the type of nature expressed via evolutionary inheritance in the early homo sapiens. It’s just too much for me to swallow as real given the seeming incredibleness and anthropological unnecessaryness of such an explanation.

    But I understand that our conversation has run it’s course. We have identified the areas that we diverge in terms of our reasoning and assessment. And I again thank you for a great debate on this issue.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Michael W Kruse @163,

    The Screwtape Letters were not written by Screwtape, as portrayed in the book but were written by C. S. Lewis. That is why his name is on the front cover. Also, the copyright in the inside flap is also in his name. Elsewhere, he talks about writing the book, which he described as not being a fun experience.

    The genre or form of myth is not defined by containing elements of the supernatural or things that are beyond normal human experience. The Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ also contain supernatural elements and are far beyond human experience, but that does not mean that the Gospels and the rest of the NT are presented in mythic form.

    I have already spoken in this thread of why I take Genesis 1-11 to be a telling of historical people and events. One of the main recurring structural elements is the use of elleh toledoth, “these are the generations,” which is used throughout, both in chapters 1-11 and also in 12-50. They sections are presented as a unity and not divided as modern commentators do today. There is no special break between them that separates 1-11 from 12-50. If 12-50 are of an historical nature, speaking of people and events in time and space, then so are 1-11. They are all of one genre.

    I have also demonstrated in this thread that Paul does not treat Adam as a mythical being but as a person who lived in history. In a previous thread, I have shown that Luke, who was concerned to present an orderly, accurate historical account, took the Adam through Nahor (the grandfather of Abraham) to be people who lived in history, not as literary devices of a mythical nature. And Jesus speaks of Noah, not as a non-existent mystical expression, but as a person in history. The NT writers treat all of Genesis as history — real people, real events — and not as myth.

    I have referred a couple of times already to John H. Oswalt’s book, The Bible Among the Myths, which demonstrates the Genesis accounts, though they may bear superficial similarities to the myths of the surrounding nations, there are many more differences than similarities, and those differences are profound. His conclusion is that the Genesis accounts are not presented in the form of myths.

    I have also referred a couple of times to John Sailhammer’s assessment regarding how the Hebrews understood the raqia and the “floodgates.”

    The book of Genesis is, throughout, an historical form, not a mythical one. It all hangs together, and was considered so by the NT writers. OTOH, the book of Psalms is cast in the form of Hebrew poetry and can be identified by its parallelism. The nature of poetry is that it will contain more figurative elements than non-poetic forms, such as history. This does not mean that poetry contains no literal elements, nor that historical writings contain no figurative elements, only that poetry contains more figurative elements than non-poetic writings. So we should not be surprised to find more figurative elements.

    You are, of course, free to disagree with any or all of this. My purpose is not persuade anybody here of anything, rather to say what I believe and why I believe it. I come to better understand other points of view, and that my point of view may be better understood.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#165) — sorry — I really didn’t mean that to come across as so much of a bomb as it did. I enjoyed the discussion too. There is no question that human evolution poses real and difficult challenges for traditional Christian theology, and what to make of “original sin” and “Adam” given the long history of rivalry and so on is certainly one of the big challenges. Shalom.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Tim wins! It was a race of endurance, not style or speed.